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Listen Up

A deaf Muslim atheist responds defiantly to the debate over the ‘Ground Zero mosque’

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The American Muslim Day Parade in Manhattan yesterday. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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Last month, as debates raged over the proposal for an Islamic cultural center a few blocks from the former World Trade Center, Tablet contributor Daniel Luban wrote an impassioned essay comparing Islamophobia to anti-Semitism. The hundreds of comments on the essay—and on the follow-up conversation between Luban and the conservative intellectual David Horowitz—showed an impressive depth of feeling in our readers, who defended and attacked the proposed community center and mosque in equal measure. A number of the voices stood out, sharing personal experiences of discrimination, anger, disillusionment, and concern. Sabina England’s was one of them.

These days, if anyone is called a Muslim, it’s a slur. Obama is a secret Muslim! You must be Muslim because you support Park51. You defend Muslims therefore you’re an apologist for extremist Islam. Terrorist!

Yeah? Well, I am a Muslim and I’m happy to shove it down your throat. I’m not a weak, oppressed woman who needs to be saved by the Western savior. I’m a Muslim and I didn’t commit the Sept. 11 hijackings and I won’t apologize for them. Muslims everywhere are under constant threat of being killed in the name of terrorism and civil war, while Americans are rarely attacked on U.S. soil. We are not terrorists or apologists. We’re normal, ordinary people who just want to be left alone and live our lives and have the freedom of religion to quietly practice (or reject) Islam.

We’re American, we’re Muslim, and we’re not leaving.

***

I did not always feel this way.

I first learned about the Holocaust from a deaf Jewish boy who screamed at me after I raised my arm like Hitler as an innocent joke. We were both in social studies class at my school for the deaf. We were 10 years old. On that day, just before lunch, the teacher informed us that we’d be learning about the Holocaust, but I didn’t know what that was. I leafed through the history textbook and saw a black-and-white photo of Adolf Hitler. There he was, standing in a balcony and raising his arm, while people in the crowd below raised their arms in the very same manner. I thought it was funny.

After lunch, we came back to class. I ran down the hallway and raised my arm, imitating Hitler while laughing gleefully. The Jewish boy, who was standing in the doorway, saw what I did, so I decided to show off. He was my first crush, an Orthodox Jewish boy who wore a yarmulke and prayed and wouldn’t talk to girls much. When he stared at me in my pose, I felt pleased because he was finally paying attention to me. His face turned pale. Using his voice and hands in American Sign Language, he screamed at me. What’s so funny? I didn’t understand why he was mad. I told him I saw it in a photo from the textbook. He yelled at me about how Hitler murdered millions of Jews. He continued, signing furiously about some of his family who perished in killing camps.

“But why?” I asked him. “Why did they kill your family? What did they do?”

“Nothing!” he yelled. “They died because they were Jewish.” I was still confused. Why would anyone kill others for their religion? He knew I didn’t mean any harm. He then whispered, “Don’t do that again.”

***

When I lived in Texas with my parents, I used to think I was Mexican, because other Mexicans looked just like me. I was baffled as to why my father didn’t wear snakeskin boots and cowboy hats like other Chicano men. I was also confused why deaf Mexican-American kids didn’t practice Hinduism or Islam like my family did. The deaf Jewish boy was the first Jew I met. He asked me if my family celebrated Christmas. I said no. “Neither do Jews,” he replied. It was the early 1990s, and I didn’t think much about my own identity.

My parents emigrated to England from India in the 1970s, and I was born in a working-class neighborhood in Leeds, but we constantly moved around England and the United States before my parents found a good deaf school with an excellent oral training program in the Midwestern United States. It was there that I met the deaf Jewish student. I also met another deaf Muslim kid for the first time in my life. But he was Egyptian, not South Asian. He was dark and brown, just like me. We had very different cultures, but we shared the same religion.

I considered myself more Indian than Muslim. I didn’t care about Islam, know who Muhammad was, or know what Arabs looked like. My parents were “fresh off the boat” immigrants. We socialized with Indians, both Hindu and Muslim. My mother used to wear sarees and a large red bindi on her forehead. We ate Indian food every day, and my parents spoke Urdu at home. Sometimes my parents were targeted in racist name-calling by white English people. You fucking paki. Sometimes at deaf schools in England and the United States, I felt ashamed for being Indian whenever classmates asked me if I was from India and why was India so poor. I saw India as something associated with filth, dirt, poverty, and inferiority. I hated dark-skinned Indians and wished I was white, like Princess Diana or Jemima Khan.

It was only at the deaf school in the United States when the deaf Egyptian Muslim boy, Omar, finally made me aware that we were different from other deaf kids. Deaf kids looked out for each other, because we were outcasts from society; I thought that was enough. But it wasn’t that simple. One day, a white deaf boy asked me what my family religion was. Muslim, I told him. “Isn’t Omar a Muslim, too?” he asked. I nodded.

The next day, Omar burst into the classroom and yelled at me. “Why did you tell everyone I’m a Muslim!” he roared at me in sign language. “That was supposed to be a secret.” When I asked him why, he told me Americans hated Muslims. His parents said Americans were at war in a Muslim country, and it was better if we shut our mouths and didn’t tell anyone we were Muslim. But why? What did we do? Nothing, he said.

***

When I turned 17, I had a religious awakening and began to wear the hijab. My father was fiercely against it. He argued I was already stigmatized as a deaf woman of color. He ordered me to take off the hijab, and I refused. Our relationship was strained. This was almost one year before Sept. 11.

Before the Twin Tower attacks, Muslims were suspected, but not as widely hated. Back then, I was the only deaf student in a hearing public high school. The hijab made me stand out even more. I wasn’t too popular, but in my senior year, every day during lunch, I sat with a group of Muslim American girls. One of them was Syrian with white skin. Another was Somali with black skin. Two were Pakistani, and I was the deaf Indian Muslim. One day, a group of white kids and one black teenager decided to throw chips, ketchup packs, and French fries at us. None of the girls spoke. I wanted to say something, but being deaf, I had no idea what the guys were saying. I wanted to cuss them out—but if they said something back to me, I wouldn’t know what they’d said. So, I kept silent as they threw food at us. Everyone in the cafeteria watched us being attacked with food, but no one spoke up for us.

***

In late August 2001, I started my first year at a small Catholic college. The day after Sept. 11, I felt sick and weird, like my beloved sweet uncle had been exposed as someone who lured children into his backyard, killed them, and ate their body parts. Muslims were being watched and scrutinized. My religion had been hijacked. Over 2,000 people died in the name of radical Islamic extremism. What the fuck?

I had an escort accompanying me to every class after my parents expressed concern that I would be physically targeted because I wore hijab. No one would speak to me. I was lonely. I didn’t make any new friends. I wasn’t sure if it was because of my hijab or my deafness. Even before I began wearing the hijab, I was always ignored and shunned by other hearing students who figured I was just dumb and mute. I was always an angry person. The stigmatization after Sept. 11 only made me hate people even more, yet I was also frantically lonely and alienated.

One day after classes were over, I sat in my car and cried for an hour. I was sick of the hijab, tired of being stigmatized for being Muslim and, on top of it, being deaf. Around the time, I didn’t like Jews or gay people, because white Christian students in my school would make anti-Semitic remarks which imprinted in my mind. I first learned about AIDS and homosexuality by a conservative Catholic mentor who told me that gay men were disgusting. Not knowing better, I viewed both Jews and gays as inferior people. Ironically, the only student in my college classes who would smile at me or speak with me was an Israeli Jewish student. He spoke of having Arab Palestinian friends, both Christian and Muslim. He sighed about how he wanted there to be peace. Unlike other hearing students, he was able to easily understand my deaf accent. I hated my deaf accent.

An old Jewish lady on the college campus invited me to a Yom Kippur dinner. She wanted me there so they could promote interfaith dialogue. I graciously accepted the invitation, but when I told my Muslim friends about it, they freaked out and warned me not to go. What if they want to humiliate you? they said. All Jews hate Muslims. They’ll set you up for something bad. I believed them. I didn’t show up.

***

A year later, I transferred to a state university, and I took off my hijab. Although my extremist beliefs were shedding away, I still clung to Islam, albeit a more moderate version. I no longer believed that women had to cover up for modesty. I felt that by wearing hijab, women were re-affirming the sexist attitude that women were sex objects. I also began following ideas of moderate Muslim thinkers who advocated peace, love, respect, and interfaith dialogue between all major religions. I didn’t want to be a Muslim bigot anymore. I wanted to be a good Muslim.

I had a Jewish professor at my new university, who would become one of my biggest influences. He encouraged me to write and read more. He was the one who taught me how wrong homophobia was. One day, he assigned us to read Stop Kiss, a contemporary American play about lesbianism. At the time, I was still homophobic. I became uncomfortable reading the play. In my critique essay, I wrote something like, “Why did these women become lesbians? Why can’t they be straight? Why can’t two women just be friends?” and my professor wrote back a harsh response in my essay about how people should be allowed to freely love who they want.

I also became friends with a Jewish punk who had a Mohawk and wore a studded vest with various sewn-on patches of punk bands such as Dead Kennedys and the Exploited. We became friends because we shared the same interest in punk rock. One day, I asked him what his beliefs were. He said he was an atheist. So, I asked him why he called himself Jewish if he didn’t believe in God. He explained Jewishness was an identity, not a faith. He called himself a Jewish atheist.

At that time, I didn’t understand. But today, it makes sense. I’m Indian Muslim, but when it comes to faith, I’m more agnostic. I reject Islam as an organized religion, and I don’t believe Islam, Judaism, or any other religions hold the ultimate truth. No one can prove Allah exists, but her existence cannot be disproven either. Regardless, I will always identify myself as Muslim.

I feel more hated today for being Muslim than I did almost 10 years ago. This recent wave of Islamophobia has nothing to do with religion or ideology, as some bigots claim. It’s pure racism, plain and simple. Muslims and non-Muslims have been lumped together in one group. Arab Christians, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, South Asians such as Hindus, Sikhs, and Indian Christians, along with Turks, Southeast Asians, Africans and African-Americans, and others who are brown or look “Arab,” have been targeted in racist incidents. I don’t have a problem with people attacking Islam as an ideology, but I’ll condemn them for their anti-Muslim racism.

I’m a humanist and feminist. I’ll always speak out against all forms of hatred against anyone for their race, religion, skin color, sexuality, disability, nationality, or ethnicity. I’ve called out Muslims, Hindus, and Christians on their anti-Semitic remarks, and I’ve criticized plenty of bigots for their homophobic remarks. When one group is the victim of hate, it affects other people.

Sabina England is a playwright, filmmaker, and mime artist.

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This is great. Thanks to Sabina for sharing her experiences and thanks to Tablet for publishing it.

It’s important for people to see that Islam is no more monolithic or homogeneous in the beliefs of its adherents than Christianity or Judaism.

Thanks for sharing your journey Sabina.

I am a Jewish professional who works alongside and is friendly with many Muslim professionals. Because of this personal experience with “normal” moderate people who happen to follow the Muslim faith, I cringe when I hear sweeping generalizations (which are rarely complimentary) about Muslims.

However, I never seem to hear any moderate Muslim leaders, who reflect the views of my colleagues and friends, raise their voice to counter-act the vile speeches of Muslim extremists who regularly get airtime.

This discrepancy will continue to fuel the hate that Sabina describes.

Bianca,

I’ve known plenty of Muslims, from childhood in Brooklyn, from college at Brown, and now in the Boston area. I hear rejections of stupid attitudes from them all the time. After a lifetime of following how a variety of social and political topics are covered in the news, I’m inclined to think that your images of “Muslim leaders” has more to do with the laziness and superficiality of the media than it does with the supposed dearth of moderate leaders.

Zalel, that is my point.

Those moderate views are there but they are rarely heard on a broader stage. And they need to be!

There is a clear PR problem and very little seems to be done to address it.

Interestingly, the only 2 moderate Muslims that I have heard on the world stage are both women. (Sabina would be the 3rd person I have heard following in their footsteps – another woman!)

Go grrrl!

Dani Levi says:

I feel that Islamophopia is not about deaf Muslim atheists. So in a way this article, although interesting in many ways misses the point. And reducing the “hate” to the US far right discriminating against a “race”, which Islam obviously is not misses the point. The push back the wider Muslim community is experiencing all over the West is NOT directed at people like Sabina England, who used to wear a head scarf but now looks more like an inner city punk ( looking at her website ). The push back is directed not just by an obviously hate driven minority, but by a highly liberal emancipated West which is confronted by a Muslim culture that in parts contradicts everything the post war generation has been fighting against socially and politically. Women’s rights, gay rights, pluralism on every imaginable level. Another huge issue is the separation of mosque and state, which the Muslim community is not capable of answering convincingly.
There may well be a more liberated Islam in the US, but in Europe there are problems within the wider diaspora. And this is not because Europe is a hateful place. My guess is ( I may well be wrong here ) that the Muslims in the US came from a different socio-economic bracket then the goat herders of Eastern Anatolia and some members of the Moroccan community in Holland. The ueber wealthy Muslims in Paris and London do not seem to shoot their daughters ( ‘honor’ killings ) in the face half as often as say the Turks and Kurds in Germany. And it is along these fault lines that the problems lie. No community can expect acceptance if you basically forge a parallel society that lives in crass contradiction to its hosts. Taking social services and all that Western Europe has to offer, yet through its actions and words giving the State/social norms the finger because you consider the West uncouth and its women whores. I have dear friends of Muslim origin in Europe, but they have all assimilated.

Well, that is just lovely. Unfortunately, I really can’t figure out who exactly she is speaking for: moderate muslims? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Where are all those collective moderate muslims when it comes to issuing statements about how they regret the actions of extremists? Are they too busy dancing in the streets in celebration? Haven’t seen any moslems lately crying about the plight of the Jews who were kicked out of the arab countries without being offered repartations, I might add. Nor have I heard any of them crying about the fact that so many arab countries and even gaza, their holy gaza, are judenrein.
I believe the author is still profoundly deaf.

I am new to Tablet & found this article A deaf Muslim atheist responds defiantly to the debate over the ‘Ground Zero mosque’ most interesting.
I am a 80 your old secular Jew, (atheist) who has never had a face to face
talk with a ” moderate ” please Muslim, and would like to.
I believe we ( in all the world ) have a very serious problem between
US and THEM. I mean that in a very broad way. HOW can we help ?

Sabina England is a model for the way to UNDERSTANDING and acceptance of ALL people that inhabit the earth we love.
Sy Fort Lee NJ Tweet @sy30B

Dani Levi says:

I have a feeling this is going to become interesting. Sabina England’s blog
http://deadamericandream.blogspot.com/ has a link to http://electronicintifada.net/ , the link is through a photograph of what looks like a female PLO operative armed with an AK-47 and wrapped in a keffiyeh……the sun is setting here in Tel Aviv, and I am going to grab some dinner. Check back on this thread in a while.
And please….keep this thread civil..

VHJM van Neerven says:

Very enlightening, David Levi; thanks! So, in your book it is not about racism but about class: Assimilated, middle class, well-off Muslems and Jews are OK, but uncouth working-class people who, as always, simply perpetuate the religious mores they were born into, is wrong. Is that your point?

Noe. might I try to enlighten you?

Assimilation doesn’t help one whiff if the chips are down. Sure, like Anne Frank you can live the assimilated life in Amsterdam until 1944 — unlike the poor Jews around Waterloo Plein who were long gone by then. But you stil go east and up, with a few years time lag.

BTW, your “analysis” of left and right in the Netherlands is way off the mark. But I guess you knew that already before you wrote it down? If not, let me simply point out that the right now hides behind the old leftist slogans to further its propaganda, just like NSDAP and NSB profiled themselves as “workers’ parties.” We all know what’s going to happen when these nationalists get power. Look at Sarkozy repeating the old Nazi pogroms against the Gypsies!

Sai mir gezoend, David, but be ready to leave at a moments’ notice…

“This recent wave of Islamophobia has nothing to do with religion or ideology, as some bigots claim. It’s pure racism, plain and simple.”
I am a liberal visiting a conservative part of the country, and I saw this bumper sticker last week which validates the truth of the sentence:
“Everything I need to know about Muslims I learned on 9/11″

Dani Levi says:

@ Nerveen, please do not rehash, the Third Reich and the assimilation discourse there.
There can be no doubt that a class, any class, that has difficulties living in the information age, where education is the key to all and where freedom is attained mainly through reading and open discussion. You dismiss my civil society points and go straight for the jugular, which does not help anybody. You must know that in Europe far eastern immigrants have no problem integrating, as do sub Saharan Africans as long as they go to school. But strangely, people of Muslim heritage who do not come from a book culture and from areas where illiteracy is very high miss the steamer. Their children are often stuck in a cycle of missing school, failing school, no job prospects and then feel lost in a society that values a decent education. Any social worker and any judge will tell you that. Even “white” working class people who fail to keep abreast with modern technology and thought processes fail, sadly. And do not bring Anne Frank into this, it makes me cringe.
I fear this is not very PC, but amongst most EU Muslim social scientists who study these topics it is accepted fact.
They same can be said for most Arab nations. Bad schooling, authoritarian, paternalistic, tribal. Critical thought is not encouraged for obvious reasons. And Schengen is not a cart blanche for any citizen to squat anywhere anytime. Just leave the Nazis at home, please.

no_slappz says:

There are about 57 islamic nations in the world. With the exception of Iraq, not one is a free, democratic, capitalist society.

Meanwhile, there is no central hierarchy in Islam. No established order of any kind. There is only the interpretation of each local imam. Thus, Islam is whatever the local imam says it is. The Wahabbists are as legitimate as the Taliban who are as legitimate as the Sufis, the Shiites and the Sunnis.

Moreover, though people of all religions have disagreements, only muslims fly planes into buildings and receive approval for their act from muslims around the planet. In other words, some muslims might appear moderate by saying one thing to non-muslim friends and acquaintences. But when it comes to the other function of Islam — the political doctrine — they go with Islamic rule.

The Koran forbids Freedom of Speech, forbids Freedom of Religion, forbids plurality and forbids Democracy. It’s been that way for 1,400 years with no signs of improvement. There’s never been the equivalent of the Reformation in Islam. Instead, the effort to create a global caliphate and return the world to the 7th century seems stronger than ever.

Riaz Ahmed says:

One thing must be clear to all—islam is not what the muslims do; it is rather what is preached by Muhammad[PBUH]. It is true that the so-called muslims have greatly vilified islam by posing their actions as islamic due to misinterpretations. But this does not lessen the significance of islam. Sabina appears to me as a woman open to vulnerabilities. Different environment changed her way of thinking differently. But she still failed to inhale in a true environment which islam prescribed for muslims and non-muslims.

My main problem with Muslims is not their culture (officially sanctioned discrimination of women, intolerance to homosexuals, nonacceptance of certain civil liberties, like freedom of speech, corruption, etc) for let be honest: some elements of that culture exist in our own community, particularly among ultra-orthodox Jews. My main problem is their deep and widely spread hatred toward Israel and Jews (Israeli Jews in particular), their racism flamed by the frequent incitements of their leaders, clerics and scholars; just because in their opinion Jews have no right on a small piece of land. Some of us, Jews, decided to adopt the teaching of Jesus and claim that hate could be defeated only by love and that in WWII Jews could avoid gas chambers had they showed their love and respect for Hitler. These Jews are accusing others of being disrespectful to Islam as well while they themselves showed very little tolerance toward discrimination of women and cruel punishments of minors. Such attitude has the name: it is called hypocrisy. I, however, see relations with Muslims as a two-way street: as long as majority of them have an intention to hurt me, my family and my friends there won’t be any reconciliation on my part.

Sabrina has a very clear mind to sought through her experiences and come up with her answers.

Jacob Abrams says:

In my younger years I wore a kippa much of the time. I lived in a small town in Northwest California and found myself in uncomfortable situations more often than I thought was possible. There were times when I was in a post office or a bakery that low keyed snickers and disgusted grunts were impossible to ignore. One time my wife and i were walking down the sidewalk and car drove by shouting obscenities and yelling for us to go home where we belonged. We lived a block away and were heading home so i guess we took his suggestion.

Now in my mid sixties I understand more how ignorance and fear control people. I don’t push things, but I do stand up for myself and will speak up at all signs of bigotry. Thank you Sabrina for doing the same. As best I can see this creation is for all of us no matter what our differences. It’s well past time for us to look at our own actions.

I gratified to see younger people standing up to hate no matter where it comes from. May there is hope after all.

Thank you Sabina for writing your brave article.

After reading your posts, it is unfortunately too clear many people posting here are “deaf” and “blind” in some fairly broad generalizations about Muslims. I have known and worked with enough Muslims to know that there is much variation in belief and practice among. However, people find it easier to generalize and believe what they are told. “There is none so blind as he who will not see.” It is often to hard to think critically, and judge each person individually. It easy to have a clear enemy and that is what many people want and the moment.

As a Jewish woman, this is something I deal with a lot. People think, we are all the same. There is a widely held view that all Jews hold the same beliefs and practice the same way; this is not so.

The real disabilities lie in our attitudes and closed minds.

I attribute views of certain posters here to their lack of experience in the real world. I realize that for some who had never been exposed to the brainwashing sermons in mosques might be difficult to understand how the large group of individuals could become united in their purpose and goals.

So there is nothing here to do with the debate over the ‘ground zero mosque.’ While it is a charming anecdotal account of what a tough life you’ve had, this article is hardly ground breaking in any other way. Ive read too many of Sabina Englands rants where you seem to just want to be praised for your strength against adversity or something. I think your just an attention seeker and I can not take what you write as anything more than a cry for attention. I dont think you represent a diaspora, I think these words are spoken out of being disillusioned because of deafness and not because of Islam or any Islamaphobia you might think. You will probably brand me as an anti-semitist for saying this but this is how i feel when i read your rants. I also come from immigrant muslim family but dont experience any racism and if i’ve ever seen bigoted attitudes it does not bother me on a personal level and most can see through the bullshit.

I’m glad I wrote this piece. All this hatred seeping from both sides (Muslims and Jews) are just amazing and sad. Bigotry and racism knows no bounds.

However, most of the comments above are very supportive, and I’m glad that most people, whether Jewish or Muslim, can relate to my piece. A big thank you to Tablet Magazine for featuring my article!

Shalom & Salaam

-Sabina England

djknight says:

Seems to me that maybe some are making this far more complicated than it should be. What Sabina’s article said to me was, “I am an individual.”

Pretty simple concept, if you think about it.

Well done, Ms. England.

ismaizac says:

Islam is not a race, so one can say Islamophobia cannot be Racist. Radical Islam is not about class or fortune either. The leaders of Islamic terrorism are well educated middle class men that had their education in western institutions. So where does all this leads to?
The Umma,Islam’s holy Empire flourished in its early centuries and contributed considerably to mankind then. Probably because the center of learning in the ancient world were under Muslim rule. The Library of Alexandria was the largest repository of knowledge in the ancient world (the equivalent of the library of congress), unfortunately and tellingly it was burnt down by the Muslim conqueror who reflected “if the book of all books is the Koran who needs all those books of the Jahilyah?”… He was bringing enlightenment. Nevertheless the culture bloomed until it ran out of steam and went into slow decline. About 700 years of slow terminal stagnation.
The modern radicalization of Islam could only be attributed to a heady sense of humiliation and entitlement, as Islam does not seem to have kept it’s promise of a just and fulfilled society. All enlightening knowledge came from the west and the value it puts on the individual, something alien to the Islamic society and sharia laws where the value of the individual is predetermined by sex and tribal affiliation. Central to the credo of Islam is the “surrender” of the individual to the will of Allah. all destinies and histories are written and predetermined “maktoub” by Allah. A far cry from the western freedom of choice and the corner stone of American society. the success of the West can only make sense as a preparation of the taking over of Islam as it is written. The western dependence on petrol is certainly seen as a sign of things to come.
Equaly, the state of Israel is an existential crisis to Islam and can only make sense as a preparation for Islam’s triumph, was it Ismail or Isaac the rightful heir of Abraham? terrible question to answer.

Sabina is an exciting young artist and articulate voice on these issues, you are smart to include her perspective here. She is obviously speaking about her particular experience and rejecting the notion that it is her job to represent anyone other than herself–a radical move from a person with an identity like hers.

The comment thread that follows her wonderful essay is disappointing however. The usual canards about violent/patriarchal/homophobic blah blah blah are rehearsed here again with the same vigor displayed by the Christian Right. Rather than answer each of these charges–again–for people determined not to understand anything that contradicts their preconceived notions I’ll just say: I think many of the Tablet commenters above have a rather romantic view of Judaism (and Israel) that prevents them from seeing all of these elements in their own faith: a cultivated blindness. For eg. Bianca is disturbed by the disparity she hears between her Muslim colleagues and the heated rhetoric of Muslim leaders, but I could say the same thing about my Jewish friends and the hateful pronouncements of Bibi Netanyahu and Joe Lieberman. I suppose the difference between us is that I have no problem distinguishing between the two. And is it possible not to chuckle knowingly at the accusation of “entitlement” leveled at islamic societies–as by ismaizac above–from the pov of someone who imagines himself “chosen” by God? Sigh. Nope.

But IS important to answer the oft-repeated rejection of the racialization of Islam. It takes a particularly determined effort not to see the devastating effect of this conflation in the West. Yes, Islam is a global religion not aligned with any particular ethnic group–but it is perfectly obvious that discrimination against Arabs and South Asians is influenced by Islamophobia–whether we are Muslim or not. Islamophobic violence against non-muslims is a fact. As an Arab Christian I can assure you that is the case.

djknight says:

ismaizac does make a few valid points, but I would like to point out one specific sentence:

“All enlightening knowledge came from the west and the value it puts on the individual, something alien to the Islamic society…”

A friend of mine once said about her personal faith, “Just because you can’t see a thing, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.” I believe Sabina represents a large percentage of Muslims, world wide, though chances are we will not hear much from them on the topic of their individuality. But just because we don’t see them claim their individuality doesn’t mean they don’t feel it or value it; nor does it invalidate that individuality.

What happened on 9-11 was beyond tragic. But we cannot hold the actions of a few individuals against an entire people. It is unfair, and it is unjust. It is wrong. It is hateful – and any attempt to block Americans from building a community center on land that they own is unconstitutional.

Something to think about: They could have suggested building a mosque. They did not. Nor did they suggest building a store that sold Muslim goods, or clothing, a school for Muslim deaf children, or a grocers that specialized in Middle Eastern cuisine — but if they had, would it have made a difference? No. Because this isn’t about a community center, a mosque, a school, or a grocers. This is about fear, and it is about hatred.

The group that opposes the building of this community center gets a bit testy when they are labeled racists — but when someone is offended by another culture, or by a group of people who want the right to embrace that culture; and when they yell and rant and scream, and do what they can to stop any acceptance of the alleged offending culture, well — like it or not, this is rather the definition of racism.

My advice: If racists don’t like being called racist, then they should refrain from being racist — or at the very least, refrain from crying foul when the world calls them what they are.

Dani Levi says:

one church or synagogue in Saudi….just one….just a little one, one teeny tiny one. And maybe no hysteria at Beirut airport when I show up with an Israeli stamp in my passport.
These may be rehashed cliches, but that is where the rubber meets the road. Actions speak louder than words. And the article missed the point. For life sadly or luckily is more complex than
” Just the two of us,
we can make it if we try,
just the two of us..”
And the “difference” between Israel and radical Muslim leaders, is that there is an ongoing open debate in Israel. Terrible things are said in Israel at times, but nobody is beaten to death in prison when they object, or thrown of a building. It is the relativization of the above that is so abhorrent . Like Sid Vicious said, show me an Arab democracy…..
I see nothing wrong that many in the West raise their voice against violence in the Middle East, but do not only criticize Israel.
Sabina England should walk down a street in Cairo or Gaza with a piercing and in a wife-beater. I may assume the Western Islamophobia will be seen in a different light thereafter.

Haram Zaada says:

It is amazing how some of these comments reaffirm Sabina’s experiences. Shocker.

The sentence “we cannot hold the actions of a few individuals against an entire people” in regard to the 9/11 is a meaningless cliché. Sure, we cannot hold all Muslims responsible for the terrorist attack but we can and should hold responsible their religion – Islam, because it was the religion of Islam that inspired and motivated those attackers. Just look at the historical similarities: we cannot blame all Christians for the Crusades in 12 century but we do assign responsibility for them on the Christian Church in general. Same with Islam. Some of us are ready to blame 9/11 on the “wrong” interpretation of Islam by “few wicked individuals”. “Wrong” and “right” are relative notions. Besides, if the basics of the religion have allowed one “wrong” interpretation – they will allow more and thus more terrorist attacks and more innocent victims. “Wrong interpretations” had no reason to cease on 9/11 and therefore will continue to flourish unless the basics will be changed. If someone thinks that he or she does something good for Muslims by avoiding to criticize Islam in its present form – that person is gravely mistaken. Not only such attitude will harm us in the future – it will harm Muslims as well for it will take away from them the initiative to make the necessary changes in their religion to adopt it to the present reality. And thus Muslims will to continue to feel strangers among us and we will continue to regard them as strangers as well and such situation will lead eventually to the hostile actions on both sides, the ones we can now observe in Europe.

Rachel says:

Sabina, I enjoyed reading this. After travelling the world, I realized that ideas, identities, and languages get all jumbled up for better or for worse. Fortunately I think it is for the better and I’ve met some amazing people and have learned some amazing things along the way.

If we can’t even relate to people as people, it’s hard to move in any direction.

Hershl says:

Sabina, interesting story. But wrong conclusion.

The Islamists whom you defend will never defend you.

They hate women, homosexuals, anyone who is not like them.

Most Muslims are decent, law-abiding people; I know and like many of them.

However, they are afraid to speak out against the members of their own community who preach hate.

If you want respect, show some to the rest of us.

Nice stories about Jews you have met are not enough.

Denounce members of the Muslim world who preach hate.

Then I will believe you.

And then there is the story that no one is covering.

The NJ Jewish Standard, the oldest Jewish paper in NJ, has just announced that it will no longer print life-cycle celebration notices from gay and lesbian Jews.

Why?

Because orthodox, fundamentalist Jews complained.

They told the editor, Rebecca Kaplan Boroson, that they found such ads offensive and hurtful.

Hurtful?

So she printed an editorial apologizing to all the people who felt offended by open celebrations of love and commitment from her gay and lesbian readers and promised that she would never, ever again allow such things in her paper.

Why is no one writing about this?

Why is this horrible, hateful woman allowed to terrorize the very community that saw one of her community at Rutgers, Tyler Clementi, commit suicide from homophobic attacks by fellow students?

http://jewishdailyreport.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/nj-jewish-paper-bows-to-bigots/

VHJM van Neerven says:

Dani Levi, my excuses for getting your name wrong; too much scrolling came in the way. My name is Van Neerven, by the way.
First, let me say that you yourself brought up assimilation and with that, you take up a discussion from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Third Reich made all discussion on the subject moot, so it has to be brought up as well. Anne Frank and the Jewish proletariat of Amsterdam are pertinent because their fates show that assimilation is only a veneer that will protect a minority against its declared enemies for just a few years. So I did bring her in to it and it suits everyone to cringe at that. I do, too; but I cannot escape that painful experience, so close to the Achterhuis here.
Your second sentence (“There can be no doubt..”) misses a verb and its point. I guess you want to stress the importance of education, reading and open discussion. If so, I have to say that in spite of these, many islamophobes ought to be your example as in their case, the saying: “A little education is a dangerous thing” holds sadly true.
On the other hand, Muslems are one of the Peoples of the Book and I find it very odd to see you write that they do not come from a book culture. Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, to name just a few, have very rich literatures.
You are so right on the importance of education. But singling out just one ethnic / religious group for their lack of it smacks of racism. There are so many categories suffering from bad education. If class and high culture really are the problems, then all categories of people should be included and the solution becomes self-evident: A better school system.
If you know the Netherlands, you know that good schooling is sorely lacking here. Your remark on “Even “white” working class people” tells us you are very aware of the problem and its scale. Yes, enculturation is lacking in the Netherlands (and many other too-highly developed nations); but why blame the victims? (cont’d)

VHJM van Neerven says:

I’m sorry that you felt I went for the jugular and I hope the above makes clear why I wrote what I wrote. I certainly meant to help; I have to voice my concerns, especially now that islamophobes hold a kingpin position in the NL parliament. I have seen no measures in the concept program of the coming government to address the long-standing problems in education. But I do see many phenomena breaking down our once-civil society.
I am a social scientist and I am convinced that youngsters need guidance, resistance, barriers to overcome to make then grow into responsible, social adults. But schools under capitalism are a no-holds barred fight, where every single student is left to her/his own devices. Schools, like civil societies, are lonely places. We need more than civility.

One should not equate Muslem with Arab nations; most Muslems are not Arabic. Yes indeed: education is important – for everyone — as is critical thought. Call it projection or the Biblical beam and splinter in the eye: precisely this should be eradicated first to become critical, open. social, educated. Pre-judging is fine; we can not live without it. But the task is always to be open to review, re-align or revoke one’s judgment when called for. That is mature behavior.

The Schengen Treaty does allow free traffic of people and goods in the European space and any interference with that (Sarkozy!) treats a Treaty as a worthless piece of paper — which brings us back to Nazi practice. Or, what would you call it? Not a characteristic of a civil society, I hope.
Now if Europeans again rip up European treaties, what can the rest of the world expect from our capitals? Good will? Civility? Mercy? Chivalry? Or, earlier-type European “solutions”?

We have only one world and to live in it, inclusion is mandatory. HaSjem is maker and Father of all. Why can we not be brothers and sisters? Seemingly eternal exclusionism is not his will.

Peace, Vrede, Sjaloom, Salaam to all -
VHJM van Neerven

Dani Levi says:

an interesting link to Tarik Ramadan and a debate in Holland.
http://www.tariqramadan.com/Debate-between-Fritz-Bolkestein.html

The Schengen Agreement “allows” the free movement. But it does NOT sanction the right for EU citizens to squat any where at any time, this is a myth or a misunderstanding on your behalf Mr van Neerven. Moving across borders comes with responsibilities. The Roma, usually have no jobs, do not attempt to assimilate and live on public land. I personally have witnessed wide spread begging in the streets of London and Berlin by Roma children, at times using the the “sponsoring” culture in the UK to scam people in the Tube and in shops out of money. I have witnessed this. I have also witnessed British Transport Police arresting children in the Tube for what is basically fraud by scamming travelers out of money.

When a Dutch citizen squats on Spanish public land or an English citizen on French land he or she will most likely be deported eventually. Many Roma live in unsanitary camps in France and since all EU states have an obligation by law to insure sanitary living conditions the local authorities act ( social services ). Local children will be taken away from their parents if the parents are unable to provide an acceptable home, this is law. This has nothing to do with Sarkozy being a Nazi. The Nazi’s did not fly their victims in aircraft to their home countries. I think EU privileges/rights demand respect and obligations. The EU was never meant for a transcontinental homeless movement. We have come a huge distance since ’45 and this work needs to be respected. I agree with you 100% that turbo-capitalism is eating up portions of the welfare state, equating this with fascism is silly at best. There is also an undeniable Islamist problem all over the EU. Van Gogh’s murder and violent arrests in Holland underline this. We must not underestimate the Islamist penchant for violence, the way we underestimated the Nazi’s. continued…..

Dani Levi says:

…..I am a follower of Karl Loewenstein’s Militant Democracy. Loewenstein, fled Munich and spent the war in the US, was a law professor who because of what he witnessed in Germany realized that a democracy is only as good as it is to be able to defend itself.
I am not suggesting that all Muslims are militant or undemocratic. I do however wish to see those fanatical Muslims watched by our society the way we watch neo Nazis, or Stalinist’s. OR anybody else who’s world view fundamentally clashes with an open tolerant society. When anybody actively works towards the downfall of a democratic society they need to be called out. The Germans did not call out the NSDAP. But I will call out the Islamists, for chances are when a synagogue burns today, the petrol did not come from a neo Nazi. If you doubt that, please visit youtube and search for Muslim hate speech about Hebrews. It would have brought tears to the Fuehrers eyes, what is voiced there.

My comment about the “book culture” was not in the Biblical sense but in the contemporary illiterate. There are very high rates in North Africa and Pakistan. The UN said a few years back less books are translated into Arabic than Greek.
I can not comment on NL politics, but think that having the far right in the open is better than hiding them. A democracy must withstand storms, it makes it stronger. Let them be seen in their hate! Debate them. Like a stroppy child.

May I suggest before you get a “lock jaw” with Sarkozy, you research Islamist ideas about the caliphate, about kiffar, and other sub-fascist expressions out of the Islamist camp. My view is that parallels to the Nazi world view can not to be denied. Read the Hamas charter. It is straight out of the 1930′s with a higher calling -”Herrenrasse”- that would have made Himmler swoon.
You write Salaam, I say Masada shall never fall again.
Walk softly and carry a big stick.

Dani Levi says:

alright, I Wiki’d Schengen ( I was lazy ) here are a few quotes

” EEA citizens have the right of free movement and residence across the European Economic Area, as long as they are not an undue burden on the country of residence and have comprehensive sickness insurance cover.[4] This right also extends to close family members that are not EEA citizens.”

“To be fully covered by the European right of free movement, the EEA citizen needs to exercise one of the four treaty rights:
working as an employee (this includes looking for work for a reasonable amount of time),
working as a self-employed person,
studying,
being self-sufficient or retired.”

I sincerely doubt most Roma in France exercise the above. BUT I could be wrong. I wonder what the Romanians would do if 15.000 Dutch showed up in eighties caravans/mobile homes and just camped out all around Bucarest grillin’ and chillin’ ? I doubt they’d be welcome for long. And let’s be realistic here, the EU is first and foremost a economic union, and maybe second a pan European love fest.
Sausage anybody?

Jeanne says:

I have had many relationships with Muslims, but have found that if I do not agree with them politically or if I share with them that I am Jewish (actually I was raised with a Jewish identity but found out recently that I do not have Jewish ancestry), they react with anger, hostility, and violence. A friend of mine who is Pakistani told me when she found out that I was studying Judaism that all Jews are wicked and cut off all communication with me. An Iraqi hairdresser I know completely fried my hair with chemicals when I told him that I believe the state of Israel should exist. An Egyptian doctor I know told me that the Muslim world could end the suffering of the Palestinian people by integrating them into Jordan, but that they would not do that until Israel no longer existed. His mother is Palestinian, but he grew up in Cairo in the lap of luxury. I told him I thought it was a little hypocritical to talk about how others should be suffering for a cause he himself only supports vicariously. That was the end of our relationship. I am sorry to say that while you may have experienced tolerance and respect for your opinions among Jews, that I have not found Muslims so open to the the opinions of others. I wish they were, but in my experience they have a long way to go. Tolerance is a two-way street. expression. If Christians and Jews were to migrate en masse to the Middle East and were to complain about oppression, how tolerant do you think the Muslim world would be with our whining? I would love to see Muslims fully integrated into American society, but I am not sure the vast majority of them are willing to go that extra step to help bridge the divide between us. They are not willing to shed their antisemitism and their own bigotries. You are one in a million, Sabina, and I wish you luck and love.

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