Breaking News from Mohandessin in Cairo

I have another friend Yousry. (Different from the other amazing Yousry I just interviewed for a Mondoweiss exclusive) I have blogged about him in the past 72 hours on the Huffington Post and on Mondoweiss and on the Guardian's Brian Whitaker's blog.

I have just spoken to his sister who just finished talking to him.

Yousry and his friends were walking in Mohandessin and this is all still unfolding--so it was recent. They are armed and have guns. A car full of some thugs shot at them but they were not hurt. Seeven men then arrived on motorcycles and attacked them with swords. Yousry and his friends shot back at them making sure they were not killing them and once the shot-at bikers lost control of their bikes--they tied them up to a tree on the roadside.

Yousry and his friends have contacted several helplines and are trying to contact the army. They are still on the side of the road. The 7 now injured bikers who attacked them with swords are right there as well, tied to the tree.

This was way too long to tweet so I am putting it here in the hope that you will be able to share it.

It is becoming impossible to tweet this revolution in 140 characters or less so I am going to stop pretty soon and retire for the night--and try and get my life back--perhaps eat and try and have a shower and also try and save my laptop from eternal damage.

In any case my very powerful interview with the other Yousry says it much better than any tweet ever could and certainly better than many of the jokers being paraded on cable television in the United States. It is up on the front page of Mondoweiss right now. I am hoping that the Huffington Post will publish it as well--they have not responded to my emails or posts in the last 24 hours even though Arianna Huffington has recommended Mondoweiss to her followers for its LOTS OF GOOD RE-TWEETING ABOUT EGYPT GOING ON. I hope she or her staff have noticed that I have been doing about eighty percent of that re-tweeting atleast for the last 48 hours. Write to her though if you feel inspired by Yousry's Mondoweiss interview and feel it deserves to be read. If you don't that too is fine ;-)

Thank You All for your support and interest.


American television networks and an endless parade of mostly white men pundits (brought out and dusted off with their cobwebs) should take lessons from Al-Jazeera in live reportage, in not having pundits talk over the chants of a mass of humanity, in having Arab reporters covering what they know best, in remarkably evocative and courageous camerawork and in just being able to cover history like no other television network has ever been able to do before. And yes, I also mean that CNN during the first Gulf War was not as good as this.
It is so important to remember that the vast MAJORITY of those on the streets around the country do not have the time, the ability, the resources (including smartphones) and certainly no access to working mobile phone service. This revolution is JUST NOT BEING TWITTERED by the people who are actually protesting.
The only people tweeting are either reporters with huge bureaus and live cameras to back them or people like me reporting from the cyber-frontlines talking to the few friends in Cairo we can reach on their landlines.
To tweet this revolution and Egypt’s complex back-story in 140 characters or less is impossible.
Interestingly Al-Jazeera which is doing a stellar job is also more interested in covering the revolution (amazingly) in what is essentially wide-shots to show the extent of the chaos. Ayman’s camera is focused on the thousands in Tahrir. Not many correspondents are able to get to neighborhoods like Rihab, Mohandasin, Zamalek, Maadi—which cyber-reporters/tweeters like me are able to do by talking only on landlines (mobiles are not working) to our friends—ordinary citizens. Hopefully this below, is an example of that.
I must mention that some amazing independent reporters like Ahmed Moor (who is writing for Mondoweiss and sometimes Al-Jazeera English) and Sharif Koudouss (of Democracy Now—who just flew into Cairo) are doing remarkable reportage, even though they are not necessarily backed by major news bureaus
My friend Fouad was able to get on the landline again. His body and soul are still bruised and yet he has never been more hopeful. His severe anger at Hosni Mubarak’s speech full of lies and his ambivalence about the appointment of Omar Soliman, the head of intelligence as the new vice president.
It a fragmented conversation on a still functioning landline. And as bullets do rain all around him, here are his bullet points. The thoughts and experiences of an ordinary citizen, not a reporter.
· Mohandaseen is burning—we are surrounded by looters, and the army is just watching
· They are looting houses and we have no idea who these looters are
· My parents asked army tank guys and they said we cannot intervene!
· Everyone here is saying that Mubarak is being spiteful-he wants looters so that he can say-Look I gave you calm for 30 years? OK now you want to get rid of me? Well see the chaos my going can bring-Enjoy the unrest and the looting. Only I could have protected all of you!
· I was driving and 3 men with knives attacked me near Sudan street—I had to sort of run them over
· Big rumor that Mubarak is releasing prisoners and arming them so that they can infiltrate neighbourhoods and loot them
· Maadi, Street number nine-huge vandalism happening—There is looting everywhere in Rihab city, in Mohandasin, in Shubra. In Heliopolis there are plainsclothes police
· My parents are organizing all the baobabs in our street and making blockades to stop the looters
· There are Balkageyah (thugs) everywhere—all rich neighborhoods are being attacked
· I think he is fucked up yaani--He didnt resign---his speech instigated the violence---now looters and the poor think that when you know there is no hope you might as well get as much as you can as long as the chaos lasts--people were hopeful that he would go
· Maybe in other governates--people are more organized and closer to each other as community members...so they will organize better, perhaps—In Cairo it is difficult to control the chaos and disorder—there are 19 million people in this city who often don’t talk to each other and are so separated by class and money—I am wondering how they can organize together?
· The people in Cairo are fighting two things--they are fighting police forces but also now fighting looters
· People prayed the Salat ul Genaza, the funeral prayer after the evening prayers in Tahrir—we carried a body through the crush of thousands—I was crying, so many of us were crying

Fouad's mother is now making Molotov cocktails to protect them-She is 60 plus.



FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER @parvezsharma where I am live-tweeting the NOT SO JASMINE REVOLUTION currently exploding all over EGYPT

I HAVE LIVE FEEDS AND ARTICLES ON HUFFPO ON MONDOWEIS and on the excellent blog of Guardian Editor Brian Whitaker

Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, Keith Olberman, All of FOX need to take LESSONS IN JOURNALISM 101 FROM AL-JAZEERA, the network which I am ashamed to say--cable providers in New York refuse to carry.



At about 11:13 am the image (see below and above) was GONE.

Timeline of events:
At about 9:15 am I noticed the image.
At 9:30 ish I posted the fact of its existence on my Facebook home-page.
By 9:45 I sent them my first email. (I sent three in total after being asked to provide my contact details from an automated response).
On my Facebook I posted the image at 10:30 am.
Friends started writing that they were emailing them.
At around 10:45 am I presciently posted the following on my Facebook page saying:

Here is the offensive NYT Sunday am photo-before they remove it and say it never existed! See thread below for details.

I even posted a quick column on Huffington Post. (Their young blog editors are probably still hungover from the weekend. Lets see if HuffPo publishes it).

At 10:40 am or thereabouts I tweeted this below-

Blatant Islamophobia on display in the NY Times Sunday web-edition @NYTimes http://bit.ly/hTfU6a

This is the power of us watching the media, folks. Thankfully I was able to take a screen grab of the image and hopefully it now exists for posterity and can go viral, as it should. Post your comments here or connect with me and/or the links on Facebook and Twitter.

A *New* New York Times Faux Pas

The Gray Lady is wearing her Islamophobia on her sleeve this morning.

Sunday morning, like most mornings I opened from years of habit-the home page of the Times. Peering at the lead story without my glasses I was horrified to find the image of Muslim men praying near Mecca-next to a cable excerpt from (the now hard to access) Wikileaks-the Times had decided this was the top story for us this Sunday.

However next to the excerpt which began: "Terrorist funding emanating from Saudi Arabia remains a serious concern...." there was the unmistakable image of Muslim men praying near Mecca wearing the requisite Ihram during pilgrimage.

Is the Times saying that all Muslim men who go for the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca are a part of terrorism emanating from Saudi Arabia? Are all Muslims stepping into that holy (and unjustly Wahabi controlled land) getting classes in Terrorism 101 ?

Living in the US, I am now not surprised by the Islamophobia of others. I cringe when cartoons depict our (undepictable) Prophet. And yet as a moderate Muslim, I always fight for freedom of expression (I usually attach the rider-"with responsibility")

Throughout history words and images used together convey powerful meaning. All dictatorships, genocidal regimes and problematic systems of power know this. Journalists and photo-editors should know this better than most.

I often defend the NYT to Muslim friends elsewhere who don't trust it.

Now, I am not so sure.

I wonder if I am the only one to notice what I hope is a lapse of judgment and not an editorial decision.

Below is my hurriedly written letter to the Times. The image grab can be found on my Facebook and if I am able to include it, with this blog-post as well.

To the Times.

As a Muslim writer and filmmaker based in NY, my home-I have always turned to this paper as my primary source of information. In my travels through Muslim majority nations, I have also been very aware of the untrustworthy label easily assigned to your reportage, which I have often defended. This more from a place of knowing that you are also much reviled by the right-wing here in America as being part of some imagined "progressive conspiracy." However, this Sunday morning--like every Sunday morning when I opened the paper in my web browser I was horrified to see an image of Muslim men praying during the Hajj, wearing the requisite "Ihram" next to a Wikileak cable excerpt that says "Terrorist funding emanating from Saudi Arabia remains a serious concern..."

This is blatant "Islamophobia", which your editors surely know is currently much in fashion. Surely a less provocative image can be found to depict a nation, which for many of us moderate Muslims-remains a place we deride for its hypocrisy and totalitarianism but respect as being the home of our two holiest cities. I wonder if the current climate makes it acceptable to use Muslim males in prayer as a suitable image for them usually being branded "terrorists" or singled out at most airports in the world.

Words and images together, convey powerful meaning. Your editors, your web-editors and your photo-editors, I hope know this better than anyone else.

In the past I have considered myself fortunate to have been profiled and written about in your paper. Now I am not so sure.

Thank you.

Parvez Sharma
New York
December 5, 2010


My new article in The Guardian

I write about the appalling distaste of a "Slum" birthday cake for Bollywood film star Shabana Azmi's 60th birthday in the British newspaper - The Guardian

Please comment on their website and the link is here

First Screenings in Arab World, LA Times and Al-Akhbar articles

I write after a long time and realize now more than ever, how relevant "A Jihad for Love" is. Two weeks ago we returned from Beirut where the Heinrich Boell Foundation organized the first ever public screenings of the film in any Arab nation-there were two screenings-one at The Beirut Art Lounge and the other at Hamra's Zico House. Both were packed and the response was amazing.

There is an interesting and short interview with the LA Times here, and the comments section remains, well, interesting!

There was a strong reaction in the Arab media, as expected and leading Left newspaper Al-Akhbar published a piece here and the comments were not all as friendly (though some were).


Why I am against the "Ground Zero Mosque"

You can find this entire post at The Huffington Post. I encourage you to comment there.

I had always been taught to believe in the homogeneity of the pious. But a year after September 11, as I snuck into a Thursday afternoon zikr at the Masjid al-Farah twelve blocks from the still smoldering Ground Zero, I was not so sure. It was Ramadan and the tradition of breaking of the fast, the iftar was going to happen after the zikr, or Sufi chanting.

Looking around, I felt this was hippie for the Muslims. It was like the Muslim Woodstock or Burning Man. Clearly the congregants would prefer granola bars to kebabs. They wore all manner of what my neighborhood mosque in Nizamuddin, New Delhi, would consider un-Islamic clothes. Men and women were together. It was beautiful and affirming and yet strangely foreign. "Only in America," I thought, "can I enter here as a gay and Muslim man," and yet I felt no sense of connection with the place. It was strangely new-agey. In the center sat the tall Sheikha Fariha Friedrich, a gaunt Caucasian woman in all white, who was the first female leader of this order (the Nur Ashki Jerrahi) in 300 years. It was time for iftar and all manner of micro-greens and broccoli came out. Used to dates, greasy kebabs and butter-layered rotis for this kind of meal, I fled.

A few weeks later, I visited the Manhattan apartment of one Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan. I was a spiritual orphan launching on a journey of trying to document homophobia within Islam and I was looking for a home. Imam Faisal was dapper and articulate and spoke in carefully calibrated soundbites. His wife, Daisy, a lovely host, was also, it seemed to me at that time, getting ready for prime-time television. Throughout the zikr I could not shake off the feeling of being part of a project that would present Sufi Islam as a credible alternative to the mindless violence of the Sunni/Wahabis who had killed three thousand people at what was by now already called Ground Zero. I did not know how much at that time if America could be fooled into thinking that Sufis had any credibility with orthodox Muslims. Traditionally they had been the bastard children of Islam. Everyone in the room spoke in hushed whispers of an Islam that was a religion of peace. I was still not at that time sure of this line (I was able to refine and reach my own conclusions after seven years of study and travel to Muslim communities around the world, but this was way before that).

Sure enough, in a few months, whenever there was a PBS special on Islam--and there were many--Imam Rauf would be paraded about as the face of moderate Islam. He was not the only one jumping on the Islamic bandwagon. Islam was hot and sexy and later the success of my own film on homosexuality and Islam, A Jihad for Love benefited from that very sexiness.

Over the years I heard still unconfirmed rumors and whispers of a vicious power struggle that had raged within this Sufi order between the Sheikha Fariha and the Imam Feisal, who had been a regular prayer-leader there since 1983. It was widely believed that the Sheikha emerged victorious and that Feisal Rauf was thus trying to build his own following, which he clearly did.

Knowing Islam as intimately as I do, I have always found it extremely difficult to paint this complex religion of more than a billion followers with broad brushstrokes.

Even after a decade of living here, I still feel relatively fresh-off-the-boat in this country and, to me, seven years in New York make me a new New Yorker. Many of the mosques I have experienced, in more than twelve Islamic nations around the world, do not manufacture pithy sound bites about peace. I have often had to sit through deranged diatribes against women and minorities. And yet I love mosques, for the spiritual sustenance they have always given me.

On the other hand, most of the Muslims I have encountered in my own family and elsewhere are just ordinary folk, not really following fatwas and diktats issued by Islam's self-appointed ruling elites, be they the Taliban, Al-Qaeda or the predominant Deobandi School of Islam of the Indian sub-continent (and, ironically, the school of Islam that the Taliban comes from). Most Muslims seem to be just ordinary people trying to get by in life and hoping for better futures for their children.

I have also lived in America for ten years as an out and proud Muslim. I have faced "Islamophobia" only twice. Once was in Washington, DC, when a group of white boys in a speeding SUV yelled "Fucking Arab" at me. I realized, unshaven as I was and wearing my favorite and trademark kaffiyeh (Yasser Arafat's distinctive Palestinian scarf), I could pass for Arab pretty easily. The kaffiyeh came to haunt me again in 2004 outside a synagogue on 14th Street in Manhattan, when a bearded, young, Jewish man called me "Palestinian Terrorist" and then thoughtfully added "Go back." I muttered "I am Indian" and ran.

The arguments against the xenophobia and the re-victimization of the "other," the continued demonization of all Muslims and the right wing's hysterical evisceration of what they think constitutes Islam continue to be made on cable television and pretty much everywhere else. Right-wing, anti-Muslim vitriol has been spilled everywhere and in this hot summer of election politics this "Mosque/Cultural Center" has clearly become a wedge issue and a potent one at that. So I don't need to add to the rhetoric emanating from the mostly White men of cable television, like the Keith Olbermanns of the world, as they tie themselves up in knots defending the Constitution and the unfortunate tendency of xenophobia, with righteous anger and pain at the level of discourse in America. I certainly don't need to add anything to the fears at Fox and Friends of a Muslim takeover of this deeply Christian nation.

Three weeks ago, in Delhi's old Muslim quarter around the Jama Masjid, I was shopping for my kaffiyehs. The controversy of the "Ground Zero mosque" had been raging on my Facebook messages, already with many asking me to come out and write against the "right-wing nuts". As the merchant and I bargained about whether the kaffiyeh should be a dollar or two, I asked the older gentleman selling me the scarves why he would want to sell them at inflated prices to me. "Because you come from 'Amreeka,'" he said. Clad in kurta pyjama, without a hint of an American accent (which I have tried and failed to cultivate) I was surprised he thought I was "Amreekan." "They can sense it," said my friend accompanying me, sotto voce. "It's about how you carry yourself now, that you have been away ten years." Clearly, my demeanor would give me away. I asked him what he thought of Obama. "Obama," he said with a smile that elongated his henna-dyed beard substantially, is a bhai, brother. I wondered if this was just the kind of sentiment I had encountered in Arab countries after 2008, when most discussion about Obama's positive Muslim cred would stop at his middle name, as if that was enough.

I must confess here that my middle name on Facebook since October 2008, when a particular voter with questionable hair-drying techniques spat out "He's an Arab!" at John Mc Cain, has been Hussein. I have proudly proclaimed to my Facebook friends that the moment I lose faith in him, the middle name will go. I haven't yet.

Fact is that any discussion of Obama's religious affiliations makes me deeply uncomfortable. I am profoundly proud of this president and have personally experienced how people in Muslim communities around the world treat my choice to continue living in America differently after his election.

But I also know the Islamic laws of patriarchy rather well. They have been used to disabuse me of my own Muslim identity, by so many fellow Muslims in the past. Obama, unlike me, was born to a Muslim father who may or may not have been religious. But for some who narrowly interpret Islam's laws of patriarchy, this means that at best he is a Muslim and at worst, a murtad, or apostate. Obama has made his preference for Jesus over Muhammad rather well-known, in which case I guess for the "right-wing nuts" in Islam, he would deserve the death penalty for abandoning the religion he was born into.

Meanwhile, in the mindless chatter of cable television news, mostly White men sit around these days throwing about poll numbers in which one in four Americans apparently think that their President is a Muslim. Occasionally the ones on the Left (read MSNBC) will parade a "Muslim" guest like Irshad Manji--to many moderate Muslims I know, she is a much reviled figure and an "Islamophobe" herself--who will speak in pithy soundbites, with usually American, Canadian or British accents, about a cultural universe they may know little about, having grown up Muslim in the first world. (And this I have always said-there is a huge difference between North American/ "accented"/ "first-world" Muslims and people like Usman, who you meet below or the kaffiyeh seller in Delhi).

Rarely do we hear from fresh-off-the-boat Muslim immigrants who do not have the invisibility of their accents, the types who populate the halal food carts that can be found on every corner of Manhattan now.

I spoke to one on Sixth Avenue. Usman is a rather handsome, young, Egyptian man whose audio system belts out Beiruti diva Fairouz's lyrics from his halal Food cart in this very commercial district, as he churns out lamb gyro platters. "I don't want this mosque," he says. "I have one in Queens. We pray in a basement and we are happy and left alone." He adds, "How can I go and pray in a place that will cause so much pain to so many people?"

Usman, I wish you were on cable television instead of Irshad Manji and all the other North American Muslims brought to air this political season.

Usman, I agree with you. It's simple, really.

I, a mosque-loving Muslim, am against this mosque. (And like many of you I detest Sarah Palin's rhetoric but at the same time have little patience for Keith Olbermann's theatrics on this issue.) This leaves me in a very uncomfortable (and probably not popular) middle.

Within the discipline of prayer and the sense of brotherhood and awe I have felt in mosques around the world, I have discovered whatever little spirituality I still possess. At the same time in America, I have also been vocal and critical about everything that ails modern Islam and have certainly had no time for the hateful rhetoric of the Rush Limbaughs of the world that paints all Muslims with the same terrorist-red brushstrokes.

I still remain undecided about whether post-September 11 rhetoric in America is just simply Islamophobic and whether this fundamentally is a Christian nation.

What I am certain about is this: I do know that the mostly tolerant fabric of the city, which is now my home, is being damaged, irrevocably perhaps, in this discussion.

Only in New York can I take the 1 train downtown and have a Rabbi with his Torah sitting close to a North African man clutching a pocket Quran with a scantily dressed Columbia University student reading Proust sandwiched in the middle of them. But this same New York is now divided around this rather expensive Cultural Center aka Mosque aka Culinary school, two blocks from Ground Zero.

In a nation that is notably short on history (compared to many of the Islamic civilizations that predate it), Ground Zero definitely is sacred ground. It is also a unique American space, where what seemed like hours after the attacks, T-shirts and models of the towers were to be found for gawking tourists, who eagerly posed for photographs amidst the destruction.

My father always says there is a time and a place. My mosque-loving Muslim self doesn't feel this is the time or the place.

I don't want to give the lunatic fringe of Islam (the Al-Qaedas and the Talibans) reason to gloat. I do not want America's mostly tolerant fabric destroyed by a structure so divisive that it will be hard for someone like to me even go there and pray during Ramadan.

I come from a nation where Hindu-Muslim "communal" riots have been part of life and where more than a thousand Muslims were massacred in their ghettos in the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad by angry Hindu mobs in 2002. I wonder how the Muslims of those neighborhoods would react to a prime real estate Hindu temple being built in the vicinity of their ravaged homes and lives?

Truth is that the media-savvy Imam Rauf, of Cordoba Initiative fame, has come upon a public-relations gold mine. I have not met him for years and am sure he would not even remember me. But I wonder if becoming a nationally discussed and debated figure is such a bad thing for anybody. He could well become "America's Imam," just as a certain former mayor of New York has appointed himself America's spokesperson for all things 9/11.


Public Screening in Dhaka !

For some time now, the film has been widely shown in Muslim countries-including a multi-city tour in Indonesia, where even protesters showed up at a screening and a hugely successful screening in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia attended by many including the former Prime Minister's daughter, who was reduced to tears.
The latest is the following screening in Dhaka, Bangladesh-where I had filmed as well.
If you are in Bangladesh, please go and tell all your friends to go as well.Click on this link below for details.

A Jihad for Love in Dhaka, Bangladesh


50 Visionaries Who are Changing Your World

I am honoured and excited to be named one of 50 visionaries by the leading progressive journal, UTNE Reader. The list which includes people far more deserving than me is headed by the Dalai Lama.
Read more about it here


Lost in (translation) in Bishkek!

Yes, I am in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!
Will update when I can find the internet-
For now-
Sweet Sixties bar in Bishkek- My bar buddies-An Uzbek couple, a Mongolian filmmaker, a Serb, a Russian and a Croatian Czech-scintillating conversation veers from Putin's sexiness to Balkan politics to Brezhnev to Shashtri's statue in Tashkent to Obama's unpopularity in the CIS-this is the life ;-) Coming up tomorrow-Horse meat for lunch! On TV now-Church TV!!! (The only English language channels are Church TV and "Fox Crime")-and yes Russian MTV, Russian News or Putin News, and Tajik TV, and Turkmen TV and Kyrgyz TV.
Got to love it.
My ethnic Russian-Kyrgyz translator informed me how much locals (especially the older ones) long for a return to Soviet times. I can see why.

Breaking News from Mohandessin in Cairo

I have another friend Yousry. (Different from the other amazing Yousry I just interviewed for a Mondoweiss exclusive) I have blogged about h...