On the Knight Bus in Lahore

Every time I get on the road in Lahore, I feel like I’m on the Knight Bus. And so is everyone else.

My nephew (my driver) is cool as a cucumber while cars hurtle around like (it seems to me)giphy.gifbumper cars (just almost but never quite there). We found ourselves in a snarl of cars going in every direction in a tight space yesterday and I thought, wow, I would absolutely lose it if I was driving, GET OUT OF MY WAY YOU STUPID DRIVER, but it took just a couple of minutes to get out of the seemingly hopeless configuration. People seem to communicate like with their minds (“I’m just going weave my way into this non-
existent lane between two busy lanes” “Sure, yar, go for it, but I’m gonna go a nanosecond ahead of you” “Hello small children I’m going to blow past you, don’t diverge from your path even a millimeter” “Lalalala yeah sure, whatever”). The degree of skill and awareness it takes to do this, day in and day out, in extremely busy traffic, blows my mind.

The Muslim character in Department Q novels/films

a-conspiracy-of-faith-poster.jpgI’ve been watching the Scandi noir shows based on Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q novels (on Netflix). I read the novels a few years ago, but have just discovered the shows.

The grizzled, damaged Detective Inspector Carl Morck is shunted off to a new cold-case department, called Dept Q. He is also handed an assistant called Assad, an Arab immigrant, who initially gets on his nerves, but adds depth, drama, and humor to the drama.

[Spoiler alert]: I can’t get over how nice it is to see a positive depiction of a Muslim in mystery/thriller – or well, anything.

Assad is a faithful and practicing Muslim. He isn’t emptied of religious content for him to be humanized. Assad prays toward Mecca in the basement (it doesn’t matter if it’s not the exact direction, he says, as “Allah has such wide shoulders.”) But Muslim is not all he is. He has a mysterious past (no more spoilers, ok). The book and show poke fun at his idiosyncrasies as well as his cultural habits (such as his strong coffee). But they also take the time to consider the tensions between majority Danes such as Morck and Muslims like Assad. Morck is contemptuous of faith, and Assad demands that Morck take his faith (and that of others, including Christians, seriously). Assad encounters racism and Islamophobia, of course.  Morck learns to re-examine his own attitudes toward faith via Assad.

There is a touching moment in the movie A Conspiracy of Faith, when Elias, the anti-Muslim member of the “Lord’s Disciples”, whose children have been kidnapped, is struggling for his life, and Assad alone is there to hold his hand. Assad fears that Elias is dying, so he calls for a priest for him. There is no priest at that moment. There is just the pain and terror of the moment, as Elias and Assad’s eyes meet and they are brought together in empathy, faith, and pain.

Having seen endless Western shows and movies and read numerous American police procedurals with one-dimensional Muslim characters characterized primarily by their foreignness, their sexism, and the mad dangers of their faith, I take heart in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s novels, and am happy to see them on the screen.

“Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them”

landscape-1469310022-eddie-redmayne-fb.jpgI’m sorry, IMDB reviewers, but 7.9/10 for Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them?? Forget that. I’d give this disappointing, stretched-out, cgi-heavy prequel a 6.5 at the most, and that would be like giving a B- to a paper that should get a D.

I really cannot decide what annoyed me the most [SPOILER ALERT]: the scattered plot-line; the beasts in the suitcase which we chased around New York for far too long; the not-particularly-interesting-or-complex characters; Newt’s incoherent speech (yes, yes, I get that he’s diffident and British, but can we get some subtitles if he must talk out of the side of his mouth all the time?) or his adorable peering out of the thatch of hair throughout the movie; the breathless misery of Porpentina Goldstein; Jacob Kowalski’s perpetual nice-guy wide-eyed innocence; or the flutes and pipes that accompanied the appearance of various cgi fantastical beasts. The only bright spot for me was, ironically, Colin Farrell, really.

Rowling’s world remains deathly white, of course. (She says it’s not all white. Um.) Of the three black people who leave us utterly unimpressed, one is a scary stereotypical mammy-type witch character who actually says to Tina, just like a black mammy-witch: “Oh honey it don’t hurt none” as she prepares to – well, kill her? The other main POC is the President who, until her apologies in the end, is a huge pain in the ass for the good guys. There’s also a singer in a speakeasy. That’s about it. Oh, wait. There’s a photograph of Zoe Kravitz in there too. Thanks so much for the tokens.

The one good thing that emerges from the movie is the message that hate is a destructive power. As my kid said, the obscurial is a visual representation of what happens when people can’t be who they are. When people are hated, stigmatized, and forced into hiding by ignorant and evil people (HELLO TRUMP’S AMERICA), this stigma becomes a destructive and unstoppable force. And yet, despite this message of inclusivity, the story remains utterly White and heteronormative. It’s White liberal.

Maybe I am especially irritable as I have, during the past week or so, struggled to wade through several acts of Harry Potter & the Cursed Child. Maybe, just maybe, it is time to stop milking the franchise until writers have something substantive to offer. Until then, maybe quit relying on stretched out, cutsie stories with two-sentence plot narratives and a blast of CGI. Maybe just sit back and gather the cash that’s already flooding from the existing products. For my part, if IMDB reviewers hadn’t misled me, I would have waited till the movie came out on Redbox for $1 or so. I keep hoping to be wrong, but the truth remains that actual good movies are only made every 5-7 years or so. So I’ll just quit spending on theater tickets and parking garages, and instead enjoy watching re-runs of The IT Crowd. 

“Finding Perfect” & other Kid Lit on disability

perfectSchool teachers, parents, diversity educators:

I highly recommend this book. It is about a 12-year old girl who has an anxiety disorder/OCD.

I shared the book with a child I know. This girl (not Molly – the one in my life) struggles with a mild form of OCD. She often feels “wrong” and “weird”. Grownups snap at her for her habits – she is always stopping to perform tasks that, at best, seem pointless and, at worst, seem calculated to irritate and defy others. Why must she dawdle over her homework, trying to “perfect” the line of a T and the curve of a J? Why does she stop in stores to arrange objects in (what seem to her) symmetrical order? Why is she unable to stop doing these things even when her actions are sure to get her in trouble – losing privileges, losing free time, etc? Surely all this is merely done to be a pain in the butt? This girl has long tried to explain to people that she is a “perfectionist.” I suspect she is very similar to Molly Nathans.

This little girl finds comfort in the character of Molly Nathans. The story helps her feel less alone, and gives her some vocabulary and concepts to explain why she is this way to her peers and even to the teachers who think she is just trying to be aggravating.

Also, if you find a huge sign that says:

SHE DOESN’T MEAN TO BE AGGRAVATING. GET OVER YOURSELF & HELP HER. ADHD MEANS SHE STRUGGLES TO FOCUS. SHE ALREADY KNOWS THIS. DON’T KEEP REMINDING HER: FIGURE OUT HOW YOU CAN HELP AND HOW SHE CAN HELP HERSELF.

Thanks much.

Update: I am going to poke around for more books and book ideas in an online conversation about children with disabilities. This Twitter chat has some gems. And here is a great post on terminology and usage in kid lit.

Friday evening prayer

Today, Friday evening just before the dusk prayer (maghrib), my daughter and I sat down on the prayer rug to make a special prayer. We recited a rosary of ya Allah ya Rahman ya Raheem (O Allah, O Beneficent One, O Merciful One), and we prayed:

Protect us from the harm that hateful people can cause

Protect Muslims, undocumented people, Black people, Latinx, gay people, everyone from the harm of hateful people

But protect us also from becoming hateful

Help us understand this Trump election

Help us understand the people who voted for him

Help America become a safe place for everyone

Help America became a place where poor and working people don’t struggle and fail to survive

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Of course Nox the cat was more interested in attacking our prayer beads, but that was his manner of participation.

 

Hosting G. Willow Wilson via skype in class!

15027961_1146487348731614_424462283622950826_nThis Thursday, G. Willow Wilson was our guest speaker for World Muslim Literature, and after a dreadful couple of days, what a delight it was to chat with her about themes in “Cairo” and “Ms Marvel.”

It especially warmed my heart to have my daughter join the discussion: on behalf of the feline family, she requested a more central role for cats in the comic. I mean, sure, Pakistani-American Muslim girls are all well and good, but CATS.

A student asked if Kamran, the former “love” interest, was an example of the “bad Muslim dude”; Willow reminded us that Kamran (the secular cool Muslim dude) and Aamir (the religious Muslim guy) actually help subvert the usual good Muslim/bad Muslim binary far too common in popular culture.

14947889_1146487382064944_5429537574233507431_nSome wanted to know if Muslims had objected to representations of Ms Marvel. In the absence of many representations of Muslim Americans in popular culture, it’s pretty common – as Willow explained – for people to want Ms Marvel to be all things *they* want (more modest, more religious, less religious, etc) but overall she’s been a very popular addition to the Marvel universe. I’m eager to pick up the newest comic from the comic bookstore and find out about Laal Khanjeer!

HOW could this happen?

America, meet POTUS:

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To save you time, I’ve collected the various reasons that have been advanced for this stunning – no, stupid win:

News media: The news media handed Trump hours of publicity.  For cheap entertainment but also probably more sinister reasons (well, profits). The news media also failed to properly interrogate Trump’s statements whenever the opportunity arose. Their complete impotence in the face of his outbursts and his lack of any coherent policy is largely to blame for this vote.

The Economy, stupid: The failures of the economy mobilized millions of angry and frightened voters.

His hammy  anti-establishment strategy and rhetoric, in the face of widespread disaffection, yielded great dividends.

Elitist government policies that benefit the 1% came to bite the DNC in the rear. What, is that a surprise?

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The DNC failed all of us: The DNC screwed up with their choice. The DNC sold Bernie out (thanks for the comment, Aditi!). As Svend White puts it: “The Dem establishment and coopted media actively sabotaged a viable alternative who was scandal-free and who was widely liked and respected even on the Right, and who consistently did better against Trump than HRC surveys. Who knows how Sanders would’ve done, but he definitely did not suffer the “negatives” (whether personality or policy related) often given by Trump supporters against Clinton.”

The GOP sold out and gave Trump the nomination. The GOP is in trouble. Thanks, Reince Priebus.

DNC’s Pied Piper strategy – outlined in the email leaked by WikiLeaks – backfired. Thanks, DNC.

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Electoral colleges messed up the popular vote. Again.

James Comey. Where is he anyway?

HRC: Widespread distrust of HRC and dislike of her policies. Clinton framed herself as the anti-Trump, but the evidence did her no favors: she made anti-Black statements and has always been hawkish  and elitist and pro-elite. This is no secret.

America’s anti-women culture: Sexism and misogyny worked for Trump, and he was unashamed to use them.

A “Whitelash” against the Obama presidency:   Samantha Bee puts it well.We used our progressive vote on electing Obama for Hope. Still hoping.

A faith-based movement of White evangelicals: White evangelicals came out in droves in favor of a man who has shown zero interest in faith but is 100% interested in power. The main purpose was to keep supposedly “liberal” HRC out. Clinton, despite her spotty record of policies vis-a-vis women and gays, framed herself as the gender activist, but was unable to do it well enough.

Anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant hate (see example: below) did its magic on Election Day. Untitled.png

Mass political ignorance: Angry voters, frustrated with the economy, came out to vote for the outsider. The outsider played on their fury, and offers them nothing. They think a guy who can say “You’re fired!” will be a straight shooter.

Voter suppression: Voter suppression worked against minority voters, yet again here and here.

The deterioration of culture: Celebrity culture and another reason Reality TV is the devil. The Apprentice gave him 10 years of presenting himself as a tough guy with economic smarts. Keep doing that to people who are in love with the Kardashians and who agonize when Rachel and Ross don’t get married, and they start seeing President Trump firing establishment elites all around them. This gives them a buzz. A buzz is better than no change, right?

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What about third party voters? I do not buy the scapegoating argument that third party voters were a main reason Clinton lost. Instead of this rubbish, focus on …

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Voter Turnout: This is a perennial problem. Instead of bellyaching about third party voters, maybe establishment Dems could … oh, I don’t know – get people out to vote?

 

Have I missed anything?