On "Jihad", Respectability Politics, and the Demand to Assimilate.

Linda Sarsour, a well-known Muslim activist, recently gave a speech at an ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) convention. In the speech Sarsour used the term “jihad” in reference to an Islamic story about resisting tyrannical rulers and conjoined it to the current state of resisting oppression in America as well as the world. The media, especially the right wing side, had a field day of misrepresenting what Sarsour discussed in her speech to paint it as if she declared war on the Trump Administration. You can read more about that here.

I’m not here to defend Sarsour. The term jihad is a loaded one and I’m not naïve enough to believe there won’t be backlash if you utilize it in any way, even in the way Sarsour did. For Muslims, the term “jihad” has always meant “struggling” or “striving”. Growing up, my Islamic teachers discussed “jihad” in the context of striving to be a good person and to do good in the world. It has never had a violent connotation for me or for millions of Muslims around the world. It is quite simply just a word that describes our constant inner battle with ourselves.

Of course, the term has been co-opted and diluted by terrorist groups who wish to use the concept to justify their evil, murderous, behaviors. It hasn’t helped, of course, that the media has encouraged the misunderstanding of the term “jihad”. But as Muslims are constantly being encouraged by both liberals and conservatives to “reclaim our religion” and “prove” that we aren’t like those terrorists, I’m surprised (not really) that the response to the Sarsour-jihad backlash has been one along the lines of “Muslims should not ever say the term jihad no matter what the context is.”

A lot of the response to the backlash ended up not being about Linda or even about the term “jihad” itself but much more about how Muslims should assimilate and shrink themselves so that everyone else can accept them or feel safe.

Here’s the thing. I rarely ever use the term jihad. Although I do have friends named Jihad and I wouldn’t wish them to change their names simply because some dude name Bob thinks it means something that Fox News told him it means. It’s not about the name or the term. It’s about the insistence that assimilation and acceptance are only possible when we strip ourselves of everything that makes us “the other”.

I can easily stop using the term “jihad” but how long until they ask me to stop saying Salaam or MashAllah, or to stop speaking the languages I know. How long until every Muslim woman in America discards her hijab out of fear or for brothers to shave off their beards. How long until all of us hide anything remotely resembling Islamic Garb? Change our names? Convert to Christianity?

Yes, I know…I’m being a bit extreme right now. But the thing is this is par for the course in America. You are only accepted fully when you strip yourself off of your identity completely. The Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants that had to convert or change their names in order to gain employment or be accepted are proof of that. Not to mention what was done to the Native Americans in order to strip them of their identity. We are not good enough all while there remains a trace of our otherness.

And if your skin happens to contain some melanin well then you will always remain an “other”.

You can drink all the beers you want, wrap yourself in an American flag and sing along to Toby Keith while screaming how you’re not like those “other Muslims” but at the end of the day you still won’t be accepted.

If Muslims such as me with the privilege of passing in most situations are still viewed as terrorists, what hope is there for anyone else? I’m not very pious at times, I drink alcohol sometimes, I don’t wear hijab and I am not a very “good Muslim” despite all my efforts but none of that has mattered to the people who have harassed me, insulted me, attempted to fire me, and spewed vile, white supremacist rhetoric at me in both online and offline spaces.

At the end of the day, to them I am still a Muslim and no matter how “cool” I attempt to be or how “secular” I come off as; I am an “other”. Shrinking ourselves, changing the way we speak, or avoiding certain terms or even changing our religion completely will not save us.

Assimilation, much like respectability politics, will not save us.

- Arnesa

Srebrenica Genocide Commemoration - Call for Submissions


As the anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide approaches, my community finds ourselves reflecting on the tragedy that struck us in July of 1995 and throughout the 90’s in general. Genocide commemorations are organized, marches throughout the Diaspora and in Bosnia itself happen, and hours are spent at mosques remembering those we lost. Every year around this time we are faced with those who wish to deny us the reality of our pain, those who minimize the genocide and those who outright ignore it.

As a story teller and a writer I feel an immense responsibility to tell our truth through our lens. There are far too many articles, essays, and stories written about the Bosnian genocide through the Western perspective and they are always incomplete. This year as part of my way of remembering the Genocide, I’m working on essay focused on what precisely it is that Srebrenica means to us. I’d love to hear from Bosnians around the world, those still in Bosnia as well as in the Diaspora, what July 11, 1995 symbolizes for them and why it is so important to never forget. I am looking to speak to Bosnians, especially younger ones, about what Srebrenica means to them.

If you are interested in being featured you can use my contact box here, and direct message me on Facebook or on Twitter. We can discuss this in an interview format or if you prefer you can simply fill out the form below and hit submit.

Please contact me no later than July 9th, 2017.

I look forward to hearing from you guys and sharing your stories through your lens.

Thank you in advance.
- Arnesa

Name *

New Beginnings and Experiments

I've been telling friends and colleagues that I will get a website up again for the last few years, but life always got in the way. What kind of a writer (even an indie one) doesn't have their own site? The perpetually procrastinating kind. But better late than never...

If you've followed me on social media for a while, you're probably already aware of the things I do and discuss. This website will really serve as an expansion of that. More writing, more discussions, more of @rrrrnessa shenanigans. In all honesty, despite the advice of everyone I've always been a bit afraid to put more of my writing and work out there. Not just because of stereotypical creative fears (will people hate this) but also because of the entire current obsession with branding. I’ve always been an activist. I'm an organizer, a community leader, and yes a writer too, of course, but making all of these things "official" in any sort of manner has always felt a bit pretentious to me.

As an activist, I've always felt my purpose was to serve and not to be a "brand" or to be fawned over. Sadly, I've seen much of that happen with fellow colleagues. To each their own, of course, but it's never sat that well with me. But we get over our fears or try to; and I am trying to never let that sort of "branding" happen to me. I'm at a place in my life where I want to share more of my work and I feel more confident to do so. Hopefully, you guys enjoy it as much as you have my prior work. If not, feedback and constructive criticism is always welcome.

The site will serve as a way for me to connect with all of you in a variety of ways. I want to expand more on tweets and posts I've made on social media, engage in discussions in a more thorough way, and connect with people I may not have had a chance to before.

So, you'll see essays ranging on my thoughts on current events, political and social issues, as well as lots of criticism, projects, reviews, and lots of other fun tidbits. I plan to write as much as I can, share updates about projects I'm currently involved in, share the previously requested book, film, music, and other recommendations I've been constantly asked about. Sometimes, you might even see a work of fiction I am currently working on. There's a lot. There's always a lot. It's me.

The other reason for this all of this is I'd like to write more, hone in my craft as they say and get a bit more serious about my career in writing. Maybe this all works out great and maybe it doesn't. I'm glad you've joined me on my journey either way, and I truly hope you will continue to read and follow my work and engage with it.

If you have any recommendations about topics you'd like to see me write about, feel free to reach out. If you end up liking my work enough to hire me to write for you, even better. The best, of course, is if you like my work enough that you want to support it in which case I'm sending you a thousand hugs and kisses (unless you prefer I don't in which case you just have my everlasting thanks).

Thanks for all your constant love and support guys!

- Arnesa