The A-Word

June 30, 2015

Because Dearborn, Michigan is a suburb of Detroit, interactions between Arab- and African-Americans are becoming increasingly common, despite Detroit’s long history of segregation. While this increased diversity is an opportunity for the two communities to build ties and form activist coalitions to fight racism, it is also forcing people to confront prejudices within themselves they had never considered.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7K6r_e1BZo

The “#DropTheAWord” campaign started when the man interviewed in the video, Dawud Walid, witnessed a person on Facebook refer to black people in a news story as abeed. He decided to write an article for Arab American News titled “Fellow humans are not ‘abeed’”:

Calling a black person a “abed” (abeed in plural) is offensive.  The term has been used for so long in certain segments of the Arab World that many people have become desensitized to its meaning.  I know that all people do not use the term with overtly malicious intent; however, the word is disturbing, nonetheless.

Afterwards, Walid decided to search Twitter to see how widespread the word was, and who was using it. He discovered it was most common among “teenagers and young adults, who are Arab-Americans and appear to have been raised in the USA.”

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Walid decided to tweet his article at the people using the term, and received various responses. The first was simply being ignored. The second was a genuine apology. Some of those apologizing said they did not know the term was offensive, and it was simply the word their families used to refer to black people in general. Walid sees this as evidence of “deeper, structural racism among Arabs, primarily in the Levant.”

Another response to Walid was justification of using the term because everyone is a slave of Allah (abeedullah). Walid notes that this is disingenuous since the only people being called abeed are those with dark skin. In addition, he states that calling anyone a slave is haram according to the Quran.

Finally, Walid also received online harassment. As he is an African-American himself, some people on Twitter began calling him a slave:

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In the end, Walid calls upon Arab-Americans to confront the racism within their own communities. He notes that issues of racism and colorism in the Arab world predate colonialism and are widespread to this day. Indeed, he writes that this bigotry was probably reinforced for some Arab-Americans as a result of combining with America’s own racial hierarchy.

Response

#DropTheAWord has received much support within the Dearborn community and online. An organization known as the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative has been launched specifically to address issues of racism within the Muslim-American community.

The fight against the word abed also relates to several of the issues raised at the ADC Convention. Firstly, Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York, brought up the issue herself during the Ferguson to Palestine panel. She related how she heard the word being used by young Arab-Americans firsthand, and her demand for people to recognize how harmful it is. Like Dawud Walid, she calls for Arab-Americans to fight against the racism present within their own communities, as solidarity becomes impossible otherwise. Her call was in response to activist Kwame Rose recounting how he had experienced racism firsthand only the day before, at the convention itself. This alarming fact shows how antiblackness in the Arab community is not some abstract issue, but a critical problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Many Arab-Americans are working hard to do just that.

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Sources:

http://www.arabamericannews.com/news/news/id_7486

https://dawudwalid.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/responses-to-my-calling-out-the-term-abeed/

http://thearabdailynews.com/2014/03/01/drop-word/

We all fit within some race and ethnic classification and from time to time are asked to complete forms where we indicate which race and ethnic classification we belong to, though on a voluntary basis.  These race and ethnic classifications include American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and White.  These classifications are not straightforward and one cannot easily figure out whether they are based on geographical locations of people’s origin, the color of their skin or the language of their countries of origin.  Before this course, I did not have much understanding of these classifications. I knew this much that Arab Americans are classified as “white,” but certainly did not know the rationale or logic behind it. By looking a little deeper into it, I realized that the race and ethnic classification “white” includes “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East “(White House Office of Management and Budge). Thus, it is quite apparent the race and ethic classification of “white” is not purely based on the skin color of people.

Privilege of Yesterday

The “white” race and ethnic classification of Arab Americans was a privilege to them and it gave them a feeling of equality that in America they are classified no differently than the majority of the population and probably they were in a better standing compared to other minorities in the country. During the first wave of immigration from 1880s through1920s, people of Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian, and Palestinian origins, when they came to Unites States, fought to be classified as Caucasians in order to gain citizenship in this country. Contrary to the common belief, majority of these immigrants were of Christian faith. The immigration to the United States was restricted during the time period between the World War I and World War II.  There was a second wave of immigration of Arabs after World War II.  In the 1940s and 1950s, they enjoyed a close proximity to whiteness and religious background and were seen as the “model minority.” They were able to quickly assimilate in the American mainstream culture.

The feeling of many Arabs who immigrated in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, was “We were not seen as terrorists or whatever people think about Arab. Most people didn’t know what Arab or Palestine was” (Naber, 35). There are still many in the United States who do not know that General John Abizaid, former Commander of the U.S. Central Command, George Mitchell, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, and current U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, and recently retired U.S. Congressman Nick Rahall, a Democrat from West Virginia, are prominent and distinguished Americans of Arab heritage. Ralph Nader, a politician who has run for U.S. President several times, is an Arab American as well.  This sense of acceptance by the American mainstream lasted until the 1980s, extending to some extent to 1990s.

Problem Today

 The time period of 1960s to the 1980s was the transition period when the image of Arab Americans shifted from “model minority” to “problem minority.” There were lots of factors that contributed to this shift and they were related more to global events than the problems here at home.  Global crises included the 1967 Arab-Israel War, the 1970 US-Arab Oil Crisis, the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the 1979 -1980 Iranian Hostage crisis, and the 1991 Gulf War. These global conflicts made Arab Americans perceived by the United States government and the media as a potential threat to the economy and the national security. Hollywood played a major role in the negative stereotype of the Arab Americans. For example, in the famous movie “Back to the Future,” which had nothing to do with Arabs or the Middle East, Arabs were portrayed as terrorists killing the main character of the movie.  Makers of the movie probably thought that portraying Arabs as terrorists would be more believable to the American public.

In the aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11, Arab Americans were even more isolated from the mainstream society. During these years, Arab Americans regardless whether they were Christians or Muslims, were painted with a wide brush as terrorists. Arabs American constantly have to question their identity and are forced to confront the issue of what constitutes as being white. These challenging times made them think whether their “white” race and ethnicity was helping them or hurting them. A population of the Arab Americans thought that they might receive better protection under law against discrimination and hate crimes if they have a separate race and ethnic classification for them as Arabs or Middle Easterners. On the other hand, there is a population of Arab Americans who wishes to retain their “white” race and ethnic classification. Their reasoning is that being classified as Arabs or Middle Easterners could further remove them from the American mainstream. They would probably experience more discrimination, including housing, employment, and education.

Racism within the Arab American Community

Currently, there is an effort by some Arab Americans to connect the discrimination against Arab Americans with the discrimination against African Americans arguing that they are being discriminated the same way as African Americans have been discriminated for more than a century. This has become particularly apparent in the aftermath of the tragedies in Ferguson, New York City, and Baltimore where unarmed African Americans were fatally shot or strangled by law reinforcement resulting in lots of unrest in the country. The Arab American community seems to be divided on this issue. One group feels that by making this connection, probably they can get the same national attention as African American community has received. On the other hand, another group of Arab American community feels that this approach is opportunistic. Their argument is why this connection is being made today, why it was not made 50 years ago when the Arab Americans were enjoying the privilege of being classified as “white.”

Within the Arab American community, there has been a culture of “anti-blackness”.  This can be attributed to the classification of Arab Americans as “white.” They are accused of being no less discriminatory than the normally accused majority white population. They are often quoted using derogatory terms for fellow Arab American who do not have a light skin color or do not come from a particular region of the Arab World. As a result, many Arab Americans fail to see the intersection of Arab Americans and African Americans.

Kwame Rose, an African-American speaker at the “The Crossroad of Ferguson to Palestine” Panel at the 2015 Anti-Arab American Discrimination Committee (ADC) Convention, discussed the discrimination he personally experienced at the convention. Rose recalled that while attending a panel discussion, someone asked him why he was attending the convention, since he didn’t fit the image of an “Arab American.” The moderator at the panel also openly admitted that several ADC members may not have come to the panel since they dislike the conversation of the intersectionality of Arab Americans and African Americans.

African Muslims around the world, including Britain, also face discrimination within the Arab and Muslim community. In the video, “Black and Muslim: Double Jeopardy,” African British Muslim converts were interviewed. It discusses how Muslims converts, and especially Black Muslims converts are perceived as, sadly, inferior compared to other Muslims immigrants, including those from the Middle East. An interviewee, stated “When I first came to Islam, I was under the impression, I would feel accepted and feel loved and that I would have a sense of achievement of something in my life that I was missing. I realized once I went into the [Muslim] community, that really wasn’t the case”.  Much of the racism occurs at mosque, where, intentionally or unintentionally, different ethnic communities tend to self-segregate. Another interviewee, discussed how he would never bring his children to the mosque to experience such prejudice. Most of the time, people may not be aware of what they are saying or doing is racially offensive, however, this cannot be an excuse. How someone, an individual or community, can cry for help against discrimination by others when they themselves are doing exactly the same.

Summary

Racism, discrimination, and hate crimes are a dark spot on the face of our civilized society of today. These are painful illegal and criminal acts with consequences that have long lasting effects on individuals and communities. In this civilized society no one, including Arab Americans, should be subjected to a differential treatment based on their race and ethnicity. The race and ethnic classification of a particular community should not become a matter of privilege or problem for them. The purpose of race and ethnic classification should be limited to statistical data in determining the demographic characteristic of a population, nothing more than that. The classification of Arab Americans should be based on rationale and logic which applies to other race and ethnic groups. It is difficult to understand the rationale and logic in the current “white” race and ethnic classification of Arab Americans. The discrimination against Arab Americans is unfortunate and shameful. However, it is equally unfortunate and shameful when Arab Americans discriminate people in their own communities based on the color of their skin or region of the Arab World from where they come.

America is dating Israel. But there has come a time, as with every relationship, where one partner must look further and come to the realization that this may not be the way to continue forever. Since their relationship began in 1948 with the Truman administration recognizing Israel just minutes after the U.N. resolution brought it to life, the relationship between America and Israel can be described through steps of a true dating relationship. But now, with the honeymoon period of over $3 billion in aid annually coming from the Americans, and with numerous accounts of Israel acting up against America (sending their leader to address an opposition party to the President here in the U.S.) tensions are beginning to form. Internationally, we are at a precipice; go along with the current state of human rights violations and restrictions on most basic civil rights. Or finally put into play the process with which peace can flourish. America, due to its international culpability and economic influence stands at the forefront of any successful peace negotiation. The question, therefore, that must be asked, is whether or not America wishes politically to continue. Is it really in the interest of America to create a two state solution? One that leaves Palestine open to whatever direction the democratic wind wishes to blow.

The regional partnership really began to flourish in 1967, as the Six Day War stunned an entire Israeli population and they were forced to retaliate. Israelis gained American attention as it only took Six days to not only fend off the attacking opposition, but also capture more territory than was originally mandated. Earning the respect of the Americans, a strong partnership emerges seen with America increasing international aid from $23.7 million in 1967 to $106.5 million in 1968, eventually maintaining a steady $2 billion by 1976. From an American perspective this is interesting. This issue of aid alone transcends presidencies and political parties. There has also always been a constant opposition to any internationally proposed Two-State solution. Any two-state solution must originate from Israel with U.S. backing.

Here is the problem though. There is in U.S. politics the engrained understanding of the Palestinians as a problematic people and there is no support for free democracy in the region. The potential for volatility is simply too rampant when analyzed through an international security perspective. This sentiment can be assessed in the readings analysis of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and her scolding of Palestinian textbooks, which give the true history. She states “how do we expect to have a democratically elected Palestinian government if their textbooks are still preaching such hatred.” The problem, however, is that there is no evidence in any Palestinian used textbooks that furthers any sentiment of hatred. This is simply rhetoric used by the United States to back a two-state solution on the surface, but undermine any progress as they claim it is not for a just cause.

Acknowledging that Israel has been the top recipient of U.S. Aid, and that AIPAC describes, “Israel is America’s most reliable friend and only democratic ally in the Middle East, one of the world’s most volatile and important regions.” Yet Israel is not exclusively apart of America’s “Five-Eyes” network. The five eyes consist of Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. This position allows Israel to be much less regulated from an American standpoint (in some cases even spying on America themselves) and to gather information at a far more intrusive rate. This is the information that is so necessary to U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, and is the main reason that Israel has become one of the biggest de facto allies of the United States.

With this point established, we must turn to the history of the United States. It is no mystery that Americas covert operations of regime change have all favored dictatorship. They favor control. It is identified that American intelligence or large-scale operations impacted Guatemala (1954), El Salvador (1960), Cuba (1961), Brazil (1963), Argentina (1976) and Nicaragua (1981-87). In each of these cases, there were attempts to topple a regime whose economic projections were counter to those of Americas. As a case study, looking at Nicaragua, it has been argued, “probably a key factor in preventing the 1984 elections from establishing liberal democratic rule was the United States’ policy toward Nicaragua.” Along similar lines, El Salvador is a prime example of the U.S. not only declaring but also justifying it would institute a new regime. “Governments of the civil-military type of El Salvador are the most effective in containing communist penetration in Latin America.” John F. Kennedy understands this to mean an acceptance of a dictatorial regime that battles instability with force. So there really was no attempt to establish a flourishing democracy, instead it was the American attempt to impose a new leader who would control its people and not allow any insurrection.

It is difficult to not accept this past history when dealing with the Palestinian Israeli conflict. From the perception of the United States, it very well may be in everyone’s interest to keep the Palestinians repressed until it slowly becomes a nonissue. But America has learned, and it has acknowledged and called for the end of human rights violations caused by Israel. This is where America finds itself in its relationship with Israel, in need of continuing a potentially harmful status quo, or ultimately having “the talk” with the other party. America needs to recognize that it is their action of this situation that will shape humanity and all economic and foreign policy in the future. To simply “give up” on this issue and continue with the status quo is to give up on humanity in general. This is arguably the most convoluted, polarized and politicized issue the world has ever seen, nevertheless the situation cannot continue as it has and many parties must come to realizations about what has transpired.

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/U.S._Assistance_to_Israel1.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yw6g0WeYAEo

http://johnpilger.com/videos/the-war-on-democracy

Abunimah, Ali. “A United Democratic State in Palestine-Israel.” One Country: A Bold             Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. New York: Metropolitan,   2006. 126-27. Print.

Brodsky, Matthew. “What Makes US-Israeli Intelligence Co-operation ‘exceptional’?” Theguardian. N.p., 13 Sept. 2013. Web.

“The U.S. & Israel.” AIPAC. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 June 2015.

“The U.S. Role In the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict | Page 2 of 2 | Foreign Policy             Journal.” Foreign Policy Journal. N.p., 02 Dec. 2013. Web. 23 June                     2015.

“U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel: Total Aid (1949 – Present).” Jewish Virtual Library. N.p.,   n.d. Web.

Williams, Philip J. “Elections and democratization in Nicaragua: the 1990 elections in           perspective.” Journal of Interamerican Studies 32, 4:13–34 (winter 1990).       p16

“I’m the radical who wants to do the opposite of everything he did. He conquered Jerusalem, I want to give it away. He was macho, I want to be gentle.”

-Aviv Geffen on Moshe Dayan, his uncle

Critiques of the Israeli statist narrative tend to spring from outside the Jewish homeland’s borders, with few notable exceptions. The United Nations’ repeated condemnation of human rights violations and war crime actions committed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has provided a steady stream of criticism over the past decade. While individuals within Israel have been able to engage in limited critiques of the Zionist narrative, these critiques have largely been confined to academic spheres and far-left political organizations. Politicians, artists, and the general public have remained largely unexposed to counter-Zionist narrative in the mainstream. Contrastingly, Aviv Geffen, the Hebrew singer seemingly stuck between the dark lyrics of Marilyn Manson and the pop-centric tunes of Michael Jackson, has provided a new counter-Zionist space for Israel and its youth.

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The son of prominent journalist and poet Yehonatan Geffen, one of the first Israeli critics of the Zionist narrative regarding the Yom Kippur War, Aviv grew up without the overwhelming Zionist voices many of his contemporaries experienced. This is not to say that the musician was isolated from Zionist actors; Moshe Dayan, the famed Chief of Staff of the IDF, was Aviv’s uncle. Other members of the Geffen family have achieved national celebrity in artistic and political (mostly Zionist) fields.

moshe dayan

                      Moshe Dayan

While technically discharged on medical grounds, Aviv refused service in the IDF on ideological grounds, a fact for which he receives much criticism from conservative Israelis. Despite this unpopular past however, the younger Geffen’s music has fared extraordinarily well in a country often considered a bastion of traditionalism and loyalty to the state. Going a step further than his refusal of meaningful military service, Geffen’s third album, Aviv Geffen III, took aim at the unfairness of the IDF, detailing the effects on a person who joins against their own will.

Geffen 3

                    Aviv Geffen III

            Unlike Arab music’s presence in Israel, Geffen’s work has begun to transform how Israelis, especially younger ones, perceive their government and their own participation in the IDF. Ironically, the popularity of music from Arab communities, as Ilan Pappe eloquently puts it, “demonstrates a process of appropriation by the [Israeli] political elite,” not of solidarity or a resonance of the pains of a long struggle. Arab music heard in Israel, often broadcast by far right parties and radio stations, “has no political or substantial cultural implication for the identity and behavior of the society or the state.”

While complicated, the cause and effect relationship of Geffen’s music on Israeli political opinions goes both ways. In part the contrarian’s popularity is due to rising levels of discontent with the statist narrative. Pappe also points out that “his continuing appeal does signify a certain change in local tolerance for nonconformist lyrics that may herald a wider acceptance of less nationalistic ideals among the youth.” To attribute Geffen’s popularity to changes in public opinion is most likely correct, yet downplaying such a change as insignificant is foolhardy. Indeed the effects of ‘wider acceptance of less nationalistic ideals’ will manifest themselves in forms other than support for a popular musician.

For more on Aviv Geffen and the particular role he plays in Israeli political attitudes and pop-culture, see Aviv, the 2003 biopic on his rise to fame and continued popularity.

An example of the style of music Geffen contributes, not far from what mainstream American radios stations play… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDyveiQFCDE

The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn Michigan have two new exhibits on display “The Ten” and “It’s Not Funny: Political Cartoons”. “The Ten” exhibition features ten Arab American artists’ artwork, which grapple with the idea of identity and finding a place to call home. The mission of the exhibition is to bring Arab American artists together while also promoting their work and connecting them to the wider American audience. A particularly interesting artist in the “The Ten” collection is Joyce Dallal whose installation follows her father’s story to get American citizenship. In It’s Not Funny: Political Cartoons Khalid Albaih’s uses political cartoons to inform and educate the young western generation about events in the Middle East. Both Dallal and Albaih’s work explore the idea of the Arab American identity and finding home.

Joyce Dallal is an Arab American artist known for making very large installations out of government papers. For example, her exhibit showcased in LAX airport, “Elevate”, was 1000 folded paper airplanes made with texts from the third and fourth Geneva Convention and international treaties that address the treatment of victims, civilians and prisoners of war. It also includes text from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The way the airplanes are folded go along with Japanese tradition and symbolize luck, long life and peace.

I believe that Dallal chose the airport as the site of the installation because a lot of discrimination along with blatant actions that go against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other documents occurs in airports, specifically to Arab Americans,. As an Arab American artist I think Dallal is calling for peace in these airports and an end to violence that Arab Americans face.

Joyce Dalal “Elevate” at LAX airport, Los Angeles — Photo by Susan Einstein (Huffington Post)

In an interview with the art director of the museum, Elizabeth Sullivan, describes Joyce Dallal’s piece as a standout in “The Ten” exhibit. She creates a sculpture out of her father’s documents from the State Department, old news clipping and passports. Along with this installation she creates a rug in the shape of the compass out of maps. Sullivan says the installation “discusses the orientation of place-finding and finding home.” The piece is also interactive and allows the audience to play the game of backgammon in the back of her set. Backgammon is a game where the main objective is to get your pieces back home. In this installation I think Dallal is exploring the idea of finding your home or place in two locations; for her father is was America and Iraq.

Khalid Albaih’s “It’s Not Funny: Political Cartoons” is his first exhibit in America. Abaih lives is Doha, Qatar but is Sudanese. His political cartoons became popular on social media during the Arab Spring in 2011. His focus is to educate people through cartoons and create a peaceful dialogue using social media as a medium His cartoons blend popular culture and politics. He uses images that are familiar to younger people today. His work does have an influence on the younger generation and now that the collection is coming to America he will have a wider audience to share his cartoons. The way the political cartoons are put together, combing pop culture and current events, is a good way in getting the attention of a wider audience while also informing them.

Interview with Khalid Albaih

http://www.onthemedia.org/story/drawing-politics/

Albaih’s reaction as a Muslim after the Charlie Hebdo attack. (pbs.org)

Both Dallal’s work and Albaih’s work embody the negotiation between living in America but still having ties to their ancestral home or vice versa. Albaih’s work let young Arab Americans become informed about a land where their grandparents or parents came from. Both artist have a intriguing way of capturing a wider American audience.

Interview with Khalid Albaih

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/sudanese-cartoonist/

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islam-style

(Islamic Art DB)

In Moustafa Bayoumi’s book How Does it Feel to be a Problem?, an Egyptian American named Mohammed wishes to go to Egypt to see how Egyptian Muslims live and meet a respected Islamic scholar. However, Bayoumi explains, “His mother, however, has laid down a rule: He can go to Egypt only if he shaves his beard.” The author explains, “‘It’s because she’s worried about you,’ I told him one day as he drove me to the subway after prayers. He sighed. ‘I know.’ But both Rami and Mohammed gain strength from the outward manifestations of their faith.” (Bayoumi, 244-245)

In Islam, the Qur’an dictates that Adam was given a beard from Allah in order to beautify men. Later Allah gave Abraham ten things that purified the body, two of which involved trimming the moustache and wearing the beard. It is generally thought of as a sin to shave your beard because it alters the creation of Allah. Overall, Muslim men are instructed to keep their beards because it is required by Allah. There are also numerous justifications for it in the Qur’an and in the traditions left by the Holy Prophet Muhammed. In fact, in addition to donning the beard because of Allah’s commandment, many Muslim men wear the beard to emulate the Prophet Muhammed. (al-Islam.org-The Islamic Perspective of the beard)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZjw2NqnywI

In this video a man by the name of Saad Tasleem explains how men in the modern age should change the reason they wear their beards. The common belief in “hipster” culture is that wearing a beard makes you a man. But Tasleem explains the real reason men should wear a beard is because it respects Allah who commanded men to wear their beards and trim their mustaches. He goes against the claim that wearing a beard is a fashion statement and that Muslim men should wear their beards regardless of the dominant fashion trends.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGLGrAwYTrE

In a similar video, Abu Mussab pleads with his male audience to keep their beards because Allah wants them to. He criticizes bosses who attack their employees with a beard because it will supposedly stop customers from shopping there. But the people are not there to buy a man’s beard. They are there to buy the product. He encourages the men to “be a man” and keep their beards regardless of the criticism they will face in their day-to-day lives.

However, Mohammed, the man from Bayoumi’s work, wore his beard not only to respect Allah and the Prophet Muhammed, but also to make his religion visible. This adds a layer of complexity to the excerpt that I began with. Tasleem and Mussab explain that the beard is a religious commandment and should not be shaved because society tells a man that it is fashionable or more profitable for him to be clean shaven. However, Mohammed takes the reasoning for not shaving his beard a step further. He keeps his beard in order to force people to ask him what Islam is really about. It makes Islam visible to his society. (Bayoumi, 245)

Overall, the religiously sanctioned beards of Islam are important because they are a commandment from Allah, but they are also a way for Muslim men to express their religiosity and make Islam visible.

Sources:

http://islamicartdb.com/photos/muslims/male-muslims/bearded-men/

http://www.al-islam.org/articles/islamic-perspective-of-the-beard

Bayoumi, Moustafa. How Does it Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America. Penguin Books, 2009.

“It’s my connector,” Khadra had tried to explain to Seemi once about wearing the scarf through hard times. “It makes me feel connected to the people in my family, my mosque, where I come from. My heritage.”  Mohja Kahf, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf

The concept of Muslim women wearing hijabs has come into mainstream media and current discussions because of the Abercrombie and Fitch Supreme Court case, where a young women was denied employment by the store because she did not fit the image that they wanted to promote. Thankfully, the Supreme Court sided with the woman and declared this as a type of employment discrimination. While I too was on her side, I’ll be honest and say that when I was younger I had a different view of the hijab. I did not discriminate against those who wore it, but I did pity them. In my mind I would think., “Man, it sucks to be them and to be forced to wear that.” That was my childish view of the hijab, one where I saw it as something that was forced upon women and that restricted their beauty. Since then I have come to see how the hijab, and its various forms, is not only beautiful, but is a conscious decision many women make. Sure, there may be some women out there who are compelled to wear it, but the majority of women actually choose to don the headwear for various, legitimate reasons – religious devotion, cultural tradition, identity marker, and even political activism.

When you think of Islamic style of veiling, the hijab is the first thing that comes to mind and is the most common form seen, especially in the United States. However there are so many types of veiling that exist and that are popular with women all over the world even in today’s time.

There are the al-amira and the shayla which are variations of the typical hijab that cover the hair but stop above the shoulders and leave the face open.

hijab1

The khimar and the chador also leave the face open, but the former goes down all the way to the waist of the woman and the latter is a full body cloak that goes all the way to her feet.

hijab2

And lastly there are the more concealing and conservative types: the niqab and the burka. The niqab covers up the entire body and face except for the eyes, while the burka does the same but also covers up the eyes – it has a mesh screen through which the women can look out but no one can look in.

hijab3

*All pictures are credited to BBC News

None of these types of veiling are specifically named and required in the Quran. Women choose to wear the type that best fits them, their personality, and their beliefs. According to many interpretations, the Quran does state that women should be modest and wear headdresses, “Believing women are enjoined to lower their gaze and conceal their genitals, draw their headdress to cover their cleavage, and not to display their beauty…” (Qur’an 24:30-31). However, the hijab was initially worn as a symbol of social status. Only the wealthy, elite women practiced veiling around the time when the hijab was first seen. The reservations have been done away with and women of all statuses can wear it, and many do not for Islamic purposes, but for cultural tradition.  They don the hijab because they feel it right to do so, not simply because the Quran states it. 

Besides religious and cultural reasons, the hijab is worn as an identity marker, like Mohja Kahf describes in The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf. Many women see it as a way to establish who they are to others, to bring their culture into a land where they are the minority, and to connect themselves to others like them. And then there are other women who wear the hijab as a form of political expression. A woman wearing the hijab can use it as a way to show her support for Middle Eastern politics and as a way to show that she has no care for the stereotypes and judgments of others. There are different responses to those who wear the hijab: some are confused, some believe they are anti-feminist, and some believe they are extremists. Most, though, support the decision and right to choose to wear it. The differences in thought and in reasons of wearing the hijab can be seen in a CBC video (link is below) where one Muslim woman wears a hijab, one wears a niqab, and one wears nothing and they all have their views on why they chose to do so. The two practicing in veiling believe that it makes them closer to their religion and also believe that it doesn’t stop them from being “normal” and it should not be a barrier. The lady who does not veil stands in contrast; she believes that veiling is a barrier, that people make judgments as soon as they see someone in a veil, that it prevents assimilation and that it misrepresents Islam as a religion that cannot change and evolve.

Ayesha Nusrat, a Muslim Indian, discusses, in an opinion piece for the New York Times, how she ended up donning the hijab later. “Every time I see my reflection in the mirror, I see a woman who has chosen to be a rights activist, who happens to be a Muslim and covers her hair incidentally. My reflection reminds me of the convictions that made me take up the hijab in first place — to work for a world where a woman isn’t judged by how she looks or what she wears, a world in which she needn’t defend the right to make decisions about her own body, in which she can be whoever she wants to be without ever having to choose between her religion and her rights.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/14/opinion/the-freedom-of-the-hijab.html

On the other hand, an NPR article by Asma Khalid, “Lifting the Veil”, expresses the opinion of American Muslim women who decided to unveil – many saying that they did not want the attention and assumptions the headdress attracted. http://www.npr.org/2011/04/21/135523680/lifting-the-veil-muslim-women-explain-their-choice

Whatever the beliefs and responses related to the hijab are, there is no doubt that it is more than a veil. It is a symbol. It is an expression of a woman’s religion, her beliefs, her individuality and identity, and her right to choose how to express herself.

Other sources:

http://arabsinamerica.unc.edu/identity/veiling/history-of-the-hijab/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/05/europe_muslim_veils/html/1.stm

baby picture

Arab Americans face an invisible struggle that most people, and likely Arab Americans themselves, are unaware of. Racism has existed throughout history, and its negative psychological and economic effects have been well documented. Only recently, however, has racism been studied in terms of its effects on biological health. One study, Birth Outcomes for Arabic-Named Women in California Before and After September 11, links racism to premature births. In this study, Diane S. Lauderdale compares rates of pre-term births during the year before the September 11 attacks, to rates among women who were pregnant at the time of the attacks. According to the CDC, pre-term births are responsible for 35% of all infant deaths, and for many health issues such as hearing problems and cerebral palsy, which can have serious lifetime impacts. Lauderdale found a statistically significant increase in the percentage of preterm births for Arab American women from the period before 9/11 to the period after 9/11, while the rates of pre-term births for non-Arab Americans remained the same.

The key element in the increase in pre-term births among Arab American women is likely the stress they experienced in the days and months after September 11 from the surge of racism toward individuals perceived as being of Arab descent. The body’s response to stress is a rise in production of corticotrophin-releasing-hormone (CRH). CRH is a central aspect of the stress response and is also involved in stimulating labor. Researchers concluded that for many Arab American women, the increase in stress following the September 11 attacks due to the prevalence of anti-Arab sentiment and a persistent fear of being associated with the attackers and targeted as anti-American, resulted in an early increase in CRH, and therefore, early delivery.

The Washington Post: Babies, Bigotry and 9/11

These findings have been affirmed in studies that focused on other minority populations. One study, Very Low Birthweight in African American Infants: The Role of Maternal Exposure to Interpersonal Racial Discrimination, examined the frequency of preterm births among the African American community. The researchers found that African American women who reported experiencing discrimination had higher rates of pre-term births compared to those who did not report experiencing discrimination.

These studies show that the effects of racism in society are much larger than what is commonly understood. The chronic stress from racism that people in minority groups face influences their health. Racism can have direct and latent effects on those targeted and their offspring. Arab Americans, as well as other minorities, battle much more than what is obvious.

Zivotofsky v. Kerry

June 17, 2015

On June 8, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States released the opinion in Zivotofsky v. Kerry. The question presented to the Court was whether a federal statute that directs the Secretary of State to record the birthplace of an American citizen born in Jerusalem as “Israel” on their passport when requested violates the President’s power to recognize foreign states. The Court held that it does – the power to recognize foreign states resides with the president alone. The president has consistently withheld Jerusalem from recognition, so a Congressional Act (Section 214(d) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2003), which undermines the President’s decision by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel for the purposes of a passport, is unconstitutional.

The video below is a great introduction to both the facts of the case and the legal and political issues surrounding the case. Sidley Austin is an international law firm, which is appropriate considering that this is very much an issue of international law and not just the domestic question of the powers of the president v. the powers of congress.

In the video when she talks about the previous case where the Supreme Court ruled that this was not a political question, the “political question” was in regards to justiciability and not whether this is a larger political issue, which it clearly is. The key takeaway from the video is the part where she talks about the “practical reality” of the decision, which is that if the Supreme Court were to rule that Israel could be put as the birthplace, it would cause an external perception that the United States is biased towards Israel. The United States claims to be neutral regarding the final status of Israel, so a ruling in that favor could disrupt or change the final status question and discussion.

The oral argument recording is very interesting to listen to as well because it’s where the justices flesh out how they are going to rule on the case and on what grounds. A part of the argument that I found to be indicative of the issue of perception was a back and forth between Chief Justice Roberts and General Verrilli, the counsel for the State Department (page 30). Roberts questions the credibility of the assertion that ruling in favor of Zivotofsky is going to have a dramatic effect on American foreign policy. Verrilli states, “I think the credibility of the assertion is proven by history… even though President Bush issued that statement which said [the law requiring the State Department to put “Israel” as the birthplace on a passport of someone born in Jerusalem when requested] didn’t change the policy of the United States and that we weren’t going to enforce it because he was treating it as advisory, the consequences that ensued in the Middle East in October of 2002 were that there were mass demonstrations in Jerusalem, thousands of people in the streets, some turning violent. The Palestinian parliament met and voted for the first time to declare Jerusalem the capital of the Palestinian state, no longer forbearing on that issue.” As this dialogue shows, the world really cares about America’s stance on Israel and even the perception of its stance has real-world consequences.

Another very interesting aspect of the case was that the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) filed an amicus (friend of the Court) brief in favor of the State Department. ADC’s stated interest in this case “arises from Section 214(d)’s discriminatory intent and effect on Arab Americans, specifically Palestinian Americans. ADC has growing concerns of Congress pushing forward discriminatory and biased legislation in favor of Israeli Americans and against Palestinian Americans, even when that legislation is unconstitutional.” (page 1). The ADC starts out by stating that “the mishandling of the status of Jerusalem will negatively impact any prospects for peace in the Middle East,” but interestingly goes on to also make an equal protection argument that the statute “invidiously discriminates between Israeli Americans and Palestinian Americans, depriving Palestinian Americans of liberty,” because Palestinian-Americans born in Jerusalem since 1948 are not allowed to have “Palestine” listed as their birthplace on their passport.

From the 15 amicus briefs (including the ADC’s), the international coverage of the case, and all three branches of the American government’s involvement in this issue, we can obviously tell that the world is invested in the Israel/Palestine conflict. The final status of Jerusalem is a key issue in the conflict and however it will be resolved is going to be drastic. Cases like this are very sensitive issues and can have far-reaching consequences because the area is so volatile and America is such a huge player. The case ended up being resolved in a way some may call strategic from a foreign affairs perspective, but either way it seems to have prevented an escalation and that in itself is a win for the Middle East.

– Stephanie Levin

The Palestine/Israel conflict is one surrounded with fact and myth alike. As with any large scale disagreement involving violence, both parties hold their own version of the truth. Unfortunately, there will always be an element of bias within these views. Children are victims of this skewed reality. As Palestinians and Israelis, Zionists and non-Zionists and Westerners and Arabs all have created literature supporting their perceptions of the past and consequently promoted the continuance of conflict and prejudice.

Children observe the world around them and adjust their perceptions of reality to fit the lessons they learn from their observations. Saying that they are impressionable is an understatement. There have been countless studies conducted that illustrate the persuasive hold literature and picture books have on forming children’s and adolescents’ views of the world. One such study was conducted in Boston and sampled 75 children age’s three to five (Patricia A. Ganea). The results supported the researcher’s hypothesis that books containing animals with human-like qualities distorted the views of animals in real life to mirror those portrayed in the stories (Patricia A. Ganea). Another study found evidence that books challenging gender stereotypes when read to preschoolers encouraged them to act outside their preconceived notions of gender identity (Carla Abad). Stories have a larger role in childhood development then serving simply as entertainment. They create some of the first images children have of the world around them and undoubtedly establish bias.

www.frontiersin.org (illustrations from the first study)

In 2013, an anti-Zionist rabbi created and distributed a picture book to children that compared the Zionist movement to Nazi Germany.  It was their hope that the “parents of these children” would vote in favor of their politics over those of their opponent and the children would learn the version of history they were telling (Vicious Anti-Zionist Children’s Book Distributed By Satmar In Hopes Of Convincing Haredim Not To Vote). In books like The book of Trees by Leanne Lieberman or A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird are less political and focus instead on appealing to the social elements of the conflict. Both of these books emphasize the hostilities of the Zionists and downplay the violence exhibited by the Palestinians. Targeted at an adolescent audience, they focus on promoting a pro-Palestinian dialogue. However, there is also plenty pro-Israeli literature. Lynn Reid Banks in tells the story of an Israeli teen that witnesses the murder of his young cousin at the hands of two Palestinians. Her book, Broken Bridge, depicts the Palestinians as “non-descript, without a history, or a normal existence” that foster aggression and unwarranted acts of violence (Three representations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in children’s literature).

Satmar kids anti-zionist book cut off peyosSatmar kids book Zionists laughing as Nazis send haredim to Auschwitz(images from anti-Zionist children’s book)

These stories target the new generations and perpetuate the falsehood surrounding the creation of Israel, the Zionist movement and the conflict at large. There truly will be no hope of resolution if both sides continue polluting the future with myth and refuse to recognize their own roles. Children read these stories and begin to believe the stereotypes and develop the same prejudices that foster an unwillingness to compromise as the earlier generations. Changing children’s literature is not going to solve the Palestine/Israel conflict but it will be a necessary step in the process of both sides taking responsibility.

Bibliography

Carla Abad, Shannon M. Pruden. “Do storybooks really break children’s gender stereotypes?” electronic. 2013.

Patricia A. Ganea, Caitlin F. Canfield, Kadria Simons-Ghafari, Tommy Chou. “Do cavies talk? The effect of anthropomorphic picture books on children’s knowledge about animals.” electonic. 2010.

“Three representations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in children’s literature.” 5 February 2007. The Electronic Intifada . 7 June 2015.

“Vicious Anti-Zionist Children’s Book Distributed By Satmar In Hopes Of Convincing Haredim Not To Vote.” 22 Janurary 2013. failedmessiah.typepad.com . 9 June 2015.