The Media & Chapel Hill

A tragedy struck Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Tuesday, February 10th at 5pm, when a White 46-year-old man brutally murdered three Muslim Arab-Americans. The mainstream media did not report the hate crime until late Wednesday morning, after Muslims and non Muslims alike expressed their outrage at the media’s silence on social media outlets, where the popular hashtags “#MuslimLivesMatter” and “#ChapelHillShooting” were born.

Initially, the media dismissed the horrific crime as a mere parking dispute, an incredibly absurd and poor excuse that makes no logical sense – why would anyone kill three people over one parking space? After growing social media pressure and criticism, the media finally considered the possibility that the murder is, in fact, a hate crime, late Wednesday night.

It should take no one by surprise that the media, which essentially perpetuates Islamophobia and intolerance, greeted the Chapel Hill shooting with loud silence. There was no constant coverage and updates on the incident, no national outrage, no White people apologizing and condemning the attack, like there would have been if the killer was Muslim. This only demonstrates the double standard entrenched deep in the fabric of our society and upheld by this decadent media.

The mainstream media’s deliberate indifference to the death of people of color contributes to the White, Western narrative that always places the person of color as the culprit and the White man as the victim. This apathy goes beyond Chapel Hill, it stretches to the media coverage of Ebola, of ISIS, of Boko Haram, and of ethnic minorities around the world who don’t fit the White, Western profile.

Ebola remains a prevalent and serious threat in West Africa, but it’s no longer an urgent topic in the news because no Westerner is infected. It disappeared from headlines, although hundreds of Africans are still dying.

According to a report conducted by the United Nations, ISIS, a growing heinous peril in the world, kills and beheads more Muslims than it kills Westerners. However, the killings of Muslims and the mistreatment of Muslim women by ISIS receives little to no media attention. The killing of Westerners, on the other hand, garners extensive public outrage and media attention, because it’s the story that sells.

Around the same time of the Charlie Hebdo attack, Boko Haram killed up to 2,000 people. This elicited little coverage compared to the events in Paris, which dominated headlines. For 10 consecutive days, the New York Times printed at least one front page story about the Paris attack, and scantly covered the attack in Nigeria, consolidating Western media bias and disparity.

Further, Muslims in Central African Republic are ethnically cleansed and brutally murdered by Christian militias in an ongoing civil war. This also does not receive front-page headlines or lengthy coverage, rather, it’s shoved in the back burner, because it presents Muslims as victims and not as culprits. Portraying Muslims as victims would only distort the image of Muslims as violent terrorists, which does not fit into the media’s strategic agenda.

The media prioritizes and values Western lives over non-Western lives, completely dismissing the fundamental humanness equally found at the core of each life lost.

However, where broadcast media has tremendously failed, social media has thrived. Social media fills the silence that broadcast media purposely creates in 140 characters, share buttons, hashtags, and Instagram posts. It spreads news and information at the speed of a bullet after the trigger has been pulled, quickly and fiercely. It establishes no distinction between Muslim, Christian, Jew, White, Black, or Hispanic. Granted, it has its imperfections and flaws, but essentially, it reports what’s consciously left in the back burner.

After all, it was social media that told the world the poignant story of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha, quicker and better than any established media outlet.

First time at the United Nations

I had the privilege of attending the United Nations Economic and Social Youth Forum, a conference that gathers youth from all over the world to discuss worldwide economic and social development. Attending the forum proved to be a memorable experience that will serve me well in my career, but only as a means of how to engage with professionals and diplomats rather than a method of executing effective action. Here’s a reflection on my day at the UN:

It was my first time at the United Nations and my first time being in New York early in the morning on a bustling weekday. A stringent smell of cold coffee and an air of weariness and alacrity greeted me as I descended from my bus onto the Port Authority platform – yes, I’m trying to romanticize my experience, but, in reality, I was pushed and shoved a few times and a man scolded me for abruptly stopping in the middle of the sidewalk – totally New York.

I picked up some coffee and a quick breakfast from a cute, little French cafe to get something in my system – but really to fulfill the cliche image of a New Yorker fashionably rushing to work with a coffee in hand.

After being somewhat caffeinated and alert, I was ready to head over to the UN. My friend, who took the trip with me from Jersey, stopped a cab for me with her all-too-perfect New York suave. It was my first time riding a cab alone; it was a day full of “first times.” After about 5 minutes of silence in the cab only interrupted by the angry noise of New York traffic, I struck up a conversation with the cab driver, who later told me he was Bengali. I started by telling him that it must take some major skills to maneuver through these large crowded streets. He responded with a hearty laugh and told me he’s been cruising around the busy city for about 15 years now and knows it quite well. He started telling me about the difficulties of being a cab driver, and that the key is being able to determine a good customer from a bad customer by merely taking a look at the person. We went on to discuss politics and history before he dropped me off across the street from the UN.

So there I was, before the world’s arguably most institutionalized building, ready to discuss, but only discuss because, here, words often do not advance beyond dialogue and the topics on today’s agenda were no exception.

I would be utterly lying if I said the guards were nice, but yeah I get it, we live in a post-9/11 era, a post-Charlie Hedbo era, a mass school shootings era, a time period engulfed with fear and insecurity and combated with more fear and insecurity that this place authorizes, so yes, a thorough security check was due.

After some complicated navigation, I finally made it into the conference room where the forum was taking place. It started with a panel of distinguished people discussing the role and power of youth in Africa, how the youth have the potential to transform the status of Africa, and how it’s important to integrate girls and women into the movement. There was much talk about the drastic change expected to happen within 15 years, and more closely, the change expected to happen in 2020. The tone was too hopeful, too ambitious, or perhaps I’m too cynical and critical of empty rhetoric.

One panelist said something that accurately captured the mood of the conference. Ibrahim Ceesay expressed, “Youth policies without youth funding is bullshit.” The audience was taken by surprise that a diplomat sitting on a panel in the United Nations just said “bullshit,” but his honest remark was greeted with hysterical laughter because he addressed the big elephant the room, the truth we all quietly know. For the remainder of that panel “bullshit” was tossed around here and there.

Another panelist, Rachel Nyaradzo Adams, an educator at Yale University, made a critical point on gender equality. She articulated, “Our glorification of women shouldn’t mean the bastardization of men,” pointing to our tendency to neglect men in the advancement of women. She maintained the importance of educating both genders and of treating both sexes equally.

During lunch I had the opportunity to socialize and network with the other attendees. I approached the Libyan delegate, who had asked the panelists how youth can combat violence that’s reciprocated as a result of activism, to applaud her for bringing up an important issue, which had been brushed off by the panelists with an inadequate response that asserted that all activists face challenges and they somehow have to overcome them, without exactly emphasizing how. We started talking and she told me about a blog she started up called Writings from Benghazi, with the purpose of promoting awareness on Libyan issues through writing. I spoke with other delegates and they told me about the organizations they’re a part of and how they’re building their communities and bringing about change through means outside of the United Nations. Some also agreed on the ineffectiveness of this forum.

After a light lunch filled with interesting discussions ranging from the meaning of the Arab identity and the best stores to shop at in New York, I headed back to the conference room hoping things would take a turn. While sitting there listening to people in fancy clothes discuss important, faraway issues, I couldn’t help but think about HOW these words would be mobilized into action. It’s one thing to talk and a completely other thing to implement. One of the panelists noted how important it is to have grassroots organizations on board, to which I thought of course its important because it’s through grassroots that action is effectively taken.

At some point towards the end of the forum, I walked out and started writing this blog post. I felt like I was being told, or rather, reminded of what I already know: gender inequality persists, poverty remains prevalent in Africa and other places, and activism is frequently met with violence. What was critically absent in the dialogue is how these words can be transmitted into action.

I firmly believe that it’s not through a gathering of people in fancy clothes discussing empty jargon that change is executed, it’s through action, through investigative journalism, through protesting the status quo, through garnering awareness. Granted, it felt cool to say I spent the day at the United Nations, which only consolidates the notion that the UN is merely a popularized and prestigious institution that succeeded in creating a name for itself.

The forum essentially succeeded in starting a conversation on the involvement of youth in the advancement of society, but it failed to provide a step by step procedure on how to implement it and what further active steps will be taken after this fancy dialogue. If I have one word to capture the essence of the Forum it would be simply – and diplomatically – bullshit.

My Thoughts On Journalism

My passion for journalism ignited when I first picked up Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky, an outstanding book that reveals – with great journalistic clarity and quality – the unfortunate circumstances of women living throughout the developing world.

I read the book in the comfort of my first-world home loaded with basic – and excessive – conveniences and filled with amenities like indoor plumbing and electricity, both foreign to many. Unaware and oblivious to the atrocities happening thousands of miles away from home, I flipped through the pages with an unquenchable curiosity.

The book discussed with gruesome detail the poor and deteriorating living standards of women, many of whom are uneducated and illiterate, and have been raped, abused and frequently mistreated. One particular story of a 3-year-old Congolese girl still resonates with me. The young girl was shot in her vagina just because rape and sexual assault are weapons of war. Another story tells of an Indian girl who went to report her rape only to be raped again by the officer who was supposed to defend her.

In addition to detailing the bleak lives of women, Kristof and WuDunn actively encouraged their readers to overcome their fears of traveling to impoverished locations and instead to courageously make an impact and change in the world. The book opened my eyes and transformed my perspective on the world. It planted in me a desire to leave my comfort zone and travel to all corners of the world to report and draw awareness to events that don’t earn the proper attention they deserve.

After completing the book, I became aware of how sheltered I am from events happening all over the world and how preoccupied I am with unnecessary and petty things when calamities are happening all around me. Perhaps it was also because I was still in high school and only concerned with the latest trends and movies and the little gossip I could mull over with my friends.

I started reading the newspaper more to keep myself updated. I began to familiarize myself with the rhetoric and style of journalists and noticed how swift and hasty the news is; one day a story is popular and the next it’s no longer a front-page headline. It fascinated me how rapidly the news functions, not waiting for anyone or anything, but rather traveling at its own speed, and only allowing a short time for reflection and understanding until another story rushes forward.

I paid special attention to the presentation of Muslims and Arabs in the media and noticed how frequently misrepresented they are. I began to notice how biased and impartial the media can be to skew its audience in a certain direction, how it can paint only a sliver of the truth and convincingly present it as a whole picture. The misrepresentation of Muslims and Arabs in the mainstream media fueled my desire to accurately inform even more. I wanted so badly to be a voice for Muslims in the Western world, to dismantle misconceptions and replace them with the truth that is often deliberately obscured.

I found that the media’s impartiality doesn’t only exist in the Western world; rather, it exists everywhere. For instance, Egypt’s state-sponsored media fits perfectly into army strongman and dictator Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s undemocratic agenda. Egyptian popular media often presents Sisi as a kind gentleman who seeks to protect and defend Egypt. It justifies Sisi’s brutal murder of over 500 people who were peacefully protesting in Raba Square, and defends Sisi’s law banning public protests under the disguise that it serves to protect the interest and safety of all Egyptians.

The more I read and the more I began to grasp the world around me, the more I began to realize the absence of objectivity in the news that firmly claims to be impartial.

My understanding of objectivity was questioned when I read Jorge Ramos’ speech at the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Awards. Ramos discussed the importance of taking a stand against injustice and refusing to side with corrupt people in power. He articulated, “The best of journalism happens when we, purposely, stop pretending that we are neutral and recognize that we have a moral obligation to tell truth to power.” He quoted Elie Wiesel, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

His speech made me reconsider my reverence for objectivity that doesn’t even exist and essentially strives to balance and equate the oppressor with the oppressed, the weak with the powerful. He made me reckon that perhaps objectivity is another weapon of war and not an agent of justice.

The more I read, the more words enthralled me. They contain the power to alter and modify an entire definition and understanding of something. The more I wrote, the more I found it important, and often difficult, to find the right, adequate word to capture the essence of the topic at hand without transforming the truth.

Despite its many flaws, journalism is a vital component of society that serves to educate and inform. Its challenges are many, but at its core is the truth waiting to be exposed.

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie // I am not Charlie

Je suis triste. I am sad, disheartened, and angered that sick people repeatedly employ the name of Islam to justify their horrific attacks, which are tailored to suit their own agenda and not to embody the tranquil principles of Islam.

In light of the recent attack in Paris, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones for unjustified purposes. I would like to articulate my profound apologies for the millions of Muslims living in Western countries who will suffer from extreme Islamophobia and racism that’s subtly justified by the mainstream media. I would like to extend my sincerest remorse to the thousands of innocent civilians living in Muslim countries, who were robbed of an opportunity to live, and who will have their lives stolen from them, under the disguise of the “war on terror” that can so easily be translated to the “war on Islam.”

Charlie Hedbo, a French satirical magazine, frequently illustrated disrespectful and offensive depictions of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Blacks, and other minority groups. The newspaper artfully masked hate and racism with freedom of expression to permit itself to rightfully and continuously mock and attack minorities.

Joe Sacco, a cartoonist, raises an important question in his recent cartoon on the attack; he asks, where is the line drawn between freedom of expression and freedom to express hate?

In 2009, Maurice Sinet, a former columnist for Charlie Hedbo, was fired for refusing to apologize for his anti-Semitic illustration. This raises critical questions, why is it justified for the magazine to repeatedly portray anti-Islamic depictions? Does Charlie Hedbo truly believe in freedom of speech or is it customized to accommodate a selected few?

Murdering journalists is not moral nor ethical, but neither is disparaging an already marginalized culture in French society.

Beyond the prejudices of Charlie Hedbo, French society is perhaps one of the most hostile towards minorities and immigrants. The Washington Post reported in 2008 that approximately 60 to 70 percent of inmates in France are Muslim, despite Muslims only making up about 12% of the country’s population. This statistic should be taken into serious consideration when examining the current situation in France.

Its also imperative to note that France was the first European country to ban the wear of the burqa, Islamic attire that covers the entire body leaving only the eyes revealed. The ban clearly violates French Muslims’ basic right to freedom of religion by restricting Muslim women to not wear what they voluntarily choose to wear. In 2013, a Muslim woman suffered a miscarriage after two men attacked her for wearing a burqa. Her attackers ripped her clothes off and cut her hair. In 2014, a European Human Rights Court upheld France’s ban on the burqa and deemed it legal after a Muslim woman challenged the law, further justifying France’s overt racism that’s etched in its political policies.

The Independent featured an article in 2012 that discussed how Islamophobia is a norm in French media, after a popular French newspaper ran the headline: “Brazen Islam…in school cafeterias, hospitals, and swimming pools.” The Interior Minister of France at the time, Manuel Valls, was asked on a popular talk show about the headline; he replied, “It expresses a reality. What I find shocking, and I will always find shocking, is a fully-veiled woman.”

Unfortunately, this discrimination will only be heightened after the recent attack. Muslims in France are already experiencing hateful retributions for attacks they did not commit and acts that do not exemplify the true ideals of Islam.

In addition to Muslim discrimination in France, Romanian immigrants are also victims of prevalent French hostility. In 2010, The New York Times reported that over 8,000 Romanians were expelled from France.

This overt racism also extends to French Blacks. In 2013, the Justice Minister of France, Christiane Taubira, was likened to a monkey for the color of her skin by a candidate for the right-wing National Front party. Its incredibly troubling that a woman, who holds such a high office, is ridiculed for her race; one can only imagine what average French Blacks suffer.

In an article for Slate, Justin Peters asserts that this kind of racism and ostracization of minorities and religious groups is ubiquitous and common within French society. Peters explains that Charlie Hedbo’s illustrations only embody French nationalist sentiments and define “Frenchness” exclusively to secular natives.

Given the facts stated above, its critical to understand France’s political policies and social norms before instantly labeling Islam a barbaric and savage religion that strives to callously persecute non-Muslims. Understanding these facts provide an essential context for which one can examine the recent attack in Paris.

It should also be noted that there are several verses in the Quran that explicitly denounce murder. Moreover, there are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world; the isolated acts of a few should not collectively represent the entire body of Muslims. The KKK and Westboro Baptist Church do not represent all Christians, and not all Germans were Nazis, the same standard should be applied to Muslims.

Je suis triste. I am sad, disheartened, and angry because the world chooses to selectively see a sliver of the truth. Just like the world united to condemn the gruesome attack on Charlie Hedbo, it should also collectively denounce explicit racism and hate.

DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT support or condone the Charlie Hedbo attacks, or any deadly attacks. Also, not all French people are racist.

Palestine Understood

Palestinian-Loss-Of-Land-1946-2010 As a Muslim and Arab, growing up I always blindly sided with Palestine in the crisis that plagues the “Promised Land.” I was compliant with what my parents believed and followed along obediently. As I started to get older, I wanted to educate myself by myself to understand the situation more and to decide for myself who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. I always had an intuition that Palestine was the victim, but I wanted to confirm that intuition with concrete evidence and facts. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading on the issue and really equipping myself with information to adequately defend myself against any Zionists I encounter. The facts I’ve gathered from various sources are staggering and have only confirmed my intuition that Palestine is in fact a victim of a brutal occupation and siege by Israel.

Lets look at some facts.

In 1948, Israel with the support of Britain and the UN forcefully and without the consent of the Palestinians declared itself a state and established its borders within Palestine, displacing over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and their land, many of whom have yet to return. This event is known as Al-Nabka, or The Catastrophe.

In 1967 Israel seized land from neighboring Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and the West Bank in the Six Day War and implemented an economic and medical blockade against Palestinians that only further anguished the lives of Palestinians. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, but continues to occupy the West Bank and Gaza. This siege and illegal occupation continues today and violates UN Resolution 242, that states Israel should withdraw from land seized in the 1967 war and that Israel should respect and recognize other states’ sovereignty.

Israel continues to displace Palestinians from their land that they’ve owned for generations to illegally build Jewish settlements.  There are currently over 121 Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian land seized in 1967. Furthermore, Israel is an apartheid state. It constructs bypass roads and highways that connect Jewish settlements without passing Palestinian neighborhoods, creating a network that keeps all Jewish settlers connected while secluding and segregating Palestinians, and making it difficult for Palestinians to travel in their own land. Moreover, it issues Palestinians different identity papers and license plates to easily target and harass Palestinians.

Israel continuously infringes international law and commits war crimes and human rights abuses documented by the UN and by other NGOs that go overlooked by major American media outlets like CNN. For instance, Israel has been accused by Human Rights Watch of employing white phosphorous against Palestinians. Moreover, Israel specifically targets civilian locations to bomb in Gaza, as evidenced in the summer of 2014 when Israel launched a brutal military attack on Gaza that the Western media labeled as “retaliation.” A mere look at the number of the deaths from both sides, over 2,000 Palestinians and under 80 Israelis, can clearly illustrate who has the upper-hand, who is more capable of destruction, and who is threatening.

Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes under the excuse that they do not have permits, to ethnically cleanse and dispossess Palestinians. It establishes various checkpoints throughout the West Bank and Gaza making it difficult for labor, goods and people to move around, creating more economic hardships for Palestinians who already have an unemployment rate of over 20%. Not to mention the 40% of Gazans living under the poverty line. The consequences of this siege are endless.

The list of atrocities is endless.

It completely baffles me how much the media continues to justify Israeli occupation under the disguise that Israel is combating “terrorism” and “has a right to defend itself.” One can’t just steal someone’s land then negotiate how much of it should be returned. The American media is so filtered and monitored by Israeli PR corporations that it portrays the situation as a “conflict” in which both sides are at fault. Because of this normalization and sanitization of language in the media, the American public, educated by this misguided and misinformed media, fails to see the truth and raw facts on the ground, and consequently supports a ruthless regime.

According to renowned journalist Robert Fisk, CNN sent a memorandum to its staff in the Middle East demanding that a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem, Gilo, to be referred to as a “neighborhood” rather than a “settlement.” This linguistic cleanse of words conceals and alters the truth. It paints a picture of a pleasant, quiet, suburban “neighborhood,” that Americans can identify and sympathize with, rather than an illegal Israeli and exclusively Jewish “settlement” situated on stolen territory. This is only one example of the plethora of euphemisms employed by the media to skew its audience.

And lets face it, America only supports Israel because of its interest in the oil-rich region to have an ally that will constantly and unwaveringly support it under any circumstances.

If one merely assays the facts and evidence, one will find that Israel is the culprit of several atrocious crimes.

Although I still have much reading and research to conduct and accumulate, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have to be Arab or Muslim to sympathize with and support the plight of the Palestinians as they undergo this illicit and inhumane occupation, rather, I only have to be human.

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic. I, in NO way, support anyone who attacks Jews or Judaism.

True Islamic Ideologies

This is a VERY IMPORTANT article discussing how Islamic scholars gathered to debunk all the ideologies of ISIS(or ISIL) and to prove that Islam does not support or condone such violent and repugnant behavior. It’s very important for this article to be made more public because many people do in fact believe that Islam advocates such atrocious ideologies. In the article you can find the actual document the Islamic scholars wrote to refute ISIS’s misinterpretation of Islam. As a Muslim, it’s very significant for me to dismantle any misconceptions about Islam and to illuminate the true beliefs of the religion. This is not a religion that supports violence and terrorism, rather it is a religion that promotes equality and peace. Please, please read this article and spread the word.

http://guardianlv.com/2014/09/islamic-scholars-dismantle-isis-ideology-in-open-letter-to-leader-fighters/

Courage and Hope Amid Turmoil

The Arab Spring may have failed to produce democratic and free governments in most Arab nations, but it succeeded in planting courage within the hearts of thousands, Arab or not. Thousands have been protesting from every corner of the world for Palestine regardless of the consequences, as evidenced in Paris, where thousands gathered to condemn the Israeli occupation despite the ban on pro-Palestine protests. It is that courage and determination that will eventually lead to a free Palestine, and more broadly, to democratic Arab nations that will strive to stand united and strong in the face of western political pressure regardless of the cost.