Sad Pseudo-Satire

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful…

Into_The_Light_by_emperaa

It’s good to be back!

It would appear that I haven’t contributed to this blog in a long time, but then again a number of pretty major changes in my life have occurred as well (just uprooting myself and my family to transplant us over here on the West Coast, that’s all…). The changes have been related to new academic pursuits and so far we’ve been pleased with the decision.

I do have to give a shout to a coworker of mine: we were sharing our contributions to the internet a couple of days ago (he a webpage, me this blog) and so when I came across something in the news yesterday that meaningfully affected me (this outlet being fresh in my mind) I knew right where to turn!

It is definitely keeping with the overall purpose of my blog, however the subject matter is darker and even more serious than what has already been discussed. Taking this blog’s direction into account, I suppose it was inevitable that we would eventually come to this (although in a most disturbing incarnation).

While casually glancing through the MSN front webpage news stories last night, I got hit with this – a story about a 21-year old Lebanese American woman who is the most watched female on a popular pornography website (from the story: for reference, this particular website is the 71st most popular website in the world, while CNN.com is 73rd and NYTimes.com is 97th – I think we can say it’s popular). She comes from a conservative Christian family and has a Bachelor’s degree in History. The news story is mainly about the controversy that has arisen around this woman because she’s originally from Lebanon where pornography is taboo and she’s here in America appearing in XXX movies. (She has tattoos on her arms and wrists repping Lebanon.) Wofford wrote in the article that “the debate over her career choice has expanded beyond a family disagreement to a national conversation in Lebanon about the roles of pornography and the Internet.”

I have no inclination to contribute anything to that debate, however there is something we should draw our attention to here. This woman is the most popular “actress” on a major porn website, the 71st most popular website in the world, and she has appeared in a “movie” wearing the hijab (what I’ve written about in this blog before – the traditional head covering for Muslim women) which I found out about from a Washington Post news story here.

I’d like to ask: who are generally and broadly seen as the most sanctified men in the world right now? (By sanctified I mean that which has sanctity, or that which is held to be sacred.)

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We could say the Pope, Head of the Catholic Church.

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We could also say the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Buddhists.

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Who else? Basically religious figures, right? Businessmen and politicians might be as equally popular or even revered, but not seen as having the sanctity of the religious leaders.

Who are generally and broadly seen as the most sanctified women in the world right now? Muslim women.

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There aren’t any nuns any more (figuratively) and there are no women in the Catholic Church hierarchy. Orthodox Jewish women could also be said to be viewed as sanctified, but who else? What other group of women is as widely seen as having sanctity as Muslim women? While every single person may not agree with Islam, or believe in its teachings, or even like Muslim women, it is typically accepted or recognized that a Muslim woman who wears the hijab is a practicing Muslim, is “religious” or takes her religion seriously, or has some kind of God-consciousness.

This Lebanese American woman then is taking the image of the most sanctified women in the world and subjecting herself to the lowest and most humiliating circumstances in the most denigrating context. Prostitution and selling one’s body is looked at as an extremely debasing and depraved activity, and it’s recognized as a lowly practice, but then to do so willingly in front of a group of other people? And have it recorded? Then published for mass distribution? I would say that’s denigrating. And then to do so in the guise of what another community considers sanctified and sacred? That’s rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful, hurtful, and appalling.

She is quoted in the Washington Post article as saying, “The scenes containing a hijabi are satirical…There are Hollywood movies that depict Muslims in a much worse manner than any scene Bang Bros [the company who made the video] could produce.” I agree with that in the sense that the Hollywood movies have bigger budgets and higher production values and so are capable of portraying Muslims in a worse manner psychologically (like the Muslim is the villain in the elaborate plot, or throughout the course of the movie the character of the Muslim is portrayed in a negative light like they’re dishonest or violent or something) but that does not compare to her raw, obscene, sexually visceral portrayal of a Muslim woman in her “film”.

Now this leads to the discussion of “What is sacred and what should the boundaries of satire be?” which deserves its own blog post, but it’s just scary that there aren’t any limits for satire anymore – prophets, God, religious figures, historical figures, sacred historical sites, Earth’s beauty, human beauty – as blatant disrespect runs rampant and unfettered. This then leads to the discussion of how to address or approach this blatant disrespect, especially if one is on the receiving end, and while the solution is simple, straightforward, sane, and salubrious, it too is a topic for another blog post. Suffice it to say, there are people who completely get it wrong and make others inside their community and others outside their community who stick up for them look like imbeciles.

As I’m writing this we are getting news of masked gunmen shouting “Allahu Akbar!” who stormed a weekly satirical Paris newspaper and killed 12 people Wednesday morning. This is also obscene, absurd, blatant disrespect and is condemnable; it accomplishes nothing except enraging the victims and further cementing the idea among non-Muslims that Islam is incompatible with the Western or Modern tradition. It will not solve the problem that the perpetrators are seeking to address, nor will it advance the cause of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself suffered much worse than what a few Muslims today are supposedly retaliating against and he responded with forbearance, kindness, and gentleness.

If we are Muslim we should follow his example – what would he say if we asked him whether or not we should carry out the act that occurred today in Paris? Honestly, how do we think he would respond? Would he really permit it? I don’t think he would, and I think that he would forbid us from aggressing and killing 12 non-Muslim citizens at a newspaper office.

I guess the crux of it all is that it’s not right to disrespect others nor is it right to be extreme in retaliation for that. I don’t believe it’s ok to hurt someone else’s feelings or disrespect them in the name of free speech, and I don’t believe it’s ok to murder someone guilty of that. Do the people who commit these crimes (and I mean the absurd, over-the-top retaliation) think at all of the harm they do to Islam and the difficulties they put every other normal Muslim through? It’s unbelievable.

Update: The disaster in Paris is now getting a great deal of media attention, as it should. It leads me to compare the ridiculously savage travesty at the satirical newspaper with the death threats that the Lebanese American woman mentioned above has received; both are insane and idiotic attempts to remedy a perceived problem. I can not stress enough how counterproductive these atrocities are, and I’m beginning to think that, on a global scale as Muslims, we are our own worst enemy right now and we will end up being our own downfall. May Allah forbid that and may He protect us and all innocent life everywhere.

Purity belongs to You, O Allah, with Your praises. I bear witness there is none worthy of worship except You. I seek forgiveness from You and I repent to You.

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Video Realities

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful…

Back again! I hope everyone in the Northeast is enjoying the Winter Wonderland we have outside 🙂 I think it’s nice to finally have some snow for December, although I could do without the freezing temperatures.

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With the recent releases of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, consoles and the video games to play on them are definitely in the spotlight this holiday season. I usually stay up to date with the latest games and technology (even though I can’t really indulge due to money/time constraints – but I like to keep posted) because of an interest that developed back when I was young child. My father bought a PC so he could use an architectural program for his work, and we had to load the program up through DOS. Does anybody else here remember DOS? Please tell me I’m not the only who’s that old. (For people who might not know what that is, DOS was the way to use a computer before there was Windows). Then we got Windows 3.1 (came out in 1992; needed to be started through the DOS prompt) and things just took off from there.

I’ve always been interested in computer technology and video games, but I’ve noticed some examples lately of a trend that just doesn’t go away in video games – the hypersexualization of female characters.

Now I understand that we’re talking about the realm of fantasy, make-believe, and pretend here, but I am still shocked and taken aback by the gross, objectifying displays of the female form in everything from blockbuster AAA titles to mobile apps. What’s distressing about the mobile apps is that the majority of the time the imagery used to sell and market the game has virtually nothing in common with the actual gameplay.

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(this is for a 3D action role-playing game. I’m not sure how the character holding her breasts factors in though)

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(this is an advertisement for another action role-playing game, not a XXX cartoon. By the way, the gameplay looks like this…)

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Is it just me, or are those pictures completely unrelated? I understand that they might be characters in the game, but c’mon. I doubt there’s any “hey-do-you-think-we-should-back-up-a-little” posing on those intense battlefields.

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(again, just another action role-playing game with the requisite scantily clad female character showing side-breast to sell the product)

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(this is for a side-scrolling 2D action game. Granted these are actual characters from the game, but there’s nothing like a provocative pose to catch pubescent boys’ eyes, right?)

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(this is just one example of the many, many card games there are that feature inappropriate and pornographic pictures of female characters from the game. I even know of a iOS game with all female “monsters” that lose more and more clothing as the player upgrades them! Really!)

What I find most disturbing about this whole issue is that these mobile games are marketed to kids. These games have recommendations that they’re for ages 9+, but isn’t that too young to be bombarded with all this hypersexualized imagery? There are no filters or anti-virus programs; all this is available right on the App Store while looking through games. There is little doubt that it sets the seed for further exploration into this kind of stuff, and that will only lead to bad things.

While the above issue is certainly concerning in its own right, the overarching problem exists in other age brackets as well. There are video games on “big kid” consoles that depict the same imagery, but worse because the budgets are bigger. Dragon’s Crown, a popular 2D side-scrolling action game, contains the following characters:
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(and yes, these are their actual, exact proportions within the game)

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This is only one game, however. Another is Ultra Street Fighter, with characters like this:

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Notice the lack of clothes? Yeah, so did I. I’ll again repeat myself – I understand that we’re talking about the realm of make-believe and fantasy here with these games, but I think a disturbing message is being sent out. With the above two games (especially the last one), the female characters are made to dance, hop, jump around, bend, kick, flex, gyrate, writhe in pain, stretch, spread their legs, raise their arms, bounce, and jiggle across the screen in an embarrassing display of immodesty all at the prompting of the player. I’m a man, here, and I’m saying the reason I think this stuff is sexist is because it demonstrates/perpetuates the belief (or more like the belief in a fantasy) that women are under the control of men, should be at the beck and call of men, and should do whatever a man likes, all while dressed extremely provocatively and shamefully. It seems the developers craft these characters, saying, “We’re going to have this female character wear an extremely revealing and morally compromising outfit, in the sense that were a real woman were to wear it she would be embarrassed and feel exposed and humiliated, we’re going to program her to have all these moves that showcase the proportions and attire we’ve created her in, and we’ll have the player be able to command her to do whatever they want within the game.”

This then transfers down to the individual player. Having this seductive female character in front of him, a young, male player can control her at his wish and command her to do anything he likes (within the scope of the game, at least). However much he wants to stare and have her perform the same actions over and over again, she’ll never complain or never voice any displeasure it being on display. And I think that’s the root of the problem – putting the female form on display. I’m just as much a sucker for the female form as the next guy, I’ll admit it (everyone has desires, it’s just about keeping them in check); but I do not think it is tasteful, respectful, tactful, or appropriate to have these kinds of displays saturating our society.

Concerning objectification, I think the female form itself is what is objectified and is what male developers portray here with video-game females in an attempt to own. It’s not so much women; real-world females are actual human beings with thoughts and feelings and for the most part they won’t put up with that degradation. It’s more just the female form; breasts, hips, curves, legs, hair, facial beauty, attractive attire – these things. This is what is objectified and what certain male developers/players desire to own. Through the continued use of this imagery in this form of media, the message will continue to be propagated that an acceptable male fantasy involves undressed, subservient women being commanded by men. Sadly, this has even become the standard. To even garner a baseline recognition these companies have to include the token half-naked female character, and if they didn’t, they know they would be losing a great deal of customer attention and notice. Isn’t this the same thing with advertising for other companies as well? The car campaigns, cologne advertisements, Swiffer commercials – how many “regular” companies include an attractive female as part of their advertisements? I know from seeing commercials on a local TV news station that there are two small businesses (one an electronics and appliance dealer, one a car dealer) that used to have ads with strictly men talking about the company which now have attractive female employees delivering the sales pitch on TV. I think it leads men to remember the girl more than the company, but hey, what do I know? I’m just a guy.

Purity belongs to You, O Allah, with Your praises. I bear witness there is none worthy of worship except You. I seek forgiveness from You and I repent to You.

Related articles

An Influential Cover

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful…

Greetings again from my corner of the internet!

Considering the subject matter I prefer to write about here, and in the same vein as my last post, I came across an awesome article at the Huffington Post about ten influential American Muslim women and the works they are involved in. I highly, highly recommend the article to anyone reading this post from my Women, Girls, and the Media class and to anyone curious about what Muslim women can/can not, should/should not, or will/will not, do.

If I had to pick just one person to highlight here (which is actually quite difficult), I would choose Maria Ebrahimji. Reason being that she has co-authored a book titled I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim which is “a collection of essays written by 40 American-born Muslim women under 40” (Ali, 2013), and I plan on proposing this to my workplace book club as our next project. I have found it on Amazon here, and whether or not my book club decides to tackle it I am going to read this book.

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About Sister Maria herself, Samina Ali (the original author of the article at the Huffington Post) writes:

Maria Ebrahimji is the co-editor of the anthology I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim, a collection of essays written by 40 American-born Muslim women under 40. Since then, she co-founded I Speak for Myself, Inc., a book and multimedia enterprise that focuses on publishing self-narrative collections on interfaith and intercultural issues. If that’s not enough, for her daytime job, Ebrahimji most recently was the Director and Executive Editorial Producer for Network Booking at CNN Worldwide. One thing she knows for sure, she says, is that “while we cannot speak for others, we can certainly speak for ourselves and share our own stories of faith. The more stories people bear witness to, the deeper their knowledge of the ‘unknown.'” (Ali, 2013)

I read a little of her interview from the link inside the above quote, and the first question Sister Samina asks her is about her take on other sisters’ perception of her being a Muslima and not wearing any sort of hijab (covering her hair). While I can appreciate her view and understand her sentiments, it led me to think: I wonder how many Muslim women on this article wear the proper hijab and cover their hair? So I counted (correct me if I’m wrong) and 7 out of the 10 American Muslim women were not wearing hijab. This then led me to start pondering the reasons why a Muslim woman would not cover her hair when to do so is a clear instruction. (If you’re questioning why a Muslima would even want to cover her hair, check this out). I’m pretty sure about my hypothesis – not that’s it right, just that it is well thought out – because I am in a similar situation; I have a long beard and I always wear a skullcap when I’m in prayer and out of my house. Outside of prayer and in my house there’s no skullcap, but whenever I’m out in public (including work) I wear it.

The only reason I mentioned that is because I am quite familiar and comfortable with the reasons why I choose that appearance and visually identify myself as a Muslim (on the side: men covering their hair is not even a mandate as it is for women – questions? check the above link). As for others? Best to leave it between them and their Lord.

Purity belongs to You, O Allah, with Your praises. I bear witness there is none worthy of worship except You. I seek forgiveness from You and I repent to You.

Ali, S. (2013). 10 American Muslim Women You Should Know. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/samina-ali/10-american-muslim-women-you-should-know_b_4413809.html

Ms. Muslima

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful…

I read something the other day that piqued my interest and I’d like to share it here on my blog. There’s a story on BBC News Magazine about a Pakistani-American superhero named Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, and the video reel accompanying the story is pretty intriguing.

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A white, female, American convert to Islam, G Willow Wilson, is penning the comic book with the hopes that her two daughters and millions of other young girls will have exciting role models to look up to.

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I think it’s an awesome idea and a great way to expand the audience of Marvel comics. Kamala Khan isn’t the first, though; there was a superhero named Sooraya Qadir who wore a niqab.

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These are both examples of positive role models for young Muslimas in modern American popular culture, and I think it does a great service towards showing the integration and cooperation that people with differences should have towards each other. And since these are action heroes, they appeal to a broad audience. I think it’s awesome that not only are the characters Muslim, but they’re women. That makes the demographic they’re representing even smaller and more of a niche venture, but it’s just super cool to have Muslim women represented in a positive light anywhere in popular media.

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To have Dust’s viewpoint (which can be extrapolated to the vast majority of Muslim women) expressed respectfully and appropriately within the pages of any media is milestone, and a marvel in and of itself. If only we could get better as a human race at applying that concept in our daily lives with every person we meet…

Constraints of Culture

In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful…

We have moved on in our course to studying the portrayals of women artists in popular music throughout the last few decades, and I’d like to talk about something mentioned from my previous post and a few points related to a recent course post.

In my last blog entry, I wrote about the injunctions in the Qur’an for men and women alike to display modesty in not only their dress but their behavior. Speaking from a male perspective, I wanted to mention why it’s important for women to dress modestly.

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According to deep scientific research, recent statistics, predominant biological makeup, and the last umpteen millennia, men find women attractive.  And to a real man, any and every part of a woman is attractive – hands, feet, arms, legs, neck, anything – including her hair. This is why Muslim women cover their hair when they are in public (just on the side: concerning male company, the hijab doesn’t need to be worn in front of the her husband, brother, son, father, uncle, nephew, or grandfather – family, basically).

There was a story on Yahoo! not too long ago about Rihanna seductively posing for pictures at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Complex in Abu Dhabi and getting kicked out for it (full story here) – this is one of the shots:

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After reading the story I had a few thoughts: due to the obligations and requirements of her pop-culture profession (not to mention how ingrained they must be in her), she might not even have known she was violating the sanctity of the mosque by posing as she did and just thought it would be cool to do a photo shoot (I like to think that she didn’t or wouldn’t intentionally set out to be disrespectful); and also, it shows the stark difference between acceptable behavior/fashion norms in present American culture and other cultures.

Here in present-day America, it’s acceptable for women to wear short skirts and high heels to church on Sundays where that isn’t even regular daily attire for women of other cultures. I’ve seen it myself; women dressing provocatively in a building that is supposed to be a House of God, with a mixed gathering of men and women, and during a time when focus, attention, devotion, and worship are supposed to be at their highest of the week for God alone. This is very different from the perspective of the folks maintaining the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque that Rihanna visited, but it might not be her fault – we should give her the benefit of the doubt.

Mourning Talk Shows and Morning Hijab Thought

In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful…

In Arabic, the above statement reads “biss-mill-la hir-rah-man nir-raheem” and as Muslims, it’s what we utter before undertaking any task, whether small or large, because it ensures God’s blessings in whatever it is we’re doing. Since I’m going to be writing about something that caught my eyes and ears the other day and including some legit pieces of Islam with it, I figured I better say it (or write it?) before starting because I’ll take all the blessings I can get.

To begin, I haven’t had a television in my home for 8 years, and therefore haven’t really watched TV in, well, 8 years (unfortunately, I have seen it sporadically at work over the last couple). My experience with what’s on the small-screen nowadays is limited, but while the TV is on at work I’ll occasionally catch something that simply reaffirms why I stopped watching it in the first place.

The pic below is a still from one experience I’d like to share – I was at work flipping through channels at the end of an overnight awake shift (I’m the Residential Supervisor at a group home for individuals with developmental disabilities): imagesCA21RFJ2

It’s from the Live With Kelly and Michael morning show, and in this particular episode the hosts interviewed PSY (whose non-stage-name is Park Jae Sang), the South Korean pop star who is most well-known for his 2012 single “Gangnam Style”. The full interview can be seen on YouTube here —> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaxExbi934M , but there’s just one part that truly disturbed me and I’ll do my best to reproduce the exchange.

Michael (the gentleman far-right) said that his big question for PSY was where did he learn to dance. PSY replied by stating that many people ask him whether he was professionally trained or not (he did attend Berklee College of Music in Boston for 3 years in the late ’90s) but that, “Not at all, you know; like my body shape, you know, it’s all casual and natural.” So, I’ll agree that his answer is odd and kind of humorous, but this isn’t my issue.

He then states that he learned everything from hanging out and drinking, which Kelly follows by saying that she wants to go to a nightclub with him because it would be so much fun. She asks PSY if he’s the last to leave and he states he never leaves. Kelly goes on to say, “I’ll be there with you,” – that all he has to do is name the place and time and she’ll be there (possibly accompanied by her co-host Michael; she adds that they’re “a package” at the end as an afterthought).

This is what disturbs me.

It took some research a little later that morning, but I found some information out.

Kelly is a 43-year old married mother of 3 children, and she’s on live television, telling the world that she wants to stay out drinking and dancing all night at a club, in black tights, with a strange man she barely knows and her opposite sex co-worker? Is that normal? Is that healthy? I see two possibilities and two implications from these remarks because she either meant what she said or she didn’t.

If she was being sincere and meant what she said, what kind of message is that sending out about being a 43-year old married mother of 3 children, and about the kinds of behavior that are acceptable? At that stage in a person’s life, is that really what someone should be doing? How about when the kids find out? Mom doesn’t come home from work one night and walks in the door, smelling of alcohol, as her children are on their way out with book bags on to catch the school bus in the morning? How is her husband supposed to feel? This is the message being sent out if the co-host was truthful in what she said – it’s normal and acceptable for a woman in those circumstances to engage in that kind of behavior.

If she wasn’t being sincere, just reading out pre-rehearsed lines already written for her, and truthfully didn’t mean what she was saying, what kind of message does that send out, and what does that say about the type of mentality that the show’s producers are attempting to propagate? If she actually didn’t believe what she said, it just highlights the way they want people to believe and how they want them to act.

Both are sinister if you ask me.

God mentions in the Last Testament, the Quran, in Chapter 24, Verse 30-31:

     Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms…

The proper explanation of this verse is way beyond my current studies in Islam, but some important points to mention are that: 1) Men are told first to control their desires, lowering their gaze, and to observe modest behavior; 2) Women are told next to do the same thing; and 3) Women are given the extra encouragement of veiling their beauty from strangers (the rest of the verse illumines who is included in that category – basically, she doesn’t cover herself in front of close relatives).tumblr_m2uo4bES1s1r31xa1o1_500_large

I will write more about my thoughts on why it’s good for a woman to wear modest clothing (and in a Muslima’s case dress like the sister above), but that’s a whole other post by itself for next time. To hear a sister’s point of view directly in spoken word…

And a good page on modesty and the hijab:

http://baharemadinah.com/basics-of-religion/128-modesty-and-the-hijab

Till next time!

Purity belongs to You, O Allah, with Your praises. I bear witness there is none worthy of worship except You. I seek forgiveness from You and I repent to You.

Source: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/celebrity/psy/biography.html (where I got information about PSY)

In the Beginning…

This is quick introduction, more just a test to see how this whole blog-thing will work out. My name is AbdulRaheem (or Ron McLagan – either one will work) and this blog will run the course of this course and perhaps longer, of course. CUL-224114 Women, Girls, and the Media at SUNY Empire State College has required me to start it, and as I have tried to express in the blog title and tag line, this blog will contain reflections, critiques, expressions, thoughts, analyses, musings, and perceptions on the state of our society, the condition of our culture, and the problems of our populace from a Generation Y-er who began practicing Islam 8 years ago.

Because I live, breathe, eat, and sleep Islam, it comprises my entire being and shapes the way I view the nature of my neighbors and the status of my self. From the foundation just mentioned, this blog will contain writings related to the course topics of women, girls, and the media.