A North American Muslim dream: beyond extremism and Islamophobia
Can North American Muslims break a vicious cycle of Islamophobia with movies, music and literature? Community leaders say yes.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the African American community coalesced socially and politically around a blossoming of their community's artistic and intellectual power – Black Americans were at the forefront of the their generation's innovation in literature, music, theater and painting.
Weddady said that various American immigrant communities have made their way into the fabric of accepted American society through the arts, noting that American Jews – after generations of discrimination and abuse – have entered the mainstream with movies and television employing Yiddish terms like “schmooze” and “Oy vey,” almost as part of a Hollywood lingua franca.
Weddady will feel his job is done “when we have a number of highly decorated Muslim generals in the US and Canada, actors, musicians, Nobel prize winners.”
A North American Muslim Renaissance?
A period of African American innovation helped lift their community out of the spectre of slavery and into the public spotlight as a community with talent and dignity. And that movement for integrity spread as far as Europe, where the French Black community, entrenched in the throws of colonialism, demanded respect in its own “Negritude” movement.
In the North American Muslim context, AIC's Al-Suwaij said, “I think it's very important to come out of the picture where we label ourselves as victims. We are people. We have bad and good people. We have shining stars. We have rich and poor.”
“There is nothing wrong with making a Big Fat Greek Wedding. It made people smile, learn about the Greeks, and I'm sure the Greeks themselves enjoyed it,” she said, referring to Nia Vardalos' 2002 hit that put Americans of Greek origin – and their culture – on the map.
“Let's do one Big Fat Greek Muslim Wedding,” Al-Suwaij exclaimed, laughing.
Canada at the forefront of the coming Muslim Harlem Renaissance
Some members of the Canadian Muslim community are already mobilizing in the pending Muslim Harlem Renaissance.
A Toronto-based Canadian of Jordanian Muslim origin, Lama Aggad, is a self-described Canadian Arab Muslim “Oprah or Ellen.”
In 2011, Aggad started her own online media platform, Lama TV, in English and Arabic that aims to “represent Arabs and Muslims to Canadians.”
“I truly believe that it is time to face those who misrepresent us in the Middle East and in the West,” Aggad said.
“For those who don't know who we are and speak negatively about [Canadian Arabs and Muslims], from the wrong sources, we should help correct them,” she added, explaining that her media platform speaks to and for Arabs of various religions and Muslims of countless ethnic and sectarian origin living in Canada.
“There are people speaking poorly of us just for the sake of increasing divisions between us and the rest of Canada. We should point them out and put an end to their unnecessary and unjustifiable attacks. We can no longer be silent.”
The Canadian Islamic Congress is also making gestures to unite and empower its community to make its way into Canada's social fabric – by showing that Muslims have already played a fundamental role in Canadian history.
“The Islamic History Month Canada (IHMC) that CIC initiated and sponsored is one of these great educational projects that build bridges between Canadian Muslims and larger Canadian society. This is one of the examples that proactively combat Islamophobia,” said CIC's Elshorbagy.
To young Canadian and US Muslims
Weddady, who said he has been a political activist since the age of seven in his native Mauritania, offered young North American Muslims a way to be a part of the coming Muslim Harlem Renaissance locally.
“Speak your mind freely. Bust taboos in your communities. There is no such thing as internal dirty laundry,” he said, offering support for Arab feminist Mona Eltahawy's bid to improve women's rights in the Arab and Muslim Worlds with a controversial Foreign Policy article entitled “Why Do They Hate Us?”
“Talk, write, create, make movies – get engaged in your political and civic life.”
Weddady said one of his dreams is to take foul-mouthed American Muslim comic Dave Chappelle to North American universities, in a push to help youth realize Muslims are a part of mainstream popular culture – regardless of how many conservative North American Muslim parents that would upset.