GAPABA: War on Error Review (Review by Saba Ashraf)

Melody Moezzi, a recent graduate ofEmory Law School, an Iranian, MuslimAmerican writes a book setting forth simply,in twelve different chapters, the stories of12 American Muslims.  Weaved throughout the stories are personal musings and reflections of Melody.

In many ways, her reflections are probably instantly identifiable by all Asian Americans, and not just Muslim Americans. For example, she explains what she calls the COFOB phenomenon (Children ofFresh Off the Boat):

There exists a strong sense of compassion and camaraderie among COFOBs growing up in America, regardless of origin:  the sense that we need to make something of ourselves, because our parents worked and gave up so much to give us this privileged life, the ability to adapt quickly to new people and environments, the inclination to always see things from at least two sides,the inability to fully communicate with our parents because we literally speak different languages, and the tendency to experience the present as a constant reminder of our dissipating pasts...

She also notes of herself:  “[l]ike many first-generation Americans living in different diasporas, the children of what our countries of origin consider an unfortunate brain drain and what the U.S. considers prodigious examples of the successful pursuit of the American dream, I have found myself drawn to friends who, like myself, cannot help but live in the past and the future simultaneously: those who share the same uncertainty about their identities in the present instant and the same proud, knowing, and assured conviction about their respective identities in the past.”

What makes the story of Muslim Americans different from stories of other COFOBs is, of course, 9-11.  As Melody notes, that day prompted a sharp turn in much American public opinion with respect to Islam (from general ignorance and apathy to general ignorance, fear, and hatred).

Two themes (or calls really) become apparent in Melody’s writing:

1. Muslims Americans are just that – Americans.  Their experiences and their stories are very muchAmerican.  She points out that the phrase “Muslim American” is neither an oxymoron nor a predicament of circumstance.  “These are American stories, and until we begin to see and hear them as such, we will never fully understand or appreciate ourselves as Americans.”

2.  Muslim Americans must understand their own religion individually, rather than blindly accept interpretations that are handed down to them by those claiming to be closer to it.  “[B]efore the Muslim community can expect to be understood and accepted by the ‘Western world,’ individual Muslims must first understand and accept Islam, not as it is fed to them by religious and political leaders.”

Melody concludes by calling for a Muslim renaissance of sorts in America:

Americans have an unmatched penchant for demanding independently verifiable proof. We think
for ourselves, and we are highly skeptical. We know when we’re being lied to, and we don’t take it lightly... It is the unique American appreciation for skepticism and independent thought that makes this country,in my opinion, the ideal place to begin restoring truth to Islam and the ideal base for the next IslamicRenaissance.  The greatest impediments to this impending Renaissance come from misguided Muslims and misinformed Americans, and the former indisputably fuel the latter.  Today, the misguided minorities within Islam—those manipulating the faith to achieve power, wealth, and status; those misreading it to perpetuate their own hatred and ignorance; those maligning it to justify their own violent, murderous actions; and those desecrating it to gain attention and publicity—are gaining the undeserved privilege of defining Islam for the rest of the world simply because they are yelling the loudest and behaving the nastiest. If anyone is to rescue Islam from the distortions and manipulations to which a small number of misinformed fanatics are subjecting it, it will be logical, freethinking, and outspoken Muslims of the world.  More than anything, at this point in time, Islam is in desperate need of critical and rational thinkers.  Such thinkers are emerging throughout this country today, and thank God, they are refusing to be silenced.

Her call for unity, for clarity, for enlightenment and renaissance likely would resonate well with most readers;they certainly did with me.  I particularly liked this book because it was not sensationalist.  Melody’s writing carries a certain calmness with it.

Each person profiled has a unique approach to Islam and to life.  I found myself instantly drawn to many of the persons she profiled in the book, wanting to know more about them, and wishing she’d delved more deeply into their stories.  Two stand out in particular:  Faisal Alam, a Pakistani American and the founder of Al-Fatiha,an organization dedicated to Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, those exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity, and their allies, families and friends.  And Asra Nomani, anIndian American journalist and writer, author of several books, including “Standing Alone in Mecca: An AmericanWoman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam.”  Among many other things, Asra was a lead organizer of a women-led Muslim prayer in New York City on March 18, 2005.  Others profiled include a rapper of Korean and Egyptian descent, a blonde, fellow law student of Bosnian descent, and a “traditional” American man converted to Islam.

The book, while titled “The War on Error,” actually has little to do with the War on Terror directly.  It has more to do with the perception of Muslims and of Islam (from within the Muslim community and without) – which of course play into the War on Terror.  The title thus relates to the fact that the War on Terror is based upon an error in the understanding or perception of Muslim Americans.

I did find myself, at times, wishing Melody would develop her ideas in further detail, or spend more time on them.  She seems to be a very observant person, and as I read the book I looked forward to the observations she’d make on life or on human nature, or the condition of the world. However, often, I’d find myself wanting to linger on the topic more, and have a longer conversation about things.

For example, the title of the book – the “War on Error” – while I believe I understand the point – I would have like to see her spell it out. Some of the persons profiled perhaps warranted longer discussion than others. I also found myself wishing to hear stories of even more people – perhaps some older ones. Most of the persons, though not all, seemed to be younger, well-educated people. It certainly makes sense that Melody would profile these people, as she herself is a recent law school graduate, and these likely are the people she knew or had the opportunity to know – and while I have not reviewed statistics, I suspect that is the majority of Muslim Americans. Nonetheless, I sort of was looking for some others as well.

Overall, the book was thoughtful, well-written and well-conceived. It is a book that probably every Muslim American, and anyone doing anything involving or relating to Muslim Americans (which I suspect would be most people) would benefit from reading. Melody is a spirited, thoughtful and talented writer. I expect, and look forward to hearing more from Melody in the coming years. You can find out more about Melody at Her web-site also provides links there to sites where a curious reader can learn more about some of the wonderful persons she writes about in her book.