On Being Blog
— said by Kate Moos when discussing how to implement the American Public Media brand more effectively in working with potential guests and media companies
Brian Lehrer interviewed Krista for his daily program on WNYC this morning. As a listener, I was appreciative that he read her book and asked open, insightful questions. (Sure, I’m guilty of being a little bit protective since I work with her. *grin*)
The interview generated some engaging — and sometimes loud — discussion on their Web site. You can listen to the mp3 and weigh in if you’d like. We’d like to read your comments or pose some questions you would’ve liked to have asked.
We’ve just completed our program in which Krista interviews British activist Ed Husain. Ed Husain spent several years in the 1990s in ideologically radical Islamist groups in the UK, where he was born and grew up. He wrote a book about these experiences, The Islamist, which has generated some fierce debate in Britain. (Check out our Particulars page to find links to some of that criticism.)
In his book, he makes a case for banning radical groups that he was part of, and makes causal links between those ideological groups and other, more violent groups that encourage terror tactics and violence. All of this has come in the wake of the July 7, 2005, bombings in London that, like the terror attacks here in 2001, have been emblemized by two numbers: 7/7.
(Photo by Jan van der Crabben/Flickr)
Much of the debate has spun around whether or not such causal links do in fact exist, and whether or not his own experiences can speak to any sort of trend responsible for radicalizing youth in Britain’s Muslim communities.
It’s a sensitive topic, one that is difficult to remain objective about one way or the other. One thing I’ve experienced in reading the bubbling blogosphere is the cynicism the Muslim community feels toward the media. We’ve seen all sorts of talking heads and policy experts on the airwaves, telling us why terrorism has become a tactic used by Islamist revolutionaries. In fact, they rarely even frame it that way. The whole focus on terrorism — to the exclusion of positive developments — is problematic. Instead of opening up discussion, it paints people into corners, puts them in boxes, labels them as somehow different to “us.”
It’s this sense of “us” and “them” that Ed Husain talks much about in the show, particularly in the uncut interview. Having grown up in Britain, he has some quite pronounced views on social stratification and class segregation there.
But — and this is a big but — it seems to a cynical Muslim audience that it’s a short leap from calling something Islamism to stripping away that –ism, and just blaming Islam. The search for “moderate” Muslims by the media is held up proof of the media’s ignorance and complicity in framing how Muslims are portrayed. We’ve even had discussions here about what words we use to promote this show: do we catch the ear by offering insight into suicidal terrorism, or do we say that a radical has turned to a deeper spirituality?
In some sense, the whole usage of the term “moderate” reflects to what degree we view everything, in the US, through the lens of politics. Moderation is stressed repeatedly in the Qur’an as something to strive for, but no one within the Muslim community comes out and says, “Hey, world, I’m moderate!”
People do split into broad camps of conservatives, traditionalists, progressives, liberals, secularists, or what have you, but there’s a lot of debate over the terminology of these various shades of experience. Terms like conservative, moderate and progressive, having no real scriptural basis, seem borrowed from American media parlance. They can be useful shorthand, but sometimes obscure the nuance and complexity of today’s intellectual ferment. They can turn real people into distant intellectual constructs.
Some want to call this period of Islamic history the “Reformation,” borrowing again from an outside frame of reference. It honestly doesn’t matter what we call it. What matters is the substance, the story of our time in history, the opportunity, and the stakes we play for. People will criticize someone like Ed Husain for focusing on radicalism and calling for more discussion, for associating the Muslim experience with some problematic social malaise, or some violent ideology, when the daily lived reality is so far from that.
I myself find the issue of identity boring, because it doesn’t satisfy the real weighty questions that I wrestle with, things that are light-years away from the questions the media focuses on. I’m more concerned about purpose in my life, about goodness, about the music inside language, about if I should play PlayStation for another half-hour or start making dinner.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that someone like Ed Husain doesn’t have a story to tell. One can be self-critical without being self-hating. And I can’t say firsthand what it’s like in the UK, because I haven’t lived there. But Ed Husain talks about the North American Muslim community as a source for direct inspiration for him — there’s a strong streak of civic and social engagement in the Muslim community here. Just look to Krista’s interview with Ingrid Mattson or a recent interview on Altmuslim with Zaid Shakir. A great, high-profile British blog, Pickled Politics, seems to have a good pulse on the same reality in Britain.
That’s why Ed Husain has not abandoned Islam nor found it to be somehow inherently broken. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have criticism to offer about people who preach violence “in our name.” And nor does it mean, because he stakes out a claim, that he has the final, definitive answer. He doesn’t claim to, either, but he is part of a larger conversation. And if you have stories that inspire you, why not share them, and keep us honest?
(Photo by Chan’ad Bahraini/Flickr)
I started in November as the show’s first-ever production intern. My time here has been brief but wonderful. You all should know that the people who create this show are every bit as bright, funny, insightful, inquisitive, and warm as you hope they are.
Two things brought me here: First, I am an unabashed super-fan of the program. Second, I am a student in my last year at Luther Seminary. My program there asks that I do an internship after two years of study, and I heard through a friend that SOF had one available — quelle chance! (Maybe three things brought me here, if you count dumb luck!)
I’m working on a Master’s in Old Testament — not my intended course of study upon starting seminary, but it absolutely captured my imagination. And Krista’s conversations with Elie Wiesel and Sharon Brous are among the things that have kept me energized, searching, and grounded during the past few years. I think we who feel at home in a religious tradition can make a bad habit of treating an insight from another as a threat instead of good theological medicine.
My time has been filled with both typical “intern” tasks and experiences that made me want to pinch myself. Sure, I did mail runs and my alphabetizing skills are now second-to-none, but I also got to do much of the initial research into our guests and those we’re considering treating on the program (most recently, this meant that I got paid to think about Abraham Joshua Heschel — be still, my heart!), sit in on interviews and see, first hand, the dedication and talent that make this show what it is.
During my few months here, I saw three new shows produced from start to finish; Janna Levin, Robert Millet and this week’s program with Ed Husain. Levin will hold a special place in my heart because she was the first interview I sat in on. Her energy is infectious — and everyone was electric after talking to her. She’s especially exciting for me because she is a young professor — a brilliant scholar who still manages to be cool and fun. If/when I get my Ph.D., I hope to still be as in love with my subject matter as she is and to engage others as profoundly as she does.
I’m headed back to school for a few more months to rack up as many language classes as I can before starting the grueling process of applying for Ph.D. programs in Hebrew Bible. So much to do: finish my Master’s thesis, learn another ancient language (Akkadian), another modern language (German), take the GRE… not to mention getting in to a program (fingers crossed!) and likely moving across the country.
So while finishing up here is bittersweet, I’m excited to go back to school and I’m looking forward to being a listener again — anticipating each week’s program and the spiritual nourishment it brings.
(photo: Lyz Baranowski Lenz)
I can’t afford — personally or production-wise — to be on the road much of the time. But Kate and I are on a thoroughly energizing, enjoyable trip right now. And there is something amazingly wonderful about getting out like this every once in a while and looking out, while I speak, at a room full of bodies and faces.
The radio program has grown so much in reach and carriage these past years, yet what we do doesn’t change much. We just keep trying to get better and better at our craft. We create these hours of radio and pages of web content, put them up on the Internet and satellite, and move on to the next topic.
We know from e-mails that people receive our work and use and apply it — those e-mails helps keep me going every day. But to actually be in a room full of listeners is a pleasure and affirmation at a different level. I love radio as an intimate and mysterious medium. Seeing our listeners, on the road, adds another layer of discovery and mystery for me.
A fabulous turn-out yesterday at the National Cathedral. It looked like six or seven hundred people in the pews, filling the nave of the Cathedral for the Sunday Forum, during which Dean Sam Lloyd interviewed Krista — always a treat, I think, for the listeners to hear Krista’s take on the sorts of questions she puts to others. Keep an eye on the Cathedral’s site for video. (We’ll be getting a copy as well for possible posting here.) Also very nice to meet and work with our friends at WAMU on this visit, especially Andrea Travis, who really helped make it a fine event.
We made a quick turnaround and headed for a Bikram yoga studio in Dupont Circle… just the thing to wring out any remaining adrenalin and balance the energy after a big event!
My phone is not cooperating in attempts to send pics, so I’ll try to figure out what the problem is. Later today a train to Princeton for the final event on this trip. More soon!
I enjoy the reporting of Sylvia Poggioli, NPR’s veteran European correspondent. She was formerly known in my household as “The Pope Reporter” because I often had the radio on when her stories on Pope John Paul II aired. (She was a guest on our program on the religious legacy of the late pontiff).
Last week NPR aired Poggioli’s six-part series exploring the evolving identities of Muslim women in Europe. Her stories focused on women in Germany, France, and Britain, the three European countries with the largest Muslim populations. I always like reading reporter notebooks - here’s an excerpt from her notebook for this series:
As I traveled through Europe this fall to report for this series, I remembered the words of filmmaker Yamina Benguigui, my first guide into the world of what she called “ghost women.” French-born to Algerian parents, she broke with her strict patriarchal family and married a non-Muslim Frenchman.
In her documentaries, Benguigui explored the phenomenon of some young French Muslim women who, in the early 1990s, had taken to wearing the headscarf even when their mothers did not. While many of these young women said the headscarf was a mark of their cultural identity in a society where they felt discriminated, Benguigui said it was also something else: a way of getting around the dilemma of living a double life in two different cultures. Instead of breaking with their families, “they decide to take the Koran as a weapon against their families, by submerging themselves completely in religion, brandishing the veil and the Koran, they become the leader in the family … (the Muslim girl) will not be forced to marry and she can come home when she wants. She can drive a car and she’s completely free,” Benguigui told me in 1995.
Twelve years later, I met many Muslim women who still have not found their places and are still torn by two cultures. But I also met many Muslim women who are asserting themselves much more forcefully — either in identifying with European secular culture and demanding the same rights as their Western sisters, or by appropriating Islam for themselves, through a new female perspective. Or in a combination of the two.
While there is no distinct Europe-wide pattern, in many places a quiet revolution among Muslim women is under way.
Next week we broadcast Krista’s conversation with Ed Husain, author of The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside, and Why I Left. Poggioli’s series is a good compliment to this show, and to the other programs we’ve done on Muslim women with Leila Ahmed and Ingrid Mattson, that help broaden my understanding of Islam worldwide.
(photo: [name removed at photographer’s request])
Krista and I head out tomorrow for D.C. where we have another event in our 2008 World Tour, at the National Cathedral’s Sunday Forum. Our travels are exciting, and by far and away the best thing about them is meeting our listeners. It’s just an amazing gift. The event is at 10 am Sunday February 3rd, and is free and open. See you there!