Who Are You Calling a Fundamentalist?

About a year ago, I made a decision against my better judgment and went to a bar with a friend. He was interested in meeting up with a woman that he’d been dating for a while. I ordered my usual when going to a bar: a frothy cup of coca cola.

I was then asked a series of standard rapid-fire questions. Did you only order a coke? Don’t you want alcohol? Why don’t you drink? When my friend intervened and explained to her that I’m a Muslim, I received the strangest question of my life.

Are you like a Mozlum Fundamentalist? (stress on the way she said mozzz lummm)

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ummm what?

I had no idea how to respond.

I laughed, desperately hoping that it was just a joke.

Ha, you must be joking!

She wasn’t.

This, I believe, is nothing less than a crisis. The fact that she would seriously ask me that question is evidence of the crisis of ignorance. I eventually explained to her that, despite her keen eye, she was mistaken. Unfortunately for her, I’m not a “Muslim Fundamentalist”.

Homeland Security’s vigilantes foiled again!

But this of course begs the question: What is a “Muslim Fundamentalist”?

Sure, I had a vague idea of what she meant. Probably some guys she saw on the news wearing black headwraps and messing around on monkey bars. When you really think about it though, can you give accurate definitions to any of these terms that are thrown around today? Islamism, Islamic extremism, Jihadism, Islamofascism, etc…

First of all, “Fundamentalism” is Christian terminology. Specific groups of Christians called themselves “fundamentalists” in some protestant movements around the turn of the 20th century. It was associated with getting back to the fundamentals of Christianity in response to all the secularism, decadence, and immorality. “Fundamentalism” really came to the fore in the United States during the Scopes Trial. So the fact that “fundamentalism” gets associated with Islam isn’t really an accurate use of the word.

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Are you now, or have you ever been, the descendant of a monkey?

Secondly, all these terms get conflated and distorted so we lump different groups of people in with each other. Which, by the way, whether or not you’re a card-carrying communist or a neo-conservative nitwit, isn’t helpful at all. Is Saudi Arabia an “Islamic Fundamentalist” state? Then why do they work with the United States and issue rulings against suicide bombing? What about Iran? Was Osama bin Laden a “fundamentalist”? Was Saddam Hussein? Was Khomeini? Why are Syrian “fundamentalists” fighting Hezbollah right now?

This is why we’ve got to think critically for a second.

Saudi Arabia and Iran aren’t on great terms. Saddam Hussein wanted to kill Khomeini in the 70s (and subsequently fought Iran in a brutal war throughout the 80s, which, by the way, was totally bankrolled by the United States). And suicide bombing has been a tactic of plenty of non-Muslims. See: Kamikaze pilots in WWII or the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. Or how about the story of Samson in the Bible?

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Definitely Muslim Fundamentalists.

Our language is at least inadequate and at most insidious and racist.

One thing’s for sure: our discourse today is profoundly unhelpful. Arguably, countless Americans wouldn’t have thought that Saddam and bin Laden were friends if they knew that Saddam was a secularist, while bin Laden was striving for something a little more religious. Maybe this information would have caused people to question the official line.

Maybe the U.S. wouldn’t have brutally invaded and occupied Iraq. But now that’s just getting into the realm of speculation.

Seriously, who the fuck ever thought that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were working together!?

It is clear that the way we talk about things shapes the way that we think about things. So when we talk about “Muslim Fundamentalism” or “Islamofascism” or whatever, it’s horribly important that we are clear and precise in exactly what we mean. This is why we need to change the way we conceptualize the other, because otherwise we’re doomed to repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

So who are you calling a fundamentalist?

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Wait! Don’t De-Friend Idiots!

Dear friends,

I know that this is a difficult time. With George Zimmerman being acquitted, we are all reminded of the consistent failures of this justice system as well as the prevailing political structure that maintains it. But please, don’t de-friend people on Facebook simply because they don’t understand.

It’s likely that you, like I, have Facebook friends who are happy about the acquittal. Whether they’re racist, conservative, or just plain stupid – despite the temptation, please, please don’t de-friend them.

But why not?

Well, first of all, de-friending them isn’t going to help things. No one is ever going to change their minds simply because they’re losing digital Facebook friends over political opinions.

Second, de-friending them is a bad way of expressing anger. It’s unproductive. You should instead channel this anger into learning more so you can argue them into the ground and win! Use this as an opportunity to learn!

And finally, once you de-friend them, you lose the ability to influence them in the future. Think about it, our generation spends every moment of every day on Facebook. Occasionally, they may read an article or two that you post. This is an opportunity to persuade them to use their brains.

So stop. Think. Debate. This is how you alter their perspectives. Not by de-friending them.

Love,

Adam

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A Revolutionary Against Revolution

I was introduced to the works of Karl Marx when I was sixteen years old. Throughout my  teenage years, I was shaped by Marx’s ideas about political economy, class struggle, and revolution. Although I’ve never been much of a dogmatic Marxist, it took me a long time to articulate my feelings on the subject of revolution.

Today, I wholly reject revolution as a necessary tool in political transformation.

Before moving forward, let’s define political revolution:

1. an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed.

Why would someone desire revolution in the first place? Out of anger, necessity, the desire for justice, righteous indignation. At least, these are the causes that revolutionaries would cite.

However, in our society, “revolutionaries” seem to be more often motivated by greed, the desire for power, and other nonsense. I realize that this is fairly anecdotal, but I think intentions play a key role in how people act towards the government.

And this is where I fail the revolutionary test: Are you committed to revolution?

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My answer, as you might of guessed, is no. I’m not committed to revolution, I’m committed to a better world. I’m not inherently against revolutionary politics or the revolutionary ideal. In fact, I remain a committed radical:

1.of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.

2.thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company.

3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms.

But the problem is the conflation between revolutionary politics and radical politics. So many people today start off with the desire to build a better world. They see injustice and decide to respond to it. War, disease, famine, the whole deal.

The question then becomes: how do we fix it?

Well, voting is bullshit, reform doesn’t really work, and the fundamentals of this society need to change. Therefore we need a fundamental change! And then BAM, a little bit of idealizing Lenin, Khomeini, Robespierre, or Che and you’re a bona fide revolutionary.

The problem is that revolutions never go as planned – look at France, Russia, the U.S., China, Mexico, Iran, the “Arab Spring”, Narnia

I’m not convinced that “revolution” is the answer. And I’m absolutely in disagreement with Marx that class struggle is going to deterministically lead to proletariat revolution and communism.

"class struggle is going to deterministically lead to proletariat revolution and communism"

“class struggle is going to deterministically lead to proletariat revolution and communism”

Although the diagnosis is undoubtedly correct, it’s the prescription that needs a bit of re-thinking. Yes, capitalism needs to go. Yes, hierarchies and domination and exploitation must be fought. Yes, we must change the fundamentals of society today.

I’m committed to a better world, and if a revolution is necessary to achieve that world, then I’m willing to continue to have that discussion. However, until I’m convinced, I’ll march on, untethered by my previous allegiance.

On Being a Muslim Ambassador

When I accepted Islam a couple years ago, one thing I failed to anticipate was all of the new roles that I would immediately have to play. This was obviously due to my own naiveté, but being a white American Muslim has definitely had an affect on how I view the world and, in turn, how the world views me.

First off, I neglected to realize how many Americans simply know next to nothing about Islam, Muslims, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, cheese making, origami, beekeeping…

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And this isn’t any one individual’s fault per se, but it put me in a position of representing every single Muslim ever in history since the beginning of time. Let’s not forget that right now, Muslims make up about 1/4th of the planet.

That’s a lot of pressure. Especially when I’m competing with bizarre, yet common stereotypes and fears of the other. Seriously, people in this country are petrified by stuff they don’t understand.

Another thing that surprised me was the latent racism against Muslims in supposedly “tolerant” circles.

Over the past two years, I’ve had multiple white people accuse me of somehow not being sufficiently Muslim for one reason or another. What this tends to mean is that I don’t fit into their box of what a Muslim ought to be or how a Muslim ought to act.

What do they have in mind?

Probably a brown person with a beard and a turban.

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You called?

Of course, these people are often well-meaning, enlightened Liberals who probably don’t see themselves as having a racist bone in their body. The problem is: however well-meaning one might be, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Finally, there’s a general concept among many Americans that Muslims are all the same.

Many people speak of Muslims as one, undivided whole. Can you imagine grouping all Catholics or Jews or Atheists into a singular group? No, probably not.

In reality, the Islamic tradition is filled to the brim with differences of opinion.

Ramadan just began a few days ago and I’ve started to receive a whole bunch of questions from friends and family. No food? No water? How do you survive!?

I think that I should elaborate that I love getting asked respectful questions, because it means that people are curious and interested, which is the only way to fight against these negative stereotypes.

At the same time, it’s easier for a lot of people to talk to me, because I’m the nice Westernized white Muslim. I’m about as non-threatening as you can get, considering I come in the shape of a pasty twig with glasses.

But this is another huge problem of me serving as a representative, isn’t it?

Especially considering the demographics of Muslims in the United States. I serve as an interesting bridge between white suburban middle class America and black and brown Muslims who have an entirely different way of engaging with the United States. (I use the word “interesting” in place of “really fucked up”)muslims-are-coming

In all honesty, I don’t mind playing this role, even with all the setbacks and frustrations. Ultimately, it’s going to take Muslims in the West opening up the doors for dialogue and discourse in order to break down these barriers and move forward.

I just hope that when I’m acting as an ambassador for Islam and Muslims, I’m not doing a terrible job, inshaAllah.