As I See it

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Azher Quader

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As the Muslim world wrestles with dictatorial rulers to remove them from power and establish popular democracies, allowing for greater freedoms and greater choices, here in America an aging Muslim community of first generation immigrants are facing their own struggles, as they try to transition power at their mosques. Next to the zoning battles no other issue excites the emotions of the mosque goers more than the issue of choosing its new leaders.

Here in Chicago arguably one of the most mature Muslim communities in the country, the transition of power within our mosques is increasingly threatened with conflict. At the Muslim Community Center (MCC), perhaps the oldest mosque in the country run by an elected board of directors, the electoral decisions had sometimes to be litigated and settled in a court of law. The path for succession is no less controversial in those centers where the transition of leadership is without election. There too the inevitability of the moment and the inadequacy of the system to meet the expectations of the majority is coming to light.

Is it then appropriate to pause and ponder on where we are and whither we are going?  Is it right to win an argument within a core group of supporters or in front of a judge and claim victory over the people? Is it right to amend the rules to protect the turf and believe we have secured our future?  Is it right to concoct a system where choice is removed to eradicate dissent?

If we are serious about building institutions of trust and leaving a legacy of goodwill, we cannot be happy with these small wins. If we are committed to passing on the baton to the young, we cannot be scared to let go the reigns of power in the twilight of our lives. If we are committed to serving the welfare of the people we cannot be worried about the preservation of our selves. If we are the vicegerents of Him who gave us the freedom to choose in life, we cannot deny to others the same freedoms including the freedom to choose their leaders. Neither institutions nor nations are strengthened when choices are controlled and freedoms are abridged.

A nomination process which delivers no choices is no better than the Egyptian model of Mubarak against which the people ultimately revolted.

It is time we took a harder look at the way we are setting up systems to assure not only the smooth transition of power within our mosques but  also maintain  the highest traditions of freedom and choice.

May Allah guide us to be humble and fearless in the pursuit of right.

Azer Quader is Executive Director of Community Builders Chicago. ww.mycommunitybuilders.com.

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The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–I take my title this week from the French cinematographer, Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculine / Feminine produced during the 1960s of which my forenamed title was one of the names of the Frenchman’s fifteen cinematic episodes / chapters; therefore, the name for this article, for your author feels there is much in common between this past week in Tehran and those heady days in Paris during 1968.

Almost four years ago this week, the young Iranian-American journalist, Azadeh Moaveni, came to Berkeley to promote her, then, recent memoirs Lipstick Jihad about growing up conflicted between her two cultures — American and Iranian.  Her experience has much to say to second generation immigrants of many sorts and to their parents as well.  This book for all its flaws does help them better understand their own bicultural children, and for us to better understand both their divergent generational peer groups. 

After college Azadeh moved to Tehran, her natal land.   What she discovered was not the fantasy of the past as held by her parents and the expatriate community, but the oppressive and even decadent lifestyle of her contemporaries in that nation of her infancy.  (Iran is a modern and in many instances a personally progressive State on a fast track to Post-Modernism, and not the stern theocracy that is too often portrayed in the West.)

For some reason my mid-May 2005 interview with Moaveni came at a time when Tehran was at the beginning of an exhilarating period of political reform as it is there now.  The youth demonstrated in the streets as during this past week against an Islamist regime they considered overly harsh. The young rebels she meet during the middle of this decade can even be considered hedonistic — totally unlike her imaginative homeland created during her American formative years. 

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, 60% of their population is under the age of thirty!  If anything, this shows they have a promising future.  Intimate versus public life is very finely etched in that realm that is ethnically dominated by the Persians.  To understand Iran, one has to comprehend the shifting role of her younger women which has been developing within the middle and upper urbanized classes, and it is these classes that have violently been dominate on the streets during this past week.  For “a woman it is an exciting time!” 

The great rifts between the classes is most disturbing, though, with the lack of international observers recently, it is difficult to perceive whether there was massive vote rigging or not although small scale “dirty” tricks and denial to the polling stations has been proven.  Whether there was enough fraud to throw the elections has not been demonstrated.  The grave tensions between the urban elites and the rural Subaltern (a word employed to describe a wide range of the lower classes) exists within contemporary Persia.

Although Islam is still central to the state and society, the youth are still referred to as a lost generation.  Western videos and other cultural artifacts have been officially banned, but they are openly smuggled, and popularly consumed.  What is demographically notable about this upcoming generation is that there are notably more women than men within it.  Noteworthy about the old Kingdom of the Shahs was the openness of Platonic relationships between the sexes, but this social custom has been discouraged by the current gender segregation encouraged by the Revolution.  The authoress remarked because of this, “…How can the younger generation be so obsessed with sex, but know so little about it?”  It is thought in the Republic that “Being a couple is petty and bourgeois.”  Then she repeated a profundity: “Life in the shadow of the struggle is merely in the shadows.”  Many women from conservative families have only become partially “liberated,” (but in essence there has been little change even for them.) Again, feminine identification is only attainable by the upwardly mobile!

Azadeh confesses that Iran was disappointing for her.  “Any gathering could degenerate into a protest against the government” as is the case today. 

An anxiety of violence has been acclimatized by the State.  The youthful — even during the period of Bush — still perceived America as a symbol of freedom. 

They strove after a Western lifestyle and Modernism and Post-Modernism, too, but their governmental regime is formally anti-American which creates a conundrum between officialdom and the emerging anti-Modernistic society.  The young people are almost purely positive towards America only because it is the antithesis of their own regime which they despise.  (This could become a potentially dangerous if the Medes became more hegemonic within their region!)

The subtitle to Moaveni’s book is A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran.  She was raised in Santa Cruz (California) and studied at the University of California campus in Santa Cruz on the Northern shores of Monterey Bay.  Winning a Fulbright, she lived in Cairo for three years studying Arabic as well.  Time Magazine then employed her to cover the Middle East for three years.  Lately, she has covered the Iraqi insurgency for the Los Angeles Times.  Although Azadeh Moaveni now covers Baghdad, she makes her home in Beirut.

I think much can be perceived from Moaveni’s comments on the situation in Iran.  The split between those who chose to stay in Iran and those in the Diaspora is most pronounced: Much like the Havana Cubans and the Miami Cubans.  So, when the local American domestic reporters talk to Iranian immigrants who have settled in the States, they, of course, are not the ones who have chosen to stay in their native land for many reasons; and, thus, are less likely to have a positive view of the 1979 Revolution.  Most of the protestors on the streets of Iran are college students.  Until legitimate international election observers can be put on the ground, it is almost impossible to say whether these polls were free and fair.  Having been an election observer in a much smaller country myself (El Salvador), I can attest to the logistical nightmare of monitoring deeply contested polls.

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