middle east, muslims, politics

The Meaning of “Mecca_live”

Published by The Islamic Monthly on August 6th, 2015

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia isn’t exactly known for its openness. The powerful Saudi monarchy, which exercise significant regional and global influence, are heads of a state that has yet to address a number of critical human rights problems afflicting its society, and thus drawing criticism the world over. Saudi Arabia has long been a natural point of reference for those concerned with the implementation unreasonably punitive practices in the modern world.

Yet, in an ironic twist, the kingdom was involved a rather unlikely event this July when Snapchat, the popular online video-sharing platform, decided to focus their popular “Live Story” feature on the city of Mecca, Islam’s most important and holiest geographical site. Since its introduction last year, the feature splices together users’ submitted videos of a particular place into a single video comprised of the best footage. The Mecca “Live Story” video showed Muslims of all backgrounds inside Mecca at various stages of their visit, providing a rare glimpse of what actually happens inside the city to non-Muslims, who cannot enter.

The subsequent online response to Snapchat’s decision was significant and overwhelmingly positive. For a brief while, Saudi Arabia’s reputation as a stagnant theocracy was eclipsed by the prevailing sensation that used video and social media to narrate lived Islam into many people’s consciousness. That this act of online openness occurred inside a monarchy known, among other things, for not allowing women to drive, illuminates the dislocations between Saudi Arabia’s image and its actual reality.

Things become a lot clearer when one sees that Snapchat’s decision to feature Mecca was prompted primarily by a huge online campaign that essentially lobbied the social media giant to feature Islam’s holiest city. The campaign took place during Ramadan, when millions of worshippers flock to Mecca to perform Umrah, which is similar to the Hajj pilgrimage, but can be made anytime of the year. 300,000 people tweeted Snapchat with the hashtag “Mecca_live” in an effort to have Mecca featured on “Live Story.” Millions of Muslims and non-Muslims then tweeted their appreciation to Snapchat afterwards, thanking the video platform for essentially live-streaming the joyous atmosphere inside the city.

Ahmed’s Attempt

Like most campaigns and initiatives, the idea to launch something special usually starts within the mind of an individual. This seems especially true for online campaigns involving social media, and the “Mecca_live” sensation is a good example. Enter Ahmed Aljbreen, a young Saudi digital entrepreneur and founder of Smaat Co., one of the country’s largest social media marketing companies. Days into Ramadan 2015, he had a wild thought that, as it turns out, wasn’t all that wild after all.

“The whole thing really began when I though that we need to convey that Islam is a peaceful religion to the younger generation,” Aljbreen says in an interview. “I think that Snapchat is the best medium to reach out to them anywhere in the world.” He says that the onus is now on Muslims, especially the youth who’re familiar with social media, to help reduce the world’s confusions and misconceptions of Islam.

Indeed, the day-to-day news cycle seems filled with reports of groups like ISIS, along with acts of political violence and turmoil involving Muslims—a mainstay of “national security reporting” in the post-9/11 era. Yet the advent of this kind of reporting hasn’t led to a better understanding of Muslims, and certainly not of Islam itself. If anything, many people have come to to link Islam with violence with limited critical inquiry, having been bombarded with reports that directly or indirectly feature Islam as a willing partner of ideological violence. This is despite the fact that Muslims account for only a fraction of terrorism across the world when it comes to the body count.

This gulf in perception is what Aljbreen, a businessman in the world of digital media, is so well placed to address.

After the initial thought, he decided to reach out to his contacts in the region’s social media scene, hoping to get them on board to convince Snapchat to feature Mecca on the 27th day of Ramadan (July 13th, 2015), which many believe to be Lailat al-Qadr, the day when the Prophet Muhammad received his first revelations from God. He expected to get a sizeable reaction, but not a full-blown global response, which was what ensued. Snapchat eventually responded by posting a 6-minute video of spliced videos on July 13th.

“I was surprised about how big the campaign ballooned,” Aljbreen says. “Muslims from Pakistan, Indonesia and everywhere ended up participating.”

Equally surprising to him has been the response by people around the world who saw the “Mecca_live” video. He says that before long, “Mecca_live” was trending at #1 on Twitter, and the total views of the clip have reached over 10 million, “by far.”

“The big lesson here is that we can do it again,” Aljbreen says, “and we are looking to repeat this duing hajj.” Whether he succeeds in creating another global social media phenomenon is debatable, but what Aljbreen helped pull off illuminates a broader picture of what’s happening across the region in terms of how media is being used. The Arab Spring unfolded for many through the lens of outlets like Twitter and Facebook, and a new generation of saavy individuals like Aljbreen is starting to use these tools to change the how their country, religion, and lives are being perceived on a global level.

Changing Imagery

Aljbreen’s parents wasn’t thrilled at all when he decided to leave his job as a communications engineer in order to start his own digital media company, Smaat around five years ago. Social media as a marketing tool was still a somewhat novel idea in Saudi Arabia at the time, and Aljbreen would become one of the first entrepreneurs to test the waters.

“They didn’t support my venture when I first started the business, especially since we were the first company in the regional market to focus on social media marketing campaigns,” he says. “But they changed their minds when they saw my success and at least they get to follow me on social media now to keep an eye on me.”

His company has since done digital marketing for some major regional companies, and the success of “Mecca_live” has significantly reinforced Aljbreen’s belief in social media’s power to change global perceptions. He says that videos like “Mecca_live” are “thousands of times” more powerful and influential in terms of the effect they have on viewers, and that videos produced by major corporate media outlets just don’t come off as persuasive and authentic.

He also notes that Snapchat is probably the best medium when it comes to reaching large numbers of people with a single message. The world has moved from being print-based to being image-based, and is now arguably much more video-based than anything else. The “Mecca_live” video showed Muslims of different backgrounds in ways that humanized them, which is the clip’s implicit purpose. It counters over a decade of imagery associating Muslims with violence and deviance. If fear is the underlying meta-narrative that underpins the post-9/11 era, then the “Mecca_live” video is certainly one of humanization.

One video is certainly not enough to change years entrenched perceptions, but it’s a start. In fact, Aljbreen claims that around 20,000 people have embraced Islam as their religion after seeing the video.

That Saudi Arabia played host in many ways to the “Mecca_live” phenomenon begs the question of whether the state had anything to do with the entire episode. When the question was put to Aljbreen, he replied simply by saying that “It [“Mecca_Live”] was a community-driven initiative.”

Regardless, the power of social media to effect social change in a way that alters global perceptions is certainly a potential that the Saudi Arabian government is aware of. Despite the great opening up that Aljbreen initiated, the irony is that the country within which he lives and where the holy city of Mecca is located in, has some of the more draconian media laws on earth.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Saudi Arabia at 164th out of 180 countries in their 2015 World Press Freedom Index. The country has virtually complete control over the press, though reported news and views can be found online. Still, Internet news-making it is closely monitored by the regime, and Reporters Without Borders lists the Saudi state as an “Enemy of the Internet.”

This is the political backdrop that Aljbreen’s generation is working with, and whether his optimism in terms of using social media to change international attitudes can carry over to effect his own country’s circumstances is at best debatable. Nonetheless, “Mecca_live” is further proof that a new generation of online-saavy Muslims, many who reside within societies with minimal personal freedoms, are beginning to effect global reality by changing global perceptions. In which direction this generational change will develop is really anyone’s guess.

Photo credit: Praying at Arafat by Omar Chatriwala/CC


muslims, politics, war on terror

Death and Reporting for Chapel Hill

Published by The Islamic Monthly on February 11th, 2015

That The Independent of Britain had a long article on what happened last night in Chapel Hill, North Carolina before any major U.S. outlet made mention of the incident is a good reflection of how the “mainstream” media works these days. Their subsequent framing of what happened is perhaps more indicative of how prevailing assumptions and orthodoxies influence the way such events are talked about in the post-9/11 era.

The cold-blooded murder of 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, was announced by local police in a statement that revealed their names a few hours after the initial pronouncement. In that time, several local media outlets (WRAL, etc.) were already on the case, and the crux of what happened was relatively clear before the sun rose this morning.

A 46-year-old neighbor of the deceased by the name of Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself in last night to local authorities, confessing to shooting all three victims in the head. The dead were all university students at the University of North Carolina, and a Facebook page called “Our Three Winners” has since been made, presumably by family members, to honor their memory. The first post seems to have been made not so long after midnight last night. Thousands of people already “liked” the page (it now has over 53,000 “likes”) before “breaking news” outlets even tweeted about the murders this morning. For example, the Twitter account for CNN Breaking (@cnnbrk) tweeted about the incident at around 5:30am this morning. That hardly counts as “breaking.”

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Murders like this happen in the United States all the time, and I’ve had several discussions with reporters and observers alike on social media, who note that it takes time for local news like this to catch on, and for national media to decide on whether such an incident is worthy of coverage. There’s no doubt in my mind, having worked in the world mainstream news, that systemic constraints are present within major media outlets to filter out the newsworthy from the negligible. Nonetheless, that the #ChapelHillShooting was worthy of serious scrutiny by the media was made abundantly clear relatively early. The national media would have done well to pay attention to how the Western Muslim communities were reacting to what happened. Social media was abuzz with comments on the murders, while criticisms of mainstream neglect were expressed, among other ways, in cartoon form before the national media seemed to have caught on. In short, I think it’s fair to say that major broadcasters and papers could’ve been a bit faster on this one, and one wonders how their news-sense would’ve buzzed had the perpetrators been Muslims, and the victims been, say, a white family.

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Hicks is a self-identifying atheist, and is being held on three counts of first-degree murder without bond. Here’s one of his online posts, which has been shared widely on the Internet: “When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me. If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I.” That’s about as suspicious and ideologically-charged a statement I can think of (and it’s not the only one). I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone who wants to view the incident in light of such a comment. In fact, the police are doing the same thing as they consider the “possibility that this was hate-motivated.”

Still, notice the framing here. Consider the fact that the police and several major outlets have led with their description of the murders as having possibly been motivated by a “dispute over parking.” The police say that this is one of the possible factors influencing a crime that may also include a hate bias. Fair enough, but nowhere in the national, public sphere does one notice any inclination from agenda-setting outlets to report or portray Hicks’ alleged crime as motivated first-and-foremost by ideology or the extremist versions of atheism. No one’s reporting any protests being planned in front of Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins’ homes. The public is much more cautious to mention the possibility of a parking dispute, or perhaps to note that we shouldn’t rule out factors like mental health, etc.

Now contrast this prevailing approach to the way much of the “mainstream” media reports on Muslim extremism in the post-9/11 era. There’s hardly any caution or nuance when it comes to contextualizing the perpetrators’ actions with anything more than oxymoronic labels like “Islamic terrorism.” The implicit (and sometime explicit, depending on who you read), assumption is that violence and Muslims go together like two peas in a pod, that the latter is a natural generator of the former since Islam is intrinsically violent. If a Muslim gunman broke into a white family’s home and shot three of them dead, I imagine no one would fixate much on the parking spat.

These are all signs of the times we live in. Here in Toronto, Canada, I flip through the photos uploaded online of the deceased, and find it hard not to see their faces among the Muslims I know. Their presence could’ve been lifted from any Muslim community in the West, trying to keep themselves cogent in a post-9/11 atmosphere of mistrust, misunderstanding, and misinformation. The way that their deaths have been discussed and portrayed should serve to remind us that Muslims today don’t live in neutral times. Perhaps we can take note of their tragedy, and remind ourselves to look out for one another in these dark hours.


muslims, politics

The Parched Vineyard: the Canadian Muslim community’s public relations debacle

The Canadian columnist and writer Rick Salutin asks the following question in his latest column for The Toronto Star (Nov 7th, 2013): “When you’re yelled at, what could be better than simply being able to yell back?”[1] That is, if a charge is leveled against you in public, what’s better than a chance to publically face down your accusers?

The question touches on what is perhaps the most elusive, yet vital aspect of modern democracy: the ability to influence public opinion. The link between the Canadian media and Canadian democracy isn’t just the flow of information that keeps a population informed and engaged; it’s the manufacturing and shaping of that information for public consumption.

If there is an essential end to the freedom of speech and expression available to those who reside in liberal democracies, it is the ability to utilize such freedoms to assert one’s position in a pluralistic polity. This is true for both individuals and their communities.

Yelling and Yelling Back:

In his piece, Salutin laments the Canadian Muslim (“especially Arab,” he writes) community’s inability to respond effectively to a barrage of accusations and assertions leveled against it by several (relatively) prominent rightwing commentators and writers.

Canadian Muslims have had a hard time shaping how the public thinks and talks about issues related to their beliefs and way of life. They’re having a hard time yelling back. Regardless of the merits of their arguments and positions, Salutin’s general observation—that the Muslim Canadian voice is missing in mainstream public discourse—is worth examining.

And it’s not just that Muslims aren’t yelling back, but rather that no one seems to be noticing. There’s really no way for a group to function in the public sphere if the term “public” doesn’t seem to always apply to them. Salutin calls this overall lack of discourse the “parched vineyard” of Canadian public debate. [2]

Here one comes to a peculiar idiosyncrasy of modern, media-driven democracy. It’s not enough that a community or interest group yells, preferably in unison, what they want the public to hear. They must also yell in a way that allowed their message to reach those who are searching for ways to think about the issues at hand. In other words, they have to yell through a megaphone, and that megaphone is the mainstream media.

Be it print or broadcast, the media both reflects and forms public opinion. It is the prism through which information is refracted into multiple perspectives and opinions. If Canada is indeed the cultural, ethnic, and religious mosaic so many believe it to be, then the aggregate beliefs and perspectives should be equally heterogeneous. To convince, persuade, and influence, one has to first make ones voice heard—widely!

One doesn’t have to look far to the right in order to identify the questions and assertions regularly leveled at Canadian Muslims since 9/11. There are the obvious, blunt appraisals and warnings from commentators such as Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant, who see in their crystal balls impending disaster in the form of a Muslim takeover.[3]

But much less bellicose voices of Canadian centrism are also genuinely concerned that Islam lacks an easy “compatibility” with Canadian democracy and modernity—from religious scripture to religious dress. Before the Muslim community can run to formulate their arguments and positions in an attempt address these concerns, it must first learn to walk the line of media relations.

How issues are represented and mediated via mainstream print and broadcast outlets depend mostly on the structural characteristics of these outlets, as well as the decisions made by those who work inside them. The complex dynamic that dictates how issues are talked and written about is a result of the interplay between news-values, financial interests, journalistic practice, and various other factors.

The exposition of this dynamic makes for a fascinating essay topic all by itself (in fact, many, many sub-topics as well), but one thing is for certain: Muslim Canadians must insert themselves into the cyclical process of shaping public opinion. This not only means following in the footsteps of Haroon Siddiqui or Nazim Baksh, both veterans of Canadian journalism (and both Muslim), but also making community organizations more media friendly.

Going Legal

The combination of factors that have led to the Canadian Muslim community’s inability to “yell back” have also prompted certain segments of that community to cease yelling altogether. This is due to a feeling of being denied access to meaningful platforms. The point of arguing dissipates if one side doesn’t want to hear what the arguments are.

Some have opted to go the legal route and sue writers like Mark Steyn for the content of their arguments and provocations. (In)famous now are the complaints filed by the Canadian Islamic Council (CIC) to three separate human rights councils in Canada against Maclean’s magazine, to which Steyn and other like-minded writers have contributed.

The complaints were specifically in reference to 22 articles published (between 2005-2007) by the weekly news magazine on issues related to Islam and Muslims, which Mohamed Elmasry, then president of the CIC, thought to be in violation of Canadian hate speech laws. Mark Steyn’s now-infamous “The Future Belongs to Islam” is perhaps the most important of the 22 pieces, and certainly drew the most attention.[4]

The complaints were roundly dismissed, and Steyn has since then become something of a free-speech martyr, a man who risked public humiliation to defend the Enlightenment principle of free expression and speech.

In other words, the complaints filed by the offended ended up backfiring on the Muslims, who ended up with terrible collective PR. They’ve since then been portrayed as so thin-skinned as to want to shut down debate with lawsuits instead of answering challenges with their own arguments. And since people believe that the Muslims don’t want debate, then it wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude that those same people probably don’t think the Muslims have much of an argument to make. Putting it another way: the Muslims are probably wrong, are aware of this, and are too embarrassed to admit it.

Now, it also should be made known that Maclean’s refused to make space for a proper rebuttal hugely exacerbated the situation and entrenched the Canadian Muslim community’s feelings of being denied access.[5] Still, the entire ordeal was bad for the image of Muslim Canadians, who no doubt still crave the ability to have public influence in Canadian democracy.

Even though one of the complainants, Khurum Awan, claimed that the major objective of driving up the magazine’s legal expenses (Awad claims that the magazine spent around two million dollars in defense)—and thereby discouraging any future anti-Muslim rhetoric—was achieved, one can hardly view the tactic as one that elevates the quality of public discourse and understanding.[6]

Speak badly about us and we’ll sue you is not a great way to resolve public conflict, nor is it a good strategy to dispel what some see as wide-spread myths about Islam and Muslims.

Fears and Smears:

Reporting and opinion writing now cannot help but be influenced, just like journalism in any era, by the political and social climate within which it exists.

It is likely that Canada is now governed by the most right-leaning administration in its history as a nation. The effect this has on democracy becomes ever more significant if one recognizes, correctly, that democratic practice does not begin and end with elections and voting. The democratic craft is practiced both inside and outside of Parliamant Hill (or Capitol Hill, or Westminster Abbey, etc.), most prominently in the form of persuasion by way of free expression.

If reporting is at least partly the relaying of messages and arguments (op-eds and columns are wholly for this purpose), then one can conclude that the media is indeed part of democracy. It is, perhaps even before its role as a monitor of power, an active conduit for the public exchange of ideas. It is how matters of state become unveiled and public.

If Canadians are, in 2013, still in many ways living in the shadows of 9/11, then the ideas generated in this era are undergirded by the politics of the post-9/11 climate. This, of course, is made even clearer when one remembers that the Harper administration has stressed national security, both internally and externally, as a primary focus of government.

This should make the need for effective public relations ever more important to the Canadian Muslim community. In an era of heightened paranoia and conservative political rhetoric, it’s more vital now than ever for Canadian Muslims to, in Salutin’s words, “play the game.”

The Canadian Arab Federation (CAF), a Toronto-based NGO that provides settlement services for new immigrants, was once a leading advocate for Arab and Muslim issues in the country. Its former leadership included Omar Alghabra, a former twice-elected MP from Mississauga, who, as President of the Federation, organized trips to Parliament Hill in hopes of familiarizing politicians with issues that concerns his community.

Years later, a newly elected, more bellicose leadership decided to rejuvenate CAF’s political advocacy wing and participate in direct anti-Harper campaigning. The central cause was the Israel/Palestine conflict, with direct condemnation the actions of the state of Israel (not Canada). Eschewing more moderate voices within the organization that called for a more measured response to the domestic and foreign policies of the Harper administration, the organization paid a price for its heavy-handed rhetoric.

CAF’s popular ESL program for new immigrants, funded wholly by Citizen and Immigration Canada, was discontinued in March 2009, depriving the organization of a huge chunk of its communal credibility and financial support. The CIC was led at the time by Minister Jason Kenney, who stated that although CAF’s “hateful” rhetoric is protected as free speech in Canada, the ministry didn’t have to fund an organization whose hallmark is anti-Israeli sentiment.[7]

CAF has since taken Kenney to court for his decision, and the verdict is still out. Regardless of which side is right, one can see here another case of an Arab/Muslim organization unable to recognize its own inability to do proper media relations, and resorting primarily to legal methods in an effort to protect its own credibility.

Cases like this one can be found by the handful in the past decade or so in Canada. “I cannot portray their frustration,” writes Salutin in his column of the countless Muslim and Arab Canadians he’s spoken to about this problem. “They accost you socially or at their hangdog conferences and plead less for redress than for a simple acknowledgment of how unfair it is.”[8]

Salutin points out the flip side to this coin, which is that journalists also have to try as hard as they can to seek out the most representative and articulate members of certain communities. Though in the age of the 24-hour news cycle (and shrinking newsrooms), putting the onus squarely on the shoulders of journalists is not the smartest move to make for Canadian Muslims.

Get to the Podium!:

Salutin concludes his column by recalling an incident in 1980 when an article in The Globe and Mail referred to him as a “doctrinaire Marxist.” Writing at the time for the doggedly progressive, but relatively marginal This Magazine, Salutin could have penned a rebuttal in his small journal.

Instead, recognizing the disparity in influence, he had a lawyer write The Globe and Mail regarding his objections to the labeling. To his surprise, the Globe issued a “retraction.” He was lucky to get one, unlike so many in the Canadian Muslim and Arab circles, who for one reason or another feel misrepresented by the media.

“But if I’d had anything like an equivalent podium,” writes Salutin, “it would never have occurred to me to go legal.”[9] Muslims and Arab Canadians ought to be thinking the same thing.


[1] Rick Salutin, “Who are the real free-speech warriors?” The Toronto Star, November 7, 2013, accessed November 8, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/11/07/who_are_the_real_freespeech_warriors_salutin.html.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mark Steyn, “Sticks and Stones,” National Post, October 16, 2013, accessed October 18, 2013, http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/10/16/mark-steyn-sticks-and-stones/.

[4] Mark Steyn, “The Future Belongs to Islam,” Maclean’s, October 20, 2006, accessed October 13, 2013, http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/article.jsp?content=20061023_134898_134898.

[5] “Commission statement concerning issues raised by complaints against Maclean’s Magazine,” Ontario Human Rights Commission, April 9, 2008, accessed October 2, 2013, http://www.ohrc.on.ca/it/node/8195#sthash.kWC1EPYs.dpuf.

[6] Robert Sibley, “Ezra Levant sued in ‘jihad chill’ case,” The Ottawa Citizen, January 26, 2010, accessed October 4, 2013, http://blogs.ottawacitizen.com/2010/01/26/ezra-levant-sued-in-jihad-chill-case/.

[7] “Kenney says some Canadian Arab groups express hatred toward Jews,” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), February 17, 2009, accessed September 19, 2013, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kenney-says-some-canadian-arab-groups-express-hatred-toward-jews-1.819081.

[8] Salutin, ““Who are the real free-speech warriors?”

[9] Ibid.

muslims, politics

Hamza Yusuf and Contemporary Muslim Discourse

By all indications, Hamza Yusuf is the most influential and recognizable Muslim figure in North America. He routinely gives talks at conventions in the United States and Canada that draw out tens of thousands of Muslims. Having studied with well-known scholars in the Muslim world, Yusuf adds to his sophisticated “Western” sensibilities a serious Islamic academic background.

He also co-founded the first Muslim seminary in the United States (Zaytuna College). He was an independent advisor to George W. Bush and other political figures (to no avail it would seem). He routinely appears on media outlets throughout the world.

So why is it that the non-Muslim populations in North America have basically no idea who he is? Why is it that his voice, and the voices of Muslim scholars like him, is almost never heard in the contemporary Muslim discourse of North America?

It’s true that Yusuf has spoken at non-Muslim gatherings and has appeared on some mainstream media programs since 9/11. This is good. For those of us who observe the Muslim communities in North America, it is obvious that even Yusuf’s religious detractors recognize his position as a pillar of the community. Yet, his presence is lacking when journalists report on issues of particular interest to Muslims. The examples are too many to list.

Sh. Hamza Yusuf spoke at the 2011 RIS Convention and gave  what may perhaps be the most important lecture (in recent years) regarding the role of Muslims in the issue of economic justice. The talk was heard by thousands of Muslims, but the conference was ignored by most established media.

This absence is emblematic of the Western Muslim communities’ abhorrent public relations situation in general. The relationship between the mass media and the vast majority of Muslim populations in the West has been unproductive. Many Muslims blame the media for perpetuating lies and stereotypes and choose not to participate. This is understandable. However, this stark absence of Muslim voices leaves a vacuum to be filled. Unfortunately, those who fill such a space often misrepresent both Muslims and Islam itself.

This is primarily why Hamza Yusuf is not a household name when it comes to setting the framework of debate on Muslim-related issues. His spot has already been taken. Of course, this can be said about many leaders within the Muslim communities, all of whom deserve to be heard when there’s a discussion on “honor killings”, “halal meat”, so-called “Islamic terrorism”, or whatever else.

Those who do pontificate on such issues usually lack the scholarly erudition of a Yusuf (or of another qualified scholar). Sadly, many such commentators delegate to themselves the task of partitioning what kind of Muslim can or cannot be trusted. Often, these very commentators describe themselves as subscribing to the Muslim faith, but paint the bulk of “lived Islam” as incompatible with “Western values”. This isolates them as the lone, brave, Muslims who stand up to the onslaught of intolerance shown to them by their co-religionists.

This handful of commentators has better public relations than all the Western Muslim communities combined.

These problems can be solved by putting someone like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf at the center of public discussions on Islam and Muslims. It’s not so we can show off his erudition. Rather, placing serious scholars and Muslim intellectuals in the middle of agenda-setting media is the only way we can solve what is perhaps the most pressing sociopolitical problem facing Muslims in North America today. Given the prevalence of television and visual media, this means having knowledgeable Muslim commentators appear on outlets like CNN and CBC. This is certainly not being done in Canada, for example.

Muslim organizations have to actively pursue journalists and feed them stories. They have to regularly meet with the board members of major newspapers and other media outlets. A journalist’s success in terms of completing a story is highly dependent on whether his/her sources call or email back on time (this is known as “the waiting game”). As far as Muslim-related matters are concerned, respected scholars like Hamza Yusuf should consistently be one of those sources. The bulk of Muslims in the West should become those sources. Organizations like the Muslim Public Affairs Council (U.S.) as well as Civic Muslims (Canada), among other groups, have already started doing these things.

Being committed to these tasks will help foster understanding and dispels myths. It will familiarize the broader society with Muslims and their concerns. It will help facilitate justice and peace for Muslims and non-Muslims this continent.


If Only Palestinians Wore Saffron Gowns

Tibetan autonomy is like a jagged edge that pokes me when I get too complacent about my love for my native country. That not so fine line separating family tradition and culture from state authourity and government exists as a thin residual smear after a thorough thrashing of an education by the Communist state system. Thank Goodness I left after grade two. Nontheless, thanks to a couple of gray and old Jewish guys and free speech, I’ve come around.

How ever, unlike most, I’m not ready to join in with the demonstrations at this particular time. To be more precise, starting a few weeks ago.

Why? Well, it’s not because my past has come to haunt me, nor is it because of my politics. It’s because I feel like I’m getting jipped, like someone is brainwashing me and hoping I’d resort to some sort of hypocrisy. Let me explain.

It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that the Tibetan riots were clearly CIA coordinated, nor does it have to do with the little batch of pogroms the monks issued to some innocent Chinese store owners. Let’s give the poor monks the benefit of the doubt for a change. 50+ years of oppression warrants a little anger, even though it means sacrificing a little Buddhist teaching.

But it has to do with the sheer hypocrisy of our western media and the pick and choose nature of all foreign policy. They thunder and cry about Tibet. In thousands of editorials and talk-shows they heap curses and invective on the evil China. It seems as if the Tibetans are the only people on earth whose right to independence is being denied by brutal force, that if only Beijing would take its dirty hands off the saffron-robed monks, everything would be alright in this, the best of all possible worlds.

There’s no longer a doubt in my mind that Tibetans are entitled to autonomy. But are the Kurds in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey not entitled to the same thing? What about the Basques in Spain? The Corsicans in France? Its a bloody long list if you ask me. I’ve tried to answer this contradiction. I cannot.

To be honest, there is nobody like the Tibetans. They enjoy ideal conditions.

Fringed by the Himalayas, they are located in one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. For centuries, just to get there was an adventure. Their unique religion arouses curiosity and sympathy. Its non-violence is very attractive and elastic enough to cover even the ugliest atrocities, like the recent pogrom. The exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, is a romantic figure, a media rock-star. The Chinese regime is hated by many – by capitalists because it is a Communist dictatorship, by Communists because it has become capitalist. It promotes a crass and ugly materialism, the very opposite of the spiritual Buddhist monks, who spend their time in prayer and meditation. (www.normanfinkelstein.com


Compared to this, the Chechnyans dont have much to offer. They are Muslim terrorist for all we care, baking their pittas with the blood of faithful Christians.
Putin can hit them as hard and as much as he wants.

This, cosmically and inevitably, leads us straight to a miserable and bloody little place called Palestine.

In the quest for world sympathy and media sympathy, the Palestinians are unlucky enough to have an oppressor who has already taken the crown for being the victim of the most heinous crime in western history. Plus, most Palestinians are suicide bombers who cant wait to screw virgins in heaven. Nobody gives a damn abut the Palestinian Christians. And anyone who denies any of this is either a Holocaust denier or an Anti-Semite.

The Dalai Lama arrived in Michigan recently and met with politicians discussing the outcry in Tibet. Even Canadian politicians went, with one conservative comparing the Chinese Leviathan to Hitler and such.

Let’s hope Richard Gere knows what he’s doing.