Monthly Archives: September 2015

MCM: Lowkey

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Born Kareem Dennis to an Iraqi mother and an English father, rapper Lowkey is among the most eloquent and outspoken resistance rappers of our time. Lowkey first started rapping at 12 years old, competing at open-mic sessions. He’s collaborated with other resistance rappers such as Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, Shadia Mansour, and Logic. After a brief hiatus to pursue his education, he returned in 2009 with his album, “Dear Listener”. His album went to No. 1 on the iTunes hoop-hop chart in the UK.

His lyrics deal with racism, classism, Islamophobia, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In February 2009, Lowkey travelled to the West Bank on a humanitarian mission towards rebuilding Gaza, but was detained for 9 hours by the Israeli Police. He was interrogated, searched, and had his passport confiscated:

“As soon as I stepped off the plane with my AA guide to Israel tucked under my arm, I was pulled away to the side and interrogated as to why I was in Israel, by a man who wore no uniform identifying himself as any type of security but was clearly heavily armed,” Lowkey explained.

“After this I carried on through to passport control. After giving over my British passport it was confiscated. I was then detained for nine hours. During this time I was interrogated about many aspects of my life, what the purpose of my trip was, where my parents are from and where I planned to go in Israel.

“Eventually I was told my story was a lie and was subjected to a bout of the Israeli polices paranoid mind games. I was eventually released, knowing that no matter how frustrating what I just went through was, I knew that it was not even a miniscule fraction of the degradation Palestinian people are subjected to on a daily basis.”

Later in 2009, he travelled with M-1 of Dead Prez to carry out a humanitarian aid mission and bring medical aid to the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip; this led to a collaboration between the two on Soundtrack to the Struggle.

Lowkey was detained once again in July 2010, en route to a number of concerts and musical workshops in refugee camps in the West Bank. After detaining him for twelve hours and an online petition was started, he was released.

Lowkey is a prominent member of the Stop The War Coalition, staunchly opposing the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. He speaks against U.S. and U.K. foreign policy.

Fox News host Glenn Beck mocked Lowkey on his radio show, poking fun at the lyrics of his song “‘Terrorist?”, and recorded himself dancing to the song and showing gang signs in an effort to ridicule the content.

Lowkey has written for The Guardian, Ceasefire magazine, and has appeared on RT to discuss the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

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The World High On 9/11

On October 24th, 2012, one day before Eid, Momina Bibi is gathering okra with her two grandchildren, Zubair and Nabila in Waziristan. The family sings old songs in Pashto and glances up at the blue sky. Momina is called “the string that holds the pearl together”, the glue of her family. As the children help their grandmother, they hear the low buzzing of a drone. The ground shakes beneath them. The air smells poisonous. Momina Bibi is ripped to shreds, her arms and legs blown off, her death witnessed by Nabila and Rehman.

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The children come before Congress to tell their story. Five congressmen show up. Rehman states he prefers grey skies, because then the drones don’t fly. The world turns its cheek. This is the world, high on 9/11.

On a spring day in 2012, I exit the freeway. I spot a homeless veteran, his sign stating he served in my motherland. I open my window and hand him an apple and $2. I tell him I am Afghan. He tells me he is sorry. I ask, “for what?”. He tells me, “for ruining your country”. His eyes tell me he has been to Hell before. He is one of over 108,000 homeless veterans. This is the world, high on 9/11.

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On the morning of March 4, 2015, a bright, snow-lit morning in Dallas, TX, Ahmed Al-Jumaili steps outside. A newlywed, he has escaped the war in Iraq and is savoring his new life in America. The 36-year-old, who had immigrated to the United States 20 days earlier, joined his brother and wife taking pictures in the parking lot of a Dallas apartment complex amid the snow. In the middle of the white snowfall, Al-Jumaili was shot by a rifle, targetted for his race. I imagine the red against the white; blood mixing in with the icy ground. A few hours later, Al-Jumaili is dead. This is the world high on 9/11.

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Operation Enduring Freedom does nothing but endure.

This is the day the people of Iraq and Afghanistan were served a death sentence. The day that 3,000 American lives were sacrificed, so that the superpowers of the world could begin a business, profiting off the lives of poor and minority U.S. soldiers.

In this brave new world, drones spread democracy, and fires start freedom. In this world, toddlers are called terrorists for throwing stones, and racist snipers are called heroes.

The figures are staggering. 27,000 in Afghanistan, 22,000 in Pakistan, 1 million in Iraq. 762 Muslim-American men taken, most of them never to return, taken to secret prisons or deported. Whats even more staggering is these figures are under-reported and could be inaccurate. Millions displaced, millions injured. Infrastructures left completely in shambles. War crimes. U.S. soldiers raping and maiming prisoners. Coercion. Torture. Unlawful detainment. Abu Ghraib.

Saddam Saleh, a former prisoner at Abu Ghraib, shows a photograph at a 2004 press conference from the scandal that includes him in the middle of a group of naked prisoners being mocked by Lynndie England.

The place where people look like me is called the Drone Capital of the World. Children are afraid to play outside. Like a machine, this war took an entire generation of babies and churned out bodies without souls.

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This war pit brother against brother. Half of the Afghan heart is in Pakistan, where our own Pashtuns pledge allegiance to the ISI and completely disregard their Afghan roots – divide and conquer.

This war pit the cross against the crescent. For thousands of years, Muslims and Christians co-existed, albeit with tension, but nothing on the scale of what ISIS has executed.

Our youth. Our American youth. 7,000 lives taken. The colonizing superpower stripped all the rights of black and brown minorities, and then sent them off to kill and be killed. The potential. What our boys and girls could have become, instead of sitting at edges of freeways, begging for coins, OD-ing under bridges, living without limbs.

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My people are dehumanized. They are not worthy of love, of sympathy. Muslims are not worthy of a nod. Our identities are mandated to us, not by us. And those who look like us share the same fate: the gudhwaras shot up, the synagogues desecrated. Don’t get caught looking like us, you too might end up the victim of a hate crime. Anti-Muslim hate crimes are still five times more common today than before 9/11.

Aug. 6, 2012 - Oak Creek, Wisconsin, U.S. - KANWARDEEP SINGH KALEKA (R) hugs an unidentified woman while his sister SIMRAN KALEKA (L) hugs another unidentified relative on Monday as they meet and mourn the loss of their uncle Satwant Singh Kaleka, president of the Sikh temple, who died in Sunday's temple shootings in Oak Creek. (Credit Image: © Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com)

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I came of age in the rubble of those towers. I learned how to defend myself, learned how to laugh it off, learned how to inform instead of cry. I learned that no matter what I did or do, I’ll be different. I learned to make peace with that.

As another year passes by, as we commemorate the immense loss of life once more, I find myself apathetic and numb. I tried my best to post this blog yesterday, but in my heart of hearts, I don’t think I have much left to say.

How much longer can this operation endure. How many more prisons? How many more interrogations? Hate crimes? Funerals? 14 years of lies, deceit, of creating links where there were none, of profiling those who were innocent, of raping women in front of their husbands, of maiming children for play.

14 years, of a world high on 9/11. How many more bodies must hit the floor?

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My Journey With Alopecia

September is Alopecia Awareness month. People from all walks of life, regardless of age, class, gender, lose patches of their hair; it is an equal-opportunity disease. It can be moderate, or it can be total hair loss. It is autoimmune, where the body attacks its own immune system, causing the hair to thin out and fall. Causes are unknown, but some attribute stress and genetics. There is no cure, only treatments. Those struggling with the disease use September to educate, communicate, and share their journey with the world.

I have alopecia. I never thought I’d participate in an “awareness month”, but here I am. I have lost significant amounts of my hair. As a young woman, this has been heartbreaking, frightening, confusing…one second I’m appreciative that its only hair loss and the next I am crying my eyes out.

This is not the first time I’ve lost my hair. At 8 years old, I suffered a month-long, undiagnosed illness that made me shed layers and layers of my skin, along with my hair. I had an extremely high fever and was unable to walk for most of the time. I was pricked with needles from local clinics to UCLA Medical Center, but no doctor had neither a diagnosis or a cure. After drinking abeh Zam Zam, holy water, I was finally healthy again. But the illness took my hair with it, and so my long, dirty-blonde locks were cut into a sharp bob. My hair never went back to it’s full health again.

For much of college, I wore extensions. Then finally three years ago, I was confident enough to take my weave off. Upon removal, I was shocked to see my hair past my chest, almost reaching the end of my back – it had grown significantly. I finally had my hair back. I loved being able to swim without having my tracks show, I loved running my fingers through my hair and knowing it was all me.

I enjoyed my hair until this year, when it significantly thinned out. And now, its falling out again.

This disease ruins your self-esteem. I constantly check mirrors to make sure my patches don’t show. I’ve contemplated shaving it all off and getting wigs. I’m still able to cover the spots, but I don’t know how long this will last – I hope it does. But with every new spot, I feel exposed, I feel small. Being a woman, being in Los Angeles, being around my extremely beautiful friends who all have incredible hair, I feel inadequate.

But it’s just hair. I cannot and will not let it define me, or shake me so much to my core that I can’t go on. The “great” thing about being from one of the poorest nations on earth is having parents who constantly remind you how lucky you are; pity doesn’t come around easily in Afghan households. Don’t get me wrong, the support is there, but it is always accompanied with, “it could be worse”.

And that’s the truth. It could be worse. For the time being, I can cover my spots. And maybe one day, I won’t be able to. And I hope that on that day, I am strong enough to realize that I am not my hair, but that I am a child of God, an unconditional friend, with an unquestioning heart, and an indiscriminate embrace.

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The Refugee Faces of Imperialistic Karma

When the pictures of Aylan started showing up on my newsfeed, I quickly scrolled past them. I was sick of seeing dead bodies. Afghan bodies, Syrian bodies, black bodies. I did not want to know his story, I did not want to feel helpless again. But the pictures flooded my social media, and so I was forced to learn his story. And I, like many others, am shocked, and so saddened.

As the child of refugees, this profoundly impacts me. My parents fled Afghanistan by disguising themselves as peasants. Even with raggedy clothes and dirt in their nails, rebel fighters still recognized their refined accents and white, unscathed skin as signs of their class. One rebel looked at another, pointing to my sister, limping on her polio-ridden leg, and proclaimed, “Da Kablay da” (She is Kabuli). By the grace of God, they let my family go, and for miles and miles they walked, until they reached Pakistan.

My family, like Aylan’s family, was looking for an escape. They, too paid smugglers, they too, feared for their lives, and they too, brushed death on the long and arduous road out of Afghanistan. The surge in refugees across the Middle East and North Africa is now making headlines, but this is not a new story. Aylan’s body is not the only body. What’s the saying, one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic? The influx of information leaves us overwhelmed; how many bodies should we count? How many hashtags can we make? How many links can we post? Why are we telling all of these stories, when we can do virtually nothing?

I don’t have solutions. I’ve seen some articles that advertise ways the normal civilian can help these people, fleeing their lands for a chance at life. But I can’t help it that I’m so angry.

My brothers and sisters, other refugee families like mine, other peoples affected by the meddling of the U.S. and other superpowers. We know Aylan. We’ve known Aylan. He is our neighbor who was droned last year. He is our uncle who was taken to the prison camps 2 decades ago. He is or grandmother who was killed in crossfire. Refugee families, we know.

For how long were Muslims crying to you that our motherlands are burning? For how long did the peoples of North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia look nothing more to you than terrorists, than backwards, uncivilized savages, stuck in the archaic times of Islamic extremism. How long did you disregard that 1.5 billion people on this earth – no, even more – including those Christians and Jews and Bahais and Yazidis and Zoroastrians and Sikhs and Hindus that all fit the Western-sponsored image of “the terrorist” – how long did you disregard that these are people worthy of empathy, worthy of a second glance?

Because your history books won’t tell you the truth. Your teachers did not discuss imperialism, colonialism, strategic depth, geo-political alliances, genocide, the rape and pillage of our lands, the extortion and export of our goods, the shackles placed on our self-determination, the puppet-regimes installed that brutally kept our people down.

When I ask you to tell me what a Middle Eastern refugee looks like, do you picture the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi, looking as if he’s taking a nap on the sand?

Do you picture Sharbat Gula, the infamous Afghan face that became National Geographic’s most recognized photo on Earth?

Do you imagine the Tamimi boy, in a chokehold, getting beat up by an Israeli soldier?

Do you picture me?

These are the world’s displaced people. These are the faces of those our government has forgotten, as they meddle in the affairs of our motherlands. These are the people who CNN and Fox News will tell you are “casualties” or “civilians”, or maybe even “insurgents”, or “terrorists”. These people are the others, the ones who you thought for so long you have nothing in common with. Those who are lesser than you, different than you, who’ve been shaped largely by the ideologies of those few maniacs who oppress them, and so, how could you empathize with them?

It’s taken the lifeless body of a two-year old to slap reality into your life. Innocence, gone. Forget ISIS, forget al-Nusra, forget Assad, forget the FSA. This is Aylan.
REFILE - CORRECTING BYLINEATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH OR INJURYA young migrant, who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos, lies on the shore in the Turkish coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey, September 2, 2015. At least 11 migrants believed to be Syrians drowned as two boats sank after leaving southwest Turkey for the Greek island of Kos, Turkey's Dogan news agency reported on Wednesday. It said a boat carrying 16 Syrian migrants had sunk after leaving the Akyarlar area of the Bodrum peninsula, and seven people had died. Four people were rescued and the coastguard was continuing its search for five people still missing. Separately, a boat carrying six Syrians sank after leaving Akyarlar on the same route. Three children and one woman drowned and two people survived after reaching the shore in life jackets. REUTERS/Nilufer Demir/DHAATTENTION EDITORS - NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TURKEY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN TURKEY. TEMPLATE OUT

He came into this world, brought joy to his parents, and left. He looks so much like my nephew, the same chubby legs, the way he’s curled up in the sand.

We are all deserving of empathy. Do not let the system tell you otherwise. Do not allow the labels to create spaces between you and your brother. We all bleed the same red. And we all cry the same tears.

“You know, a lot of the time our faces are painted on television the way, you know, the media want to represent us. In this case, we wanted to show our faces ourselves and have that power within our hands. And I put that power in the hands of the people, and they showed us how powerful they can be. So, that was the meaning of the video.” – The Narcicyst

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In the words of a fellow Afghan refugee,

“Dear Western world; You have a history of meddling in the affairs of other nations; of overthrowing their leaders and installing puppet dictators in their stead; of colonizing, raping, pillaging, and usurping the valuable resources beneath their feet while causing their rivers to run red with the flow of their own blood. And now you are acting surprised that those same people are clawing their way to your shores? You’re shocked that they have no where else to go? You’re appalled that they are seeking asylum in your holy, sacred lands? You can’t have it both ways. You are reaping the fruits of what you have sown. Humble yourselves and open your gates. It’s the very least you can do to atone for the innumerable sins carried out by you and your blood thirsty ancestry.”

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I Don’t Date White Men. Here’s Why I Can’t Date “Our Men” Either

Growing up in a post 9/11 world and encountering the nuances of white privilege and classism, I always knew I didn’t want to date a white guy. This wasn’t necessarily a conscious effort; I was always attracted to men of color, but after meeting some hella ignorant people, who all happened to be of the lighter shade, I knew I just couldn’t date them. They don’t get me. Everything I do or say must be because of my background, and anything different is exotic or foreign to them. My struggles are alien; they don’t know what it’s like to get questioned by TSA, every time, or to realize your professor is an asshole to you cuz his kid’s serving in Afghanistan. Today, reading Tanzila Ahmed’s  “Why I Don’t Date White Men”, that idea that I can’t date white men was reinforced, and I wholly related to and agreed with the post.

But I am still not convinced that our men are any better. In my case, Afghan-American men.

Being from the first generation, and having a huge Afghan family and network, I feel like I have a pretty good idea of the current state of Afghan-American relationships. Most people my age are ditching the traditional arranged-marriage and are trying to navigate the dating scene themselves (wear a helmet bachem). This is by no means a be-all, end-all guide to dating in the Afghan-American world. These examples are not all-encompassing. But it goes a little something like this:

If you are an outgoing, social, “modern” (I hate that word), ambitious, Afghan-American woman – honey, you better compromise. You’re trying to marry an Afghan guy? Compromise is about to be your middle name. Cuz if the white guy didn’t get your struggle, the Afghan man won’t want to.

See, some Afghan-American men are a false advertisement: he wears Ralph Lauren, drives a nice car, has an active nightlife, but has the mentality of a Talib on crack. What do I mean? Everything about him will scream “American”, “open-minded”, “accepting” “non-judgmental”, but his actions will speak louder than his Instagram page. He is just as close-minded as your cousins back home. It’s the same shit wrapped in a deceiving package. Most Afghan-American men I know pick and choose what they want from both cultures that benefit them the most, and expect their partners to bend, jump, and cartwheel into their conformist, archaic ideals of what it means to be a quintessential, coy and modest Afghan girl. They love girls who wear Western clothes, but have the same mentality as Sharbat Gula. Have ambitions? The Afghan-American man’s needs must be met, THEN ambitions and goals can be realized. He’ll reel you in by saying he’s “different than other Afghan guys” (always watch out for that, he’s most likely JUST like other Afghan guys), but really, the second you dump him, he’ll let the whole loya jirga know what happened behind close doors. And if nothing happened, you best believe he’ll lie so that something sure as hell “happened”.

Are there men that don’t fit this mold? Of course! That’s why I said “some”. The amazing Afghan men who I call my brothers are not like this. I’ve been blessed with having an amazing network of super cool Afghan dudes in my life who are the glimmer of hope in the zoo of psycho Afghan guys (i.e. Amal Mohammadi, ladies, he’s single and won’t rat you out to your parents when you break up!). But the typical Afghan, and I would go as far as saying Middle Eastern, Muslim man does not go for an ambitious or social woman. Their power is threatened, and their idea of a “good Afghan woman” is challenged.

So what you’ll get with Afghan-American men these days is a Frankenstein of different values across cultures: I drink, my girl doesn’t drink. I bang chics, my girl keeps her legs closed. I’m out till 5am, my girl better be in bed by 10pm. I got exes, but I’m my girls “first”, I can’t look like no chump! And she better never lie to me, but she can lie to her parents to see me.

And in doing so, we women compromise ourselves and our reputations at an extremely disproportionate rate than our brothers. An Afghan girl with an active dating life is bad news; who wants used goods? But the typical Afghan man has multiple exes, across religions and ethnicities (And God forbid the Afghan girls’ ex, if she dare reveal she had one, be a non-Muslim).

And how do I know that this holds truth? Because my people feel the same; my sisters and brothers. Because when I gave a presentation at the Afghan American Conference at UC Berkeley this year, the part of my speech that got a round of applause (albeit, a surprise to me), was when I stated:

“We are spreading a false narrative to our men that a perfectly modest Afghan woman will be waiting for them as soon as they’re done messing around.”

The question is, why are Afghan guys expecting a modest Afghan girl when they aren’t modest themselves?

This unequal treatment of the genders stems from how our families raise us. The boys grow up as misogynists and with superiority complexes because our women are allowing it.

Let me give you some anecdotal examples. I come from a huge family. All the boy cousins openly date and bring their non-Afghan girlfriends to every family function. My aunts dutifully and eagerly make plates of food for these girls, making sure they’re accommodated for and feel welcomed – our Persian cousins call this “duduul-tala”, or, the golden penis, the son that can do no wrong. It’s ok if Bilal had a Mexican girlfriend, but if Bilal’s sister Meena gets caught sitting with one, she’s dead. What kinda bullshit is that?

Another example. Two of my cousins were expecting babies out of wedlock at the same time. My guy cousin who got a non-Afghan pregnant got a baby shower. My girl cousin who got pregnant by a man she had been dating for almost a decade? She got disowned.

Am I calling for open season on dating? Am I asking Afghans to ditch their cultural norms of honor so that my sisters and I can swipe right on whomever we please? Hell no. I have a deep respect and admire that dating is something we cannot openly discuss with our parents; to be honest, even if my parents were super open to it, I wouldn’t want to disrespect them by throwing every guy in their face anyway. I’m a Pashtun in the end, I get the whole honor thing, even if that means living a double-identity at times. But the very least we can do is treat our sons and daughters equally. Either Bilal and Meena can both bring their boo’s, or no boo’s allowed at all.

The community often looks at those who marry outside the race with disapproving frowns. Especially if an Afghan girl marries a non-Afghan. But what did you expect? Dating an Afghan man is like signing your life away. The risks, the drama, the perception by the community is social suicide. To avoid all this, some Afghan couples are getting engaged or married very early on, without getting to know each other. This rush is done so that both parties can “keep their honor”, but in the cases I’ve seen, separation quickly follows. Who wants to be divorced at 25? Why are we suffocating our girls just for face? Do we really care that much what the community thinks, that we’d sacrifice the happiness our daughters could have with a partner that would love, support and respect them?

Yes. We do care that much. We will crucify our daughters. Because our community does not raise those loving, supportive, and respectful men I mentioned. And there are some sisters who get respect, but more often than not, they are only respected if they fit the definition of a pious Afghan, Muslim girl.

Again, I need to reiterate that this does not extend to all Afghan-American men of my generation. But my sisters talk to me. They vent their frustrations. And I see it with my own eyes. No, I won’t date white men. But our men are just as oppressive as the systems that placed white men in positions of privilege.

So I’ma take a seat in the single-girls section until I meet a man of color that isn’t a hypocrite.

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