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Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Paying the Price For Our Lack of Vision – Marc Manley

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Cross-posted with author’s permission

One of the most memorable lines from the Star Wars franchise was Emperor Palpatine’s cruel admonishment of Luke when he cackled, “you shall pay the price for your lack of vision”.  This chastisement was swiftly followed by searing bolts of blue lightening. If it weren’t for the timely intervention of Luke’s at-one-time sinister father, Darth Vader, Luke may have met a very unfortunate fate.  In what has also become now a cruel twist of fate, American Muslims are now paying their own price for lack of vision, as the United States now increasingly turns on Muslims, demonizing and terrorizing them, not unlike this recent incident in New York, where a mosque was attacked by a small pack of marauding teens. Similarly to Luke’s blunder, American Muslims simply did not adequately prepare, in this case, for life in America. Where is our Darth Vader in our time of despair?

Sadly, Islam in America, in its heretical inception—referred to as the First Resurrection via The Nation of Islam—did a far better job of indigenizing Islam.  The Second Resurrection [Islam 2.0?], consisted of both immigrant Muslims and new orthodox converts, who were initially unconcerned with the dominant culture’s views of Islam, and thus chose to either live anonymous lives in their new found homes—vis-a-vie through the door of whiteness—or in the case of Blackamerican Muslims, chose to live new lives that had little to do with the existential realities as colored folks living in a post-Jim Crow America. Both groups lived in a fantasy; a bubble.  Of particular interest to immigrant Muslims, whiteness has been the gateway that many if not most immigrants have successfully integrated into the American social landscape.  This created a dichotomy in American Islam in which immigrant Muslims increasingly turned a blind eye to the underside of assimilation: whiteness, and all of the unearned privileges it entails. Blackamerican Muslims, having no such option, opted to simply limp along, parroting their immigrant counterparts without the Players Club incentives. Much to the dismay of [immigrant] Muslims, the 9/11 attacks did away with any hopes of Muslims being considered white/American, and thus we arrive back at our “price” for “lack of vision”. In another twist of ironic fate, blackness and its legacy of civil rights engagement [i.e., its holy protest against white domination and supremacy] seems to be the last bastion of hope for both communities. It is the only social modality that is seen and recognized as viably America: out of immigrant and indigenous Muslims, it’s the only one that’s socially acceptable, if not preferred. Perhaps if immigrant Muslims had not uncritically flocked to the banner of whiteness [I can hear Admiral Akbar shouting now, “it’s a trap” – or “it’s a twap”, however you prefer your phonetics] and Blackamerican Muslims had not been so quick to abandon blackness, we might very well be in a completely different situation today.

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The Nation of Islam, and subsequently its splinter group, led by the courageous Warith Deen Muhammad, charted a vision of Islam [by Islam here, I mean as it was socially expressed by the NOI, and not by the normal rigors of classical Muslim theology] that sought to place the cares, concerns, and proclivities of [Black] American Muslims at the heart of its agenda.  And while the WD movement has also fallen on hard times, it still alludes to the crux of the current social predicament.

In many ways, Muslims in America were afforded a tremendous blessing post-9/11. Public sentiment towards Muslims was somewhat tarnished but by and large, the cloud of negative perceptions of Islam were held at bay, only occasionally making their way in to the public arena.  In fact, there was a notable calling amongst non-Muslims that the 9/11 attacks were perpetuated by a few terribly misguided souls and that Muslims and Islam were not to blame.  American Muslims, instead of capitalizing on this opportunity to push forward efforts to indigenize [not assimilate] themselves to their social, cultural and political landscapes, simply rested on their laurels.  Both sides of the indigenous/immigrant isle have been equally to blame.  Native-born Muslims still continued to favor a brand of Islam that was more about cultural acting than getting down to brass tax and most immigrant Muslims were so devastated at the quandary of being abandoned on the doorstep of whiteness that most of the efforts out of that community have been mostly assimilationist at best, if not simply down-right floundering.  So again, where is our Darth Vader in our time of need?

Simply put, it is my belief that if Muslims do not solve this issue [if it is already not too late], then Islam will suffer a fate worse than persecution: irrelevancy.  And by issue, I mean to address what is at the heart of mainstream America’s growing resentment towards Islam. I believe this to be mainly aesthetic: people simply do not like the way Islam looks and feels as a result of not knowing what Islam’s story is, or more precisely, what the American Muslims’ story is. And American Muslims have failed in telling their own story because they have yet to craft one. Narrative is crucial to survival in America; if you don’t have one, you don’t belong. Perhaps it’s not too late to stop, reflect, and take stock of our condition, our situation.  Let us look at examples from our common cultural past that have succeeded: the Nation of Islam as well as the American Jewish community, who have critically understood the necessity of story and narrative as a primary means of not only survival but also of flourishing. To delay any longer would be akin to another favorite Star Wars quote: “almost there … almost there …” – and we all know what happened next after that.

Original article appeared here: Tumbled Thoughts On American Muslim Life 9/1/10

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. anonymous

    September 2, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    Yea pretty good inshaAllah. We need to educate this generation about our identity so the next generation doesn’t get it worse than us.

  2. Abu Abdillah

    September 6, 2010 at 12:25 AM

    As-Salaamu ‘Alaikum, The tone and address of much of this is insulting and condescending and it makes a lot of generalizations which while true in many respects, should not be taken to represent the attitudes or understanding of all Blackamerican Muslims or others. The implications in the article are for one that non-indigenous Muslims were all about trying to be white or accepted by whites and that Blackamerican Muslims who did or do not follow the ideology of WD Muhammad are abandoning their ‘blackness’! This discounts the very capable and forward thinking Muslims in both groups and belittles the efforts of those who have sought to rise above the limitations of their ethnic or cultural heritages and live up to the heritage of following Islam according to the way of Allah’s true and final Messenger Muhammad sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam. A greater hindrance has perhaps been those who cannot move or think beyond their narrow experience and embrace the breadth of Islamic brotherhood which intrinsically finds strength in the diversity of its adherents and takes advantage of their various perspectives and talents. Indeed we need to know history and acknowledge the parts various people and movements have played and educate the youth. We certainly should not denigrate Muslims who do NOT necessarily look at the Nation of Islam as their role model for future success or romanticize about ideologies and methods that are surely faulted from and Islamic point of view.

  3. Marc Manley

    September 6, 2010 at 6:10 PM

    Abu Abdillah – thank you for your thought provoking comments. I will try and respond to them.

    It is unfortunate you feel the comments have been insulting as well as condescending; I assure you I meant to do neither. Instead, it was my hope to bring to light a perspective that may help to unravel the apparent mysteries and attitudes that American Muslims are seeing unfold before them in the current wave of anti-Muslim sentiment. In that, I wanted to highlight the trend amongst Muslims [both indigenous and immigrant] in which both have been by and large either agnostic [immigrant Muslims – see Dr. Sherman Jackson’s speech as well as another article I wrote on the subject, Socially Irrelevant [?] – American Muslims & Race for more detailed perspectives] or even hostile to the notion of race. The irony of these approaches lies in the fact that [immigrant] Muslims are in fact neither agnostic [their awareness of whiteness as a signifier for civilization reveals this to be false] nor unaware of the importance that race plays in the American social construct. How else, when they find themselves under fire in a post 9/11 context, would they know to invoke the Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name?

    Part of your claim is that I am guilty of generalizations. I would contend that I am dealing with percentages of attitude. By and large, with obvious recognition of groups here and there and of course key individuals, this has been the case which has been documented not only by myself by way of my “narrow experience[s]”, but by other Muslim academics as well. But perhaps what makes this such a difficult topic to discuss is because whiteness, by way of its perceived universalism, makes it quite difficult to pin down and scrutinize in the same light as any other human, socially and historically constructed enterprise. So when this pseudo-truth is called into question, and more importantly, those who have held it up as a quasi-ahistorical maxim, people’s reactions tend to be quite enraged. I suppose this is just a part of the process of bringing this truth to light.

    It should be known that I am neither a part of the WD community or the Nation of Islam. My observations cannot be simply marginalized as “romantic” simply because you do not agree with them. I believe my findings are based on fact – fact that is supported both through classical academic research as well as through the collective experience of both indigenous and immigrant Muslims who are cognizant enough to look at this quandary say, “we have to make a change”.

    It is my hope, that if you have a chance to read the extra material and give some more thought on it that you may see that my topic is not so “narrow” as you may initially have thought. And that if we are to have true “Islamic brotherhood”, then we must look each other squarely in the eye as brothers, even on all historical playing fields.

  4. Margari Aziza

    September 6, 2010 at 9:47 PM

    Salaam alaikum,
    Marc’s not the first nor the last to make this observation.
    African Americans Left Out of the National Conversation on Islam.

  5. Pingback: Paying the Price For Our Lack of Vision

  6. Abdul-Malik Ryan

    September 7, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    As is almost always the case with this type of discussion, I think the topic is important but I find that we engage in thinking about it or analyzing it very sloppily. I often get the impression that this is because we start with a certain conclusion and then we simply force examples to fit that mold. Of course I can’t deny that my own experiences and perspective may be influencing my perception.

    However, I don’t wish to be too hard on this particular article Marc. I know this is just one blog post and it seems you want to start a conversation. I think we’ve been wanting to start the conversation for years and years now, and its time to stop trying to start the conversation and actually have it in a serious way.

    I think one thing that will be very important to that serious rigorous discussion is that we must be able to honestly assess and talk about the history of Blackamerican Muslims in a way that is more critical. By critical, I don’t mean “negative” but I mean a serious analysis of strengths, weaknesses, and look at reality.

    I could talk a lot more about that, but don’t want to go on too long.

    Let me ask this, it seems the underlying assumption of this piece is that the NOI was (is?) “successful.” By what metric are we saying that? (And I say this as someone who is not Blackamerican who first became interested in Islam through interaction with NOI).

  7. Marc Manley

    September 11, 2010 at 7:19 AM

    @Abdul-Malik Ryan.

    I think the topic is important but I find that we engage in thinking about it or analyzing it very sloppily.

    Please elaborate. You have given nothing other than claiming I “forced” my example to fit a mold. I have not forced anything. I simply wrote an observation I felt. You are free to agree or disagree or anything in the middle. If there is anything sloppy going on here it is the commenting; lazy critical reading.

    Let me be as clear as I can here: I am not proffering up the Nation of Islam or orthodox Jewry as a model for Muslims to follow, in toto. What I did say was:

    Let us look at examples from our common cultural past that have succeeded…

    I see nothing lazy or sloppy here. I am suggesting we take a look at other models that have had some measure of success and see if there’s anything we might be able to either appropriate or be inspired by. Why has this been so hard to understand? If you disagree, simply state, “I believe that the NOI actually had issues with achieving this or that” and we can have a conversation. But when those who do little to contribute, whose only contribution is to peck at the body like so many crows, how will we ever be able to come together and share ideas? I am one concerned Muslim, one concerned citizen, who is looking around at the current model that’s in play, that’s in production, and I say, “this ain’t workin’ – let’s try to do some critical analysis and ask Allah to help us move forward”.

    • Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

      September 11, 2010 at 4:38 PM

      Marc,

      As salaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa Eid Mubarak!

      I think you have misunderstood my comment. Note that when I make my observations in the opening paragraphs that you respond to so defensively, I use the pronoun “we” and not the pronoun “you.” There is a reason I did that it was not accidental. My comments were not an attack on you or your post.

      I’m afraid the tone with which this discussion has started means it will not be productive. I apologize for that. Hopefully you can take benefit from my last paragraph, this is what I think needs to be stated in making the argument that others have somethink to learn from the NOI, in what specifc way is the NOI considered to be successful that we can learn from…also, what is our goal to which we are aspiring?

  8. Umm Bilqis

    September 12, 2010 at 5:49 AM

    Marc I believe in outreach towards all humans through a perspective based on ethics and morality in an attempt to engage and gain the attachment of those who in essence believe in ‘justice no matter who it is for or against.’
    However, many have been corrupted by the media.
    After seeing those who protested against the Armageddon/Park 51/CI center I was concerned for all Muslims and all those who “look Muslim” whatever that means for those who profile.
    Spanish, Indian, Sephardic Jews, African Americans and other Africans who are Non Muslims may be handled with violence in the future and Allah only knows what the future holds for all if the haters keep telling the tale.
    Along with hatred of Muslims, it appears as if a hatred of immigrants, Spanish and African Americans among others is on the rise.
    I believe that your analysis in regards for the need of a story/ narrative will help us with those whose opinion is informed by the media and fear mongering politicians.
    Therefore, I agree with you.
    We need better outreach especially towards groups who have undergone similar experiences as you have suggested. We need to engage with others using different methods and strategies, such was the way of our beloved Prophet Sallalahu alaihi wasallam.
    I don’t like Darth Vader, Robin Hood was corrupt as well. However H Rap Brown would have risen to the occasion, unfortunately our brother Jamil al Amiin is incarcerated and suffered through an unjust trial. May Allah release Him and return Him to his family peacefully.

    P.S back in the day, I went to a NOI talk with the intention to set the brothers straight about Islam. Came back with a sad, and captivating story about the injustices Black Americans had experienced. Stories also teach us to believe in “justice no matter who it is for or against.”
    Found out about the spaceship stuff later when I read about it on my own. Eid Mubarak

  9. Marc Manley

    September 12, 2010 at 6:21 AM

    I use the pronoun “we” and not the pronoun “you.”

    “You” is still a part of “we”. It may not have been your intentions but you words were a little like a bull in a china shop. And more importantly, instead of pointing out how sloppy mine/yours/our techniques are, just simply state what it is you think can be improved. I sincerely welcome your criticisms – something you said that’s very important that I hope everyone one here will read: “By critical, I don’t mean “negative” but I mean a serious analysis of strengths, weaknesses, and look at reality”. That, my brother, is very sound advice and I sincerely thank you for it. And I would really like to carry the conversation forward with you [and anyone else interested] in looking critically at the Blackamerican Muslim experience. I have no interest in historical romanticism as it relates to the Nation or any other group for that matter. But there may be some gems to be mined here.

    Wa Eid Karim my brother!

  10. Siraaj

    September 13, 2010 at 2:02 AM

    Salaam alaykum Marc,

    I’m not clear on what you mean by “whiteness” – could you elaborate more on this?

    Siraaj

  11. Pingback: Paying the Price For Our Lack of Vision | Marc Manley Dot Com

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