A Catalyst For Change

Zaynab2

Shrine of Zaynab

A Catalyst for Change

Learning History & Combatting Terror

By Professor A.L.I.

When my high school history teacher Jeff Ustick first posed the question of what the purpose of history was, to me, I had little idea then that later in life I too would become a historian like him. At the time, there were several quotes he shared with us including the cliché, “those that do not study history are doomed to repeat it,” in an effort to spark a classroom discussion. I forget the ensuing conversation, but in the time since, in which I majored in history at U.C. Berkeley and went on to become a history teacher, I believe I found my own reason for why history should be studied and it is a nuanced perspective on the cliché I re-quoted above.   I believe that history is filled with familiar patterns of human behavior. Once we recognize the catalysts to these behaviors we can begin to predict how humans might behave. This knowledge is therefore vital, if put to use to prevent wars and conflict—however and predictably so, human greed not knowledge tends to drive the actions of these political actors upon humanity’s drama.

Take for example the role we, i.e. the West have played in the Middle East for the past one hundred years.   Not unlike our ongoing relationship with the African continent, or throughout Asia, the Caribbean and also Latin America, we have engaged in the process of raw resource extraction for our profit, we have treated the Middle East as a place to deplete. The singular commodity interest that drives our involvement in this region from aid, to military support, to coups and wars has been oil. There are other resource interests in this region, but oil has been the dominant resource extracted and the need for it has consumed both politicians and robber baron alike. Unfortunately, based on how we’ve proceeded and whom we have backed in our thirst for oil, we’ve shown clearly that we haven’t understood the history of the region and have mucked it up as a result.

Minimization is part of the problem. Our media minimizes whole regions to fit into a neat, homogenous, black and white worldview–simplified both for our consumption and support. We mindfully use language to effectuate this black/white fallacy to those who, in our political system vote, putting people in office. The latter group in concert with business interests, use nation-state action to drastically intervene and subvert the interests of people in the regions we desire resources from. We couch it in language of democracy but have actively worked against democratically elected leadership in these regions. When democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran jeopardized the Anglo-American Oil company (later known as British Petroleum or BP) interests in this region, they worked with our then president Dwight David Eisenhower to utilize the CIA to replace him with a dictatorial Shah, or king. Fancy that! Our nation, which was born in reaction to the policies of King George that had people taxed without representation and whose ideological framing was the antithesis of monarchy, was, two-hundred years later actively supporting/creating monarchy so that multi-national business interests could take advantage of people, effectively extracting their wealth, where they had no voice to stop it. The irony (pun intended) is almost unbelievable.

This is where we are currently, operating in the same way throughout the world. We are not the only ones, the United Kingdom, France and Germany along with China, South Korea and Japan are all vying for the same resources and using similar means in order to wrest control. In the Middle East, we are all interested in oil. We are a fossil fuel driven world, and in this world oil is king. When the British and French became involved with the Ottoman Empire’s losing grip on the Middle East, they created nations, just as they had in Africa that never truly existed except on the resource maps of European dreams. Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia are all made up nations that never existed historically. They were created to help divvy up that region. Iraq and Syria had historically existed but their new borders were more arbitrary than based on the historic record. Palestine became its own issue, which continues to this day, but in the case of Saudi Arabia, you see the sinister machinations of the British Empire, creating the octopus, from whose outstretched tentacles refugees now flee.

سیری ناپذیر-89840-shia muslim

Global Terror

The house of Saud began as one of many tribes trying to control the Nejd and Hejaz regions of the Arabian Peninsula. The House of Saud needed ideological backing and they found it in Abd-Al-Wahhab, a pseudo-scholar who was cast out of his own village as a madman, who had re-discovered the works of Ibn Taymiyyah and continued to argue as he did that Islam needed to be purified and that innovation, or bidah, had overpowered its essence. This framing, later called Wahhabism or Wahhabi Islam gave the Saud the excuse it needed to unify the tribes under its banner and oppose the Ottomans. The British come in and support see Lawrence of Arabia for context and the nation of Saudi Arabia is born. There are arguments out there that the British had knowledge of oil in the Arabian Peninsula back in the 1870’s, when its value would have been more as a source of lubrication for machines than fuel, still, whether they did or not, they created the octopus and its tentacles grow forth from the Wahhabism that spreads, morphs into Salafism, an even more extreme, puritanical interpretation of Islam and creates arms for the kraken of terror named ISIS or DAESH, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Sepa-E-Sahaba to name a few. These arms do not represent the majority of Muslims, however, the arms have spread due to the oil money that fuels its source.

History has catalysts and human behavior is predictable. What the British did with Saudi Arabia we tried to do with Iran, and then we tried again with Al-Assad in Syria and Saddam in Iraq, after enabling the latter in the first place, and we’ve made a mess of that region, giving the Wahhabi/Salafi beast its building blocks in unemployment, instability, crusader-language that polarizes the them as much as it does the us, and war. We have sold them the weapons that they use against us. We have made our citizens targets, while we have actually targeted theirs with drone strikes and we now sit back and use rhetoric that further enables them, because this octopus needs to feed its tentacles with a combination of ignorance and fear and our media provides dosages of both so it actually is unsurprising to hear brainwashed Muslim teens trying to get to Syria to join DAESH/ISIS or to become brides for their soldiers. All the while, we engage in a steady stream or extraction.

We denounced Al-Assad for his dictatorship, also with Saddam and Qaddafi, but oil stable Saudi Arabia is predictably our friend. We refuse to denounce their treatment of women and religious minorities, the countless abuses they engaged in, human rights violations too lengthy to even list here and a monarchy that gives little real voice to its citizens while exporting a brand of a puritanical and extremist brand of Islam that argues that innocent people can be killed (violating one of the most fundamental core Abrahamic principles of “Thou Shalt Not Kill”) and that Muslims should be in a perpetual state of war against non-Muslims.

My students ask me, what they can do, while straddling the line between cynicism and hope? My human family, fellow Americans, people living in the west and Muslim brethren ask the same question. To all these groups I have the following answer. Recognize the pattern in human behavior and understand the history. Go deeper, even when the media or Hollywood advises you to remain on the surface. There is knowledge at the depth that I will share with you, but continue the research beyond. If you understand the truth I will share and help others to as well, then I am certain that we can combat the wave of ignorance that feeds the Wahhabi octopus. I also believe if our policy-makers were more informed, then we’d be able to create mutually beneficial partnerships for resources (while we also transition to a model that is not fueled by fossils) between nations instead of one that finds us in a manipulative relationship with regions.

Zaynab

The Story of Zaynab

The Truth

What the ISIS/Daeshes, Talibans and Al Qaedas of the world are doing is not new. You can find their model in early Islamic history. In the year 680, and event took place in which a woman from the bloodline of Abraham and Muhammad was brutalized and chained. She watched her brothers, her nephews, including infants, and her own sons murdered and their heads chopped off and placed on spears. She was taken to Kufa and then marched through the desert with the survivors of this massacre, in which her niece and others would perish and placed in a dungeon in Damascus. In spite of this she spoke out, and when she found herself placed before the Caliph named Yazeed, she trounced him verbally with the eloquence of her mother and grandfather and the people took note of her narrative. Her words, which reminded the people in the court of what Islam was truly, a religion of equity and equality and of justice and peace, stirred hearts and the public pressure made Yazeed release her. She continued to proselytize and tell her story until she died. She represented feminism, legitimacy and truth. She is the reason why the largest pilgrimage in the world is to Karbala, where the initial massacre took place. She is the reason why the Taliban focused first on massacring the people of Mazar-E-Sharif (people who claim to be descendants of her bloodline through her lone surviving nephew, and ultimately that of her grandfather). And she is the reason why ISIS aka DAESH, in 2014 attacked her shrine in Damascus where many believe she is buried and is a popular place of pilgrimage. Her name is Zaynab and she represents us.

Her story is so threatening to the octopus, that its tentacles attacked her shrine and her supposed descendants before it ever attacked us. Why is she such a catalyst? What would fear truth? Perhaps a lie? What would fear feminism? Perhaps patriarchy? What would fear legitimacy? The illegitimate? I am convinced that if my students, my fellow Americans, my human family and my sisters and brothers of the Muslim faith understood who Zaynab truly was they could use her as a catalyst to combat the ignorance that feeds the tentacles of terror as well as the kraken itself.

I wrote the song “An Ode To Zaynab” in an effort to raise this awareness and I did so before ISIS ever attacked her shrine—but recent events compelled me to create the hashtag #IAmZaynab and the video that follows, which is an effort to capture this historical truth. This video was made with participation of people throughout the world, from the Middle East, through Europe, Canada and the United States. It is a video of people holding signs that say simply, “I Am Zaynab” along with her narrative captured in a verse that emulates the Masaib or Elegy traditionally given for her in Hip-Hop. It is my hope that through this piece of art, this article and others like it that we allow Zaynab to be a catalyst for us to help change the world with knowledge, born from a place of Authenticity, Love and Intellect. 

The song “An Ode To Zaynab” is available on Professor A.L.I.’s XFactor double-album on iTunes & free-streaming on Spotify.

Islamophobia: An irrational fear for the religion I hold dear

They Kill MeIslamophobia: An irrational fear for the religion I hold dear

by Professor A.L.I.

 

As a Muslim educator and artist, times like this past week, which included terrorist attacks in Baghdad, Beirut, Paris and Nigeria are especially challenging. I find solace in the fact that I can be there for young people, who are still navigating their identity while that identity is being stereotyped by these events, homogenized with its perpetrators, then marginalized and attacked. I rather I be the face of Islam in these moments than them and I rather I be the target of hate, then them. However, I know it is a burden, that all Muslims have to share—especially those who live in the West.

Recently, Donald Trump who campaigning for in the Republican primaries made the assertion that Muslims should wear identification badges. Sadly, in the xenophobic reality that is present day America, ones American identity is questioned by ones head covering or facial hair. Ask any practicing adherent of the Sikh faith and they will affirm this truth. The assertion made by Trump was made in an effort to connect with voters, since it is a feeling held by many. People in America look at Paris and they don’t feel safe. They look at Paris and remember the Boston Marathon and 9/11. I know this because when I look at the events of Baghdad, Beirut, Paris and Nigeria, I remember Boston, New York and D.C. I remember how I felt, violated as an American and how I felt doubly violated, when, my fellow Americans began to associate me with those who had carried out these disgusting acts.

If you are not a Muslim or Sikh or can pass for not being one due to your ability to blend in, then you may not know the fear we feel in these moments. It’s caught in the eyes of Alia Ansari, a 37-year old mother of six, in between the flashes of gunshots, as she was gunned down in front of her home in Fremont, California, in 2006. imgres

Her only distinguishing quality, the headscarf she wore. I live in the Fremont area, an area known for a large Muslim population and I feel the fear. I live here with my wife and children, and the fear is real, everyday and its heightened after global tragedies.

The fear I feel is responsive. It’s fear in response to the irrational fear, i.e. phobia that grips my nation in times like this. It isn’t the irrational fear of the stranger (i.e. Xenophobia) alone, but the irrational fear of Islam and Muslims, known as Islamophobia. I use the term irrational to juxtapose it with rational, in order for people to distinguish between groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban and Al Qaeda versus people like me. You should fear ISIS and their ilk. I fear them. This is a rational fear. They’re stated goal is to create fear through terror. They want to kill you and me and they have carried out gruesome acts of violence to showcase their resolve. This fear is like the fear of a venomous snake. It makes sense. When you combine this fear with ignorance, however you get phobia, or irrational fear. Irrational fear is the fear of any Muslim or of Islam in general. It’s the fear mongering of presidential hopeful Donald Trump. It’s the motivation behind the profiling of Sikhs and Muslims. It’s the compounded tragedy found the tragic death of Alia Ansari.

Fear of “any old Muslim” is like fear of “any old snake” and not just the venomous ones. It is irrational fear and its irrationality holds me hostage in my own country for my constitutionally protected beliefs. The only way to combat irrational fear and hate is by diminishing the ignorance that fuels it with knowledge so one can discern between the ISIS’s of the world from the vast majority of Muslims who are just peace-loving average citizens and by washing away hate with love—loving those who are doubly impacted by these tragedies and who have to fear for their lives because of the way they are perceived in times of fear.

Islamophobia Article

This is a challenging thing to do. The challenge is that ISIS and its ilk claim to do what they are doing in the name of Islam emboldened by their interpretations of the faith. People ask me all the time, how they can tell the difference between these extremist groups and the average Muslim. I can respond to this question by breaking down a movement that began in the latter half of the 18th century called Wahhabism and how it morphed into Salafism in the 20th century and how its from this octopus that the tentacles of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, etc. have come. I can break down the motivations and the global realities that have created these groups and even take it further to analyze mental illness, the lack of education, poverty and unemployment that helps fuel the zeal of its adherents. I can break down how such an interpretation of Islam ever truly began and breakdown the event of Karbala, which is a clear delineation between the Islam (characterized as a religion of peace) and the Islam of ISIS, which is clearly one of war and conquest. However the simplest way to discern is to know that Islam is an Abrahamic faith and that the killing of innocent people is a fundamental no-no—“Thou shalt not kill” is a universal belief shared amongst the majority of Muslims—and not of ISIS.

ISIS isn’t even a logical extension of faith. It is faithless. I find the best description of this false consciousness in the words of my brother Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “For me, religion—no matter which one—is ultimately about people wanting to live humble, moral lives that create a harmonious community and promote tolerance and friendship with those outside the religious community. Any religious rules should be in service of this goal. The Islam I learned and practice does just that.”

I hope the people who need to read this read this and I invite you to share it. I need my fellow Americans to understand it for the sake of young people growing up in a world filled with fear, who share “my look”, if not my faith. I pray that my children can grow up in a world filled with love and knowledge, so that hearts and minds can stay connected in moments of tragedies as opposed to divided at odds with each other

I leave you with two spoken word pieces I wrote to be read at the Athenian School, for students and colleagues in my role as an educator there. I read the first part, which I wrote during and shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings. I never intended to publish it and it is provided here, unedited—capturing the angst I felt at the time. I was moved to tears as I read it in front of the entire school and I have not edited since. I didn’t intend to write a second part, but after this last week, I felt the need to do so again. Perhaps it’s the spirit of Kurt Hahn that pervades the Athenian Campus that compelled me to do so, to speak out against terror again—or maybe its my way of engaging in therapy to set myself whole, but I shared it the second part with my colleagues and students and I share it with you for I truly believe that I am you and you are me and that only together are we PEACE.

BostonMarathon

Who Am I?

By Professor A.L.I.

(Unedited and written less than 24 hours, after the Boston Marathon bombings)

I am an American as the news flashes:

“Boston Marathon, Bomb blasts!!!”

Cell phone in hand, I call and text,

My friends in Boston; slow, cold sweat.

Are you ok? Is everything all right?

Fingers twitch nervously as I type.

Sadness and anger grip the nation:

Social Media, Twitter Feed speculation.

I am a Muslim, that’s all the world sees.

A news correspondent tweets:

“Yes they’re evil, Kill them all!”

I scroll up, he says Muslims, kill them all?!

140 characters of vitriolic hate.

Muslim is trending. My insides ache.

I am not the Muslim runner or the Muslim spectator.

I am not the Muslim imam who opened his door for those affected.

Boston PD on the look out for dark skin and an accent.

A tweeter tells me to go back to the desert.

Expletives, and expressions of anger;

Yesterday, I was an American; today I’m a stranger?

The sun reflects off of my iPhone screen,

But instead of my own reflection I see,

The image of the words defining me;

I am the terrorist they want me to be,

For “they” cannot see me;

I am a just a human being.

And our humanity cries for those innocent souls;

But should our creed be a reason for our innocence sold?

I am the Sikh or Hindu mistaken for a Muslim during these times.

I am the Pakistani-American kid killed for foreign crimes.

I am you,

And you are me.

And together, we are PEACE.

 

Who Am I? (Part II)

By Professor A.L.I.

(Written 2 days after the ISIS terrorist attacks carried out on Paris, Beirut and Baghdad)

Refugees on rough seas, with smugglers rolling dices;

Irrelevant in our newsfeed, do we only care about oil prices?

When reflecting on the Middle East, the riddle of social media.

Muslim is trending again, for Paris lays bleeding and

Beirut the day before; Baghdad on previous weekend.

The news chooses its stories, as broken families are weeping.

All attacked, innocents killed and the culprit signals crisis,

Practicing a fundamentalist interpretation and called ISIS.

Like Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and the Taliban,

These organizations, attack the image of Islam,

So now every Muslim, of a billion, is seen as a threat,

And yet, these groups also mark innocent Muslims for death.

They kill them in the Middle East and then they kill them here.

They kill me, by filling my children’s future with fear.

The weight of labels and prejudice create Islamophobia.

And what is the definition of a phobia?

It’s an irrational fear.

Islamophobia is an irrational fear of a religion I hold dear.

Yes, I am a Muslim; it is the faith I practice.

So I look upon bomb blasts as doubly tragic:

The loss of innocent lives; where innocence dies.

I also brace myself for impact of a stereotype.

This is why, like my colleagues, I became an educator.

To end the debate between “us” and ignorance and hate.

By extinguishing ignorance with knowledge,

And washing away hate with affection and love.

That’s why we teach, so we can live in a world full of light and hope.

We are like Kurt Hahn facing Hitler, like David facing Goliath;

And we will only survive as people, if we can stay United.

I am you,

And you are me.

And together we are PEACE.