All-American

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–September 10th–The “Season” has begun and authors are trampling through Northern California – Muslims and non-Muslims, knowledgeable about the Ummah and its people – hawking their books.  Jonathan Curriel, author of Al’America:  Travels Through Arab and Islamic America visited my city the week after Labor Day.  Curiel is no scholar, but was trained as a journalist.  Although employed by the San Francisco Chronicle, he was partially educated in and reported from the Middle East.

The book under discussion was published by The New Press in November of 2008, and details the historic influence of Arab and Muslim culture on America — from the time of Columbus to 9/11 — with the ramifications of the latter event.  This is a book that concentrates on the historical and Pop Cultural aspects of Islamic influence upon America, but it does a great service by exposing the underpinning of Islam at the Grassroots of North American culture.  The author too often degenerates into uncomfortable insensitivity to your reviewers’ target audience. 

Reading the press release composed for his tour, I notice a “slickness” that makes your reporter feel ill at ease. His publishers are not presenting J. Curriel humbly forcing his readers to concentrate on his credentials rather than his work!  Still, that did not prevent the book from translation into Arabic by Arab Scientific Publishers, the Beirut print house that, also, has exposed several important European and American writers to an Arabic-speaking audience.

In 2005, his Newspaper was honored by Columbia University (the dominant) U.S. J-School (of Journalism) in New York City for Jonathan Curiel’s exceptional articles on race and ethnicity!  Your Observer commentator — does not know about bragging rights — but he should be proud of this!  This is something that he attempts to bring to this study, but he is honest enough to note where he fails.

For him – even after September 11th 2001 – denying Islamic civilization is not being part of the American fabric is wrong.  “Muslims not only belong…but are part of [the American] culture in so many ways!”

In fact, Christopher Columbus reached out to the Muslim “Moors.”  The Admiral of the Ocean Seas was substantially influenced by the Arabs to the point he could not have reached the New World in 1492 without his North African designed sails.  While Arab culture was waning in Southwestern Europe by the late 16th Century (CE), Columbus’ voyages notably brought subtle Arab influences to the Spanish colonies and later the Portuguese colony in the Americas – including those parts in the United States that Washington (D.C.) seized in the Mexican-American and the Spanish-American War plus the Louisiana Purchase!

Although Madrid prohibited Muslims from the Americas, the Alamo now in Texas is a classic example of Arabic Architecture!  New Orleans was a city shunted back and forth between the Iberians and the French.  Finally, President Thomas Jefferson bought it from the Emperor Napoleon.  When the Spanish possessed that famous city, they imported Islamic ironwork for which the Metropolis near mouth of the Mississippi — plus the renowned Muslim-styled courtyards within the Big Easy — migrated from the Middle East via the Iberian Peninsula.   

The date palm was brought to the Western Hemisphere — including the California of yours truly — from the Middle East, also, via Hispania. 

In the United States, a Muslim slave actually wrote a book in Arabic while being held in South Carolina.  Until the Twentieth Century most American Muslims came from West Africa (since they were victims of that ugly Slave Trade).  Jonathan Curriel, as well as a few eminent musicologists, believe that the American “Blues” musical sub-structure comes from Islam’s call to prayer.  

No less than the extremely important American thinker of the Nineteenth Century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was profoundly influenced by Muslim culture.  Many important American intellectuals have been influenced by Islam, too, throughout the history of the American Republic (and even before –Thomas Jefferson, of course, comes to your reporter’s mind most quickly) up into the contemporary period.  There has been a long-standing cultural interaction between the Potomac and the Islamic nations according to Curriel. 

Of course, some of this interaction was not fully comprehensible to the Americans; and, thereby, can be considered in bad taste.  The Shriners and the Masons adopted pseudo-clothing accoutrement and symbols of the Muslims.  At its most forgiving was mere mimicry, but at its worst was insulting and in bad taste.  (Your scribe must point out that Jonathan Curriel did make these issues transparent, and did not cringe from describing it for what it was.)  Yet, since the immigration reforms under the late President Lyndon Johnson, highly prominent Muslim immigrants have been attracted to, and have joined the aforementioned organizations.  They have pressured these groups to give a form of Zakat and to make them even more service-oriented. 

The iconic Los Angeles rock(-n-roll) band of the 1960s, the Doors, were highly influenced by Arab music while the ultimate Rock star (of the 1950s), Elvis Presley, was a great admirer of Khalil Gibran, a Christian Lebanese immigrant to America.  His best known work was a sequence of inspirational essays, The Prophet.  They were pitifully greeted by the critics when they were published in 1923.  It definitely belongs to the opus of Arabic-language literature, but not Islamic literature.  Having read the book as a young man, when it was still a best-selling “underground” rage, your reviewer considered it to be  overly simplistic.  How much of it might be based on Mohammed (PUBH) is hard to say because of the elevated ambiguity of its poetic language.

Curriel maintained Presley somehow turned this book into his Bible.  Also, along religious lines, the Christian Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II had instructed that his casket placed on a Persian Carpet to demonstrate the unity of all religions.

Back to Pop Culture, the movie cycle and “cult” television series, Stars Wars borrowed motifs respectfully from the religion from Mecca.  Jonathan Curriel concluded, “Cultures go back and forth, and always borrow from each other,” continuing, “Muslims have contributed from the inception of the American nations,” and they are still highly visible and contributing members of our society.  Their contributions are no longer seen as insignificant within North American society.  

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Gaza from California

February 26, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–Very often the media takes up a story as “sexy,” and then drops it from their “radar” when the media judges it to be no longer to be of active interest for their target audience, even though a good deal of the public are still wondering what has happened to the issue.  Well, much has happened to Gaza since the Jewish blitzkrieg through Gaza ended last month, and I, as a journalist, intend to keep going back as a venomous Gila Monster in the American Southwest and Northern Mexican hangs onto his attacker with his venomous fangs to keep my reader’s consciousness focused on the subject and its aftermath as they should be.

About the most momentous event since the truce (which seems near failure) since it has been broken several times by the Israeli army, are the Israeli elections and the right-wing Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu has been asked to forming a government.  He has pledged to wipe out Gaza, and to expand Settlements on the West Bank.  On the other hand, the U.N. (United Nations) has been asked by Tehran to expel Tel Aviv from the General Assembly!

Few relief supplies have been permitted through the borders by either the Muslim-dominated Egypt or the Jewish State, also, to relieve the haggard denizens of the Strip.  During the middle of February a fact-finding delegation from the British Parliament were beleaguered by Israeli military thugs.  The chair of the delegation was quoted “It was a bit weird to be hassled by another country when entering a [sovereign] nation.”  A similar event occurred when an American Congressional deputation visited post-War Gaza.

About a month and one-half ago, a program on Gaza was presented off campus in this city.  My criticism of the agenda was that it lacked the (academic) rigors of the campus assembly on the following day that I reported as “Gaza under Siege” printed here not many weeks ago. I must denounce the knee-jerk radicalism of Berkeley’s hoi po loi, and their Americo-centric prejudices.  The two Muslim Arabs were quite perceptive plus one American who has worked extensively in the area, and I shall consider their quotes quite carefully.  The others I shall gloss over.

The organizer of the event called this an “emergency” meeting.  “An emergency is a situation that demands immediate action!”  Americans are stuck in an illusion.  ”We are demanding that the slaughter in Gaza to stop,” but we in the American public are only accumulating misconceptions!

I gave an account of the Palestinian-American Professor Hatem Bazian of U.C. (University of California at) Berkeley comments in my previously mentioned article.  The Gaza crisis began considerably before December 28th last.  The prior Truce was violated by the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) on November 4th, 2008.

Israeli and/or U.S. State Department press releases dominate the American dialogue on what was the old Mandate of Palestine.  There is a new campaign for the Middle East promoted by the United States, Israel and their “franchises” (the “moderate” Arab States) to corner the region’s resources.  The District of Columbia is enabling a classic “divide and conquer” between the Shia and Sunnis as a mechanism to force the Arabs, Persians and Central Asian Turks to sell the West their oil at a reasonable price.

“Israel acts as an advance ‘aircraft carrier’ for the U.S.A.,” but, at the same time, Israel may possess different objectives from North America.

Curiously, though, Tel Aviv’ myth of strategic invincibility was severely damaged by their defeat over Galilee by Hezbollah (and Iran technology’s) missiles in their 2004 War.

Unfortunately, the major Israeli Parties all appealed strongly to the (illegal) Settler’s vote.  On this side of the Atlantic, “Obama isn’t going to fight against Israel or AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee].”  (An AmerIndian speaker, Tony Gonzalez, called it “Obama Romanization”) which has swept the young and the idealistic off their feet.

The minor local politician (former Afro-American Oakland City Councilman and the son of a past Mayor), Wilson Riles, Jr., said “We have to listen to what Hamas is saying,” but he equates a Fourth World country to the problems of the U.S.!  “We got to move against…structures in this community.”  At least, “We have to commit to Palestine…,” and, further “…We must [do our] research…” of course.  Further, there was a Black minister who reacted with the correct moral outrage, “I feel the pain and outrage from what has happened!” Yet it was his pain from afar and not the outrage of the victims themselves.  He does talk of the accusations of “anti-Semitism” for those who defend the Palestinian people.  He declared that we must not cringe from the charge:  “Silence is unthinkable…” Ultimately, though he goes back to the accountability of the American government (for which they unarguably possess and hold responsibility).

Denis Bernstein a supposed “investigative reporter” for the local Pacifica radio outlet (KPFA) felt “It is time to end the savagery to these people!”  Agreed, but “It [also] is time for a one State solution!” [Sic!]

Larry Everest who seemed to come from an “Old Left” perspective, and was of (anti-Zionist Jewish) heritage was, also, in favor of a one-State solution, but this would be where the Palestinians would dominate in a way similar to M.K. Gandhi’s envisioning on the “Jewish Problem” published in a seventy-year old issue of his Harijan, and republished on these pages quite some time ago,  “Israel is a Settler Colonial State…a garrison State for [U.S.] Imperialism!”  I think this is an over simplification of agency, and absolves Tel Aviv in its lack of morality where the U.S. is more than the enabler par excellence that makes it possible for the hand of the doer to enact the deed.  The truth is that the “evil” can be stopped in either in D.C. or in Judah itself.  Bazian pointed out previously above in this piece that the policies of the two oppressor allies do diverge. 

Much of the rhetoric that night was polemic, and was direct more against the American State than the Modern Israeli nation who decided to devour Gaza for their objectives of a greater Israel.  Our guilt lies in giving them the weapons et al., and that has to stop!

Paul Larudee, whose project to relieve the Gazans by sea was written up by me twice in these pages, stated that “Palestine is made to suffer because they are not Jews.” 

He notes how the State of Israel has expanded the definition of Jewishness to allow more potential Settlers within as citizens; therefore, he sarcastically, avers “Why not make the Palestinians Jews!”  I am not sure of the taste of his suggestion, but Palestine is, also, a geographical “neighborhood,” and all who live within should be considered Palestinian (again, back to the “Mahatma’s” 1938 essay), and that would include the Jews as in the pre-Partition Ottoman Province. 

He believes racism is the core of the problem.  I would argue that it is not racism since they belong to the same race, but Sectarianism.

Hisham Ahmed is a blind Palestinian-American Professor at a small (San Francisco) Bay Area Roman Catholic College who was raised in a refugee camp located near Jerusalem.

“Israel had unleashed a savage attack upon Gaza… [and the Gazans] had to stand up!  Before the onslaught a Cabinet Minister from the Knesset remarked “…We have to start a holocaust on Gaza!”  This is a “…act of sadism!”  As my readers know, and Ahmed re-emphasizes, Gaza has been under a total blockade for years.  Although Dr. Hisham is a critic of Hamas, he attests that they had upheld their part of the prior treaty.  The West bank is hell, too.  They wish to “…destroy our will to resist,” but their PR (Public Relations; i.e., propaganda) has failed!  “…Israel is ugly…Egypt is sitting on a volcano…” which can only lead to lead to international instability!  Before proceeding to sanctions, he suggests a legal campaign from granting visa to Israeli officials from entering the United States.  “The fall of Palestine is real,” but independence is near!

Laudree, Baziam and Ahmed were excellent, and the evening was well worth while, but many of the other speakers lacked a deep understanding of the dire Palestinian predicament.  As Americans on the extreme Left, Palestine was a cause célèbre for them to help produce paradigm shift of power within the United States.  Anyone who is aware of the history of Colonialism in the Nineteenth Century is well familiar that a few of the radical movements within the Metropolis (the Imperial homeland) were ultimately unsupportive of the Colonials themselves for fear of damaging their domestic privileges.  Few of our mainstream American speakers understood Middle Eastern realities!

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