CNN’s Don Lemon asked the Senior Editor of the Islamic Monthly if he supports ISIS. Yes, he did.

In my teaching career, I have never actually had anyone ask me about my sympathies related to Muslim-majority countries, causes, political movements, the benefit of halal marshmallows, whatever. Once, during the semester that I taught “Islam in America,” a student wrote in his evaluation,”Professor Jerome is an apologist for radical Islam.” I still have that evaluation and it’s a beauty. Happily, no one on national television has ever asked me if I’m an apologist for radical Islam. When I heard about Arsalan Iftikhar’s interview with Don Lemon,  in the midst of the Charlie Hebdo horrors, I started to feel a little wistful. During the interview, Lemon straight-up asks the Senior Editor of the Islamic Monthly (and Human Rights Attorney, FYI) a super hard hitting question: “Do you support ISIS?” That’s like going on National Television, interviewing the Pope and asking him if he supports the Klan. You can see the entire interview here at The Muslim Guy. It really must be seen to be believed.

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Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo

My thoughts are still pretty scattered about the massacre at Charlie Hebdo yesterday, I even left work with a migraine, because my brain just couldn’t take it all in. As an Islamicist, I really struggle on days like this because the vitriol is overwhelming and the necessity to compartmentalize: loons over here, everyone else over here, is exhausting. I’m going to just write my thoughts down here in bullet points and hope that they coalesce into something that makes some sense.

  • The massacre is only in part about freedom of speech. As I understand it, it is really more a part of France’s (and greater Europe’s) “Muslim problem.” France more than any other country in Europe has made every effort to legislate secularism, reduce the influence and “French-ness” of North African immigrants from their former colonies, and to downplay the legacy of colonialism. France cannot be simultaneously liberal, secular, and suppressing their religious minorities because that simply transfers colonial systems of governance to France proper. It didn’t work the first time outside of France, it’s certainly not going to work inside France.
  • The decline in homogeneity in Europe. The United States has always struggled with integration, whether that be Irish immigrants like my grandparents or African-Americans. It’s an ongoing, shifting, and, as we’ve seen in recent months, often violent as the old order is forced to change. I can understand where that’s scary for many people and compounded with what is broadcast about Islam in the media, not to mention the murders of some high profile Europeans the hands of radicalized Muslim youth, it’s certainly anxiety-inducing.
  • These events shouldn’t surprise me, but they do. Americans think of Europe as some kind of bubble of sophistication: at the turn of the century, young women flocked to Europe to marry nobility, now they flock to Europe to study and have their pictures taken at the Eiffel Tower and Prada. When places like the Netherlands and France are attacked, even I ask myself, “What? Why! These people grow tulips and wear wooden shoes and produced Monet!” What these attacks show us though is the darker underbelly of 21st century Europe as it comes to terms with its colonial legacy, trans-nationalism, and policies set in place mid-century that now have serious repercussions.
  • I find the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo to be every kind of phobic. They’re grotesque and they are racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, every kind of phobic that you could imagine. AvantBlargh nails this in her Tumblr post here.
  • Finally, what confuses me the most is that if you wanted to stop this magazine, then why carry out a massacre that would mean that images not just of the victims but of the offending cartoons would be beamed around the world? Now everyone knows why these cartoonists were murdered. Everyone is now looking at cartoons of Muslim women being defiled, the Prophet Muhammad being caricatured, and on it goes. All of the kufir have now seen these images. Was it really worth it? Instead of protecting or avenging the Prophet, they made sure that the offending material was shared with everyone. I’ve seen more copies of the cartoon now than I’ve seen portraits of the people murdered.
  • Pretty much half of my Facebook yesterday changed their profile pictures to “#jesuischarlie.” I already have problems with social media campaigning, changing Facebook profile pictures for the cause du jour (#bringbackourgirls, #ferguson, etc.) because although the intention is sincere, the outcome is completely empty.

Open Letter to Girl on the 4:35 Orange Line Train to Oak Grove

Dear Girl on the 4:35 Orange Line Train,

I boarded the outbound train to Oak Grove, headed for Sullivan Square, after you did. The first car no less, I remember because I almost fell down the stairs at Downtown Crossing on my way to catch the train. I was excited because there was an empty seat and I could try sitting down during my evening commute. I sat next to you but I felt uncomfortable sitting, it seemed indulgent to just go a few stops and take up a seat, so I stood-up again.

The train lumbered along and when we got to Haymarket, two ladies boarded our train. I’m sure that you remember these two ladies. Two ladies in long coats and one wearing a beautiful blue scarf with colourful sequin flowers along the borders. Two ladies in long coats in a sea of shirt sleeves, sleeveless tops, linen pants, and pencil skirts. The two companions had to sit apart from each other, so they sat facing one another on the train. The older of the two ladies took the seat I was sitting in, the one right next to you, before I decided to get up and stand for the rest of the trip.

At some point, you decided that you found this veiled lady next to you offensive. I only know this, because her companion was gesturing about it, confused and hurt. When I looked at the lady sitting next to you and saw her face, she looked at me, confused as to why you found her offensive. Apparently you found her so offensive in fact, that when I looked down, you were holding your nose. Not just holding your finger beneath your nose or breathing through your mouth, you were HOLDING YOUR NOSE. Let me just say that again, because I still can’t quite wrap my head around this, you were HOLDING YOUR NOSE!!! What?

Unfortunately for you, you were probably sitting next to one of the safest passengers you could ever sit next to on the MBTA. Ever. You were sitting next to a woman who is probably fasting today because it’s Ramadan. It’s 93 degrees outside today and if you knew that it was Ramadan and that this woman is fasting, maybe you would understand that this woman has not had water since before sunrise. This woman has not had a single thing to eat since before sunrise. She is dressed modestly and, do I have to repeat myself? It is 93 degrees. I am an Episcopalian in linen and I am sweating through my clothes. God knows what I smell like right now! She is not intending to offend you or your delicate sensibilities. She is in the midst of Ramadan where denying her worldly sustenance brings her closer to God (Allah). Thirty days of fasting. She is tired, she is probably on her way to visit family or find some cool refuge or somewhere to sustain her spirit until she can break the fast at sundown (iftar). This is one of her few indulgences of the day: to sit in an air conditioned train and rest. And there you sit, holding your nose because this woman offends you. Did you notice that the entire car is mostly empty? It’s Tuesday afternoon in Boston on the Orange Line and it’s E-M-P-T-Y. You know when that happens? It doesn’t. So unless the Rapture happened before the evening commute, congratulations, we all got lucky today. There’s more than enough space for you to move, to go to another seat, especially since you’re so offended.

I didn’t want to say anything and draw attention to the two companions. I didn’t want to embarrass these ladies. I just wanted you to get your hand away from your nose and realize that everyone who gets on that train every night is struggling in some way. Fighting their way through something, day or night. For the limited time your paths cross, just for one stop or ten, I know it’s hard on the MBTA, but please, be patient.