The Sound of Music and Partition and How Normal Everything Can Be Made to Seem

One of my favorite films growing up was the Sound of Music. I know, I know–but one of the scenes I found most confusing was towards the end, where the VonTrapps go perform in a show in a big theater just before fleeing the Nazi regime. I thought surely, in times such as those, no one would be performing in theaters and doing things that seemed at once so normal and so frivolous.

It turns out that this is a dangerous misunderstanding of how things work. Right now, American democracy is under serious attack and the federal government is being actively starved and narrowed to increasingly autocratic and erratic rule.

And yet, life goes on. We are, inevitably, preoccupied with the stuff of life. In some ways, this helps us retain our sanity—at least we aren’t those bizarre militia guys in the backwoods of Georgia preparing for a culture war by shooting guns in the woods. On the other hand, we spend a lot of time hoping that if we just do things as we always have, we’ll continue to have the lives that we’ve always had. When you’re Muslim in America today, this is both an exceptionally comforting and an exceptionally naïve approach.

While I was rambling about this very thing this morning, my husband reminded me that his mother and her family fled Hyderabad, India, by “going to the cinema.” As part of the Muslim Hyderabadi elite in the middle of what was suddenly a postcolonial Hindu state, his family was already under house arrest. The brutality of partition had begun, and they were certain that their lives were at risk. Still, on one occasion, they were permitted the seemingly innocuous freedom of a trip to the local cinema under armed guard. With the guards at the front of the theater and the movie underway, they slipped out the side doors, split up and made their way alternately westward across India to Pakistan, and (in the case of my mother-in-law, who was a young child, her siblings, and their Mum) toward what is now Bangladesh and onto a boat around the tip of India to rejoin the rest of the family.

That day, having legitimate fear that they would all be separated, dispossessed, and possibly executed in the place their family had called home for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, they went to the cinema. Which was still functioning. During partition, in which millions of people lost their lives in perhaps the largest mass relocation of humans in history, it was still normal enough to go to the cinema that it was not suspicious at all. Because everyone was still mostly pretending that nothing had changed.

So that’s what we’ve been chewing on around here.

What’s Headed for You

I’d like to point out that we’ve crossed well over the line into President Bannon’s vision for destabilizing America. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just google the key words from that sentence all together.) This isn’t about racism or bigotry or misogyny. Or at least, not just those things.

The Executive Order and budget proposal calling for agencies to kill entire departments? I’d put my money on every Office of Civil Rights across the executive branch. But beyond that, these agencies govern every service and protection that ordinary Americans—every last one of the 99%–rely on every day. Schools, hospitals, roads, food: all of them are envisioned, researched, organized, funded and regulated by the executive agencies. This is a war on the actual functioning of society, on the quality of life that the vast majority of Americans (even the ones who say they don’t) enjoy.

Stopping Canadian church groups from coming to do Hurricane Sandy clean-up in poor American neighborhoods? Canadian nurses from getting to their hospital jobs in Michigan? Those are white and mostly Christian folk. There’s not even an arguably racist “national security” motive there. That’s a very North Korea move to keep outsiders from seeing what’s actually happening in our neighborhoods and hospitals while our “Dear Leader” crows about making America great.

This administration is dismantling the government. Congress was already compromised, and so now are executive agencies. The only remaining “check or balance” besides you and I is the judiciary. You know what that reminds me of? Pakistan. And I love the people and cultures of Pakistan. But things run, mostly, like a donkey cart missing a wheel because people survive in spite of, not with the support of, their government. Meanwhile, government leaders have lives of unimaginable wealth and luxury. That’s what’s headed straight for you.

Dear Beloved Resistance

Dear Beloved Resistance,

We now have a President and Cabinet who almost certainly have no interest in the safety or well-being of their people. Many of us marched in the streets last weekend in an awesome show of solidarity against Trump and all that he promises and stands for. It was, by several accounts, the largest global protest in history.

But in the hours and days following the march, we began to size each other up, tear each other down, and occasionally thoughtfully critique each other’s politics and intentions. Donald Trump poses an unprecedented threat to all of us. It is true that some of us are more used to being targeted by the government than others of us. Some of us come from a history several generations long of being targeted by the government. But as far as I can tell, whoever we are and whatever our level of privilege, things are about to get a whole lot worse for every last one of us. Here are some uncomfortable truths, and some thoughts on what we need to do about them to succeed in the fight against Trump.

We all have limited resources. We can’t use them battling each other. However hurt your feelings are, however offended you might feel that your fellow resisters are not ideologically in line with you or woke enough or culturally sensitive enough, that’s nothing compared to what is on the horizon from your own government. That goes for everybody. Brown bodies, Black bodies, white bodies, female bodies, trans bodies, differently-abled bodies. A wise activist told me once to practice not being offended. Let’s practice not being offended so we can preserve our resources for the big battles.

On the other hand, we all need to practice being offended by things that do not directly affect us or our families. We can all find a few moments to think about what it is to walk in someone else’s shoes. When you read the news, look for the attacks that won’t affect you directly, and try to imagine what they might mean for your neighbour or for the folks you marched with last weekend.

The more narrowly we define ourselves, the worse off we are. If we can act collectively as a broad coalition of people who do not want to live in an authoritarian state, that’s a LOT of people. A lot of people are harder to control than a few people. Let’s open up the tent. Hell, let’s ditch the tent and build the coalition we need right now.

Coalitions, by definition, contain people who are not alike. We are not going to build intimacy and radical love and acceptance among us overnight. We might not even learn to accept each other’s versions of history and reality. But we marched because we could agree on one thing: we see Donald Trump as an imminent threat to our bodies, to our country, to our families and our futures. Coalitions are strong because they aggregate the broadest divergent groups aimed at a narrow political goal. Coalitions have been used to effectively demand civil rights, suffrage, and justice throughout our history. Sometimes, the most vulnerable groups are overshadowed within a coalition. We should be conscious of this and correct for it. Sometimes, the most vulnerable groups have the most to gain from working in coalition. We are, indeed, stronger together.

Working in coalition means that we do not demand that the coalition represent our every interest, or act upon our every critique. When we choose to work together, there is a great potential benefit. There is also sometimes a cost. Whenever we work in coalition, our individual interests have to be negotiated with the group. We may not always feel heard or seen or understood. Individual members of the coalition may have good will, and may make space to learn more about others, but not everyone will. Sometimes we will have to accept not being fully met in order to reap the benefits of coalition, and to free the coalition up to achieve its objective.

“Consciousness raising” and “intersectional dialogue” in big public forums are easily manipulated by people who want to divide us. Right now, most of us feel targeted by the Trump administration and the Republican Congress. We feel targeted for any number of reasons: because we are women, we are Muslim, we are Black, we are Mexican, we are disabled, we are in need of reliable health care, we are immigrants, we are LGBTQ or gender nonconforming, we are human and would like clean drinking water, or any number of other situations. We do not come from the same places or experiences. We have a lot to learn about each other. Some of that needs to be worked out right this minute in order to have any coalition at all. And some of it can and should wait because those conversations are big and important, but also use up limited time and energy resources that we need to stop Trump. All of it needs to be done respectfully, and with integrity. The more successful we are, the more powerful the efforts to divide us will be. The more willing to trash each other we are, the less likely we are to succeed.

We can only stop the rapid decline of our democracy, as imperfect as it may be, if we act strategically, as a coalition. Identity politics get in the way of our mission. There are many important things that will not be accomplished by this mission. But none of those things will be accomplished without it.

Trump’s presidency promises a level of destruction and uncertainty that may make progress for any of us a distant dream. Stopping Trump may only be one step, but it is the most critical step and it is before us, all of us together, today.

Time for Discernment: A Muslim Women Calls on Her Buddhist Cousins in Faith

To read at Tricycle: https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/a-time-for-discernment/
The last time I had worn a hijab, a headscarf, on the street was 11 years ago, when I was a practicing public interest attorney in Philadelphia. I’ve worn it for prayers since then, but this time I wore it to go to the grocery store near the small town on the Delaware River where I am raising my two young children. It was several days after our country elected Donald Trump, and I wanted to reassure myself that my world was still full of goodness and light. I wanted to watch others see past what I was wearing on my head. And because my local Trader Joe’s is in true-blue New Jersey, I got what I came for. It’s been important to remember that people are still mostly good and kind.

As with practices in every faith tradition, wearing hijab is meant to clear the excess away, to allow for some surrender of the stuff of this world, and to re-center the essential being-ness that abides in each of us. I have to admit, practice has been difficult for me of late. It’s been hard to find my way to the prayer mat. Everything feels a little off-kilter, and my priorities are not an exception. So while I am far more balanced when I am observing the ritual of prayer for a few minutes five times each day, it’s not been easy to rid myself of the mind chatter or to pull my focus away from the news cycle that always seems more pressing.

But practice is more important than ever. It’s in practice that we, from each of our faith traditions, learn to recognize ourselves in the other and to nourish our own capacities for discernment. And in this era of fake news and a president-elect who contradicts himself with alarming regularity, discernment is critical.

I am an American Muslim, born to Pakistani immigrants. During my childhood, my parents practiced Islam the way that fish swim in water. It was as unstudied as the air they breathed. But I grew up in conflict with the mix of religion and culture that they offered. In time, though, I found the element I had been missing in Sufi Muslim spirituality. I would only later learn that Sufism figured deeply in the original Islamic tradition of my family for generations, as it has for many millions of Muslims around the world. While Sufism is popularly understood to be a mystic branch of Islam, in truth it is not a branch but the very heart of Islam. It is that kernel of light at the heart of faith; the breath of wisdom and understanding without which practice feels empty. It looks like the spinning of the whirling dervish or the sound of zikr (chanting the names of the Divine), but for a devotee, it is ultimately the polishing of the inner self, the spirit.

And so, it is through practice that I am finding a way to both see and survive the ongoing drama of this presidential election. Sometimes, that practice is with the zikr circle to which my family belongs; sometimes it is in the constant test of patience that is parenting my two young children; sometimes it is in the act of prostrating in prayer. And I can see that this spiritual maintenance will be essential in the coming months and years. Before even taking office, Donald Trump has shaped public discourse in America so that it is now acceptable to publicly assert the malevolence of Muslims and the illegitimacy of Islam as a faith.

I once comforted myself that anti-Muslim bigotry was on the margins of our society, along with anti-Semitism and overt racism and misogyny. Both President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush were careful to draw a distinction between the tiny minority of violent extremists who claim Islam as their own and Islam’s 1.6 billion peaceful adherents around the world. I, along with the vast majority of American Muslims, found shelter in the space they created to acknowledge us and our faith.

But that space has narrowed painfully, Continue reading

What Won’t She Sell Out? The Opportunism of Asra Nomani

“…For some reason, Nomani has chosen this moment to stop walking that thin line, unapologetically aligning herself with President-elect Donald Trump. In this article, she lists her nonsensical reasons for supporting Trump: Obamacare and the president’s loan modification program, “HOPE NOW,” didn’t help her. Rural Americans in her hometown of Morgantown, WV are still struggling to make ends meet.

Nomani does not link a single one of these factors to any credible plan or promise Trump has to resolve these issues. That’s probably because there aren’t any such arguments to be made…” Read More

Anti-Muslim Extremists: The SPLC’s Field Guide

“…You may remember SPLC’s astounding report, The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nations Schools. It provided the results of an online survey that found widespread anxiety in and increased harassment of Muslim students and other students of color. The report is an important tool for parents, educators, and activists who are on the front lines, arguing that the changes in their children’s school environments must be met with proactive anti-hate messaging, diversity training, and Islam education and awareness.

SPLC has just released their Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists, which profiles 15 prominent anti-Muslim extremists….Read More