Ali Shariati was an Islamic socialist leader during the Iranian Revolution. Gustavo Gutierrez is one of the most prominent Latin American Christian liberation theologians. This paper compares their theological ideas. Both argued that people of faith should engage fully in political struggles for human liberation against capitalism and imperialism. In this, they draw from and challenge their respective religious traditions. They also draw from and challenge the Marxist tradition they shared.
This essay also reflects critically on methods of religious studies, liberation theology, comparative theology, and Marxist philosophy of history.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
While Marx admitted that he had a particular dislike of Christianity – ‘so specific is my aversion to Christianity,’ he wrote to Lasalle – and even though he is guilty of occasional moments of crass materialism, he also argued that atheism is not a prerequisite for socialism.
Another reason for distinguishing between atheism and socialism was tactical. On one side Bakunin and the anarchists wanted the International to declare itself atheist, abolish cults and replace faith with science. Marx comments dryly, ‘As if one could declare by royal decree abolition of faith!’ On the other side there were plenty of accusations that the International was precisely as Bakunin had wanted. I do not mean the scaremongers of state repression, but former comrades such as Jules Favre and Mazzini, who stated that the International wanted to make atheism compulsory. Engels repeatedly points out that atheism is not part of the socialist program.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
“Treating Islam as a backward or as false consciousness is only going to leave the field open to liberals and Wahhabists. The revolutionary left has to throw its dog in the fight. Concretely, this means that Islam is a religion and ideology, which must be engaged with. It means that there is a political spectrum and the left should help develop the most democratic, anti-racist, and anti-patriarchal interpretations of Islam. If Christian Liberation Theology is legitimate then why cannot the same be said of an Islamic liberation theology."
Below is a perspective that seems to expand on what Will is arguing, from a discussion on the Three Way Fight blog.
I generally agree with the points that Matthew makes on 3WayFight, I just think that some of these points are framed in a somewhat clunky way that makes it seem like the author is calling for “supporting” Muslim and Christian revolutionaries rather than organizing alongside them in the same organization. Also, he fails to take up the point that Will and mlove raise on Gathering Forces, that US Imperialism has actively supported authoritarian versions of Islamism, not just Napoleonic secular chauvinism. In any case, hope this is helpful:
“This is a fascinating and timely discussion. I agree with the Three Way Fight folks that sometimes anti-imperialist forces can take on an insurgent Right wing or fascist character, and that there are some Islamic versions of that in the Middle East today.
But it seems to me that Three Way Fight tends to overemphasize the influence of these right-wingers. Do the Al Qaeda networks and the Taliban really have that much clout internationally? How many everyday Muslims actually support them?
People like David Horowitz and the organizers of Islamofascism week at campuses across the country next week claim that most Muslims support these fools. But that is just witch-hunting and imperial propaganda. Obviously the 3-Way Fight folks aren’t coming from the same angle as Horowitz and it seems they would be equally as opposed to his white supremacy.
But could they also be overemphasizing the power of the Islamic right? I would argue that Al Qeda and the Taliban are relatively marginal in terms of the politics of the world’s several billion Muslims. It seems there is much more international grassroots support for groups like Hizb’Allah and Hamas because they are the most prominent forces currently on the ground mounting mass struggles against Israeli apartheid and for social reconstruction. But are these groups really fascist or on the Right? In many ways they have more in common with authoritarian Leftism: their program is a kind of revolutionary cultural nationalism with a state capitalist/ social democratic emphasis on social justice and aid from above.
In this, they are no doubt oppressive forces poised to betray the workers, women, queer folks, and other everyday Muslims who have at times expressed very militant aspirations for democratic self-government (for example the popular committees of the Intifada). But this betrayal is not a result of Hamas or Hizb’Allah’s Islamic character. After all, plenty of secular nationalist and socialist parties in the Middle East performed similar betrayals in earlier stages of anti-colonial struggles, and that’s at least one of the reasons why so many folks have turned to Islamic politics as a supposed alternative.
Secular populist, Leftist, and state capitalist regimes have also launched brutal campaigns against women, queer folks, indigenous peoples, and others, (as Matthew recognized with Chavez and Ortega). Reinventing an earlier secular nationalism or Communism is not viable considering these historical failures. Whether Islamic or not, something new is desperately needed. The key question is, where will folks go once they see the new Hizb’Allah and Hamas “Islamic” versions of state capitalism betray them once again?
I would argue that this will not automatically be in a secular direction. It could also be a different type of Islamic politics, a more libertarian or direct-democratic vision from below. This is of course not guaranteed but it is one viable possibility worth fighting for.
It is good to see some activists in the US working to critique both US imperialist attacks on Arabs and Muslims and also the patriarchal and authoritarian aspects of right-wing Islamic movements today. These are important first steps. But when are we going to actually propose alternatives that engage with religious thought seriously in its own vocabulary, language, etc.? When will revolutionaries throw their full support behind Muslims who are attempting to articulate libertarian Islamic theologies of liberation? Are they despairing that such folks do not exist in the Muslim community? In my experiences, they do exist, but are often boxed out and squeezed between the secular chauvinism and racism of the Left, the conservatives of the mosque and Muslim Students Association leadership, and the authoritarianism of insurgent Islamic tendencies. What types of political organization will open up space for new Muslim possibilities? I would argue that the largely atheist forms the Left has taken historically are inadequate for this task.
Many young folks are slowly but surely becoming fed up with the bootlicking leadership of groups like the MSA who constantly try to prove to whitey that they are the “Good Muslims” unlike the “Bad Muslims over there.” Many of these young Muslims will see no alternative in authoritarian Islamic insurgents and will turn instead to some version of secular Arab or Muslim power politics. Others will similarly see no alternative in authoritarian Islamic insurgents and will turn instead to some vision of Islamic liberation theology. Revolutionaries of all religious and non-religious backgrounds in the US need to be prepared to respect, support, and understand, and further BOTH potential developments and cannot subordinate either one to the other. These tendencies will only be vibrant if they cross fertilize each other.
Incidentally, I would argue a similar orientation is needed to deal with Christian imperialism and fundamentalism in the US. This is not the place to articulate a full vision on this front, but preliminarily, we need to recognize that a) liberal, multicultural and “interfaith” oriented Christian theologies generally serve as smoke-screens for US Empire because they argue that the US is a progressive force in the world because God ordained America (manifest destiny) to spread separation of church and state, dialogue, and tolerance in order to uplift backwards Third World cultures, especially Islamic ones. b) this liberal theological consensus is fracturing domestically because it cannot contain the frustrations of class tensions, de-industrialization, people loosing their jobs, etc. c) one response to this is an insurgent, populist Christian right that has definite fascist groupings within it that function as vanguards with influence beyond their numbers. d) we need to combat both the liberal imperial theology as well as this insurgent Christian right (we need a 3 way fight), e) it is not enough to simply make a secular critique of both theologies and encourage people to leave Christianity; we need to actively develop Christian liberation theologies that pose insurgent alternatives to both. A top priority in this should be to articulate, in uncompromising and militant Christian prophetic language, why it is crucial for Christians to stand in solidarity with everyday Muslims against imperialism, white supremacy, and fascist attacks.
I’m glad you pointed out some of the legacies that such a liberation theology could draw from, ranging from the late medieval peasant uprisings to the militant abolitionism of John Brown and David Walker. This whole history needs to be retrieved and reconsidered. Again, I can’t go into sufficient depth here, but in many ways it wasn’t capitalism that waged an assault on feudalism in Europe but rather a whole range of insurgent Christian heretic groups, as Sylvia Federici has documented. Capitalism was a middle class counter-revolution that attempted to co-opt this anti-feudal movement and establish a new ruling class. As a result, the middle class’s secularism is not unambiguously progressive. Enlightenment liberals struggled against the Church hierarchy and its feudal ties, but they also struggled against direct-democratic Christian visions from below and attempted to contain the self-activity of peasant, artisan, and early workers who were becoming Christian revolutionaries. Nowadays this middle class secularism takes its most destructive form in the NeoConservatives who act like Napoleon, attempting to shove the Liberal revolution down Muslim peoples’ throats from above and secularize them whether they like it or not. Revolutionaries must distinguish ourselves from this imperial project at all costs, while still mounting our own struggles against religious authorities whether these be conservative, liberal, or insurgent Rightists.
What is missing in the mix are revolutionary religious forces from a direct democratic perspective who can jump into the 3 way fight without subordinating their distinctive religious content and vision. These urgently need to be articulated and organized.”
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
This is a very introspective and striking essay that means a lot to me on a very personal level. Personal, because everyone has their own story of how hip-hop has transformed them. In the case of BYC, as a conservative youth evangelist who was repelled from hip-hop due to its apparent violence and patriarchy, to his process of becoming a revolutionary who finds within hip-hop a deep sense of spirituality and struggle and not the cartoonish and proselytizing forms we see with Jin, Toby Mac, or still worse manifestations.
My history and sense of alienation from Christianity as a youth for its missionary vibe, its judgmental predisposition, and its straight-up racism, found legitimation in the lyrics of hip-hop music which many times raged against the contradictions and historical crimes of official Christianity. Through it I've found that hip-hop has sent up, in an uneven and contradictory way, the from-below tradition of spirituality (including within Islam, NOI, 5% NOI) that saw saving one's soul as engaging in the fight against injustice. Over time, as my own politics and perspectives matured and deepened, hip-hop went with me expressing a vast range of conflicting ideas and sensibilities and each time I found a way to make it relevant to my specific place in life.
Read and digest this essay carefully for it is one of the most original contributions to hip-hop that I have ever read.
I know this is long but I hope everyone tagged will read this and forward if they want.
As insomnia kicks in, another profound post (I hope) is produced. I only get exciting ideas to write about in the middle of my sleep- surely, it’s divinely inspired. It’s like the Tupac line from Ghetto Gospel, “Never forget, that God isn’t finished with me yet//When I write rhymes, I go blind, and let the Lord do his thing.”
I dedicate this entry to all my friends and family from Seattle Chinese Alliance Church. It’s hard to write this and not think about the past five years of what could have been had I continued ‘growing in Christ’ with you all. I ask that you will be patient as you read this, as I’m sure much if not all of this note will provoke some kind of offense, and genuinely welcome and encourage your comments at the end.
A second audience I want to address here are some of my progressive friends who do listen to hip hop, but intentionally limit their listening to ‘underground’, ‘political’, and ‘socially conscious’ rap—artists like the Blue Scholars, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Mos Def.
I think the title of this note is really fitting, because I wish to say that hip hop, in its entirety, including its most violent incarnations (i.e. gangsta rap, horrorcore), has rekindled my spirituality when I had completely abandoned God by providing me an alternative conception of Christianity and faith that was understood and embraced by people struggling against a system that had marginalized them from the political process and from economic opportunities. Hip hop has also taught me so much about the world and has given me so much purpose to what I do as a community organizer.
Recently, I’ve become very annoyed with Jin the emcee. I used to love him in his battle rapping days on BET’s 106 & Park and followed him closely when he moved to Hong Kong and rapped in Cantonese. In fact, he was the only rapper that I could listen to with my family (not to mention my grandparents too), as he produced a lot of family-friendly, humorous tracks innocently portraying the landscape of HK or touching on lite-themes like dim sum dishes. Recently, though, he’s abandoned all of this and turned pretty staunchly into an evangelistic ‘Christian’ rapper. I won’t be surprised if his next album hits Christian stores alongside established ‘Christian’ rappers like Toby Mac, John Reuben, Grits, and T-Bone (whom I think is probably the only technically sophisticated ‘Christian’ rapper) or played on spirit 105.3 (actually, I would be surprised if Jin got airtime, since spirit 105.3 likes to play white artists). Jin’s latest two songs, “The Light Club” and “The Best”, really capture an aspect that I really hate about Christianity and Christians today. The dominant notion of Christianity today says that if you want to be identified and accepted as a Christian rapper, there are certain moral and thematic parameters by which you must abide. Jin captures this sentiment very well in “The Light Club,” with lyrics like “you want raps about pimpin’ killin’ snitchin’ ballin’?//You won’t get ‘em from me, naw that’s not my callin’//God Almighty reached out I mean this sincerely//He spoke to me like Morgan Freeman did to Jim Carey.”
The former me relates a lot to this sentiment of morality. Let me backtrack a bit. For those who don’t know my past, back in my high school days, I was almost ‘militantly’ Christian. I evangelized everywhere I went, helped establish our high school’s Christian club, and even preached to a congregation in Mexico. Kids at high school hated me for this, but I saw it as a challenge from God and accepted the mission of evangelism quite humbly. Without ever explicitly admitting this to myself because the rhetoric of church forbid Christians from judging others, I did actively judge others on a daily basis, based on the promiscuous activities that I saw and coarse language I would hear. It was subconsciously built into my system that those activities were evil, sinful, and ‘hell-sent’ (to ironically quote a song title from my favorite gangsta artist, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony). I’ll spare you the long story of how I drifted away from being this evangelist, being this type of Christian, why I left the church, and ultimately why I abandoned God (although if anyone really wants to hear it, I would be happy to lay out all the reasons in person).
One of my biggest qualms about the mainstream/dominant version of Christianity is that it makes all these indictments against activities that are commonly associated with youth of color. Growing up, probably the biggest reason why I never listened to ANY rap (let alone gangsta rap), was I heard from so many sources- my parents, my pastors, my youth counselors- that rap music was promiscuous, that it was sexist, that it was violent. Much like how I approached evangelism as a high school Christian, the church itself makes no attempt to contextualize or see youth of color according to where they’re at. Instead, evangelism itself becomes a tool of colonialism, of ‘civilizing’ the barbaric tendencies of the ghetto.
Never mind the structural inequalities of gentrification, the overcrowding of low-income people of color into a small unsanitized neighborhood, the rampant unemployment, and the homelessness that impelled the creation of hip hop in the 1970s. Never mind the structural racism that prevents youth of color from any chance of formal success in the forms of college education and high-paying jobs. With the economic crisis today and the exponential increase of tuition in universities across America, youth of color will only be further marginalized from access to colleges, pushing more and more to identify with the messages of hip hop culture. Never mind the police brutality and racial profiling that institutionalize colonial thinking among mainstream society one the one hand, and fear and resistance by victims of such on the other.
When Christians do engage the ghetto, communities of color, and the homeless in their limited way, it’s almost always in a patronizing form that reinforces white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, capitalism. Growing up, I was repulsed by gay people. Whenever I met someone gay, I had to force myself to talk to them by telling myself it’s not the people you hate, it’s their ways. And the typical conversation would end up with me telling them to follow Jesus and he would give them the power to rectify their sexual orientation.
I distinctly remember that one of the ‘social justice’ activities I participated in with my high school youth group was to go to Capitol Hill and feed the homeless for one night. No real connections need to be made, just give them food and hopefully they’ll take a track or listen to us attempt to proselytize them for a few minutes. It’s this shock therapy multiplied a few times with monetary and racial privilege that characterize mission trips today. Let’s go into a third world community of color, tell them (implicitly of course) that their gods are weak and poor by providing them with foreign aid and English instruction, show them the love of God through helping them build their communities, and frame this foreign aid as the outward reaching, selfless ministry of Jesus Christ. I hate to burst the bubble, but oftentimes this type of soft imperialism in the form of nonviolent priests coming into and converting entire communities was used either as a substitute for or a precursor to the violent imperialism of European colonists in the New World. Either by force or Christian/Catholic conversion, though, the natives were ultimately subjected to their own massive Exodus (this word is quite intentional) from their homelands or subservience to European empires.
While Christians busily impose their own Cultural Revolution against hip hop (term is deliberate as what Christians say about hip hop is what Mao said about all non-Mao praising culture when he imposed a massive ban on literature, films, etc) and inner city culture, I have discovered a Christianity and spirituality rising from the streets that more so exemplifies the social critic and revolutionary of Christ than any of the messages emanating from mainstream churches.
Christ was first and foremost a critic against Roman occupation. It was very telling that, in Luke 8:30, when he cast out the demons called “Legion” from the man, he drove them into pigs that rushed down a river bank and drowned themselves. At that time, the only use for the term “Legion” was to describe the Roman army. To needle the colonized Jews who saw pigs as unclean animals, the Roman army frequently called themselves swine. This example and others reinforce the anti-empire, anti-state oppression character of Christ.
In mainstream churches today, though, there is an overemphasis on being ‘apolitical’ and taking no stance on (or in the worst case, sometimes actually explicitly reinforcing the) injustices committed by Western governments and their allies. Sure, widespread abuses of China, Sudan, Iraq, and other countries that the U.S. government deems ‘evil’ can be similarly indicted at church, but when it comes to America’s own oppression and colonization of people of color in the inner city, of its own occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, or when it comes to the state of Israel occupying Palestinians, then churches have to be silent. Make no mistake, silence not only reinforces these injustices by making us complicit in them, it is ant-Christ.
It is in the lyrics of Public Enemy, TuPac Shakur, and Ice Cube that I have discovered the same anti-empire, anti-state tendencies of Christ. It is in rap where I see American injustices called out and America’s hypocrisy exposed. While mainstream Christianity has the privilege of ignoring oppressions and struggles against oppressions happening right around them on a daily basis, the victims of these oppressions have been impelled to use hip hop, among other forms of struggle, to fight. Let me emphasize that ignoring oppressions is a privilege that unfortunately condemns the forms of struggle taken up by the oppressed most of the time. The hypocrisy of the church is glaring. While they focus on misogynistic images in rap videos, they overlook the sexism of the state. While they focus on the violence of gangsta rap, they overlook the fact that the state monopolizes formal violence, from the army to the police, and that these violent actors exist for the sole purpose of securing profit for a minority at the expense of the majority. If Christians are going to condemn these patriarchal and violent tendencies, why don’t they start with condemning the state? In my mind, only when a movement that pushes for a wholesale transformation of the state into one that is truly democratic, truly anti-racist, and truly anti-patriarchal arises, will we start to see forms of popular culture reflect this new reality.
It is within this context of marginalization of and institutionalized state violence against low-income, people-of color from which hip hop arises, and from which we get the ultra-violent forms of hip hop. For many youth of color, gangsta rappers speak to their reality of being caught in the game- not by choice but by the reality of being dark-skinned in America and thereby automatically disenfranchised from opportunities that I myself, other mainstream Christians, and many liberal progressives take for granted. Perhaps my favorite Christian artist, the gangsta rap group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (yes they identify as Christian), say it best when they say “I tried so hard, can’t seem to get away from misery//I tried so hard but [I’ll] always be a victim of these streets//It ain’t my fault ‘cause I tried to get away but trouble follows me” (“I Tried” ft. Akon). Another one of my favorite Christian artists, DMX, would immediately be condemned by many mainstream Christians for being overbearingly violent and coarse in his lyrics. To all those ‘Christian’-hatas out there, he reminds you to “Look thru my eyes, see as I see, do as I do, be as I be//Walk in my shoes, hurt your feet, then know why I do dirt in the street” (“Look Thru My Eyes”). In another song “The Convo”, he casts himself in the traditional Christian poem ‘Footprints’ as the man carried on the beach by Christ. He ponders the question of many a youth stuck in the game, “I tried doin’ good, but good’s not too good for me//Misunderstood, why you chose the hood for me,” to which Christ, also played by DMX, replies, “My child, I’ve watched you grow up, And I’ve been there//Even at times you least suspected it, I was there//And look what I’ve given you, A talent to rhyme//I may not come when you call, but I’m always on time.” In spite of the systematic oppression dealt against him, DMX is able to express his faith without being overbearingly evangelistic. Because he comes from the hood, unlike many other ‘Christian’ rappers, he is never judgmental and retains his gangsta persona throughout his albums to remain relevant to youth.
While DMX expressly believes in Christ, TuPac conveys a more conflicted sense of spirituality. Throughout his lyrics, you can see him genuinely struggling between the mainstream conception of Christianity and his fate of thug livin’, which he accurately and poignantly frames as the product of a racist and capitalist system. In songs like “Life Goes On” and “Thugz Mansion,” he attempts to reconcile his gangsta life by creating a heaven for g’s- one that is stress free and one where homies can just kick it. In “Ghetto Gospel,” he challenges mainstream Christianity’s morality and exposes its inadequacy to understand the ghetto by ending the song with the line “Am I less holy, cuz I choose to puff a blunt or drink a beer with my homies?” In perhaps his greatest song criticizing mainstream Christianity, “Blasphemy,” he further exposes the irrelevancy of contemporary church leaders like the Pope and juxtaposes him with figures like Malcolm. He further breaks down church imagery of devils and hell, implicitly asking Christians what they know about each when in the hood, he inevitably fights devils on a daily basis in a living hell, a sentiment similarly echoed years later by Young Jeezy, “Tonight I can’t sleep, I’m livin’ in hell//First they gives us the work, Then they throw us in jail” (“Soul Survivor” ft. Akon).
While the violence in gangsta rap is unfortunately directed against other g’s caught in the game, it validly expresses the extreme anger and frustration of youth who are isolated from the façade of the American dream. As an organizer, while I think much of this frustration needs to be channeled productively into organizations that combat systemic injustices, if you simply overlook and condemn gangsta rap, you would be doing the state’s job of invaliding youth anger due to real injustices rooted in the system itself.
The spirituality I express today is much more in line with the liberation theology of Latin America, the black theology of Africa, the min jung theology of South Korea, the hip hop theology of the American hood, and the non-white Christ who existed centuries ago. Thank you hip-hop for saving my soul by providing me with a spirituality that actively speaks out against injustice. I may not go to the same heaven as some of you tagged in this note (can I at least request “a bottle of gin, in case I don’t get in?” – TuPac in “Life Goes On”), but I’ll be more than content if I can kick it in Thugz Mansion with the likes of Billie Holiday, Malcolm, TuPac, Tech N9ne, and Bone Thugs.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
The incense rises as the rain falls:
Augustine pulls his hood
Over his dreads
And lights a cigarette
Home in the inner
City of Man
He watches God’s tears fall
They stir the faces of the puddles
He remembers the faces of the youth
Gargoyled by stray bullets
Now they’re mug shots in the ground
staring down divinity
He remembers Job crying from the ash heap
And Job’s friends, less comforting than social workers
He gently touches the light of his cigarette
To the tip of a cigarette in the gargoyle puddle
And heaves his head back up
As the sky rages open
We began in 2003 among a number of activists primarily involved in anti-Israeli apartheid work. Searching for a means to deepen our association and build on our experiences we formed a small grouping of people, which provided the basis for further discussion and support organizing in other areas important to us. Some of the areas of work we are or have been involved in include labor, anti-budget cuts in the schools, anti-racist, anti-apartheid, queer liberation work, as well as around public transportation. We currently are deciding on an organization name.
Our world is changing in uncertain ways. It is a time of transitions, as one period seems to be passing and an unknown one emerges. At the same time, the historic Left has long ago lost most of its organic roots among the working classes and oppressed communities. There is a profound discontinuity in American radical traditions and, to some extent, a crisis of historical memory among oppressed people.
This is a time of ideological and organizational changes. Small circles of people in all areas of social life, whether people unidentified with the Left or those who consider themselves part of it, are discussing the deepening problems facing this decaying society.
It is this recognition that has brought us together. We haven’t come up with all the answers. Yet although we are young, we have arrived at a few basic ideas. There is a tremendous need to learn from those who have come before us, their achievements and mistakes, but we cannot just pick up ready-made traditions of the past. Keeping this in mind, we need to explore and discover new ways forward.
Yet, this is not simply a matter of ideas; it is also one of action. Not only is revolutionary organization needed, it is vital. We need to continue to try out new ways of organizing, learning from our successes and our mistakes. The aim must be to build new organizational roots in oppressed communities and the working class.
Finally, only the self-emancipation of the working class and the oppressed can lead to the overthrow of existing conditions and the arrival of a new, and better society. We are not the vanguard, but just one part of what needs to be a movement of millions. We are not a party, nor the kernel of a future party or organization that will lead the masses. We have only just begun and much remains to be done.
This site is intended to be a space for discussion for those around our project, those we work closely with, movement friends and neighbors, and those we hope to meet and engage in conversation and, hopefully, common action. The goal is to explore the history of our people and our contemporary world, sharpen our knowledge, further discussion of organizing and organizing traditions, and search for both the fault lines of conflict and contradiction, as well as the outlines of a new society–the future in the present.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Behind these walls all down these halls there’s a raging sound of waterfalls
It’s ripping through our veins like the story teller’s spell
It’s ripping through our ventricles like pumping crumping tentacles
It’s raging through ours cyphers cuz it is was not in the well
In crowded streets through cracked concrete the rain falls while our parents sleep
And the souls of the departed seem to come back here to dwell
We pour libations beneath train stations for the slain of all our nations
Pouring out the water that was not in the well
With more proof than 40 proof, it’s enough to blow right off the roof
It’s the liquid inversion of the daily grind in hell
It’s the weekend break from the devil’s fake piss tests that they make us take
It’s the ecstasy of moonshine light that was not in the well
In third world slums where the rivers run with the residue of cracker guns
And the very stones are sold off before their stories tell
Where fresh water’s jacked and throttled mothers fill their babies bottles
With crucified water that was not in the well
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
I haven't posted in a while - my hands have been full with Palestine solidarity organizing. My friend Sush just sent me a link to Handala.org. The cartoonist Naji Al-Ali created the character Handala, a 10 year old Palestinian refugee child, who has become and icon of Palestinian resistance. Al-Ali's summary of the meaning of this child is posted below. To the right is one of many images in which Handala interacts with Jesus. Jesus is thinking "Bethlehem" in Arabic, signifying the fact that his hometown is still suffering under Israeli apartheid and occupation today. Handala is looking up at him with a mix of hope and despair, a mix that Jesus himself must have felt on the cross. Jesus is wearing a key around his neck, like the Palestinian refugees who still carry their keys to their homes on both sides of the Green line, inside and outside of the 1948 boundaries of Apartheid Israel.
Here is Al-Ali's reflection on Handala:
“The child Handala is my signature, everyone asks me about him wherever I go. I gave birth to this child in the Gulf and I presented him to the people. His name is Handala and he has promised the people that he will remain true to himself. I drew him as a child who is not beautiful; his hair is like the hair of a hedgehog who uses his thorns as a weapon. Handala is not a fat, happy, relaxed, or pampered child. He is barefooted like the refugee camp children, and he is an icon that protects me from making mistakes. Even though he is rough, he smells of amber. His hands are clasped behind his back as a sign of rejection at a time when solutions are presented to us the American way."
Handala was born ten years old, and he will always be ten years old. At that age, I left my homeland, and when he returns, Handala will still be ten, and then he will start growing up. The laws of nature do not apply to him. He is unique. Things will become normal again when the homeland returns.
I presented him to the poor and named him Handala as a symbol of bitterness. At first, he was a Palestinian child, but his consciousness developed to have a national and then a global and human horizon. He is a simple yet tough child, and this is why people adopted him and felt that he represents their consciousness."
Monday, January 19, 2009
Two days ago I called "Takbir!" at a rally and the crowd responded enthusiastically. It was exhilarating. I spent my youth in a masjid feeling alienated because I couldn't make announcements after prayer, my male friends would enter the prayer hall and leave the masjid without saying hi because they didnt see me in the back, and I secretly dreamed about being able to lead the call to prayer.
Because of these rallies, I have been seen by my Muslim community and have been supported in leading chants. I, as a twenty something activist, only got up the courage to call Takbir after a woman in her teens did it first. I had supported her in taking the bullhorn, and she had supported me in taking visibly religious leadership at this rally.
And rather than accept the timidity instilled in me by my patriarchal upbringing, I got in several arguments with uncles over the right to express our political connections to Palestine in ways that were authentic to us; as Muslims, as queer people, as women, as youth, as people of color engaged in various anti-colonial struggles, and as men who embrace the leadership young women in the community.
Allahu Akbar holds no patriarchal resonance for me whatsoever. It is part of my journey to forge queer leftist radical mystical Islam as my spiritual path. Rather, it was the male leadership of the rally yelling "stop killing women now, stop killing children now" that made it clear that they see youth and women as passive victims in the struggle. They feed into the duplicity of the death tolls, which count any male adult in gaza as a militant, not a civilian. This includes the many male paramedics who have been targeted while trying to evacuate injured folks to hospitals.
My response to the leadership is this:
"Women, girls, boys, men
The struggle comes from within.
Our communities will fight back
We will not accept attack!"
As I've been arguing, there is an ethos of Islamic liberation theology at these rallies that has been very inspiring. In his comments on my previous post, my friend Eli pointed out that at the rallies he's been to it's mostly been Muslim men chanting Takbir-Allahu Akbar (God is Great). He warned that such religious chants could reinforce patriarchy. But in our group's experience this hasn't been the case. Recent rallies have been energized by a dynamic group of youth and the most consistent leaders of this crew have been young women from local high schools. As our group reflection describes, this is similar to the first Intifada where women and youth played a central role in the democratic resistance.
At the most recent rally (yesterday), we brought a banner that read "Youth for Palestine" and it was mostly young hijabi women who carried it and got on the megaphone to energize the crowd. At points when they were shy about leading, women from our group shared the mic with them and encouraged them, which worked well. We got a nice cypher going with other groups behind us echoing their chants.
At several points the young women shouted Takbir- Allahu Akbar. Some of the uncles did seem puzzled at first to hear women leading this, but once a few enthusiastically responded more were won over. One middle aged man in particular seemed ecstatic that they were chanting it, and he responded vigorously.
One of the young women also started chanting La Allah Ila Allah - There is no God but God. At that point, a man presumably from the group leading the march came over to complain that we were being disruptive. He said "there are Jewish and American people here supporting us and we don't want to alienate them, this is not a Muslim event." By "American" he must have meant white Christians - as if all of the South Asian, East African, Southeast Asian, and Arab Muslims there are somehow not real "Americans." In any case, I told him straight up, "look man, I'm a Christian, I'm obviously not offended by this or I wouldn't be holding the megaphone for the folks chanting it." I also think it was ironic that he was saying we're being disruptive and alienating since it was a speaker from the group organizing the rally who had earlier said some b.s. about how the "Jews control the media" and even suggested that the Holocaust wasn't as bad as people say- at which point our group shouted "down with anti-Semitism!" In any case, K. El Bathy, who wrote the piece below, pointed out that if the movement is going to be democratic then folks should be able to do Muslim chants if they want. Needless to say, we didn't stop and the organizer went away disappointed.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I attended what was one of the most beautiful and powerful rallies for Palestine in my lifetime. Across the world hundreds of thousands if not millions poured into the street to protest the Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza, and the 60 years of occupation and apartheid. In Seattle there were anywhere from dozens to 2000 of us (news sources clearly cannot agree, or count for that matter, but most folks think around 1000).
What was great about this crowd was the multi-racial and multi-generational make-up of the protesters. It seems as though most of the Muslim people in the Seattle area showed up to march through the downtown area, some driving as long as 3 hours just to be a part of it. There were whole families; young kids, youth, adults and even the older generation.
I think what struck me the most about this rally were the chants at the beginning. All the speakers got up and said their piece, but none of them resonated with the crowd. Most were white and most were in their 40s if not older. While they bemoaned the humanitarian aspect of the slaughter, me, my friends and a number of young Palestinian folks around me yelled and chanted "Free Free Palestine" and "Fight, fight the tide! End Israeli apartheid!"
Even more amazing were the continuous rounds of Allahuakbar's that were made in between each speech. The MC, one of the few Arab folks on stage, encouraged everyone to take part whether they were Muslim or not. He explained for those not in the know that Palestinians are chanting this when they are living, when they are dying and when they are fighting.
What was beautiful about yesterday was that chanting Allahuakbar was opened up to everyone in solidarity with Palestine. All at once the particular became so universal, and the universal so particular. Although it was a Muslim practice, it also became a practice and expression of multi-racial solidarity against white-supremacy.
There were a lot of folks who were put off by this; "white" folks, and even parts of the so-called progressive Left. There was even a guy holding a sign that called for a "Free and Secular Palestine" (note the "secular" part).
On one end, this opposition to Islamic politics is just straight-up racism. The Right talks about a clash of civilizations and values whenever Arab and Muslim people fight back, while the revolutionary Left maintains this backwards, dogmatic opposition to all religion, playing into the hands of the Right.
Islamic politics is just the most recent political expression of the Muslim world. Arab liberalism failed to deliver us from the jaws of colonialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while Arab nationalism and authoritarian Marxism failed to deliver on the promises of liberation after European colonialism collapsed. So Brown folks started looking for a new way to understand the world, and fight back. Religion became a search for liberation; not automatically authoritarian.
I remember an imam I knew telling me that many Muslim immigrant didn't "find" religion until they came to the US. Identities shift. Thousands from Muslim families have identified as nationalists, Marxists and now Islamists. Thousands more imagined a new Black community during the era of Black Power, some even dressing as Chinese peasants in solidarity with the Chinese anti-colonial movement.
Probably the only thing I will agree with the Christian Right about is that religion -- though not only Christianity -- is a big part of American civilization. Many of the early European settlers were were Reformation rejects from Europe. While the Puritans could be said to represent the right wing of this movement, there were also Anabaptists who threw their lot in with the resistance of indigenous people, and also run-away slaves.
The Abolition movement is one example of this radical Christianity, but it's important to note that this early American Christianity fused with Native American and African spirituality that formed the backbone of the radicalism behind the Civil Rights movement.
Islamic politics and Muslims today, much like the Reformation Christians of three or four hundred years ago, are breaking with the status quo of Islam. Islam of the state is complicit in Palestine, whether right here in the US or in Mecca itself.
What I saw that Saturday was an Islam from below that rejected US empire, that rejected Arab-centrism, and became a call for all people in solidarity with Palestine to defend a democratic umma, and defeat white-supremacy. Islam is firmly rooted among the tradition of American radicalism creating a multi-racial -- and multi-religious -- democratic movement.
So let's do it one more time:
Takbir - Allahu Akbar!
***some ideas on religion and American radicalism are taken from Loren Goldner's "Afro-Anabaptist-Indian Fusion: The Roots of American Radicalism" at http://home.earthlink.net/