My piece for this issue of Somersault:
By Torie Rose DeGhett, who writes freelance about politics and music, and is a contributing arts writer at Aslan Media. (And is also one of Somersault’s two editors.)
“Sharia laaaawwww…” The opening track on The Kominas’ debut album Wild Nights in Guantánamo Bay hits hard at anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, a surreal flash of satire that pounds through your ears. The Kominas pull off being both alienating and alluring at the same time. They have incredible musical talent and lyrics that are harsh and gleeful, but well-chosen. ”Sharia Law in the U.S.A” mocks and ridicules profiling and institutional Islamophobia, jabbing at the radicalizing nature of security measures:
Cops chased me out of my mother’s womb
My crib was in state pen before age two
The cops had bugged my red toy phone
So I devised a plan for heads to roll…
Being Muslim in the US in the twenty-first century has meant an unrelenting scrutiny, a patchwork of stereotype and profiling including the ignorance of public assumption and the direct attack of authorities.
Challenging Islamophobia is a core tenet of the band’s musical purpose. They aim to overturn assumptions about Muslims, and impugn the legitimacy of institutional anti-Muslim sentiment in the US. Guitarist Sunny Ali says “We used the media’s Islamophobia to get attention the same way they used us and continue to use Islam for their headlines. We are also tapping into people’s stereotypes and turning it around on them for our own benefit. Turning a minus into a plus.”
Addressing the world’s myriad minuses with a punchy, invasive musical style has been a theme of theirs since the band’s beginning. (It should be noted that the current membership of the band has undergone lots of shifts since The Kominas started playing.) Among the songs on Wild Nights, their first full-length album, is “Rumi Was a Homo (But Wahhaj is a Fag),” written in response to homophobic comments by Imam Siraj Wahhaj. The logic of using such a slur to hit back at someone for being homophobic is an obvious question, but The Kominas (whose name roughly translates as “the bastards” or “the scumbags”) often make their way on insults and contrarian juxtapositions. This is the same band that sings “I want a handjob” in virtually the same breath as “Subhanallah (Glorious is Allah).” The lyrics from “Rumi Was a Homo,” “Conventional opinion is the ruin of souls/Bhai-jaan it’s my prose I can’t control,” feels like one of the best descriptions of the band itself and its members, using their witty, sarcastic lyrics to escape the ruination of conventionality.
The punk-meets-bhangra mix of sound that The Kominas produce is a jumble, each song shifting up the pace and the tone. Soundwise, they have a great deal of unpredictability. The changes from album to album might come from the membership changes the band has gone through since they first got in people’s faces by calling Rumi a homo, but from song to song they shift up, varying sounds and styles from jarring to smooth. When reached by email, Sunny Ali says that their musical influences are many and ever-changing, starting with a foundational mix of punk, hip-hop and Bollywood and moving on to the “endless crate” that is YouTube, which offers up everything from reggae to psychedelic African rock. It’s the lyrics that make a song one by The Kominas. Sunny Ali notes that in the process of writing, “the lyrics are usually what turns it into an actual song.”
I know a kid from a tribal area that bikes several miles a day to go to school in Sana’a. His family have had drone aircraft hover over their homes. One day they could step in the capital city and come home to see their entire world shattered (literally) or worse a drone could strike their home while they’re inside. The only thing worse than instantly being killed is sustaining horrific injuries without any medical facilities nearby and succumbing to a slow, painful death. This is the sad reality that many Yemenis in the rural areas are forced to endure.
When we say we hate America, we don’t mean individual citizens. I wish Americans would step outside of their narcissism for a second to understand that the term ‘America’ is applied in a political sense here. We don’t wish harm on American people, because ultimately they’re not the ones responsible for what were forced to go through. We mean the imperialism, the militarism, the warfare that’s attached to America, the forced destabilization of our country, the dwindling economy, the rampant distrust of the West which therein festers into a vulnerability that’s turned most of these newer ‘militants’ onto the idea of terrorism. It’s a vicious cycle, you see. The more innocent people killed, the increase in extremist activity, which justifies even more drone strikes and it eventually will snowball into unforeseen chaos.
Of course the individual American isn’t responsible for this, but citizens of the U.S. need to understand that it’s their tax dollars that fund this weaponry. It’s their supposed protection that’s being protected at the cost of our lives, livelihoods, stability and economical comfort. Whether or not Americans like, they are inevitably a part of this killing machine and not directly lobbying, protesting and holding their government accountable is complicity. It’s the allowance of our deaths.
So you’ve just graduated from college and you want to change the world. Good for you. The non-profit sector seems like a natural place for a justice-minded person such as yourself, and nonprofits are almost always hiring because the turnover rate is so high. But you may find the social justice industry to be… a little unjust. Here are a few tips and tricks for how to avoid being exploited by a nonprofit.
- Don’t work at one. Seriously. Working at a non-profit generally involves at least some level of exploitation. (When was the last time you saw a non-profit with a union?) If this doesn’t deter you, figure out what you’re willing to give up: Is it sleep? Weekends? Seeing your friends? Most non-profit workers do not work 9-5. Working nights and weekends is common. Paid overtime is not. Non-profits tend to make you feel like if you are not willing to work 24/7 then you are not “down for the cause.” That’s bullshit. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you’re not “down enough” because you are not willing to sacrifice your well-being for “the movement.” People who don’t take care of themselves burn out and often become jaded and bitter. You can’t sustain “the movement” if you don’t sustain yourself.
I’ve seen a lot of people sharing this on social media today. I imagine a lot of my followers are interested in nonprofit work, so I wanted to pass it along.
The march rally call says; “Let’s remember gay hero Harvey Milk!”
We say; “Harvey Milk was no hero. He was a straight-pandering Republican, responsible for the gentrification of the Castro and the criminalization of trans sex workers in San Francisco.
If you’re going to celebrate the so-called “revolutionaries” of electoral politics, rather than actual revolutionaries like Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Jim Fouratt; it is questionable why you’d pick a white, straight-acting Republican like Harvey Milk.
Why pick someone someone who embodies the “Just Like You!” attitude of the straight establishment; when there are candidates like Jose Sarria, an openly gay gender variant person of color who actively campaigned against police brutality and gentrification, who even ran for the very same office (S.F. Board of Supervisors) a decade before Milk in 1961?
If this rally is for a revolution of social liberation, why did people simply pick-and-choose to celebrate queer history that best fits in with Hollywood’s film screening schedules? (Did anyone even know who Harvey Milk was before the movie came out in 2008?)
let’s do a little bit of fact-checking - sourced from randy shilts’ “the mayor of castro street:”
1. “republican” - harvey milk was only a republican while he was closeted and working a 9 to 5 job in new york’s financial district prior to his coming out and moving to san fransisco. during his political career, he constantly and consistently railed against the right and against social and economic conservative interests.
2. “straight-pandering” - harvey was anything but. harvey milk’s political career was predicated upon his opposition to the straight-pandering activities of the wealthy, well-established homosexual and democratic party establishment. many of harvey’s contemporaries, wealthy homosexual men like david goodstein and rick stokes, sought to endear wealthy liberals to their cause and used their clout to support straight candidates. harvey was of the gay community and for the gay community; the straight-pandering liberal establishment openly despised him.
3. “responsible for the gentrification of the castro” - oh, undoubtedly, harvey was highly influential in revitalizing the economy of his neighbourhood and turning it into a destination spot and a safe haven for the gay community. but there were other forces at work in 1970s san fransisco - namely, the pro-business economic policies of politicians like dianne feinstein and george moscone. harvey unequivocally supported neighbourhood businesses and the economic interests of the poor.
4. “responsible for the criminalization of trans sex workers in san fransisco” - this is totally untrue. harvey was a supporter of sex workers’ rights and trans+ rights and worked actively to defend both groups.
5. “white” - yes, harvey milk was white, but a quick look through his speeches reveals that he often spent more time talking about race issues than gay issues. he called for the closure of the united states’ embassy in south africa. he lobbied fiercely against legislation that would have reduced the wages of POC city employees. POC san fransiscans had an ally in harvey milk, and his closest friends and political allies - ever heard of michael wong? - were people of colour.
6. “straight-acting” - i literally just laughed out loud in WHAT universe was harvey milk straight-acting oh my fucking god - he was openly, publicly, and vocally gay, he had relationships with men, he marched to his swearing-in with his arm over his boyfriend’s shoulder. straight-acting???? what?????????????
7. jose sarria was a fucking hero. acknowledging harvey milk’s contributions to the gay community does not negate the incredible work that sarria did in san fransisco’s queer community, doesn’t negate his advocacy against police brutality, doesn’t negate his courageous run for office. the reason there’s a movie about milk and not sarria is that sarria only ran for public office once before leaving organized political life; milk ran four times, got elected, enacted massive gay rights reform, and was assassinated for his efforts.
8. by the way, jose sarria endorsed harvey milk. they were friends and political allies.
9. “did anyone even know who harvey milk was before 2008?” - um, try the entire population of san fransisco? most of california? most of the united states when dan white’s trial blew up in the national media? try president carter, who publicly endorsed milk’s causes and personally corresponded with him? are you aware that “the times of harvey milk,” a documentary film about milk’s life, won the 1984 academy award for best documentary feature? yeah, people knew who harvey milk was before 2008.
do you even know who harvey milk was?
because it sure as fuck doesn’t sound like it.
This still amuses me to no end. it shall neer get old