All posts by Yasmine Badaoui

Yasmine is a hyphenated human who writes strange fiction and bad poetry while juggling her two children. Her work has appeared in Khaber Khaslan, Missmuslim, Paper Mag and sisterhood. She is contributing Editor at the Civil Arab.

Viva Las Vegas

I sound like a broken record, a chorus stopping and staring from apathy to tired tears. DJed by a neglected needle of a dusty player that hasn’t turned off since 9/11. The lights in Vegas will never shine as bright as they did in Viva Las Vegas, or as they did before Stephen Paddock’s domestic terrorism took the lives of 50 Americans while wounding countless others. I still can’t watch the videos, stomach the screams and crash of automatic rifle fire hitting living breathing people with families and friends, with stories—a mother that cooks breakfast for her family every morning, newlyweds honeymooning, a student in her early 20’s studying law. I imagine everything is slower in Vegas tonight, the show-girls just don’t look like they’re into it. The slots are filled with less coins, their mechanical cries amplified off ghost-town casino floors. The Washington Post framed this mark on American history nonchalantly, a cute millennial tagline; “gunman enjoyed gambling, country music, lived quiet life before massacre.” I woke up with the news and I can’t quite go to bed with it.

The strange sickness of tragedy leaves you with questions that have crickets as their only answers; why was a millionaire allowed to purchase so many guns, how did he get into a hotel with so many guns, what does a man need with 30 weapons of war, and why won’t they call it like it is, terrorism. Motive is moot point when the term terrorist does more to disrupt my daily life than the actual threat of radical Islam juxtaposed to mass shootings. “Terrorist” is a constant shadow over my person as an Arab American, it is the vantage point where travel bans and patriot acts are summoned, the crime to which watchlists and no fly lists are composed. The word the cement-like foundation of places like Guantanamo bay, Gaza Strip, and the black-sites of the war on terror. It is the gloom of hate notes left on my mother-in-law’s car, the ransacking of my neighbor’s house because of ‘suspicious activity’, the touch of a TSA agent on my shoulder.

I’ve had my hands checked for bomb residue as I held my baby son alone at the airport flying to meet my husband in Des Moines. At 14, traveling internationally with my grandmother a Lebanese national with no English, and my 9-year-old sister I was led to a sterile room to be strip searched. Crying out to the female agent “wallah—I swear to god, I don’t have anything” probably didn’t help my case but I didn’t know any other way to express my sincerity. “Terrorist” has evolved from political entomology to racial profile, a raging bacterium with no qualms and no cure. I wish I could keep politics out of this discussion, but it’s hard to forgo when you’re told to leave “my country” for pointing out the double standard that has replaced the American dream. I know how Stephen Paddock fell through the cracks of government surveillance, he checks the big points of privilege; white, wealthy and male. Political whiteness in this country is like the sheet obscuring a Klan’s man face; it is protection from federal and state scrutiny. It is where the clause, “innocent until proven guilty” sticks like epoxy. I threw up on the way out of customs, guilty proven innocent and the Vegas shooter is remembered as a country-music lover. With each broadcast a nail scratches across coffin-lid of my Arab peoples ready to stake the heart of my culture. They’ve warped us into caricatures and villains and have ignored the toxic reality of their own soil.

The United States of America is not perfect, we have death and terror perpetrated by citizens who have never left their home states. We have third-world poverty in our first-world nation, domestic abuse and sex crimes. We are not the protectors we imagine ourselves to be, we are the seedy secrets of Las Vegas, but this time what happened in Vegas can’t stay within its city limits. The strange sickness of tragedy leaves you with uneasy answers, a record spinning amiss, where do we go from here? What my grandma told me after I threw up; you just keep going.

Dancing is Haram

Flashback: I am nine years old and spend the summer listening to hip-hop with my cousins. We play 400 (Arabic card game) and eat Flaming Hot Cheetos while inhaling secondhand hookah smoke. When September hits and Islamic school opens up for the year, I bravely share my summer with our chadored ‘sister’ (teacher) that posed the question to get our all-girl class cozy.

“But Dancing is haram, Yasmine. Music is haram. Do you want to go to hell?!”

My cheeks flush red and I scratch at the hijab that became part of my uniform. “No,” I say, sinking back into my seat wishing I never said anything at all. But then I say the next thing: “I don’t think dancing sends you to hell.”

I am made to write lines. “Dancing is haram.” Over 100 times. I would also have to write “I will not bring magazines to school” in other upcoming years, alongside a suspension for nail polish. But even as a young girl, I learned what was really my oppression: those in charge of Islam. At home and with my family, I lived my whole life as Muslim authentically, because I am a Muslim.

As the world and the west misinterpret and misrepresent Islam, we here at home are hit hard with uncertainty. We struggle with our faith, but instead of looking in for clarity and purpose, we lash out. We start calling ourselves anti-western without defining ourselves first. We reach for the things they say are “bad” and hold tightly to its fur, without looking the beast totally in the eye. Is it really in the spirit of Islam that women are often met with a dimension of sexism that is sold as “for their own good,” or “the natural cosmological order of things”? Is it really in the spirit of Islam that minorities like gays, genderfluid and the like are barred from being openly Muslim, that they must deny parts of themselves to be amongst the believers, to get us to vote for their secular rights? Does opting to be a wrapped piece of candy rather than an unwrapped one really make or break my status in the club?

I never did well at this forbidden dabkeh, only to be done via anasheed (instrument-less Muslim anthems), even though everyone expects me to pull off flawlessly, as a Muslim Arab woman. I was born with a pristine sandal on one foot and a Batman-clad Converse on the other. My religion isn’t a performance, a dance, something antithetical to the western imagination. It’s nowhere as simple as the haram police assert. All the books, schools of thought, philosophy and history of the interpretation and integration of Islam outside the Quran say as much. Too many muslims and Orientalist tools alike conflate the legacy of Islam, along with its beautiful divine universal and timeless text, with its human implication and interpretation across the last millennia or so. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a joke, Iran is no better, and most political factions of Islam in modern times have more things in common with right-wing terrorists in the US than they do with me. I’ve been called a “moderate Muslim” from imperial tools as often as I’ve been branded “as bad as the Taliban” with conservatives in my own community.

I hate to break it to you all kindly, but I may as well be the new standard. I don’t live in dissonance. I pay homage to the secularism that birthed me and privilege it has afforded me. I’ve gone through the indoctrination, through Islamic Sunday schools. I have read into my religion, beyond what appears thereof and am entertaining the idea of house. I’m educated in both purported cultures, passed both at the top of my class, and I have to report: There is no culture war. The same texts that inspired jurisprudence used at the height of the golden age to not only answer the questions of mudane for time- and culture-specific Muslims also helped usher in the sciences and brought the enlightenment to the “West” we all find ourselves seeking asylum in.

What I’m saying is that I’ve seen too many commonplace hadith, with chains of transmission so weak you might as well have quoted your grandmother, floating about endorsing the status quo. I am seeing too many Muslims drop the dance entirely because the inconsistencies in “practice versus prophet” are too jarring for even the most skilled. “Dancing is haram, but why?” You are not allowed to ask. To too many in our community, questioning a hadith about stringed instruments is not about intelligence or faith, but about obedience to this fear about not being Muslim enough and becoming like “them,” the “West,” the “Amreeki”.

I am 25 years old and I make myself write lines, mismatched shoes and all, through the seasons, over a thousand and one times. And I’ve decided for myself. Dancing is not haram.