Chapel Hill: Too Much Sympathy, Little Understanding

Originally published in Al-Nisa Ed.3 


Chapel Hill: Too Much Sympathy, Little Understanding

Grow Portfolio

This article by Tasnim Sammak, Grow Portfolio LeadWith the Chapel Hill shooting and heightened anti-Muslim hate crimes across Western nations and the new ISIS threat as boogeyman, Muslim women are the majority victims of vigilante hate crimes fuelled by a legitimate, honourable war.

In the Chapel Hill shooting the families explain that they believe undoubtedly that their children are victims to hate crime because, simply, the neighbour only started hating when Yusor, veiled and visible, moved in. Deah’s proximity to whiteness became useless. He was now Muslim.

While the targets of harsh counter-terror legislation are most often men, stereotyped and monitored as potential terrorists, though their women and children do suffer the trauma of such inhumane law enforcement, women are predominantly the victims of unsanctioned, vigilante type assaults that can be condemned and punished by the highest men in office who wash their hands from any culpability.

As Muslims who read about the attacks we feel a gripping fear for our safety, the safety of our children, sisters, mothers, and unfortunately need to impose limiting precautions to be better safe than sorry. We’re taught to report incidents of hate crime and we’re learning about our rights against discriminating employers and teachers.

We’re taught to use the law for our protection, we’re told by Obama that no one should be targeted for their race or religion. Of course no one should. No woman should suffer for her choice.

Yet we are suffering, we are targeted and when we call for all of it to stop, we often receive nods and sympathy, but little understanding or willingness to move beyond surface comforting to real solutions.

From following the interviews, I don’t think the Chapel Hill families want worldwide mourning. They’re praying for no more hate, a message that would mean an end to fear-mongering political leadership, an end to scapegoating, hate-fuelling media, an end to ignorance and self-righteousness that legitimises for a man to hold a gun against innocent Muslim families, whether in American neighbourhoods, Sydney raided suburbs, or villages in Muslim nations.

If we truly are to care for the safety of Muslim  women from racist attacks, we will have to address the roots of heightened Islamophobic attitudes that give white men an entitlement and justification to police Muslim women, whether through verbal abuse, pulling off her veil, or punishing her for being who she is.

We shouldn’t be asking Muslim women to be careful, though we’ll have to be. The burden is on the societies we live in to become safer, more inclusive homes and that will only happen when #muslimlivesmatter moves from being an imitation hashtag to a movement that demands an end to the dehumanising objective violence that becomes ever so invisible through politician anger at hate crimes.

I’m not sure it’s that great that we have so many supporters showing their indignation at hate crimes because when we think of women’s safety what we’re really concerned with is how to nurture positive environments for our families, and as the Chapel Hill fathers taught us, that won’t be through seeking  punishment.

The fathers realise how limited such focus can be and I hope we, too, put forward the expectation to anyone claiming to be concerned with Muslim women’s safety that we believe there won’t be an easy, short-cut way to ensure the protection of Muslim women, their men and their children. It certainly won’t be through the half-hearted sympathy of the political elite and their organisations/programs.


Dearest non-boycotting Muslim professionals you don’t always have to be the nice girl and proper gentleman


So I’ve been really thinking about why many of us educated, well-mannered, principled Muslims really find it difficult to support boycotting and protesting as actions that we associate with, compared to meetings and forums with agendas, chairs and suited outfits.

I don’t know if you’d agree, but I personally feel more comfortable having a dialogue than shouting down a politician as they get into their car, or using intimidating language like ‘bloody criminal’ when writing about a respected person in power.

I don’t think the preference is because it would be more effective politically to engage this way, because when we want to talk about effectiveness a fierce and heated viral video condemning a government decision may be more worthy of our time than a neat and formatted press release.

I think we’re really just nice kids. I personally was raised to be always giving, generous, kind, non-aggressive, forgiving. I was taught to tell the teacher when someone was being mean, and even when telling the teacher I shouldn’t be rude about the other person.

When someone hurt my feelings I thought I had to hide my upset face to preserve them from a sense of guilt.

I couldn’t of course get anyone in trouble because I needed to care more about the other person’s wellbeing who’d get yelled at or punished, and of course I didn’t want to stand up to being the dibbie dobber after.

So anyway, I had nice friends like me outside school. I went to friendly outings with other well behaved kids and got to know good-mannered people from Islamic classes.

I never got into fights. Got good grades. Graduated with top marks.

Never really walked out on any tutorial when people were getting racist after I made my comment.

Never sent in a complaint about a lecturer.

Always kept waiting when people were late to meetings. Put my hand up when no one could see that I wanted to make a point in meetings.

It’s all fine. It’s alright if I accept the price of at least feeling integral and having a high moral ground, I don’t mind.

But when world leaders are bombing the hell out of countries, dragging my brothers and sisters and maybe me next time I fly at the airport, detaining and intimidating them, humiliating my community as if we’re outsider aliens, then maybe this time I need to let go of my passive femininity … and maybe our brothers need to not be the nice guy for once … and walk out … and make a scene … and use harsh language.

It’s alright really. We can toughen up for once, just this time, against the Attorney General who has a right to be a bigot. We have the right to walk away. We have the right to not continue this conversation.

We don’t have to always explain ourselves and keep on like that press release that said now we’re becoming “concerned” and now we’re “questioning” if the government is genuine. Lol. You’re not questioning anything. You know this government is playing you. Stop playing nice.

I really am learning a lot on a personal level how to take a dignified stance and maintain my ethical interactions. I hope that those of us in leadership positions start questioning their inclination towards certain decisions that maybe they have been conditioned towards.

I couldn’t grill the Attorney General he’s like my grandpa’s age I’d really just sit with my hand up while the other men in the room made their probably more diluted points about policy.

So I’d rather turn to collective action and hide within a mass opposition that gives me voice and fiercely delivers my message. I’d rather speak to my students about how bad the state of the world is.

Maybe I’m wrong but I feel the more proper and middle class the leader, the more they see themselves favouring a seat at the table than a speak out.

We all come from somewhere. It’s time we acknowledge it and think strategically about our political activities. The split we’re having is not about effectiveness … it’s about our sense of self.


To protest for Palestine as Muslims

I know that several organisations in Australia oppose the protests against Israel. Many argue that what we need to do is to simply pray for Gaza and become a better practicing Muslim.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir, on Saturday 12th of July, the day Melbourne came out in protest against Israeli brutality, released a statement asking Muslims not to join the protests. It is the only statement from an organisation that I found clearly rejecting the protests.

it does not serve the Islamic cause, our cause, to respond by protesting on non-Islamic platforms, raising flags that are a direct product of the same colonial legacy that gave birth to ‘Israel’, or calling upon the ‘international community’, the UN, or the Australian Government, all of whom are part of the problem, not the solution

You can read the full statement.

I will present two key points/questions for Hizb-ut-Tahrir to counter, then provide my own argument as a Palestinian Muslim who has been involved in different ways in Melbourne rallies against Israel since 2006.

Firstly: If the Hizb opposes protesting on non-Islamic platforms, does it condemn and reject the Arab Spring?

Would it prefer the mass movement on the streets go home unless people are coming out with the flags and banners of Khilafah? Does it believe a collection of people from all walks of life tearing down tyrant governments is unnecessary and unIslamic? That people’s movements, that the decades long Global Palestinian Solidarity Movement is part of the problem because it identifies with the colonial Palestinian flag as its symbol of nation? Is this point of disagreement with the movements enough to refuse to join them, and actually actively call on followers to reject these actions?

Rally in Melbourne, 12th of July.

Secondly: If the Hizb believes calling on governments is part of the problem, why does it issue statements and speak against the government in the media and in lectures and forums? How is this outside the sphere of calling on governments? Who does the Hizb address in their condemnations if not the government?

On Saturday we condemned the silence of world leaders that puts all of humanity to shame. We condemned the United Nations for its inability and unwillingness to respond to crises facing humanity. We demanded that shameful governments all around the world start acting for justice, cut ties with Israel, and end the suffocating siege on Gaza. They are the powerful that we are bringing to account. Not because we give them our oath and pledge, but because they are in positions of privilege and power and they need to know that the people do not accept their complicity, and if it’s not in these rallies or the next, this cause or another, one day, it is the people demanding justice across the world who will turn against these governments if they continue sabotaging the human in us. How is making these statements loud and clear part of the problem?

How can anyone imply that the Palestinian Solidarity Movement is unIslamic in its demand to pressure people in positions of power and responsibility to isolate, boycott, condemn and cut ties with Israel? To change the opinions on the streets and university halls from being completely pro-Zionist to a position that recognises Israel as an illegal Apartheid, Terrorist Occupation?

From where I stand, I see the protests against Israel and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), on un-Islamic platforms, fundamental to the struggle for Palestine internationally. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Islamists, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, anyone with a conscience should be supporting collective action against Israel, rather than solely promote their own isolated efforts to tackle the issue. We don’t have to agree on what happens once Palestine is free. We need to accept that the Palestinian issue is a crisis for humanity and no one group or sect can take ownership of the issue. Solidarity is in supporting the oppressed against their oppression, accepting the diverse symbols and flags and methods that they use to represent themselves given that the demands are unified in uncompromisingly standing against Israeli occupation.

As a Muslim who is Palestinian I will never sit at home while the streets of my city fill with chants and banners and people who support the dignified resilience of my people. It is as simple as this.

As Muslims, we have a duty to put our hands together with our allies against the massacres, for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Gaza who need global solidarity to continue standing firm against the occupier.

I just want to provide three images that for me reveal the importance and significance of Muslims joining our protest against Israeli brutality last Saturday in Melbourne, and our upcoming protest this Saturday at 1pm at the State Library.

1. Family found space to express their identity as Palestinians who will never give up their right to homeland

2. Thirteen year old whose father was born in Gaza: I know without a doubt that Gaza will be free.

3. Letter from student who saw a photo of her teacher at the protest

I hope that as a Muslim community in Australia we can begin to find a more widespread and unified endorsement of collective action for dire causes and that we bring from our Islam a determination to struggle against the oppressors because we believe that Allah will bring victory against the oppressors and complicit governments.


I’m cosmopolitan, she’s not: On Happy British Muslims.

For a video made to promote the values of community and possitivity, I find it deeply hurtful to find it so polarising and marginalising towards the people it claims to represent.

“We Brits have a bad rep for being a bit stiff, but this video proves otherwise. We are HAPPY. We are eclectic. We are cosmopolitan. Diverse. Creative. Fun. Outgoing. And everything you can think of.

This video is to show  the world despite the negative press, stereotypes and discrimination we are burdened with we should respond with smiles and joy, not anger.

Anyway we hope you like it.”


We have to like it, otherwise, we are anti-creativity, pessimistic, close-minded, backwards, boring. We need to lay loose a little. We need to not be angry. We should just be happy.

That’s fair enough as an individual attitude towards life. Some people like to cruise through life chirping and humming and skipping. Some people have YELLOW personalities and joy and happiness to them means exerting social energy. It means extroverted expressions.

I’m not opposed to this for anyone who feels compelled to assert and reduce us to a certain type of Muslim personality is mistaken in their Islamic understanding,  as the prophet peace be upon him welcomed the boastful and the quiet – hearted of the sahaba.

Of course, within boundaries that are all too familiar and mainstream. Though I’m not here to argue that unIslamic Muslim behaviour needs to policed, because simply, it can’t be for there are Muslim groups and individuals who find a space within Islam to express themselves as in the video. I’m not here to deny their voice or call them not proper Muslims. What concerns me is the background severed relations behind videos like this and the reactions towards them.

It is very clear that the video is rebelling against popular opinions within our community that consider music and mixing forbidden. This is not my assumption, but the implication of their provocative reaction posts on facebook:

Reaction post #2: 
Results just in:
Team Halal > Team Haraam

Reaction post #4: 
It’s crazy how one negative comment can make you forget the thousand positives that came before it. #Stayresolute

Reaction post #5: 
Advise from our supporting scholars. Stand firm and speak out against the dogmatists, don’t let your silence be confused for submission. Keep spreading the positivity and drown out the negativity with more positivity! 
Hashtag #happymuslims

The polarisation and divisive discourse is reflective of the psychology of this group, working against the mainstream and trying to ‘right’ what has been done so badly. They’re sick of the angry reactions. They want to show that we can be happy. They no longer want the angry Muslims to represent them. They want to be the voice.

But who is the angry Muslim in this context? The Muslim who doesn’t listen to music and refuses to attend mixed gatherings? The hijabi who

doesn’t shake hands let alone skip to the beat? The child who misses music class at school because their parents don’t want him learning to play the flute of the shaytaan? The friend who skips weddings because they’re not her envrionment? The sister who covers her face with niqab in piety and modesty?

Because these Muslims are not in the video, and many are angry about this video that showcases ‘our’ diversity. These Muslims are left behind, are outsiders.

I understand that when many Muslims go to the mosque or activities in the Islamic community they feel unrepresented. They mix, and are put behind a blind in the mosque. They listen to music but can’t put their most heart felt clip in their graduation video at the Islamic school. But does this experience legitimate the we are cosmopolitan though other Muslims are not attitude? Does this mean we now appeal to popular, dominant values to gain a stronger standing in internal battles within the community?

If this is the attitude the group wants to take and distance itself from the mainstream, dominant voices representing Muslims, that’s what it wants to do, but not in the name of British Muslims. This claim to representation is precisely what they are rebelling against, isn’t it?

We are British Muslims, authentic. Those other Muslims you hear about or see, those ‘conservative’, strict ones who make you feel everything is haram, they’re not the proper Islam.

I don’t know, is it just me or is this just undignified finger-pointing to please the Western gaze that is always watching, always interrogating?

I really do understand that we are under pressure and sick of the stereotypes and discrimination, but what, we tackle our marginalisation by marginalising our brothers and sisters who practice differently? By making them the Other, and we the integrated?

I can’t swallow the campaign. If it was just a video to a song out there like the thousands on youtube by everyone including Muslims, I wouldn’t care, for this video is just happy people and I don’t have to judge or agree. But we don’t need to dig deep to find that the makers are trying to tell the story,  not their story,  but the story of British Muslims, and Muslims in the West.

It’s sad that this story even needs to be told. We’re happy, we’re not a dynamic, normally human community. No, we’re extroverted, chirpy, people. Lest we be angry for the Muslims are scary when they’re angry.


Villawood, police, and the problem with pacifist liberalism


A few days ago, Tracie Aylmer wrote “Protesting for protesting sake?” for The Australian Independent Media Network. Having attended the 5th of April protest at Villawood Detention Centre, her second after March in March, Aylmer was astounded by the level of disrespect and violence shown towards the police. Her accusation was that protesters were there to clash with police, and that we should have been more like the Mothers for Asylum Seekers (MFAS): “gentle and caring ladies, who deserved respect.”

The main problem with the article is that it reeks of pacifist liberalism. I have no issue with MFAS and the work they do inside detention centres; people contribute in different ways, and they certainly do more work on the inside than I could hope to do. But I do have an issue with the author (who apparently isn’t part of MFAS but defends them as model dissenters) arguing…

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They plant trees between houses


They plant trees between houses in the suburbs, provide comfortable resting areas, they fence some conservation forests and protect Australian endangered species, while the engines keep fuming and the products fill the shelves. Consuming nature aesthetically, enjoying it in an hour’s drive, and exploiting nature, dumping, polluting, somewhere outside, far far away. They sell us parks and animal shelters, they mystify us, if only we learnt how to respect, it’s no wonder they rule the world. They colonise our minds as we enjoy the parks and bush walks that we find in this colonised land.



They plant trees between houses


They plant trees between houses in the suburbs, provide comfortable resting areas, they fence some conservation forests and protect Australian endangered species, while the engines keep fuming and the products fill the shelves. Consuming nature aesthetically, enjoying it in an hour’s drive, and exploiting nature, dumping, polluting, somewhere outside, far far away. They sell us parks and animal shelters, they mystify us, if only we learnt how to respect, it’s no wonder they rule the world. They colonise our minds as we enjoy the parks and bush walks that we find in this colonised land.