Speaking for Muslims: And will the real Muhammad please stand up?

Speaking for Muslims: And will the real Muhammad please stand up? June 22, 2005
Scared to their seats

“Who here is petrified of Muslims,” a Pakistani American Muslim man calmly asked the 90 or so assembled law students of UC Davis King Hall Law School for a special lunch time meeting entitled: “Minority Reports: Representing the Un-represented.” (For lovers of irony: King Hall, named after revered civil rights leader Martin Luther King, counts 1% of all its 2004 incoming student body as African Americans). Given the stifling restraints of self-imposed politically correct nooses people choose to wear, I was not surprised when none of the enlightened raised their hands in response to my question.

“You all are excellent liars. You will make excellent lawyers,” I replied.

“If I wasn’t a Muslim American, and I was your Average Joe America, I would be terrified, petrified, freaked out of my mind about these fun-do-mentalist, terror-rist, extreme-ist, anti-Semitic, Women-hating, tali-boning, bearded, hairy, smelly, leering, oil guzzling, turban wearing, magic carpet flying, Sand niggers.”

And those words, spoken swiftly, coolly, and calmly, connected like a brutal uppercut smashing (or at least partially revealing) their carefully constructed masks of racial “enlightenment.”

These words did not sprout forth from the rage filled, Bile spewing gut of a knee jerking, reactionary loon – a standard description routinely used by “media experts” to publicly pillory any person guilty of “exporting” an unpopular sentiment. Rather, the rhetoric accurately portrayed the image I, as an American, would sincerely hold of 1.2 billion members of the human race in the year 2005 if television media, academic history books, Hollywood movies, and governmental rhetoric were my crash course tutorials on all things “Moslem” and “A-rab.”

Let’s do a summary, shall we? According to the FBI, CIA, and the 9-11 Commission report, 19 hijackers happened to have Middle Eastern backgrounds, 15 of them hailing from our oil-in-ally Saudi Arabia. In retaliation, we have liberated Afghanistan and Iraq, two “Moslim” countries, from evildoers, with Iran, Syria, and an assortment of other hostile, Muslim neighbors on the way. However, our commitment to the Wahabbi-based Saudi regime, mostly responsible for the dissemination of Muhammad Ibn al Wahhab’s puritanical and re-visionary interpretation of Islam, remains firm and intact. Even though the administration eventually conceded Iraq had no tangible connection to the Twin Tower attacks, USA Today reported nearly 70% of Americans believed otherwise. I guess a Saudi is an Iraqi is an Arab is a Muslim… is a terrorist. Oh well, sucks for me – and 1.2 billion other people.

Furthermore, to bolster not only national security but also foreign relations with our Middle Eastern “neighbor”, we hold detainees as “unlawful combatants” to bypass international laws and customs in Guantanamo Bay, which has been called the “Gulag of our times… in violation of international laws,” according to Amnesty International. The administration and its henchmen scoff. The “liberal” media, including Newsweek, is so liberal that it prematurely and embarrassingly retracts its May 9th story at the commands of its superiors, in which it described the desecration of the Quran by interrogators who wanted to rattle detainees by placing the Holy Book in the toilet. (The Administration later conceded there were several valid reports of Quran desecration.) This was another “Spring time” musical for the haters. “Protests in the Islamic world,” exclaimed the headlines! “Look at those barbarians: so violent, so angry!” complained the pundits. “Why do they react so violently? It’s just a book! Jeez, do they take it that seriously?” asked the genuinely baffled reporters. A simple dialogue with any practicing Muslim with even the most elementary rhetorical skills would have revealed, that yes, Muslims do take desecration of their Holy Book seriously. However, I guess allowing an intelligent Muslim voice to emerge amongst the high-pitched, paranoid shrills and shriekings of non-Muslim “experts” would have been truly radical and “undemocratic.”

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

But who needs Muslim voices when you have liberal and conservative pundits. Erudite and compassionate visionaries, such as Ann “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” Coulter, or academic Bill “I wouldn’t read the book (the Qur’an). And I’ll tell you why I wouldn’t have read “Mein Kampf” either,” O’Reilly, who subtly equate the religious text of 1.2 billion people with the racist, supremacist ideology of one Adolf Hitler. In the lucrative world of Islam-bashing, it’s comforting to know that even conservatives and liberals can set aside their differences to participate in this “Springtime for Haters” musical. For example, “pay for play part time liberals”, such as Christopher Hitchens and Alan Dershowitz are heavily involved in this gig. Dershowitz, promoted as a renowned legal scholar and civil libertarian, wrote the pro “non lethal torture” book “Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge.” Specifically, in a 2003 CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer, Mr. Dershowitz describes a civilized method of non-lethal torture, such as placing a “sterilized needle underneath the nail,” which he concedes would “violate the Geneva Accords, but you know, countries all over the world violate the Geneva Accords. They do it secretly and hypothetically, the way the French did it in Algeria… I think we would want to do it with accountability and openly and not adopt the way of the hypocrite.” At least we’re openly torturing people now, instead of burying the reports behind the walls of Abu Ghraib; surely, this is a sign of progress. Furthermore, in his essay, “The Rules of War Enable Terror,” Mr. Dershowitz declares “Democracies must be legally empowered to attack terrorists who hide among civilians.” Does this include people of white skin color, such as Timothy McVeigh and members of the Militant Militia? Would Mr. Dershowitz allow this method on, say, Israelis caught spying on the US? Or is this special VIP treatment reserved solely for Muslim and “brown skinned” Americans suspected as terrorists? Even though I’m honored by the lavish attention, I’ll respectfully decline this humble offer.

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

Perhaps we must seek the wisdom of Christopher Hitchens, who vociferously supports Bush’s “War on Terror” thereby significantly ensuring a steady stream of Dead Presidents in his bank account and increased exposure and public visibility on television news programs. He laments the use of the word, “Islamaphobia,” which I’m assuming refers to the irrational fear, ignorance and hatred of Islam and Muslims, which he argues is a “cheap propaganda tool” used by “soft defenders of Islam.” Shhh, let’s not tell Mr. Hitchens that last year marked the highest number of harassment, violence, and discriminatory acts against American Muslims ever recorded by Council on American Islamic Relations, with a near 70% increase in hate crimes over 2002, representing a three fold increase since 2000. Or, how about the story of Mr. Gagandeep Bindra, an Indian Sikh, who was called “Osama” and seriously injured by three teenagers found guilty of ethnic intimidation in 2004? And what do we say to an honorary Sikh priest, Rajinder Singh, who was attacked for wearing a turban in New York? I guess you don’t even have to be a Muslim to get beat down like Muslim nowadays. I wonder what Mr. Bindra and Mr. Singh would say to the Hitchens of the world regarding the “cheap propaganda tool” of “Islamaphobia” which lead to their assault? I guess we’ll never know because those voices are never heard.

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

The detractors will now predictably chime, “but look, we do allow Muslims to speak. We love Irshad Manji, see? Ha! Fie on you, you cantankerous rabble rouser!” Irshad Manji, like most info-tainment prostitutes, turns her tricks by playing the “pathology” game: where the token minority, aka “the good minority,” is hired to absolve certain individuals, institutions, and accepted norms, which directly contribute to discriminatory practices and racism, by blaming the collective minority as responsible for its own inferiority. Irshad Manji, a self proclaimed lesbian feminist South Asian Muslim refusenik, (if you can say that 5 times in a row you get a cookie and a national book tour), wrote the scholastically inept, “The Trouble with Islam,” offering her unsought wisdom on how to “reform” Islam. Considering she lacks even the most remedial credentials to be certified an “Islamic scholar,” and that her book and politics have been shunned by the vast majority of the Muslim ummah (community), it is utterly not surprising that she, nonetheless, received the “Valor” award from the Simon Weisenthal Center, the “chutzpah” award from Oprah Winfrey, and feminist of the “21st century” award from “Ms. Magazine,” for her brave, enlightened, and “liberal” approach to Islam. Her major reform, you ask? “The major reform for which I am calling,” say Manji, is “all about questioning the divinity of the Koran. This is still the great unspoken taboo within Islam.” This is perhaps a “taboo” because all Muslim scholars, both Sunni and Shiite, hold that believing the Quran as the uncreated word of Allah as revealed unto Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a crucial aspect of one’s iman (Faith and beliefs). With paid henchmen such as Manji, the real Islam-haters simply sit back, light a cigar, and relax their feet as their Siphai army wages their “crusade” for them. Or, they can always rely on an “expert” on Islam, such as Pat Robertson of the 700 club, who says, with a straight face no less, that Muslims worship “a moon god.” If Muslims are truly the “Phantom Menace” then all these characters must surely represent the “Attack of the Clones.”

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

And so we roll on. With nearly 5-8 million Muslim Americans, you would think surely one reasonable voice, representative of at least most Moderate Muslims, would emerge? You would think… incorrectly. So what if Islam is the fastest growing religion in America, with the most rapid converts being African Americans and women? So what if over 75% of the Muslim community is not Arab, with the most populated Muslim country being Indonesia (note: not Arab), followed by Pakistan (note: not Arab)? Who needs their academic scholars, historians, or religious scholars when we have Bernard Lewis, the de facto “scholar” on all things Islam, Arab, and Middle East, who happens to be a white, Jewish European born in London and preserved by Princeton? Then, there’s the The Arab Mind, the bible for the neocons on Arabic/Islamic behavior, written by Raphael Patai, another non-Muslim, European scholar who stereotypically generalizes that Arabs value “honor” above all things, and specifically feel “shame” through sexual humiliation. “At the institution where I teach military officers,” retired U.S. Army Col. Norvell De Atkine writes in the book’s foreword, “The Arab Mind forms the basis of my cultural instruction.” With cultural instructions such as these, the successful interrogatory humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib should come as no surprise.

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

So, we return to our modest meeting at UC Davis, where I rattled off some of these references and data to an audience that incredulously looked at me with skepticism for daring to mock their “understanding” of Muslims in America. However, the light bulbs began to click and the untrusting glances turned to nodding agreement when I brought it full circle in light of American history. In America, Muslims haven’t always been the only “outsiders,” the only obscurant anomalies magically appearing amongst the civilized masses, or the only fossil relics of a primitive backwards-Neanderthal mentality. I remind them of the 110,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans rounded up, profiled, and interned during WWII. I remind them of a time when racial tensions resulting in Congress passing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, barring Chinese immigration for 10 years; then extended by the Geary Act for another ten years in 1892, and by the Extension Act of 1904. If I could revisit this speech, I’d tell the Asian American audience members to be careful and vigilante, because they’re next. Check out the cover of the July Atlantic Monthly featuring a stern, black and white photo of a militant Chinese solider with the heading, “How we would fight China” by Robert D. Kaplan. The great challenge of the twenty-first century, according to Kaplan, will be figuring how to shape – rather than fall prey to – “China’s inevitable economic and military rise.” But never fear, or rather keep fearing, because it’s not just those wily Asians or those oil guzzling turban heads or those crack addled black folk – there’s more! Let’s not forget 1798, where the Federalist dominated Congress passed The Naturalization Act, a law aimed at curtailing the citizenship and immigration of the Irish and French who were sympathetic to Republican politics. Last I checked, people of Irish descent are now considered “white,” so the darkies weren’t the only ones who suffered discrimination. I guess the history of racism in America is truly multicultural.

Unlike some of these groups, the Muslims, the Morlocks de jour, have yet to find a powerful voice to help educate the American public as to the realities of the Muslim American existence. Currently, I liken our condition to a puppet head placed on a media screen whose tongue is ripped out and whose strings are pulled by a sadistic puppet master joyfully assailing us left and right by both the “left” and “the right.” The hard “Right” hates the Muslim because you aren’t white or Judeo-Christian and you, representative of the 19 Middle Eastern hijackers, attacked America. The hard “left” hates you because you are part of an organized religion, have certain beliefs contradictory to radical feminist and gay ideologies, and are representative of the 19 Middle Eastern hijackers who attacked America. And you, the Muslim, the terrorist, the extremist, who was once the “Jap,” and also “The Kike,” and also a “Chink,” and even a “Sand Nigger,” can never win because you always have to prove your loyalty. Defend the validity of your faith! Defend the validity of your text! Defend the validity of the entire 1400 year history and actions of a brilliant Islamic civilization which gave us the creation of Algebra, the poetry of Hadrat Jalaluddin Rumi, the best selling poet in America, the Canon of Medicine by Avicenna used by Europeans for centuries, the mind of Ibn Khaldun, the founder of the philosophy of history and sociology, and most importantly the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), whose name in Arabic means “the most praised,” and is shared by more people than any other name in the world today.

But in this game of modern day dodge ball, everyone looks for an easy scapegoat to hit and assail. The contributions of Muslims to the human race are rarely if ever mentioned. Instead, we get daily reports and images of an enraged mass of people, like the Orcs from “The Lord of the Rings,” frothing at the mouth, inexplicably yearning to destroy America for no other reason save their hatred for all things “democratic” and “western” as outlined by their savage, backwards “customs” and “beliefs.” Is it really surprising then to read the results of the Cornell Report, which revealed that 42 percent of “highly religious respondents [and 27 percent of all respondents] believe that Muslim Americans should register their whereabouts with the government at all times? Not surprisingly, 26 percent of these respondents were unfamiliar with the terms Allah and the Koran.

And so I awaken each day to find the Muhammad’s gradually erased by the “Mo’s,” the Nasir’s slowly replaced by the “Nas’s,” the Salims eradicated by the “Sal’s,” the Murads hiding behind the “Michael’s.” As I encounter the variety of “closeted DL” Muslims at the shopping malls, department stores, grocery shops, and other arenas of daily life, I am reminded of the Korean American “Tammy’s” hiding behind her newly reconstructed eye lids, the African American “Tim’s” masquerading under a surgically trimmed nose, the Iranian American “Ayeesha’s” hoping to assimilate brilliantly with her fake blue contact lenses. And with a sigh of resignation, with a fist pumped in rage, and both hands brought together in hopeful supplication, I humbly ask:

“And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?”

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, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, is the writer of “The Domestic Crusaders”, a two-act play about Muslim Americans with its showcase premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre this July 15th. This article was originally published in Konch Magazine.

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