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‘Decolonising the mind’: Using Hollywood celebrities to validate Islam

The Hollywood Sign in the Hollywood Hills, California US [Thomas Wolf/Wikipedia]

When Terry Holdbrooks Jr. converted to Islam in 2003 he was inundated with death threats and labelled a “race traitor”.

If a religious conversion ever deserves to be admired, Holdbrooks’ conversion does, and not because Islam has “won” yet another convert, but because the new convert was assigned the very rule of subjugating his Muslim prisoners.

Yes, Terry Holdbrooks was a US army employee entrusted with guarding Guantanamo detainees.

The Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo, held for years and tortured without due process and in violation of the most basic tenants of human rights and international law, mostly subsisted on faith.

Terry Holdbrooks Jr [Terry Holdbrooks Jr/Wikipedia]

Terry Holdbrooks Jr [Terry Holdbrooks Jr/Wikipedia]

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the freed prisoners in 2013 during a brief stay in Qatar. Torture had partially impaired his mental faculty, yet when he led a group of men in prayer, he recited verses from the Qur’an in impeccable language and melodic harmony.

The faith of these prisoners had awakened something in Holdbrooks, who has toured the country dressed in traditional Muslim garb, conveying to audiences the “truth about Gitmo”.

Of course, this is not about Islam as a religion, but the power of faith to cross fences, prison bars and unite people around ideas that are vastly more complex and meaningful than that of military domination.

Despite its profundity, the story of Holdbrooks’ conversion to the religion of his prisoners only received scant mention in the media and in Arabic media, in particular.

Lindsay Lohan’s interest in Islam, however, has been an obligatory media staple for months.

The star of “Mean Girls”, “Freaky Friday” and a host of not-so-family-friendly movies, is hailed by the Arab and Muslim media and numerous social media users as if she is some kind of a cultural and religion savior.

Lohan’s interest and possible conversion to Islam has branched into all sorts of areas of discussion. Like Holdbrooks, she is also branded as a “race traitor”, and has been, according to her own depiction, “racially profiled” during a recent trip to the United States.

Conflating between race and religion is quite common in western, especially American, society. Let alone that one cannot change his race however hard he or she tries, Christianity itself was born in the Middle East. But it seems that cultural appropriation has, at least in the minds of some, foolishly designated certain religions to be western and other religions to be “ethnic”, “coloured” and “foreign”.

While Lohan is still making up her mind about whether to join the Muslim faith or not, she recently announced that she will be launching a new fashion line.

The announcement on Instagram was accompanied by a photo in which the actress was covering her head and part of her face with a scarf embellished with crystals. Many, including some in the media, are deducing that the fashion line is that of the modest, Muslim variety.

Concurrently, a most recent death toll estimate of war-torn Syria has reached a new high (and a new moral low). According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 321,000 people are confirmed dead as a result of the war, while a further 145,000 are still missing.

Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan [Lindsay Lohan/Facebook]

Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan [Lindsay Lohan/Facebook]

While outside powers are responsible for many of these deaths, much of the carnage has been meted out by Muslims against their fellow Muslims.

The sense of false pride generated by the probable conversion of a Hollywood actress is, perhaps, an escape from the grand shame of a bloodbath being perpetuated by Muslims against their own brethren.

But it is more complex than this.

The issue is far more telling than that of Lohan’s faith and is a repeat of previous such collective jubilation similar to the sense of euphoria and unmistakable sense of validation wrought by the marriage of Arab-British lawyer, Amal Alamuddin, to one Hollywood celebrity, George Clooney.

Although Amal Clooney refused to investigate Israeli war crimes in Gaza – likely so as not to create an uncomfortable situation for her husband considering his strong Hollywood ties – Arabs continued to celebrate her as if her marriage to the famous actor is a badge of honour and a validation for a whole culture.

Sadly, the opposite is true. Such hype over inane occurrences is an indication of a greater ailment, the continuing western cultural hegemony over Muslim nations.

The issue is not that of religion. Far from being a vanishing religion, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, the only religion growing faster than the world’s population, and one which is slated to be the largest in the world by 2070.

These are some of the outcomes of a thorough demographic analysis conducted recently by the US-based Pew Research Centre.

So, the enthusiasm over Lohan’s possible conversion – like the intrigue created by Angelina Jolie wearing a Muslim headscarf (hijab) during a visit to a refugee camp – should be entirely removed from the religious component of the discussion.

Thousands of such conversions are reported in Africa, South America and Asia annually; numbers that receive little cultural and media attention in Arab and Muslim countries.

Neither is it an issue of celebrity Muslims per se, for there are many famous black entertainers who are also Muslims, some even devout Muslims. They rarely register on Arab and Muslim media radars as earth-shattering events.

While racism might play a role, it is not the dominant factor.

The possible conversion of a western, Hollywood celebrity, white actress is a whole different story. For these aspects – cultural, status and race – are the most manifest representation of western, cultural hegemony. A conversion of this caliber is celebrated as if a symbolic defeat of the very system that has demonised Arab and Muslim culture for generations.

In other words, the conversion of Lindsay Lohan would be measured against the resentment Muslims hold against western tools of military subjugation, political domination and cultural hegemony.

Yet in the process of conjuring up this false sense of cultural triumph, Muslims, in fact, further feed into their own unfortunate sense of inferiority, one that is rooted in hundreds of years of slavery, colonisation, neocolonialism and military occupation intervention.

If Lohan, or anyone else, truly wants to appreciate the Islamic faith, a religion that has appealed to the poor, the slaves and disenfranchised throughout history, and has withstood hundreds of years of colonidation and oppression, she ought to study the relationship between faith and resistance in Gaza, between faith and hope among Syrian refugees, and between faith and liberation in Algeria.

Finding a common ground between true Islam and Hollywood is certainly doomed to fail, for they both represent values that stand at the extreme opposites of one another.

As for Muslims who are feeling validated by mere celebrity interest of their religion, they ought to “decolonise their minds”, first by refusing to define themselves and relationships to the world through the west and its ever-sinister tools of cultural hegemony.

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  • neluroman

    If someone remains “frozen” in his/her religious believes, even in the most harsh conditions, says less, if something, about the validity of these believes. Changing your life, your religious believes just because someone doesn’t move an inch from their path proves besides anything else that you have an emotional and weak. personality. And it is proven by statistics, which say that most of those who convert to Islam reconvert back to their faiths within 2-3 years, that such people don’t know what they are doing. Of course, if such people performed some serious research on your new religion, verified whether this religion was compatible or not with their own values, such a high rate of reconversions would not happen. But it is more than that. Islam is the only faith in the world where apostasy ( changing the religion you were born in or you converted to) is a crime punishable to death. If in the West or America this religious command is hard to be accomplished, but in the Islamic world this is a sad reality. Now, let’s imagine that an Islamic religious leader -someone from Al-Azhar Islamic University (Sunni) or the Grand Ayatollah Kamenei himself- would say:” Let not be compulsory in religion. All those Muslims who want to leave Islam feel free to do that. No any punishment will be anymore meted out to them because of this”. If such a “wonder” happened, 35% of Iranians ( just an example) would become Christians instantly. Can we think of such a free world, now or in the near future? No, we can’t, unfortunately. And that says a lot about,” Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world,” another 1001Nights fairy tale, repeated over and over again by those who think that people, as a general rule, can be easily fooled.The author of this article complains about, “… the Islamic faith, a religion that has appealed to the poor, the slaves
    and disenfranchised throughout history, and has withstood hundreds of
    years of colonization and oppression”. Really!! Someone should remind the author that European colonization of Middle East lasted maximum 70 years, whereas Muslim colonization of Europe lasted 400 years in Balkans and 700 years in Spain. During those dark times thousands and thousands of European boys were forced to become Islamic warriors,, and thousands and thousands of European girls became sex-slaves for the Muslim elite. Think about!

    • disqusdamnuserid

      “…..Really!! Someone should remind the author that European colonization of Middle East lasted maximum 70 years, whereas Muslim colonization of Europe lasted 400 years in Balkans and 700 years in Spain. During those dark times thousands and thousands of European boys were forced to become Islamic warriors,, and thousands and thousands of European girls became sex-slaves for the Muslim elite. Think about!”

      YOU are WRONG.

      Medieval Europe – England, Spain, Portugal, France, German and the rest (ex Italy/Greece), were barbarian states; they were Uncivilized. They had NO civilization. They had no system of writing. Moors in Grenada and other places brought Arts and Sciences to the continental Europe. You should thank them for teaching Europe to be civilized and value knowledge. This is a fact. It may be hidden in our schools’ curriculum, but it is the truth.

      • James Henry

        If “England, Spain, Portugal, France, German and the rest … had NO civilization” and “no system of writing”, where did the large number of mediaeval poems and manuscripts come from in all of these countries come from? Your other “knowledge” – which school’s curriculum did you learn it in? – is every bit as accurate.

      • neluroman

        My friend, you are more than wrong. You are a true “barbarian” if history is to be concerned. My friend, “Moors in Grenada,” could not teach any one science or art because they were barbarians of barbarians. It was the Umayyad dinasty that conquered Iberian peninsula (Spain). Moors were just mercenaries who joined the Umayyad army due to the promise of bounty if they survived, or celestial virgins if they died. Yes, Umayyads built a flourished civilization in Iberia much because their army conquered lands where people had an advanced Hellenistic, Persian or Egyptian culture .When the mighty of their army collapsed, so did their knowledge of science and art. And keep in mind that: at the time you refer to, Spain, German, Grece, Italy, Portugal didn’t exist. This mistake of yours says volumes about your knowledge in history, and makes you a barbarian in this regard. And one more thing, Hellenistic and Roman cultures, both of which were of European extract, were bastions of civilization hundreds of years before as the Islamic civilization to make its advent on the world stage.

        • disqusdamnuserid

          oh, Portugal, Spain, France, England, German were empty of people? I don’t they even then knew who/what the “Hellenistic” peoples were. They were still wearing animal pelts and putting on blue paints on their faces to go hunting in the forest of Sherwood, Blackforest, Alps. C’mon dude. I know you’re ashamed of your past as not having a civilization until your kind decided to incorporate Hellenistic/Roman history. And it started in 1600. Not way back to Minoan/Mycenaeans/ancient Greece/Romans.

          Seriously, Hellenistic and Roman are Greeks and Italians. Are you Greek/Italian?

          You cannot take other civilizations’ achievements as your credit. But you can say you copied/stole Hellenistic/Roman history, culture, democracy and incorporated into Anglo English Saxson Franco

          • neluroman

            It seems to me you don’t know the difference between land and country. A land can be populated but still not a country. And there are plenty of such examples along the history. Can we speak of Germany prior to the XIXth century? Was the land of Germany empty before of the XIXth century? No, of course it wasn’t, anyone knows it. Hellenistic and Roman civilizations were born and developed on European land and, yes, Italians ang Greeks consider themselves to be the direct heirs of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Both of these two civilizations have strongly influenced the whole Europe, see merely Latin ang Kirilic alphabet, predominant in Vest, repectively East Europe. In fact, European people have never divorced from these two cultures, as you appear to suggest. Do you think that in 1600 some European authority commanded: Europeans let’s return to the values of Roman and Hellenistic civilizations! Do you really tink that ? Yes, I am proud of my European past, you camel rider. We were driving Mercedes, BMV or Ferrari while you were ” driving”…yellow camels or white camels . That says a lot of each other cultural legacy

      • Fasdunkle

        “They had no system of writing”

        Amazing really given the vast amount of European written texts which still exist from that era.

        • disqusdamnuserid

          That’s right, medieval Europe was still struggling to write their own names.
          After they “stole” writing (or put it nicely: europeans did copy/import a system of writing)….as you whites like to say about the chinese stealing technology, then where you able to write copious amounts. Like you little kid discovering candy.

          • Fasdunkle

            The Latin alphabet was “stolen”? lol who was it stolen from?

          • James Henry

            The Greeks.
            As islam hadn’t been invented at the time it certainly wasn’t from the muslims.

          • Fasdunkle

            some of it was an evolution from the greek alphabet. That’s how it works. Muslims seem to think nothing existed before they arrived

  • Fasdunkle

    “Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world”

    Mostly because of birth rates and because in many of its redoubts it is illegal to leave it and can carry the death penalty.

    “a religion that has appealed to the poor, the slaves and disenfranchised throughout history”

    it has certainly created many poor, slaves and disenfranchised throughout history.

    • Bezukhov

      Fasdunkle hits it out of the park!

  • Val Cocora

    islam is a strange religion, which any intelligent person should avoid.

    • disqusdamnuserid

      Religion is strange.

      Leaders of this religion is the culprit. “we need to nip it at the bud” because as the article states, it is the fastest growing religion.

      • neluroman

        “..fastest growing religion !!!! Maybe in your dreams..But I observe that considering apostasy a crime punishable by death, as is the case in your religion, doesn’t hit any sensible nerve in your brain. Do you consider that such a punishment is line with the tenets of the human civilization you make such a case of?

        • disqusdamnuserid

          I”m not a moose-lamb.

          • neluroman

            What do you mean by “moose-lamb”? The question was simple, and the answer should be in the same way. Stop beating around the bush, please!

  • Red Robbo

    ‘If Lohan, or anyone else, truly wants to appreciate the Islamic faith, a religion that has appealed to the poor, the slaves and disenfranchised throughout history, and has withstood hundreds of years of colonidation and oppression, she ought to study the relationship between faith and resistance in Gaza, between faith and hope among Syrian refugees, and between faith and liberation in Algeria.’ Religion in general appeals to the poor and is one tool used by the ruling class to keep us oppressed, although they acted to deny the Islamic Salvation Front from winning the 1992 election in Algeria.

  • Fasdunkle

    MEMO is becoming a byword for hypocrisy