Eminem’s Cypher is a Demonstration of How Much Racism Still Exists

This is going to be a short post because I think the point is a pretty clear one. Let me start by saying, though, that I’m am not criticizing Eminem’s cypher. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. I thought it was powerful, and some of the bars were pretty wicked.

The great tragedy about Eminem’s cypher is that it is a clear indication that a single white man’s voice will continue to be leader than the collective voices of black Americans across the nation. For decades, black rappers have rapped about political issues. They’ve criticized presidents and other politicians. They’ve continued to write passionately about the challenges of racism, disenfranchisement, and police brutality. The music and lyrics have been an outpouring of the emotions of a population that has long suffered overt and covert forms of oppression.

This rap, by black artists, has largely been met with derisive resistance. Despite the popularity of certain artists, there has been a resistance and criticism of their work in equal measure. Despite all this noise, there has been stark attention paid to the political relevance of rap produced by black artists.

Eminem does one political rap, though, and it’s everywhere. I’m glad he did it; I’m glad it was loud and widely publicized. But let’s not forget that it still took a white man to make black voices heard, while the black voices stood silently in the background.

Opinion – TakeAKnee – A Great Way to Take a Stand

I was a student who wouldn’t say the pledge of allegiance in school. I’d still stand, but wouldn’t put my hand on my heart, or actually say the words. Not only did the words “under God” not sit with me too well, but I knew from an early age that the promise of “liberty and justice for all” was not nearly realized. It’s also against my beliefs to pledge allegiance to any object or nation. The practice is nationalistic at best, and tyrannical at worst. I’m not proud to be a member of any nation, but rather a member of the human race, as I think we all should be. I like America; it’s awesome, and having traveled the globe, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. But that’s something pretty far removed from pledging my soul to the nation’s flag.

Imagine my reaction when I saw professional athletes taking a knee during the national anthem as an act of protest. What one man started has now become a national movement and topic of discussion. Despite the media’s incessant focus on all the irrelevant issues, discussions about race are visibly taking place country-wide. The point that merits discussing here is not who is taking a knee, but why they are doing it.

It is impossible for me to understand the life of a black person in the United States, but as a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, I can certainly appreciate the impact of racism on my own life. From airports, to traffic stops, to work, I experience racism fairly regularly. This was particularly true in the years immediately following 9/11. From being called names, to having things thrown at me, to being questioned by homeland security agents, I’ve experienced it all. I’m not talking about things like micro-aggressions, or anything so soft. No, I’m talking about real, systemic racism.

Here’s the deal, a large portion of the American population is ignorant about race-related issues. While many may have good intentions, they are usually misinformed. In an age where real research has been replaced with sensational headlines and experts have been replaced by celebrities, it’s hard to find out what’s really going on. But research study after research study has consistently demonstrated racial disparities in law enforcement. Racism exists; that’s a fact, and people of color experience it every day.

Personally, I think #TakeAKnee is a wonderful attack on that ignorance, and it is unfortunately being overshadowed by this notion of “disrespecting the flag.” Let’s be clear; this has nothing to do with the flag itself. But like voting for Donald Trump, taking a knee is an act of speech by a disenfranchised population expressing the reality of their experience in this country. The black experience has seen men and women go to war, only to return and not be allowed to sit in the same restaurants as white people. The black experience has seen political districts be redrawn to diminish the power of the black vote. The black experience has seen their people be shot down by cops who received paid leave after clearly committing murder. That is the black experience in America, and it needs to be recognized and addressed.

The brilliance of #TakeAKnee is that it gives this experience a dramatic and impactful voice. The act is so visible it forces observers to acknowledge it. That it’s being carried out by athletes in the most American sport possible makes it all that much more powerful.

The reaction, like it usually is, has been counterproductive. We have a tendency in this country to say “that’s wrong!” instead of asking “Why is he doing that?” The reality is that a protest is designed to instigate; it is designed to draw out emotion from the other side because it is a clear display showing that everything you thought was alright actually isn’t. So instead of having a knee jerk reaction defending a piece of cloth, which we so readily disrespect in many other ways, we should ask what it would take to get these men and women to stand. How does America earn the respect of its citizens? Particularly those citizens who have, as a whole, been robbed of the American dream that the rest of us get to share? How can we work with them to make the flag worthy of standing before in their eyes?

Government, country, and society are only valuable insofar as they protect your rights. That’s the entire reason we form these institutions to begin with, because we cannot protect ourselves in a natural state. When member of that same covenant, of these same institutions, do not receive the same protections everyone else is guaranteed, then that warrants protest. And that protest is protected under freedom of speech, the same freedom that this country was built upon.

The Carrier Deal – Perspectives You Should Understand

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Image courtesy of AP Government Blog

I’m quite selective about posting anything political these days. There is enough noise in the discourse, and I want to pick particularly interesting things to talk about, if anything at all. The Carrier AC deal in Indiana is just such a thing. It’s important to understand not only what happened here, but also how different people feel about it. The differences of opinion here highlight precisely the disconnect between different segments of the American population.

Some Myth Busting – What Really Happened?

Let’s start with the facts, because we should only begin to form our opinions once we understand what actually happened. I’m not going to post sources mostly because it’s too cumbersome, but you’re welcome to fact check anything I’ve written.

Keep in mind that we don’t know everything. We have round figures about tax incentives and jobs, but there is probably much more to the story than we will ever know. That in itself, though, is pretty dangerous, as a side note. That the government can make deals offering corporate incentives without the information being publicly available is pretty worrisome.

Fact 1: Trump just made a phone call. The deal was made by Indiana.

This is not Donald Trump’s doing. Negotiations with United Technologies have been occurring for nearly a year, since they announced they would be moving their plants to Mexico. Most of the work on this deal was done by Mike Pence and others in Indiana. The other thing to understand is that this deal was put together through a method which does not require legislative approval in Indiana. The money is Indiana money, and the tax incentives we know about are to be provided by Indiana, not the federal government. This is important because it leads to a much more significant impact on the Indiana taxpayer, but more on that later.

Fact 2: This deal is not keeping over 1000 jobs in Indiana. The number is closer to 700 at best, probably less.

Carrier is still moving an entire production facility to Mexico, which accounts for over half of the original jobs which were supposed to move. Not only that, part of Carrier’s plan to stay in Indiana is to invest $16 million in the facility to introduce automation, reduce jobs, and reduce costs. These are the United Technologies’ CEO’s words, not mine. So where did the 1000 jobs number come from? Part of the deal for Carrier to stay was that they would get credit for keeping about 300 jobs that they had never planned to move in the first place. It sounds strange, I know, but that’s what happened.

Fact 3: We know about a $7 million tax incentive, but not much else.

We know that Carrier was given a lower tax rate which will allow them to save $7 million over the next ten years. Unlike the bailout which saved the auto industry, there is no plan to repay this money to the taxpayer. The $7 million has to come from somewhere, but we don’t know where just yet. We also know that at least 10% of United Technologies’ revenue comes from government contracts and that they are looking forward to a “better regulatory environment,” whatever that entails. What we do know is that the combination of all incentives provided made it so keeping this one facility in Indiana made financial sense for Carrier. $7 million isn’t enough for it to make financial sense, so there had to be something more, but we don’t know what that was.

Perspectives – How Different People Feel About It

As is the case with any significant event, different people see it differently. There are a number of perspectives here which need to be understood, and I’ve included those perspectives below. After this, I’ll talk about my own opinion and explain what I think about the deal.

Perspective #1 – I get to keep my job!

This is the most fundamental one to understand. The people who get to keep their jobs are happy about the deal. They are able to continue working and making money. Their families are probably excited about this turn of events as well. The thing about this perspective is that it’s simple and unbiased, and so it’s easy to appreciate. This doesn’t require an understanding of macro economics or the larger market. A person gets to keep their job, and for them, that’s a good thing.

Perspective #2 – I’m still losing my job!

The majority of people who were going to lose their jobs before are still going to lose their jobs. They are not pleased about this outcome, and it’s easy to see why.

Perspective #3 – This is some shady government crap designed to keep the fat cats fat!

There are a lot of people who are concerned about the precedent this deal sets. This type of deal harkens back to the days of late 1800s/early 1900s economics where there would be a lot of political economic handshaking that the people weren’t necessarily aware of, or fully aware of. The deal doesn’t actually do anything for workers. No employee is going to see a cent of that $7 million. It also goes against the promises Trump’s campaign made. He boisterously claimed that he would heavily fine and tax companies that decided to outsource jobs, but this deal is doing just the opposite. It provides incentives to stay. People are worried that other companies will begin threatening to leave to get similar incentives. The other thing is that the deal is unregulated, which means United Technologies is basically free to use the incentives they receive however they want. That makes people nervous as well.

Perspective #4 – My state of Indiana gets to keep jobs! Go Trump!

This is perhaps the most vital one to grasp. The sentiment in the state of Indiana, and across the Trump supporter community, is that this is a tremendous win. Carrier is staying in Indiana and not going to Mexico! Yay! The problem with this perspective is the same as with most other such viewpoints, it doesn’t rely on facts. The perspective stops here. It doesn’t encourage research or investigation into the realities of the deal. It doesn’t encourage learning about economic theory and history to understand what kind of impacts something like this might.

The Opinion – This deal is terrible. The jobs will still be lost, and United Technologies just got richer.

With that, let’s talk about my perspective. There are a number of factors to consider, and I’ve tried to outline them as best as I can below.

The U.S. is no longer a manufacturing nation. As a nation becomes more technologically advanced, it ceases to be a significant producer of staple goods and products. Rather, it becomes more of a consumer, and the nature of the workforce shifts away from production. Even the CEO of United Technologies argues that manufacturing jobs are going away; they are not the jobs of the future. This is important because it means we actually don’t want to keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S. They are low paying low skilled jobs that actually contribute to poverty. Contrary to popular belief, there is an argument to be made that outsourcing is economically beneficial for the U.S. Human and labor rights issues notwithstanding, the actual economics often benefit the United States.

Tax incentives and tax penalties are both bad policies. It seems that whenever we think about these situations, we ask the question, “How do we make the company stay in the U.S.?” Instead, the better question is to ask how we can leverage the company’s leaving to create a more educated and advanced workforce. Why low skilled low paying jobs when you can replace them with higher skilled higher paying jobs? Carrier had already offered to provide its employees with severance pay and tuition assistance so they could learn new skills and pursue other employment. Imagine if instead of tax penalties, we required companies shipping jobs overseas to provide 2 years of severance pay and the equivalent of full tuition payment for an undergraduate degree for any U.S. employees losing their jobs. For some companies, this would make it more economical to keep the jobs in the U.S. For others, they would still move, but we would boost the skilled workforce instead, without any tax penalty to other citizens. Our government needs to be more visionary.

This deal does set a terrible precedent and signals the reemergence of an era of economic policy which led us into the recession. The U.S. government cannot indicate that it will provide incentives for the rich to do the right thing. The rich don’t need incentives; it’s a large part of the reason we have such a large wage and wealth gap in this country. The wealthy get access to better economic incentives, and that is harmful. Incentives are for individuals, like the worker, not for large multi-billion dollar corporations.

The jobs are going to disappear anyway, so this deal is particularly stupid. The deal shows a stunning lack of vision from our government officials. If they did it purely as a political move to get some positive press, then I get it, but I sincerely hope they don’t believe it’s actually sound economic policy. Carrier is going to spend $16 million to automate the production facility which is staying in Indiana, and that automation will cause a large number of those manufacturing jobs to disappear, not to mention the 1000+ jobs which are still being sent to Mexico. The problem is that, as that happens, the workers will no longer have as much leverage or collective bargaining force to demand higher severance and educational reimbursement, which they were getting before. You know what’s even crazier about that? The $16 million will probably be paid to another company producing the automation equipment overseas. It’s like one big terrible cycle of stupid.

Anyway, that’s that. Hope this helped you understand a little bit more about what’s going on.

Where Are the Calls for Condemnation for a Muslim Being Shot?

It is a challenging time in which to be Muslim. Not only is the Islamic world the front line of the fight against radical Islam, but the political realities of being a Muslim in Western nations which pride themselves on their self proclaimed stellar human rights records are becoming increasingly more frightening.

This point was underscored today when media coverage began of the shooting of an imam and his assistant in Queens. They were followed and gunned down in broad daylight while returning from their local mosque.

What I noticed, and felt I needed to write about, is a remarkably different rhetoric in the media. There are no calls for anyone to condemn this act and no immediate conclusions about religious motivations. Instead, we see tempered commentary about an ongoing investigation and no evident religious motive. It’s curious how standards of humanity are applied so selectively. When a priest is shot, or a shooting occurs by a Muslim, the immediate discourse is quite different, though neither event is less tragic than the other.

Muslims live in a difficult time, not only because we are the first victims of Islamic terrorism, but also because we are held to such stringently higher moral standards without sympathy. Every Muslim who is not a terrorist finds him/herself in a position of having to condemn every act of violence perpetuated by select few members who claim the same faith. Otherwise, we’re immediately part of the same radical Islam that the media loves to talk about. We either join a tidal wave of constantly speaking out, or we are effectively playing for the opposite side.

Imagine a world where all human life was treated with the same value and respect. If we stopped considering people who are different as the “other” and showed them the same compassion we show our own, things might be different. I am saddened by every innocent human life that is lost because of senseless violence, Muslim or non-Muslim. I am commanded by my conscience and my God to treat all human life with dignity and respect.

This is a short post, designed only to ask one question. Where are the calls for condemnation for a Muslim being shot?

Stop Pretending ISIS Isn’t Muslim

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I am Muslim, and I know Islam to be a religion of peace. Historically and according to the scripture, Islam is a religion of inclusion. Sharia, as it was practiced during and following the time of the Prophet Muhammad, codified inclusion and coexistence. It protected the rights of women, instituted a reasonable and sustainable tax system, and led to one of the most powerful and successful empires in history. Despite all this, there is a large contingent of Muslims in the modern world who are not only ignorant of this history, but actively act in direct contradiction to its lessons.

It is troubling to me when people say that members of ISIS, and similar groups, are not Muslim. They proclaim the Shahada, the central creed of Islam, and constantly profess that they are acting according to what they believe Allah has ordained for them. The Muslim world’s rejection of ISIS by saying they are not truly Muslims is actually problematic because it takes the focus off a very important aspect of this conflict, that terrorism is being bred in Muslim countries. ISIS is partly the result of what Islam has become in the modern world. The sooner the Muslim community admits and recognizes this, the sooner it can be dealt with.

Yes, unwelcome intervention from other nations has played a direct part in creating power vacuums and societal conditions which lead to radicalization. However, this particular snake has more than one head. The modern Islamic world is comprised of nations with astounding amounts of wealth being put to shamefully bad use. Despite the problems the coalition’s invasion of Iraq caused, Saddam Hussein wasn’t exactly a good guy. Iran’s regime has been supremely oppressive for decades, despite some attempts at popular resistance. I don’t even need to talk about Saudi Arabia. Education is terrible, poverty rates are incredibly high, economies and fragile, and freedoms are limited. Since just before WWI, the Islamic world has been in a decline that is now arguably reaching its apex.

Here’s the problem: Muslims continue to hide behind a rejection of obvious fanaticism while refusing to be introspective about the established regimes and policies which contribute to the rise of that fanaticism. Governmental policies and practices are not rooted in actual scripture. Rather, they are norms designed so that the wealthy who are in control can remain as such, and they’re working. Muslims the world over will immediately get on the TweetBook to reject dramatic acts of violence. Yet, Saudi Arabia publicly beheads over 150 people, and people don’t say a thing. The elite in Pakistan are inordinately wealthy, and yet the total adult illiteracy rate in the country hovers between 40% and 45%. The bombings in Turkey receive universal condemnation, yet Narges Mohammadi is currently dying in an Iranian prison, and you probably don’t even know who that is.

You may say that these things are the fault of a few oppressive groups and individuals. Remarkably, my experience has been quite different. It is the populations of these countries which allow and almost encourage these types of things to happen. When I can walk around after the Orlando shooting and hear people say, “Well, they shouldn’t have been gay,” then I know it isn’t just those in power who allow this hate to fester. Adults will often overtly demonstrate a false politeness but will internally harbor bigoted ideologies and will promote those ideologies among their communities.

It’s easy to say that ISIS isn’t Muslim. After all, what reasonable person would want to associate themselves with that type of ideology that is hated the world over? But, if you denounce their violence and then go home to beat your wife, you have no claim to the moral high ground. If you support women not being able to drive or attain a quality education, then your claims about being a real Muslim are nothing but moral masturbation. If you criticize people fighting for the ability of young girls to attain an education as being “puppet[s] of the West,” then you’re really looking in the wrong place to direct your indignation. If you publicly execute people for drug addiction and refuse to provide treatment for alcoholism, then I wonder where your knowledge of what is un-Islamic comes from. It’s no secret that the social conditions created by these so called Islamic policies create a boiling point necessary for terrorism and violence to thrive. When people are not provided for, when they lack accessible education and liberty, when they suffer from daily lives mired in tiresome difficulties, they turn to what promises them hope of salvation, love, and escape.

ISIS was created, at least in part, by Muslims in the modern world. While these people are quick to reject violence and cite their favorite quotes from the scripture in that effort, they refuse to turn the same critical eye to their own actions. Where is the Hadith of Gabriel when Dubai and Saudi Arabia build the world’s tallest buildings? Where are the references to the Prophet’s wives Aisha and Khadeejeh when women are denied education and economic rights? Where are the references to the many Hadith about kindness to animals when animals are abused and neglected?

What is arguably just as bad as terrorism is the society that fosters it. Islam has provided a blueprint for a successful life and society, and that blueprint has been demonstrably successful, leading an empire to prosperity for 1300 years. I don’t like writing preachy posts like this because God knows I’m not perfect. I have my own sins to repent for, and I’m not really in a place to tell others how to live their live. But, what I am in a place to do is point out obvious inconsistencies. ISIS isn’t the only group of people who have perverted or forgotten the lessons of Islam. It is just the most stark example that we have to point the finger at, but that finger should really be pointed at ourselves first.

Political Correctness is Gay – Here’s Why

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You don’t kill a disease by addressing its symptoms. Cancer is not treated with painkillers and anti-emetics. If you call someone a rake, you are not saying that the gardening implement is an immoral pleasure seeker. Language and words do not carry any objective meaning. Any meaning a word has is created by the person saying it, and the context in which it is used. Given these realities, it still amazes me that so many people choose to focus on the words people say, while the issues that they claim those words represent continue to fester and plague our society.

Last summer, Marc Maron was fortunate enough to host President Barack Obama on his podcast to have a discussion about racism in society. During his interview, POTUS used the word “nigger.” The resulting media frenzy, predictably enough, focused on Obama’s language rather than discussing the actual issue he pointed out. The actual point the president was making, that racism is not marked by people not saying “nigger” in public, but rather by the very fabric of our institutions that prevents minorities from being treated equally and fairly, was lost in the fray. And that, precisely that, is why I am so opposed to the way millennials approach issues of social justice, through the lens of being inoffensive, rather than the lens of actually solving the problem.

Two days ago, I had a discussion with some folks who were offended by my use of the word “pussy” and claimed that it was perpetuating a sexist stereotype of women as weak. As has been the case with all previous discussions I’ve had on the topic, I did not hear an argument which explains the moral impropriety of my use of the word. Rather, I was faced with the same emotional contentions which I’ve heard before. In this post I’d like to go over some of those and then offer my own background.

Let’s talk about the first point, that language perpetuates the very “ism” that we want to prevent. There is no evidence, at least that I’ve found, to suggest that the presence or absence of slurs in a lexicon promotes or discourages discriminatory behavior. Take the “N-word,” for example. There is no question that the word is most often used in black communities by black people. Yet, it would be quite a stretch to claim that the black people are the most racist against black people. In that context, the word is used to refer to friends, acquaintances, enemies, and everyone in between. Words do not create or perpetuate attitudes of people toward each other. Words are created and used by people for particular, contextualized purposes. If one is going to claim otherwise, then there should be some actual evidence to accompany that claim.

Next, people argue that using the word in a negative fashion associates that characteristic with the people the word is used to describe. For example, calling something gay means you’re saying homosexuality is a negative thing. Well, the word gay also means happy or joyous. Am I also saying happiness is a negative thing? If you’re going to claim that meanings of words are associated, then you must explain why some meanings are excluded from that association. Otherwise, it doesn’t really make sense. Words can be given multiple meanings; that doesn’t mean that all those meanings are linked or associated, nor does it mean the speaker is associating those meanings.

Those arguments aside, I want to discuss the problems that this focus on political correctness causes. It does a great deal of harm, and the Donald Trump campaign is clear evidence of that. When actually bigoted people are forced to watch what they say all the time, it does not eliminate their ideology. Instead, it forces that ideology to retreat to the shadows, where it grows and becomes more angry. When these people don’t say what they think in public, they become harder to find, and their bigotry becomes more difficult to confront, until it reaches a critical mass. That is what you have with the Donald Trump campaign. There is a tremendously large population of the American public which has been marginalized and disenfranchised. Granted, they are mostly fearful and hateful individuals who have very simplistic ideas about the functioning of society. But, they have been ostracized by the political correctness police, and now they have found a voice through a boisterous billionaire. This voice, in turn, translates into actual action like violence and public policy.

The other, and perhaps larger problem, is that the actual issues get swept under the rug. We fill our “I need to be a good person” desires by chastising someone for using the word pussy while the actual issue of sexism is forgotten. We spend all our time talking about Donald Trump’s ridiculous plan to ban all Muslims from the U.S., and we don’t spend any time talking about how to deal with religiously motivated violence in our own borders. The British parliament spends an entire day discussing banning Donald Trump from their territory, while hate crimes are at an all time high, and the world faces a refugee crisis. Sure, I use the words pussy and gay to satirically make certain points about things. But, I also provide a social justice scholarship each year to help students from marginalized groups in society attain an education. The point is that I choose to focus on the actual problem and do what I can to help address it. I don’t spend my time getting on my soapbox on Facebook or in casual conversations being offended by somebody’s use of language, especially if I know that person is not a bigot.

I have discussed this issue with many people who belong to the groups these words seem to be about. I have yet to find a homosexual person who really cares if I refer to something as gay. Instead, they prefer to discuss the real discrimination they face in employment, marriage, and other fundamental social aspects of their lives. I have yet to find a mentally handicapped person who cares if I call something retarded. Instead, they’re more preoccupied with completing an education. I have yet to meet a black person who cares about my use of the word “nigga” to refer to them or any other black person. They seem to care more about police brutality and a lack of due process in the justice system.

In my experience, political correctness is rarely a concern of the members of groups in society facing discrimination. The people I encounter who care so much about what others say are usually in a completely different boat. They are usually white, middle class or wealthy, young adults. They are usually people who have faced little adversity in their lives. While their intentions may be good, their methods are ill founded and misguided. They do more harm than good, creating a more divided society, rather than a more accepting and inclusive one.

This discussion I had two days ago began with us talking about the ethics of medical professionals participating in torture and military interrogations. As soon as I said the word “pussy,” though, the actual morality of torture was never discussed again. It was a living, breathing example of exactly what I have described here in my post.

Mosques of the World #1 – Saudi Arabia

Welcome to a new series I’m doing. My recent posting in Dubai has afforded me the opportunity to travel around the world with a frequency I hadn’t been able to before. As a result, I’ve made it a point to visit at least one local mosque in every country I visit and comment on my feelings about that country. Let’s start off with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi MosqueThe mosque I visited was quite small, just the small room you see in the picture, enough for 25 – 30 people at most. The inside, however, was beautiful. Calligraphy carvings on the front wall, a clean and comfortable carpet, and a neatly tiled entry way gave the place a warmly welcoming and inviting feeling. The people were friendly, though they were Shia whose prayer rituals slightly differ from my own. It was a testament to what Islam should be, a faith which welcomes others, accepts differences, and provides acceptance.

Unfortunately, the rest of the country isn’t quite as inviting. To start, women are faced with many restrictions limiting what they are able to do. To start, women are not permitted to drive, and in some areas, cannot even own cars, let alone other property. Women must be completely covered with an hibaya, the traditional black veiled covering often worn by Muslim women. In the world of business, this leads to additional complications. The men on our team must secure rental cars and transportation. It’s risky to be seen riding in the same car as a woman I’m not related to. Additionally, business offices must construct a separate area for women to work, although no companies actually make their women work separately unless they’re being inspected.

This has always been interesting to me because Islam does not require, or condone, any of these restrictions. Women are not required to wear abayas in Islam. They are only forbidden from wearing tight clothes which reveal their figure, and even then, this requirement is only applicable to Muslim women. Islamic law does not extend Islamic rules to non-Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) first wife was one of, if not the most, successful and well known merchants in Arabia. Islam was the first religion in the area which allowed women to own property and gave them a place at the political table. The state of affairs in Saudi Arabia runs quite contrary to Islamic teachings.

The country also feels oppressive. Strict rules and punishments, like beheadings, still regularly occur in the country. I have to constantly be mindful of what I say or what I’m talking about for fear of persecution. It’s difficult to understand how valuable freedom of speech really is until you go to a place where it isn’t afforded. I must cover the tattoos on my arms because they might be found offensive as well.

These policies, among others, have resulted in the country being left in a poor state. There is little investment, and commerce struggles to thrive. There is a large reliance on oil money, much of which doesn’t go to the poor in the country. Agriculture is struggling, and the landscape of the country is barren and depressing.

It saddens me, as a Muslim, to see the nation which houses the centerpiece of my faith in a condition like this. It’s not as bad as is sometimes believed in the West, but it’s much worse than I wanted to believe it would be. Coincidentally, the people in the mosque, and those in the surrounding area, were very much against the royal family and the rules which have been imposed in the nation. Well, maybe that wasn’t so coincidental.

I can only hope that these things change in the years to come and the country experiences a rebirth.

Why France’s Free Speech Defense of Charlie Hebdo is Untenable

freedomofspeechBecause people judge before reading, let me start by saying that I do not condone the terrible acts of violence perpetuated against Charlie Hebdo. The teachings of Islam do not support or justify such actions. There are numerous versus in the Quran in which Allah command Muhammad to withstand ridicule and what others say against him. Allah clearly states that he will punish them, and Islam prescribes no human punishment for expressions of opinions which mock the Prophet and Islam. The Hadith also contain many traditions expressing Islam’s protection of peoples’ rights to fully express themselves, and many traditions which command Muslims to be kind in their responses to hateful speech and to restrain from violence. When it comes to speech Islam prohibits only slanderous speech and blasphemy. The blasphemy prohibition is only applicable to Muslims under Shari’ah and nobody else. But, the purpose of this post is not to explain Islam’s view on freedom of speech. You can read the Quran and Hadith for yourself. As a Muslim, I have always condemned all Muslim violence and terrorism committed against anyone, and I invite other Muslims to do the same.

That all being said, this post is intended to comment on the hypocrisy in the discourse around this tragedy. The media, and Western governments, paint a picture of Europe as a bastion of freedom of speech and expression which is being opposed by the restrictive religion of Islam. While terrorist acts committed by Muslims reinforce this narrative, it is actually far from the truth. France is one of the most restrictive societies in the world when it comes to freedom of religious expression. Religious symbols, included the Hijab, are forbidden to be displayed in public. There are restrictions around practice of religion in public and expressions of one’s personal beliefs. Denying the holocaust is forbidden in many countries in Europe, and the EU is the first body in the world to adopt a right to be forgotten which restricts digital freedom of speech. The justification for all these restrictions is that such speech is harmful to people. Religious expression in public incites dissent and tension among people. It has no place in the public sphere. Yet, somehow, completely obscene cartoons intended only to insult particular religions have a protected place in the public discourse. Expression protections in Europe are incredibly hypocritical. They are informed by each country’s history, and often at the arbitrary preferences of the government. Either freedom of speech is absolute or not. A country cannot restrict people’s freedoms with one justification and allow others to express their opinions when the same justification applies.

I don’t necessarily know what types of speech should be protected and what shouldn’t. I don’t know that any country in the world has come up with a system that works for everyone, nor do I know if such a system could exist. But the point is that any policy has to be fair and consistent. Condemning religious expression as hateful while protecting obviously hateful media expression is not consistent. It is a hypocritical policy. The narrative sounds great, and it sells news. It light a fire in people because they cling to the mantra of freedom of speech. I invite you to distance yourself from the narrative you find in the media and examine the truth before making judgments.

Is Money the Root of All Evil?

money and evil

 

 

I love money. I really do. I want more of it, a lot of it in fact. But, I don’t think about stealing from people. Whenever I conduct business, whether at my place of employment or in my own ventures, I don’t lie to people or try to convince them of things which aren’t in their interest just so I can make an extra buck. Am I still greedy? Just because I want more money? I work hard for it, and I use a good amount of it to do good things for less fortunate people, but does the does the desire for money make me a bad person? I’ve often wondered about this question. Is money, or the concept of it, an inherent cause of evil? Are we as people so susceptible to greed that currency does in fact lead us to do terrible things? I really don’t think so, and here’s why.

When people do illicit things to get money, it isn’t really because they want money, it’s because they want unearned money. This is a very important distinction. Those acts which have caused the negative stigma against the wealthy have been borne out of efforts to get money without earning. However, those who maintain a commitment to hard work and honest earnings do not fall prey to the immorality of greed. Bill Gates, for example, is not a terrible person. Unless you consider Microsoft’s prices as robbery, Microsoft is not an immoral company which conducts shady dealings. Mark Zuckerberg, although maybe socially inept, is also not a seedy Wall Street banker type. Those who give out sub prime mortgages, prey on the poor, and lie and deceive are all after a maximum return for minimal effort.

Even if money didn’t exist, we would still find people exhibiting the same behavior that they do now. People are either lazy or incapable. They do not want to put in the effort it requires to earn mountains of riches, and so they try to find ways around it. In so doing, they carry out some pretty terrible acts. Those who work honestly for their wages, however, don’t. Granted, not everyone is going to be Bill Gates, but that doesn’t mean that you have to screw people over to be wealthy. Quite the opposite, wealth would likely be spread around much more if the system didn’t tip things in favor of the unscrupulous, but that’s a game theory discussion for another time.

Until then, remember this, “Money doesn’t buy happiness, but poverty doesn’t buy shit.”

The Fatwa Every Muslim Leader Should Be Issuing

fatwaimage

In the Quran and the Hadith, there is no definitive decree on who has the right to issue a fatwa, or religious ruling. Tradition has dictated those with formal education and training in Islamic law should be the only ones issuing fatwas. But, fatwas are not binding, and since there are multiple schools of Islamic jurisprudence, anyone can technically declare themselves a scholar and issue a fatwa. In fact, there are multiple Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) that say a Muslim is free to disobey a fatwa if it doesn’t feel write in his/her heart. So what’s the point of all this? I think that, instead of writing fatwas that say volunteering for the Mars space mission is against Islam, or fatwas against instant messaging on social media, this is the fatwa that every Muslim should be issuing.

In the name of Allah, most beneficent and merciful.

Terrorism and the killing of innocent people, whether they be Muslims or not, is expressly forbidden in Islam. No Muslim should condone or support that actions of terrorist organizations, nor should any Muslim carry out terrorist actions which target innocent people or attempt to inspire fear in the public. Any Muslim who commits a terrorist act or supports terrorism is committing a sin under Islam and will be punished accordingly in the Hereafter.

The Holy Quran, in Surat Al-Maidah, Chapter 5, Verse 32, states, “For this reason, We made it a law for the children of Israel that the killing of a person for reasons other than legal retaliation or for stopping corruption in the land is as great a sin as murdering all of mankind. However, to save a life would be as great a virtue as to save all of mankind.” The Quran only allows for the killing of a person if it is in retaliation for aggression already committed or for spreading severe corruption in the land.

The Holy Quran, in Surat Al-Baqarah, Chapter 2, Verse 190, states, “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not, aggressors.” Allah expressly forbids beginning hostilities against others. Aggression is not permitted in Islam.

The tradition of Islamic war further demonstrates that the tactics used by terrorists are not permitted. To be legitimate, in addition to meeting all the criteria for a just war, Islamic war must be declared by a leader of the umma, or Muslim community. No such universal leader exists in today’s world. The Prophet (PBUH) further expressly forbade the killing of women, children, and the old (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 3015). The Muslim, even if engaged in a just battle, will not kill non-combatants, as terrorists regularly do.

All of this also aside from the reality that terrorist organizations commit violence against their Muslim brothers and sisters, which is definitely forbidden in Islam.

Islam does not permit the killing of innocents, nor does it permit violent aggression in the name of the religion. Not even the Verse of the Sword, as it has come to be known, allows for the killing of innocents or for killing as an act of aggression, only as an act of defensive warfare.

So let it be decreed that terrorist actions, and support of those actions, are forbidden in Islam. Truly those who engage in such actions are committing a grave sin and an act of disbelief. Grave punishment, not reward, await them in the afterlife.