From Fatwa to Jihad by Kenan Malik

“By exploring these myths, Kenan Malik provides an important primer to revaluate the key drivers in current responses to Fatwa to Jihad coverISIS, Boko Haram, and violent extremists in North America and Europe.”

When the Ayatollah Khomeini saw the Indian protests over Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, he penned these now famous words, adding gasoline to an already burning controversy:

“I would like to inform all the intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book entitled ‘Satanic Verses’ . . . as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, are hereby sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Moslems to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare to insult Islamic sanctity. Whoever is killed doing this will be regarded as a martyr and will go directly to heaven.”

In Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Aftermath, Kenan Malik explains that, “with his four paragraph pronouncement the Ayatollah had transcended the traditional frontiers of Islam and brought the whole world under his jurisdiction.”

“The Rushdie affair,” Malik continues, “is shrouded by myths that the hostility to the The Satanic Verses was driven by theology, that all Muslims were offended by the novel, that Islam is incompatible with Western democracy, that in a plural society speech must necessarily be less free.” He adds that these myths “have helped create many of the post-Rushdie monsters.”

Whatever readers think they know about the Ayatollah’s fatwa and its effect on international Islam, Malik asks them to think again. Fatwa to Jihad begins with a review of the cultural tensions in England that preceded the 1989 publication of The Satanic Verses and then places the outcry over both book and fatwa into global and local context. With thorough research and extensive interviews he examines group dynamics and the work of key individuals who dogged the issue until it became a big deal.

In England where Rushdie made his home, fundamentalist leaders later used the book and subsequent fatwas to draw disenfranchised and disenchanted youth into a community of mutual support, while simultaneously sowing more seeds of fear and distrust of England.

As Malik describes it, Islamic fundamentalist groups reached out to first generation immigrants, as part of a long-term strategy to revive their own firebrand version of Islam. In so doing, he misses the opportunity to compare this tactic with similar movements of other groups allowing at least one myth to go unexplored which is that Islam is alone in a pattern of radicalization. Other faiths and political groups have used almost identical tactics and discontent to foment radical movements across the globe and throughout the years.

Malik breaks down the fractures created by the Rushdie affair, tracking its effect on identity, free speech, integration policies, and extremism. Fatwa to Jihad skirts apologetics by taking aim at everyone, including liberals who, in their efforts to support minority groups, unsuspectingly gave undue power to conservative religious leaders. This happens mostly because of liberals’ own misunderstanding of the complexity of religious and immigrant politics.  While some conservatives would like to preserve freedom of religion as long as it isn’t Islam.

Despite the religio-cultural wars stirred by Rushdie’s book and the Ayatollah’s fatwa, Malik recognizes that even conflict arising from an international death warrant can give birth to positive social movements. In the last section of the book, Malik explores lesser-known movements born from the Rushdie affair, including secular and moderate Islamic movements and the organization, Women Against Fundamentalism.

“Less than a month after the fatwa,” he writes, Women Against Fundamentalism, made up of religious and non-religious activists declared their “solidarity with Salman Rushdie,” noting that “women’s voices have been largely silent in the debate where battle lines have been drawn between liberalism and fundamentalism.”

By drawing attention to these groups, the author reminds readers that not all Muslims were radicalized toward violent fundamentalist thought. Some were appalled by the Rushdie protests and organized for moderation and greater freedom within the Muslim community. He also circles back to key people who led the Rushdie Affair and finds they too had changed their opinion towards moderation.

By exploring these myths, Kenan Malik provides an important primer to revaluate the key drivers in current responses to ISIS, Boko Haram, and violent extremists in North America and Europe. He gives readers enough background information, without overwhelming them, on many of the political and cultural conversations that are currently being played out in both foreign and domestic policy.

I originally published this review at NY Journal of Books.

Schaefer’s New Book and the Shifting LGBT Inclusion Conversation

Rev. Frank Schaefer’s personal retelling of the events leading up to his trial and defrocking, are detailed in his new book, “Defrocked: How a Father’s Love Shook the United Methodist Church” (UMC). “I never got to tell my side of the story,” Schaefer says on why he wrote the memoir, which officially releases July 26 after first being featured at June’s Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina.

Schaefer is the latest in a line of UMC pastors disciplined for performing same-sex weddings or being open about their own same-sex relationships. In this sense, Schaefer’s experience is not unique. Jimmy Creech was defrocked in 1998 for performing a same-sex ceremony, and Beth Stroud was defrocked in 2005 for being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

Schaefer makes the argument that his case has shifted the conversation again. Since the controversy began, breaking church law for his son is the focus of the conversation at Schaefer’s public appearances.

“Frank chose to honor his call as a child of God and honor his call as a father,” says Rev. Dawn M. Hand from Foundry UMC, Washington D.C., explaining why this case pushed the LGBT question with the church. “Our first call is to love God. Then it is to love and serve our family. Then it is to love and serve his area of calling.” Immediately after Schaefer’s December 2013 trial, he made appearances on national network news, including Anderson Cooper’s show, and has preached most Sundays at churches across the country. During these appearances, Schaefer has heard from people who support LGBT equality, those who do not, and those who are somewhere in between. “When I get very critical questions,” Schaefer says, “I love engaging with those folks and I share my story, my experience.”

A similar case, with far less national media attention, involved retired Rev. Thomas Ogletree, who was also brought under church charges for performing a same-sex union for his son. Ogletree’s case was resolved by the New York UMC conference in March 2014.

Defrocked tells the story of when Schaefer discovered his son was gay. The revelation began with an anonymous phone call alerting Schaefer that his son was gay and suicidal. The notification was followed by tearful conversations with Schaefer’s wife and son. Their conversations resulted in public silence both out of fear for the repercussions in the church and out of concern for their son’s privacy. In 2013, when charges were filed because Schaefer performed the same-sex wedding for his son, Schaefer’s world turned upside down. At trial, Schaefer decided to publicly support his son, the LGBT community, and the movement for equality. “If there is one regret I have, it’s that I didn’t speak out soon enough,” Schaefer says. “I felt totally free,” He recalls while talking about his evolution since the trial, “I felt at peace with God, with the world and with myself.” Schaefer continued, “Living with homophobia in church puts you in a state of fear, and in that moment all of it went away.”

During his testimony before the church, “I felt the freedom too,” says his wife Bridgette Schaefer. Privately, she had urged her husband to become bolder in his public stance. “Being able to speak openly and publicly about my theology,” Frank explains, “and being able to engage in dialogue openly has not only emboldened my witness, but it has actually further changed and widened my theology, especially with regard to God language.”

After traveling for months around the country speaking about his trial experience and his new-found calling to minister to the LGBT community, Schaefer has continued to shift his theology. “The transgender and queer community has helped me gain a new understanding of the importance of using neutral and genderless pronouns for God, as the spectrum of sexual identity and orientation includes people who identify with either or both genders,” he says.

The conversation will move forward, Rev. Hand points out. “We have to learn how to get along with each other, and how to disagree with each other,” she says. “Even as the conversation continues, we all have to practice grace and civility with each other.”

The debate continues with a recent official complaint filed against the 36 UMC pastors who blessed a same-sex wedding at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, in November 2013. The ceremony was performed partly in solidarity with Frank Schaefer, as well as to protest the official church position.

Despite the trial, Schaefer says he has no regrets. “One thing I know for sure is that I will never be silent again…If you proclaim boldly what you feel is a justice issue and what is right, God will not let you down.”


Originally published on July 11, 2014 at the United Methodist Reporter

Freeway Rick Ross by Rick Ross and Cathy Scott

Freeway Rick Ross CoverRick Ross dropped out of high school, functionally illiterate and with few prospects. Within a few years he was running a successful business, had dozens of employees, and was worth millions of dollars.

It was the 1970s and cocaine was about to become the biggest moneymaker in South L.A., and the country. Bishop Noel Jones in the book’s foreword said, “[Rick’s] goal of ‘getting in the drug business and then going legit’ is indicative of the mindset and entrepreneurial skills of any corporate American magnate.”

“Young blacks stood openly on sidewalks and even in the street to hawk their product to passerby’s as if it was the most legal thing they’d every done.” Rick saw the business on 81st street and saw opportunity.

Any compelling autobiography knows the story is more about the time and community, then about any specific individual. Freeway Rick Ross reads partly as the classic businessman’s story, putting together whatever little cash he had to get a start and get ahead. Ross’ first business was buying and selling subsidized meal tickets.

“All I had to do was purchase tickets from Bret Harte underprivileged students. They were more than happy to get money for something they were ashamed to use, then I’d sell the tickets to those who could afford them, and I made a profit.” Rick compassionately explains why students at Bret Hart were embarrassed to use the meal tickets, while also explaining the puzzling reasons middle class students at his new high school desperately wanted the meal tickets.

The book weaves together the history of South L.A., the migration of blacks from southern states, to find work and prosperity in the Golden State, and the growth of gang culture. While Rick was never a member of a gang his close family relationships and friendships with top leaders kept him and his business protected.

Dates are sometimes lost in the narrative, especially as the corrupt LAPD Freeway Rick Ross Task Force increased their focus. The narrative is driven by Ross’ personal story and as important figures are introduced their future notoriety is revealed for context.

As the story introduces the shadowy interplay of the Nicaraguan drug supplier and the connections to the Iran Contra scandal the story focuses on Ross and does not get lost in the Iran Contra story.

After his arrest and imprisonment, Ross learned to read, partly as a way to prepare his own defense in the appeals courts. Once he was released, the second time, he was finally able to go “legit” and now teaches economics, while working with the community.

“I cannot change the negative impact that crack cocaine had on my community, the people in it, and the role I played . . . I haven’t sold drugs in more than 20 years. I tell kids in inner cities that they need to make informed choices, stay in school, stay clean, and stay positive. They cannot do that by gang banging or dealing.”

For readers whose only context for life in South L.A. comes from movies and music produced in the early to mid 90s, Freeway Rick Ross gives a compassionate view of the delicate game people played to fit in, while trying to get out or get ahead.

Freeway Rick Ross focuses on the life of one man at the center of the cocaine epidemic and a key player in revealing LAPD corruption and the Iran-Contra scandal. This is all done with a compassion and insight on the history of South L.A. and the drug trade.

I originally published this review at NY Journal of Books 

Author: Cathy Scott, Rick Ross
Release Date: June 11, 2014
Publisher/Imprint: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Defrocked by Franklyn Schaefer

DefrockedThe story of Frank Schaefer’s trial by the United Methodist Church in November 2013 splashed across the regional, national, and international news. Defrocked is the personal story of how Schaefer, born in Germany, came to be a United Methodist Pastor in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The book follows his public and private dispute within his local church, his defrocking after he was found guilty of performing a same-sex marriage for his son, and his subsequent refusal to refrain from performing future ceremonies.

Defrocked, published just six months after the trial’s conclusion and before the appeals hearing set for June 20, 2014, focuses on specific events leading up to the trial and the courtroom drama played out over two days of proceedings.

In a recent interview, Schaefer explained, “I really didn’t get my day in court. I didn’t get to defend myself. I wasn’t supposed to say what I did say.” Parts of the book read more like testimony, giving specific events, names, and actions taken, like the defense case Schaefer would have presented during the trial. The book was a chance for Schaefer to tell his personal story, especially for most people who came to know the saga only after the verdict.

The build up to the case is carefully documented, outlining church disputes. These disputes are almost universal in church life, mostly stemming from worship wars, when the church added a contemporary style worship. Schaefer draws the connection with this long-standing dispute, a subsequent dismissal of the choir director and the official complaint.

Defrocked seems to purposively avoid integrating national and church events happening concurrently to the story. The Proposition 8 Supreme Court rulings on June 26, 2013 are never mentioned. The book also barely mentions the national United Methodist church’s discontent with Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered (LGBT) issues. The book does include statements from both United Methodist clergy and other Christian clergy in response to the case.

Whether these omissions are because they did not play into the actions and thoughts of Schaefer and his family or to show how national stories were eventually distilled in the personal lives of one church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, are left for the reader to decide. But this view of the church as acting alone and outside of general culture dynamics negates the real people within the church as simultaneously within a secular culture, whether that culture be for or against LGBT issues.

The effect Prop 8 and the growing number of states reversing similar legislation had on Schaefer’s trial can only be guessed; however, Schaefer does spend a short section of the book on the common scriptural arguments against homosexuality. While he doesn’t recreate the work of other theologians and pastors, he includes “. . . some general common sense observations.”

He states, “The conflict we are facing in the Christian church as a whole (United Methodist and otherwise) is rooted in our view of our holy writ, the scriptures and the Bible.” He then goes on to explain the literalist versus the contextualist interpretation of scripture as directly influencing the view of LGBT issues.

While the title of the book suggests a social commentary, the storyline keeps the effect of church action at the personal, familial, and local level. This is especially true when Schaefer reveals an anonymous phone call he received at the church office saying his son, Tim, was suicidal and gay.

Schaefer and his wife Brigette tearfully spoke with Tim, hearing how he remembered LGBT condemnation at a church meeting years earlier and was afraid to come out. Given the conservative community they lived in, the family kept this news private, allowing their son to come out to people he chose. So in 2006, when his son called and asked Schaefer to perform his wedding ceremony, regardless of church rules, “There was no way in hell I was going to say no,” Schaefer said.

When asked why his story was important, Schaefer said, “Even people who are conservative were saying, ‘If he hadn’t done this for his son, I would not only think of him as a bad father, but as a bad pastor.’”

I originally published this review on the NY Journal of Books

Author(s): Frank Schaefer
Release Date: June 26, 2014
Publisher/Imprint: Chalice Press
Pages: 128