Check it out at islamforreporters.com.
I started coding my Master’s project today. Get pumped.
No one I know makes more sci-fi/fantasy references in conversations about anything at all (including Islamophobia) than Hussein. A New Yorker, professor, blogger and leader, Hussein is one of the reasons my own interest in Muslim American communities and Islamophobia developed. I talked to him in New York last week.
We talked a bit about the weaknesses of journalists and editors:
News media also looks for easy stories. So we look for words that we think the audience understands, that don’t really mean what we think they mean. It’s this Princess Bride moment – “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” Jihad, shari’a, Allah, the Qur’an – these are words that have very specific meanings. Jihad, for example has a very modern definition, but then you try to read it back into 1400 years of history and it doesn’t make sense, and unless you start cutting and trimming stuff, it’s going to tell you a very different story than what you’re trying to tell. I understand there’s only so much you can write in 800 words, but I think careful selections in word choice, looking for experts in the field rather than the loudest voices, would go a long, long way.
I think if we look at the entertainment industry, it’s a really mixed bag there, but I would be remiss in not shouting out some really great explorations of what it means to Muslim. And I don’t mean shows like “All American Muslim.” You know, in the Simpson’s, Bart had a Muslim friend, which was a really great episode about this whole Islamophobia thing that the “average American” feels. Bones or NCIS, they have really great story lines around Muslims and are they perfect? No, but that’s kind of the point, right? Muslims are human beings and the all-evil representation is as bad as the all-perfect representation. You need complex, nuanced representations of Muslims because Muslims are people at the end of the day. You’re going to get the unsung heroes and you’re going to get the people you pass by on the street every day.
He explained what he means by “intelligent discussions”:
Part of what I do is try to create more intelligent discussion around religion generally and Islam specifically. A lot of this came out of, interestingly, not September 11, but the run-up to the second Iraq War in 2003. People were saying that al-Qaeda was in bed with the Iranians. But wait, do you actually understand that al-Qaeda thinks the Iranians are heretics and they deserve to be put to death because they’re Shi’i? So, how did we get to be friends with them? And that they’re partnering with Saddam Hussein, who’s a secularist with a religious nationalist movement – do you actually understand anything about how these pieces fit? Oil and water do not mix and realpolitik can only cover so much of that. It was at that point that I realized people just don’t know that much about religion. The term now is “religious illiteracy.” And I think anti-shari’a legislation is a good example of this. People say, “Oh, you must mean only Muslims because shari’a is a scary, foreign-sounding word,” but not actually realizing the things it’s affecting are other communities who live by religious laws, like Jews and Catholics.
She talked a little about Side Entrance, a blog that documents “the beautiful, the adequate and the pathetic” of women’s prayer spaces in mosques:
I was always interested in how different communities build their mosques. At least in my mosque, women and girls were encouraged to go, they would give lectures, they were part of the community. Lots of other communities don’t do that. I remember very clearly, when I was 15 years old, my sister, my dad and and I went to a mosque in Devon Street, which is a heavily immigrant, South Asian community in downtown Chicago, and we went to a mosque to attend the Friday prayer. We got there and my dad goes, “Okay, where are my girls gonna go?” And the uncle said, “Oh, there’s no place for women.” And my dad’s like, “Where are they going to go?” This was before cell phones. The uncle’s like, “They can stay in the car.” And we were like, “Wait, do we not need to pray?” It was such a weird experience.
I was in a mosque in downtown Chicago that had a really small space for women; it’s not where women pray for Friday prayers or Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan, but it is where you go if want to duck in there and pray on a random day, it is where you’re going to pray. It’s eight feet wide, twenty feet tall. I took a picture of this and posted it on my Facebook. What surprised me was that my Muslim male friends were like, “What the fatwa?” That started me thinking: “I wonder what my Muslim male friends would say if they saw where Muslim women pray.” I think that Muslim men and women need to work together; it says in the Qur’an that believing men and believing women are partners to each other. That little picture that I posted, my Muslim male friends were shocked.
I’ve gotten some flack for the name, Side Entrance. Some men have been like, “Why are you calling it that?” And I say, “Because I literally have to enter through a side entrance to get into a mosque!” I’ve actually gotten much more support than flack, but the flack I have gotten is about Islamophobia. Some boys have said to me, “Well, why are you giving fodder to Islamophobes?” My response to them is, “We need to clean our dirty laundry.” This is true – this is our dirty laundry. Islamophobes will say, “Look at how Muslim women are treated in their mosques.” We need to clean it.
And she gave some suggestions to media organization on how to better include the narratives of Muslim Americans:
…If a reporter has a contact who is of a Muslim background, they can ask, what else can you talk about? They can pass that contact around to talk about other things. Most Muslims in this country fall into four professional categories: doctor, engineer, small business owner, cab driver. You want to talk about medical ethics issues? Okay, well, if the president of the mosque is a doctor, maybe you want to reach out to him or her. Set aside the Islamophobia question and ask, “What do you think about this medical issue? What do Muslims think about this ethical issue?” For small business owners, “What do you think about this local zoning issue?” It’s important to expand how Muslims can contribute to public conversations.
For me, one of the reasons I wanted to do Hindtrospectives, my blog, was because I write a lot about Muslims, interfaith, women, racism, I love that stuff. I live and breathe and read that stuff all the time. But I also really want to write about Sleepy Hollow, I want to write about the intersection of popular culture and religion or race. I’m happy to talk about that! Nobody’s ever talked to me about that. When I got my media appearances earlier this year, it was about Muslim women, women in scarves, Femen, things like that. I’m happy to talk about it, but it’s not the whole of who I am. I love figure skating! How come nobody’s ever asked me about figure skating?
“What the fatwa?” is definitely my new favorite phrase.
Learn more about my project.
I’m sitting in an airport food court area at 4:30 a.m. surrounded by depressed-looking single travellers and even-more-depressed-looking pairs of travellers when the feelings hit me: the creeping, deep-in-the-black-hole-that-is-your-gut sadness that repeats to your brain, over and over again, and echoes throughout your entire being, “You are alone. You will fail. You should give up.”
I’ve just begun my first ever one-woman travel reporting trip for a project upon which my Master’s degree depends. I should be excited and nervous, like on the first day of school, but I’m not. I’m (and I’ve considered these terms carefully) sad and puke-y, like when you’re in grad school. I don’t really have enough energy to spend on being sad and puke-y, given the importance of this project and the lack of time I have to complete it, so I’ve decided to just face my fears. Below is a list of the worst things that could happen to me on a travel reporting trip.
I could just immediately die.
I could interview everyone and then realize my camera was off/the lens cap was on the whole time.
My camera could break.
I could miss a plane or bus and have to call a source and be like, “Uhhh, I missed my bus.” And they could be like, “Wow, you’re a massive failure and I hate you.”
I could lose my belongings and then have to use a makeshift tripod for every interview.
A variety of places I go to eat and rest could just not have coffee.
I could just spend all my travel time thinking about how life is really just a long process of dying and how small we are and how really, nothing we do matters and the people we call our own will leave us in a variety of ways and the chances of each person finding people they are compatible with is slim to none and how, for most of us, in just 80-100 years, no one will remember who we were or what we did.
I could get back to school and find out my audio sucks a whole lot and it isn’t usable at all.
I could get a call from Berkeley while I’m out reporting and they could be like, “We just checked our records and realized we were actually trying to accept the other Nausheen into the j-school, not you. Lol sorry!”
I could get a call from my mom and she could be like, “Oh hey, I don’t love you anymore. Hope you’re well, ttyl.”
(I know the last two are highly unlikely, but admit it, you’ve thought them, too.)
Reporting and life are both for the brave. I will try to be one of the brave.
Á la lolmythesis: “Reporters are doing a great job of perpetuating Islamophobia in the U.S. Here are some new tools for them so they can do their jobs better.”
For the next 15 days, I’ll be travelling on planes and buses and subways with my dad’s trusty Nikon and my school’s trusty tripod to interview a handful of scholars and reporters and bloggers about Islamophobia, its perpetuators and the work being done to fight it.
This work, plus more work I’ll do throughout the semester, will result in a website and smartphone app that tracks and visualizes data on Islamophobic incidents throughout the U.S., made for the use of reporters.
One of the things I love about j-school is that mostly everything we learn is practical. In this same tradition, we have Master’s “projects” instead of Master’s “theses,” which just means that you have real-world requirements of the projects as well as academic ones. Though this makes it a tad more stressful, it also makes it much more relevant.
Many people have asked me what I’m working on. (I’ve also been told it’s beneficial to one’s reporting and one’s sanity to keep a record of events and updates while travel reporting.) So I turn to my trusty blog. Over the next couple weeks, I’ll do my best to keep it updated with travel-related anecdotes and project updates. I’ll also be tweeting with #IFRtravel on project-related tweets.
About The Author
Nausheen Husain was about 12 when she first was like, “Whoa, dude” about Islamophobia. It was September 12, 2001 and the dumb kid who sat in front of her in Language Arts turned around and said, “Hey, are you a spy from Afghanistan?” Nausheen was like, “Give me my pen back, Mike,” but the experience stuck with her. She guesses it stuck with her longer than she realized before, because she can see it happening in her head right now and she still remembers the kid and what he looks like and he never gave her the pen back and sometimes when she thinks about him she grips whatever she is holding tightly until it shatters into a billion pieces, even if it’s just a piece of paper or a doughnut. She may need to see a therapist or something.