Oh yeah, she's a Muslim, too

GetReligion co-founder Doug LeBlanc notified us of this absolutely fascinating piece by Terri Gross for NPR's Fresh Air. It runs about 45 minutes or so and goes through a new documentary called The Interrupters. The documentary was done by Steve James, who also directed the fantastic Hoop Dreams. We learn about former gang members in Chicago who stage group interventions for at-risk youth. These men and women are known as "violence interrupters" and they work with CeaseFire, a group that has an interesting approach to targeting violence. Basically, the group believes that violence moves in the same way that infectious diseases do. So they aim to "go to the source" to stop it.

LeBlanc noted that while he didn't discover an outright ghost, this piece "reflects the maddening ability of Terri Gross to neglect an interesting religion angle in favor of a feminist hobby horse." It relates to the discussions with Ameena Matthews, who is certainly the most interesting subject of the documentary. From the accompanying article:

The third subject of the film is Ameena Matthews, one of only two female members of Chicago's interrupters team. Matthews is the daughter of a famous gang member and had been in a gang herself — which, she says, gives her credibility when navigating potentially volatile situations among teens on the streets.

I got so into listening to the piece that I had forgotten LeBlanc's note. But here's what he said:

Toward the end of an otherwise excellent interview with one of the interrupters, the intense and fascinating Ameena Matthews, Gross focuses on her scarf. She mentions only in passing that Ms. Matthews is a Muslim and her husband is an imam (or, as Gross puts it, "the head of the mosque that you belong to"). But then Gross interprets the scarf primarily as a statement -- wait for it -- against being a sex object.

Even after listening for 40 minutes or whatever, as soon as Gross mentioned that Matthews wears a head covering, is Muslim and is married to her imam, I immediately had a dozen questions I was hoping to get answered. Instead, Gross said something about makeup and suggested that the head covering keeps girls from thinking she's competing with them in the looks department. It was kind of odd.

Of course, Matthews didn't object to the question and, in fact, joked that Gross' praise of the benefits of head scarves would be printed up and used to present herself on the street. But what a squandering of an opportunity for an interesting avenue of discussion. The accompanying article has a tiny bit more, but it only serves to make me more curious:

When Matthews was heavily involved in gang activities, it was her Muslim faith, her children and grandmother who served as her own violence interrupters, she says.

"[My grandmother] would step in the middle of raids, asking, 'Where's Ameena?'" she says. "Guns were drawn and she's not even looking at the guns or the gas that was thrown in the building to smoke us out, she's yelling my name and telling me to get my behind out. ... She was there."

So was her father Muslim, too? And does her religion have anything to do with the work she does now?

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