Monday, August 29, 2011

Gabriella Naseem Akhtar van Rij’s "With All My Might"

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Gabriella Naseem Akhtar van Rij’s With All My Might chronicles the many instances of racism that she has encountered throughout her life as a woman born in Pakistan and raised by adoptive Dutch parents in the Netherlands.  When she was a child, a Frenchwoman asked her why she was dirty and had not washed herself properly because of her brown skin, and as an adult, the ignorance did not improve much, even living in different times, when race relations have ostensibly improved.

At the airport in Brussels, she learns a very important lesson about pride and not being ashamed of who she is.   Security personnel told her she was in the wrong line, not bothering to look at her EU passport; she notices a foreign looking man in the EU line who stands his ground in a “dignified” manner against the racist security guards, asking to see a supervisor, showing his army credentials that he is a colonel of the French army, and defends van Rij’s rights, telling them not to give her any trouble.

When he asked her if this happened to her often, he says, “he was ashamed that people would treat others like that and told me to stand up for who I was…And I always did after that!” She describes the experience of being “attacked for something you cannot change at all,” like the color of your skin, which “you cannot even begin to try to change” as a “crippling feeling.”  From this negative experience, van Rij gained valuable insight and learned an important lesson, that “we need to stand up for who we are and defend our rights.”  She discovers that “my pride is all I had” and that “no human should make us crawl and feel inferior because of race or colour.”

Although the tensions of race relations have superficially loosened, since 9/11, race has again become a heated issue and many Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent are treated with the same cruelty, ignorance, and prejudice with which blacks were treated before the Civil Rights Movement.  With All My Might offers readers important lessons about the value of courage, pride, and not allowing people to make others feel inferior; only in defending rights can the marginalized factions of society gain acceptance and respect and change the attitudes of the prejudiced.

Contact: Gabriella van Rij -

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Gaze of the Gazelle by Arash Hejazi

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We talk about the tyranny of the Shah of Iran and the even worse tyranny of the Mullah's that followed. We talk about the politics of Iran today and its role in terrorism, violence and the instability of the Middle East. We talk about the conflict that the United States started using their dictator pal Saddam Hussein, and quickly forget the hardships that were wrought on the people of Iran and also Iraq. And we talk about the Middle East conflict as if it is just another story.

Yet what we don't talk about are the lives that were destroyed and permanently altered, reshaped violently and the many deaths, most of the dead are names and faces we will never know or see.

Iran has been but a political square in a political debate. But it is a nation of enslaved people, enslaved under the pro-Western backed tyrant the Shah Reza Pahlavi and then by the Ayatollah Khomeini and then again by the little dictator President Ahmedinejad.

Arash Hejazi tells the story to the Western World that is so ignorant of the facts of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf and the Islamic World in a way that puts a human face on its cover. "The Gaze of the Gazelle" is a poignant retelling of all the history we have accepted as political rhetoric in a human form. The story of real people who were impacted by our policies and our political viciousness and our stereotyped rhetoric and racism in America.

The story begins from the eyes of a young boy and watches as the world around him collapses following the fall of the Shah and the Rise of the Mullah tyrants. Then there is the war with the US backed Iraq and Saddam Hussein and the destruction in brought on everyone in the country. He tells the story of how he watched the Revolution turn from a people's movement to another vicious dictatorship, this time religious and twisted. And he recounts the day when he was only 17 and watched the Mullah's soldiers pull aside a young Muslim woman who was also only 17 and shoot her in the head in front of a crowd of frightened observers.

He watched as his family life was destroyed and his friends and his father's friends fled or vanished.

No one could speak but Arash managed to launch a publishing company and his struggle to get the true story out about the criminal behaviour of the leaders of Iran is a compelling story that every American should read. It was our tax dollars that paid for the bullets that fired into the brains of young women by the mullahs, that bought the scimitars that were used to cut off the heads of dissidents, and that funded the bombs that rained down on millions of innocent people.

We owe it to the Iranian people to at least try to learn the truth.

"The Gaze of the Gazelle" offers one window into the horrors of the history of Iran under tyrannical oppression over the years.

I couldn't put this book down. It read swiftly and cleanly and with a comprehension that was utterly shocking to me. I urge everyone to read this memoir of a little boy who became a revolutionary for truth.

The Gaze of the Gazelle: The Story of a Generation
Seagull Books
London, New York and Calcutta

Monday, August 22, 2011

With All My Might by Gabriella Naseem Akhtar van Rij - racism in the wake of Sept. 11th

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Finally, a book that addresses the reality of the post-Sept. 11, 2001 racism against anyone who looked Middle Eastern, or who looked like the terrorists, or who was Muslim, dark skinned, spoke or didn't speak Arabic.


Gabriella Naseem Akhtar van Rij’s With All My Might explores the racism that has pervaded the world since 9/11, documenting her own experiences as a woman born in Pakistan and adopted by Dutch parents.  Although she had faced racism and pressures to conform throughout her life, after 9/11 van Rij experienced particularly ignorant forms of racism, prejudice, and bias that were not influenced by logic or reasonable thought, rather, by immutable conceptions of Middle Eastern people.

As the media bombarded people with terrible images of Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Bin Laden, van Rij was confronted with ignorance; “Pictures are very powerful and people started to associate the people on the news with people like me, who just happened to look like them.”  Although she had experienced a great deal of racism in her life in Brussels, she was unprepared for North American racism, thinking that it was “over and done with.”

Van Rij gave technical seminars on computer programs for multinationals and someone made the comment “about my looks being identical to the people shown on television,” an experience that she calls “surrealistic.”  She had watched the same images as her client; however, she in no way connected the images of the terrorists to herself.  She finds herself justifying herself to the ignorance of the world, reminding herself that she was brought up in Europe and that the war had nothing to do with her.  She calls justifying herself to those with preconceived notions and bias a “bad habit I have” and one that is unnecessary.  The woman to whom she unnecessarily justifies herself “could not have cared less and definitely did not listen.  All she cared about is that I looked like those people on television and wondered if I could potentially do harm too.”

Van Rij’s account of the racism that she has experienced since 9/11 highlights a gross inequity in today’s society, in which many ignorantly hold Muslim and Middle Eastern people in general responsible for the terrorism and radicals, no matter what their religious alignment, beliefs, or personal history, even holding biases against some second generation Americans of Middle Eastern descent.  We are confronted with these issues continually through such programs as CNN’s Unwanted: The Muslims Next Door and the resistance to the building of mosques on American soil.  With All My Might stimulates deep thought and reflection within readers, encouraging them to reexamine their attitudes and the manner in which they have unfairly treated people in the last decade.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Arab Detroit 9/11: Life in the terror decade, edited by Nabeel Abraham, Sally Howell and Andrew Shryock

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This is a fascinating book that looks back at the 10 years since Arab Muslim extremists hijacked four airplanes and crashed three into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers and the Pentagon, a decade that changed perceptions of Arabs and Muslims dramatically.

The book is a collection of 17 essays, many of them brilliantly written and insightful, but a few that are truly worthless and typical of the kind of political rhetoric that has fed not hindered the growing anti-Arabism and Islamaphobia that has risen in the West and the United States. But the good news is you can skip the few and focus on the many.

The collection of essays focuses on the challenges that Detroit's Arab population has faced as a consequence of the hysteria that has emerged from the basic American lack of knowledge of the Arab and Muslim Worlds with eassyists addressing various aspects.

Rachel Yezick offers an overview of one of the only major positive institutional by-products of the post-Sept. 11 era, the construction of the Arab National Museum on Michigan Avenue in downtown Dearborn. The museum is brilliant and wonderful, a collection of everything Arab Americana. Yezbick gives an overview of how it came about and what is there. (In 2004, I penned a lengthy feature on the opening of the Arab National Museum for ARAMCO Magazine.)

Authors Howell and Shryock offer a detailed look at the backlash against the American Arab community in Detroit and the so-called "War on Terror." This essay is a memorable look back published in Anthropological  Quarterly in 2003. It's not updated -- it has been so well read already -- but it provides an aspect of the bigger picture the book seeks to paint. The essay examines the growth of how the government has examined economic ties between American Arab and Muslim organizations and Middle East connections, with an eye to the terror.

The book contains a heavy weight of perspective on the impact on Muslims, but essayist Matthew Stiffler looks at the impact of Sept. 11 on Christian Arabs, an often ignored and misdiagnosed community. In fact, so much focus is on Muslims and Arab Christians are often viewed as being a Christian Muslim anomaly by many Americans who can't tell the difference between either and simply put Christian Arabs into the box with Muslims as one religious identity.

Yasmeen Hanoosh offers a valuable look at Detroit's important and often ignored or misidentified Chaldean Community, Christians from the Middle East many of whom do not consider themselves Arabs. The Chaldeans are actually the bedrock of the "Arab" community in Detroit, all Christian and all misunderstood, stereotyped and misportrayed.

The worst essay of course is written by Will Youmans, one of the creators of the Jew-bashing web site KabobFest, which partners with the Jew-hating website Ikhras to libel, slander and defame anyone who criticizes Hamas and the growing extremist movement in the Middle East. (Youmans is also a failed "rapper" whose work seemed to borrow liberally from the cadence of Eminem, a Detroit native.)

Naturally, Youman's poorly written essay tries to stitch together some kind of ridiculous argument that connects his personal extremist political views with an "analysis" of the impact of Sept. 11. The only cargo in his writing that is of any value is his awkward attempt to detail the viciousness of Debbie Schlussel who repeatedly libeled Imad Hamad, the director of the Detroit Chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The inclusion of the story is rather ironic considering that Youmans is involved in helping to destroy ADC today to advance his own political agenda, pushing the organization to extremism. Of course, the real irony is that there is little difference between Schlussel and Youmans or even Michele Malkin who Youman's also cites for her Islamophobic writings.

You'll quickly bore of Youman's clumsy writing style, but you should ump to the many other essays which actually offer some true insight and deep perspective.

The best essay is saved for last, written by the editors, Howell, Shryock and Abraham examining the consequences and lessons of the nation;s misguided, uneducated and misinformed approach to American Arabs, American Muslims, Islam and the intricacies of the Middle East community.

Published by Wayne State University
Great Lakes Books Series
Detroit, 2011
413 pages.