An Open Letter to ISIS

OpenLetterISIS“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” — Emerson

To ISIS/ISIL aka DAESH,

Stop with your bulls—. Just stop. You may pull the wool over the eyes of downtrodden, simple-minded, and ignorant Muslims—as well their counterparts in the reactionary West, but your cheap parlor tricks with the Qur’an, replete with revisionist history acting as your cut-rate magician’s assistant, will not con the vast majority of us who recognize the charlatan behind the façade of piety.  The Saudi oil-dollars that pay for your photo-shopped pamphlets, the Toyota trucks you use to transport your tools of terror, and the monetized motivations of your suicide bombers will not suffice for a grand song and dance routine you use to misdirect the audience from what you’re truly doing.

I/we know Islam through Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X—the snake oil you sell will never be anything more than propaganda, recognized by any who know Islam as the religion it truly is, as something that can have nothing to do with it. The very idea of an ‘Islamic State’ is farcical when you attempt to bring it into vogue with a non-Islamic state of mind. Every explosion you mastermind and/or inspire only punctuates your hypocrisy and further de-legitimizes the political claims you make.  For every innocent non-Muslim who you’ve caused the death of, at least twenty innocent Muslim souls could testify alongside them about your depravity, stupidity and sheer evil.

If Islam is good, you are the opposite of what it stands for as a religion and the violence you breed is diametrically opposed to the definition of peace, inherent in the linguistic root of the faith itself. So I, as an American Muslim hate you, for you have, through the force of your wickedness, dismantled the framework of love established by the Prophet Muhammad and his family that inspired exploration, mysticism, poetry, academia, and humanity. You have made ‘Islam’ a word to be reviled, and have damned every Muslim, living anywhere on the globe, to an apologetic existence.

When you sever heads, you are no different than Yazeed, the illegitimate Caliph and mass-murderer who ordered the beheading of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandchildren and great grandchildren.  When you plow vehicles into our blameless masses, you do so with the same moral turpitude as the crusading forces that once annihilated countless, Muslim and Jew alike, in their insatiable thirst for power in the Holy Land.  Every knife thrust or explosion that claims innocent life is no different than the viciousness of colonial regimes, or the totalitarian governments that assumed power in their wake throughout the Middle East and curtailed basic human rights with torturous violence.

You and your Saudi sponsors may be too obtuse to comprehend why I began with words from Emerson in his essay entitled “Self-Reliance,” which I was re-introduced to recently by my friend Dick Bradford, so I’ll try to explain it simply, such that even minds tainted with an ignorant, black-and-white world view can grasp it.  If religion becomes a mere sequence of actions or rituals devoid of essence, then while it may have consistency, it will have little else. This is what you prescribe, a formula of faith, with no choice or faith in it. To practice Islam in this way would indeed be as Emerson so eloquently stated, akin to the hobgoblin of a little mind—to translate that into terms that would resonate in the iconography you hold dear; it would be like Shaytan (Satan) consuming one’s mind, leading the faithful to faithlessness.

I’ve written as much when I penned a letter to your benefactors in my “Open Letter to Saudi Arabia” and I’m not the only one calling attention to your false logic, and the hopeless machinations of your directionless cause. Reza Aslan is doing it in scholarship, Leila Sarsour through activism and Mehdi Hasan on television. I speak to you, not only as a Muslim like they do, but also as a father, teacher, and an artist, who was American before becoming Muslim over two decades ago.  I believe that you’ll be nothing more than a disgusting footnote in the arc of human history, and all those who choose to be associated with you or your philosophy will be reviled by the world just as the Nazis rightfully are. In the end, you’ll not only fail at your own short-term goals of making us fearful but you will have provided the means of your own destruction by bringing us together in our collective hatred of you.  Your days are numbered.

Sincerely,

Professor A.L.I.

p.s. Read full letter on Kindle

 

RIP Nabra Hassanen

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Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Rajioon

Nabra Hassanen is no longer with us.  Her light in this world was extinguished and her last moments on this earth were exceptionally brutal.  No one should experience what she experienced.  The culpability for her murder extends beyond her rapist and killer—and when I wrote to this truth—furiously writing two articles in rapid succession, to process this loss, my inbox was riddled with pushback and hate that I dared to call the cause of her death “Islamoracism.”

The semanticists came forth to argue that Muslim is not a racial category, missing the point that the nomenclature shifted to describe a systemic disenfranchisement of anyone racialized to be associated with Islam in America.  Then the police department ruled the cause of her death to be ‘road rage’ even as news that they were testing for her rape leaked shortly thereafter.  Rape is an act of hate and violence, and yet still no one was willing to call it a hate crime.  This is a system set up to turn an ignorant eye towards the violence that strikes my community, forcing the victims to plead, protest and lobby in order to get law enforcement agencies and the media to see beyond their privilege and to acknowledge what is really happening.

My sister, Hajjah Safiyyah Fatimah Abdullah said it best when I interviewed her, “There is, and in fact, has always been a concerted emphasis in this country on ‘de-humanizing’ people of color. In doing so, that allows the media to further shape public opinion that when incidents of violence occur, it is not reflective of the broader social construct in this country, but rather, an isolated, and therefore unavoidable and unaccountable occurrence that does not need to be addresses in a broader social spectrum. In other words, in classifying it as ‘road rage’ or ‘a parking space dispute’, it lays lie to the reality that due to the current racist and Islamophobic atmosphere of our society, the perpetrator is not at fault for following a group of teenagers, and then attacking them. It is well beyond ‘Road-Rage’ when you not only attack a group of people that were no threat to you, but then kidnap…yes, kidnap…he picked Nabra up and put her in his car, and then took her somewhere to bludgeon her to death, to the point that when the police found the body they said that they found the ‘remains’, not the body, but the remains and will perform an autopsy to determine identity and cause of death. That is not road-rage, that is hatred…and it was that same hatred that caused him to follow the kids in the first place. The decision by the Fairfax Police Department to label it as road rage instead of a hate crime allows the police to continue to defuse the tensions within the Muslim community and ignore the hatred of Muslims across the country; thus, insuring our community doesn’t rise up in righteous indignation. ‘Road rage’ is forgettable; it is an isolated incident whereas ‘hate’ indicates a pattern, and prompts a public discussion on the rise of violent Islamophobia. It is the same process that they use for ‘defusing’ the shooting of Black, Brown and Native people by the police. It is the responsibility of our leaders and our communities to rise up and demand that the crimes be labeled for what they are, hate crimes, and be recognized as such. It’s time for our leaders to ‘man-up’ and stop being afraid.”

Then the unimaginable happens, Nabra Hassanen’s memorial is set on fire.

The apologists and deflectors are oddly silent.  Those that began their semantic debates with my inbox have disappeared under the bridges from whence they came.  While we Muslims are left knowing, not only was our young sister brutalized and slain but that the violence and hatred in this nation is such that, there are people (I use that term loosely) who took it upon themselves to further the torture on Nabra’s family and friends, as well as the greater Muslim community, by burning a memorial left to honor her.

This is not fueled simply by an irrational fear, it is systemic, and it is sadly the world that we as Muslims have to navigate.

I’m tired of living in a place where hate, violence and hypocrisy reigns supreme.  Where is the acknowledgment of the truth?  Where is the justice?  Where is peace?

Asalaamu’Alaykum,

Professor A.L.I.

 

Islamophobia

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When Abdul Jamil Kamawal, a 68-year-old Afghan-American was bludgeoned to death, last year in Oregon, it was my brother Jaideep Singh, who so eloquently stated that Islamophobia was dead.

Many believe that Islamophobia is a term that was created to respond to the specified xenophobia targeting Muslims, Sikhs and any who could be associated with Islam after 9/11 in America. However, the term was coined in the 1970’s and came into vogue in the 1990’s; since, throughout that time those associated with Islam have been victims of hate crimes and bigoted acts of violence.

I could a fill a book with tales of the numerous physical battles I had throughout the 80’s, afterschool, upon dilapidated blacktops on rundown public-school yards.  It would happen, every single time the Middle East was in the news, due to a hijacking, hostage crisis, outright war or when a Hollywood blockbuster decided to use a Middle Eastern/Muslim trope as a plot device.  Even though I wasn’t a Muslim then, I was brown, and that alone gave the bullies and the ignoramuses at school reason enough to punctuate their hatred upon me with their fists.  This was Islamophobia; I experienced it fully, before I ever became Muslim or knew what the word meant.

The fact that the schools I attended knew what was happening to me and didn’t do anything to stop it wasn’t Islamophobia, it was Islamoracism.

What we see in the United States now isn’t Islamophobia either, it is Islamoracism.  This is what Jaideep Singh was talking about; what people like he and I now face in this country is systemic hatred and not simply bigotry from the shadows alone.  When systemic power is intertwined with prejudicial intentions it creates a monolith to disenfranchise; in this moment Muslims are that homogenous group and this is a form of racism to be known as Islamoracism.

It might be phobia, as in an irrational fear that drives the system to act, but once it does, it creates systemic prejudice and this is how we witness our government violate habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions by waterboarding suspected terrorists and holding them indefinitely without formal charges in Guantanamo, and how multiple wars in the Middle East are sold to the American People on lies, and how our government can argue to ban refugees from nations we’ve destabilized and then in an act of cartoonish buffoonery, actually create a formal Muslim Ban.

The Muslim Ban, surprised some of my liberal friends, who’d made excuses for years whenever I complained about the methods used by the TSA—even when I quoted my good friend [redacted], a TSA manager, who specifically stated to me that the rules they go by for screenings specifically target Muslims. These were necessary security measures, my friends would argue, but they finally saw the light when Trump unveiled his Travel Ban. The ban is a textbook example of racism in that it is systemic, treats Muslims as a monolith and targets them for exclusion.  In spite of this, I have some conservative friends who remain unconvinced that the ban is racist, or that it is an example of Islamoracism; they don’t see the connection between a policy such as this and the violence that it will breed—but this past weekend, they too began to change their tune.

The violence this past weekend, like a van running over people leaving the mosque after Ramadan prayers in London, weeks after a similar series of attacks claimed lives on the city in the name of ISIS, left me broken hearted. “I want to kill all Muslims!” screamed Darren Osborne, as he committed this heinous act of terror and his screams still echo in my brain. Just as I was reeling from this depravity, I fell deeper in despair with breaking news of the assault and murder of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Muslim girl, which left me a wreck.  These are acts emboldened by a system that is already punishing those associated with Islam, and has given the sickos tacit permission to act out their hate filled fantasies upon innocent Muslims, because they believe they are acting out in the interests of society.

To all this, I say, enough is enough! As a Muslim, a husband, father, educator and artist, I denounce both the hate and the violence—so down with Islamophobia and down with Islamoracism!

Incredulous, I reached out to other educators and artists, who were similarly fed-up; a group of brown MC’s throughout this country who I approached with the charge that we create a song about Islamophobia, which would lay out our anguish and angst, touch upon the hatred and violence, and clearly state, as we do in the song’s refrain that: “it’s not Islamophobia, its Islamoracism, it’s not a passive process, it’s a part of the system!”  Featuring KB and Swap from Karmacy, the first ever South-Asian American hip-hop group, JiNN (formerly Jinnsanity), an up-and-coming MC from Florida, the first Sri Lankan MC, Ras Ceylon and yours truly; the following song is a tool in the arsenal of those who choose to fight the ignorance of these times with knowledge and unity.

Please enjoy and share and stay tuned for videos, and future remixes, as we hope to continue to battle hatred until we dismantle the systems of oppression aimed at disenfranchising those of us who are brown enough to deserve it.

PEACE,

Professor A.L.I.

Inter(ned) Faith

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Inter(ned) Faith by Professor A.L.I.

Thomas Munro had a vision of Raghavendra Swami,

Just as I had a dream of my own Samadhi,

For a piece of my heart is buried deep in Shirdi,

And another is covered by Karbala’s sands barely,

And the other vital organs are scattered beyond,

Amongst constellations like Trisanku body parts.

Put together like the rivers that flow unto sea,

The source is the same, this path is for me.

My ablution, an abhishekam performed with water,

From a well in Samarra, the bloodline of martyrs,

And my pilgrimage to Mecca begins in Sabarimala,

My fasting, a practice learnt from a devout mother,

And charity, in the blind generosity of my father,

And prostration learned by bowing down to elders,

So Islam’s rhythm was nestled in Vedic vessel,

And the cultural practices of traditional Tamils,

This is the complexity that helps to form me,

Yet ignoramuses like our president cannot see,

That Islam is everywhere, from the cycles of seeds,

To the circumambulation of atoms in the deepest of seas,

To banish this is to banish self, the essence is peace,

To war with oneself is the sickest disease.

 

Islam and America

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Islam and America by Professor A.L.I.

When you silence me, you ignite the Bill of Rights,

When you stop me from practicing my faith,

You set the document aflame.

 

When you ban me, you shred the legends,

That this nation was once a haven,

For refugees of religion.

 

The ink of the pen of Jefferson,

Was enthused with his reading of my Holy Book,

As he framed the documents you prize.

 

The blood of Muslims deprived;

Chained souls in cargo holds,

Are tethered to this nation’s success.

 

Moorish treaties made this a country,

Through formal recognition,

Yet now their children are enslaved in prisons.

 

Ask the carcass of Hi Joly,

Or the remnants of Alexander Russell Webb,

Reminders of the American Islamic web.

 

Two sides, polarized, engage in civil warfare,

Like the 292 Muslims who fought,

In the Civil War, so we could be here.

 

Sadly, their names forgotten,

Like the Union porter Max Hassan,

Or Moses Osman, a ranking Captain.

 

A century old Muslim cemetery,

Look to Biddeford Maine,

Where the tombstones face Mecca.

 

The oldest mosque is rooted in Cedar Rapids,

Targets for bigotry, graffiti and fires,

Equal parts peace and tragic.

 

You honored Malcolm with a stamp,

But the stamp you gave on my passport,

Is a promise you’ve broken.

 

You shed tears for Muhammad Ali,

Yet you deny me,

For having the same beliefs.

 

No matter how you reclassify me,

I remain an American,

Who wishes you only PEACE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am a Muslim Because of Saint Thomas

saintthomas

Dear World,

If I you label me a Christian, due to my love for Jesus Christ and Mary, my adherence to the lessons taught by him, it is because I learned Christianity not from colonizers but from Saint Thomas.

Saint Thomas was the apostle of Jesus who migrated to South Asia and guided many towards the love of Jesus, and worship of God almighty.  What he taught was so close to the principles in the Old Testament that when Western Christians encountered the Malabar and Tamil Christians they exclaimed that these Christians were too Jewish in their practice.  They avoided pork and observed the Sabbath and these were qualities that seemed far from the practice of Roman Catholicism.

The Christians in Asia at that point had not been edited by the Council of Nicea, nor were they split in thought by a break in Eastern Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism, and they also weren’t part of the narrative that would see Martin Luther and John Calvin amongst others challenge the power of the Church.  King James hadn’t issued the Bible they were reading and somehow they were coexisting alongside the oldest Jewish Community of the Diaspora, Hindus of various practices and varnas, as well as Sunni, Shia and Sufi Muslims, not to mention Buddhists and Jains.  This was a pluralistic society that saw commonality and love.  This is the Christianity I know and practice, though you see my practice as a Muslim—the essence is the same.

I have Saint Thomas to thank for that, and to honor him, I created this piece:

Peace,

Ali

Merry Christmas.

The Middle East is not a Homogenous Place: A Brief Critique of Ibn Khaldun

me-homogenous

The Middle East is not a Homogenous Place: A Brief Critique of Ibn Khaldun

by Professor A.L.I.

Marshall Hodgson points out in The Venture of Islam, that the period between 1258 and 1503 marks a consequential segmentation pertaining to areas deemed Dar al Islam.  Although there remained greater unity between these lands as opposed to Dar al Harb, invading forces, and changing political boundaries alienated areas like the Maghrib.  Ibn Khaldun’s excised introduction to his world history, is therefore only adequately understood in light of the framework Hodgson furnishes.  Ibn Khaldun’s work is a project of categorization and development of social truths, which are designed to better interpret history.    Unlike Tabari, Ibn Khaldun’s history is less fact oriented, and more devoted to principles of sociological interpretation.  The lack of facts, problemetize many of his sociological examples and principles as they fail to consider that there may exist, groups outside his sphere of comprehension: the Maghrib.  These excluded groups cast uncertainty into Ibn Khaldun’s social equations.  His generalizations are also disputable within the area where they seem most pertinent.  In essence, Ibn Khaldun’s falsafah based history, constrain and limit a thorough understanding of the states and societies that have preceded him in Islamicate history.

Ibn Khaldun asserts in his introduction the existence of two groups: sedentary and Bedouin.  This universal classification scheme lacks inclusion of categories beyond the two, framed groups.  Although an argument may be presented regarding his passing mention of Kurds, Turks, and Slavs as emblematic of a deeper worldly consideration; its manifest flaw are other existing groups near his sphere which problemetize his claims.  Hodgson clarifies that the Maghrib was isolated especially from Persia prior to his introduction of Ibn Khaldun in his research.  This point, when understood in the context of historical events explains why groups like the Mongols are not considered.  The Mongols highly question the sedentary and the Bedouin classification system, as they manifest qualities from both groups that are mutually exclusive.

He later expands this classification scheme to draw out generalizations about both groups which greatly draw question to its application into the Maghrib area itself.  Claims into disposition of courage to Bedouin based on their natural condition rather than the sedentary is based on weak logic.  His arguments can equally be swayed by counter assertions of greater bravery by sedentary groups due the protection of an army, and walls, and the inability to flee attack.  Similarly, his arguments on the purity of lineage seem applicable to his area, where as Hodgson points out there is a constant shifting of rulers, and lack of a consistently powerful dynastic tradition.  He cites a hadith that elucidates the nobility of Joseph and his forefathers: Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.  His conclusions concerning the hadith that “four generations in one lineage are the limit in extent of ancestral prestige,” fails to consider other prophets that Muslims acknowledge that emerge from this dynastic tradition such as Moses, Aaron, Solomon, and David.  This particular argument also displays ignorance of Shii belief in the Immamiya: the vice regency acknowledged after the prophet in the Imams, who inherit their pure lineage from Fatima and Ali, and infallibility from the Prophet.

Many of Ibn Khaldun’s statements are generalizations based on examples he has interacted with, within his isolated sphere.  In what seems hubris he fails to even acknowledge the possibility of groups outside his definitions, and in some cases their beliefs and therefore remains an unreliable source for the comprehension of Islamic states and societies outside the Maghrib at any in depth level.  Hodgson cleverly states,

“Ibn Khaldun’s Maghribi focus was very fruitful for him.  But for a modern scholar to generalize from the Maghrib, as some do, can be very misleading, especially if his notion of the other moiety—‘the East’—is almost limited to the Jamai-Sunni Arabs in a period when the greatest cultural vitality was in the Persianate zone.”

Ibn Khaldun presents cultural insights into the areas that he discusses; but the use of Ibn Khaldun should be limited both to his sphere as well as his falsafah school, lest they restrict our historical understanding of the states and societies that comprise the Middle East.

 

When Is Death Sweeter Than Honey?

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When Is Death Sweeter Than Honey? by Professor A.L.I.

Contrast the warmth of honey’s sweetness on the lips of youth,

With the coldness of a mouth, of a martyr who spits truth.

The candle light flickers, no one clambers towards door.

The armor is sorted, and honey is the metaphor.

For the sharp death that comes from an oppressor’s blade!

So speaks the smallest strand of Hassan’s DNA.

He asks his uncle’s permission to go into the fray alone,

To represent his father into a future unknown;

Reluctance was his answer, but Qasim had a letter,

Written to his uncle, from his father, to whom he was indebted,

For when Hassan was dying, poisoned, his last request,

Was to be buried next to his grandfather, Muhammad.

Husayn tried to fulfill it, but archers shot the procession,

And his corpse became a symbol of this family’s oppression.

So when he sees his brother’s writing after such a long time,

He gives Qasim what he seeks, as tears drop from his eyes.

Not tall enough to get on, he helps the young man on the steed,

Who couldn’t even reach the stirrups, for too small were his feet.

He somehow maintained balance and rode on towards this war,

He fought, till they smothered him, and Qasm from his horse.

Crying out for his uncle, as  wicked riders trampled his form,

So when Husayn finds his nephew, it’s a puzzle of corpse.

He takes off his cloak and gathers the pieces of Qasim,

Like he was plucking flowers from a most beautiful garden.

His slings the bundle, over his shoulder, but it drags beneath,

And this is the same small child, whose feet wouldn’t reach.

The devil’s forces, used the bloody horseshoes as tokens;

To hang within their homes, as a good luck omens.

Death is as sweet as the blood dripping from those shoes;

The purest honey, from flowers collected, upon the lips of youth.

A Touchdown For Freedom

Colin Kaepernick

A Touchdown for Freedom by Professor A.L.I.

Colin Kaepernick is trending, and the die-hard ‘9er’s fan in me is excited hoping the news is good, that he’s healthy for the next preseason game.  I’ve supported the team through our great successes and triumphs throughout the ‘80’s and 90’s, only to watch us claw back to relevancy, and then have that fall away.  I’m a Colin Kaepernick fan as a result, and my hope was this year would be different than what the pundits had predicted, if only to piss off all the Oakland Raider fans who have been needling me throughout the summer.  However, as I tuned it to the trending timeline, it became clear that Kaepernick was trending for reasons even more relevant to me as a person, and furthermore as a person of color in America and so I watched closely like a fan rooting for the home team during the Super Bowl.

I watched Colin sit for the anthem now, just as I had watched Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sit as a young Muslim kid who’d saved up money to have a custom poster of Abdul-Rauf made, which showed him supplicating as opposed to standing for the national anthem.  This was a picture that I hung proudly on my dorm room wall and even when his career shifted because of his religious-political stand it stayed there to remind me of the sacrifices a person needs to make for their convictions.

When Mahmoud came to speak at UC Berkeley’s Muslim Unity Conference, it was shortly after the height of the controversy and the lecture halls were rightfully packed with eager American Muslims who had felt the same way, disenfranchised by the American promise because of one’s Blackness or Islam; so the flag didn’t hold the same weight for us because in our minds its symbology was besieged by police brutality, an injustice system, and policies that privileged some over others.  Mahmoud stood up for us by sitting down and he sacrificed his career to do so.

People have forgotten how good Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was.  He was the prototype for Steph Curry, and he made an impact on the game in an era where the rules did not favor that style of play.  He never missed a free throw and had one of the silkiest shots in the game.  People forget that when he was still known as Chris Jackson at LSU, a teammate of Shaquille O’Neal, that it was Chris that people came to see. I still remember his 50 point explosions and battles with Larry Johnson.  Most people don’t remember any of that, in fact he has become obsolete, made so by standing up for his beliefs.  He might have been on my poster, but he was made a poster-child for un-sportsman like qualities.

From not standing up for the anthem to fasting in Ramadan, he was painted to be selfish.  Sam Perkins, a Jehovah’s Witness never stood for the anthem but he was never outed by the media nor was he made an example in the same way.  Hakeem Olajuwon fasted in Ramadan, but when he did it no one made it an issue.  When Mahmoud covered up the logos on his shoes, instead of being praised, he was ostracized.  And the scrutiny took its toll and deprived many a basketball fan of watching a truly uniquely gifted talent from evolving into one of the game’s greats.

Mahmoud Abdur Rauf FlagThis was twenty years ago, and the injustice done to Mahmoud for standing up for his faith still bothers me, because it remains an injustice that is so incongruent with what the flag stands for that those who stole his right not to stand actually disrespected the principles of the flag more than he ever could by not standing.  Freedom is a concept that must be lived through experience, not pseudo-honored through conformity and denigrated by the complacency of those who don’t truly know what that concept means.  The flag waves for freedom.  The freedom to stand or sit.  The freedom of faith and the freedom to express it.  What happened to Mahmoud was senseless then and remains so now, and to call for the same to happen to Colin Kaepernick only showcases how much we have regressed in two decades.

In twenty years the issues of injustice remain and I’d argue along with those who would say that things have gotten worse.  Thanks to social media and devices that capture everyone’s single story, we have become hyper connected to the narratives of oppression that exist in this country.  Police brutality is no longer a myth that privileged groups can choose to ignore.  It is real and the movement to create accountability and shift policing is one that has been born of the work done by all those who have brought attention to this issue.

Colin Kaepernick scored a touched down for Black Lives, for the injustices done towards people of color and he made the nation pause and cheer and jeer for him, just as if this was in the Super Bowl.  His growing friendship with our mutual friend and my brother and colleague Dr. Ameer “Left” Hassan of @LeftSentThis, a true educator who uses social media to teach as effectively as he does in the classroom, is a testament to his growth as a human being and his victory in the eyes of the people.

I write this as an American who understands deeply that a fundamental quality of being an American is to recognize the freedoms an individual has, and this includes the freedom to burn a flag, let alone remain sitting when the national anthem is played.  Those that doubt the patriotism of Colin Kaepernick or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, should consider Jackie Robinson’s stand for the same right, and check their love of figures like Muhammad Ali at the door.  They should question what they are patriotic of, a flag that stands for nothing, or a flag that stands for freedom.  If it is the latter, they too should sit with Colin, but if it’s the former, I guess they should vote for Trump, because after all, his promise of an America devoid of any difference, any choice or freedom of faith, is precisely the flag they seem to be saluting after all.

 

Tamil Identity, Nationalism and Imagination

The song Red Dot, about the old DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) flag, which belonged to a failed political movement of pan-Dravidian and/or Tamil nationalism is one that wonders what a Tamil nation state would have meant to Tamil peoples in the modern age.  Aside from a failed civil war for Tamil Eelam in Lanka, there have been no other Tamil nationalist movements that have lasted in the modern day.  Most Tamils living in the Diaspora ascribe their national identity to South Asian nations or to their adoptive homes.  Tamils who live in the Indian subcontinent, the islands of the Indian Ocean or South East Asia similarly identify themselves with pre-markers like Malaysian Tamil or Indian Tamil—the will for a pan-Tamil identity has all been lost.

As an artist of Tamil origin, living in the Diaspora, this identity became more real to me as I navigated my own consciousness and awareness around my identity in America.  The discovery of my late father’s loyalty to the DMK flag and what it represented only furthered the fuel of this fire.  This along with my own sensibilities around the injustices carried out toward my people in Lanka, created within me the imagination of a Tamil state.  It recalled the legend of Kumari Kandam, from which, it is believed Plato may have been inspired for Atlantis.  The lost Tamil continent that sank into the Indian Ocean.  The pseudo historical theories of the Tamil connection to the Mayans, the actual Tamil connections to East Africa and Yemen, and the journey of the Tamil, known as Damo, who established the Shao Lin Temple in China.  I wondered if I was such a global person because my Tamil identity was woven into the fabric of the world.

Then came the National Geographic documentary about the first genes out of Africa and lo and behold, the Tamil DNA marker shared the same markers as the Andamanese, the Papuans, and the Aboriginal peoples of Australia as the first out of Africa.  As I imagined the migration of my people over the water, I thought of my own spiritual connection to the sea and wondered if something deep in the fabric of my genetic make-up inspired my fascination.

Finally, there was the theory of the renowned linguist Susumu Ohno, who put forth the idea in the 1980’s that Japanese (held to be an Altaic language) was overwhelmingly influenced by Tamil, believing the connection to have happened over 2000 years ago in the Yayoi period of Japan.  Ohno was not the first to propose this connection, but as a linguistic scholar of Japanese he was by far the most qualified to make the claim.  Although Ohno is not without his detractors, his theory is backed by an sound argument that picks apart Japanese words and shows the Dravidian linguistic connection, grammatical overlap, relative pronouns, a likeness in word order, striking resemblance in the rhythm of each language and the presence of Tamil influence upon the Yamato kotoba, or words that existed in Japanese prior to the Chinese writing system.

In his book “Seeking the Origins of Japanese Language”, Ohno takes it further by looking at cultural development and influence on ancient Japanese customs such as those connecting with the harvest, religious ritual, and nuptial rites.  While Ohno’s ideas are compelling, they are not backed by sound archeological evidence, and rely on Ohno’s linguistic arguments alone.  As a Tamil, who has had great affinity for Japanese culture, I found his arguments compelling and again they tickled by imagination and I began to wonder, what if there were proof of this connection and influence.

I wrote Red Dot as a fictionalized narrative that begins with the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu sending ships to follow the nautical path of Damo; it flashes forward to Japanese imperial soldiers being slaughtered by a combination of saltwater crocodiles and the British Indian forces in Rangoon during World War II.  In this imagined narrative these Japanese soldiers were coming to rescue their Tamil brethren from British colonial rule.  The narrative also examines the Moorish connection to Tamil, the dead language of Arwi, a combination of Arabic and Tamil, the Moorish bloodlines that mixed with Tamils during the viable and long standing Indian ocean trade.  The East African connection to Tamils both by trade and genetics and finally the little known fact of Tamil coolies who were converted into the Atlantic Middle Passage Slave trade via South Africa, though they only account for a small percentage of that trade having numbered two thousand, that genetic story is also a part of the American Slave Trade epic.  All in all, the song explores all these strands and ends on a black banner, with a red dot, or disc fixed in the middle.  Ironically its similar to the Japanese flag in construction, save for the black taking place of the white, and it imagines a place that has never been allowed to exist by Indian, French, Dutch, British and Sinhala hegemony and that is a pan-Tamil state:

TamilNation

In the world we live in Tamil nationalism is a footnote at best, but Tamil identity is very much alive and vibrant.  Linked to a language and culture that continues to thrive wherever it goes—from Trinidad to Toronto, for Johannesburg to Jaffna and from Malaysia to the Maldives, Tamils continue to have a profound impact.