Muslims Are Having A Hollywood Moment

Of note:

On the last day of taping for a new 10-part Web series called East of La Brea, the cameras are set up at a local mosque for a scene about a 20-something black Muslim woman who’s praying. Suddenly her phone rings and the quiet space fills with raucous and racy lyrics from a pop song. Around her, older women shoot her shady stares.

This show is one example of what appears to be a shift in Hollywood. On TV and on online streaming services, Hollywood watchers say more Muslim characters than ever before are showing up in sitcoms and dramas. The characters they portray are more nuanced and more complicated than usual. In part, that’s because many Muslims themselves are writing these shows and characters.

East of La Brea is a show about being in your 20s and figuring out life against the gentrifying backdrop of Los Angeles, told through two main characters, roommates who are Muslim. But that’s not the entirety of the women’s storylines, says Sameer Gardezi, a Pakistani-American screenwriter and the creator of the show.

“I really feel like when people watch this it’s going to feel like [it is] an LA story,” Gardezi says. “Being Muslim is part of them, we don’t ignore that, but at the same time their problems aren’t necessarily faith based; they are based on other aspects that I feel are more relevant to what it means to lead an American life.”

Things like paying rent, feeling lost in a dead-end job and dealing with addiction in a family.

The Web series is the first project from Powderkeg, the digital media company founded by director, writer and actor Paul Feig, known for directing films like Bridesmaids and creating the show Freaks and Geeks. The company was founded to uplift underrepresented voices.

East of La Brea follows the friendship of two Muslim women of color, one black and one Bangladeshi-American. It was created with a grant from Pop Culture Collaborative, an organization whose goal is to boost authentic stories about minority communities, and in collaboration with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative. The production is being partially funded by Lyft Entertainment and the Chicago-based Pillars Fund, a fund to bolster American Muslim voices.

It’s one of several projects by and about Muslims that are in the pipeline or have recently debuted in the entertainment industry. But Gardezi says this story is just one American Muslim story.

“There are so many different versions and my hope would be that everyone gets a shot at telling their version,” he said. “So it doesn’t feel like oh, this is the one Muslim show that needs to make it.”

Communities of color and minorities in Hollywood feel that that is often the way it happens: They get one shot to show that their characters are marketable, one shot to reflect the entirety of incredibly diverse and complicated communities. Gardezi says it’s impossible to do that with one show.

The Trump presidency inspired new Muslim content

But Muslims are embracing the moment. Right now, there’s an appetite for content including or about their communities in part it is because Muslim writers like Gardezi, who has written for Modern Family and Outsourced, are creating their own content. But a lot of the interest is because the entertainment industry itself is reacting to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment from Donald Trump.

When Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, followed months later by a call for a “complete and total shutdown” of Muslims entering the country, the Hollywood bureau at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, MPAC, got a lot more popular.

“The phones were ringing off the hook,” said Sue Obeidi, the Hollywood Bureau director.

She consults with studios, production companies and writers to help them create more authentic Muslim characters.

“We’re up against decades of storytelling that is inaccurate many times, that is racist often and very stereotypical,” she said.

Among the tropes, she said, are portrayals of women as chattel, who don’t have identities, or Muslims portrayed only as gas station owners, taxi drivers or violent villains.

Obeidi says it’s an uphill battle, but things are changing. She starts to list the number of characters on mainstream shows on a white board.

“A Muslim surgeon on Grey’s Anatomy; a superhero on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow; an LGBTQ hijabi Muslim (she said Hijabi which is an adjective, Hijab is the article of clothing, Hijabi is used to describe someone who wears the Hijab) on The Bold Type; a pork-loving, alcohol- drinking Muslim on Master of None.”

When writers come to her for advice, Obeidi reminds them that these Muslim characters might be the only Muslims some people ever meet. She tries to help them get the language right, for example in scripts that use the term Allahu akbar, which means God is great in Arabic, the language of the Qu’ran.

“You’ve seen many TV and film projects that have Allahu akbar being used in very violent scenes,” she said.

She negotiates to try to get writers to take it out or offset it with happy scenes like using the term Allahu akbar at a wedding or a dinner party. Because for Muslims it’s a beautiful phrase portrayed as ugly. And the impact can have profound ramifications in real life.

“So someone hears Allahu akbar when they’re dining out and all of a sudden you know they’re calling 911 because they think a family is doing something bad,” she said. “When all they’re saying is God is great.”

A lack of diversity in Hollywood and other places means the clichés and the distortions can prevail. Despite progress, Hollywood still struggles with reflecting a more and more diverse America. The Hollywood Diversity Report, released by UCLA in 2018, shows people of color still lag in all key jobs in the industry, from leading roles to creators of content.

That’s why this moment feels like a turning point for Muslims, Obeidi and others say.

Not every project is incredible material. Many positive Muslim characters fall into two camps that a lot of Muslims find frustrating: one, the Muslim hero fighting terror; the other, the confused Muslim who abandons his culture for a secular life. Both are storylines unrecognizable to a lot of Muslims.

That’s why the content in the pipeline today, being written by and about Muslims for large audiences, is so anticipated. There’s Hassan Minhaj’s weekly comedy show on Netflix that begins this month; an autobiographical sitcom for ABC being developed by Maysoon Zayid, a Palestinian-American comic with cerebral palsy; and a new sitcom called Ramy on Hulu, developed by Ramy Youssef, who is following in the path of iconic comics who came before him turning standup into a sitcom like Seinfeld.

Islam is suddenly cool

On a recent night at the Hollywood Improv, Youssef is headlining, joking about all the things that make him who he is: a millennial, a practicing Muslim trying to be good, an American, the son of Egyptian immigrants.

He also jokes about how, in LA, suddenly people think Islam is cool. “I was at a juice shop. I was talking to this woman telling her about Ramadan, she works there. She was like, ‘oh My God that’s sounds so amazing. I’m gonna do it this weekend.’ She said it like it was Coachella.”

After his standup performance he talks about how he and his friends joke about approaching religion like a menu. Ramy doesn’t drink, doesn’t do drugs but he does have premarital sex. That’s his arbitrary line, he says.

“We call it Allah cart. We’re kind of just picking and choosing like ‘Well, this is my deal with God,’ ” he said.

He hopes Ramy demonstrates how all kinds of people have their deal with God.

“In my standup I like to get dark, I like to get weird, I like to get uncomfortable,” he said. “I feel like when an immigrant family or when a family that is maybe a group that’s not well represented, when people try and put them on television, they go out of their way to make them look amazing and look perfect.”

His show won’t do that.

“I just was really excited about the idea of making Muslims look imperfect,” he said. “Not create something that was some P.R. thing, but create something that was, you know, really just a realistic portrayal of what we go through, how we are.”

Sameer Gardezi, the East of La Brea writer, says he doesn’t think that any one show can be the breakout moment for Muslims, when the communities are so diverse, nuanced and different from person to person, from place to place.

“That is the flexibility and the privilege that I think white communities have is that they’re allowed to fail in Hollywood and no one really bats an eye,” he said. A new project will still be funded.

“So that’s the point that we have to get to,” Gardezi said.

Source: Muslims Are Having A Hollywood Moment

Third of British people wrongly believe there are Muslim ‘no-go areas’ in UK governed by sharia law

No great surprise in the divide between the cities and other areas:

Almost a third of British people now believe the myth that there are “no-go zones” where non-Muslims cannot enter, according to a report warning of mounting intolerance.

Research by Hope Not Hate found that economic inequality was driving hostility towards Muslims, immigration and multiculturalism, particularly in post-industrial and coastal towns.

“These areas also voted strongly for Leave in the referendum and, ironically, may well suffer most under a hard Brexit – making them a ripe target for the far and populist right,” the group said.

“In effect, two Britains have emerged, with a more confident, diverse, liberal population now concentrated in our cities. The implications of this for Brexit, for the Labour Party, for politics in general, and potentially aiding the rise of a far-right movement, could all be profound.”

The research comes following an increase street protests by far-right groups including the anti-Islam Democratic Football Lads Alliance and supporters of English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson.

A 2018 YouGov survey of more than 10,300 people showed that attitudes towards Muslims had been hardening in Britain in the wake of Isis-inspired terror attacks and grooming scandals where the majority of suspects have been of Pakistani heritage.

It found that the perception of Islam as a threat was moving into the mainstream, with 32 per cent of respondents believing that there are “no-go areas in Britain where sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter”.

The view was shared by almost half of people who voted Leave in the EU referendum, and 47 per cent of Conservative voters.

The “no-go zones” theory, which is spread by global far-right pundits online has been widely debunked and where there have been isolated incidents of “Muslim patrols”, suspects have been arrested and condemned by local Muslim leaders.

The most infamous group, called the Sharia Project, was headed by Siddhartha Dhar, an acolyte of Anjem Choudary who later joined Isis in Syria.

In the YouGov poll, a small majority felt that there was an increasing amount of tension between the different political and demographic groups in the UK.

Almost a third thought Islamist terrorists “reflected a widespread hostility to Britain from among the Muslim community”, including two thirds of Leave voters.

Hope Not Hate’s research mapped data from the YouGov poll across parliamentary constituencies to create a heat map of different attitudes.

Overall it showed that liberal attitudes are most concentrated in areas like major cities where diversity is a normal part of everyday life, and the population tends to be better educated, younger and enjoying greater opportunities.

Meanwhile, the greatest concern about immigration and Islam was found particularly in post-industrial towns and coastal areas, where populations are less diverse.

Researchers documented a “halo effect” where cities with large Muslim populations are surrounded by predominantly white British areas with more hostile views.

“Where non-Muslims live, work and socialise with Muslims, these interactions are likely to reduce prejudice,” the report said. “But if people witness rather than experience super diversity, existing prejudices can be reinforced.”

Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope Not Hate, warned of a growing cultural divide between increasingly educated, diverse and multicultural metropolitan populations and those living in smaller towns.

“Communities with the greatest anxiety to immigration and multiculturalism are also the ones which has lost most through industrial decline,” Mr Lowles said.

“These communities had failed to see any benefit in globalisation and were, if anything, going backwards … the Brexit vote was, in the eyes of many, those in the left behind communities getting their revenge.

“Views are hardening and the target of their anger is increasingly Muslims, Islam and the political establishment.”

He said a sense of loss of hope and abandonment by the government was translating into hostility towards the political system.

“Political parties will not reduce anxiety or even hostility to immigration and multiculturalism by cracking down on immigration alone,” Mr Lowles added.

“It is about rebuilding these communities, equipping their young people with the skills that will enable them to compete more effectively in the modern global world and – fundamentally – giving them a sense of hope in the future.

Source: Third of British people wrongly believe there are Muslim ‘no-go areas’ in UK governed by sharia law

Gerard Batten drags Ukip further right with harsh anti-Islam agenda

Sigh:

Ukip has proposed Muslim-only prisons, special security screening for Muslim would-be immigrants and a repeal of equalities laws before its annual conference, further indicating the party’s shift to the populist hard right under its leader, Gerard Batten.

The conference will be held from Friday. Other policies put forward in a so-called interim manifesto, which Batten said was aimed at making Ukip “a populist party in the real sense of the world”, include the abolition of the category of hate crime, as well as scrapping the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the government’s equalities office.

The document also calls for a national inquiry into the abuse of children and women by sexual grooming gangs, something it calls “one of the greatest social scandals in English history”.

Batten, who took over the Ukip leadership from the beleaguered Henry Bolton in April, has allied himself with the far-right campaigner Tommy Robinson, who is the figurehead for an informal movement that uses grooming gangs as a means by which to campaign more widely against Islam in the UK.

The Ukip manifesto says the activity of grooming gangs had been covered up for years due to “political correctness and the fear of identifying the vast majority of the perpetrators as Muslims”.

Batten is vehement in his views on Islam, having described the religion as “a death cult”. His influence is clear in a policy programme that is likely to increase fears among more moderate Ukip members that he is seeking to create a nationalist, anti-Islam party.

Two key themes are measures connected to what it describes as “Islamic literalist and fundamentalist extremism”, and an emphasis on what the party calls a threat to free speech “driven by the political doctrine of cultural Marxism”.

On Islam, it proposes combating militancy in prisons with segregated sections of jails, or even entire jails, reserved for Muslim prisoners “who promote extremism or try to convert non-Islamic prisoners”.

As part of a wider crackdown on immigration, the manifesto suggests arrivals from Muslim countries should face a “security-based screening policy” to check their views.

In the document’s introduction, Batten says Ukip was “determined to protect our freedom of speech and the right to speak our minds without fear of the politically correct thought police knocking on our doors”.

Policies also include scrapping the concept of hate crimes, whereby prejudice can be considered an aggravating factor in offences. In addition to abolishing equalities organisations and banning positive discrimination, Ukip would aim to get rid of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the British Council.

Other mooted policies include overseas nationals having to live in the UK for five years before buying homes, rail nationalisation, and the abolition of the Crown Prosecution Service, the Climate Change Act, the BBC licence fee, inheritance tax and stamp duty.

The programme would be both populist and popular, Batten predicted, in its stance against establishment ideas such as “open-border uncontrolled immigration, and imposing an alien politically correct cultural agenda on their peoples”.

Batten, who took over on an one-year interim term with a mission to stabilise a party that has floundered since Nigel Farage stood down in 2016, does face dissent from a number of insiders. Some senior figures have predicted that he could face mass departures if he moves Ukip further to the hard right.

The party’s conference in Birmingham will include addresses by two controversial YouTube personalities that Batten has brought into the party.

There will be a speech by Mark Meechan, who makes videos under the name Count Dankula. He styles himself as a comedian and free-speech advocate, but remains best known for being fined after he posted a video of his girlfriend’s pug dog giving Nazi salutes.

There will also be a video address by Carl Benjamin, otherwise known as Sargon of Akkad. His content is based around opposition to Islam, but he has been accused of misogyny and abuse.

Source: Gerard Batten drags Ukip further right with harsh anti-Islam agenda

What’s with Islamophobia in Quebec?

Good commentary by Phil Gurski, noting the impact that this kind of discourse has on security agency efforts to engage with Muslim Canadians:

“Islam should be banned like we ban pit bulls.” You read that right. This was a Twitter post by an erstwhile candidate for the Parti Québeécois in the upcoming Quebec election. Suffice it to say he is no longer on the PQ slate. But let me repeat what he wrote: “Islam should be banned like we ban pit bulls.” Wow. It is hard to say anything about that beyond disgust that someone would (a) actually think this and (b) actually Tweet it. Talk about a career killer.

Or not.

There appears to be a disturbing amount of Islamophobia in the province of Quebec. This irrational fear, despite the actual presence of Islamist extremists, a topic I will return to below, is manifest in a variety of ways, ranging from ridiculous calls to ban stoning to the killing of Muslims at worship. Somewhere in the middle, lies a gaggle of self-styled patriot groups such as La Meute who claim to be standing on guard against the dangers posed by migrants, many of whom are Muslim.

What is driving this hatred for Islam? That indeed is a very good question. Is it the changing nature of Quebec society from centuries of white francophone Catholicism to a much more multicultural polity? Is it tied to the vestiges of separatism, a desire that appears, at least as far as all the major political parties are concerned, to be all but dead? These attitudes are not limited to Quebec but when Québécois francophones hold and pronounce them they do seem to get more attention in Canadian media. This is perhaps a shortcoming of how we recognize and report what is ‘newsworthy’ in this country.

We could dismiss all of this as hateful discrimination and move on, much the same as everyone seems to have a boorish relative who says stupid things, but gets away with them because no one wants to cause a family rift by challenging them. This, of course, is not an optimal response: hatred directed at any one group should always be called out for what it is in view of what is sometimes called the ‘broken window theory’: i.e. the notion that if you ignore early signs of disorder they will only get worse. I am not drawing a direct line between Islamophobic rhetoric and the shooting at the Québec City mosque in January 2017 but it is nonetheless important to reject racism in all its forms.

Those who hold these views will often point to terrorism as justification for their fears and demands for a cap on immigration. Here they both are sadly mistaken and yet have a point. Even a cursory glance at terrorism in Canada over the past few decades demonstrates quite clearly that not only is violent extremism thankfully a rarity in our country but the single largest successful attack was actually perpetrated against Muslims, not by them—Alexandre Bissonnette’s rampage in 2017. At the same time, there was an attack in Quebec by a Muslim in 2014, this one by Martin Couture-Rouleau, a convert to Islam albeit originally a Québécois de souche. There have also been other Quebec Muslims who have left to join terrorist groups abroad and some may return one day to carry out violence back home. So yes, the fear is real even if it is minimally supported by data.

The problem remains that even if there are violently radicalized Quebec Muslims they are but a handful and outweighed by tens of thousands of others. It is simply wrong to paint all with the same brush just because a few engage in violence. Furthermore, by engaging in discriminatory practices against an entire community for the sins of a tiny part, it forces that majority to circle the wagons out of a sense of self protection. This has serious implications for any collaboration and cooperation between Quebec Muslims and those agencies tasked with investigating real threats, such as CSIS and the RCMP.

Racism is racism and has no part in Canada. Let’s not bury our heads in the sand over this.

Source: What’s with Islamophobia in Quebec?

On Islam, Trump Takes a Different Approach at Home and Abroad – The New York Times

Striking, if not surprising. Notable understatement by the Republican Muslim Coalition president, likely a lonely position:

The White House’s guest list last week for President Trump’s first dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan included a who’s who of diplomats from the Middle East. But the event turned out to be more notable for who apparently was not there: representatives from Muslim American groups.

The night highlighted a paradox of Mr. Trump’s presidency. While he has sought to ally himself with Middle Eastern leaders, in part by at times softening his hostile tone on Islam, at home Mr. Trump has seemingly made little attempt to repair his fractured relationship with Muslim Americans — even those in his own party.

Saba Ahmed, the president of the Republican Muslim Coalition and a Trump supporter, said that at the outset of the presidency, there was a “complete shutdown of engagement” with Muslim Americans.

“It was quite a challenge” to work with Mr. Trump’s campaign staff, Ms. Ahmed said. “Even for the Republican Muslims who campaigned for him and helped him.”

The reinstatement of the dinner, which has been hosted by three previous presidents, and the departures of some staff members with hard-line views on Islam have left her optimistic that the White House will grant more access to its Muslim supporters.

“They have tarnished the image of Islam and Muslims, but I do think he is concerned about American Muslims,” Ms. Ahmed said. “The fact that he’s coming around, that he hosted the dinner, gives me a lot of hope.”

Activists outside the Republican Party do not share that hope.

“There is absolutely zero engagement with the Muslim American community,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Not good, not bad, not indifferent. Zero.” Everything he has said and done, Mr. Hooper said, “has had a tremendously negative impact on Muslim Americans.”

Mr. Trump has provided evangelicals with unprecedented access to the Oval Office, meeting regularly with a cadre of conservative Christians for issue-specific “listening sessions.” And although his meetings with faith leaders skew heavily toward Christians, they have been sprinkled with phone calls and holiday celebrations with members of the Hindu and Jewish American communities.

But according to his public schedule, the president has yet to meet with any Muslim American groups. Another hitch came last year when Mr. Trump upended a decades-old tradition by not hosting a gathering for iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan.

But the snub at this year’s iftar dinner was “a double-edged sword,” Mr. Hooper said.

“I don’t know a lot of Muslim American leaders who would have even wanted to attend,” he said. “But to have absolutely no Muslim American leaders invited? It’s a real slap in the face.”

The dinner tradition was started in 1996 by Hillary Clinton, the first lady at the time, and continued by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The attendees have historically included cabinet members and diplomats, but also members of advocacy groups and the public, according to a review of published guest lists.

Past presidents have also used the dinner to highlight noteworthy Muslim Americans. Mr. Bush made a point in 2006 of inviting Muslim military veterans and New York City police officers who were serving on Sept. 11, 2001, and Mr. Obama sought to emphasize women and young leaders by seating them at his table in 2015.

The White House has not made this year’s guest list public and did not respond to requests for comment. Among those in attendance were at least a dozen Middle Eastern ambassadors, including from countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to pool reports.

The relationship had begun to fray well before last week’s dinner. On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump frequently lobbed vitriolic remarks about Muslims. “I think Islam hates us,” he declared in an interview with CNN, and more than once he made unfounded claims that “thousands and thousands” of Arab-Americans in New Jersey cheered as the World Trade Center fell on Sept. 11.

Once Mr. Trump took office, one of his first acts was signing an executive order barring people from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. And he has appointed officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, whose remarks about Islam and ties to anti-Islam groups have raised concern among Muslims.

Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, said her nonprofit used to “believe in engagement as a tool” and worked with the Obama administration on civil rights issues. When Mr. Trump was elected, Ms. Khera hoped to continue that tradition, and accepted a meeting with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, in the weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

Ms. Khera said she thought it was important to meet with Mr. Kushner “to have the opportunity to determine to what degree the hateful rhetoric used on the campaign trail was bluster.”

A couple of weeks later, she said, the travel ban was rolled out.

“It became abundantly clear that this was his agenda,” she said. “Our posture now has really moved; our form of engagement now is really filing lawsuits.”

Despite his track record at home, however, Mr. Trump has shifted in the eyes of some Middle Eastern royalty to ally from antagonist. And in March, he called the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia “probably the strongest it’s ever been.”

The president has also publicly praised Islam abroad. Last year in Saudi Arabia, at a summit meeting of dozens of Muslim leaders, he retreated from his incendiary language and called Islam “one of the world’s great faiths.”

Speaking before Middle Eastern diplomats at last week’s iftar gathering, Mr. Trump reiterated that statement and focused on the summit meeting, calling it “one of the great two days of my life” and giving thanks for the “renewed bonds of friendship and cooperation.”

The remarks were less than convincing for American Muslims.

“What the president does is motivated in his self-interest,” Ms. Khera said. “He believes he motivates his base by demonizing Muslims, and when it comes to a foreign audience, especially in the gulf, he’s looking to curry favor with these power brokers. He’s a transactional person.”

Although the president has tried to rally Middle Eastern leaders to join him in combating terrorism and extreme ideology, according to experts, engaging Muslims in the United States is just as crucial as mounting an effective counterterrorism campaign.

Mr. Trump’s actions “negatively impact the view toward Muslims in the United States, and it creates a situation where future generations might feel alienated or targeted,” said Ali Soufan, a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and a former F.B.I. agent. “In Europe, in some communities, Muslims feel they are second-class citizens, and it’s these young kids who are questioning their identity who can become radicals and join ISIS.”

Mr. Soufan said that while Mr. Trump’s inflammatory remarks cater to his base, more caution is needed “not to bring cancer into the United States.”

But for some activists, it is too little, too late. Maha Elgenaidi, the executive director of the Islamic Networks Group, a cultural literacy nonprofit, cast doubt on the likelihood that Mr. Trump could repair his relationship with Muslim Americans.

“It’s not going to be easy to shift because many of the policies they’ve acted on have been based on religious profiling and are supported by evangelicals, his base,” she said. “I don’t think that’s going to be easily changed.”

Mr. Hooper, the Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman, said that for the community to sit at the table with Mr. Trump, it would take a complete repudiation of anti-Muslim remarks, policies and staff members he had appointed.

“You’ll find that every Muslim American leader wants to have a good relationship with any sitting president,” Mr. Hooper said. “But how is that possible when all of these negative forces are out there?”

via On Islam, Trump Takes a Different Approach at Home and Abroad – The New York Times

American Muslims on Trump’s iftar: Thanks, but no thanks

Appropriate non-attendance:

A scene from the horror movie “Get Out.” A moment of bloody betrayal — the dreaded Red Wedding — from HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” A medieval painting depicting a huge mouth devouring people as they eat.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s White House will host its first iftar, the sundown meal that breaks fasts during the holy month of Ramadan. For some American Muslims, it’s also time to break out the horror-movie memes.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “30 to 40” people had been invited to the iftar, though Trump administration officials haven’t yet released a guest list or divulged many details about the event.
On Wednesday, a White House spokesperson said Trump will host the iftar dinner in the State Dining Room at 8 p.m. ET “for the Washington diplomatic community.”
In years past, White House iftars have invited not only diplomats but dozens of American Muslims from civil society, including corporate executives, scholars, activists and athletes.
But many American Muslims say they are reluctant to break bread with Trump, citing the President’s rhetoric and actions toward Muslims and other religious and racial minorities.
“We do not need an iftar dinner,” said Imam Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University. “Rather, we need to get the respect we highly deserve. Do not feed us and stab us.”
Hendi attended a White House iftar in 2009, when President Barack Obama was in office. He said he was not invited this year. Like many prominent Muslims who have attended previous White House iftars, Hendi said he would not attend if invited this year.
Many American Muslims said they suspect Trump’s iftar is aimed at placating the country’s allies overseas, rather than making genuine connections with their community, with whom the president has had a troubled relationship.
“I was not invited to the White House iftar, but I would not attend if I were,” said Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
“Attending this event, especially during the holy month, a time of introspection and spiritual growth, would be inappropriate in my view as it would appear to normalize this administration’s behavior.” …

Source: American Muslims on Trump’s iftar: Thanks, but no thanks

What Islamophobic Politicians Can Learn From Mormons @NYTOpinion

Valid points regarding how previous experiences of discrimination can shape current attitudes for some groups:

Last month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on President Trump’s travel ban, popularly known as the “Muslim ban” because of his statements, like one in 2015 calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

But Mr. Trump is far from the only Republican willing to discriminate against Muslims. BuzzFeed News reported in April that since 2015, Republican officials in 49 states have publicly attacked Islam, some even questioning its legitimacy as a religion.

The only exception? Utah. In that state, where a majority of residents is Mormon, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, elected officials seem to have a deep understanding that an attack on the religious freedom of one group is an attack on the religious freedom of everyone. The rest of the nation should follow their example.

Utah’s politicians stand out against many of those whose statements BuzzFeed News chronicled, like an Oklahoma state representative named John Bennett, who in 2014 called Islam “a cancer,” and last year met with Muslim constituents only after they filled out questionnaires asking whether they beat their wives. A Nebraska state senator, Bill Kintner, proposed that Muslims be required to eat pork if they wished to enter the United States. A state senator in Rhode Island, Elaine Morgan, wrote that “Muslim religion and philosophy is to murder, rape and decapitate anyone who is a non-Muslim” and recommended that Syrian refugees be housed in camps. She later said she was referring only to “fanatical/extremist” Muslims.

In January, Neal Tapio, a South Dakota state senator who is running for the United States House, questioned whether the First Amendment applies to Muslims, asking, “Does our Constitution offer protections and rights to a person who believes in the full implementation of Islamic law, as practiced by 14 Islamic countries” and millions of Muslims “who believe in the deadly political ideology that believes you should be killed for leaving Islam?”

Representative Bennett, the lawmaker who required Muslim constituents to answer questionnaires on whether they beat their wives, said in 2014, “Islam is not even a religion; it is a social, political system that uses a deity to advance its agenda of global conquest.”

Jody Hice, a 2014 Republican congressional candidate from Georgia, questioned the compatibility of Islam with the American Constitution and wrote in 2012 that “Islam would not qualify for First Amendment protection since it’s a geopolitical system.”

And yet, in Utah — one of the most crimson-red states in the Union — such rhetoric is conspicuously absent.

“I’d be the first to stand up for their rights,” said Utah’s senior senator, Orrin Hatch, in 2010 amid the controversy surrounding the construction of an Islamic community center close to ground zero in New York City. He called Islam “a great religion.”

Utah’s other Republican senator, Mike Lee, said he did not vote for Donald Trump in part because he saw the travel ban as a “religious test.” In explaining why many in Utah opposed the ban, Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, observed, “We had Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879 issue an envoy to Europe saying in essence, ‘Don’t send those Mormon immigrants to America anymore.’”

Pointing to this history of Mormon persecution, in 2017, a group of scholars with expertise in Mormon history filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit opposing the ban. They drew a comparison between the government’s current posture toward Muslims and the government’s 19th-century treatment of Mormons. “This court should ensure that history does not repeat itself,” they wrote.

Mormon politicians seem to understand better than many of their fellow Republicans that if another’s freedom of faith is under attack, so, too, is their own. Perhaps this has to do with the church’s 11th Article of Faith, which states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may.”

Their interest in the rights of people of other faiths has also been traced to the views of the Mormon founder Joseph Smith, who put it this way: “If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a Mormon, I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist or a good man of any denomination.”

Mormons know too well what it means to be singled out for persecution, and to have one’s faith maligned as a threat to America. But it shouldn’t require that experience to understand that religious freedom for some is really religious freedom for none.

via Opinion | What Islamophobic Politicians Can Learn From Mormons – The New York Times

Reuven Firestone: Muslims and Jews are ‘manipulated by fear’

Interesting and relevant historical and social context:

With attacks on Jews in Germany increasing, DW spoke with the renowned theologian Reuven Firestone, about the complex relations between Islam and Judaism, and how Muslims and Jews could be brought closer together.

Deutsche Welle: There are studies that claim that the religion of Islam is essentially against Judaism? Do you agree with this theological position?

Reuven Firestone: Islam emerged in an environment in which major religions already existed. The birth of a new religion is always seen as a critique of the old religions. Its very existence is a statement that says, “Well, the old religion is not good enough; otherwise why would God reveal a new scripture that corrects or nullifies what is currently practiced?” So the followers of established religions always resent the newcomer.

At the time of Islam’s birth in Arabia in the seventh century, all established religions resented it and attacked its prophet. The Quran records their criticisms and their attacks, and it replies with attacks of its own, criticizing Jews and Christians and believers of the local religions, whom it calls “mushrikun,” or “those who join” other deities with God — i.e., polytheists.

So, yes, the Quran does contain negative references to Jews, but not only about them. It talks negatively about other threatening communities (I should add that it also contains positive references to Jews and Christians, although not to polytheists). The important point is that the Quran and the early Muslims did not criticize Jews exclusively.

We must not forget that the same scenario played out with the emergence of Christianity. The Jews resented those who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, and especially that he was God’s incarnation. And the New Testament criticizes Jews in response to attacks on the new community.

Similarly, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) slams the older religions that were clearly against the Israelites.

During the early phase of Islam, Muslims and Jews coexisted peacefully. When did the rifts begin to appear, and were the reasons more political than theological?

As I said, there were always tensions between Muslims and Jews over the authority of their respective faiths. It was both a political matter and a theological issue. When Islam became the dominant power, like all pre-modern and non-democratic powers, it privileged the people it identified as its own over all others. Therefore, while Jews (and Christians) were considered citizens of the Muslim world and protected by the law of the land (including religious law, the Sharia), they were given a second-class status that was defined by restrictions in position, prestige and freedom. How this actually worked out in history varied from time to time and place to place. In some situations, Jews were treated essentially as equals, but in others they were persecuted severely.

Explanations such as mine should be understood in a context. Keep in mind that minority communities were not treated equally under law or custom in pre-modern, non-democratic regimes. All historians agree that, on average, Jews suffered more under Christian rule than they did under Muslim rule.

The Prophet Muhammad’s time in exile in the city of Medina provides some great examples of Muslim-Jew coexistence, but at the same time violent conflicts marred their ties. How do you see that phase of Islam, and do the events in Medina, in which the Jewish tribe of Qurayza was said to have betrayed Muhammad, shape present day “Muslim anti-Semitism”?

The tensions, and the violent conflict that eventually broke out between Muhammad and the Jews of Medina, have become points of heavy stereotyping on both sides. A separation between the two communities has grown over the years. Jews were accused of betraying their equal religious and civil status in Medina by trying to aid an enemy intent on destroying Muhammad, and even of trying to assassinate him. As a result, the Jewish communities of Medina were forcibly exiled, and one Jewish community was massacred.

Many Jews and Christians point to this period as a prime example of what they consider the fundamentally violent behavioral norms exhibited by Muhammad that are established in Islam. Many Muslims point to this as a prime example of how Jews are, by nature, deceitful, corrupt and can never be trusted.

There are mixed accounts of those events, and we have no Jewish versions of the story. What is tragic about this is that an incident a millennium and a half ago has become a tool for some radicals in both communities to try to vilify and defame the other.

Although both Judaism and Islam are Abrahamic religions, why do they appear to be so far apart?

Actually, Judaism and Islam are essentially quite close in many ways. In fact, most religious scholars consider them closer to one another than either is to Christianity. The theology of divine unity in Judaism and Islam is understood in Christianity through the Trinitarian nature of God. Jews and Muslims agree that this is simply impossible to accept. Even the theological terminology between Judaism and Islam is quite similar. For example, iḥūd in Hebrew and tawḥīd in Arabic are linguistically related terms that refer to the same essential nature of the absolute unity of God.

What needs to be done to bridge the gulf between Muslims and Jews? What inspirations can be taken from the religious texts?

The tension between Muslims and Jews today cannot be resolved simply by taking inspiration from the sacred texts. Both Judaism and Islam are great and complex religious civilizations. The sacred texts have been read in a variety of ways by people through the ages. One can cite texts that inspire fear and hatred in both religious traditions, and one can cite texts that inspire appreciation and love.

The core of the conflict between Muslims and Jews is a willingness to be manipulated by fear. Fear allows people to draw false conclusions that would not otherwise be possible. All people, with very few exceptions, strive to do good and avoid evil. We must check our impulse to draw negative conclusions based on fear and rumor. Both the Bible and the Quran emphasize that one should not succumb to the fear brought about by evil, but one should only fear God.

Reuven Firestone is the Regenstein Professor in Medieval Judaism and Islam at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, which has campuses in Cincinnati, Ohio, New York, Los Angeles and Jerusalem. Firestone has written over one hundred scholarly chapters and articles and eight books, with translations into many languages. Having lived with his family in Israel, Egypt and Germany, he regularly lectures in universities and religious centers throughout the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Source: Reuven Firestone: Muslims and Jews are ‘manipulated by fear’

Perception vs. reality: Why negative views of Islam should be challenged – Sheema Khan

Another good column by Khan, presenting the positive side of Canadian Muslims:

Jan. 29 will mark one year from the evening that six Muslim worshippers were massacred at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. Nineteen were injured, children were left fatherless and wives widowed.

The atrocity resulted in an outpouring of support for traumatized Muslims across the country. That did not last long, however. Human-rights activist Bernie Farber and Mira Sucharov, associate professor of political science at Carleton University, have chronicled hateful incidents directed at Muslims during the rest of 2017. As they wrote in an opinion piece: “It was as though the Jan. 29 killings had never happened.” In one example, students at a Mississauga elementary school were subject to religious epithets from demonstrators denouncing Islam and prayer rooms. The year concluded with Muslim worshippers in Quebec worried once again about their safety. Quebec-based TVA falsely reported that a Montreal mosque barred female construction workers near its premises on Fridays during prayer sessions, leading to alleged hate-filled invective and death threats directed at the mosque. The network later apologized for the baseless report.

Surely these isolated incidents do not reflect the majority view. Or do they?

In November, the Angus Reid Institute released a poll indicating that nearly half of Canadians believe that “the presence of Islam in their country’s public life is damaging.” No other religion faces such widespread contempt. Let it sink in. If you do not hold a negative view of Islam, then someone in your immediate circle does.

Yet the perception of Islam is so different from the lived reality of Canadian Muslims. Some have a cultural affiliation to the faith. For others, the attachment is deeper. Across the diverse spectrum of belief, it can be argued that basic Islamic teachings contribute richly to our collective social fabric.

Sadaqah (charity) is ingrained in Islam. Muslims perennially organize drives to clothe, shelter and feed fellow Canadians. Mohamad Fakih answered a call from fellow business person Jennifer Evans to provide hotel rooms and meals for 18 homeless people in Toronto during the recent deep freeze. Islamic Relief Canada, a national charity, has launched a similar campaign.

Muslims have responded to natural disasters (e.g., flooding in Quebec and Ontario and fires in Fort McMurray, Alta.) with their time, money and emotional support. They have raised funds for hospitals and joined neighbours to clean parks. Last year, Ottawa’s Muslim community quickly collected $23,000 to fund extracurricular activities and resources for public schools lacking a school council.

The Islamic pillar of fasting, observed during the month of Ramadan, inculcates discipline, empathy, gratefulness and generosity. This year, take the opportunity to join in the sunset meal (which ends the daily fast) and experience the beauty of human fellowship.

The Koran states that saving one life is akin to saving all of humanity. In 2017, two Canadian Muslims personified this noble teaching.

Aymen Derbali directly faced the gunman at the Quebec City mosque to divert him from killing others. He was shot multiple times and lay in a coma for two months. The father of three is now paralyzed, yet grateful for the generosity of Canadians in helping him find a home that accommodates his disability.

Yosif Al-Hasnawi, a 19-year-old student at Brock University, was shot to death outside an Islamic centre as he tried to help a stranger who was being attacked by two men. The good Samaritan had just left the centre after participating in a celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed.

Another important Islamic tenet is forgiveness. Al Salam mosque in Fort Smith, Ark., was vandalized in 2016 by three men, including Abraham Davis, who later wrote a letter of apology to the mosque from jail. The mosque board advocated forgiveness and opposed the charges against him. Nonetheless, Mr. Davis was fined and ordered to stay away from the mosque and its members. He posted a gracious note of thanks on Facebook. One member replied: “Bro move on with life we forgave you from the first time you apologized don’t let that mistake bring you down. I speak for the whole Muslim community of fort smith we love you and want you to be the best example in life we don’t hold grudges against anybody!” The story didn’t end there. Unable to pay his fine, Mr. Davis was set to enter jail for six years. The mosque intervened and paid the full amount. The members want him to succeed.

In the coming weeks, mosques across the country will hold open houses. Take an opportunity to peek in. Get to know Muslims who are your neighbours, co-workers and fellow Canadians.

And then ask yourself if Islam is damaging to Canadian society.

via Perception vs. reality: Why negative views of Islam should be challenged – The Globe and Mail

The year since the mosque shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class: Martin Patriquin

Another reminder by Patriquin of one of convenient forgetfulness:

On the morning of Jan. 31, 2017, with camera in hand, I walked into the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. Less than 48 hours before, a gunman had walked into the centre, killing six and injuring 19. Once the police had finished their work, mosque administrators opened the doors to journalists, if only to show firsthand the often-visceral consequences of unchecked hatred and ignorance.

It was like the aftermath of war. Men and women parishioners wandered around, dazed and weeping. Bullets, dozens of them, had splintered drywall and shattered glass. And blood was everywhere: on the carpet and prayer rugs, on the Linoleum floor outside the main room, caking the stairs to the basement and circling a storage closet drain. It smeared windows and pooled in sinks. I left with it on my boots.

‘Senseless violence’

The province’s political leaders were immediately and appropriately sombre. Quebecers “must avoid words and gestures that separate, divide and attract hate,” said Premier Philippe Couillard. François Legault, leader of the conservative Coalition Avenir Québec, expressed his solidarity in the face of “senseless violence” with Quebec’s Muslim community. Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée said the most by stating the obvious. “It’s not easy to be a Muslim in the 21st century,” he told reporters.

If time weakens emotions and fades memories, the year since the shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class. Last week, the National Council of Canadian Muslims asked the federal government to designate Jan. 29 as a national day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia. In Quebec, the idea of questioning exactly why the shooting took place was largely met with shrugs or worse.

Both the PQ and the CAQ quickly opposed such a thing. “I think we’ve debated the divisions surrounding the presence of religion enough in Quebec,” PQ MNA Agnès Maltais told Le Devoir. The governing Liberals, who harvest the vast majority of the province’s Muslim vote come election day, utterly waffled on the idea.

Once aghast at the many Muslim victims who had done nothing but gather for prayers, these politicians now declared the deliberate targeting of Muslims passé — an isolated incident perpetuated by a crazy man. “Quebecers are open and welcoming, they are not Islamophobic,” said a CAQ spokesperson. (Only Québec solidaire, the Montreal-centric lefty redoubt, came out in favour of the NCCM proposal.)

Clearly, the amnesia stretches beyond the last year. On Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lépine walked into Montreal’s École Polytechnique and killed 14 women before turning his gun on himself. Like Alexandre Bissonnette, the man currently on trial for last year’s mosque massacre, Lépine was more than just a crazy man with a gun. He harboured a deep resentment of women, which he weaponized and made homicidal in the classrooms and corridors of Polytechnique.

The Polytechnique shootings sparked a societal debate in the province about gender, feminism and the extent of institutional misogyny in Quebec society, purportedly one of the more equalitarian in the country. It was a painful but wholly necessary exercise, one commemorated by the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

At first glance, it might be difficult to see why most Quebec politicians are ambivalent at best about a similar exercise for Muslims in Quebec and beyond. Lépine blamed feminists for his problems. Bissonnette left an online trail of anti-Muslim rhetoric before the mosque shootings. And as with Polytechnique 28 years earlier, the mosque shootings were but the bloodiest example of institutional enmity against an identifiable group.

Crimes targeting Muslims

Police-reported hate crimes against Muslims in Canada tripled between 2012 and 2015, according to Statistics Canada. In Quebec City, crimes targeting Muslims have doubled since the mosque shootings, according to the city’s police chief.

Apart from being alarming, such statistics are fodder for Muslim extremists, who use society-wide anti-Muslim animus as a recruiting tool. If this is the case, these extremists have a veritable wellspring of recruiting material in Quebec City’s many populist (and enduringly popular) radio stations, which — with a few notable exceptions — remain largely anti-Muslim and anti-immigration a year after the mosque shootings.

A week after the deadly shooting at a mosque, hundreds took to the streets of Quebec City to honour the victims. 1:54

For its politicians, perhaps it’s less about amnesia than Quebec’s own brand of crass identity politics. The three main political parties are locked in a battle for the hearts and votes of Quebec’s lily-white, lapsed Catholic hinterland in Quebec City and beyond — everywhere, it seems, save for Montreal. The dynamics are such that even the Liberals, who have a lock on the non-Francophone vote, can demonize Montreal’s multicultural reality.

In 2013, the PQ government attempted to ban “conspicuous” religious symbols from the bodies of anyone drawing a government paycheque. Though it failed, the ensuing Liberal government last year passed a ban on face coverings for anyone giving or receiving a government service. Only Québec solidaire protested the law’s blatant targeting of Quebec’s Muslim minority. Everyone else said it didn’t go far enough.

A year ago, these very politicians professed shock and sadness at a murderous hate crime perpetrated on their watch. Demonstrably, as Quebec approaches a fall election, political reality has pushed this emotion aside. Maybe they didn’t forget the tragedy. Maybe they just don’t want to be reminded of the reasons behind it.

via The year since the mosque shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class | CBC News