Friday, February 29, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Will Puerto Rico Have the Final Say in Obama Vs. Clinton?
Compiled by the DiversityInc staff.
Date Posted: February 20, 2008
With 10 consecutive wins, presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama claimed victory in Wisconsin's and Hawaii's Democratic presidential primaries yesterday. Obama handed Sen. Hillary Clinton her latest defeat as the pair barrel toward critical upcoming contests in Texas and Ohio.

Yet while Obama is on a decisive winning streak now, if the race tightens up in the final days, the most unlikely of territories could in up playing a critical factor in selecting the Democratic nominee: Puerto Rico.

That's right. Once thought to be a mere afterthought in the primary process, the tiny island of 4 million, with its 63 delegates, may very well end up having a crucial say. Puerto Rico will hold the last caucus on June 7. Its delegate count is actually larger than that of several states, including Connecticut (60) South Carolina (54) and Oklahoma (45).

Many political pundits had already tossed Puerto Rico in the Clinton camp. But that was cast in doubt last week when Puerto Rico Gov. Anibal Acevdeo Vila endorsed Obama.

The residents of Puerto Rico find themselves in a peculiar scenario. They cannot actually cast a vote for president, but they are able to participate in primaries and send delegations to national party conventions, reports Angelo Falcón, president and founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy.

U.S. News & World Report columnist Michael Barone questions how the country at large would react to Puerto Rico having the final say.

"My guess is that most American voters, no matter how many times they are reminded that Puerto Ricans are our fellow citizens and that Puerto Rican volunteers in disproportionate numbers have shed their blood for their and our country, would consider it absurd for Puerto Rico to determine the presidential nominee of a major party," he notes.

Adds Falcón, "If this colonial delegation winds up determining the outcome, then this raises serious questions about the importance of holding the first primaries (the fight in 2012 might be which state will hold the last primary!) and the delicious irony of a people who cannot vote for U.S. president possibly determining who that person will be!"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Obama Wins Wis. for 9th Straight Triumph
By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent
Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Barack Obama cruised past a fading Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Wisconsin primary Tuesday night, gaining the upper hand in a Democratic presidential race for the ages. It was Obama's ninth straight victory over the past three weeks, and left the former first lady in desperate need of a comeback in a race she long commanded as front-runner.

"The change we seek is still months and miles away," Obama told a boisterous crowd in Houston.
He cut deeply into Clinton's political bedrock in Wisconsin, splitting the support of white women in Wisconsin almost evenly with the former first lady and running well among working class voters in the blue collar battleground, according to polling place interviews.

The economy and trade were key issues in the race, and seven in 10 voters said international trade has resulted in lost jobs in Wisconsin. Fewer than one in five said trade has created more jobs than it has lost.

Clinton made no mention of her defeat, and showed no sign of surrender in an appearance in Youngstown, Ohio.

"Both Senator Obama and I would make history," the former first lady said. "But only one of us is ready on day one to be commander in chief, ready to manage our economy, and ready to defeat the Republicans. Only one of us has spent 35 years being a doer, a fighter and a champion for those who need a voice."

In a clear sign of their standing in the race, most cable television networks abruptly cut away from coverage of Clinton's rally when Obama began to speak in Texas.

Sen. John McCain won the Republican primary with ease, dispatching former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and edging closer to the 1,191 delegates he needs to clinch the GOP nomination at the party convention in St. Paul, Minn. next summer.

In scarcely veiled criticism of Obama, the Republican nominee-in-waiting said, "I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure that Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change."

McCain's nomination has been assured since Super Tuesday three weeks ago, as first one, then another of his former rivals has dropped out and the party establishment has closed ranks behind him.

Not so in the Democratic race, where Obama and Clinton campaign seven days a week, he the strongest black presidential candidate in history, she bidding to become the first woman to sit in the White House.

Ohio and Texas vote next on March 4 — 370 convention delegates in all — and even some of Clinton's supporters concede she must win one, and possibly both, to remain competitive.

Wisconsin independents cast about one-quarter of the ballots in the race between Obama and Clinton, and roughly 15 percent of the electorate were first-time voters, the survey at polling places said. Obama has run strongly among independents in earlier primaries, and among younger voters, and cited their support as evidence that he would make a stronger general election candidate in the fall.

With the votes counted in nearly one-quarter of the state's precincts, Obama was winning 56 percent of the vote, to 43 percent for Clinton.

Wisconsin offered 74 national convention delegates. There were 20 delegates at stake in caucuses in Hawaii, where Obama spent part of his youth.

Obama's victory allowed him to expand his delegate edge over Clinton.

He had 1,294, and Clinton had 1,218 in The Associated Press count, with most of Wisconsin's delegates still to be allocated. It takes 2,025 to win the nomination at the party's national convention in Denver.

Obama began the evening with eight straight primary and caucus victories, a remarkable run that has propelled him past Clinton in the overall delegate race and enabled him to chip away at her advantage among elected officials within the party who will have convention votes as superdelegates.

The Democrats' focus on trade was certain to intensify, with primaries in Ohio in two weeks and in Pennsylvania on April 22.

Obama's campaign has already distributed mass mailings critical of Clinton on the issue in Ohio. "Bad trade deals like NAFTA hit Ohio harder than most states. Only Barack Obama consistently opposed NAFTA," it said.

Obama was in Texas, which has primaries and caucuses on March 4, and Clinton was in Ohio as the votes were counted in Wisconsin.

Clinton's aides initially signaled she would virtually concede Wisconsin, and the former first lady spent less time in the state than Obama.

Even so, she ran a television ad that accused her rival of ducking a debate in the state and added that she had the only health care plan that would cover all Americans and the only economic plan to stop home foreclosures. "Maybe he'd prefer to give speeches than have to answer questions" the commercial said.

Obama countered with an ad of his own, saying his health care plan would cover more people.

The campaign grew increasingly testy over the weekend, when Clinton's aides accused Obama of plagiarism for delivering a speech that included words that had first been uttered by Deval Patrick, the Massachusetts governor and a friend of Obama.

"I really don't think this is too big of a deal," Obama said, eager to lay the issue to rest quickly. He said Clinton had used his slogans, too.

Even before the votes were tallied in one state, the campaigners were looking ahead.

Unlike the Democratic race, McCain was assured of the Republican nomination and concentrated on turning his primary campaign into a general election candidacy.

Huckabee parried occasional suggestions — none of them by McCain — that he quit the race. In a move that was unorthodox if not unprecedented for a presidential contender, he left the country in recent days to make a paid speech in the Grand Cayman Islands.

McCain picked up endorsements in the days before the primary from former President George H.W. Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a campaign dropout who urged his 280 delegates to swing behind the party's nominee-to-be.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani's Politics

Being that this time of year is filled with politics, I felt that I would elaborate what are my politics. First of all, being a Sunni Muslim who adheres to the Quran and Sunnah according to the understanding of the early generations of Muslims, this has lead me to hold many conservatives positions. That is, I hold many positions on society that can be described as conservative (some might even say ultra-conservative). In addition, I am against what I call mainstream liberal ideals. This type of politics I feel is best exemplified by people like Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Chuck Schumer. This is the politics that many white liberals and Latinos adhere to. It is the liberalism of abortion, feminism, gay rights, and many other values that undermine the American family.

Being that I am Puerto Rican and born and raised to second-generation Puerto Ricans this is the other major factor that influences my world-view and by entension my politics. My parents are Democrats. The household I grew up in was a liberal Catholic one. During my teenage years I became politically concious, and I was a typical Puerto Rican leftist. My politics could easily be defined as "progressive." My take on politics was very much influened by race and civil-liberties. Now years later, as a Muslim, I still hold many of the same positions on race and politics. I still agree with the politics of Richie Perez, Felipe Luciano, Charles Barron, and Howard Jordan. One distinction that must be made is that there are two liberals out there - the mainstream type that Rush Limbaugh like to always talk about, and then there are the grassroots type who call themselves "progressives."

The problem with many of the mainstream liberals is that they hold many conservative positions, especially on issues like the war, foreign policy, the Middle East, and Israel. To tell you the truth I do not see much difference from them and neo-conservatives. The neo-conservatives hold many liberal positions on social issues. A mainstream liberal like Sen. Schumer does not differ much on a lot of positions across the board with a typical neo-conservative.

Another area where mainstream liberals are lacking is the issue of race. Yes, they may say they want equality and stuff like that, but do the really fight to end racial oppression? This is why I call mainstream liberalism "white liberalism." The liberalism of Blacks tend to be far more liberal, and I identify with that form of liberalism much more. African-Americans also tend to be very conservative on social issue as I am. Don't get me wrong, just because I say that I hold conservative positions on social issues does not mean that I feel that these issues should overweigh the "progressive" prositions on race and politics.

To the Muslims out there, might I say that we should not be fooled by American Conservativism, which is embodied in the Republican Party. This type of conservativism, while having many similarities with Islamic conservative values, is way different. It is very anti-Islamic and very racist. They do not fight for people rights. Muslims are not humans in their eyes. Everytime they speak about security it seems like they just want all the Muslims locked up and do away with all of our rights. I seek alies with those who want to preserve our rights fellow citizens of the nations and humans.

I do not know how exactly you could describe my politics overall (including my stance on societal issues). Perhaps it can be called Islamic American neo-conservatism, neo-progressivism, or Black liberalism? Allahu a`lim (Allah knows best). Perhaps if other like minded Muslims and non-Muslims can get together to form some sort of movement then we can go forward and put forth our vision for a better America. I do agree with many of the positions that the Muslim Blogger Umar Lee holds. We agree in many areas. I do differ with him on a lot of positions (which I will not get into at this time) but overall I tend to generally agree with him.
In another post I will try to speak upon my positions and difference with the so-called Muslim Progressives.

Barack Obama: Yes We Can

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Muslim Roots of the Blues: The Music of Famous American Blues Singers Reaches Back Through the South to the Culture of West Africa

Jonathan Curiel, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Fransico Chronicle
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Sylviane Diouf knows her audience might be skeptical, so to demonstrate the connection between Islam and American blues music, she'll play two recordings: The Muslim call to prayer (the religious recitation that's heard from mosques around the world), and "Levee Camp Holler" an early type of blues song that first sprang up in the Mississippi Delta more than 100 years ago.
"Levee Camp Holler" is no ordinary song. It's the product of ex-slaves who worked moving earth all day in post-Civil War America. The version that Diouf uses in presentations has lyrics that, like the call to prayer, speak about a glorious God. ("Well, Lord, I woke up this mornin', man, I feelin' bad . . . Well, I was thinkin' 'bout the good times, Lord, I once have had.") But it's the song's melody and note changes that closely parallel one of Islam's best-known refrains. As in the call to prayer, "Levee Camp Holler" emphasizes words that seem to quiver and shake in the reciter's vocal chords. Dramatic changes in musical scales punctuate both "Levee Camp Holler" and the call to prayer. A nasal intonation is evident in both.

"I did a talk a few years ago at Harvard where I played those two things, and the room absolutely exploded in clapping, because (the connection) was obvious," says Diouf, an author and scholar who is also a researcher at New York's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. "People were saying, 'Wow. That's really audible. It's really there.' "

It's really there because of all the Muslim slaves from West Africa who were taken by force to the United States for three centuries, from the 1600s to the mid-1800s. Upward of 30 percent of the African slaves in the United States were Muslim, and an untold number of them spoke and wrote Arabic, historians say now. Despite being pressured by slave owners to adopt Christianity and give up their old ways, many of these slaves continued to practice their religion and customs, or otherwise melded traditions from Africa into their new environment in the antebellum South. Forced to do menial, back-breaking work on plantations, for example, they still managed, throughout their days, to voice a belief in the God of the Quran. These slaves' practices eventually evolved -- decades and decades later, parallel with different singing traditions from Africa -- into the shouts and hollers that begat blues music, historians believe.

Another way that Muslim slaves had an indirect influence on blues music: the instruments they played. Drumming (which was common among slaves from the Congo and other non-Muslim regions of Africa) was banned by white slave owners, who felt threatened by its ability to let slaves communicate with each other and by the way it inspired large gatherings of slaves. Stringed instruments (which were favored by slaves from Muslim regions of Africa, where there's a long tradition of musical storytelling) were generally allowed because slave owners considered them akin to European instruments like the violin. So slaves who managed to cobble together a banjo or other instrument (the American banjo originated with African slaves) could play more widely in public. This solo- oriented slave music featured elements of an Arabic-Islamic song style that had been imprinted by centuries of Islam's presence in West Africa, says Gerhard Kubik, an ethnomusicology professor at the University of Mainz in Germany who has written the most comprehensive book on Africa's connection to blues music ("Africa and the Blues").
An influence on the blues
Kubik believes that many of today's blues singers unconsciously echo these Arabic-Islamic patterns in their music. Using academic language to describe this habit, Kubik writes in "Africa and the Blues" that "the vocal style of many blues singers using melisma, wavy intonation, and so forth is a heritage of that large region of West Africa that had been in contact with the Arabic-Islamic world of the Maghreb since the seventh and eighth centuries." (Melisma is the use of many notes in one syllable; so, instead of a note that produces, say, a single sound of "ah," you'd get a note that produces something like, "ah-ahhhh-ahhh-ah-ah." Wavy intonation refers to a series of notes that veer from major to minor scale and back again, something that's very common in both blues music and in the Muslim call to prayer. The Maghreb is the Arab-Muslim region of North Africa.)

Kubik summarizes his thesis this way: "Many traits that have been considered unusual, strange and difficult to interpret by earlier blues researchers can now be better understood as a thoroughly processed and transformed Arabic-Islamic stylistic component."

The extent of this link between Islam and American blues music is still being debated. Some scholars continue to insist there is no connection, and many of today's best-known blues musicians would say their music has little to do with a religion whose most extreme clerics regularly deride the evils of Western pop music. Yet a growing body of evidence -- gathered by academics like Kubik, and by others like Cornelia Walker Bailey, a Georgia author whose great-great-great-great-grandfather was a Georgia slave who prayed toward Mecca -- suggest a deep relationship between slaves of Islamic descent and U. S. culture. To be sure, Muslim slaves from West Africa were just one factor in the formation of American blues music, but they were a factor, says Barry Danielian, a trumpeter who's performed with Paul Simon, Natalie Cole and Tower of Power.
Call to prayer

Danielian, who is Muslim, says non-Muslims find this connection hard to believe because they don't know enough about Arabic or Islamic music. The call to prayer and other Muslim recitations that were practiced by American slaves had a musicality to them, just as these recitations still do, even if they aren't thought of as music by Westerners, Danielian says.
"I'm part of the Tijaniyya Sufi order, which is based in West and North Africa," says Danielian, who lives in Jersey City, N.J. "And I know that when we get together, especially when the cheikhs (leaders) come and everybody gets together and there are hundreds of people and we do the litanies, they're very musical. You hear what we as Americans would call soulfulness or blues. That's definitely in there."

What Americans now think of as blues music developed in the 1890s and early 1900s, in Southern states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Blues music was an outgrowth of all the different music that was then being performed in the South, from minstrels to street shows. Early blues performers didn't recognize the music's African or Muslim roots because, by then, the songs had more fully merged with white, European music and had lost their obvious connections to a continent that was 4,000 miles away. Also, by the turn of the 20th century, the progeny of America's Muslim slaves had generally converted to Christianity, either by force or circumstance. Among Southern blacks in that period, there were few exponents of Islam. But as more scholars like Diouf and Kubik research that period in history, they see plenty of signs that weren't obvious 100 years ago.

Take the case of W.C. Handy, who earned the moniker "Father of the Blues" for the way he formalized the music over a 40-year career of writing songs and playing the cornet. In his autobiography, Handy (whose parents were slaves) writes about a life-changing moment that happened around 1903. Handy was sleeping at a train station in Tutwiler, Miss., when "a lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plucking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags; his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages. As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar. ... The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly. . .. The singer repeated the line ("Goin' where the Southern cross' the Dog") three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard."
Singing about everything
The song was about a nearby train station where different trains intersected. As Handy noted in the autobiography (which was published in 1941), "Southern Negroes sang about everything. Trains. Steamboats, steam whistles, sledgehammers, fast women, mean bosses, stubborn mules -- all became subjects for their songs. They accompany themselves on anything from which they can extract a musical sound or rhythmical effect, anything from a harmonica to a washboard. In this way, and from these materials, they set the mood for what we now call the blues."

While washboards, in fact, became popular among later blues musicians such as Robert Brown (known as "Washboard Sam"), the technique that Handy witnessed -- that of pressing a knife on guitar strings -- can be traced to Central and West Africa, where, as Kubik points out in "Africa and the Blues," people play one-string zithers that way. Handy assumed the technique (which is now called "slide guitar") was borrowed from Hawaiian guitar playing, but it's more likely that the itinerant guitar player that Handy met in Tutwiler was manifesting his African roots. Kubik has traveled to Africa many times for his research and has lived there.

Bailey, who visited West Africa in 1989, says the African and Muslim roots of Southern U.S. traditions are often mistaken for something else.
Churches face east
Bailey lives on Georgia's Sapelo Island, where a small community of blacks can trace their ancestry to Bilali Mohammed, a Muslim slave who was born and raised in what is now the country of Guinea. Visitors to Sapelo Island are always struck by the fact that churches there face east. In fact, as a child, Bailey learned to say her prayers facing east -- the same direction that her great-great-great-great-grandfather faced when he prayed toward Mecca.

Bilali was an educated man. He spoke and wrote Arabic, carried a Quran and a prayer rug, and wore a fez that likely signified his religious devotion. (Bilali had been trained in Africa to be a Muslim leader; on Sapelo Island, he was appointed by his slave master to be an overseer of other slaves). Although Bilali's descendents adopted Christianity, they incorporated Muslim traditions that are still evident today.

The name Bailey, in fact, is a reworking of the name Bilali, which became a popular Muslim name in Africa because one of Islam's first converts -- and the religion's first muezzin -- was a former Abyssinian slave named Bilal. (Muezzins are those who recite the call to prayer from the minarets of mosques. ) One historian believes that abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who changed his name from Frederick Bailey, may have had Muslim roots.

"History changes things," says Bailey, 59, who chronicled the history of Sapelo Island in her memoir, "God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man." "Things become something different from what they started out as."

A good example is the song "Little Sally Walker." It's been recorded by many blues artists, but it's also been recorded as "Little Sally Saucer" (the lyrics describe a girl "sittin' in a saucer"). Frankie Quimby, a relative of Bailey's who also traces her roots to Bilali Mohammed, says the song originated during slavery on the Georgia coast, written by songwriting slaves who took the last name (Walker) of their slave owners.

"I've seen (people) take the song and use different words," says Quimby, who sings slave songs with her husband in a group called the Georgia Sea Island Singers, which recently performed for President Bush and his Cabinet. "We're educating people about this."
Guitar derived from Arab oud
Because there is little documentation about these slave-time origins, it's easy to argue about what can be unequivocally linked to Africa and Islam. Islam and Arab culture have certainly been influences on other music around the world, including flamenco, which is rooted in seven centuries of Muslim rule in Spain.

The modern guitar is a direct descendant of the oud, an Arabic lute that was introduced to Europe during Spain's Muslim reign. In fact, there's a connection between Renaissance music and Arab-Islamic culture, a connection that academics have studied with more precision than the connection between black Muslim slaves in America and this country's blues music.

So far, knowledge of Islam's association with blues music seems limited to a select group of academics and musicians. Books like Kubik's "Africa and the Blues" (published in 1999 by the University Press of Mississippi) and Diouf's "Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas" (published in 1998 by New York University Press) are more geared toward university audiences. Kubik's book, for example, is weighed down with chapters of dense writing and obscure references.

In terms of popular culture, it's hard to find a single work -- whether it's a novel, movie, song or other art form -- that covers the topic of Islam, music and African slaves. "Daughters of the Dust," Julie Dash's 1991 film about life on the Sea Islands of Georgia, features a Muslim man who portrays Bilali Mohammed, but a scene that shows him in prayer lasts just a few moments, and the movie received limited release.

"Roots," Alex Haley's novel that was made into a historic TV series in the 1970s, featured a main character (Kunte Kinte) who is Muslim, although novelist James Michener and others doubted the authenticity of Haley's work.

As more people become aware of the connection between Islam and the blues, there will be an inevitable shift in perception of how the Muslim religion has spread across continents and influenced other cultures. The difference between Spain, which once was conquered by Muslims, and the United States is that African slaves were brought to this country in chains, against their will, to do hard labor. The slave trade led to a diaspora unlike any other in human history, with at least 10 million Africans bought and sold into bondage in the Americas. Those slaves' pain is evident in American blues music -- a music that's often about cruel treatment, sad times and a yearning to break free. Blues music is a unique American art form that went around the world and, in turn, influenced history. Without the blues, there wouldn't be jazz, wouldn't be the bluesy music of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

Bending of notes
In his book "Black Music of Two Worlds," author John Storm Roberts says he can hear patterns of Islamic African music in the songs of Billie Holiday. Roberts refers to the "bending of notes" that is evident in Holiday's sad, soulful ballads as well as the call to prayer. This same note-bending can be heard in the music of B.B. King and John Lee Hooker. Blues music, with its thriving tempos and many lyrical references to relationships, has often been described as "the devil's music" by those on the outside looking in. Even many devout Muslims think of blues music as decadent and indicative of permissive Western morals.

People like Diouf, Kubik and Moustafa Bayoumi, an associate professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, who has researched Islam's connection to American music, are trying to correct the public record. Bayoumi wrote a paper two years ago that examined African Muslim history in the United States in which he argues that John Coltrane's best-known album, "A Love Supreme," features Coltrane saying, "Allah Supreme" in addition to the many refrains of "A Love Supreme."

"It's about uncovering a hidden past," says Bayoumi, asked about the spate of new scholarship on the subject of Islam and African Americans. "You can hear (influences of Islam) in even the earliest days of American blues music. What you've gotten lately is an ethnomusicology that's trying to reconstruct that. These are deliberate attempts to rebuild a bridge, as it were."
E-mail Jonathan Curiel at

This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle