Activist Spotlight: Haneen Jasim and Brianne Cain, Organizers of University of Cincinnati’s Anti-Islamophobia March/Rally

Cinci rally
Photo credit: Joelle Cartier
By B.C.

University of Cincinnati pre-med student Haneen Jasim had a potential brush with death after a normal study session Monday night, November 16th. Upon leaving the Starbucks at University Square, she was honked at, cursed at and called a terrorist by a man in a car, according to WLWT, presumably because she was wearing a hijab.

The man then drove toward her without stopping. Luckily, three bystanders pulled Jasim onto the sidewalk, possibly saving her life. She is ever-thankful for “three wonderful souls who saved my life,” but was terrified by the experience.

“The fact that an individual could have this much hate for Muslims that he is willing to kill an innocent woman is unbelievable,” Jasim says. “Of course I was scared at that moment. I was scared for my life.”

She is still afraid, not only for herself, but because this terrifying incident can happen to any Muslim child, woman or man. Jasim reached out to Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which called Monday for an FBI and Cincinnati Police hate crime investigator. They still haven’t caught the perpetrator. However, Jasim says that even if they catch him, she won’t press charges.

“I would want him to apologize to me and other Muslims in public,” Jasim explains. “I would also want to make sure that he will never do this to anyone ever again. We, Muslims, were taught to forgive.”

Because the incident was all over the media, garnering national attention, many individuals reached out to Jasim.

“I received a wonderful concerned message from Brianne Cain,” she says. “I had no idea who she was, and she only knew me through my incident. She wanted to make sure I was well and had the idea to plan a rally against Islamophobia. I thought it was a wonderful idea and agreed to organize it with her.”

Cain, a sociology student at UC, has lived in Clifton all of her life and couldn’t believe what had happened. She had heard that Islamophobic violence was on the rise, but never thought it would happen to someone around her.

“It was just too close to home,” Cain says. “I’ve been interning at Planned Parenthood, which absolutely has inspired me to be more involved in my community and stand up for what I believe in and given me some great tools/ideas for how to do it.”

However, the march/rally that took place yesterday, If You HEAR Something, SAY Something: a March and Rally Against Islamophobia, was the first time both women had organized something of that scale. It started at 3 p.m. and went until 4 p.m. The Facebook event reads: Please join us in a march to support the Muslim community followed by a rally. Come learn about Islamophobia, how it affects all of us, and what we can do about it!

There are many speakers sharing both personal stories and educational information, including Jasim herself,  Clifton Mosque Imam Ismael Chartier and Executive Director of CAIR Karen Dabdoub, among others.

“Before Haneen and I met, I wasn’t sure if this was actually going to turn into anything, but her determination was obvious and inspiring, and somehow it came together!” says Cain. “Her ability to turn what happened to her into an opportunity for positive change is incredible.”

The two speak out on the march/rally and how they hope it will help spread the message against Islamophobia.

ACRO: What do you hope is the outcome of this march/rally?

Jasim: I hope to get individuals to want to learn about Islam and Muslims — to understand that we are kind people. I want others to speak out when witnessing hate speech toward Muslims or individuals of other faiths.

Cain: I hope that through this event, not only will the Muslim community feel supported, but the rest of the community will understand that they have a role to play in this. People seem to think not being racist is enough, but that’s just not true. You have to actively fight against hate speech and discrimination to expect anything to change. If we make it clear that no one will stand for Islamophobia, then we begin to have an environment that fosters acceptance, not hate.

ACRO: Why is this march/rally important?

Jasim: This march is very important to explain to others that Islam is not ISIS. The real Muslims around the world do not consider the individuals involved in ISIS to be Muslims. Islam is not a religion of terrorism. Muslims are not terrorists. Islamophobia needs to be stopped. No one should ever be scared of Muslims because of extremists claiming to be Muslims.

Cain: This rally is important because people need to know that this is happening and that it’s everybody’s responsibility to do something about it.

ACRO: Do you think there needs to be more awareness surrounding Islamophobia and why it’s a problem?

Jasim: Of course I do. Educate others on Islam, the meaning of Islam, the condemning of terrorism. I want people to go out and learn about Islam. Give us Muslims a chance to show you how peaceful, pure and innocent our religion is. We are not terrorists. We are the last thing from being that.

Cain: I definitely think there needs to more awareness surrounding Islamophobia. I think the more people that share their stories, the better. It takes tremendous courage to talk to people about something so personal and I admire everyone that is going to do that. I hope that it will encourage more people to speak out in the future. I think spreading the message is exactly how we combat Islamophobia. We talk to each other. We reach out to our Muslim friends and give them support just as we reach out to our non-Muslim friends and give them information. Ignorance is at the heart of all of this and we need to be willing to do something about that. The most important thing I want people to take away from the rally is a personal sense of responsibility regarding Islamophobia. Although there have been events about Islamophobia on campus, this is the first that is a march and rally. The reason we did it this way is for exposure. We know it’s going to be cold and the entire event takes place outside, but we want people that are walking by to stop and listen.

ACRO: Did the event accomplish what you and Haneen intended?

Cain: I definitely think we accomplished what we meant to. I honestly didn’t even think to count how many people, but I’d say around 40… someone said nearly 50 [people showed up]! Everybody hung out afterwards and met each other and talked to each other and that’s what we wanted… to build our community. After hearing our amazing speakers, I was left with such an overwhelmingly positive feeling. If everybody else left that way, then we definitely accomplished our goal!

Read more about the march/rally here.


Big Sound Saturdays: People Get Ready!

During the civil rights movement, Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier” sparked white and some black antiwar and anti-segregation sentiment. These are the songs that we tie, rightfully, to the movement. Yet it was the driving, ecstatic harmonies of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles that spoke most directly to the power of black music and black art, and it was the sounds of “sweet soul music” that drove the black movements forward. It’s upon these foundations that this week’s mix, People Get Ready, is built.

During the civil rights movement, Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier” sparked white and some black antiwar and anti-segregation sentiment. These are the songs that we tie, rightfully, to the movement. Yet it was the driving, ecstatic harmonies of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles that spoke most directly to the power of black music and black art, and it was the sounds of “sweet soul music” that drove the black movements forward. It’s upon these foundations that this week’s mix, People Get Ready, is built.

Released in the summer of 1964 amidst violent protests, KKK terrorism, and the beginning of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Summer Project, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” topped the Billboard 100. Even though the frontwoman denied, consistently, the viability of a political re-reading of the tune, its topical reconfiguration was a call to action. In the New Yorker, Rollo Romig describes how the song was first articulated explicitly within the black power movement:

In October, 1965, the S.N.C.C. member Roland Snellings wrote an article called “Keep on Pushin’: Rhythm & Blues as a Weapon” for a black-power journal called Liberator: “WE ARE COMING UP! WE ARE COMING UP! And it’s reflected in the Riot-song that symbolized Harlem, Philly, Brooklyn, Rochester, Paterson, Elizabeth; this song, of course, ‘Dancing in the Streets’—making Martha and the Vandellas legendary.”

It’s a little apocryphal to call any of the songs that I put on People Get Ready “riot songs,” though I do think that there’s something to be said for Snellings, the black power movement, and the civil rights movement’s re-reading of them. Until the protest movements of the 1960s, interpretations of the racist, oppressive social structure were fixed—it took some creative reconsideration to open the possibility of a new order. When the remedy seems impossible, creativity might be the only thing left. “Dancing in the Street” may not intend its call to action, but it still lauded protesting at a slant. Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” performed on this mix by Otis Redding, demanded a romance on equal terms, and it also demanded a romance of equality, and a context of equal rights.

Lots of the songs on People Get Ready are more explicit, informed directly by the civil and black rights movements: The Impressions’ timeless “People Get Ready,” the quiet bombast that marks Jackie Wilson’s “When Will Our Day Come,” Chuck Berry’s surprising hip-shaker, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” Most of the songs that I pulled together were, at their time, incredibly popular. Mahalia Jackson was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s favorite singer, and Trouble of the World sounded the struggle of the black population in a way reminiscent of the hopeful blues of the twenties and thirties, “the sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday.” Nina Simone is still considered to be one of the most dexterous and fearless advocates of black empowerment. With those, I also slid in a few smaller tunes: R&B great Big Maybelle’s “Heaven Will Welcome You Dr. King,” released just after his assassination as a B-side to her cover of Eleanor Rigby off the small Rojac label, is an extravagant and little-known tribute to the leader, and Dock Reed and Vera Ward Hall’s “Free At Last,” a tune whose roots stretch to early slave songs. When these tunes weren’t explicit—“be black, baby” didn’t always top the charts—they read beauty and power into a black population whose agency was overwhelmingly repudiated, if not simply ignored.

Today, that denial persists. A week ago, June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof walked into Charleston’s historically black Emanuel AME and shot and killed nine black church members: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson. You can already find lots of good writing on black mourning and forgiveness, the space of white women and black women in a racist social structure, and on the significance, in this context, of Roof’s confederate flag. We have to keep talking about this, name the dead, attribute the violence again and again to the white supremacist social structure that reproduces it. Understanding that the U.S. is built on slavery and capitalism makes these crimes legible. If we don’t keep repeating ourselves then we, and everyone else, might start to forget.

Let’s keep these songs close, then, mix them with Kendrick Lamar’s opus To Pimp A Butterfly and D’Angelo’s reckless and brilliant Black Messiah and hope that something comes out of them. There’s no point in talking if we don’t listen, too.

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