Muslim Masochistic Aesthetic and the Psycho-Sexuality of Religion

As we dive into the Islamic month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar year, begun at Ras as-Sana Muharram 1, 1440 this year (September 11, 2018 in the Gregorian calendar), I invite you to observe the ritual mourning practices of Islam. While the Shia community is famous for its passionate displays of suffering and pain during this month, which have always fascinated me, Sunni Muslims also experience a sense of loss at the remembrance of the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussain at the Battle of Karbala in modern day Iraq as the result of the Caliphate politics of the time.

While it is thought to be restricted to Shia Muslims, the significance of Muharram and its energy is not lost on Sunnis and other denominations of among the Muslim faith. The experience and demonstrations of institutional subjugation, mourning, humiliating loss, and disenfranchisement in the Muharram rituals motion to the universal experience of the oppressed, the underdog, and of the rebel. The libidinal elation which is experienced at the striking of the flesh, the spilling of blood, and sacrifice is exactly that of the joy of martyrdom, or more generally of the masochist.

Perhaps more than anything, perhaps even more than politically inspired suicide attacks, the Muharram rituals have been singled out as symbols of Islamic barbarism, added to the general stereotype of Muslims as violent nemesis of the Enlightened Christian west, with Christ the savior as its central figure. For this I would invite the reader to consider the psychological nature of these activities, the submissive aesthetic of Islamic worship, and Islam’s concept of shame, humility, and sacrifice.

While the usually homoerotic masochism of Muslim men is the topic of many modern Arabic prison memoirs and novels from the Islamic world, women’s masochism is less celebrated by western readers and theorists who would prefer to ponder whether these women need saving from their violent husbands and religion. Feminists ask why Muslim women stay loyal to a tradition whose patriarchy is overbearing, whose holy text permits wife-beating. Is there not a deep psycho-biological understanding of life in the Quranic Surah an-Nisa which permits a man to use his physical power to sooth an unruly wife? While sado-masochistic fantasy smut novels are plucked off the shelves in the bookstores of Los Angeles, London, and New York at record rates, and English readers pine for the Sexy Sheikh figure, a condemnation of Islamic culture among the non-Muslim west persists as Muslim men are vilified and imprisoned by the current cultural hegemony.

For further research into the phenomenon of Muslim masochism, I am planning to travel to Iran and learn more about Islamic religious art and develop this discourse further with investigations into the disciplining of the body in different cultures and aesthetic traditions.

Silver Lace

Sweet like suicide

leaking from the inside

torn heart

blood drop at needle point

ink blot

satellitium of swords

titanium rounds

wrist wet soaking







you know us

now you know us


on your coca lines

It was crunch time

now so magnanimous

Known in LA London Soho

Beijing Soho

Midtown RoRo

Effortless I’m in Tokyo

Crash in on your show

shout out Kabuki-cho

now take some more

like I’m a fucking ghost

Feeling so right

no time for date night

I’ll meet you at the port

and when I’m out in town

let’s talk over dinner I can

give you top like I’m a fucking cop

then I give you none like I’m a fucking nun

less you with the funds and the Porsche

then son it’s all yours

seashells seashores

ho hum come all the time yum

silver lace and a dime

like I’m a wedding rhyme

like an angel’s sigh

Lolita cried

like Cleopatra eye

Chariot whip nine

bridles i’m immortal

win a trial by fire

unlimited power

It was reckoning hour


Self-Mortification and Identity Transcendence in The Shell, by Mustafa Khalifa[1]

Psychoanalysis and Writing

Prison narratives prevail as a dominant genre in modern Arabic literature, and texts that have been produced by the experience of politically influenced imprisonment are particularly conducive to translation as Western readers continue to be fascinated by politically-fueled violence, particularly torture and sexual violence, in the Arab world. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and the mythical Guantanamo Bay prison exists in the American imaginary as a symbol of the War on Terror and American exceptionalism and as a type outlaw state whose global interests supersede its own laws. In what follows I study the prison memoir The Shell (2006) by Syrian author Mustafa Khalifa, which is based on his story of imprisonment following his return to Syria after a stay in France.

Writing is an activity that conjures and expresses the divine creativity of the imagination. Unlike Freud, for whom the phantasy always has a sexual significance, Jung conceived of a creative imagination, a mediating faculty between man and the sense-world (the divine world of the Hermetic tradition). He developed the therapeutic method of “active imagination”, which posits that the patient, through creative work on the symbols brought up by his unconscious, can work the transmutation of the latter’s contents, thus increasing his consciousness and arriving at a cure.[2]

Literary writing is interesting to the psychoanalyst because it is something like a mirror into the reasoning of another person. In analyzing literature, the questions attached to genre, and to confession and memory may be combined under the opposition between the truth and fabrication. So caution must be taken in considering the affect of genre on the text, for example, the form and function of truth-stories told by elders versus the anesthetic data of official records. Also the circumstance and Manner of Production, publication, and translation can be fruitful for analysis.


Producing the Text

An important aspect of the text is that it is said to have been written from memory: the author describes his method of memorization during his stay in the prison as a coping mechanism. Memorization has an important role in Islamic culture, with great honor and prestige bestowed upon those who have the entire Holy Text memorized. Inside the prison, Islamist inmates defy the police guards by praying in secret, and a ritual of memorization is instituted:

There was no one in the dormitory who hadn’t memorized the Qur’an from beginning to end. With each new intake a new cycle began.[3]

One of the younger prisoners was tasked with keeping the prison “register” memorizing each new Islamist inmate’s name and details, and was said to have memorized over 30,000 names.[4] As for the narrator, he writes:

I liked this [memorization] procedure and started to train myself to do it. After I’d acquired the necessary proficiency, I decided to write this diary. I would write a sentence in my mind, then repeat it, memorize it, then write it out again, and memorize it. By the end of the day I would have written and memorized the main events of the day. I discovered that this was a good way to keep the mind sharp and pass the long time in prison.[5]

An intellectual type without access to the luxuries of the world outside prison bars, he takes to memorizing the day’s events in hopes of one day writing it down. This method in the writing process has an overall effect on style and mood of the writing. The revelatory style of communication is reminiscent of the revelation, as an oral event, not like the textual or legal which assumes a closed system of belief. [6] Sayings and speech (oral/aural) must be different from the hand-written text which which utilizes a (not totally closed) alphabetical system and grammar.  All that is is needed to speak is given at birth. As for what is needed to write, that is cultivated and contextual. The two forms of expression differ in origin and motivation.

On the separation between word and meaning, between the heart of a speaker and the language he uses to express himself, Rumi writes:

I am not made holy by their praise.

Is it they who turn pure and pearl-scattering.

I look not to tongue and speech,

rather to the inward state.

I look not to tongue and speech,

rather to the inward state,

I look into the heart, whether it is humble, no matter if the words be un-humble.

For the heart is the essence, speech an accident.

Well then, the accident is secondary,

The essence is the point.[7]

Here, it is suggested that through words and writing, the loss of identity/sense of self, is made possible through artifice. The essence is at odds, or takes priority to the secondary speech acts and the embodied emotional state, for at the essence we speak of the divine. The title of the novel, The Shell offers to the analyst a few different related images. In English, the shell almost sounds like self, or cell. In Arabic and English, the metaphor of clamming up or retreating into oneself is described using the shell symbol. Also it occurs to me that there might be some relation to the ear and hearing, with shells sometimes formed in spirals and the inner ear also containing a spiral or helix of sorts.

Body and Identity: Prisoners of Conscious as Ascetic Hermits

What interests me most about the book, The Shell, is the beautiful way in which the author illustrates the dynamic relationship between the identity and the body. It is mentioned in the novel that it is not easy to peg the protagonist into one religious sect because his last name doesn’t denominate a specific religious background. This point is exaggerated because he is taken to be a Muslim Brother in the beginning of his time in prison. The Shell follows a Christian Syrian man charged with being a member of the rebellious Muslim Brotherhood. Upon his arrival to prison, and admitting his atheism, he is then ostracized by the rest of the inmates, some of them actual Muslim Brothers, and thought of as a state spy. Valuable for its vivid descriptions and equally for its social critique, the narrator of The Shell experiences isolation and an inversion of identity is induced as the logics and meanings of the outside world are erased in the absolute prison. Through his mortification experience in the desert prison, the protagonist experiences a transformation. His former sophistication and individuality is diminished just as the suit he wears turns threadbare.

Christian mystic practices have included monasticism and asceticism, practices of self-denial which are meant to facilitate divine communion and purification of the soul in preparation for communion. In many ways, the original purpose of the prison, or penitentiary was based on the same model from religion. Criminals held in prisons were to be corrected before their release back into society. In the modern nation state, bureaucracy and hegemonic capitalism have affected the function of prisons and the apparatus of punishment (see Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Prison, YEAR). The prison industry involves much more than punishment of the criminal, as an institution it is maintained by economic practices, its employees, and other beneficiaries. It is a socio-political institution in charge of public hygiene.

In both cases, a normalization of suffering initiates a mental flourishing — physical duress encourages psychological strength and bonding between inmates. The relationship between Pain and literary production, asceticism and aesthetics, is made abundantly clear in this case. The beauty of suffering, joy of suffering … these are mythical truths for the mystic poet. Ego death from personal suffering engenders a mystical experience and hermeticism.


The detachment encouraged by the conditions of the prison life encourage mystic identifications. Over time, religious calendars and traditional significations are lost, holidays lose their meaning. The author criticizes his home country’s ethnic divisions as well as Western science and its brutal inventions.[8] More, prisoners’ very humanity is contested as they are beaten and humiliated: it is unclear whether they are bodies or simply the locus of violence. Through episodes of torture and humiliation, we observe the manner in which the mortification of the self renders sectarian and ideological identifications, concrete as differentiators in the social realm, meaningless in the moment of pain.


Bibliography & References


Asad, Talal. “On Discipline and Humility in Medieval Christian Monasticism.” Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993. Print.

Darity Jr., William A., Ed. “Prison Industry.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd ed., vol. 6, Macmillan Reference USA, 2008, pp. 468-469. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 28 Dec. 2017.

Elhadj, E., “Why Syria’s Regime is Likely to Survive.” Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online), 15(1), 77-89. 2011.

Esmail, Aziz. The Poetics of Religious Experience. London: I.B. Taurus. 1998. Print.

Fortier, Ted. “Monasticism.” Encyclopedia of Anthropology, edited by H. James Birx, vol. 4, SAGE Reference, 2006, pp. 1608-1611. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 28 Dec. 2017.

Khalifa, Mustafa. The Shell: Memoirs of a Hidden Observer. Translated by Paul Starkey. Northamption, Mass.: Interlink Books. 2017. Print.

Mulhern, P. F. “Self-Denial.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 12, Gale, 2003, p. 886. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 28 Dec. 2017.

—.       “Mortification.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 9, Gale, 2003, p. 904. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 28 Dec. 2017.

Peli, Pinchas H., et al. “Asceticism.” Encyclopaedia Judaica, edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2007, pp. 545-550. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 28 Dec. 2017.

Sabbatucci, Dario. “Mortification.” Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Lindsay Jones, 2nd ed., vol. 9, Macmillan Reference USA, 2005, pp. 6196-6199. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 28 Dec. 2017.

Ross, Jeffrey I., Ed. The Globalization of Supermax Prisons. Rutgers University Press, 2013. .

Wacquant, Loic. “Foreword: Probing the Meta-Prison.”  The Globalization of Supermax Prisons. edited by Jeffrey Ian Ross, Rutgers University Press, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, ix-xiv.



[1] Originally, al-Qawqaa (Published in 2006 in Arabic)

[2] [2] Dictionary of Gnosis and Esotericism, “Jung” acticle explains the significance of the creative imagination in psychoanalytic thought and writing to heal neurosis

[3] Mustafa Khalifa, The Shell, 51

[4] Mustafa Khalifa, The Shell, 51

[5] Mustafa Khalifa, The Shell, 52

[6] Aziz Esmail, The Poetics of Religious Experience, 41

[7] Translated in The Poetics of Religious Experience, by Aziz Esmail

[8] Khalifa, The Shell, 56

Criminalizing Islam

Criminalizing Islam: Islamophobia as an Apparatus of Punishment and Social Alienation



It must be said that deciding to write about Islamophobia in America is a choice I make not without some hesitation. I choose to address it firstly because it is specific and easily recognizable – though this does not reduce from its mystique. Also, in recent years its manifestations have become increasingly widespread and violent, and it continues to be a reason for concern for immigrants from different continents and religions. It is well-documented in various forms: news reports appearing in the form of newspaper articles, online reports of racial prejudice are widely available which make use of the term. It is becoming more commonly researched – the topic of its own journal issued from the University of California titled the Islamophobia Studies Journal. It has its own unique history, narratives, and unique dimensions This allows me ample resources to digest into a comprehensive understanding of its meaning and application in these times.

I find this moment and medium of expression to be suitable for piecing together some of the data I have collected on the topic, read in light of my newly acquired familiarity with overarching political and social developments we have addressed in our course and through my interest in the general discourse on punishment.

I hesitate because surely there are so many other topics worth addressing, but due to my personal exposure to Islamophobia and recent developments in the political theater, I am induced to attempt to draw some design of the phenomenon here. I say design because to rationalize or provide an aetiology of Muslim hatred, Islamophobic feelings, forces, and policies, seemingly straightforward, would mean falling for the same ill-informed subscription to a belief in narrow causal pathways — or worse: in a reasoned or rational genesis — that determines human conditions and behavior, the positivistic attitude which dominates the US psyche, of interest to me here and of which I hope to disarm of its potency and effects.

Indeed, Muslims and Middle Easterners have been marginalized by negative stereotypes in American media since the beginning of the camera and film; the harmful effects of Orientalist attitudes and of negative depictions of Arabs and Muslims in Hollywood and television have been researched and documented as reasons for the stigma attached to Muslim personhood and character. In what has been named the “Islamophobia industry”[1] is a multi-million dollar effort[2] in the media to demonize Islam and Muslims in the post-9-11 world while pushing Islamophobic rhetoric closer to that of a national cause, to great effect and success. In this arena, fictional accounts and those in the “real” (nonfiction) news media resemble one another so clearly that only the term narrative can be useful for describing the Islamophobic phrases that circulate through our American culture. Perennially portrayed as foreign, religious, and dogmatic, much has been written about the entertainment industry’s exploitations of American fear of Muslims that is further fomented by politicians and lawmakers utilizing these tropes and associating Islam to criminal violence.[3] Increasingly, the relationship between the TV and film industry with the Pentagon is of serious concern and has been described as a dangerous relationship of “mutual exploitation” whose collaborations actively blur the line between entertainment and fear-mongering flexing of military might.[4] However, war movies and popular culture are beyond the scope of this research.

In some sense, I am interested in seeing how representation relates to reality. Recently, British actor Riz Ahmed spoke before British parliament about the entertainment industry’s role in fomenting anti Muslim feelings because of the lack of positive portrayals of Muslims in British media and he suggested that a variety of roles be produced in order to reflect and encourage a reality of a diverse country of immigrants of different spiritualities and histories.[5] This is a somewhat topical observation about some of the facets of Islamophobia in western culture, a public relations approach that leaves out the harshness and complexity of the systemized phenomenon and its global impact. Aiding in the normalization of violence against Muslims, the film and television image of the violent, exotic Muslim is a powerful outward influence, not without its odd pernicious psychological reach, but the topic of Islamophobia is ripe for a realist, material-discursive approach. Understanding Islamophobia as a complex and profitable military apparatus[6] responsible at the highest order for current regimes of social control and racialized pain distribution offers much to the analyst.


Religion and the Body: Marking Muslim Bodies and Problems of Categorization

Recently, resemblant signs and symptoms of Islamophobic culture and policies that Europe and the United Kingdom have been experiencing have arrived in a huge wave and crashed into the White House in the form of the right-wing nationalist rhetoric of President Donald Trump and his administration. American Islamophobia, differs slightly from the European phenomenon; however, they are increasingly similar. Both target the same stereotypical body type and are marked by a right-wing, nationalist, anti-immigrant fervor that cites both economic and cultural problems as reason to bar Muslim emigres. Currently, 8% of France’s population is Muslim and the Muslim population in the United States is on the rise.[7] Despite this, Muslims face continuing inequities when attempting to fully participate in American (or French) society – both nations that pride themselves on a spirit of religious tolerance.[8]

Instead of acceptance and inclusion, attached to Muslims are some of the heaviest stigmas and an atmosphere of public prejudice prevails against them. Muslims, who are mostly Asian and African, and who make up a significant part of the human population, are monitored and recognized for what are known to be characteristic Persian, Arab, and Semitic features of the peoples of the Middle East and West Asia, where the religion was revealed. These “Muslim” features are an ambiguous mix in the American racial imaginary, but the stereotypical “Arab Muslim Terrorist” image is the most widespread and painful. Professor Edward Said describes the criminalization of Arab and especially Palestinian bodies:

I mean I could say this almost without qualification: right from the moment I arrived in the West in the early 50s until the present, initially there’s always a sense in which as an Arab, and obviously as a Palestinian, you feel in some way criminalized or delinquent. So powerful is this definition of you as somebody whose outside the pale. Whose sole purpose in life is to kill…[9]

However a person need not actually have ties to the religion to be marked as criminal by virtue of his muslimness. Recent killings of Hindus and Sikhs confirm that the Muslim terrorist stereotype has nothing to do with faith but is a racialized one which affects people of other faiths and religious background.[10] I argue that the use of the world Islamic by American commentators to describe criminal terrorist behavior is extremely irresponsible and has been harmful for Muslims and those mistaken to be Muslims. Islam is blamed for terror acts like the September 11 attacks, and more recently bombings in Paris and US domestic attacks at the Pulse nightclubs, or the Boston Marathon bombing. Called the “Islam is Responsible” mantra[11] this is a common habit in US culture since 9-11 and subsequent conflicts in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which carelessly uses Islam as an explanation for violent behaviors, Islam is here portrayed as a homogeneous, repressive, mindless enemy ideology whose adherents are likewise villainized, without any attempt to understand the world, its conflicts and ills more deeply.

This simplistic understanding of identity and religion in society falls victim to classical errors about the nature of being and realities of personal identity. As a categorical description, Islamic can be used to describe a set or practices, a religious literature, an art aesthetic, cosmology, or worldview. What is Muslim identity made up of? How do we determine what is Islamic among a diversity of traditions and philosophical positions? Islam is not a static object, but a dynamic body of interrelated knowledges, histories, personal identities, and practices. Likewise, any individual agent’s categorization and identity is multi-faceted and dynamic.

It is true that there exists an institutionalized, normalized, mainstream formal Islam of law which has observable exoteric faces, however, this is not all that Islam is and what the term is used to denote in today’s vocabulary. The fogginess of the existing definition is what makes me contend that to characterize President Trump’s executive order restricting travel to the United States by persons from first seven, then six Muslim-majority nations as a “Muslim Ban” is undue. This naming obscures the fact that an international class of privileged persons from the nations are still able to travel freely and the order is mostly a sign of hostility and ill will toward a foreignized other, and the desire to deter refugees and other poor people from the United States in order to please Trump’s base supporters who view immigrants threateningly.


Normalizing Muslims: The Complimentary Function of Islamophobia and Islamophilia in the American Imagination and Respectability

Despite the fact that the so-called Muslim Ban and other hostile comments by Trump administration members continue make headlines and shock the nation as some sort of racist anomaly, Islamophobic ignorance does not come as a surprise to those familiar with the plight of Muslims in the United States and Europe. Although Mosques and Masjids (Islamic houses of worship) have existed in the United States for over a century Islam, has not been well understood or properly imagined by Americans throughout the years. The earliest recognition of Islam in America is associated with Black African Americans — one of the first records of the United States Muslim population was written by sociologist Erdman Beynon who understood the practitioners as members of a “voodoo cult”[12] — and this image still informs the image of (especially Black) Islam today. More and more, the figure of the African American Muslim, popularized in Hip Hop and culture, has been eclipsed by the Arab and South Asian image, probably due to immigration trends and geo-political developments.

The War on Terror poses Wahhabism as a sect of Islam “responsible” for terrorist plots like the 9-11 attacks.[13] Antagonism toward “Radical Islam “as a patriotic call and national mission is cited often in congressional meetings of late. At the same time, domestic terror plots by agents like those who planned the Boston bombings, American residents of Islamic heritage, are also demonized as Muslim attackers, engaged in some kind of holy war, rather than regular terrorists which should be subject to criminal law and processing. This weak linkage and the dominance of a confrontational Muslim essence in the American cultural imagination is what allows the “Islam is Responsible” mantra to proliferate, and aids the logic which encourages a criminalizing of Muslim subjecthood, a social type that serves as the perpetrator behind terrorism. This mentality is most achingly obvious in the lazy, broadstroke banning of immigrants from entering the United States from specific Muslim countries, those most resemblant of the stereotype feared.

The truth is that Muslim populations in the United States are a diverse stratum, ranging from European Muslims like those from Bosnia to Black American Muslims living New York City, to Ethiopian immigrants and Saudi Arabian international students. What has emerged in the tension following 9-11 and more recent terror plots by Muslim identified persons is cultural vetting process set up to determine which among them are “Good Muslims” who are well-adapted to US culture and practices, separate from the negative stereotype of anti-democratic, regressive Muslim people who are not welcomed in the same way or granted the comfort and civil liberties of the “Good” members.[14] This brand of respectability politics is closely tied with racist ideologies that allows certain dispositions, characters of a certain physiognomic appearance that places them at the crosshairs of policing and surveillance, and is not different from traditional anti-Black racism, whose patronizing gaze infantilizes and criminalized people of color of people of other cultures and traditions. What has been called Islamophilia is the opposite end of the constraining affect of Islamophobia: it is the love of Muslims who adapt ad perform accepted behavioral norms and support the larger ideological aims of western Neoliberalism without critical analysis, an easier position to take since with it comes greater access to cultural resources (Respectability) and entrance into broader circles of society.[15]

Islamic influences in American society, history, and culture are obscured by native or otherwise acceptable identity markers (“Black” “African American” “Near Eastern” “Abrahamic” “Meditteranean” all fall under this category). My observations of social relationships and my personal experimental trials in interactions with New York City residents have guided me to understand the status quo of racial relationships in the US city. These boundaries and comfort zones are subconsciously implanted and practiced consciously in every-day tasks and affairs — American cultural expression is a type of constantly negotiated script which determines who is included and what type of expression is unacceptable. Those deemed acceptable in taste, behavior, styles, grammar, inflections, values, and goals are allowed to pursue the “American Dream” and participation in the “game” of American middle class to increase status and cultural centrality, the best zip codes and automobiles, the new haircuts and academic degrees, respected brands and positions in companies. Inter-racial conflicts at the frontiers of this social war reach their most critical in the cities like New York and Los Angeles where neighborhoods and resources are claimed by different groups. Harlem, my neighborhood, is a bustling part of New York City whose inhabitants are constantly changing. Visitors from Europe mingle with African and Latino locals; however, these areas are ghettoized and high crime is a “normal social fact”.[16]

Despite the fact that they are not so constrained by the control of “communities of fate” such as cultural tradition and family,[17] Muslims are thusly alienated, oversexualized. The predicament of the Young Arab Woman, The Young Arab Man is one of a closely monitored sexuality and behavior from their native community and the host community. Arabs and Muslims as treated as enemies of the state and Racial Status Quo, whose social Stigma and experience of urban orientalism and casts them as the ghetto race, theirs a ghettoized and militant religion. Erasure, ignorance, and denial of Islamic civilization’s contribution to art, the humanities and science in the United State educational curriculum for example, contributes to the questioning of Muslim humanity. In this way, American social surveillance and pressure to assimilate denies Muslims and immigrants safe spiritual space, and stifles creative development of their thought and abilities. Continually isolated and stigmatized, American cultural politics continually produces a disparity between Muslims and people of other faiths, and a fear of a regressive, anti-social, Islamic germ or virus contributes to a cycle of poverty and degeneration conducive to crime.

On the other hand, Normalizing Muslims through Islamophilic rhetoric and the image of the “Good Muslim” for Professor Nazia Kazi of Stockton Universty in New Jersey is just as oppressive as bigoted attitudinal Islamophobia and she suggests the dismantling of racial domination and critical thinking as an antidotes to this tension. In her interview on the independent news program Democracy Now, Nazia Kazi’s responded to North England American’s fear of domestic terrorism:

…what I argue is to insert critical thinking as a terrorism prevention tool, you know, a way of thinking past these simplistic binaries, and thinking geopolitically, historically and contextually, making connections between U.S. racism domestically and imperialism abroad.[18]

Throughout the past century, molded in response to US imperialism’s opportunistic geo-political aims, Islam has existed and has been portrayed in the American imaginary realms as a religion of underclass followers, criminal Black nationalists, and anti-American Arabs whose loyalty to the United States is ambivalent. This has culminated in a reality of antagonism and violence that continues to shock the world and members of every community and faith.


Digital Imprisonment and American Muslim Surveillance

Here I aim to describe how the representation of Islam as criminal and antagonistic to American values and identity is proffered and performed, influences culture and social forms, and is directly related to and provides the justification for policies of surveillance and other forms of monitoring and punishment in civil society. The most disconcerting parts of the new age policing apparatus is that it is seemingly driven and posed to address what is perceived as an increase in so-called radical Islamic terrorism in the taking the form of bombing and shootings perpetrated by persons affiliated with the religion. This apparatus of racial domination relies on so many presumptions, and demonstrates a mentality of divisiveness and detention as preferable to unification and absolution and so on. It also privileges a class-based, deterministic behavioral psychology in its predictions and policies.

Encouraged and emboldened by the large Islamophobia industry, the NYPD and other security agencies have increasingly criminalized Muslim populations in recent decades; the mapping and surveilling of American Muslims since 9-11 is well documented.[19] Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly writes in his best-selling autobiography that the threat of terrorism is one that “never sleeps” – referring specifically to the criminal threat posed by Muslims.[20] This citing of “Security reasons” as a cover for Muslim subjugation is a great example of the New Penology policy described by Simon and Feeley in their article “The New Penology: Notes on the Emerging Strategy of Corrections and its Implications”. In their study, they Simon and Feeley deduce that:

The new penology is neither about punishing nor about rehabilitating individuals. It is about identifying and managing unruly groups. It is concerned with the rationality not of individual behavior or even community organization, but of managerial processes. Its goal is not to eliminate crime but to make it tolerable through systemic coordination.[21]

In response to the desire for management of certain populations, increased policing and surveillance (digital and otherwise), Professor Hatem Bazian of the University of California has been led to dub Muslims “Civil Society’s Prisoners” who are so constrained and isolated by cultural narratives and norms that their existence is not so different than a prisoner in solitary confinement.[22]

In a similar way to the production of “good” Muslimness and its performance as a process of social control, I am interested in studying further how it is that US residents are acting out Muslim guilt and fear and the amelioration of these conditions. Muslim guilt is introduced and imposed through psycho-social processes such as micro-aggressions and, aided by the news/entertainment media, produces a felt criminal subjectivity among Muslim youth and embraced by groups for whom the state serves as an enemy. In his analysis of criminal character types Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis offer us a deeper and nuanced way of understanding another layer of Muslim psycho-reality and subject-hood. He relays that guilt is tied very closely to the moment of the crime, sometimes felt before the act. Similarly, Asim Qureshi at the Surveillance and the Mosque Conference at Columbia University on April 7, 2011 discussed the belief in a theoretical “pre-criminal space” that exists for analysts to predict the behavior of a subject under surveillance or observation. This brings up many questions about gauging behaviors and attitudes of Muslim subjects in an environment of fear and paranoia which is so characteristic of the ongoing War on Terror (now more blatantly described as a vested effort to wipe out what are called “Muslim radicals” of those affiliated with the “Islamic State”). What are the invisible dimensions and affects of racism and Muslim subjecthood in the Unites States? How does criminal subjectification imprison Muslims?

It is not easy for me to comment on the psycho-social consciousness, identity, and social insecurity faced by every Muslim in America, except to say that presumption and prediction can lead to type of dictation of behavior, an act to act out, upon, or on in much the same way that gender categorization functions. The differences in individual experiences and behaviors are that which mystifies and debunks any rational explanation for violence, no matter the background of the offender. Since terror and violence cannot be clearly traced to one of these positionality or approaches toward life, it is difficult to find reasonable explanation for it. The surveillance of Muslims and predictive policing relies on a belief in deterministic pathology and causal pathways for its justification.


(Re)producing Criminal Muslims: Islamophobia, Crime and Prison Culture

More serious than simple Islamophobia and cultural subjectification, which is rejected by so many, projections of persons, bodies, and characteristics meant to represent Islam or what is Islamic has led to the oversimplification of Islam in western media and provides terror groups with an image, legitimacy, recruitment support, and impetus to act out. Despite its relationships white supremacy, simple xenophobia, anti-blackness, and anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia is a distinct phenomenon operating in tandem with the predictive, penal regime of racial profiling and the pre-emptive strike logic of policymakers in our government. In mainstream popular discourse Islam is at odds with secular American governance, in fact the mainstream media is constantly polarizing Islam and its legal tradition from so-called Western ideals. By antagonizing Islam, the State is able to march on in a state of total war and further the reach of its commercial and cultural empire.

Part of the impact of projecting an antagonistic image of Islam is that in prisons, inmates have embraced some version of Islam as an alternative religion, one symbolic of popular resistance against apparently American crimes and what they deem an unethical, materialistic culture and practices. However, we must think about what practical purpose the “conversion” in prison serves and the deeper psychological experience of prison conversion. I can only offer my own speculation about the constraints of prison life, and taking into account that conversion may occur for the sake of belonging in increasingly violent prison settings.

As they mimic the iconic Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X, prison converts also experience a form of spiritual salvation and more easily submit to disciplinary processes. Embracing Islam, considered to be an anti-establishment religion, and engaging in religious rituals, inmates believe they are transcending state violence (a sort of mystic consciousness). I consider the transcendent quality of religion key here. Several studies and reports cite the beneficial effects of Islamic conversion in US prisons, leading to better prisoner self-esteem and discipline.[23] Also, recently, state corrections officers and workers in the State of New York have coopted religious discourse into prison mental health initiatives and anti-recidivism campaigns.[24] How is it that these differences in goals and consciousness exist concurrently?

In this way, Islam becomes instrumental in American governance and contradicts the stereotype of Islam as a foreign, subversive, anti-American religion. At the same time, prison converts see themselves as outsmarting or transcending violence. It has been said that “homegrown” radicalism is one of the products of this phenomenon. Mark Hamm in his report on Prison Islam notes, that according to an undated[25] report issued by the Homeland Security Policy Institute and Critical Incident Analysis Prisoner Radicalization Task Force at George Washington University in Washington DC titled Out of the Shadows: Getting Ahead of Prisoner Radicalization “because Islam often feeds on resentment and anger within prisons, it is a religion that ‘poses a threat of unknown magnitude to the national security of the U.S.’”[26] Extremist groups have indeed developed in prison. I would like to study the imprisonment of Islamists in the Arab world (imprisonment of Muslim Brothers under Nasser) and also the rise of the Nation of Islam in and its relationship to the US prison population during the past century to notice these trends.

By forming a new identity and affiliations, inmates can survive the mortification of the self that is the prison’s main purpose. However, this psychological strategy does not lesson the trauma and self-destructive mechanism of solitary confinement and imprisonment. Many formerly incarcerated people commit suicide or slide back into crime. Or else, they can no longer continue their religious practices once they are out of prison. All the while, the perception of Islam as a criminal religion is pervasive, despite its positive influence on some converts. The same transformative dynamism that the psyche is capable of and is evident in religious conversion and the freedom it provides, offers a hint at the solution of the puzzle of identity constraints in our investigation — that is — that it is not fixed but dynamic.



Islamophobia is related to predictive policing and a belief narrow determinants to behavior, and is a major contributor to the proliferation of the modern militarized punishment apparatus in the United States. This policy is a stem from an overall cultural shift toward the an individualistic, scientific, and positivist culture in the West claiming to maintain a grip on reasoned and moral action and social forms. Underwriting these conditions is a history of racist imperialist ideologies and compounded with violent encounters with Eastern, Oriental, and African Others in a competition for dominance in a broad Asian and African Continent, and a rejection of higher ethical calls and humanistic standards of communication.

In the new world of the United States domination, European colonial identity transforms into American cultural hegemony run by a belief in secular democratic governance as championed by governments in the US and its allies. The dominance of American liberalism is supported by cultural and religious affiliation between groups of Europeans and the American settler population, whose rules for membership are constantly negotiated and under construction depending on geo-political trends. The borders evolve with extreme and opportune discrimination — Muslims as of yet continue to face exclusion in American and European society and suffer under policies of digital surveillance and profiling. We hope this changes and Islam becomes once again a European religion and slowly an American religion, as well.



Bibliography and References

Bazian, Hatem. “Virtual Internment: Arabs: Muslims, Asians and the War on Terrorism”. The Journal of Islamic Law and Culture. Vol. 9. No. 1

Beynon, Erdman Doane. “The Voodoo Cult Among Negro Migrants in Detroit.” American Journal of Sociology, Volume 43, No. 6, University of Chicago Press, May 1938, 894-907.

Clear, Todd R. Bruce D. Stout. Harry R. Dammer, Linda Kelly, Patricia L. Hardyman, & Carol Shapiro. “Does Involvement in Religion Help Prisoners Adjust to Prison? NCCD Focus. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency, November 1992.

Feeley, Malcom M. and Jonathan Simon. “The New Penology: Notes on the Emerging Strategy of Corrections and its Implications”. Criminology. Vol. 30. No. 4. 1992. 449-474.

Foucault, Michel. “Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977”. Ed. Colin Gordon. Trans. Colin Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham, Kate Soper. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

Freud, Sigmund. “Some Character-Types Met with in Psycho-Analytic Work.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume 14 (1914-1916): On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works, 1916, 309-333.

Garland, David. “The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society”. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 2001.

Haddad, Yvonne Y. “A Century of Islam in America.” Hamdard Islamicus Vol. 21. Number 4. 1997.

Haddad, Yvonne Y. and Nazir Nader Harb. “Post-9/11: Making Islam and American Religion.” Religions. 2014, 5, 477-501.

Hamm, Mark S. “Prison Islam in the Age of Sacred Terror.” British Journal of Criminology. Volume 49. No. 5. September 2009, 667–685.

“Terrorism: Radical Islamic Influence of Chaplaincy of the U.S. Military and Prisons” Hearing before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security of the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate. 108th Cong. First Session, October 14, 2003.


Video References

Ahmed, Riz. Personal Address to British Parliament

Butler, Judith. On Talal Asad Suicide Bombing:

Edward Said, voice. In Exiles documentary, 1986.



[1] See this article that details the CAIR and Berkeley report on the Islamophobia business: which declares that over 200 million spent on Islamophobia activities in 2016

[2] The most ardent of Islamophobia sponsors, dubbed the “Sugar Mama of anti-Muslim hate” is Gatestone Institute founder Nina Rosenwald, Gatestone funds pro-Israel lobbies in Washington DC and far right thinktanks focused on eliminating or slowing the “Islamicization” of Europe

[3] See this example by Lorraine Ali titled “Exploiting fear of Muslims? The far right has nothing on liberal Hollywood” published in the LA Times which paints the Hollywood enterprise as more detrimental to Muslim wellbeing than the far right.

[4] Detailed in this article on Al-Jazeera America titled “Hollywood and the Pentagon: A relationship of mutual exploitation by Jaime Tarabay

[5] Riz MC promotes diversity in TV and Movies,

[6] Michel Foucault’s definition of apparatus (dispositif) is useful here: “a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions – in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements.”

[7] In response to increasing numbers of Muslims in American educational institutions and numbers of American Muslims Professor Yvonne Y. Haddad in 1997 documents in “A Century of Islam in America” the growth of the religion’s adherents in the United States. She predicted that by 2015, Islam would be the second largest religion in the United States. At the time of writing this has yet not come to pass.

[8] Yvonne Haddad, 1.

[9] Edward Said, voice. In Exiles documentary, 1986.

[10] Schmidt, Samantha. “Suspect in Kansas bar shooting of Indians apparently thought they were Iranians” The Washington Post.

[11] Bazian, Hatam. “The ‘Islam is Responsible’ mantra”

[12] Beynon, 1938

[13] Opening statement by U.S. Senator Jon Kyl in “Terrorism” Senate Hearing, 2003

[14] Sara Yasin describes the Good Muslim-Bad Muslim dichotomy here:

[15] In this NPR report, Nesrine Malik says: I am not your Muslim! Rebelling against Islamophilia and static archetypes proffered by American culture for Muslims who desire greater participation in cultural and social affairs

[16] David Garland, The Culture of Control,  106

[17] David Garland, 89

[18] Her comments in the interview are available online:

[19] “Mapping Muslims: NYPD spying and its Impact on Muslims”

[20] Ray Kelly, “Vigilance: My life serving American and Protecting its Empire City” 2015

[21] Feeley and Simon, 455

[22]Bazian, Hatem. “Muslims are Civil Society’s Prisoners.” The Daily Sabah. December 17, 2015. Accessed March 8, 2017.

[23] Clear, Todd R. Bruce D. Stout. Harry R. Dammer, Linda Kelly, Patricia L. Hardyman, & Carol Shapiro. “Does Involvement in Religion Help Prisoners Adjust to Prison? NCCD Focus. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency, November 1992.

[24] The multi million dollar effort to improve the mental health of NYC residents is reported on here–mental-health-roadmap-all#/0 and here–an–850-million-overhaul-of-the-city-s-mental-health-services.html

[25] September 19, 2006 according to a leaflet by Eric Vogt, a forensics trainer

[26] Hamm, 670

I am she, Astarte

I am she, owner and beholder of the prophecy

My name? My name is poetry.

I am Inanna, Aisha, and Mary,

I am Astarte,

bow now

And Hear my clear voice

Now rise, by my grace,

and say my name:

I am the dark matrix,

I am the source of the sun and the stars!

From my belly I birthed

Your essence. Your body.

I am the mistress of all of humanity who

sees in the light emanating from my eyes

a world you hold in such high esteem

and blinds you from the truth.

Recognize my power with certainty.

For you are of me and

I am harmony.


Love for war

war for love

I want more

more more…!

I am that dishonorable

Soldier of Love: The pristine whore

discharged from duty

into the Light.

I am she, owner and beholder of the prophecy

My name? My name is poetry.

I am Inanna, Aisha, and Mary,

I am Astarte,

bow now

And Hear my clear voice

Now rise, by my grace,

and say my name:

I am the dark matrix,

I am the source of the sun and the stars!

The truth seekers have seen me

From my belly I birthed

Your essence. Your body.

I am the mistress of all of humanity who

sees in light emanating from my eyes

a world held in high esteem

bloody and dim desire

blinded from the truth.

Recognize my power with certainty:

For you are of me and

I am justice and harmony.


Astarte May 8, 2017 New York 20:08

Looking Forward to Winter Activities

41jFty-dc2L._SX355_Thanksgiving break is over, and I am about wrapping up my semester at Columbia this fall, and already planning my winter break activities, including immersing myself in my spiritual practice which, for me, always includes the passionate pursuit of knowledge. I have always been interested in my ancestral homeland and my Iraqi heritage and look forward to attending a session on Sumerian Innovation at the Brooklyn Brainery this December 19th. Won’t you join us?

Secondly, I am extremely delighted that a passion for an art I’ve held close to my heart will finally be expressed this January, when I explore the industry of candle-making through a course I registered for at CourseHorse (that is my referral link — which will enable you to join a class with a $15 discount)! I usually have a candle burning in my room because it helps me focus while I meditate. I also am a novice aromatherapist so it should be a wonderful time for me to explore oils and perfumes as well.

I hope to see you there!

Blessings and I hope you have a happy December!


I learned today that the American Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. does not contain Arabic versions of the Bible (thank goodness for scholarship!). This was a real disappointment to me, for the image of Christ and his martyrdom is a powerful one for Arab Christians and Muslims alike. On the other side of the world, in my ancestral homeland Iraq, a statue of the virgin Mary was removed from a public square in Basra, as it was considered a liability for causing tension between people.

I wrote this poem earlier this summer, I hope it channels some of the love, pain, and devotion that Christ demonstrated and demanded for God and humanity. Here is my performance of the poem in two parts.

I love you so much

I love you so much

I feel nothing now but then i remember

the ache

it confuses me

i want it so much

the shame of your gaze

your love leaves a bruise

a stain blotted on my heart

all I want is you

to tame me with your calm touch

to press generous lips

on wet skin. i melt

in white linen

wicked gentleman

or gemini twin:

i won’t question

ill let you win.

dark emperor –

it’s your right

neptunian king

your knight

my god

i won’t say a word

i’ll bleed deep crimson

you’ll slake from my tears

and i won’t make a sound

i can’t hardly move…

i can’t feel the ground…

August 19, 2017 14:55 Harlem