February 19, 2004

Loving the Promise, but not the Promised Land

During the run up to the war with Iraq I witnessed the all too common phenomenon of people who, when criticizing or questioning our administration’s policies, are labeled by others as America-haters or as unpatriotic. The explanation offered in defense of their assessment is that if those criticizing our nation’s policies really loved this country they would support their government. They say that they love America and claim that this love is demonstrated by their support of our government in whatever it chooses to do.

It occurred to me that this is the same logic that religious fundamentalists use in support of their position. People such as Osama bin Laden and others like him, claim that if Muslims really loved Islam, they would support those people who “defended” it against its “attackers.” Osama bin Laden and his ilk claim to represent Islam just as these “defenders” in the US claims to represent America. Both sides mistakenly believe that the other side is out to destroy their own way of life.

Both of these positions are based on an incomplete understanding of the institutions that they claim to represent. America is based upon the Constitution and our founding fathers’ view of how man should live. Those who say that they know what America stands for, but don’t hold the Constitution as their guiding force are misinformed and mistaken. America only exists when it is true to and lives in accordance with the Constitution. America is a concept and a state of mind, not only a piece of land. America is not the government. Once we give up on the idea of America and exchange it for the idea of “my country right or wrong” or “we are right because we are America” then all is lost. We are not Americans because we live in America, we are Americans when we live as Americans.

The same is true of Islam and religion in general. For Muslims Islam is literally surrendering to God’s will and his vision of how humans should live. The Qur’an is the living constitution that explains how this is to be accomplished. Islam is something that man does for God, not the other way around. When Islam becomes something that man has to defend against attack, then somewhere the original intent and purpose has been lost and forgotten. Muslims are not righteous because they are in the religion of Islam, they are righteous only if they follow the religion of Islam.

If you say you love America but don't love and honor the Constitution and the spirit embodied therein, then you are like the religious fundamentalists who love and honor their religion but don't love and honor God. This type of belief is just another form of idol worship. These idolaters are taking the symbol as the object of their worship instead of the underlying essence and source from which it springs.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus taught on this subject. John the Baptist challenged some of his fellow Jews who believed that being the children of Abraham was sufficient for their salvation. He confronted this belief and pointed out its inherent falsity. So significant was this incorrect reliance that he offered the radical symbolic ritual of baptism to bring them to the realization that their salvation lay in repenting of their sins and turning to God. Identification with and membership in a particular group was not the basis for God’s judgment.

Jesus was preaching to a large crowd. When told that his mother and brothers were asking for him, he challenged this limited understanding of identification and relationship and taught that whomsoever does the will of God is truly his mother and his brother. Being members of his family, being connected to him in a most intimate and direct way, was not as important as doing God’s will.

The Qur’an challenges this idea of self-selected salvation when it asks, “Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe’, and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and God will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.” Even so many Muslims are guilty of this same misunderstanding and are in even greater danger of missing the mark. In the Qur’an Muslims are also warned of the mistakes of their older brothers-in-religion who preceded them. God reminds Muslims with the same lesson by describing some of the Jews and Christians who believed that because God had specially chosen to send them a unique Message and a unique Messenger, membership in each community alone was sufficient to make them secure and protected from making mistakes and committing sins. God points out that if Muslims as a whole can learn not to make this same mistake, that they will indeed be a great community having fully benefited from the experience of their predecessors and more completely and effectively implemented this teaching. Unfortunately, many Muslims simply believe that because they can be a great community that they automatically are the greatest community.

Sound familiar? America can be a great nation because it has the understanding to be a great nation and because of what it has learned from the nations that preceded it both in its creation and implementation. America is a great nation only when it lives up the promise of its founding fathers and implements that wisdom and vision better than any of the previous nations that have preceded it. Like great countries in the world of which America is arguably the last, Islam is arguably the last great world religion. When you come last in history, you do have the opportunity to be greater than those who came before, but only if you learn from their successes and failures and take full advantage of all the accumulated knowledge available. If not, your loss is even greater. When you think that you will succeed where others have failed because it is your destiny to succeed, you have misunderstood God’s promise.

Because Islam is the last great world religion and America is the last great country in the world, Muslims in America have a special role to play on the world stage. Muslims in America can practice their religion freely, unlike their co-religionists in many other so-called Muslim countries. We also have the vantage point of seeing and understanding better than any others, how democracy and Islam are compatible and complementary and actually arise from the same underlying principles. Muslims in America have the unique challenge to show the entire world that Islam can work in and contribute to the social good in the most powerful, modern and technologically advanced democracy in the world. If Muslims are going to reclaim the soul of Islam, it is going to happen first in America. If there is going to be an Islamic reawakening, this is where it starts.

If Mecca is the supreme example of unity in diversity for Muslims, America is the Mecca for the world. That is why so many people make the pilgrimage to this country. America is the country where people of all religions, ethnic backgrounds, cultures and nationalities must demonstrate, by working in unison, that we are a community that improves the human condition and brings people closer together in harmony and unity, instead of contributing to more death, destruction and division. America is the country that can show the rest of the world that the most diverse nation on the planet with people who are different from one another in every conceivable way can live together in mutual respect and admiration and have a better society to show for its efforts. I believe that America is the last great social experiment of history and we the people are its subjects. I pray for the sake of all human kind that we are up to the challenge.

Posted by Yahya at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2004

Spiritual Kung Fu

It has been said that politics is personal. Well it is definitely true that when something happens to you directly it moves it from the realm of thought in to the realm of experience. The recent events surrounding the investigation of the “Islam and the Law: The Question of Sexism” conference at the University of Texas Law School are an excellent showcase of the two methods of addressing issues of conflict facing the world that I experienced first hand.

First off some basic rules. Conflict arises out of imbalance and lack of harmony. Imbalance comes from injustice. Injustice comes from fear. Fear comes from ignorance. Ignorance comes from apathy and/or self-righteousness.

God “made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other).” We have a divine mandate to overcome our apathy and self-righteousness and exercise our God-given gift of reason and intelligence to get to know one another on a global scale.

There is conflict in the world and in the times we live in it is a global phenomenon. In the past it didn’t matter in our daily lives what was happening on the other side of the planet. Today with the ever accelerating pace of technology and globalization what happens on the other side of the planet not only concerns us, it affects us directly.

There is conflict between the Muslim world and America, but it is not a clash of civilizations as those who want to live in a black and white world childishly wish that it was. 9/11 can’t simply be dismissed as the work of religious extremists who used mass murder to accomplish their political goals and used religion to justify it. 9/11 happened because we are not in harmony with the Muslim world and it is not in harmony with us. 9/11 is the effect that resulted from the cause of injustice in our dealing with those members of our global family. Whether it’s the heart of the conflict-the Israeli Palestinian issue (where we play favorites), or it is other issues, we have not been honest with ourselves regarding our role and responsibility in creating our own problems.

What country helped overthrow the Iraqi government and helped the Baath party take over which eventually led to Saddam Hussein becoming the leader of Iraq ? US. What country funded Saddam Hussein in the war against Iran while he was simultaneously murdering his own people? US. Why is it that we have helped to create every monster that we have later come to demonize? We helped create Saddam. We helped create Osama Bin Laden. The CIA called him the greatest jihadi. We helped create Al-Qaeda. We gave money to the most extreme, hard-core, fundamentalist fighters in Afghanistan and then we seem surprised with the result after we bailed out when the Soviets left. We supported the ISI in Pakistan who in turn supported the Taliban and helped them come to and stay in power. We launched the Iranian revolution by propping up the Shah after installing him against the will of the Iranian people.

Martial arts are based upon the idea that you only use your physical force when necessary and even then to use it only to the degree and extent that is necessary to make more fighting pointless. One must know his own capabilities and how best to employ them and one must also knows his opponent’s abilities and respect and appreciate them. A rule of fighting in martial arts is that you can use your opponent’s efforts against him by redirecting them rather than trying to confront them directly. In this battle of spiritual kung fu we are continuing to use brute force against those we are in conflict against. This just creates more conflict and actually gives those actually fighting us all the ammunition that they will ever need. It is self-fulfilling prophecy where the rest of the world points to the show of force of the greatest military might the world has ever seen funded by a defense budget greater than all that of the rest of the world combined.

Islam and the Muslim world are not the enemy. Ignorance and fundamentalism are the enemy. They won’t go away when we fight them with brute force. They have to be fought with the pen. They have to be fought with the tongue. They have to be fought with knowledge. We can combat them with understanding, dialogue, communication, and respect. However we can’t fight them by attacking and oppressing Muslims.

Using army intelligence agents to spy on attendees at a conference on Islam has the opposite intended result that those perpetrating it desire to achieve. The intention is to “defeat” the enemy by finding the “bad” Muslims and removing them from participation in the conflict. All this does though is make “good” Muslims scared and angry and give all the support that is needed for the belief that America hates Islam and that our military campaigns in the Muslim world are really an attack against Islam. Additionally, it chills an open and constructive dialogue within Islam and between Islam and the US, which just results in more ignorance.

The more effective method is to have more conferences and to have Islamic law courses taught at the law school. We should invite the two army lawyers who were used to spy on the conference instead to attend Islamic law classes at the University of Texas law school. This seems like more work than spying and it is - it takes more effort. It requires our country to look at itself honestly and seriously and see what it is doing right and what it is doing wrong. If this country wants to win the real battle in the world, which is for hearts and minds (the most powerful weapons ever devised), it better understand what is in those hearts and minds.

The Qur’an teaches that, “The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he, between whom and thee there was enmity (will become) as though he was a bosom friend.” There are evil deeds that are coming from some who live in the Muslim world. If we want to put an end to this evil, we have to do it with good, not more evil. Hey come to think of it, if we pull this off we will have not only the security and stability that we desire, but we will have a new friend in the world. In today’s world, who doesn’t need more friends?

Articles dealing with the conference:



Army agent questions law students Agent wanted list of Islamic law conference attendees Daily Texan February 12, 2003

UT Islam conference prompts Army investigation February 12, 2003

Criminal Dissent in Alternet.org February 12, 2004

Official Statement from the Press Conference February 13, 2004

Unintelligent Intelligence Freedom and Justice Foundation February 13, 2003

Students protest Army investigation of Islam conference Fort Worth Star Telegram February 13, 2003

Presence of Army agents stirs furor Roster sought of attendees at UT meeting on Islam February 13, 2004

Army's look at Muslim conference irks some Austin American Statesman February 14, 2003

Army inquiries alarm students Civil rights activists fear encroachment of free speech rights in the Daily Texan February 16, 2004

A sampling of editorial opnion around Texas Fort Worth Star Telegram February 16, 2003

Army goes too far in quest for participants of UT conference Austin American Statesman February 17, 2004

Army intelligence - Visit to UT-Austin campus showed poor judgment Houston Chronicle Feb. 17, 2004

National Lawyers Guild Condemns Effort by U.S. Army to Gather Information on Students Feb. 17, 2004

To have a conspiracy, you need competency Austin American Statesman XL Section City Life February 19, 2004

Subpoenas alert universities The Daily Bruin February 20, 2004

Criminal dissent - Are recent tactics in Iowa part of a larger Bush Administration effort to punish dissent? Working for a Change February 20, 2004

Naked City (Austin Stories) Austin Chronicle February 20, 2004

Farrah's Bluster About Religious Intolerance Media Monitors Network February 24, 2004

Army review: Agents erred in UT conference investigation Fort Worth Star-Telegram March 15, 2004

Posted by Yahya at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)

February 13, 2004

Why Isn't Justice Free For Yee?

After sharing the call to action with fellow West Pointers, one who is also an attorney asked the following questions.

Ian, that was an eloquent argument. I have a couple of questions. If, by law, Chaplain Yee is entitled to defense counsel, how is he managing to run up additional attorney fees of over $100,000? Doesn't our system of justice provide justice without additional out-of-pocket expense?

We all seek justice and fair play. However, is the system so broken that we must tinker with defense costs in each case on a case-by-case basis? Or does every defendant just want the Johnny Cochran advantage?

May the innocent always be acquitted! Thanks.

My answer:

That is a very good question. As most of us likely did, I had my own thoughts on the issue. Instead of speculating however I asked Chaplain Yee directly.

Firstly, his own defense counsel directed him to hire civilian counsel in this case as they indicated that their level of expertise was insufficient for a case of this seriousness, complexity and prominence. BTW, the attorney that they hired, Eugene R. Fidell, is president of the National Institute of Military Justice. He is also a partner and head of the Military Practice Group at the Washington, DC firm of Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP. Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve (Ret).

Secondly, the chain of command for the defense attorneys is supposed to be completely separate and autonomous from that of the prosecution. Events took place that clearly demonstrated that this was not the case at all as Chaplain Yee's attorneys were under undue influence from their superiors that was resulting in a compromise of their ability to mount a fully vigorous defense on his behalf.

Chaplain Yee is doling everything that he can to be as cost conscious as possible, using his military lawyers in all applicable situations and then only using his civilian attorney when necessary.

So that's a long answer to a short question: No. Our system of [Military] justice does not provide sufficient justice without additional out of pocket expense. Additionally when you are under investigation for espionage for which the punishment is death, the difference between the best possible defense and a good defense could be the difference between life and death.

Now in the civilian world I'll let the rest of you debate the same question.

Amen to your last statement.


Posted by Yahya at 09:04 PM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2004

One Nation Under Investigation

A friend just forwarded me this article. This is totally whacked! I signed in to this conference (on the lunch list) and also signed a petition to get Islamic law classes offered at the law school. I sat right next to these two "undercover" agents for the first morning session. I am a former Army officer (and an attorney) and if they were undercover they need to do a much better job. It was obvious that something wasn't right and it wasn't because they were both wearing cowboy boots and had extra short haircuts. I asked them what they did for a living and they said that they were attorneys here in Austin and it was clear to me that they were lying. I remember telling my wife that I had hoped to talk to them again because and these were my exact words, "these guys were from some sort of organization checking out the conference and I wanted to find out what organization it was and why they were there."

Here is a link to the flyer from the conference (and a link to the rest of the conference information) if you are curious as to the exact content: http://www.benouis.com/Islam_and_the_Law.pdf

Yes that is me in the first picture wearing the grey and maroon ski sweater asking a question. I think I remember asking a technical question about the jurisprudence around the punishments for adultery, but now that I think about it I might have really been asking a question that was "suspicious in nature" and maybe it just didn't "sit right" with some people. I'm glad that they didn't show the picture of me having a private discussion with three Middle Eastern men. Hey wait a minute, I was also talking with two other Middle Eastern men at one point - could I be the third? Am I considered Middle Eastern? Oops. Obviously I've said to much. ;)


Kemal Ian Benouis, JD

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Sent: Thursday, February 12, 2004 4:35 PM
Subject: [freedom_updates] F&J-Racial Profiling in Academia, Is it okay when Islam's the subject?

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"Connecting the Dots!"

On April 30, 2003 the Houston Chronicle quoted a Texas House of Representative, Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin as saying concerning a debate on a 24-Hour waiting period to have an Abortion "Just put a burka over me and put a veil over me because women have no rights."

This was one more example of how the popular impression of Islam's treatment of women as being oppressive and denying them rights has set so deep into the psyche of so many people. It was due to factors such as this that Sahar Aziz, a Board Member at F&J among several other hats, decided to clear up some misconceptions about Islamic Law and Women's Rights by organizing a successful Symposium at UT Law School last Wednesday February 4th.

The Freedom and Justice Foundation along with the University of Texas School of Law; the Center for Middle Eastern Studies; the Student Bar Association; the Texas Journal of Women and the Law; the Center for Women's and Gender Studies; the National Lawyers Guild at UT; and the Muslim Law Students Association sponsored this Symposium.

Now what has since happened is nothing short of a disgrace to our constitutionally protected rights such as Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association. Army Intelligence officers, attending the conference undercover, apparently heard some private discussions expressing views that they found questionable from some "three Middle Eastern men". They then relayed that information to superiors who dispatched another officer to UT's Law School asking for the event's video tape, and attendees sign-in sheet so that background checks may be run on audience attendees.

Now aiding the government's investigation to keep all of us safe is all of our responsibility, but the Freedom and Justice Foundation is calling for more professionalism to be presented in this investigation so that the Freedoms of Association and Speech are not stymied.

"What Texas needs is more Islamic Law studies and perhaps an endowment to better understand its half-million Muslim neighbors. We certainly don't need scare tactics based on ethnic profiling or the thought police curtailing civil discourse in an apolitical and academic environment." said Mohamed Elibiary, President of F&J.

Daily Texan: Army Agent Questions Law Students

Army agent questions law students
Agent wanted list of Islamic law conference attendees

By A.J. Bauer


The organizer of an Islamic law conference at UT Law School is questioning whether ethnic discrimination brought a Special Agent for Army Intelligence to campus Monday.

Special Agent Jason Treesh confronted students at the law school, demanding a list of people who attended a conference about women and Islamic law. The conference, Islam and the Law: The Question of Sexism, included speakers from around the nation and focused on the rights of women under Islamic law.

Treesh would not comment about why he was at the law school, but his supervisor, Commander Demetria Marria, said Treesh was following procedure.

Army Intelligence was investigating allegations of two Army personnel who attended the conference, Marria said.

She said the two reported being approached by three Middle Eastern men who asked questions that were "suspicious in nature."

"They felt uncomfortable with foreign students or foreign members at the conference," Marria said. "Nothing is ever obvious. It's just that one question that doesn't sit right, so they report it, and we figure it out."

Law student Liz Stephenson said she was intimidated when Treesh began questioning her and others in the office of the Texas Journal of Women and the Law.

"The way he was approaching the whole thing was really forceful," Stephenson said. "He gave us just enough information to get us to keep talking with him."

Jessica Biddle, another law student who was present, said she felt unnerved by Treesh's methods of interrogation.

"I felt like I was on 'Law and Order,'" Biddle said. "He and another woman showed their badges, but we really didn't participate in the conference, so we didn't know what he was talking about. He said he wanted a roster, because he said they were investigating some attendees."

Treesh tried unsuccessfully to reach the conference organizer, law student Sahar Aziz, who said since it was an open conference, she had no roster of attendees.

"There was a lunch list, because we had limited seats, but that's it," Aziz said. "I don't know what I would do with all of those people's names and contacts."

Aziz said she was disappointed that the conference, which she considered apolitical, raised such suspicion. She also said she was skeptical of the allegations.

"It was very boring as far as [controversy] is concerned," Aziz said. "I question whether those suspicions are more affiliated with ethnicity than anything else."


Pictures from the Islam & the Law Symposium


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Posted by Yahya at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

Chaplain James Yee - A Call to Action

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, once instructed his followers with the following piece of wisdom. He said, “Help your brother whether he is oppressed or an oppressor.” To which his companions replied, “We understand what you mean by going to the help of a brother who is oppressed, but how shall we help a brother who is an oppressor?" The Prophet, peace be upon him, replied, "By restraining him from oppressing others."

My name is Kemal Ian Benouis. I am an American of Berber-Arab-Scottish-English descent. I am a West Point graduate from the class of 1986, Company F-2. I am a former United States Army Officer having served my tour of duty in the Aviation branch of the Army in the US and in Panama, where I participated as a Blackhawk Helicopter pilot and staff officer in Operation Just Cause. I am an attorney. Lastly, I am a Muslim having been raised by a Muslim father and a Christian mother. I attended and was confirmed in the Methodist church as a youth and converted to Islam after leaving the military. My wife is Christian.

Chaplain James Yee is a fellow West Point alumnus from the class of 1990, Company F-2. He is an American of Chinese descent. He also served his country performing his tour of duty as a United States Army Officer in the Air Defense Artillery Corps in the US, Germany and in the Middle East. He is a Muslim, having been raised up in the Lutheran church as a youth and converting to Islam while in the military. He volunteered to reenter the United States Army as a Captain and one of its first Muslim Chaplains (the first from West Point) after studying Islam in Syria. He was initially assigned to Ft. Lewis, Washington, and then last November the Army sent him to Guantanamo to minister to Muslim prisoners.

The rest, as they say, is history. He was subsequently arrested while under investigation for espionage, which is a crime punishable by death. He spent 76 days in a maximum security prison where he wore manacles cuffed to his hands and feet. He was not able to perform his five daily prayers correctly because they refused to tell him the direction of Mecca and the time of day.

Now he is out of jail having been released on his own recognizance and is currently serving at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Yet his ordeal is not over. The US Army immediately upon his release charged him with adultery and pornography, adding to the other previous charges of mishandling of classified material and making a false official statement. If court-martialed and convicted on all charges, Chaplain James Yee could face up to 13 years in prison.

Chaplain James Yee’s top notch legal team is continuing to fight hard to have all of the charges dropped. However he has already accrued over $100,000 in legal fees. These costs continue to accumulate. The US Army refuses to allow Chaplain James Yee to actively raise or solicit funds to cover his own legal expenses. I call on each and every one of you my fellow Americans, of whatever religious persuasion or not, veteran or not, to come to the aid of your brother and fellow human being Chaplain James Yee and help him from being oppressed.

You can go to our web site (www.justiceforyee.com) and make a PayPal donation by credit card directly to his legal defense fund or you can find the address to mail a check to his legal defense fund. Additionally from the web site you can find information on how to speak out against our brothers in the military and government who are oppressing Chaplain James Yee by continuing this unnecessary and unwarranted prosecution.

I learned at West Point that the definition of duty is choosing the harder right over the easier wrong. It is easy with all of the injustice that exists in the world to think that making one small effort to right a wrong does not make a difference. To the contrary, it is the only thing that has ever made a difference. Jesus, peace be upon him, taught us through the story of the Good Samaritan that we shouldn’t let our religious or ethnic differences prevent us from helping someone in need.

Not only is it our responsibility to help our oppressed brother, but we must do so for our own sakes. Just because one might not currently be a member of a minority ethnic or religious group in this country does not mean that one will never be in danger.

Martin Niemoller said of Hitler’s Germany, “In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me- and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

I leave you with the quote from Edmund Burke that my mother signs off all of her email with - “The only thing necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.”

Peace be unto you,

Kemal Ian Benouis
Executive Director

Posted by Yahya at 04:02 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2004

The Muslim Street

I was asked two separate but related questions by two different classmates of mine after contributing my latest blog “Cultural Inoculation” to the already existing discussion thread entitled “Weekend Shenanigans.”

1) Do you have a take on how the average Muslim on the Arab Street views our Super Bowl complete with its weekend shenanigans? My guess is that those pre-inclined to anti-American anyway would just view it as another example of American brutality and pornography. Thank goodness that most of the world ignores our Super Bowl. I'm trying to figure how the Islamic Fundamentalist terror groups would portray this incident in their propaganda.

2) Another question that you might have some insight to: It was recently reported that in the last election 72% of Muslim citizens voted for Bush. Think that he will be able to repeat that level of support in the Muslim community?

To answer your first question, I think that the average Muslim on the street just like the average American is not too surprised. With the proliferation of satellite TV around the world this isn't a new phenomenon to them. I'm sure that plenty of people on the Muslim street have already seen plenty episodes of Baywatch.

This latest event does however represent the fear though that lots of Muslims have of the exportation of American culture, that they believe is part and parcel of the whole American package that we are promoting around the world. Your average person on the street likes the freedom and capitalism part, but is afraid of the loss of Muslim identity in the face of the US dominated mono-culture. They see the downside of the freedom in our culture (divorce rate, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, STD's, etc.) and are afraid that if they adopt the good part of the package that they'll also get the bad part.

In the khutbah (sermon) today at one of the mosques in Austin for Friday prayers, the imam (prayer leader), who is an American born and raised convert, was talking about his visits to Internet cafes in the Middle East and he was remarking about the HUGE problem (news to me) of Muslim youth being majorly addicted to pornography. He said that in today's world of globalization there is no place to run to and no place to hide that there is effectively one global culture and I guess in many ways he's correct.

It is definitely more fodder for the fundamentalists, but they are always going to find what they are looking for - even if the half-time show consisted of nuns in habits singing religious songs. I don't think it figures in their propaganda though, as all of their propaganda that I've seen is about the West's "attack" on their way of life-not the West's negative impact on it's own members. You know that kind of they get what they deserve sort of thing.

On the second question, I don't think that Bush can count on that level of support this time around. It is ironic and the irony hasn't been lost in the Muslim community that with such a close election and with there being a sizeable number of Muslims in Florida that Muslims were albeit a small but determining swing vote that maybe gave Bush the win with their bloc vote.

The reason that Muslims bloc voted for Bush was because during his campaign he made an indirect reference that he would repeal the Secret Evidence Act and he made some positive gestures to the Muslim community. I can speak first hand that we felt that enough here in the capital in Austin, TX that when he was governor we held an event on the capitol grounds where they let us have a program with speakers and we conducted congregational prayers outside in public. We were very encouraged that he would take our concerns with him to Washington. Additionally, his father was less pro-Israel than all other modern presidents and I think that there was a secret hope, especially with the families oil ties in the Arab world, that the son would follow in the father's footsteps.

Well as they say, 9/11 changed all that. There was an entirely new calculus to contend with.

I don't think that Muslims cared about Lieberman as being a pro-Israel Jew as a reason to vote for Bush. No American president in the modern era has ever seriously questioned our relationship with Israel and I don't think the Muslims thought that either candidate would be a radical change from the status quo. Just like most Americans, most Muslims are not single issue voters.

So Bush will definitely get less support than last time. How much less? It really depends upon whether or not any of the Muslim political groups endorse the Democratic candidate and whether or not Muslims feel any obligation to listen. The average Muslim on the American street has some idea of what these Muslim political groups are trying to do, but doesn't hold them in very high regard and like the average American thinks politics are rotten and that getting in the game is just going to compromise their values and not achieve anything. I think these American Muslims are wrong, but I think that all Americans who think this way are equally wrong.

I know that in our community we had a voter registration drive at our Eid celebration (one of two festivals during the year) last Sunday and that the person who gave the sermon put forth the challenge that God Almighty would hold each and everyone of us accountable on the Day of Judgment if we didn't register to vote and then go out and cast our vote in the upcoming election. He even threatened not to end the sermon until the voter registration table was brought inside the prayer hall. Wow! That's the kind of call to action that we all need in this country.

Posted by Yahya at 09:48 PM | Comments (0)

February 03, 2004

Cultural Innoculation

Of course by know everyone is talking about the Janet Jackson’s breast being exposed during the Super Bowl halftime show. I’m not surprised. This is not a new development. This just happens to be significant from the media’s perspective because a lot of people saw it and the Super Bowl is practically a religious event for many.

What is more intriguing to me is the fact that the slow and steady cultural inoculation that goes on every single day in this country, generally proceeds unnoticed. The best encapsulation of this phenomenon that I can remember is from a Simpson’s episode in 1995 called “Lisa’s Wedding” where Lisa visits a fortune teller who allows her to see her life in the future. While watching TV in the not too distant future from now, Marge says, "You know, Fox turned into a hardcore sex channel so gradually, I didn't even notice."

This is the same approach that is used for vaccinations against serious infectious diseases where the patient is exposed small or less virulent does of the agent repeatedly until they are capable of withstanding what would otherwise be a lethal exposure. A snake handler is similarly able to build up a tolerance to deadly venom by being exposed to small amounts over time.

This is what the pop culture media relies upon. Additionally there is a generational phenomenon that occurs that doesn’t occur in the natural world that speeds up the process. Whenever a child is first exposed to the mass media of our culture, this begins their measurement of socially acceptable standards. Just like kids who grow up today don’t remember a time before computers and the Internet, kids who see these types of things in pop culture don’t remember a time when they weren’t readily available for mass consumption.

This situation is compounded by the competitive nature of the media industry. Capitalism encourages competition and while in business this can mean that ideally the best product or service wins, in the media this does not mean that better quality wins. Usually the reverse is true as the media will have higher viewership by going after the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately greater choice and access to more venues, especially on television, further exacerbates the problem. In a world with 500+ channels and channel surfing being a pervasive social phenomenon (thank God for my PVR), broadcasters need to grab their viewer’s attention. Sex and violence does grab people’s attention. Tivo said the halftime stunt drew a 180 percent spike in viewership, the biggest ever measured.

With the pace of cultural change ever increasing and the shelf life of the entertainment products ever decreasing, artists and the media outlets that distribute them will continue to seek the opportunity to top one another in breaking the latest barrier that someone else has set. What weapon does the average American have in his arsenal against this onslaught? The only one we’ve ever had – the power of choice - not to watch, or listen or read. And in this case it’s backed up by one of the most powerful tools ever created – your pocketbook.

Posted by Yahya at 09:27 PM | Comments (0)