Talking About Terror


[Amitava Kumar and Lorraine Adams will be in conversation today, August 27, at 6.30 PM at the Aicon Gallery in New York City. Admission is free.]

I have just received a letter from a man in prison. His name is Hemant Lakhani. Lakhani was a women’s clothing salesman who, in 2005, was convicted of selling an Igla missile to an FBI informant posing as a member of a jihadist organization.

Lakhani is one of the people I write about in my new book A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm A Tiny Bomb. He learned about the book’s publication by reading a review in the New York Times.

Mr. Lakhani writes to congratulate me but also to invite me back. There is more to tell, he writes. If I listen to his story, and write about it, he promises me that the book will be a bestseller. I will be interviewed by the mainstream press, including Charlie Ross (sic).

The Times review had also mentioned that I had visited a strip-club outside the Missouri high-security prison where Lakhani is incarcerated. I had a conversation there with a dancer about the man I had come to meet in Missouri. This didn’t sit well with Mr Lakhani and he writes in his letter that I must promise him that I will not go back to the strip-club again. Continue reading

Interview w/ Reshma Saujani at Netroots

The September 14th Democratic Primary in New York City could be the make or break date for Reshma Saujani’s bid for Congress. And of course, what is the biggest issue at the polls these days? The few-blocks-away-from-Ground Zero-Islamic-community-center.

There’s nothing smooth about the infighting for the Congressional seat from the so-called “Silk Stocking District” on the Upper East side, where 18-year Democratic incumbent Rep. Carolyn Maloney, 64, is facing a primary election challenge from upstart Reshma Saujani, 34, an eight-year resident of the city who is making her first bid for elected office.

the two both support the right of Muslims to build a mosque on Park Place, two blocks from Ground Zero (though Saujani, an American-born Hindu whose parents were born in India and later became refugees from Idi Amin’s Uganda, snipes that Maloney has been all-but-silent about her support for the mosque.)[nydailynews]

I had the chance to meet up with Reshma at Netroots Nation and asked her some questions about what it was like to run, her issues, and her fellow Desi candidates. Here’s what she had to say.

Candidate campaigns are no easy game, between the posturing and pandering and bickering. I was hesitant about Reshma’s bid after I found the following video earlier this year where she talks about being pro Netanyahu’s settlement plan in Israel. It seemed an awful lot like pandering for votes to me. But her support of New York City Muslims in this time of Islamaphobia is to be commended, both with the support of Park 51 as well as speaking out on the slashing of a Muslim NYC cab driver. After the Ami Bera fiasco of last week, I want to highlight how particularly important it is for people, ESPECIALLY CANDIDATES, to stand firm for what they believe. I commend Reshma for taking a stand, despite the risk of losing votes. And I challenge all other candidates to do the same. Continue reading

Brownstar at NYC Fringe

Brownstar NYC Fringe Festival

This Sunday I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Brownstar’s “Faster than the Speed of White” at the NYC Fringe Festival. There are two remaining performances, today from 3:45-4:55 PM and tomorrow from 8:45 to 9:55 and if you’re in NYC you really should go see them.

Brownstar is a theatrical performance duo, comprised of NORTHSTAR (Pushkar Sharma) and SOUTHSTAR (Sathya Sridharan). Their style is a hybrid of improv sketch comedy, like the Second City troupe, old school spoken word, and Hip Hop. This is not your parents South Asian theater by a long shot. [See our earlier post about them here for more about their background, origin story, and influences]

FTTSOW is a compilation of their earlier shorter sketch comedies into a single 70 minute show, the story of Captain Northstar and Ensign Southstar’s voyage on the Brownstar Galactica to the alcove of answers. As you would expect from the Fringe Festival, this isn’t a traditional play, it’s more like a concept album, a mashup and weaving together of several different sketches that share a set of common themes: South Asian American Identity and what it means to be a desi artist in America. The hybridity of their performance genre reflects the hybridity of their subject, like browns in America, their style reflects a variety of different influences.

Although these are weighty themes, the show is comic rather than somber. When you see the ode to the squat toilet or the mashup of Midnights Children with Kal Pen’s biography, you’ll see that Brownstar don’t take themselves seriously. Their work is thought provoking and consistently surprising and definitely worth a look for yourself.

TICKETS: Available online from NYC Fringe

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Vertigo Stick

You know the great art of stripper pole dancing that we see performed at the local gentleman’s club? Turns out everything-is-from-India-Uncle could be right… pole dancing it turns out IS from India. Watch and thank me in the comments (thanks Sushil).

I mean… did you see when he….. how did he….. what the heck……? Did that hurt???

Mallakhamb was introduced as a supporting exercise for wrestlers. “Pole mallakhamb” was started by Balambhattdada Deodhar sometime between 1800 and 1810. The mallakhamb pole used in competitions is a straight pole made of teak or sheesham wood, standing 2.6 metres (8.5 ft) in height with a circumference of 55 centimetres (22 in) at the base. [wiki]

Pole dancers in the West could learn a move or two from these Mallakhamb acrobats. I’m just saying. Continue reading

Interview w/ Manan Trivedi at Netroots

He won his Democratic primary election for his bid for Congress by only 672 votes, affirming the importance of “every vote counts.” But that’s only half the fight as Election Day on November 2nd is only two months away. Manan Trivedi is a doctor, a policy analyst, an Iraq veteran and… my former classmate at UCLA. I was excited to see him at Netroots Nation, even if it was only for a day – he had to fly back to DC to sit on an IALI panel with Jay Sean. Manan was generous enough to give me a few minutes out of his busy day to do an interview for The Mutiny. Here’s what he said.

More from #NN10 to come… Continue reading

Interview w/ Ash Kalra at Netroots

As many of you know, last month I got the chance to attend Netroots Nation 2010. It was the fifth annual gathering and I was graciously a recipient of one of the scholarships given out by Democracy for America. It was an amazing conference of about over 2,000 progressives, politicos and internet social media moguls. And of course, bloggers. You can read about my experience on my blog (Part 1 and Part 2).

The whole time I was there, I couldn’t help but play “desi-spotting.” At first I felt a little weird about it, but seeing as how I was going on behalf of a South Asian American blog and I was the only blogger I found repping a South Asian space, I considered it “ethnic-targeted marketing” after a while. There were about a couple dozen Desis there too. I met some great people and grabbed some amazing stories.

With all this talk of elections, I was excited to meet an actual Desi elected while at Netroots Nation. Ash Kalra is a council member for the city of San Jose. Check what he has to say.

More from #NN10 to come… Continue reading

America has a Nativism problem, not a “Muslim Problem”

Does America Have a Muslim Problem?

…Islamophobia in the U.S. doesn’t approach levels seen in other countries where Muslims are in a minority. But to be a Muslim in America now is to endure slings and arrows against your faith — not just in the schoolyard and the office but also outside your place of worship and in the public square, where some of the country’s most powerful mainstream religious and political leaders unthinkingly (or worse, deliberately) conflate Islam with terrorism and savagery. In France and Britain, politicians from fringe parties say appalling things about Muslims, but there’s no one in Europe of the stature of a former House Speaker who would, as Newt Gingrich did, equate Islam with Nazism. [Time]

My answer to Bobby Ghosh, the author of Time’s cover story, is “no.” America, despite all the ugly rhetoric of the past several weeks, is not Islamaphobic. Instead, I would say that America is currently in the grips of yet another episode of ugly Nativism, this particular episode fueled by power hungry ideologues that have access to methods of mass communication not present during former episodes of Nativism in our country: the 24 hour media cycle and the internet. “Islamaphobia” is not what afflicts our nation. It is merely a symptom of the underlying malady which, like chronic malaria, can flair up and leave the collective “us,” the American people, weak until treated. It will never be totally eradicated. Treating the problem by adopting an “enlightened” us vs.”ignorant” them mentality will make things worse, as will appeasement (see examples of the latter here, here, and here).

Before continuing the discussion it is important to understand what “Nativism” is in the context of American history. History has always been my favorite subject because historians are like fortune tellers. Everything that has happened will likely happen again. Let’s start with the most basic place to learn about the history of Nativism in our country. You guessed it, Wikipedia:

Nativism favors the interests of certain established inhabitants of an area or nation as compared to claims of newcomers or immigrants. It may also include the re-establishment or perpetuation of such individuals or their culture.

Nativism typically means opposition to immigration or efforts to lower the political or legal status of specific ethnic or cultural groups because the groups are considered hostile or alien to the natural culture, and it is assumed that they cannot be assimilated. [Wikipedia]

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Sepia Mutiny’s new commenting system

You have spoken. We have heard. We agree. The level of discourse in the comments following blog posts has declined substantially since we first started in 2004. I won’t go in to all the reasons behind this but it involves an evolution in the way people use and interact with blogs, as well as the time the bloggers here have available to moderate. Over the coming months we will be making changes to the website to better your experience, as well as, hopefully, increase the value of the discussions that are being had on this site. Here are a couple of the near term changes our awesome website admin team, Chaitan, Kunjan, and new team member Vishal are getting set to roll out as early as today:

  • You will now have the ability to “Login” to leave comments. This means you can use your Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. ID to serve as your login to leave comments on SM. Why should you choose to do this? Well, we want everyone to be able to tell (even if it is via an anonymous Google/Facebook/Twitter account) who the people are that leave the best and most substantive comments here at SM, the people that are contributing an edifying perspective. We also want people to know who repeatedly derails comment threads by violating our comment policy so that our bloggers can more quickly and effectively moderate comment threads.
  • You can continue to leave comments totally anonymously as always. BUT…starting September 22nd these comments will be hidden by default (collapsed) and most people will never see them unless they take the time to uncollapse them. For practical purposes this means if you want to leave comments with total anonymity, very few people will actually see that comment.

The new comment system is in testing mode so please use this thread or the “Contact” link at the top of our homepage to send us feedback about any bugs you have found. Thanks, and please let our wonderful admin team know if you like!

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Your Money’s No Good

amibera.JPGIt’s gotta be said. I am so sick of the Islamophobia in America right now, particularly fueled currently by the “Ground Zero” mosque and championed by key leaders in the Republican party. And by that I mean Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Fox News. It’s a dirty, divisive campaign tactic to garner votes in November and anyone with brain cells can see how transparent this is. My twitter feed can’t go ten minutes without getting a retweet from some dimwit on the issue or anti-Muslim sentiment.

But Congressional Candidate Ami Berra? Come ON.

Dr. Ami Bera, the Democrat challenger to Congressional incumbent Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), was blasted by the California Republican Party for accepting a $250 donation from the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. [cbs13]

First of all, it’s only a $250 donation. Second of all, it’s CAIR, one of the tamest, not-so-progressive, largest national Muslim advocacy group around. I’m not the biggest fan of CAIR’s work (mainly because it’s not left or inclusive enough) but the Republican candidate’s anti-Muslim targeting of Ami Berra’s campaign contribution is absurd. Third (and most importantly) CAIR is a 501c3 organization so they can’t make donations to candidates. The money came from Basim Elkarra, the current Executive Director of Sacramento-CAIR and who also happens to be elected to the Executive Board of the California Democratic Party. Which basically means it’s the individual citizen that made the donation, not an organization that said citizen works for.

Does the Doctor stand by his Muslim donor?

Dr. Bera gave the donation back. His spokesperson issued a statement, saying, “We returned the contribution after questions about the organization’s affiliations arose. This is a diversionary tactic designed by Rep. Lungren and his proxies to deflect from jobs, the economy and health care — the issues that this campaign is about.” [cbs13]

If it’s a diversionary tactic, why’d you give the money back? For the record Dr. Berra, Muslim-Americans donate AND Muslim Americans vote. You have them in your district. Some of them were probably even planning on voting for you. The fact that you folded to the anti-Muslim rhetoric on the right so easily will not bode well for you on November 2nd. How easily will you fold to them if you are in Congress? Pretty easily, I would guess. Continue reading

Party on the Food Network!

After several months of waiting, the “Next Food Network Star” has been announced, and it is none other than fellow desi Aarti Sequiera! Lakshmi did a brief write up on Aarti as the competition to select the Food Network’s next celebrity chef began, and now we can see the results come full circle. Aarti’s show, currently titled “Aarti Party,” will be the first cooking show on national American television to focus on Indian food, and be hosted by an Indian American.

I consider myself to be an amateur foodie, and between tasting new cuisines, learning how not to starve to cook, and avidly reading others’ food blogs, I always make time to enjoy the veritable smorgasbord of culinary shows. If there are any other foodie mutineers out there, you will know that the Food Network is often mocked for its commercial drive, and celebrity chefs who are more celebrity than chef. I usually don’t watch the Food Network unless I feel like listening to Paula Deen’s comforting southern drawl, but in between seasons of “Top Chef,” “The Next Food Network Star” keeps me satiated.

I have been watching “The Next Food Network Star” since its start, and the Food Network for even longer, but it wasn’t until the third season of TNFS that I noticed something about the Food Network…its lack of diversity in both food culture and the ethnicity of its hosts. One of the contestants on that season, Joshua “Jag” Garcia, was disqualified from the competition after it had been revealed that he lied about some of his culinary experience. In his exit interview, he mentioned how the Food Network has no Latino chefs or shows featuring Hispanic cuisine, and he had hoped he could be the first to bring his culture to the channel. Shortly after, Food Network produced “Simply Delicioso.” Around the same time, the first African-American hosted cooking show premiered, “Down Home with the Neely’s.” Continue reading