Interview with Author, Jazz Musician, and PolicyMic Writer Nathan Lean

In addition to his articles for PolicyMic, Nathan Lean is the co-author of Iran, Israel, and the United States: Regime Security Versus Political Legitimacy (Praeger, June 2011) available for purchase online, and the author of Monster Mosques and Muslim Madness: How an Industry of Islamophobia Manufactures Fear (Forthcoming). We asked Lean about his experience growing up in the South as a Middle East scholar, his passion for jazz piano, and his forthcoming book.

For more information, check out his website here.

PolicyMic (PM): Tell us about your forthcoming book, Monster Mosques and Muslim Madness: How an Industry of Islamophobia Manufactures Fear. What do you mean by an “industry of Islamophobia”? Who has created it? The media? Politicians? Someone else?

Nathan Lean (NL): From the threat of “Islamofascism,” to the construction of “monster mosques” in midtown Manhattan; from fear of “stealth jihads,” to the supposed looming catastrophe caused by “terror babies;” from “creeping Sharia” that will allegedly replace the Constitution, to recurring pictures of the Twin Towers crumbling into a sea of flesh and ash, these images and many like them are products of an industry of Islamophobia — a growing and interconnected network of neoconservative politicians, right-wing media pundits, and evangelical religious leaders united in a quest to exhume the ghosts of 9/11 and provoke fears of Muslims and Islam for personal gain.

Simply put, fear sells books, wins re-elections, increases tithes, and raises television rankings. The purpose of this book is to take the reader inside the minds of the individuals that comprise this web of propagandists, revealing their tactics and exposing their pasts.

PM: What is the largest misconception that Americans hold about Islam that you’d like to dispel?

NL: That Islam and America are incompatible. I find that too many people believe Islam is foreign — that it exists “over there,” beyond the borders in the “Muslim world.” That is, I believe, the basis for fear: it is quite natural to fear what we see as foreign and know little about. Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States and is woven into the fabric of American culture. Jermaine Jackson, Lupe Fiasco, Dave Chappelle, Bernard Hopkins, Shaquille O’Neal, and Rima Fakih (Miss USA 2010) are all American Muslims.

PM: You grew up in North Carolina, but have spent significant amounts of time traveling and working in the Middle East. Has your work in the Arab world been popular with your friends and family? What challenges has your career brought, living in the South?

NL: My friends and family are incredibly supportive of my work. Thus far, the South has provided no real challenge beyond an unbearable summer climate; I surround myself with individuals and communities that are open-minded and share my thirst for productive, progressive dialogue.

PM: Take your pick: Southern barbecue or Moroccan cous-cous?

NL: No BBQ on this planet will ever match a warm, fresh bowl of Moroccan couscous!

PM: You are also a jazz musician? What is one jazz tune that you think can help to bridge the divide between the United States and the Arab world and why?

NL: “Search for Peace” by pianist McCoy Tyner is a great choice for obvious reasons. I also like “If I Should Lose You,” a tune written by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin but made famous by Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. The song tells of the need for companionship and love and the consequences of a world without it — a message that the leaders in Washington and in Arab-majority countries should take to heart.

Photo Credit: Nathan Lean