The Assassination of Walter Scott

In April of 2015, a white cop assassinated a unarmed black man.

Period. End of Story.

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There isn’t any more discussion needed. Any facts you want to hash out, like the fact that Walter Scott was running away, are superfluous.

Terms like “appropriate use of force” and “doing it by the book” don’t need to be thrown around. We don’t need pathetic apologetics like “Being a cop is hard work!” or “This wasn’t about race!”

Even the liberals, for the most part, get it. Just as they kind of got it with Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. The bullshit American media tells the story in an isolated context, without telling the full story or asking the real question.

How do we conceptualize “justice”?

That’s the story here.

When a representative of state power murders a civilian, what are we going to do about it?

There is indeed no such thing as a “justice system” in the United States today. That ought to be obvious to anyone who even takes a cursory glance at the society (and after all, the state institutions simply maintain a society and provide some semblance of logic to it).

We could throw out the numbers about African Americans and Latinos being thrown in prison at significantly higher rates than whites. We could look at the use of the death penalty almost exclusively for black men. We could look at how “laws” are specified to target people of color.

The government has defined “justice” for us here.

“Justice” in the US means letting white people off free and terrorizing and imprisoning people of color.

But, of course, under capitalism, it is not simply a game played on race, but is much broader. The full scope of the American “justice system” is the marginalization and brutalization of the poor (comparatively).

Predominately, in the US (and throughout the global imperialist system), those who are made poor are those who don’t share the white skin of the people in power.

So the next question: do we accept this definition of “justice”?

Do we accept “laws” that are meant to disenfranchise people of color?

Do we accept cops who come into communities and shoot civilians?

Do we allow state oppression to engage in domestic terrorism (or international terrorism, for that matter)?

If we don’t accept these things, then how do we conceptualize “justice”?

And what are we going to do about it?

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Who Owns “America”?

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from America,” I answered hesitantly.

“Oh, you mean the U.S.?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Because my father comes from Guatemala. That’s also America.”

“Yeah, of course.”

 

In the moment, I had hesitated merely because I have a difficult time pronouncing the German: die Vereinigte Staaten.

There is an unavoidable problem with the term “America”.

After this conversation, a couple of my German friends insisted that they always correct people.

If someone refers to the “United States of America” as simply “America”, they said, that person is using imperialistic language.

I disagree, mostly.

In fact, perhaps we could use it as a method of fighting imperialism through language.

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We should start with a longer view towards history. Undoubtedly, the very term “America” is inherently imperialist.

“America” is derived from the name of an Italian explorer named Amerigo Vespucci, who at least made two visits to the Caribbean and South America. Initially thought to be parts of the West Indies, it was Amerigo Vespucci who probably was the first European to recognize the territory as part of a completely separate landmass.

On top of this, the term “America” is the feminine form of his Latin name: Americus. Here we see the classically gendered language of the “Age of Discovery”. The underlying sexual metaphor behind imperialism is clear: the continent is available for penetration by the male explorers.

Today, it is next to impossible to get away from this word. So, regrettably, we rely on it rather than on a perhaps more desirable indigenous term. There are literally thousands of available words we could use, but “America” has become the name of the two continents.

Regardless of this, in what way could I possibly justify using “America” in place of the “United States of America”?

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AmeriKKKa

I defend using this term out of simplicity and clarity.

First, people from countries use shorthand names for those countries. No one from Australia says, “I am from the Commonwealth of Australia.” No one from Guyana says, “I am from the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.”

You can say it if you’d like, but I’m willing to bet that’s not the case.

Second, when we talk about people from specific places, we utilize demonyms. Someone from Russia is a Russian, someone from Germany is a German. What about someone from the USA?

A United Stateserin! A United States of American!

It seems to me like the demonym here might be misleading, but nevertheless indicative of a clear shorthand. If we call someone an American, then which country should they be from?

So even if we say that a preferable term would be “The United States”, then we still run into a problem.

The official name for Mexico is Estados Unidos Mexicanos – The United Mexican States. So which “United States” are you talking about?

Then we have another problem if you respond, “The United States of America.”

Are you talking about Organización de los Estados Americanos? The Organization of the American States? Because that’s a political, regional organization between all the states of the hemisphere.

Therefore, unfortunately, none of the dominant terminology is totally unproblematic.

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There is a way, it seems to me, of decolonizing this word and using it in an anti-imperialistic way.

Although I admit that I did mean the USA when I said “America”, I think there can be an alternative.

For example, if someone from Guatemala were to also simply say, “I am from America,” then this could serve to show a form of unity between the peoples of the Americas.

We can all begin to hollow out the meaning of term until it serves as a shorthand for peoples beyond national borders. “America” can become decolonized when we all use it together, to move past and against arbitrary divisions.

When we use “America”, we ought to use it to signify that we are from the continents (even if our ancestors are not). We can maintain the signifier and permanently broaden the signified. We can find “America” to be unifying. We can establish some level of solidarity against imperialism.

Who owns “America”? I’m tempted to say that we all do.

I may be mistaken, but for now, this seems like the clear path.

9 questions about Syria that still haven’t been answered

Since March 2011, over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria. It’s taken two and half years, but people in the United States are finally talking about the civil war. I’ve seen multiple articles scattered around the internet attempting to explain the situation (and almost always falling pathetically short). This post is aimed at filling in some gaps.

One article stands out in particular: a Washington Post article entitled “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask” by Max Fisher.

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1. What is Syria?

Syria is a country. Let’s move on.

2. Why are people in Syria killing each other?

Mr. Fisher doesn’t aim to answer this question accurately at all. So yes, it’s true that the civil uprising began in March/April 2011 and protests around the country swelled. It also happens to be true that the government did respond “like monsters”. But this is only half of the story.

In April 2011, there were also protests around the country in support of Assad and the current government. I’m talking hundreds of thousands of people. These protests, however, didn’t receive the fanfare in the Western media. This is because the narrative in the West, from the beginning, has been about how a terrible dictator is killing his people. It happens to be a bit more complex.

To further complicate said narrative, on July 29th, 2011, a conglomerate of defected soldiers and random people established the “Free Syrian Army”. The Free Syrian Army remains the major oppositional force in Syria, fighting alongside (and oftentimes against) other groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic Ahrar al-Sham Movement. Since the beginning, the rebels have had a difficult time developing any cohesive program, which has resulted in a civil war within a civil war.

On top of this, the FSA is a difficult organization to pin down. Some representatives claim that they want to establish a secular democracy. Some talk about an Islamic republic. All they can agree on is that they want Assad out of power. Keep in mind that this is the organization that gets its funding from Qatar, Turkey, Israel, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia.

Ultimately, people in Syria are killing each other, because they disagree on who should be in charge. Supporters of the government want Bashar al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army doesn’t really agree on who they want in charge (but I can guarantee you it’s a Sunni Arab male), and Al-Qaeda wants an state that wouldn’t be too radically different from Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

3. That’s horrible. But there are protests lots of places. How did it all go so wrong in Syria? And, please, just give me the short version.

It went “wrong” in Syria for a lot of reasons. One of the major reasons, which you’re never going to hear from the media, is that the opposition picked up guns. In the West, we’ve acted as though armed rebellion was totally justified, even though that’s exactly what threw the country into this bloody civil war. In fact, the opposition group that hasn’t been talked about at all is the nonviolent opposition.

4. I hear a lot about how Russia still loves Syria, though. And Iran, too. What’s their deal?

Let’s flip this: I hear a lot about how the U.S. still loves the rebels, though. And Saudi Arabia, too. What’s their deal?

The fact of the matter is that countries have their interests and act accordingly. Russia and Iran have a vested interest in seeing a stable and united Syria under Assad. Meanwhile, the U.S. has a vested interest in seeing an unstable Syria weaken Iran and Hezbollah. The loss of civilian lives is meaningless in the face of vital national interests.

So yes, the harsh reality is that governments do what they need to do, regardless of how many innocent people have to die in the process. Don’t believe me? Look at Darfur, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tibet and Xinjiang…

5. This is all feeling really bleak and hopeless. Can we take a music break?

I thought about putting a pro-government song here, just to contrast the original article, however that would be in poor taste. It also would misrepresent my views on the issue, because I’m not pro-Assad.

6. Why hasn’t the United States fixed this yet?

Here’s the big issue.

The United States hasn’t “fixed this yet”, because the United States is contributing to it. It is in the interest of the United States to see this war continue. That’s why it’s not even threatening to overthrow Assad.

Why?

Because right now you have members of Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah killing each other. You have Iran’s strongest ally in the Middle East faltering. You have Israel easily bombing southern Syria and continuing the occupation of the Golan Heights with no issues. At the same time, sectarian divisions are being exacerbated throughout the Middle East, which keeps too many of these countries from uniting and having more control over their oil.

7. So why would Obama bother with strikes that no one expects to actually solve anything?

The real answer is because Assad is winning. Striking at Assad would only weaken his forces and prolong the civil war. There is no “punishment” for using chemical weapons, because the rebels used chemical weapons in May and totally got away with it. Why would we want to prolong the civil war? See above.

8. Come on, what’s the big deal with chemical weapons? Assad kills 100,000 people with bullets and bombs but we’re freaked out over 1,000 who maybe died from poisonous gas? That seems silly.

I’m going to have to say this over and over and over, but:

ASSAD HAS NOT KILLED 100,000 PEOPLE WITH BULLETS AND BOMBS!

That number – 100,000 – is the number of people who have died in the civil war. That includes civilians, rebels, terrorists, priests, imams, soldiers, police officers, government officials, and everyone in between. To say that Assad has killed 100,000 people is total nonsense.

Also,

THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT ASSAD USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS

At least, not yet. The U.N. is still working on information gathering and hasn’t released any reports. Until the U.N. does so, everyone is relying on selected U.S. intelligence. And even U.S. intelligence analysts think it might have been the rebels! After all, it wouldn’t even be logical for Assad to have used chemical weapons, considering that he had U.N. inspectors in Damascus that day.

So there are some underlying questions left:

If it was the rebels, then are we going to retract any support for them? Didn’t they cross Obama’s “red line” in May? Why is the United States acting with such blatant hypocrisy?

Think about it.

9. Hi, there was too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find the big take-away. What’s going to happen?

The United States is maybe going to bomb a sovereign nation based on little evidence and a big ego.

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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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.