Muslim Punk Rock, or What Fiction Can Do

23moth_muslimThis just in from the New York Times. Michael Muhammad Knight wrote a book about Muslim-Americans forming a punk band in Buffalo New York. From the article by Christopher Maag, “Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book“:

Five years ago, young Muslims across the United States began reading and passing along a blurry, photocopied novel called “The Taqwacores,” about imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo.

“This book helped me create my identity,” said Naina Syed, 14, a high school freshman in Coventry, Conn.

A Muslim born in Pakistan, Naina said she spent hours on the phone listening to her older sister read the novel to her. “When I finally read the book for myself,” she said, “it was an amazing experience.”

The novel is “The Catcher in the Rye” for young Muslims, said Carl W. Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Springing from the imagination of Michael Muhammad Knight, it inspired disaffected young Muslims in the United States to form real Muslim punk bands and build their own subculture.

As a writer, the article is fascinating to me. Fiction has the power to give method and ideas to real people, helping to create reality. Now Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight isn’t gonna make vampires out of anyone–but it might make teenage girls want a chaste boyfriend. But Taqwacores imagined a reality for alienated Muslim teens in the States, a way to cope, a way to establish a new identity, a counter culture. The book empowers people. Through fiction.

Countless movies have played on the idea that a writer could create reality through writing about it–they are mostly comedies. But the concept, I think, is a powerful one. What if –instead of reflecting culture–we created it? What if we consciously created something that was not there before–something that could happen–so that it inspires others to create it?

Science Fiction often does this in reverse. Create something that we DON’T want around and then destroy it. And thank God we got rid of “it.” I think the Shine Anthology is seeking to help us imagine some creative solutions–and I still encourage you to submit. But I want to keep harping on the idea that you, as writers, can change the world. Michael M. Knight did. (I love that his name is the same as the hero from Knight Rider, the 80s TV show (with recent makeover)).

Go create something you want to see that doesn’t exist right now. Like Knight, create a subculture for disenfranchised teens. Or create the ultimate youth center in your town and inspire someone to imagine the real one. Or show oppressed people in power, how a family operates using green technology in their house, believable, doable, possible things. And then I hope your novel is photocopied and passed around and around and around. The world.

Shine Anthology, and Dreaming of a Better World

In another post I talked about thinking positive about the future.  I linked to an anthology, SHINE, open to writers, that wants to make the world a better place in the future–a vision of how we WILL get it right eventually.  How  decisions we make technologically, politically, personally will solve–or begin to solve–global crises we face right now.  For years, scientists have been cast as Dr. Frankensteins in movies–playing God with forces we don’t understand–and rarely are they those who solve the problem.  If they do arch heroically at the end, it’s often to put back what went wrong, the Hamlets of a technological Denmark gone rotten.

When doing the radio series, Yukon 2058, I was sitting with Lil from Lil’s Diner and we were talking about Angel’s Nest, the future home for the homeless teens in our area, a cause Lil’s Diner has taken a personal investment in, literally.  For Halloween, the employees at the diner donated all wages made that day to Angel’s Nest and they kept the diner open most of the night to host a fund drive party.  We sat and talked about what teens need in this town, and I realized that science fiction could be used to describe what we want in the world–not just to warn people, not just a good story, but planting seeds in the minds of those who might be able to help us make those changes.  SF can be used to help people envision.

Who wants to walk into a post-apocalyptic future?  Why not place things in the future we need to see–and once seen, that we can create for real.  So, via radio, I created a youth center, the kind I would love to see the town create in the old Canadian Tire building.  And I put it on the air, and inside my vision for the future.

So, if you have ideas about what kinds of positive strides the world could make in the future–ways of solving crises in the world– allow me to suggest some positive outlets for you, outlets where your vision could inspire the vision of others who can make it happen:

1)  CBC North is going to want to interview you for your vision of the Yukon–a place that will be much changed in the next 50 years.  Imagine the future, and then talk about it on the radio.

2)  SHINE anthology, edited by Jetse de Vries, is open to writers this next spring who want to write optimistic science fiction.  This doesn’t mean that utopia comes without dramatic tension or story, only that it includes a positive vision of the world of the future.  If you want to write up your idea as story, read these guidelines.  This is going to be a great opportunity for writers and thinkers, since anthologies, collecting these positive views of science, will likely have a great distribution and put you in pages populated by well-known, world-class thinktankers/writers.  (If only there could be a weekend to gather engineers, scientists and science fiction writers to pool ideas…)

3) the 24hr Playwriting competition, held here in Whitehorse by Nakai Theatre in April, might be another place to launch a positive future in the Yukon, as local plays are funded, produced and showcased through the Homegrown Theatre Festival in the Yukon, in order to get them ready for possible Canadian distribution.

4) Write directly to the Governmental groups that might help implement your idea: help them see what impact your idea–all consequences considered–might have on the Yukon.  Write for funding to research it through the Northern Research Institute

5)  Don’t forget other Canadian science fiction magazines: On Spec needs you!  And loves you.  And wants to promote Canadian voices.

I think if a people down south, my fellow Americans, can be inspired to change by electing Barack Obama as President, then anything is possible.  I think we are being called on to help make that change ourselves, first by envisioning and then by doing.  I think science fiction writers inspire change.

Else why would the first American space shuttle be named Enterprise