Pressure points and identity in America

Last week, I reported on the protest and shootings in Minneapolis. I focused on the ways that Somali immigrants have coped and joined the protest. It’s really made me think about this moment in America: Being an immigrant, Muslim and black—what does it do to someone’s psyche to see so much bad news?

Mohamed Samatar, 23, speaks to a police officer at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis. He wrote on his Instagram account: “What am I supposed to do when you rage war against the lives you’re supposed to protect and serve?” Credit: Thaiphy Phan-Quang

Mohamed Samatar, a 23-year-old artist and activist in Minneapolis, has decided it’s time to take a break. Last week, a group of white men shot into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters, wounding five people. Protesters are calling it a hate crime; police and prosecutors not yet said whether they agree.

Read more about Samatar at PRI.org.

I also joined Jon Wiener on KPFK in Los Angeles to explain what’s happening in Minneapolis.

I spent time trailing Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Minnesota. The day after shootings at the protest, he was calling for an end to discrimination on two fronts; he joined Black Lives Matter protests and spoke at a university about the pressures faced by Muslims in the state.

Read more about Hussein at PRI.org.

What Obama Missed in Indonesia

President Barack Obama’s visit to Indonesia was cut short because of volcanic ash, but what he missed was an annual tradition that says a lot about a country relatively unfamiliar to most Americans. Indonesia marks Heroes’ Day every Nov. 10 to commemorate extraordinary service to the nation.

Among those considered this year for addition to a list of national heroes was the late Abdurrahman Wahid, affectionately known by Indonesians as Gus Dur. If Obama’s trip to Indonesia was an opportunity to introduce Indonesia to Americans, getting to know Wahid would have been a good place to start.

Read on and comment at the Huffington Post.

Deeper Reading: Recent Titles on Islam around the World

If you are reading and watching American news in the last few weeks, you are probably simultaneously seeing a lot and very little about Islam in America today. The conversation surrounding Park51, the Islamic community center slated to be built in Lower Manhatten, is often very shallow, with little explication of terms and nuance. Words are being thrown around — Muslims, freedom, the Muslim Brotherhood, jihad  — as though they are self-explanatory and monolithic. Here are a few titles I have reviewed recently that might give a deeper understanding of the issues behind this politicized debate:

A Month in Indonesia

I spent January in Indonesia, mostly in and around the urban sprawl of Jakarta. It’s a city that is in motion — things are happening there and I find myself returning to this place of concrete and boulevards again and again. The first time I was acquainted with Jakarta was in 2007 when I attended Pesta Blogger, a massive gathering of online innovators from all over Indonesia’s many islands. I went back in 2008 to work on a magazine story about urban flooding with my friend and colleague, photographer Jacqueline Koch.

Jacqueline invited me to go back once more, this time to delve into religion in Indonesia. There are so many little known facts about this dynamic place. It is the fourth most populated country in the world, and largest majority-Muslim country in the world. While it is difficult to get an accurate count, the number of Muslims in Indonesia is as many as, perhaps more than, the Muslim populations of all Arab countries combined.

We spent the month exploring the diverse religious practices of this country. Islam does not just come in the Saudi Arabian brand so ubiquitous in the American press, and a visit to Indonesia makes that fact clear almost immediately. We wanted to know what the future of religion looks like in Indonesia, and how the rest of the world might incorporate the diversity of the country into their often limited views of Islam.

There was never a dull day.