Category Archives: Media

How one tweet changed my life (actually, just my day)

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Trump’s meltdown and the subsequent media (particularly social media) reaction kind of made the world feel sane again. I feel like more people are finally giving all of this the freak-out it deserves. My favorite freak-out last night, however, was my dad’s over my tweet being featured in a Huffington Post article.

But apparently my come up isn’t over.

 

Thank you, Sara Haines. I’m (very, very) available for hire.

As for my newfound fame, here’s a list of my next steps:

  • Book deal. “Gola Ganda Dreams” has a nice ring to it, don’t ya think?
  • Disney World. I’m in need of a vacation from my chronic underemployment.
  • Reality show. (No seriously, I’ve got a wedding coming up and my family’s drama makes the Kardashians look like C-SPAN.)
  • Pretending I don’t know people when I see them (I can do passive aggressive better than you).
  • I get free tickets to Warped Tour now, right?
  • Finding someone else to update my blog for me.

I made it, Ma! Now I should probably sit down and explain Twitter to you.

White American present at Boston, Paris, & Brussels attacks… and he’s not a suspect

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Having finally obtained a degree in Journalism & Media Studies (and having worked at multiple news outlets along the way), I can’t emphasize enough how manipulative news outlets can be in affecting our perceptions of current events.

While treading through late-night Twitter looking for commentary to retweet onto my woefully ignored feed, I came across a few tweets pointing out an insane double standard in coverage of the recent tragedy in Brussels. The tweets linked to an article entitled “Mormon Missionaries From Utah Among Belgian Bombing Survivors”. The article talks about three Mormon Elders who were injured in the attacks.

Here’s an excerpt about one of the missionaries, 19-year-old Mason Wells who is having surgery for damage to his foot, that makes it more interesting:

This was not Wells’ first brush with terror. He was in Boston to watch his mother run the marathon in 2013 when two Chechen immigrant brothers set off shrapnel-filled bombs that killed three and wounded scores more, his family said.

Wells was also in Paris this past November when the French capital was attacked by Belgium-based terrorists, the family said.

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 2.15.06 ق.د.

Mason Wells, 19-year-old American present at Boston, Paris, & Brussels attacks.

What the hell, NBC? You get a hold of a guy who was present at three recent terror attacks that completely dominated headlines, and you choose to make the story about how three missionaries were hurt?? Talk about burying the lede!

But that’s just it. This wasn’t the lede. These two paragraphs were so nonchalantly nestled in the middle of the article that it would be easy for readers to miss them. Imagine if this man was Muslim instead of Mormon, or even just of a Middle Eastern, South Asian, Eastern European, or African background.

What would be the headline then?

Speaking as a journalist, as someone who’s studied media and criticized the hell out of it, as someone who constantly consumes it, this is the kind of story that media outlets thrive on. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, social media took to identifying suspects simply from video of the bombings (and news outlets predictably followed suit in reporting on these). These misidentifications led to multiple people fearing for their safety. Most infamous was Sunil Tripathi, an Indian-American student who had been missing for a month prior to the bombings and became a “stand out suspect” after social media users, most notably on Reddit and Twitter, posted about it. Sunil was found dead days later, and his family could have done without having to deal with these baseless accusations on top of his disappearance.

When people like Sunil and his family are subjected to the witch hunts like this, how is it that a man who was present at three different attacks is barely given notice?

I’m not saying he should be subjected to a witch hunt too (because he shouldn’t), but the difference is striking. I do see a few articles covering the story from this angle, but how is it that a major news outlet like NBC is not? A post on the front page of Imgur makes light of the situation, whereas if the man were of a non-white background, they’d be expressing suspicion instead (as with Boston). Even moving on from news outlets and social media, why isn’t any government looking into this?

I’m not being a conspiracy theorist here (although conspiracies do exist and go read a book about the CIA if you think otherwise). I assure you that, were this man not a white American, I would still say this needs to be looked into. I’m also not saying he’s definitely involved, so don’t be like the Redditors who screwed it up with the Boston bombings. I’m just saying you need to pay attention to how biased your news outlets and your governments are. And you need to demand that they change.

Eid Interning

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September 21st was my first day as a reporter assistant intern at News 12 New Jersey.  News 12 New Jersey is the local 24-hour cable television news channel, reaching more than 1.8 million homes in northern and central New Jersey and is part of News 12 Networks, the first, largest and most watched regional news channel in the U.S.

I work weekends. I’m a sucker who’s got classes Monday thru Friday, and my nights tend to be busy anyway, so it works out. Last Sunday, I suggested a story which I wanted to come in on Tuesday (yesterday) for. And the assignment editors took it.

A few years ago, my friends and I got ourselves into the fight for AlFalah Islamic Center’s mosque in Bridgewater. It was yet another case of people going, “Not in our town!,” although they cleverly backpedaled and presented the building of the mosque at the former Redwood Inn as a “traffic concern”. Mind you, we’d been having holiday prayers and I think some Friday prayers there for years.

On September 30th, U.S. District Judge Michael A. Shipp ruled that Bridgewater Township can’t enforce a zoning ordinance that effectively meant the mosque could not be built at the site, as the ordinance was not passed until after AlFalah had submitted their application to build there. So after three years… victory! And guess who’s sitting in a newsroom when this happens?

I suggested to an assignment editor a story on Eid al-Adha for Tuesday, because Muslims are such a significant community in New Jersey, the state with the 2nd largest percentage of Muslims in the nation, population-wise. I wrote up the proposal and gave them the background– how Eid al-Adha is a major Muslim holiday in which we celebrate Prophet Ibrahim (aka Abraham)’s willingness to sacrifice his son (either Ismail [Ishmael] or Ishaq [Isaac], as it is not specified in the Qur’an) in submission to God’s command as well as his son’s willingness himself to be sacrificed. (For those of you who don’t know, don’t worry, God intervened and replaced the boy with a lamb, hence another Eid al-Adha tradition of sacrificing goats/lambs/cows/etc and distributing the meat to family, friends, and the poor.)

Now, stories aren’t decided on at News 12 until the morning of, so I had to call in around 7 o’clock in the morning yesterday and was connected to the reporter on the story, Sally Ann Mosey. She gave me the green light, and I met her at The Days Inn in Bridgewater, NJ where she covered the story quite spectacularly. It was only a vosot (short for “voiceover/sound on tape”) rather than a fully packaged story. I have yet to see any of it, but from what I heard, they showed the actual Eid prayers, people hanging out afterwards, and also an interview with a woman explaining the significance of the holiday that happens to be my mother. (I actually wasn’t there yet for that, but needless to say, she is now more okay with my career choice than ever.)

News 12 New Jersey speaking with AlFalah Center board member Omar Mohammedi. Photo courtesy of Arif Khan.

News 12 New Jersey speaking with AlFalah Center board member Omar Mohammedi.
Photo courtesy of Arif Khan.

Sally Ann Mosey speaking with Arshad Jalil, a member of AlFalah Center. Photo courtesy of Nelson Tun.

Sally Ann Mosey speaking with Arshad Jalil, a member of AlFalah Center. (You can see part of yours truly on the right edge of the photo.)
Photo courtesy of Nelson Tun.

Photo courtesy of Nelson Tun.

Photo courtesy of THE Nelson Tun.

I’m only an intern, but this is basically me setting into motion one of my career goals as a journalist. Not only did I bring more media attention to AlFalah’s fight for freedom of religion, but seeing Muslims pray and celebrate a holiday that commemorates an event familiar to Jews and the Christian mainstream points out what should be apparent to the average American, but isn’t: we are a faith just like any other, people like any other. We are nothing like those extremists who have hijacked our religion and brought terror to our world through their attacks on innocent people.

I took this one.

I took this one. Sally Ann speaking with Jalil.

One of the questions that I’ve heard or been asked the most by skeptics of Islam being a non-violent religion is Why don’t Muslims come out and condemn these terrorist attacks? Because, as you can see, we are busy living our lives.

I have heard many other Muslims say that it is not our job to speak up and say what should be obvious, that we shouldn’t have to answer for those who are distorting our religion beyond recognition. But I disagree. I think we should, as an ummah, come together and take offense to those who take the name of God and Islam in vain. If people can riot over an idiotic cartoon, then we can speak out against a suicide bombing or a plane crashing into a national landmark. I personally feel sick to my stomach every time I hear of a Muslim being connected to an attack– Mohamed Atta, Hani Hanjour, Richard Reid, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Faisal Shazad, Nidal Malik Hasan,  Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev. These people are nowhere near being the majority, and yet we are letting them be our representation in the media. The rest of us are going on and living our lives, and I personally think we should stop and try to find ways to contribute to the name of Islam. We are the legacy of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions, and we are not taking it seriously.

So this was my contribution. Eid Mubarak, everyone.

Ab imo pectore,

Syjil

Pakistan’s peace issues: the Shia genocide

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I once had a friend who told me they felt disrespected and looked down upon by their Sunni friends for being a Shia Muslim.

Now, I am no longer friends with said individual for a few very legitimate reasons. But not one of them has anything to do with religion, race, sex, orientation, or class. Nor do I believe that any of our friends cared what this friend believed in either. However, the fact that they even said this is very indicative of a huge problem the Islamic world has had since the death of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh).

We have absolutely failed as a collective Ummah when it comes to solidarity and acceptance of each other.

Nearly 50 people were killed in a bombing in Abbas Town, a predominantly Shia area in Karachi, Pakistan earlier this month. The attack is just the latest in a series of recent attacks by Sunni militant groups.

According to an article by the BBC:

“Some activists called 2012 the worst year in living memory for attacks on Pakistan’s Shia community, with rights groups estimating that about 400 perished in militant attacks.

But this year is also shaping up to be among the deadliest: nearly 200 people were killed in two separate bombings targeting Shias in the south-western city of Quetta in January and February.”

I was interning at The Express Tribune (Pakistan’s first internationally affiliated newspaper in partnership with The International Herald Tribune, the global edition of The New York Times) when several bombings took place in Quetta and the northern Swat Valley on January 10. 130 people were killed and at least 270 were injured. For days, the headlines covered the effects of the blasts as well as the ensuing protests, particularly one in which members of the Shia community and local Shia officials refused to bury their dead for four days until the army took control of security in the city.

The very next month, at least 84 people were killed and 190 injured in yet another attack in Hazara Town, right outside Quetta. Most victims were of the ethnic Hazara community, a predominantly Shia demographic.

Pakistan has a history of Shias being persecuted, as do quite a few other predominantly Sunni Muslim countries. For as long as I can remember, every Muharram (one of the four sacred months of the Islamic calendar, and an especially important one for Shias) I hear about riots and attacks on Shia religious gatherings in my birthplace of Karachi. This past Muharram (November 14- December 14) seemed to have catalyzed something even worse than in years past. Thousands of men, women, and children have become victim to the violence, often caused by militant groups Lakshar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a Sunni militant organization with ties to Al-Qaeda and the Tabliban.

The violence is the work of militant groups with whom the large majority of Pakistanis strongly disagree.  But the fact of the matter is that not enough of the Muslim majority are speaking out against this.  And that stems from the fact that there is bias, there is misunderstanding, there is even hate coming from both Sunnis as well as Shias.

Both sects have a disturbing amount of ill will towards the other. Most of the time it is mild, but it is there. I do not personally know a single Muslim who condones violence in any form against others regardless of who or what they are, yet the subtle prejudices do exist. The aforementioned individual once went on a rant about the differences between Shiaism and Sunnism and literally deemed some of our beliefs “stupid”. This is a person whom always struck me as an intelligent one, yet here they were not only disrespecting their fellow Muslims but actually saying it straight to someone who adheres to Sunni Islam. I know quite a few Sunnis who have said things about Shias such as “They’re not true Muslims,” and “If you’re going to marry a Shia, you might as well marry a Christian.” Both Sunnis and Shias have inflicted violence upon each other, both groups have been discriminated against by the other but in many countries, Shias, as the 10% minority, lose.

I myself do very much disagree with some of the doctrines of Shia Islam. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be Sunni. But that does not mean that I feel I have the right to disrespect someone else for their beliefs. Us Muslims tend to be very intolerant of those who differ in beliefs from us, whether it is on the subject of the oneness of God or how high of a skirt a woman should be allowed to wear. We fight over these petty things and set a horrible example for rising generations when what we should be teaching them is tolerance, respect, and a love of peace and harmony. Without those basics, Islam is not Islam. Period.

And in Pakistan, where a little mentally challenged girl received death threats in a village for burning copies of the Qur’an, where a Christian federal minister was killed by the Taliban for pushing for reform of blasphemy laws, where the Hazara community has lost 800 of its own to terrorist attacks, its people tend to forget the words of a one particular Shia Muslim whom they claim to respect and adore:

You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, also known as Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader), founder of Pakistan and a Shia Muslim.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, also known as Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader), founder of Pakistan and a Shia Muslim.

Ab imo pectore,

Syjil

Getting the Peter Parker treatment

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The Express Tribune was launched over two years ago as Pakistan’s first internationally affiliated newspaper. Owned by the Lakson Group (think the Murdochs of Pakistan… or 2nd to the Murdochs of Pakistan), the Tribune is in partnership with The International Herald Tribune, the global edition of the New York Times. Today was my second day interning at its Karachi office.

I work at the City desk and my boss, the City Editor, is… Well, let’s just say I feel she’s taken the whole tough editor stereotype from movies a little too seriously. Sure, a good editor’s a Perry White, but this woman is channeling J. Jonah Jameson. Of course, having picked out five errors in the leading front page story (Pakistani English isn’t very strict) while waiting in the lobby before my interview a few days before, I’m too cocky to be anything but amused. Seeming to not realize she’s dealing with a kid who’s been going to school in New Jersey for eight years, she’s been throwing the F-word around like it’s a whole new thing. And while I slightly and silently agreed when she called my mother over-protective to her face the day before when Mommy Dearest wanted to come in with me to see where I was working, I couldn’t help but wonder if the woman had ever heard of Daniel Pearl. Turns out my boss hadn’t realized I not only studied in the States but lived there as well until she asked to clarify what I meant when I called in earlier to check whether I should come in today because the Consulate had told us to be extra careful. ( As usual, there’s been some violence on the streets after an assassination attempt of a local political/religious leader which freaked my mom out and led to her forcing me to call ahead.) But all this wasn’t until after my darling boss had already managed to tell me I shouldn’t be in journalism if I was going to be a pansy. Needless to say, I’m no longer involving my mother in any of this. And even more needless to say… I’m definitely going to show her how much I’m not a pansy.

Still, I’m learning some new things, and I like it. After Miss Congeniality made some changes to a piece I had edited, I went to fix it on my desktop when she took the print out she had marked up, turned it over and told me to make the changes from memory. I had to translate Urdu quotes into English and remember to stick to British spellings. (Thank you, Inkheart and UK versions of Harry Potter.) The power went out a few times, and I was handed chai without being asked if I wanted any. Typical Karachi in a typical newspaper office.

Being a journalist,– a proper one, at least– you want to see the world, meet all kinds of people from all kinds of places, experience different cultures, and learn that which you cannot from textbooks and lecture halls. Actually working at a media outlet on the other side of the world is the perfect experience. You learn a different language, different lifestyle, immerse yourself in another culture, see another viewpoint of media (a much more objective one at that). Journalists record history as it happens. We tell stories in the eyes of those who were there. And being in another country, the story is one that never fails to intrigue.

Obama comes out (no pun intended)

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I’ve always heard people going on and on about finding themselves in college, discovering who they really are and their purpose in life, and exploring their options, and always thought it was complete and utter bull.

Then came freshman year, and that’s exactly what I found happening to me.

I know it’s been only two semesters, but I have a knack of figuring things out quick, and my freshman year saw me figuring out myself further not only academically and career-wise, but also realizing things about my past and who I am and why. It’s been an interesting why and it scares/excites me to see what’s going to happen in the next three years. Stay tuned; I have a strong feeling we’ll be seeing some life-changing events.

But since I’m no celebrity (yet), my life is not of much interest, so let’s move on. Today became one of the biggest news days of the year, and most probably history, with President Obama coming out (no pun intended) with his support for same-sex marriage.

Like President Obama, I guess you could say I’ve been evolving on the issue too.  I’ve had friends who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and I’ve always hated when they’ve been met with ridicule or cruelty.  It’s never once turned me away from them or made me think of them any differently… Unless, of course, they did something that I wouldn’t like to see coming from a heterosexual friend either.

But at the same time, I am a practicing Muslim.  To me, no matter how anyone spins it, homosexuality is forbidden in Islam… But as my uncle reminded me the other day, it is the act that is forbidden, not the preference itself. In Islam, we are taught to learn to discipline ourselves and obey God no matter what.  In my own interpretation, homosexuality seems to be a challenge for people and is something for them to figure out, between themselves and God if they believe in Him.

But that brings us back to the fact that the United States of America was founded as a secular nation.  As a practicing Muslim, I cannot condone homosexuality and say that gay marriage is okay.  But (as my uncle again pointed out) as a Muslim in the U.S., I am bound by the laws of my country and its Constitution.  The Constitution clearly states that all people are to be given equal rights and that religion shall not play a factor in our country’s governance.

One thing I have to say, however, is that I feel that on both sides of the argument, there has been quite a bit of disrespect.  My moral and religious upbringing has also taught me tolerance.  Not only am I disgusted at those who call homosexuals names and treat them as subhuman or criminals, but I also cannot help but be disappointed at the lack of respect many people in our society have come to have for religion.  Yes, it is wrong for someone to persecute another just because of their sexual orientation, but if they are not doing so, I think it is equally wrong for someone to disparage someone else for the simple belief that something is wrong due to their religion.  While I see the similarities this has to interracial marriage and rights for women, blacks and immigrants, I still also see the difference.  Many religions, including the most prevalent ones in our society, teach us that homosexuality is a sin.  The fact is undeniable, and far too many times, I see people simplifying the issue.  Just because someone believes in a set of religious teachings, it does not mean they are a bigot.  And just because someone doesn’t, it does not mean they are immoral.

In the end, same-sex marriage is an inevitability for the United States.  But I don’t see why this has to be such a disaster for those who are religious.  As a friend of mine pointed out to me a few weeks back, same-sex marriage has been legal for years in Europe, because state marriage and religious marriage are kept completely separate.  Much of the battle in the U.S. is because here, the priest, rabbi, imam or whomever has to sign the legal document when they marry a couple.  While Americans need to respect the rights of all citizens, the government needs to respect the rights of religious institutions.  If a religious leader or institution does not wish to perform same-sex marriages, they should not be forced to do so.  While we are protected from becoming a religious nation, our religions are also protected from becoming secular institutions.

Ab imo pectore,

Syjil

Side note: Yesterday, author Maurice Sendak passed away at age 83.  I still haven’t seen the movie for Where the Wild Things Are but I bought my little brother the book around the time it came out, and I absolutely love it as well as the novelization of the screenplay by Dave Eggers.  You can find his 2-part interview with Stephen Colbert earlier this year on the Colbert Report here and here.  Worth watching.

“Oh, please don’t go– we’ll eat you up– we love you so!” –Where the Wild Things Are
R.I.P.

–S.

Last year’s wishes; Kony 2012

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If you have not seen it, and you have a beating heart and a living, breathing soul, it is of the utmost importance that you watch this video before reading.  For those of you that already have, please scroll on past and just give me a few moments of your time.

Joseph Kony has been a part of my knowledge since 2007 when Alex (my Jimmy Olsen from MakeWaves) and I found out about the LRA through Pete Wentz’s advocation of Invisible Children and Fall Out Boy’s subsequent featuring of the issue in their music video for “I’m Like A Lawyer With The Way I’m Always Trying To Get You Off (Me & You)”.

I’m writing this not to say oh I totally knew about this before you, but to tell you.  That film is great and it’s gotten your attention, and I’m so glad… But there are a few details that weren’t mentioned, that you have to look a little bit more for, that you have to know.

Freshman year of high school I wrote a paper on the LRA and Uganda for my World Civilizations class, and our teacher showed us some videos and talked about it in class during our Africa unit.  A couple years later, a friend of mine started a chapter of Invisible Children at our high school, and a bunch of us collected books and donated money for the suffering children of Uganda.  We told people about the cause, we tried to get our vice principal to have Invisible Children (or Pete Wentz, as I kept trying to push for without much hope) come talk to our school, we spread the word where and when we could.

But yet again, it was social media that prevailed.

Alex and I are kind of peeved.  It’s the same feeling we always have when others start getting into a band we’ve known for ages (Alex, I still insist that you are single-handedly at fault for All Time Low’s mainstream popularity).  But just now, when I watched Jason Russell’s new film, I can’t help but feel a lump in my throat.  In a completely genius move, Russell used that utterly adorable kid of his to really seriously paint the picture: these are kids, like ours, being killed, forced to kill, tortured, raped, forgotten.  And they’re starting to become visible.

Kids are being forced to eat hearts.  Literally.  Eat.  Hearts.  When doing my research paper back in high school, I read about the most disgusting, vile things that the LRA officers force those kids to do.  Not only do they force girls to be their “wives” and become pregnant at 11, 12, 13 years old, but they also force them to hurt each other.  They abduct them from their homes at night and their schools during the day and force them to kill their parents or relatives on the spot.  They force them to walk miles and miles and miles on end without food or water and if a boy complains, they force the others to beat him.  Kill him.  Rip out his heart and eat it.  That is the exact story I read in a survivor’s account I came across while writing my paper.

In the video, you see those kids walking at night and all sleeping in the same place, far away from their homes.  Imagine having to walk for miles because you know that if you stay at home, you won’t be safe.  Imagine how scared you would be.  Imagine being six years old and going through that.  My little brother complains after walking at the mall.  For these kids, this is life, another day.

There’s the hopeful notion of returning those kids home at the end of the film.  I learned back in freshman year that those who even had homes to go back to, who even survived and escaped, found themselves being turned away.  These kids are turning into pariahs in their own families, let alone their own community.  Their families are afraid to take them back, afraid of the LRA, afraid of them, the kids themselves.  These kids need shelters, they need more of the rehabilitation programs that are currently working to help them in Uganda and other affected areas on the limited resources they have.

Yes, this is totally the trendy new cause, and it’s a little messed up that the only thing that can get people into this is seeing it on other people’s walls, seeing it as the cool new thing to talk about and be seen doing.  But I’ll take it.  My best friend was going on a rant the other day on the bus about how social media and technology has made us an anti-social, self-centered society…  This is just proof that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  And turn the system upside down.

 

Ab imo pectore,

Syjil