Thought of the Day

Muslim Americans are just the latest iteration of majority-America chastising a relatively new immigrant group, claiming that group will never be compatible to American values. There are blogs, op-eds, and pseudo-academia all making claims that Muslims are fundamentally incompatible with American society.

However, if anyone is at all familiar with American history, then you’ll know the same language was used against the Irish for being Catholic, Italians for being a different sort of Catholic, Jews, and German-Americans and Japanese-Americans during World War II. Using this same language, we’ve even banned the immigration of Chinese (specifically) and Asians (generally) via the Asian Exclusion Act.

Next up, Muslims. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are ready to make excuses as to why and how Muslims are different from all of those other groups; how we haven’t seen this history lesson repeatedly; how this scenario is somehow unique.

For a brief history lesson, Muslims have been in the Americas ever since Europeans have been in the Americas. We’ve been here as African slaves, comprising between 15-25% of all slaves. Some have been here among Columbus’s boats following a freshly-conquered Spain over the former Muslim rulers. Arab immigrants came in the mid-late 1800s from present-day Syria and established the oldest mosque in the US in Iowa. Many African-Americans, as descendants of slaves, began to re-discover their Islamic roots during the 1900s via a number of social movements. By the 1970s, many African Americans found mainstream Islam (abandoning ethnically-based movements only scantly related to Islam). Around the same time, legislation was removed that restricted or excluded Asian immigrants, thereby allowing other Muslim peoples to immigrate to the US. Therefore, if anything, our requisite oppression before entering mainstream society is long overdue.

San Bernardino Terrorism: Part Dos

I’m aware that I could by now have revised my previous post in light of the fact that the assailants were in fact Muslims. However, I think that would diminish from my point – we need to retain a focus on the real issues. So far, authorities and the media are unsure if they want to refer to this as terrorism or as workplace violence or both. Frankly, I’m not opposed to calling it terrorism as long as we call all mass shootings an act of terrorism, regardless of the faith or ethnicity of the assailants.

We also need to retain focus on sensible gun control and law enforcement. I’m personally not convinced that additional gun legislation will be effective unless we have adequate funding for the agencies to enforce any existing and new legislation. What we need not focus on, in this specific case, is Islamic terrorism because, supposing these individuals were fully indoctrinated by and working for ISIS, they nonetheless procured and amassed (legally if I’m not mistaken) all of their necessary tools of destruction. In that regard, whether this couple was acting for ISIS or were just an angry white American (i.e. Planned Parenthood’s Mr. Dear), solving the issue of amassing these weapons of destruction will work toward mitigating either.

Supposing this couple was anti-social and were possibly on edge about popular American society then how does one know to inform any authorities about these types? Let’s clear our minds of imagery of Islamic terrorists or Muslims or whoever. As we’ve seen in the past two weeks, your crazy Uncle Dear or your crazy Brother-in-Law Farook could find themselves being your latest mass shooter. Without any evidence or suspicion beyond a feeling or idea that “he just ain’t right”, how does one know to take the next step and inform law enforcement? What do you say?

  • Concerned Relative: Hello. My brother-in-law seems off.
  • Law Enforcement: What do you mean? In what way?
  • CR: He just seems a bit crazy, kinda anti-social. I’m concerned.
  • LE: Is he displaying threatening behavior?
  • CR: No. He just seems angry at the world. He sometimes talks about how he doesn’t like his co-workers (Or, he sometimes talks about how he hates abortions and people that kill babies. Or, he sometimes talks about how he hates American foreign policy in the Muslim world).
  • LE: Is there an immediate danger to anyone? Has he made any threatening statements or gestures?
  • CR: Not that I know of.
  • LE: Ok. Please provide further contact info and we’ll follow up.

Perhaps in a world of unlimited funding everyone can call the authorities on anyone in their lives that seems a bit angry at something in the world and someone will follow up promptly. Seeing as we need search warrants and the NRA has successfully blocked any attempt to maintain gun ownership databases, I have no idea what law enforcement would find unless there is evidence being provided by the Concerned Relative.

The fact is that we live in a finite world and we’ll never have a future-crime police force a la Minority Report. If we acted on anyone’s fetish to detain all Muslims for being suspicious then there would be no logical means to prohibit acting the same way against anti-abortionists or anyone else that, as a group, may be deemed threatening. If we turned most of our attention against Muslims, how would that prevent the next Planned Parenthood shooting? Or the next South Carolina church shooting? Or the next Oregon community college shooting? Or the next Colorado/Louisiana movie theater shooting? Or the next Sikh temple shooting? Or the next Jewish community center shooting? Or the next school shooting?

In these times where popular political rhetoric against Muslims is very literally sounding like Nazi Germany against Jews, we must remain sober-minded about how to mitigate these tragedies. To unduly focus on Muslims now is to give Mr. Dear and 353 of the 355 mass shootings in the US this year a pass. And to expect Muslims to somehow know who is harboring some malicious intention is to vastly overestimate anyone’s ability to predict future behavior. In the case of San Bernardino, and similar to Oregon, or Sandy Hook, and too many others, the assailants seemed to be going about their day as normal.

 

 

 

San Bernardino Terrorism

Oh wait, this isn’t terrorism. No Muslims. We don’t know yet what group or ideology is in play, but so far, without any scent of Muslims there can’t be any terrorism. Funny how the media says it quite plainly: “We don’t know yet if this is an act of terrorism.” I’m sure all of those wounded and dead weren’t being terrorized as bullets were flying, fearing for their lives. They were scared, perhaps, but not terrorized. I’m sure they were comforted with thoughts of “I’m bleeding to death, but thank God it’s not Muslims that shot me.”

This is amazingly crazy. We’re told to be fearful and paranoid against a group of people that are statistically peaceful in the US (yes, Muslims – as judged by crime stats, mass shootings, incidents of terrorism based on FBI metrics, and any other metric you want) but we don’t think anything of the ubiquity of guns and the ease of which to procure them.

Our national conversation isn’t about the under-funded Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (the ATF) that is responsible for enforcing many of our gun laws. Instead, we allow ourselves to get caught up on whether to enact more legislation (there’s already plenty; there’s just insufficient funding to enforce). We could pass legislation all day but if we don’t fund anyone to enforce our laws then, like a speed limit, it’ll often be broken with impunity.

Since I’m writing this before we know much about the events that transpired today, we could very well find out that it was a few extremist Muslims with an extremist agenda. What I am pointing out right now is media bias; suddenly and unabashedly, the shootings today will be revised into an act of terrorism. The discussion that could have been on guns will then focus on the 1-2% of the American population that is Muslim. We’ll pick on that group and disregard the actual root causes, means, and mechanisms that allow this event to happen. And if the wildest extremist fantasy of getting rid of all Muslims were to come true then all you’ve done is fix 2 of the 355 mass shootings that have happened in the US this year. If only we can get rid of all white, black, and Latino people as well, then we’d take care of the other 353 mass shootings.

Playing the odds, it may be appropriate to point out that White Americans are the biggest terrorist threat in the US. If that makes anyone reading this angry, then your response was also predictable. At this point, one can either continue to believe that Muslims are America’s biggest terrorist threat or one can pay attention to the data and address the quantitatively higher risk.

This isn’t about blaming white Americans or any ethnic or religious group specifically. This is about looking at data and acting soberly. There are gun and gang problems in our cities. There have been incidents of mass shootings every day in the US. All of these have involved people of various ethnic groups. The point that this blog is making is that Muslims, statistically, are far from the biggest internal or external threat to anyone’s safety in the US.

In Re: Paris Attacks (part deux)

Whether reading a liberal publication such as The Guardian or a conservative network such as Fox News or Breibart, every post-mass terrorism analysis always includes mentioning that Muslims must denounce the extremists within our communities. I don’t disagree with this statement. However, my issue is that I’ve never heard of these extremists. I think I’ve seen a pretty wide cross section of Muslims in America, from the relatively liberal to the relatively very conservative, and I go to the mosque regularly, and to Islamic classes, and I’ve never even so much heard anyone joke about an act of terrorism, let alone attempt to provide any sort of legitimacy to these actions.

If my experience is average for Muslims, then while we condemn these acts of terrorism in general and when they occur, I don’t know how we can condemn any specific person within our communities because we, or I at least, have never seen or personally heard of anyone openly supporting these actions. Furthermore, I am certain that in this age of mass surveillance, the proper authorities are well aware of anyone that is openly supporting these actions, or is at least attempting to provide any sort of legitimacy. They’re probably more quickly aware of them than we are ourselves.

Now the investigation so far is leaning toward Paris being a pre-planned, well coordinated attack involving outside elements, and not just disenfranchised French minorities. But if it were just disillusioned, angry men, then Muslims are being asked to know something that other groups aren’t able to know for themselves; when someone’s mere discontent is actually leading toward murderous action. While it’s generally easier to think of this in a minority context, this still applies to any other mass shooting, whether in Oregon, or Louisiana, or Connecticut, or South Carolina, or Norway, involving angry white males. Does anyone expect the community of political conservatives to know when one of theirs is getting ready to go on a murder spree?

However, since the preliminary results are pointing to ISIS, what is the Muslim world to do? We’re tired of the bombing campaigns because they’ve proven to be indecisive, leading to a perma-war stasis in every place the US has bombed in the last decade. I would be in favor of a major ground campaign, particularly by the surrounding Sunni Muslim nations, but I doubt that would happen. These countries are no more than lines in the sand. My father is as old as their national history. Given this lack of identity, these nations are fragile; their governments have more interest in maintaining power through suppression than through love of country. Suppress by force and suppress by welfare, as long as the people and society stay stunted in their development. Given that, I doubt they could engage in a major ground offensive without imploding.

It is also this dynamic that causes Muslims to appear hapless. We love being in the West but we don’t condone the endless wars. Nor do we support the inept governments in the Middle East (which is all of them). And we certainly don’t support the likes of ISIS or Al Qaeda, who kill and maim more Muslims, let alone non-Muslims, than any government. Our only viable choice is the only thing I’ve said in this entire blog; alleviating our own ignorance of Islam and Muslim history while also doing the same for the non-Muslims around us.

In Re: Paris Attacks

Paris holds a special place in the hearts and imaginations of seemingly anyone around the world, regardless of faith or background.  For anyone blessed to have been able to visit, let alone multiple times like myself, it is truly a beautiful city; a pleasant place to simply be a tourist or just soak in the environment.

Unfortunately, that juxtaposes against the squalor and hopelessness in the banlieues; the suburban ghettos located around the city where the poor and colored scratch out a living in the margins. This topic alone is worthy of its own school of study in a university. Whether it is the welfare state of France acting as an opiate while those citizens brew in economic discontent, or the idea of “Frenchness” seemingly never evolving to include the one-third of French citizens of North and West African origin for several decades now. Some may say today’s events were inevitable, or at least predictable.

But that shouldn’t be the case. Notwithstanding any of this discontent, if a Muslim really knew what the Quran says about warfare, or the example set by the Prophet Muhammad (saw), then we would know that this living situation, no matter how depressing, or even presumably of the victims being partygoers engaging in whatever sin, is far from meriting a violence and death upon anyone.

Extremists, both pro- and anti-Islam, are quick to point to the portion of the Quran that says to kill the idolaters. But neither group recognizes its context; that the land in question (Mecca) was and is regarded as sacred such that any warfare was forbidden by Arab custom, pagan or not, as well as in Islamic belief.  Yet, inside Mecca, Muslims were being persecuted and tortured and outside of Mecca Muslims were under attack.  Basically, by custom and belief, prior to the verses in question, Muslims could not go on the offensive because their attackers resided in sacred land that was forbidden from attack.

Let’s go further. The first major battle in Islam – the Battle of Badr – was in the context of Muslims attempting to intercept a caravan owned by the Quraish (the primary and most powerful tribe that was attacking the Muslims) in order to regain some of the monetary assets lost when they were forced out of Mecca. The Quraish found out about this, amassed a very large army, met them on the battlefield, and lost. The Battle of Uhud was a sort of rematch that ended in a draw. Then there was the Battle of the Trench, which was a massive attack by essentially all of the non-Muslim tribes across Arabia against the Muslims in Medina.

Badr was a success because so few Muslims beat a force of more than three times its size and better equipped.  Uhud was a lesson to Muslims for losing sight of their real source of victory and motivation – God Almighty, not numbers and material. Then the Battle of the Trench was a victory because 1) the Muslims successfully defended themselves against a massive siege and 2) such a disappointment by the Quraish, despite the overwhelming numbers and coordination, laid the groundwork for the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, which created a peace that lasted for years. It was during that peace that Islam saw its most significant growth. This point is important; Islam saw its significant growth not because of warfare but instead because of the time of peace where Muslims were finally free from persecution.

After that peace treaty was broken by the Quraish, when the Muslims marched upon Mecca, there was no battle. There was surrender. By the law and customs laid out in the Quran and tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), the Muslims had shown a level of civility and mercy that the pagans were not showing. The Islamic rules of engagement were radically different from those of the norm of the day to the point that opposing forces had a large incentive to surrender and survive with their lives, their families, their religion, and their homes. This is well documented by Muslim and non-Muslim historians when Umar conquered Jerusalem and Saladin re-conquered Jerusalem. It is also well documented by all sides of the sheer brutality by the crusaders against all residents of Jerusalem (as in, non-European Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims) when they conquered Jerusalem from the Muslims in between Umar and Saladin.

My long-winded point is that Muslims have rules of engagement as revealed to us in the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. I am no scholar but it is clear that gunning down anyone in the streets is not within those rules. Whatever frustration there is about any sins and elicit behavior by people in general should be directed to informing people of a better path. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) spent 13 years in an openly hostile environment preaching about the need to worship one, incomparable deity without partners or associates; to raise the status of slaves, women, and the poor; and to remind the rich that any person is only better by piety and actions and not by material well-being.

Most Muslims today do not come close to doing anything to actively engage and send this same message. Also, judging by the appeal of anyone to commit any act of terrorism, or join ISIS, or Al Qaeda, or to even shrug at these events, too many Muslims don’t know or understand our own history.

For anyone reading this, please understand that it’s not Islam that’s leading to these attacks; it’s ignorance. Pro and anti-Muslim extremists are essentially exchanging the same misguided, incomplete notes on what is Islam. Unfortunately, random people, whether it’s Parisians or Syrians or Iraqis or Pakistanis, are paying the price for this ignorance in the form of bullets and bombs.

The Problem with Church and State

I have a cousin who recently graduated from Moody Bible Institute. For background, my family consists of some Christian reverends and preachers as well as my more immediate Muslim side and assorted cousins. We enjoy getting on religious topics every now and then so I was happy to have a resource such as my cousin that I may contact in regard to deeper Christian theological questions. However, I’m also a bit dismayed. I asked him under what authority was Mr. Moody able to start and grow his own Bible institute; teaching and preaching the bible as he understood it. The Moody Bible Institute’s website is absent of any mention of formal Bible training. It seems he was a fervent and passionate preacher and traveled around with his message. I’m sure there’s more depth to it than that but my dismay is all the same; any number of people can be passionate about the message in the Bible and I can be OK with that if the only question were a matter of how much zeal a person can speak of Jesus and their interpretation of the Bible.

However, what I, and many others, are not OK with is treating a person’s interpretation of the Bible as the definitive interpretation of law. Without any authority, or formal education, or juristic tradition, no one should be able to take their interpretation of the Bible as the law by which everyone must abide.  This isn’t to diminish the messages in the Bible or even of its legal requirements. This is specifically a message about Protestant Christianity. In contrast, Catholicism and Judaism, using a similar text, do have legal and juristic traditions attached to them. This is not to say I think they’re right; rather, there is structure, method, and sobriety, not just passion and zeal.

Even then, there are inconsistencies. The common justification for Christians not having the same prohibition on pork as found against Jews elsewhere in the Bible is that Jesus had done away with those laws. If that is the case, then so goes prohibitions on homosexuality, adultery, dress codes, working on the sabbath, charging interest, and whatever other law found in the Old Testament. All you’re left with is messages of love and compassion but no laws.

Thus, there’s a logical and practical inconsistency for most who clamor for closer integration of Church and State or who demand to have some Biblical laws applied to their lives (and others’ lives) but not all or most Biblical laws. This is also why it might appear that Jews and Muslims get some sort of special treatment in applying their religious laws to themselves in their worldly matters (note: we’re not trying to apply them on everyone; just wanting to carve out some exceptions for us). We’re actually trying to follow the laws and standards found in our religious texts and traditions. There are some Christian groups that do so as well, but again, Protestantism, by definition, threw out the Catholic mode of operation, which largely threw out the Jewish mode of operation.

Finally, unless one wishes to conveniently dismiss large portions of European history, it should be safe to say that removing political power from the Catholic Church has been good for most of humanity. But with that also meant creating laws and political structures based on the analysis and ideas of men, using philosophy and study of other practices and not necessarily based on the Bible. For Protestant groups to desire bringing us back to an age of Biblical jurisprudence is like supplanting the Catholic Church in name only without also the exploring of other ideas and practices.

In a later post I’ll try to go further into how governing based on a Protestant interpretation of the Bible is more of an nonsensical idea than with other religious groups. For Muslims especially, I’m aware there’s the Islamic State trying to lay claim to being the latest religious state but I still contend that the proper interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence is fewer laws (as in, fewer requirements) and more recommendations (as in, highly encouraged, but not necessarily required). When we elevate recommendations into requirements then we start to see the likes of religious states (mind states as well as nation states) that people generally seem to detest and find unsustainable.

Thought of the Day

To Non-Practicing Muslims,

When all the other Muslims around you are gathering for prayer, please join. It takes literally 5 minutes and you’ll likely just sit around starring at your phone if you don’t join. It appears to take more effort to not join than to get in line. I understand some people just don’t have their heart into it, or aren’t in the state of mind, or some other way of saying you just don’t feel like it. So let’s look at it like this:

As a Muslim, you believe in the Day of Judgment. We’re all going to have to account for our time and efforts. Somewhere along the way, you’re going to be shown this instance when you just sat around and killed time while the rest of the people with you prayed. You’ll be asked by Allah why you didn’t join. Does your excuse really sound like a good one at this point?

5 minutes, including getting wudu. It’s really not much.

Another way to look at it is to watch the end of the movie Schindler’s List. One day the war is over and this business tycoon is distraught at the knowledge of how much more he could’ve done. Sell the watch, save a child. Sell the car, save a family. So much more could’ve been done but it’s too late once it’s all over. One day that’ll be all of us. We could’ve done more.