An Empire in Decline

In their book, Days of Destruction Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco take us to the streets of America where they explore the gruesome realities of an empire in decline. Poverty and its concomitant perverse friends—criminality, drugs, violence, and death—run rampant in places like Pine Ridge, South Dakota and Camden, New Jersey. These are some of the nation’s “sacrifice zones” where human life and the environment have been offered up as fodder for the corporate marketplace.

Like a genuine belief in divinity, precious democratic values are becoming hallmarks of a bygone golden age. Corporate forces rule without precedent, wielding a disproportionate amount of power, wealth, and influence over how society is run and culture is shaped. The objective of the corporate state is self-serving: make as much profit as you can as fast as you can. Everything and everyone is commodified for the maximization of profit. The result is lives of meaninglessness, despair, and destruction. This will continue, Hedges argues, until systemic collapse. Our only option as a people is to mobilize and exercise our sacred right of dissent.

But is civil disobedience the only solution to corporate corruption or can we work within the system?

The trite argument I hear from American Muslims is: if you’re not at the dinner table, then you’re on the menu. In other words, if you’re not actively participating in shaping public policy, then you risk falling prey to the dominant political agenda. But what if the dinner guests—with their fancy tailored suits and politically correct pleasantries—make for fruitless conversation? What if due to my dietary restrictions I can’t consume what’s on the menu? What if I’d rather eat with my hands than use eating utensils? What if—you guessed it—the entire dinner party is a farce?

If the dinner party is ultimately futile, then we must assume that the system we had hoped to work within is dead. In fact, the system perished a long time ago when our political leaders succumbed to the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex and the security and surveillance state. Signs of rigor mortis continue to emerge as with the recent ruling in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. This Supreme Court decision effectively allows for corporate powers to make vast campaign contributions to federal candidates and political parties. Now a wealthy few (.000042 percent to be exact) dictate policy to the detriment of the American citizenry.

American Muslims would do well to question the powers that be. This starts with questioning more than just the corporate state, itself a symptom of a greater pathology: the onslaught of secular-modernity. Liberal secular forces that have relegated moral religious values to “a recognisable ghetto for traditional religion” prop up the oligarchic structures we see today. American Muslims seeking to cultivate an indigenous Islam in America need to seriously question the health of this country because, whether we like it or not, our future is inextricably wrapped up in the future of the West. Thus, the larger and most apt question we need to be asking ourselves is the Qur’anic one:

فأين تذهبون؟

Where then are you going?


Diversity for Profit: Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl Ad

The recent Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad spawned a deluge of tweets, Facebook comments, and articles expressing both praise and outrage. The short one-minute ad features people of multiple backgrounds and apparent religious affiliations singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages. There are people of all colors. There are yarmulkes. There are also hijabs.

Now I’m not here to talk about the bigots. Should we really be shocked that racist retrogrades and right-wing pundits are uncomfortable watching this commercial when it aggravates their white homogenous perception of American language and culture? No we shouldn’t.

What should surprise us are those who laud Coca-Cola and its proclaimed ingenuous attempt to portray America’s rich diversity. Coco-Cola’s appropriation of diversity as a prop for corporate sales is an affront to the hard work, pain, and suffering of minority and immigrant groups in this country. Coca-Cola is a multibillion dollar corporate giant that like most massive conglomerates has contributed to critical health issues and ruthless environmental devastation. It has also employed unfair labor practices. We must remember that for corporations humanity is a mere detour on the roadmap to unlimited profits.

Adding insult to injury, Coca-Cola feasts on our naiveté to skyrocket corporate sales. No doubt, this advertisement works as a clever marketing scheme. It dips the company in the limelight just long enough to increase profit. Does this mean we should give Coca-Cola a pat on the back for using the songs of patriotism to make a mockery of our nation’s waning beauty? More importantly, do we really need Coca-Cola to tell us how diverse we are and legitimize our “Americanness”?

Here, I turn my attention, particularly, to my fellow Muslims. A couple of hijabis appear in a national Coca-Cola advertisement and suddenly we’re applauding the beverage company for representing us? Perhaps the advertisement dismantles stereotypes by presenting us Muslims as unequivocally American. Perhaps we feel a little triumphant by finally being accepted into a society and culture we belong to and identify with.

But we seem to be missing the larger point.

Impeded by our own insecurities, we have trouble understanding how problematic it is to feel valorized by a corporate company that, let’s be honest, goes against the grain of our Islamic ethics and values. In 2013, Gap featured a Sikh model in its “Make Love” holiday ad campaign. Many members of the South Asian community beamed with pride at having a Sikh man’s face plastered on billboards throughout the U.S. It seems we, as minority groups, look to multicultural marketing techniques as the benchmark for our arrival into society and in so doing, we divest our inherent beliefs and values of meaning.  

I don’t intend to underestimate the effect mainstream media can have in confronting racism and intolerance. But we don’t need capitalist corporations like Coca-Cola to recognize or reinforce our Muslim American identity. If anything, the beverage company’s exploitation of our identity should leave a sour taste in our mouths.

To support or boycott Coca-Cola is not necessarily the question. The question is: who do we seek to validate us?