This week I’m covering the politicisation of the achievements of black athletes in Rio, the topic of Muslims as victims of Terrorism and Islamophobia based on the deaths of 63 people in Pakistan and the murder of an Imam in Queens. As well the Cannes Burkini Ban, the findings of the Women and Equality report in regards to Muslim women and lastly the inspirational story of Ilhan Omar, a Somali activist who defeated a 22 year representative in Minnesota and is likely to be the first Somali-American lawmaker in the US.
The Politicisation of Black Athletes at Rio
From Simon Biles, Gabby Douglas, Mo Farah, Ibtihaj Mohammed, Simone Manuels, Michelle Carter to Rafaela Silva, last week, black athletes shone in all their glory in Rio while amassing medals! And to be honest I’m annoyed that I can’t just write about their achievements and end it there without having to address some of the insidious comments that I’ve read online over the past week.
First of all, I have to address some members of the black community in relation to Gabby Douglas before anything else. For those who don’t know Gabby Douglas, she first came onto the scene four years ago at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London aged 16. During that Olympics, Gabby became the first black American woman to win gymnastics’ most prestigious title: the Olympic Individual all – round champion. At the time she was beleaguered with comments about her ‘nappy hair’ and to no one’s surprise the criticisms and the social media bullying have resurfaced and intensified this year. To put it bluntly, I am so ashamed of the people who felt the need to criticise her hair on social media and it’s disgusting for people to transfer their self-hate onto her. This is one of the best gymnasts in the world and forgive me if I don’t think her main priority should be her natural hair while she’s trying to win gold medals! We’re all embracing the blackgirlmagic term in our community but that involves acknowledging and celebrating black girls with our natural features including our natural hair. The reason why I’m so upset about this is because it would have been great if Gabby Douglas didn’t have to face these criticisms from members of her own community in addition to the white trolls who bullied her for being unpatriotic because she forgot to put her hand on her chest during the American anthem. (An action that is not compulsory by the way!) Shout to Leslie Jones who rallied support for her on Twitter with the hashtag #LOVE4GABBYUSA because an Olympic gold medalist who has worked incredibly hard for her country shouldn’t have to ‘face a corner and cry after a press conference.’
That is one of the reason why it irked me so much to read comments from largely white individuals that black athletes should be mentioned outside of their race and their religion. In an idealistic world maybe, but unfortunately, the reality of the world that we live in makes it a necessity for us to acknowledge the race and more specifically the blackness of a lot of these athletes. Gabby Douglas and Simon Biles are exceptional black gymnasts from a country that criminalises blackness and refuses to recognise that black lives matter. We talk about the achievement of Simone Manuel as the first African-American woman to medal in Olympic swimming winning gold because well into the 1960s African Americans were prohibited from public swimming pools and many beaches in the country. A hotel in Las Vegas drained its pool in 1953 after the movie star Dorothy Dandridge dipped her toe in the water. Barred from swimming pools for generations, African-Americans were then subjected to the myth that they were incapable of swimming.
Rafaela Silva, a Brazilian Judoka who won the first gold medal for her country almost quit Judo in 2012 because of the extent of racist taunts and rape threats she received including being called a monkey. She said in an interview, “This medal is (a response) for all those who said I should be in a cage.” Ibtihaj Muhammad, a black Muslim female fencer who won a team bronze medal has repeatedly said she no longer feels safe in the US. Lastly, shout out to Subira Marsha Ismail who had to weather a storm of comments on Facebook because of this simple and factual statement, ‘Lest they forget the Mo stands for Mohamed.’ posted alongside the picture below of Mo Farah.
I’m sure by now you get the feeling that the idea of non-black people policing how we as black people celebrate the achievements of black athletes really irks me! We don’t live in a post-racial world and while some have the privilege of not seeing colour, the experiences of a lot of non-white people including black athletes says otherwise.
You can’t depoliticise the achievements of black athletes when their very existence is politicised in our society. – MuslimGirlJournal
Muslims: Victims of Terrorism and Islamophobia
Last week, a suicide bomber in western Pakistan killed at least 63 people and injured more than 100 people. The attacker blew himself up in the emergency ward of Civil Hospital and most of the victims were lawyers, journalists and common citizens. The lawyers were present to protest and mourn the earlier killing of a local bar-association leader Bilal Anwar Kasi, head of the Baluchistan Bar Association, which had been brought for an autopsy after Kasi was shot dead on his way to court. In the same week a lone gun -man executed a Queens Imam and his friend as they walked home after the Saturday prayer. Maulama Akonjee and friend Thara Uddin were dressed in Muslim attire when the killer “approached from behind and shot” from point-blank range, as stated by the NYPD Deputy Inspector Henry Sautner of the Queens South Detective Bureau.
Honestly, my heart is heavy and I can’t imagine what the families of the deceased from both incidents are going through. These are troubling times and I’m writing this post with the knowledge that the death of another man, Khalid Jabara who was murdered by his white neighbour in an Islamophobic attack will be in next week’s post. It’s terribly distressing when people are not cognizant of the double bind that Muslims face. There’s a general refusal to acknowledge that a lot of Muslims are also victims of terrorism because it doesn’t fit with the mainstream narrative. And now with the emergence of Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK, there has been a considerable spike in Islamophobic attacks and hate crimes which are often met with unforgettable silence from the politicians and individuals who are stoking the fire of hatred and bigotry. Going forward it’s important for all of us to continue to challenge the creation of a climate that increasingly allows inciteful rhetoric that is now seeping into actions against a particular community.
Sadly, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf also lost his mother, Elizabeth Anne George Hanson last week and I pray that Allah SWT grants her, and the victims of terrorism and Islamophobia the highest ranks in Jannah. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (We surely belong to God and to Him we shall return). Below is an extract from the extremely moving eulogy that Sheikh Hamza Yusuf wrote for his deceased mother.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. – Prayer of St. Francis
Extract from Sheikh Hamza Yusuf’s eulogy to his mother Elizabeth Anne George Hanson.
Cannes Burkini Ban
Last week, The mayor of the French resort city of Cannes barred Muslim women from bathing on public beaches in swimsuits that reveal too little skin. For those who don’t know what a burkini is, the burkini is a swimming attire that is worn by some Muslim women wear to accommodate for religious beliefs in relation to modesty. In defence of the band, the mayor argued that the burkini is and I quote, “not respectful of good morals and secularism.” In addition, he stated that, “it is precisely to protect these women that I took this decision. The burkini is the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim region.”
There are so many disturbing elements to the mayor’s statement that I’m quite dumbfounded as to where to start. I am getting tired of the way certain countries use secularism as a way to curtail the rights of religious groups specifically Muslims and particularly Muslim women. Secularism in no way means the absence of religion or the invisibility of religion in the public sphere and I’ve previously discussed this in my article on Tariq Ramadan’s lecture at LSE two months ago. It’s disconcerting to see countries like France continually use ‘secularism’ to justify and further their political agenda in relation to Muslims. Secondly, am I the only one who finds the use of ‘good morals’ in that statement ironic? How can you stop Muslim women from exercising their right to wear what they want to a beach based on their notion of morality and then term the ban a promotion of ‘good morals.’ I would love a further explanation of what these so called ‘good morals’ are. Thirdly, deeming the ban as a protection for Muslim woman reeks of Orientalism and the white saviour complex! Enough already with this recycled, outdated and ridiculous complex, we don’t need white men to save us. We are perfectly autonomous beings, rational enough to choose what we want to wear. The only people we need protection from are people who seek to impose their beliefs and ideals on us. Lastly, we should all be alarmed that the burkini, an attire that I’m sure if a white woman wore wouldn’t raise any alarm is being linked with extremism. We are going down a path where Muslim attire in general is being aggressively linked with extremism and the eventual consequence of that would be further clamping down on the rights of Muslims to exercise any form of freedom in expressing our religious identity.
Muslim Women in Employment Report
“Many Muslim women in Britain face a “triple penalty” impacting on their job prospects – being women, being from an ethnic minority and being Muslim.” – Women and Equalities Committee
Somali Activist Ilhan Omar defeated 22-term Rep. Phyllis Kahn in Minnesota
I wanted to finish this week’s recap on a positive and inspirational story! Last week, Ilhan Omar was declared the winner of the primary election in the race for State Representative in District 6oB. She is an experienced policy analyst, community educator and advocate. She currently serves as the Director of Policy Initiatives at Women Organizing Women, where she empowers East African women to take civic leadership roles in their community. Born in Somalia, Ilhan and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight. The family spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States, eventually settling in the Cedar-Riverside neighbourhood of Minneapolis in 1997.
She defeated two tough DFL opponents including the longest serving House member in state history through an effective grassroots campaign that surpassed turnout expectations for both white and minority voters. Ilhan will be the candidate on the ballot for the November 8 general election and likely to be the first Somali-American lawmaker in the nation after the November election.
Till next week.