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Death in a Valley Town, Part 2 – The Black Jesus

Yahya took a few steps toward the phone and stopped. A muscular, brown-skinned man with numerous tattoos on his chest and arms sat huddled on the concrete bench, pressed into the corner. He wore no shirt or shoes, and his thick arms were wrapped around his torso as he shivered. His eyes were red slits.

Sword and sheath
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See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

Previous Chapters of Death in a Valley Town1. Moving Day. Author’s note, 1-5-2020: It’s been a while since I posted Chapter 1. Please go back and re-read it, as I expanded it and added some important details. I also changed the title, which was formerly”To Kill a Muslim”.

The Slap

At first everything had gone beautifully. Seeing the raghead dropped like a buck in hunting season, that had been awesome! Chad cheered and laughed, shouting, “Pick it up, pick it up!” What his coach used to shout at him when he was jumping hurdles. He liked to shout it at random, exciting moments. It made him feel like an authority figure. He watched gleefully as the cops carted the miserable sand chigger away, probably to Guantanamo where he belonged.

Now it was going sideways. Angry neighbors surrounded him on the porch, arguing with him and each other. They’d seen the two officers questioning him and had figured out that it was he who called them. One of those stupid cops accused him of filing a false police report. He said detectives would be around later to question Chad further, and that “filing a false report of terrorism” was a federal crime! Unbelievable. He’d caught a terrorist on his own street and now he was the criminal?

“He was right to call them!” shouted Eggers, the short, chubby guy from four houses down who owned three pit bulls and wore a t-shirt that said, “You stomp on my flag, I stomp on your ass.” “We don’t want their kind on our street. We have to keep our kids safe.”

“You don’t have kids,” retorted the dark haired, wide-hipped lady who walked five miles every day. She was Armenian or some crap. Not as bad as camel huggers, but not really white either.

“Yes I do, just because they live with my ex, so what, my point stands.”

“It’s racist,” another woman interjected. That was the blond lesbian from the corner, the one whose grown daughter lived in a camper in front of the house. “Muslims have as much right to live here as anyone. We have freedom of religion in America.” She pointed an accusing finger at Chad. “You had no right to do that.”

“Shut up dy*e!” Jessica, the teenager from directly across the street, was red in the face, spit flying from her mouth. Chad knew she had a crush on him. Pimply-faced little nitwit was always trying to bum a beer off him. He’d seen her drinking with some stoners at Dry Creek Park once and had taken her into the bushes and made out with her, but she reeked of old sweat overlaid with strawberry perfume, and he had no desire to repeat the experience.

“Don’t talk to Chad that way,” Jessica went on. “At least he’s standing up for the white race.”

“I’m not racist,” Chad muttered. “I’m not against anyone. But coloreds should know their place and stick to their own kind. And Muzzies are different, they’re raghead terrorists. Not normal like us.”

“Oh my God,” Alan said. He was a married father who lived right next door to where the Muzzies were moving in. He taught school at Alhambra High. “This is sickening. Where are our youth getting these ideas?”

Chad snickered at Alan’s use of the word youth. What did the dork think this was, a PBS program? Fairy.

Alan addressed himself to Chad and Jessica. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. Do you know those words? That’s from our Declaration of Independence. Do you know what self-evident means? It means anyone with a mind and a heart can see that all human beings are the same, we’re all equal. That was written almost two hundred fifty years ago.”

“We don’t care about your stupid declaration,” Jessica retorted.

“All your opinions don’t mean squat,” Chad said. “‘Cause the cops agree with me. That’s why they arrested the raghead’s ass. Proves I’m right.”

“You’re not right,” Alan the teacher insisted. “I saw everything. The police’s actions were abusive and illegal, and I’m going to make sure everyone knows it, including the cops, the city council and the TV news. And you, Chad Barber, will be charged with filing a false police report, and you’ll be billed for the cost of the city services you wasted, which I’m guessing will be around one hundred thousand dollars.”

That was when Chad’s mom appeared, hungover and red-eyed, hair plastered to one side of her face, shielding her eyes from the light. It took her a minute to understand what had transpired, at which point she turned to Chad and slapped him hard across the cheek. “You little moron,” she growled, her upper lip curling in disgust. “We don’t have money to pay any damn fines! If they bill us a single red cent I’ll take it out of your hide, I swear to God. I thought I was free of your dad’s racist garbage. But you’re an idiot just like he was.”

Chad thought he was beyond caring what his drunken slut of a mother thought, but her words pierced his heart. He hardly cared about the slap – that was nothing – but hearing her insult him in front of all these people make him shrink up inside like a wounded child. He threw his beer can on the grass and stomped into the house.

“And fix this damned-to-hell porch!” his mother screamed after him.

They were all against him, but he didn’t care. He’d show them he was right. If that raghead got out of jail, Chad would beat the truth out of him. Pick it up, pick it up. Then people would realize that Chad was a hero for standing up for his race. As for his mother, she would get hers when RaHoWa came, that was for sure. Especially since one of her boyfriends was black. Wait, Chad thought. I don’t believe in RaHoWa, do I? It was confusing sometimes, trying to remember what was true and what wasn’t. The Muzzies were evil though, that much was sure, and Chad intended to make a lesson out of this new neighborhood raghead, no matter what it took.

Mwanga

Sword and sheath

Yahya ran up a forest path. He was muscular, his calves and thighs as hard as iron, his bare feet calloused. He wore furs, and his beard was long and full. In each hand he carried a sword, one as long as his arm and the other half that length. The swords’ surfaces were engraved with writings that detailed all he had seen and learned in life. There was a lot of it, for he had traveled far and fought many evil men and vicious beasts.

He must get north. The tribes were not expecting him, but he carried a message that must get through. The path became rocky, with stone outcroppings on either side. Soon a sheer cliff face loomed, blocking his way. He’d known this would happen, for this formation ran for thousands of miles, dividing the southern lowlands from the northern highlands. But he’d heard rumors of a cave system that ran beneath the mountains and emerged on the northern side. He prowled the base of the cliff until he found a sinkhole. Dropping into it, he discovered a cave opening. He entered, and the darkness swallowed him like the throat of a dragon. How would he proceed in this sightless void?

His swords began to glow. This did not surprise him, for they were objects of power. By their light he ran, squeezing through fissures and occasionally strapping the swords to his back in order to climb. Relying on his internal sense of direction, which was extraordinary, he found a tunnel that ran north. It was so large that the light of the swords did not reach the roof. Soon he began to sense movement above. Things scurrying, creeping. He raised the swords and shouted, “Mwanga!” and the blades blazed with brightness like tiny suns.

Leathery creatures with bright fangs seethed across the roof of the cave, covering it. Their eyes were dead black, and their winged bodies long and serpentine. They crawled and slithered over and under each other, so that the entire ceiling appeared alive. When the light hit them they shrieked. For a moment they froze, only their obsidian eyes moving, tracking him. Their muscles bunched. They attacked.

Yahya spun, wielding both swords simultaneously. He ducked, rolled, and leaped as the weapons blazed. Battling without thought, operating purely on instinct and sanguinary experience, he cleaved monstrous heads from leathery bodies, severed scaly torsos, and littered the cave floor with wings and limbs. Even as he fought he never stopped moving north, driving his way through, the swords slicing, spinning, chopping. The creatures bit his shoulders, arms and legs, even his face. They slashed with claws and clubbed with tails. The air was coppery and hot with blood.

Finally, daunted by Yahya’s prowess and his terrible, frightening swords, the creatures retreated. Leaving bloody footsteps, Yahya ran on.

After what seemed like days of running and might indeed have been so, the tunnel narrowed and the roof came down to his head. Abruptly the tunnel ended in a stone door. It glittered with inlaid gems arrayed in mystical patterns, and was carved with the words ni wenye haki tu. Only the righteous. Yahya knocked and waited, then louder. Nothing. He pushed with his shoulder, but the door would not budge. He took a deep breath. His entire body pulsed and burned with the pain of myriad cuts, bite wounds and bruises. He gathered the last of his energy, took a deep breath, invoked the name of God silently and touched the door with the tip of his right index finger.

The door swung open. Bright sunlight flooded in, making Yahya squint. When his vision adjusted he saw a land of green grass and tall trees, and a great blue river that wound in the distance. Two women stood before him. They wore long multicolored robes and scarves on their heads, and their mahogany faces were serious.

“What do you bring?” one asked.

“A message.”

“And?”

What else did he have of value? Only his swords. He held them up, crossing the blades. But they were books, one large and one small, the covers glinting with inlaid gold lettering. On one cover shone the words, “You were on the edge of a pit of fire,” while the other said, “He saved you from it.”

The women stepped aside. “Welcome home,” one said.

“No,” Yahya replied. “I have no home. I’m an orphan. No center, cave, clan or tribe. No one, nothing, nowhere.”

* * *

Something jostled him and he opened his eyes. Were the creatures attacking again? No… that was a dream. But reality was just as strange. He was lying on the back seat of a car with his hands restrained behind his back. And – pain. It hit him like a train with no brakes, making his breath catch in his throat. His entire body ached, including his head. His lips were swollen and split.

Two men were talking in the front seat as the car jounced over a potholed road. A metal screen separated the back seat from the front, and Yahya realized he was in a police car. He tasted blood, and there was a wetness on the side of his head and neck that might be yet more blood. His left arm in particular was on fire. His kufi was gone and one of his pant legs was torn from the knee to the ankle, exposing a lacerated and bloody shin. Then he remembered… They’d Tased and beaten him. For no reason at all. No warning. He was about to speak up and protest when the words of the officers in the front seat pierced his mind’s fog.

“You know that was wrong, Jay,” said the cop in the passenger seat. “We messed up. The guy did nothing wrong. We need to take him to the hospital, not to booking.”

“Shut up,” the driver said. “You don’t say another word. We responded to a report of suspicious activity. We ordered this son of a bitch to lie down, but he resisted arrest. For all we knew he had a weapon or an explosive vest. We acted to protect the citizens of this town.”

“That’s B.S. and you know it,” the passenger said, but the certainty had gone out of his voice.

“Don’t tell me what I know, you boneheaded rookie. You say exactly what I told you to say, or it’s your job and mine and maybe worse, you understand?”

“Yeah,” the passenger cop muttered. “I understand, sarge.”

The conversation died. A fresh wave of agony hit Yahya like a cricket bat. Beating him like a bat. Rat-a-tat-tat. He gritted his teeth, then spoke. “Officers, I need medical attention. I think my arm is broken.”

The two cops looked back in surprise. The passenger was the young red haired cop who’d Tased him. The other – the sergeant – was a middle-aged cop with a beer belly and a thick head of salt and pepper hair. “Shut up,” the sergeant growled. “You don’t speak unless you’re spoken to. One more word and I’ll stop this car and kick your ass again.”

“Why?̈” Yahya did not fear the man’s threats. Let them do what they would. La ilaha il-Allah.

The sergeant turned and shot Yahya a quizzical look. “What do you mean why? Because I can, that’s why.”

“But why would you want to hurt me? Your job is to protect and to serve. I’m a citizen of this town like any other.”

“Can you believe this freaking guy?” the sergeant said to his fellow cop. Then, addressing Yahya again, “You’re no citizen, you’re a criminal.”

“What crime? What am I charged with?”

“Trespassing for starters. Menacing, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, assault on a police officer. You’re going down, douche.”

“Trespassing? That’s my house you arrested me at. I’m a rideshare driver. My wife is a doctor at Alhambra Community Hospital.” He saw the two men exchange looks. They hadn’t known any of that.

“I told you to shut up,” the sergeant repeated. Yahya realized nothing he said would make a difference. Maybe someone at the station would listen.

They did not.

The Black Jesus

Jail holding tank

He was led into the station limping and bloody, where he was fingerprinted and photographed, then deposited in a cube-shaped and locked booking room that contained a steel toilet, a molded concrete bench that extruded from the wall, and a payphone. The numbers of various bail bonds agents were written in ink on the wall beside the phone.

Thank goodness, Yahya thought. I can call Samira and let her know I’m alive. He wondered if it was time to break his fast. There was no clock on the wall. How much time had passed? He couldn’t think clearly. The pain in his arm was like a red sea whose waves broke over him again and again, pounding, carrying away his rational mind.

He took a few steps toward the phone and stopped. A massively muscular, brown-skinned man with numerous tattoos on his chest and arms sat huddled on the concrete bench, pressed into one corner of the square room. He wore no shirt or shoes, and his thick arms were wrapped around his torso as he shivered. His eyes were red slits. He was like a suffering mountain, so powerful and solid but mined and clear-cut, and reduced to a naked, frigid mass.

This was all so familiar, like a recurring nightmare. Scenes of his youth came back to him. Living as a foster child, doing his best to survive in facilities not unlike this one. He would make it through this, just as he had survived that. Hadn’t he been passed around from one uncaring family to another? Hadn’t he come through it all as strong inside as a baobab tree? Hadn’t Allah brought him to the deen, showing him a place where he would always be welcomed and loved, by God if none other? He would get through this. Be patient, he told himself. Be patient and trust Allah.

In spite of his own considerable pain, Yahya felt a wave of sympathy for the shirtless man. No matter how bad one’s situation, there was always someone who had it worse. He considered. He could not give the man his shirt, because then he’d be the one shivering. But he could give his shoes. He took them off and approached the man.

“You need these more than me,” Yahya offered, but the man did not respond. Yahya gently touched one rock-hard, tattooed arm. The shirtless man jerked in surprise, his eyes opening wide. He brought his hands up in fists and bared his teeth.

Yahya looked at the man’s light. It was a gift he had, something he discovered at the age of thirteen, when trying to tame a feral cat that lived in the buses near the foster home. He looked past the exterior and into the soul, at the same time relaxing his own chest and arms and exposing himself on a spiritual level. He saw the souls of others as thin, translucent sheets of color. Sometimes their faces displayed colors as well, often in swirls that changed and pulsed. Occasionally he saw auras of color surrounding the person’s entire body.

Whether he could truly see this or only imagined it, he did not know. No one knew about it except his twin sister Yusra. Even Hafsa didn’t know. Yusra was skeptical, and had been imploring him to see a doctor since they were young. He never told her that he had in fact gone to see a doctor when he was twenty and worked at the bottling plant. Six months after he got that job and completed the probationary period, his medical benefits kicked in. First he saw a GP, who referred him to a neurologist. The man diagnosed him with a condition called synesthesia, in which the senses became crossed, so that stimulation of one cognitive pathway carried over into another pathway. In some people, letters and numbers took on color. Others saw colored shapes or even fireworks when they heard ordinary environmental noises like car horns or vacuum cleaners. Still others saw music as three dimensional lines that moved through space.

There was no treatment, since synesthesia was not considered an illness, but simply a difference in perceptual experience.

Yahya rejected the entire diagnosis. This so-called explanation could not account for what happened when he looked at someone’s light. Often he gained deep insights into the person’s history and character – insights that were proven true as he learned more about the person. And there was something else. The mere act of looking at someone’s light seemed to trigger a response in that person. Angry people softened, becoming, if not friendly, at least relaxed. Violent people calmed down and seemed to forget what had provoked them. It was not something Yahya could do at will, however. It took time and focus, and sometimes left him feeling physically and emotionally drained.

He relaxed now, focusing on this man’s light, and opening himself. This man’s soul was a deep, rich brown, but with thin streaks of angry red and washed-out yellow. Black and red swirled over his face, indicating confusion and pain.

As Yahya studied the man’s light, he sent a mental message to it: “Be calm. Be at peace.” The living mountain uncurled his fists and lowered his hands. His jaw relaxed and he stared at Yahya dumbly.

“Take these shoes,” Yahya repeated. His limbs were suddenly weak. The shoes felt heavy in his hand.

“Que?”

The man did not speak English. Yahya drew upon his mediocre Spanish. “Zapatos. Para ti. Gratis. Free.”

He knew, from his own experience in such situations, that the man might suspect an ulterior motive. But Yahya had none. He wasn’t trying to buy the man’s protection against other inmates, nor store up a marker for a future favor. Nor was he calling upon God with a quid pro quo: God, accept this act of charity and free me from this trouble. He did not believe in such things. One did not make deals with God.

No, it was just… There was a hadith he’d learned, a narration of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that was always in his mind: “On every person’s joints or small bones, there is (the obligation of) sadaqah (charity) every day the sun rises. Doing justice between two people is sadaqah; assisting a man to mount his animal, or lifting up his belongings onto it is sadaqah; a good word is sadaqah; every step you take towards prayer is sadaqah; and removing harmful things from pathways is sadaqah.”

Yahya often thought that many Muslims did not realize the profundity of this statement. It wasn’t just an admonition to do some miniscule good deed every day. It described a radical way of approaching the world. The small bones of which the hadith spoke were the bones of the hand, or so Yahya had read. The hand was the instrument of creation. A man’s hands built, shaped, struck. They were symbols of power. It seemed to Yahya, therefore, that this hadith represented a declaration that kindness and charity were powerful forces of the universe, like gravity and combustion. Removing a harmful thing from the road, as the hadith suggested, could mean picking up a discarded beer bottle, sweeping up broken glass, or even scooping up animal excrement. This might be seen by some as degrading. It was the work of a janitor or a street sweeper, people who in some societies would be untouchables of the lowest caste. Lifting a man onto his mount was the work of a servant. Speaking a good word was something even a child could do. It required neither position nor power.

Yet in the sight of God such acts were not expressions of lowness but of personal and elemental righteousness. They drew one close to God, and that could only be a good thing. Yahya knew that these thoughts would probably make no sense to anyone else. But they drove nearly all his personal interactions.

He extended the shoes toward the man, nodding his head in a way that said, “Here, take them, please.”

The living mountain took the shoes with shaking hands. His gaze traveled up and down, taking in Yahya’s dark skin, black beard and bloodied head. His eyes opened wide. “El Jesus Negro!” he breathed. “Dios mio!” At which point he fell to his knees before Yahya and pressed his palms together in supplication. “Ayuda me! No cuestiono su plan, señor. Por favor, dile a nuestro padre que soy un siervo agradecido.”

What on earth? If Yahya understood correctly, the man had just called him “the black Jesus.” Clearly the poor fellow was delusional or drugged.

He turned toward the phone and was suddenly overcome by a wave of dizziness. He stumbled and put a hand on the wall. He put a hand to his forehead. His skin was cold and clammy. He had been badly beaten and was in terrible pain already. Looking at the man’s light had drained the last of his energy. His heart was beating so fast you could play a Kenyan benga song to it. Boom-cha-cha-boom cha-cha-boom. Like the Joseph Kamaru song. Wendo wa cebe cebe. The motion of the cube, but the cube was this room. His eyelids came down like a winter sunset, and he was only vaguely aware that he was falling.

He heard shouting in Spanish. His eyes were half open but he saw nothing, or if he did he could make no sense of it. He was aware only of the brightness of the overhead light, which conversely seemed to provide no warmth, actually sucking heat away, as if its function had been reversed. The concrete was freezing against his cheek. The cold deepened, becoming a sphere or tunnel that narrowed around him, tightening like the tunnel he’d been in earlier. Or had that been a dream? He couldn’t remember anymore.

* * *

Next: Part 3 – A Fighter and a Thief

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Wael-Abdelgawad/e/B071CYWVDM?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1579756718&sr=8-1Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com, and various financial websites. Heteaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com.For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    January 9, 2020 at 1:25 PM

    As-salamu alaykum everyone. I hope you weren’t thrown by the title change. I really didn’t like the previous title, but it took me a while to think of a better one. P.S. Constructive criticism is always welcome. Thanks for reading.

  2. Avatar

    Avid Reader

    January 10, 2020 at 6:27 AM

    Excellent sequel to the first episode, not withstanding the title change. However, not being familiar with the US police system, I’m surprised there are no checks and balances anywhere during pressing charges. I’m sure you must have done your research though…

  3. Avatar

    Bint A

    January 13, 2020 at 12:01 AM

    Hmm… inclining a little towards the mystical- which, with the realistic backdrop of the story… is making it a bit harder to relate to

    Not connecting just yet. But hopefully, things will pick up

    Thanks for your writing and giving us a chance for feedback :)

  4. Avatar

    Umm Ibrahim

    January 14, 2020 at 12:13 AM

    I love reading your stories because I always learn something useful or I’m given good reminders.. I really appreciated the reminder about doing good and how we Muslims don’t realize how profound that Hadith is that you mentioned.

  5. Avatar

    Bint A

    January 14, 2020 at 1:47 PM

    What day of the week are the chapters posted?

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      January 14, 2020 at 10:49 PM

      Part 3 is scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday the 15th. Part 4 is not yet complete but very close, so presumably will appear one week after. I will do my best to maintain a weekly schedule but I can’t promise it, especially since I am participating in a worldwide story writing contest called NYC Midnight, beginning this Friday. Also, sometimes I get stuck on certain scenes or chapters and need more time to work them out. Regarding your previous comment, you’re right, Yahya possessed what he believes is a mystical or spiritual ability. It’s a key part of his character.

  6. Avatar

    Leanna

    January 18, 2020 at 9:51 PM

    As Salaam Alaykum Brother Wael, alhamdulilah, so happy to see that you’re posting more stories. I have read and enjoyed all of your stories on MuslimMatters. I am also waiting for the sequel to The Repeaters. For some reason, part 1 isn’t loading but I still enjoyed part 2. Thanks for sharing your gift!

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      January 22, 2020 at 11:32 PM

      Leanna, wa alaykum as-salam. Thanks for your comment. Someday I may write a sequel to The Repeaters. Especially if people start buying it, lol, which right now no one is.

      • Avatar

        Bint A

        January 24, 2020 at 9:47 PM

        Where can we read this The Repeaters? I don’t remember coming across it.

        • Avatar

          Wael Abdelgawad

          January 25, 2020 at 12:05 AM

          It’s available on Amazon: The Repeaters.

          It’s not Muslim fiction, however. More like urban fantasy.

          • Avatar

            Malika

            February 28, 2020 at 3:24 PM

            Alhamdulillah…so happy you are finally updating . I’ve been waiting for this for so long.i really love your story and how your character comes from my homeland.much love from Kenya

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#Current Affairs

Propaganda Kills: Holding China Accountable For Its Role In The Coronavirus Pandemic

The world gave China the benefit of doubt on SARS, but the fact that something similar happened again is inexcusable.

Chinese propaganda
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

15 mins read

In a new report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian describes the operating manuals for China’s mass internments and arrests of Uighur Muslims in the occupied territory called Xinjiang (East Turkestan). She describes what the world continues to ignore: China’s ethnic genocide—the destruction of culture, traditions, and mosques— the very fabric of Uighur heritage. 

This is a shocking attempt at reshaping an entire people’s identity. Once reduced to less than animals, it is no surprise that Chinese Communisty Party’s (CCP) evil is now extending to harvesting organs from Uighurs. There is increasing research such as the findings of the China Tribunal led by Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC, a former chief prosecutor of Slobodan Milosevic, that also leads to assertions of physical genocide. 

While the Uighur destruction story has been unfolding for more than a decade and despite courageous reporting to bring it to the attention of the world, the abuse continues unabated. Why?

China’s rampant propaganda machine: Tell China’s story well

The answer lies in China’s propaganda machine, which is unparalleled in its scope and funding. China has committed to spend $6.6 billion on global coverage, emphasizing Chinese power, generosity and centrality to global affairs. While all expenses paid trips, buying airwaves, advertorials, sponsored journalistic coverage and “heavily massaged positive messages from boosters” are no new tactics, unlike other government propaganda machines, China does not accept a plurality of views. The press becomes the eyes, ears, and tongues of the Chinese Communist Party.

The build up of soft power is strategic. A five month investigation by the Guardian reports that, “Beijing has also been patiently increasing its control over the global digital infrastructure through private Chinese companies, which are dominating the switchover from analogue to digital television in parts of Africa, launching television satellites and building networks of fibre-optic cables and data centres – a “digital silk road” – to carry information around the world.Since August 2019.” 10 million of Africa’s 24 million pay-TV subscribers watch low-cost StarTimes, which is CCP-owned. ProPublica has tracked more than 10,000 suspected fake Twitter accounts involved in a coordinated influence campaign with ties to the Chinese government. Remember Twitter is banned in China. A Reuters investigation across four continents found at least 33 radio stations in 14 countries that are part of a global radio web structured in a way that obscures its majority shareholder: state-run China Radio International, or CRI. The carefully scripted content is broadcast worldwide in more than 60 languages and Chinese dialects. 

The 480 CCP funded Confucius Institutes in various universities in six continents are staffed with visiting teachers from China and offer language classes, cultural programming and outreach. They teach that Taiwan, Tibet and East Turkestan are integral parts of China and ignore human rights. However, many see them as a part of the propaganda machine and have been criticized by professors concerned about academic freedom and institutional autonomy. The CCP admits as much, Politburo standing member Li Changchun said. “[Confucius Institute] has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power. The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.”

One just needs to look at China’s neighbor Pakistan, home of 4 Confucius Institutes, Xinhua Urdu News channel and a $60 billion CCP investment, to see the effect of wholesale Chinese brainwashing. Like the rest of the Muslim “Ummah”, Pakistanis decry the human rights abuses against Kashmiris, Rohingya,  Palestinians, etc., but when it comes to human rights abuse against Uighur Muslims, a majority of Pakistanis dismiss it as “Western propaganda”.

Much of this is because of a systematic response team run by the China Economic Net, a Beijing-based online news organization, and the Islamabad-based Pakistan China Institute. The system disseminates information to counter “negative” news about the neocolonial Belt and Road initiative. The think tank also runs China-Pakistan Media Forum, and for 5 years has been bringing Pakistani and Chinese journalists together to counter negative news.

Pakistan may be an extreme case, but it is not unique. Most of the world is either unaware or uncertain about the extent of the abuse against Uighurs. 

This reflects the extent to which China has been successful in hiding its dirty secrets.

Will there be another cover-up on COVID19?

More than 23,000 people are dead globally from COVID-19. Since the first Dec. 30 announcement of a new disease in Wuhan, the CCP has spun a narrative.

Recently three lawsuits were filed against the CCP government. In one, attorney Robert Eglet claimed that China’s government should have shared more information about the virus but intimidated doctors, scientists, journalists and lawyers while allowing the COVID-19 respiratory illness to spread.

CCP’s propaganda machine is now attempting to cover-up China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic; it has gone into hyper mode. In a must-watch short documentary on New York Times, reporters identify three dominant themes that China wants to promote to the world: spinning optimism, protecting China’s image, and disputing the origin of the virus:

Spinning optimism and protecting China’s image:

Everyday we are hearing stories of Chinese medical goods and medical teams reaching other countries to provide assistance in fighting the virus. This is certainly laudable, but one must not forget the context of these stories that are glowingly reported by Chinese news sources and officials on Twitter. This is part of the government spin to turn the Chinese government from the creator of the problem to the Good Samaritan. It is akin to setting someone’s house on fire and then sending in the fire trucks. One can acknowledge that the fire-trucks are helpful, but should one forget who started the fire?

The source of the COVID-19:

Despite China’s massive attempts at shifting the virus origins outside China, the overwhelming evidence points to Wuhan as the epicenter of the pandemic.  If there is one video to watch to understand how this virus came into being, then it is this from Vox.

Everyone remembers SARS from 2003, a zoonoses – human infection of animal origin. What most people didn’t know is how SARS came into being. Historically, small farmers in China ate wildlife that they caught on the farms. However, after China designated wildlife as a “natural resource” in the late 1980s, it led to its mass-scale industrialization, worth billions. As it is, China has a poor record in food supply chain controls, and by allowing this unprecedented commercialization of wildlife, it opened the doors for exotic viruses to find their way into humans.

With the breeding industrialization, wildlife markets were established and wildlife started flooding regular wet markets (where meat, fish, and produce is sold) leading to its mixing with staple animals under atrocious conditions. This allowed viruses to move from one animal species to another, eventually leading to the SARS outbreak. The SARS virus was traced to a wet market in Foshan, Guangdong province, most likely passed from masked palm civets and/or bats to humans. This is a wildlife regulation problem.

While China shut down the markets immediately after SARS, it decided to reopen them in a short time. Greed trumped humanity. It was only a matter of time that some new virus would jump species and find its way into humans. And that is exactly what happened. A study found that the novel coronavirus now known as COVID-19 that has been found in patients infected in the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, is almost totally identical to one that infects bats.

Racism towards people of Chinese heritage

It is important to keep in mind that ordinary Chinese people have faced the brunt of the initial virus outbreak. Their frustrations and anger was captured in tweets by New York Times correspondent Amy Qin from Wuhan. There is no excuse and basis for discriminating against the people of China. They are very much part of the common humanity with the rest of the world who are suffering due to the grave and criminal blunders of the Chinese government. It is important to acknowledge that some individuals are promoting racist tropes against the Chinese, and this must be opposed, while not allowing the Chinese government to get away with a cover-up.

Some of the racist tropes making rounds online are about food choices in China. What Chinese people eat is their choice. People all over the world eat all types of animals. Some folks may find the consumption of camel, kangaroo, and desert lizard disgusting, even while Muslim diet permits all three. We may not like what others eat, but we are not in a position to dictate those choices. What we can emphasize though universally is that the meat industry must provide sanitary conditions to animals, and their slaughter should also be conducted in a humane way. For example, cooking animals alive or clubbing them to death are practices that can be universally condemned, but what cannot be allowed is to engage in racist tropes about what people eat.

One must also note that while the Chinese do have a wider spectrum of animals they will eat, “the majority of the people in China do not eat wildlife animals”. As Peter Li points out in the VOX video, “those people who consume these wildlife animals are the rich and the powerful –a small minority.” 

The cover-up is harmful

Coronavirus has brought the world to its knees. People have lost their lives and livelihoods. Poor countries are even at greater risk of being completely devastated if the virus takes hold, as it did in Wuhan or Italy. 

And it could have been prevented.

A University of Southampton study found that “if interventions in the country [by Beijing] could have been conducted one week, two weeks, or three weeks earlier, cases could have been reduced by 66 percent, 86 percent and 95 percent respectively – significantly limiting the geographical spread of the disease”.

Instead of focusing on controlling the disease, the Chinese government was focused on PR. Instead of managing the disease, President Xi was busy managing WHO’s response, which parroted Chinese government propaganda that “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.”

So China not only allowed conditions for the rise of the deadly virus, its actions led to a far more severe outbreak than a transparent and controlled prevention program would have allowed. It co-opted the WHO into its propaganda and we must call China out for its actions.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Despite the clear evidence of China’s role in both the rise and spread of the virus, there is a severe pushback (some from Chinese propaganda and some from “woke” channels) against calling China out on the pandemic. While calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” is very problematic, it is also not helpful to absolve China of its attempted cover-up and then get out of hand.

Concern for ordinary Chinese people is sincerely intentioned. However, holding China accountable is not racism. The world gave China the benefit of doubt on SARS, but the fact that something similar happened again is inexcusable. China has been getting away with abuse within its boundaries, and if it gets away with the coronavirus cover-up, who knows what other abuses and viruses the world will see in the years to come.  

Holding China accountable means that it should not business as usual after this is all over, as Shadi Hamid rightfully points out in an excellent succinct essay, published in The Atlantic.

It means that the abuse of Uighur Muslims must stop. Those in US, here is a call you can make to help close the camps

It means that wildlife industrial operations must be stopped permanently.

It means that China must compensate the world for wreaking havoc, especially funding recovery of poor nations with no strings attached 

Finally, and most importantly, it means that China’s propaganda machine must be checked and countered. Major news outlets must directly and explicitly fact-check Chinese propaganda. CCP’s bizarre attempts at raising concerns about racism, while it is in the middle of destroying an entire race, should be exposed for what it is: an attempted cover-up. It shouldn’t get away with it this time.

 (Hena Zuberi contributed to this piece)

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The Summer When Everything Changed – A Middle School Islamic Fiction Novel

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Let’s write a book together.” That is how it all started in the summer of 2016. As two young writers, passionate about our craft, we ventured together to fulfill our shared dream: to write a relatable novel about Muslim youth. 

Nura Fahzy and I had already developed a strong bond with each other in the years since we had first become e-pals. We bonded over our common interests: we both are very passionate about writing, we were both homeschoolers, and we pretty much have the same name! We regularly communicated about our writings, gave honest feedback to each other, and even wrote a few articles together. This new project, however, was a big step forward in our relationship. We now had to brainstorm, develop, and write a novel together. 

I had recently moved to North Carolina, and Nura lived in Texas. We worked through our book entirely through online communication, never having actually met in person. Google Hangouts was our go-to for planning and discussing every detail about our characters, storylines, and potential plot holes . We had countless Google spreadsheets to organize our characters and story. After much back and forth for three years, writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more, we finally published our first novel, “The Summer When Everything Changed” this summer, alhamdulillah.

“The Summer When Everything Changed” is a middle school Islamic fiction novel. Our book is a mixture of all the things we love to read in novels. It has a touch of mystery, halal romance, and lots of drama: sibling drama, friend drama and other day to day dramas of young kids. What makes our story extra special to us is that it incorporates Islamic lessons and practices throughout the book in a subtle way that avoids being very preachy but still gets its point across.

Both Nura and I had grown up avid readers and writers. We had read through all the Islamic fiction books we could get our hands on, but were still left wanting for more. Having grown up in a time when halal entertainment was scarce, Nura and I strongly believe in the importance of Islamic literature for fostering children’s imaginations and strengthening their connections to their Muslim identity.

Living in a time when there is so much divisive rhetoric and hate around us, we believe that we need representation in the media and in literature now more than ever. Children need to read about others like them who are imperfect and have similar daily struggles and joys. Our characters are everyday American Muslim kids with common life experiences and challenges that other kids can relate to, as well. Therefore, our book is targeted towards not only Muslim boys and girls, but also to children who come from all backgrounds. 

We believe that literature is an important tool that can help bring people together. While allowing us to understand and appreciate other cultures, it also shows us just how much we have in common with each other. When we first wrote this book, we thought of our younger siblings, cousins, and family friends and the kinds of books we wanted them to have available to read. We hope that “The Summer When Everything Changed” and future books in our series serve as steps forward, making all Muslim children feel represented and proud to be Muslim.

Story Blurb: 

For Hanaan, the freedom of summer means hours of uninterrupted quality time with her sister and countless sunny days spent writing in her special place. For Ameerah, it means shooting hoops with her friends and working out. 

But unwelcome family circumstances shatter their plans, throwing the two girls with vastly different personalities together. Can they set aside their differences to resolve an important union or will their mutual dislike result in disaster for both of their families?

Amazon Link

Barnes and Noble Link

Author Bios:

Nura Fahzy is the second-born of four siblings. After 5 moves in 5 different states, she is currently settled in Texas. An American-born Malaysian, Nura studied digital art and design at North Lake College, Class of 2019. Her favorite color is pink, and her preferred ice cream flavors are coffee and chocolate. She enjoys drawing and making food. 

Nur Kose is an American-Bengali-Turkish Muslim who is the eldest of five siblings. Nur has roots in upstate New York, Delaware, and North Carolina, where she studied English and Arabic at UNC-Chapel Hill, Class of 2019. Some of her favorite things are reading, snow, and ice cream. Her favorite ice cream flavors are Snickers and banana split. She is also the author of the STAIRS series. 

For updates and more information on our book series, check out our social media pages. We have a facebook page, The Two Lights as well as an instagram account @thetwolights. We also have a blog thetwolights.wordpress.com. We encourage you to follow us on social media to see sneak peeks of our work, new content, and updates about our future projects.

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Muslim Literature: The Pros, The Progress, And The Pitfalls

The burgeoning field of Muslim literature, and Muslim fiction, in particular, is an exciting development for the English-speaking Muslim community. However, it is necessary for Muslim writers to seriously consider the quality of their work.

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Once upon a time, it was extremely difficult for English-speaking Muslims to find good books – fiction and non-fiction alike – that was catered to their demographic. Fiction, in particular, was scarce, for both young children as well as teens. Much of it was poorly written, filled with atrocious spelling and grammar, and stilted from beginning to end.

It was not an enjoyable reading experience.

Alhamdulillah, the Muslim literary scene has evolved significantly since the early 90s. Today, we have award-winning Muslim authors such as Na’ima B. Robert, whose excellent YA novels have been published through mainstream publishers and numerous emerging writers whose debut novels are wonderful contributions to the existing body of modern Muslim literature.

Muslim publishers such as Kube Publishing, Daybreak Press, and Ruqaya’s Bookshelf are taking the lead in producing and distributing stories by and for Muslims. In addition, the publishing company Simon and Schuster launched an entire division dedicated to books by Muslim writers. Hena Khan, S. K. Ali, Karuna Riazi, and Mark Gonzales are just some of the authors whose Muslim-centered stories have been published through Salaam Reads and made accessible to schools, libraries, and the general public. The We Need Diverse Books movement has also played a significant role in promoting multicultural and marginalized voices within mainstream publishing, and the results are wonderful. 

Elevating Standards in Muslim Literature

Within the Muslim community, however, work still needs to be done. Unfortunately, as ever, the tendency to fall short of professional continues to make itself clear, in both self-published works as well as work that is published through Muslim publishers. It is common to find children’s stories that are riddled with typos, run-on sentences, poor plot structure, and nonexistent character development. In the pursuit of promoting Islamic values, too many fall into being overtly preachy and moralizing, with no regard for the fine art of storytelling.

The result is that time, effort, and money are wasted; having a plethora of “Islamic books” does us very little good when the final product is of little benefit and serves to turn children and young adults away from Muslim-focused stories. Parents and educators also find themselves frustrated with these poorly developed books, especially when they are seeking stories more representative of religiously observant Muslims rather than those who take Islam as a cultural identity marker. 

While it is certainly encouraging to see more Muslims actively contributing to the field of Muslim literature, we must recognize the difference between quality and quantity – and the importance of the former over the latter. It is true that traditional publishing is a difficult niche to get into, especially for those with no previous experience with writing or the publishing industry. This is often a motivating factor for many Muslim writers to either go with a Muslim publisher or turn to self-publishing as a means of making their work available.

However, the push to keep costs low comes at a price of its own. The vast majority of the time, it is clear that a qualified, professional editor was not hired to look over the manuscript. While some people may think that it is not a serious issue, especially for children’s books, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Children’s books actually require extra attention; one must be clear on the targeted demographic and tailor the story and language appropriately, and the illustrations and the words alike need to be engaging and lively, regardless of the intended age group. In particular, when the subject matter is religion-focused, it is important that the approach taken is not dry, academic, or presented in a way that young readers cannot connect with personally.

The quality of a book should never be sacrificed in order to keep costs low; as Muslims, we should be even more particular about producing high-quality work that will be a valuable resource to be used both within our own communities as well as to the non-Muslim public. 

Self Publishing Woes

Self-publishing is particularly dangerous when the aspiring author has done little to no research on writing and publishing and has even less experience with writing well. Unfortunately, too many Muslim writers over-estimate their own abilities and rush headlong into self-publishing… with painful, often cringe-inducing results. It is particularly distressing when certain over-confident and under-qualified Muslim writers then exult over unearned praise from readers who, unfortunately, are not always as discerning as they should be – leading said writers to feel secure in their writing abilities and going on to produce even more subpar work.

The importance of having a strong editor cannot be overstated; having a “friend of a friend” with no qualifications to review and ‘edit’ the story simply does not cut it. Choosing the professional way to write and publish will inevitably take more time and effort – and yes, financial cost – to produce a final result, but that investment of energy will be much, much more worth it in the long run (and will also spare readers the agony of seeing “there,” “their,” and “they’re” constantly used the wrong way).

Having higher standards and holding Muslim writers (and publishers) accountable for their work is not meant to be discouraging. Rather, our intention is to encourage their success – in a way that is meaningful, not blindly supportive. We all wish to see our brothers and sisters in Islam succeed and to continue to contribute to an extremely important field. Addressing these weaknesses from the very beginning will ultimately result in long-term success and benefit the writers and the readers alike. 

The burgeoning field of Muslim literature, and Muslim fiction in particular, is an exciting development for the English-speaking Muslim community. However, it is necessary for Muslim writers to seriously consider the quality of their work, and to seek professional and qualified editors and publishers with whom to work and produce their books. The current substandard quality of many Muslim-produced books is counter-productive to the intended goal of providing beneficial resources for Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. It makes parents and educators reluctant to use and share those works with their children and students.

Investing time and energy into improving the quality of our literature will only result in success, for the writers and their readership alike – so let us truly take our work seriously, and be committed to undertaking our efforts with Ihsaan.

Credit to MuslimKidsBookNook for her valuable contributions.

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