1525 Chapters
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CONCLUSION: Paradise

Qazi, Farhana Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

There is no greater dream for a believing Muslim than the desire to enter Paradise. The ultimate goal is to breathe heavenly air and recline in gardens from which rivers flow, as the Quran promises, with a tribe of family, friends, and all of God’s Prophets. How one achieves that dream is determined by actions in this life. A believer is told that the hereafter is for those whose acts of charity are stacked higher than the sins of a mortal. But the Afterlife, though an attainable goal, is not without the tests of faith that a Muslim endures on earth.

In an era of romantic terrorism, the rules for entry into Paradise are constantly rewritten, and a Muslim’s rights and responsibilities are redefined. For nearly twenty years, I have witnessed the semantic folly that terrorists use to seduce seemingly innocent girls and women to resolve a grievance. For some women, the decision to join religious extremism is voluntary and is often driven by personal reasons, including the need to belong, to be loved, to be purposeful, and to offer a helping hand to a Muslim community suffering the barbarism of war.

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3. Deception

Qazi, Farhana Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The sound of his voice was heavy. In July 2014, the leader of the world’s new terror nightmare, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), declared, “Rush, oh Muslims, to your state. Yes, it is your state. Rush, because Syria is not for the Syrians, and Iraq is not for the Iraqis. The Earth belongs to Allah!” Draped in black, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stood at the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in the Iraqi city of Mosul to separate the world into two: the believers (that is, the righteous followers of Islam) and the nonbelievers (or the kufr, which include “the camp of the Jews, the Crusaders, and their allies”). An old enemy disguised as new, al-Baghdadi made no mention of women. But his predecessor did.

The former al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, understood that Muslim women could inflict greater damage on his perceived enemies: the United States and its Muslim allies. Jordanian-born Al-Zarqawi reinvented the role of Muslim women by telling them to join the cause and be suicide bombers; marry an insurgent; recruit other women; and support terrorism by being a facilitator, messenger, logistics provider, and much more. Once jailed in Jordan, Al-Zarqawi was released in 1999 as part of a general amnesty granted by King Abdullah II but then sentenced to death a year after his release for the murder of a US diplomat. To Jordan and the rest of the world, Al-Zarqawi was a high-value target and a wanted man.

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5. Where the Girls Are

Qazi, Farhana Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

On Friday, October 17, 2014, Assad Ibrahim, who was from Sudan, got a call from his daughter’s school in Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. The calls are routine when parents fail to report an absence, or when a student arrives late or cuts class, at Overland High. His then-sixteen-year-old daughter had not come home. He called her cell phone and she answered. “I’m running late,” she told him. But when she did not return after school, Ibrahim grew concerned. He discovered that his daughter’s passport was missing. Where could she have gone?

Ibrahim visited the home of a friend, Farah Ali, a Somali immigrant who lived nearby with his family, and told him about his missing daughter. Had Ali seen his girls? The three were friends. Ali’s daughters were seventeen and fifteen at the time. Ali said he had talked to them that morning while he was working. The two sisters said they were sick, but at 10:30 a.m. they felt well enough to go to the library. Ibrahim suggested that his friend look for their passports and the two thousand dollars that the family kept at the home—gone. The fathers called the FBI and filed runaway/missing-persons reports with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. Desperate to find his daughter, one of the fathers posted on Twitter: “Please if you read this tell me where you are? We are so worried about you #Isis #raqqa #Colorado.”

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6. Misguided

Qazi, Farhana Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

It all seemed innocent enough, until it wasn’t. On July 2, 2014, Shannon Maureen Conley was halfway down the runway at Denver International Airport when US federal agents put an end to her plans. Clothed in a hijab, the 19-year-old American girl was on a one-way trip to Turkey via Germany when she was discovered. The Muslim convert made no secret of the fact that she was heading to Syria to join ISIS. A simple-looking American girl, Conley had been radicalized within a short time period. In less than a year, she had converted to Islam, fallen in love with a Muslim man online, and pledged her loyalty to ISIS. She was one of many Western girls who had been misguided by male extremists, a victim of romantic fatalism.

Conley had grown up in Arvada, a quiet suburb of Denver, in a home with a statue of Saint Francis in the garden. Nothing seemed amiss. Her mother, Ana Maria, was a professor at Regis University. Her father, John, worked in the computer industry and taught martial arts on the side. The youngest of four girls, Conley wore shorts and jeans and hats. She was friendly and a bright student at Arvada West High School.

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4. The Stranger

Qazi, Farhana Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

She was a stranger to most people, including her own family. On December 2, 2015, a twenty-something young woman named Tashfeen Malik from Pakistan and her husband, Syed Farook, gunned down fourteen people and wounded others in one of the deadliest mass shootings in America. Masked in black, her face concealed, the girl from Pakistan assaulted my religion.

In the first hour of the attack, I wondered aloud if Malik would be hated less if she sported a painted leather jacket, low-rise jeans, and leather boots. If she had appeared more Western, rather than hidden from the public’s view, she might have been accepted as a Muslim woman. Interviews with Western women confirm that they perceive Muslim women draped in dark garb, including the covering of their eyes, as anonymous or nonexistent. One American woman said to me, “I can’t talk to her if I can’t see her as a person.”

I wanted to believe that Malik’s religion did not matter. Even when it did. I knew that Islam would come under attack again by those who did not understand it because a Muslim woman ruined the lives of innocent Americans and put Islam in the spotlight. Again.

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7. Love of God

Qazi, Farhana Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

We wandered together under moody gray skies, stepping into the Turkish neighborhood in East London. The smell of sugar and stale coffee permeated the air. Carrying a tote bag, her hair pulled back in a scarf, a thirty-something woman named Zufie guided me inside an ethnic restaurant with cushions on the floor and lanterns from an imperial era hanging above us. Earlier, we had prayed together at the Turkish mosque nearby, our heads bowed on an ocher-red rug, the walls decorated with bright teal-green leaves, reminding me of the interior of Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque.

If there was a voice that did not need words, it was hers. In the 1990s, when I first met Zufie, I was enrolled in classes at a local university near Hyde Park and lived on Coventry Street. My classes included British Theater and Introduction to the Bible, taught by a priest. When we met, I recognized our differences to be a gift, rather than a barrier to friendship. In time, we made promises to travel together and to honor our new togetherness without judgment, no matter where we might go. Hers was a different world from my American Southern life. She found calm in the midst of bigotry, shadows of doubt, and shame from unwarranted attacks on Islam. But her calming presence and mindful living—originating from her love of God and His creation—helped Zufie discover Islam with grace, leaving no room for hostility or cold-heartedness for those who either demonized her faith or indulged in religious extremism.

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INTRODUCTION: Awakening

Qazi, Farhana Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

For years, I dreamed of hijackings on airplanes. In my dreams, men with dark eyes wore black masks and wielded sharp weapons. They spoke a language I vaguely understood and made plans to strike a passenger. At that moment, I rose from my seat to announce my faith: “La illaha illa la Muhammadan rasulilah.” (“There is no God but God and Muhammad is His Prophet.”) I said it three times. The masked men stopped. They looked at each other. They didn’t know what to say or do. I clutched the scarf I had pulled out of my handbag and recited the first lines in the Quran, “The Opening Verse.” The men remained standing, motionless, until someone said in Gulf-accented Arabic, “Who are you?”

In the dreams, Sara was always next to me. We have been together for as long as I can remember. We went to the same college in Texas, overlooking hill country, and then I followed her to the same graduate school in Washington, DC. We both joined the Counterterrorism Center. We have so much in common: we love to travel to the Middle East, write and speak on foreign policy issues, and learn foreign languages—Sara mastered Pashto, the tongue of the Afghans—and we both love mint tea. If I had a blond-haired sister, it would be Sara. Which is why I’m not surprised that she is always with me in the hijacking dream or when I have terrible visions of being kidnapped by masked murderers—all of whom are Muslim—and I pretend to be the Muslim heroine by saving Sara.

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1. Destiny

Qazi, Farhana Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Growing up in Texas, I learned about war from my mother. I listened to stories of countries born out of conflict; women taking up arms for national pride; and the speeches, songs, and scholarship created by women to fight their oppressors. Mama taught me about female fighters. I was always curious about why she chose to join the army, why she rallied for a socialist political party, and how she lied to her family to do what she believed was her God-given right as a woman. The right to go to war. The right to vote. And the right to choose her destiny.

We lived on a quiet, tree-lined street in north Austin. I knew very little about the country of my birth, Pakistan, or the religion I was born into, Islam. On faith, Mama preached: Pray when you can. Fast if you’re healthy. Never judge anyone. Take care of the poor and your parents. Islam was made simple and easy, so long as my sister and I followed the cultural traditions cloaked by religion.

When I was a girl, my mother introduced me to Kashmir, a place that bids fair to being Heaven on earth. A tiny fraction of the world’s population lives in the blue-green hills, divided unevenly between the two nuclear-rival countries of India and Pakistan. More than ten million Kashmiris live on the Indian side and six million live in the autonomous territory of Pakistan. By contrast, my childhood home in the state of Texas is twice the size of all of Kashmir. This region is the site of the world’s highest battlefield, at twenty thousand feet, where Indian and Pakistani military troops fought. Though Mama romanticized Kashmir, she had never visited or lived near the white-blue mountains. For her and millions of Pakistanis, the valley symbolized resistance.

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8. Wired

Qazi, Farhana Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

At speaking events, I’m often asked how one connects with religious extremists online. It’s simple, I tell them. Search for propaganda films on YouTube. Click on the film and hit the “Like” button. Or find comments posted on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites that call individuals to brave death for a cause by migrating to Syria to fight for injustice toward Muslims. In the virtual world, girls are alone, open to strangers, and free to be a different person. With enough clicks and posts, as well as questions about conflicts in the Muslim world, it is relatively easy for a male or female terrorist recruiter to flag a potential recruit. Often, girls take pseudonyms that begin with Umm for “mother” in Arabic, even when they are not yet married and have no children. It is a symbol of what’s to come, of the new life they will pursue in the land of martyrdom.

Girls create fictional accounts to hide their true identities and intentions. It’s also the easiest way for them to conceal their online activities from their parents. With “transient anonymity,” a term coined by Jaron Lanier in You Are Not a Gadget, girls are uninhibited on the Internet. In their hyperconnectivity, they are free, spending hours of time away from the real world. This organic communication gives Muslim teenage girls looking for a purpose that includes marriage and martyrdom an online community of extremists, who are always available, accessible, and approachable. Since 2016, at least one hundred girls from Western countries have attempted to migrate to Syria.

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2. Going Solo

Qazi, Farhana Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

A flock of birds circled above like paper butterflies. The smell of the place was a combination of wood, apples, and morning rain. The young woman I called Sadia led the protest with one arm swinging through the air, her voice loud and brassy like the sound of a solo trumpet. “We want freedom!” she shouted. The women looked like an undefeated army; their chants filled the tepid air. In sharp tones, they chanted: “What do we want? Azaadi! What do we need? Azaadi! What are we fighting for? We want freedom! Kashmir belongs to us!”

I closed my eyes and felt their thundering voices. Their desire for freedom was reasonable. The women needed to be heard by the battalion of Indian police waving their batons. In their togetherness, the women displayed a solidarity that was intuitively felt: They had been destined for one another. With each street protest, they closely held on to a feeling of necessity and the uniqueness of their actions. When I opened my eyes, I locked gazes with Sadia, whose eyes squinted as though she was smiling at me from behind the cloth that covered her face. Something about her made me want to comfort her, offer her reassurance, a hand to hold—to say, “You are free. No one can take away your conscience.”

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9. Soul Sick

Qazi, Farhana Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Lisa clutched her nine-millimeter weapon as insurgents fired into the house of men, women, and children. A team of US soldiers and Special Forces operators engaged in one of the worst firefights that had taken place in Wardak province; this central east region of Afghanistan was the scene of some of the most violent battles launched by violent extremists. Trapped by intense hostile fire, US forces battled a local Afghan insurgent group named Hezb-eIslami (HIG), or Party of Islam.

“There were fourteen people in the house, including four children. The women were in the back of the room,” Lisa told me in an interview.

The event took place in a small village. On the right side of the room in the back of the house, a local woman concealed by her clothing stood near a large propane tank. As insurgents continued to fire at American soldiers, an explosion hit the house. Lisa was blown out the front door. The suicide bomber killed four children and two American servicemen.

Lisa tried to stay calm as she shared her story. The memory of the female suicide bomber made her voice crack. Her eyes welled with tears. Her simple declarative sentences were like individual frames in a film.

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4 Power, Privilege, Race, and Belonging

Ross, Howard J.; Tartaglione, JonRobert Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

— JAMES BALDWIN

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

— WILLIAM FAULKNER

Our Munchester Industries trio, Joan, Barry, and Fatima, represent the intersectionality of our identities in a powerful way. Joan is white, and also a woman and Christian; any one of these identities might predominate, depending upon the circumstances she finds herself in. The same holds for Barry’s white, Jewish, gay, and male identities, and for Fatima’s Muslim and female identities, as well as her status as a woman of color. All of them are significant, but none more so than race.

Much has been and will be written about why Donald Trump was able to pull off one of the greatest electoral upsets in history, but underneath all the very complex narratives that one can tell about the election, there is a very simple one that is inescapable: this election was a testament to how race is an aspect of our lives that simultaneously generates a profound experience of belonging and is the essence of “us versus them.” It also is a reflection on the dynamics of power and privilege that exist within our historical racial hierarchy. What do the voting patterns that we saw in the 2016 election, patterns that have been relatively consistent for almost forty years, tell us about belonging in America by race? Are we even one country when it comes to racial attitudes? It’s fair to say that race in America has historically been a domain where our sense of bonding and bridging has been more unhealthy than healthy.

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5 The Social Brain

Ross, Howard J.; Tartaglione, JonRobert Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Much of the same machinery, the same brain regions and computational processing that are used in a social context to attribute awareness to someone else, are also used on a continuous basis to construct your own awareness and attribute it to yourself.

— MICHAEL S. A. GRAZIANO

Have you ever found yourself talking to an inanimate object? Perhaps getting angry at your car, or encouraging it through snow, almost like the Little Engine that Could? Anybody who has children has likely seen them treat their stuffed animals as if they were alive, or, even more dramatically, create an imaginary friend out of thin air. Why would we talk to inanimate objects or imaginary ones as if they were alive?

In the 2000 movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx employee who ends up stranded on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific after a plane crash. The film gained widespread critical acclaim and was heralded as a gripping survival story, a tribute to the resourcefulness and resilience of the human spirit. Perhaps most important, however, was that it also provided a poignant glimpse into the depths of our desire to connect.

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7 When Worlds Collide

Ross, Howard J.; Tartaglione, JonRobert Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

People inside of belonging systems are very threatened by those who are not within that group. They are threatened by anyone who has found their citizenship in places they cannot control.

— RICHARD ROHR

Let’s return for a moment to the opening scenario in Chapter 1. Joan, Barry, and Fatima each had their “home” community in which they felt very comfortable: Joan, among other political conservatives as well as her religious community, Barry among other folks who were either gay or felt completely comfortable with his sexual orientation, and Fatima, her religious community. Within each of those communities there is a certain sense of normative values and behavior, “rules” if you will, that all make sense, within the construct of that community. There is a sense of belonging. And yet, when the individuals from these different communities come together, something else happens. All of a sudden, their “otherness” seems to predominate. We live in a world of “us versus them.”

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8 The Media Is the Message

Ross, Howard J.; Tartaglione, JonRobert Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.

— MARSHALL MCLUHAN

The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they can control the minds of the masses.

— EL-HAJJ MALIK EL-SHABAZZ (MALCOLM X)

In our opening scenario, Barry watches MSNBC to start his day, Joan watches Fox News, and Fatima watches the BBC. How are their attitudes and opinions being shaped by what they see every morning? How does that difference impact the “us versus them” dynamic among them?

How do you get your news?

On June 8, 2017, former FBI director James Comey testified before the United States Senate. Comey had been fired by President Donald Trump a month earlier. The firing created a media firestorm that, under examination, reveals a lot about our culture today. Over the course of the testimony, cable news programs not only covered Comey’s testimony but also added to the viewer’s experience by providing captions, usually in all capital letters, at the bottom of the screen (often called chyrons or lower-thirds). These chyrons are significant because they guide viewers’ understanding of what key points are being made during the broadcast and how a viewer should perceive and react to such points, thus guiding them toward particular conclusions. A look at some of the differences in how three major news outlets, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, chose to highlight what was being said is an illustrative example of one of the major reasons we exist in a world of separation.1

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