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The Blood is on Your Hands (J’Accuse)

Posted by Anthony on September 1, 2010

By Anthony J. Aschettino

There is not much time left; nobody really knows how much, but we feel that a number less than ten years is probably a good ballpark to go by. Ten years. That’s how long Americans have to decide the future of Islam in America. Ten years to decide what kind of a future society Americans want to build, and what sort of social atmosphere they want to exist for their children in the coming decades.

Of course we are not speaking to all Americans here; rather, we are speaking to “Americans™”. We are speaking to the conservative, right wing denizens of this country who are doing their best, and sadly succeeding in many respects, to drive a definitive wedge between America and Islam. Their constant demonizing of the religion is sowing the seeds of a future harvest that will see the crippling of the America that most ordinary people know and desire, and that grim visage will be an unalterable fact after a certain point. The event horizon is looming in the near distance, and the right wing in this country is hell-bent on diving head-first into it.

Islam in America is one of the great opportunities for the twenty-first century. There is a chance to develop a highly intellectual, moderate version of the religion that is bereft of many of the problems that plague the faith in other parts of the world. Islam in America is not driven by cultural realities as it is in the Arab Middle East, nor sectarian divides as it is elsewhere. With the exception of an extreme minority, present in every group, American Muslims are happy going about their daily lives without the pressures that exist on Muslims elsewhere in the world. Shia or Sunni, conservative or liberal, there is room in American Islam for all kinds of individuals. The very liberalism that has defined America since its inception is the fertile ground into which many immigrants have chosen to stake a claim, determined to avoid the very issues that drove them to come here in the first place.

Up until recently, there were no overt problems with this. Despite some cultural differences, American Muslims have mostly assimilated into the fabric of this society, and they have passed on their values and aspirations to the next generation of young Muslims. Not just the immigrant Muslims, but also those who have chosen to adopt Islam as a religion and way of life. If there was anywhere that Muslims could find acceptance and the ability to live according to their own desires, it was America.

That is all changing now. Conservative bloggers have spewed their hate-filled invectives against any Muslim group or project they come across. Media organizations such as Fox “News” (and we hesitate in the extreme to use that term in association with that company) are ever determined to misrepresent facts and continue to stoke the growing paranoia and distrust about Islam both at home and abroad. The “Tea Party” movement, a modern day pitiful amalgamated scion of all of those xenophobic organizations from years past, is marching arm-in-arm with conservative Christian groups in their efforts to make America one nation under a very specific god. The policies of fear and race-baiting have made a comeback to levels not seen since the 1950s, when the Red Scare and segregation were legitimate political tools used to cow progressive movements into submission.

Within ten years the current generation of young Muslims, those who are growing up and becoming socially and politically conscious at this very moment, will be adults. They will be deciding what kind of future they have in this country, and what kind of country it really is. As it stands now, we want them to look up to men such as Imam Rauf of Cordoba House fame. If the anti-Islam movement in this country continues its crusade, they will look up to men such as Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with that idea from the point of view of the anti-Muslim bigots; hate and fear always need a bogeyman, and communism has never really been the same as an enemy since the Soviet Union imploded. Despite all of the right wing’s purported hankering for a “moderate” Islam, what they really want is an Islam that fulfills their most violent fantasies. They want an Islam where bearded desert men wrapped in robes force their women to wear virtual tents in public. They want an excuse for their hatred, fuelled by the belief that Christ’s Second Coming is just around the corner.

On the other side of the coin are groups such as CAIR who love these events occurring just as much as the right loves committing them: such acts support their propaganda that “Islamophobia” is ever present and it drives Muslims into their arms when they purport to represent them. Such opportunistic and duplicitous groups are the Ying and Yang of an American problem; both sides are equally complicit in fostering societal paranoia.

Given the way things are moving, it will be depressing but not completely unexpected if the Know Nothing/ Tea Party ends up having their way. That way will manifest itself one day when one of those young men who convinced himself that there really was no place in America for Muslims decides to ignite a car-bomb in the Lincoln Tunnel or fire an RPG at a lumbering plane approaching Newark Airport from across the Turnpike. Sure, nobody can be “driven” to do anything; such talk is simply an excuse for the criminal according to the right. Yet they are desperately trying to ignite the fuse on a global conflagration that cannot be won through military means in the modern era; they are leading America down a path that will end with countless unnecessary deaths and the destruction of the very society to which they allege fealty.

At that time, albeit too late, we will all weep for the lives lost and we will all bemoan the fact that it has come to that, but there will be those of us who can still show our faces in the light of day. Conversely, there will be those, many of whom are alive today, to whom we will say when recounting the needless dead “J’Accuse! Their blood is on your hands.”

Posted in Americas, Culture, Politics, Religion | Leave a Comment »

Cowardice and Appeasement: The AAP and Female Genital Mutilation

Posted by Anthony on May 8, 2010

By Anthony J. Aschettino

The practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), sometimes referred to euphemistically as “female circumcision”, is a cultural practice in which young girls have parts of their genitalia removed in order to “tame” their sexuality. The practice ranges in its severity from a simple “trimming” of the genitalia (hence the reference to “circumcision” allusion) to a wholesale cutting and shaving of both the labia and clitoris. Often performed by unlicensed individuals in unsanitary conditions, and without any form of anesthesia, it is horribly painful both physically and emotionally.

Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics has decided to endorse this heinous cultural practice by suggesting that doctors be allowed to inflict a small “nick” on the genitalia of those baby girls whose families come from cultures where this practice is prevalent in the effort to discourage the parents from having the “real” act performed on their daughters. It is a complete and utter abomination that such an organization would even contemplate appeasing such a thing, and it fails on multiple fronts to deal with the reality of the forces behind the act of FGM.

Primarily, FGM endures because of cultural beliefs that center around the “problematic” sexuality of the female. The blame for promiscuity in patriarchal societies is often laid at the feet of the female; the west has only to look back to the days of chastity belts and (more recently) the practice of shuttling off unwed mothers to nunneries to see the effects of such a belief system.

The purpose behind FGM is to destroy the ability of the female to derive pleasure from sex in the belief that it will make her less likely to “stray” either as a single woman or later as a wife. It is not symbolic, and this fact alone makes the AAP’s “accommodation” ridiculous. What kind of “nick” or “cut” on a female’s genitalia will have the desired effect of removing any possible sexual pleasure from future contact with her genitalia? It is possible, though extremely unlikely, that in some families this may be a way (as the AAP intended) for such families to lay claim to the fact that their daughter was “circumcised” for communal considerations, such as when shopping a daughter for marriage in a community where it is a prerequisite, but for the vast majority of families it simply will not have the desired effect. In any case, even if it were to save a “few” girls from their otherwise horrible fate, the downside to the AAP’s tactic is far more destructive overall.

First, it justifies the very belief behind FGM by accepting it as a relevant cultural practice. True, they do not advocate for the full scope of FGM as is practiced in places such as Africa, but at the same time they validate the belief that such a practice is both legitimate and possibly necessary. Second, it undermines the ongoing efforts of groups who are actively trying to eradicate this practice by reaching out and educating both men and women within the very communities where it is most prevalent. If the AAP condones it, why should these parents listen to arguments about its destructive effect on young women? After all, they may well reason, the practice is acceptable even if there is debate on the degree to which the procedure ought to be carried out.

The real way to deal with this scourge is the way most issues can be dealt with but so often are not: education. Members of the communities where these practices persist must be dealt with not in a condescending manner (though the procedure itself is an abomination), but rather with an effort to educate both men and women about why the practice is particularly harmful to young women. Individuals and families who feel that western mores are not being forced down their throats in an “our culture is superior to yours” style are more amenable to considering the harsh reality that FGM brings upon its recipients. Also critical is efforts by religious leaders in the communities (many of which are Muslim) to reinforce the fact that this practice has no basis in Islam; ironically, of all the major religions save for perhaps Hinduism, female sexuality is most highly valued in Islam. It is a slow process, and there will be hiccups along the way, but it is only through a sustained effort at showing these communities why the procedure is wholly negative that change can be effected.

There must be a continued condemnation of FGM, and a steadfast resolve never to appease those who practice it, but that attitude needs to be coupled with an understanding of why these communities practice the act. Getting to the root of the problem, and addressing the causative beliefs, is the only way to truly change the mindsets that allow for it to continue.

Posted in Culture | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Banning the Burqa

Posted by Anthony on January 31, 2010

By Anthony J. Aschettino

In the post 9/11 world it has become increasingly common to link any and all visible manifestations of Islam to that of at least a passive support of terrorism or, at the very least, Islamism. Gone are the days in which a woman who chose to wear a covering across her face was viewed as a novelty in the West; today she is seen as being part of the vanguard for Osama bin Laden and his horde of mujahideen seeking to overrun the free world.

In France, a bastion of secular liberalism in the west, there is currently debate on whether or not to ban the wearing of a full face veil (the niqab), as it has been deemed a “challenge to the Republic”. Truly the burqa, often described as a tent-like garment draped over a woman, can be seen as alien to western, liberal cultures especially when coupled with the face-covering aspect of the niqab; to many women in the west, it represents repression, misogyny, and a backwards way of living for those women who don it. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Americas, Culture, Europe, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

What We Have Learned From Iran

Posted by Anthony on July 11, 2009

By Anthony J. Aschettino

Looking at the Iranian post-election uprisings of 2009 from several weeks’ perspective, it becomes much clearer as to what the results of the protests have accomplished: they have affected the regime as much as the voting electorate and they represent a new chapter in potential discourse with the Islamic Republic.

The first, and most important, result of the protests is that Iran no longer can maintain even an air of legitimacy about the “democratic” process within the state. In the past there was a general consensus that, if not entirely democratic (the oligarchy of mullahs still runs the show), there was the potential chance for change on more practical levels such as the economy and collective security. This illusion has been smashed beyond repair: Iran will, as long as it retains the current regime, never again have a legitimate election.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Middle East, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Merit Pay Problem

Posted by Anthony on May 20, 2009

By Anthony J. Aschettino

Most Americans like it when the media can reduce any complex idea to a catchy phrase or word, since it relieves them of having to confront the intricacies of navigating policy. Take, for example, the idea that better teachers should earn more money than their counterparts. The media and policy makers have happily reduced that concept to the term “merit pay”, which sounds nice and logical; after all, shouldn’t teachers who are more proficient at their trade end up with a larger check to thank them for their role in helping improve education in America? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

This Amazing Universe

Posted by Anthony on May 5, 2009

By Anthony J. Aschettino

For this year’s ultimate edition of Quid Rides, we invite our readers to ponder something their ancestors have since the first humanoid creature gazed up at the sky during the night and wondered what exactly was out there: our universe.

Since the dawn of civilization, we as a species have been fascinated by the universe and rightly so: there is nothing comparable to the majesty of its boundless mystery, forcing us to keep prying away in order to grasp even a bit of understanding about it. Long has man looked at the stars and the moon, indeed all of the heavenly bodies, and guessed what they were and what purpose they serve us. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sexting, Pornography, and the Law

Posted by Anthony on April 28, 2009

By Anthony J. Aschettino

With each new generation come advances in technology that force us to revisit the legal system’s strictures. Quite often there is a slight lapse that occurs when the law has to catch up with modernity, and the current phenomenon of “sexting” is here no different.

As many are aware, “sexting” is the act of sending what are defined as pornographic images via text-message on mobile phones. Normally this would not be an issue between consenting adults, but the legal problem arises from the issue of underage youths sending their own naked images to friends, some of whom may be of legal age. Since these pictures are often construed to represent “child pornography”, the law can be quite harsh for both those who send and receive the images. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Modern Look at the Lex Gabinia

Posted by Anthony on April 21, 2009

By Anthony J. Aschettino

A superpower is confronted with the scourge of piracy, the corsairs threatening to slaughter all citizens of that state when and if they capture them. Sound familiar? It could be the United States in 2009; then again, it could be the Roman Republic in 67 B.C. In both cases, piracy has become a serious enough threat to their interests that the government is being forced to move against it, though with quite possibly differing end-games. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

Non-Hijabi Solidarity Day

Posted by Anthony on April 14, 2009

By Anthony J. Aschettino

Once again, it is time for Islamic Awareness Week here at Rutgers Newark. This is in and of itself a good thing: we here read the name of the week in two ways, namely that non-Muslims become more aware of Islam while at the same time Muslims become more aware of non-Muslims. There are several events marking the week such as a discussion on faith and reason, an analysis of Malcolm X, and an invitation to watch and learn about the Friday Prayer. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Culture, Religion | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Real Boys of Summer

Posted by Anthony on April 7, 2009

By Anthony J. Aschettino

The month of April has finally arrived, and with it one of the great holidays in all of America. It is a time of re-birth, a time of taking into account the mistakes one made in the past year and rejoicing in the new life that is given to those who desire it. It is a tale of sacrifice and renewal, a day when all lives once more find meaning and purpose for the coming year. It may not be the most celebrated of holidays, but it is certainly of the utmost importance.

It is Opening Day for Major League Baseball. Read the rest of this entry »

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