Debbie Schlussel (a well-known professional anti-Islam pundit) tried a typical smear-by-association scam, regarding a cast-member appearing on the All-American Muslim show on the TLC Network.
This show has been in the news quite a bit lately, over the past week or so, because Lowe’s pulled its ads from the show, due to a fringe Christian group that contacted Lowe’s, complaining that All-American Muslim is “propaganda”, because the show does not fit their own incorrect perceptions about Muslims and Islam, as Jon Stewart wittily covered on The Daily Show, last week.
“The star of the show, Suehaila Amen, a devout hijab-wearing Shi’ite Muslim, is an open supporter of Hezbollah and HAMAS.
She is an officer of an organization, the Muslim Lebanese American Heritage Club, which sponsored openly anti-Semitic Hezbollah rallies and anti-Israel rallies and was founded by Ali Jawad, a convicted insurance defrauder and known Hezbollah agent who sold smuggled Hezbollah cigarettes at his gas station.
She also organized this year’s fundraising banquet for the Michigan Chapter of the extremist CAIR Action Network, which is an unindicted co-conspirator in HAMAS fundraising according to the federal government.”
She says that Suheila Amen is “an open supporter of Hezbollah and HAMAS” solely because Suheila served on the board of this local community organization, and because she helped organize a fund-raising banquet for her local chapter of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations), a well-established, national Muslim organization (if CAIR were connected with terrorism as anti-Islam detractors suggest, they obviously would have been shut down).
Suheila Amen is “guilty” of simply being active in her community, and Debbie Schlussel’s attempt at factless defamation is pathetic.
NOTE: Schlussel’s assertions about the Lebanese American Heritage Club (she apparently added “Muslim” to the group’s name arbitrarily) are presumed to be false, and/or exaggerated to a degree that is utterly misleading, primarily because that is what she did regarding CAIR, in the same blog post. To see why her assertions regarding CAIR are false, please see p.40 of this excellent report, Manufacturing The Muslim Menace.
UPDATE: Suheila Amen was said to be an “open supporter of Hezbollah”, because she served on the Board of the Lebanese-American association described above, and therefore was acquainted with Ali Jawad. Debbie Schlussel asserts that Ali Jawad is an “open supporter of Hezbollah”, and therefore, it seems, she presumes (without any reason) that Ms. Amen must be, too.
So is Ali Jawad an “open supporter of Hezbollah”? Per this link, there’s a bit more to the story. And, regardless, there is no indication that Ali Jawad’s opinions are shared by Suheila Amen.
First, deepest condolences and sympathy to all who have been personally affected by the recent hateful terrorist acts of Anders Bering Breivik in Oslo, Norway, and to the people of Norway, who have experienced such violent tragedy in their usually peaceful society.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the details, you can read an overview of the attacks and Breivik’s motivations, here.
In an unfortunate case of irony, the bombing and the shootings enacted by Anders Behring Breivik were initially presumed by quite a few people to be the acts of Muslim terrorists, when Breivik’s core motivation is specifically and decidedly anti-Muslim.
In his 1,500 page manifesto, entitled “A European Declaration of Independence“, Breivik outlines exactly why he feels the ‘Islamisation” of Europe has progressed to a point where the only rational option is to begin to engage in “shock attacks” (terrorist acts) against both Muslims and the “traitors” who have allowed Muslims to immigrate to European countries to a point that Europeans’ way of life is threatened.
Where would Breivik get such ideas?
The mainstream news certainly isn’t filled with descriptions of any kind of a Muslim “take over”. There are plenty of news stories, yes, but no governments have been toppled by “Islamists”, in Europe. No European country has experienced any kind of a change in government, which would reflect a “Muslim take over”. In fact, with the exception of people who seem to generally agree with Breivik’s views, most Europeans do not seem to be overly concerned about Muslims, or about the idea of any kind of a “take over” by Muslims.
How, then, did Anders Behring Breivik come to hold this deeply anti-Muslim perspective?
His manifesto gives us a rather glaring set of clues.
In his chapters describing his beliefs about the threats he perceives as being posed by Islam and Muslims, Breivik methodically cites his informational sources, which consist primarily of links to many of the best-known anti-Islam / anti-Muslim websites and authors, among them Jihadwatch (Robert Spencer), GatesOfVienna, Walid Shoebat, AtlasShrugs (Pamela Geller), and BrusselsJournal.com. He is also a big fan of the anti-Islam book Eurabia, by Bat Ye’or.
If there is a defining theme running through the material found on such websites, and written by such authors, it is the false idea that the religion of Islam itself is to blame for the actions of extremists, and that the acts of extremists are merely the surface manifestations of a series of insidious threats posed by Muslims and Islam in general.
The truly tragic aspect of this connection between fallacious anti-Islam / anti-Muslim rhetoric and Breivik’s unspeakable acts is: the threats posited by anti-Islam websites do not actually exist.
All terrorist acts are heinous, and are literally crimes against humanity. In the case of Al Qaeda, as an example, they have come to criminally-distorted conclusions which inspire their acts, about things that have actually happened (harm inflicted upon Muslims by Western powers and Israel, and the ongoing presence of foreign armies in Muslim countries).
In Breivik’s case, he has, as of this writing, caused the deaths of 93 people, many of them teenagers who were attending a summer camp, and brought about untold grief for the loved ones of these victims, and created a horrific societal shock throughout a largely peaceful nation (Norway), and the world, based on things that proponents of anti-Islam views have fabricated or exaggerated.
If we are going to write or speak critically about any group of people, it is only responsible that we diligently verify the accuracy of all related information before publishing it or otherwise stating it as fact. A few people, victims of revenge killings, have tragically died, especially since the 9/11 attacks in the United States, due to the inability of some people to distinguish between extremist Muslims and mainstream Muslims, but never on the horrific, mass scale perpetrated by Anders Bering Breivik.
In his 1500 page Manifesto, titled2083 A European Declaration of Independence, Breivik methodically and intelligently articulates the anti-Islam “party line”. In fact, it is possibly the most clearly-articulated overview of the anti-Islam argument currently available, and it is as wildly-wrong as all similar material on this topic.
The anti-Islam argument is based entirely in the erroneous and illogical premise that by connecting carefully-selected verses from the Quran and other Islamic writings, and combining that with a one-sided, exaggerated and in some instances, fabricated interpretation with a highly-selective and distorted “history of Islam”, and then positing a causal connection between modern-day Muslim terrorism, the increasing Muslim immigration to Europe and North America, and the extremist reactions of a tiny percentage of Muslims to certain events (i.e. cartoons drawn of the Prophet Muhammad) , that an accurate picture of the “threat” posed by Muslims can be developed.
This, as is likely apparent to most readers, is not at all a logical or balanced way to develop any kind of a fact-based overview regarding any subject. Any person or group can be easily maligned via a combination of exaggeration, fabrication and out-of-context information (see: President Obama, Birthers). It is, however, a very logical approach if the goal is to inspire and motivate hatred and distrust of a target group.
In fact, it is the only type of approach that can inspire and motivate hatred and distrust of a target group, because no extremely large group (i.e. Christians, Muslims, Americans, Europeans, etc.) has enough people whose views and behavior are generally threatening to anyone else, for a fact-based and logical approach to yield the information desired by the people making the anti-Islam (in this case) arguments.
And, tragically, as intelligent as he obviously is, Anders Behring Breivik fell for it, with the horrific results described above.
Lesson #2 It is important to analyze not only the information being presented, but the approach used to draw related conclusions. This is especially true with information, such as anti-Islam arguments, which can have far-reaching, tragic consequences. Just because the presented information is articulated in an intelligent and organized manner does not mean that it is true or accurate. The flawed approaches used to draw the conclusions presented by anti-Islam proponents are not used anywhere in mainstream academia, and the anti-Islam view is not taught anywhere in mainstream academia, for exactly this reason.
One thing that shines through clearly and disturbingly in Breivik’s writings is his sincerity. In terms of his overall profile, Anders Behring Breivik is essentially a mirror of Osama bin Laden, whom he resembles in many ways.
Both Anders Behring Breivik and Osama bin Laden display (or, in bin Laden’s case, “displayed”) the following characteristics:
Sense of heroic mission
Willingness to die for their cause
Sense of injustice
Sense of “no other option” (than to initiate a program of extremist attacks).
Delusions about useful responses to perceived problems (i.e. they both wrongly concluded that terrorism can yield desired results).
Desire to initiate a global “holy war” against the perceived evils and enemies destroying their culture and people.
Error-based conclusions regarding the actual nature of the people they posit as their enemies.
Willingness to murder due to the perceived “righteousness” of their cause.
Deeply-felt personal commitment to their religion. The need to fight for their people and religion against a massively-threatening enemy.
Ability to present information in an intelligent and articulate manner.
Ability to distort cultural symbols in order to attempt to motivate others, etc. (i.e. bin Laden distorted the teachings of the Quran to help would-be terrorists self-identify as heroic “martyrs” engaged in a “holy struggle”; Breivik distorted the teachings of Christianity, and of European societal ethics, to suggest that anti-Muslim terrorists are actually “Christian Knights”, etc.).
A sincere religious faith that is utterly at odds with the teachings of the mainstream religion they claim to follow, and which is utterly at odds with the views and morals of well over 99.99% of the members of the religion they claim to follow (and of the rest of humanity, religious or non-religious, as well).
Per Anders Behring Breivik’s resemblance to bin Laden in the ways described above, hopefully people who are not familiar with the mainstream teachings of Islam, will be able to understand that extremists never represent the mainstream religion, or its teachings, despite what anyone might say to the contrary. How can we know this is an accurate view? By simple and sincere observation.
Just as most Christians are not at all extremist, neither are most Muslims.
Just as mainstream Christians have no particular connection with extremist Christian groups with political agendas, such as the Irish Republican Army, or with seemingly-lone extremists such as Anders Behring Breivik, so mainstream Muslims have no particular connection with extremist Muslims or extremist Muslim groups.
Just as the vast majority of Christians lead normal, essentially non-violent lives, so the vast majority of Muslims lead normal, essentially non-violent lives.
Just as the mainstream teachings of Christianity do not support the views or actions of Christian extremists, so the mainstream teachings of Islam do not support the views or actions of Muslim extremists.
Just as anti-Christian information is always distorted and never accurate, so anti-Muslim information is always distorted, and never accurate.
Lesson #3 No large group of people is anything like its small percentage of extremists. Despite intelligently-presented yet always error-based arguments to the contrary, extremists and extremist views are always a tiny percentage of the overall population to which they belong. Extremists’ views, arguments, statements and actions tell us about those extremists, and not about the mainstream population, be it Muslims, Christians, Americans, Europeans, or anyone else.
Imagine you are a young person with your whole life ahead of you. You’re working at a convenience store. You’re a young Muslim, and many people in the United States, where you live, feel a sense of deep anger toward Muslims, as a result of the 9/11 attacks by Muslim extremists, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
All of a sudden you’re at gunpoint, with an angry, erratically-acting man pointing a shotgun straight at your face. He asks where you’re from, a very strange question in the middle of what seems at first to be a robbery; you tell him you are from Bangladesh.
You take a shotgun blast full in the face.
Somehow, you live. With dozens of shotgun pellets permanently lodged in your face. With unspeakable agony for a very long time.
But you live.
How do you think you might feel toward your attacker? Even if your religion taught forgiveness toward those who wrong you, do you think you would be able to apply such teachings to someone who incorrectly associated you with the extremists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, simply because you are a Muslim?
Would it change your attitude at all to learn that you were the only survivor, out of three shootings – that two other innocent people, one Hindu (Vasudev Patel), and one Muslim (Waqar Hasan), lost their lives for being Muslim (even though Mr. Patel was Hindu), by someone who wasn’t capable of making the distinction between extremists and the mainstream members of a religion, or between Hindus and Muslims?
Would you hate your attacker?
Would you want to see him die?
Would you forgive him?
Would you work for years to try to save his life? Would you make ongoing efforts to try to get his death sentence, which many people found quite understandable and appropriate, changed to a life sentence?
Many of us might stop short of that last scenario, and some of us, well short of it.
Ruis Bhuiyan, the Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh who received that full shotgun-blast full in the face from Mark Stroman, who was executed on July 20, 2011, however, is a living example of that last option. He literally worked for years to try to save his would-be murderer’s life, and he cited his Muslim faith as his primary motivation.
Rais also started a website, WorldWithoutHate.Org to promote compassionate action. On its History page, Rais writes:
“My name is Rais. I was born in Bangladesh. I came to the United States to fulfill my lifelong dream to pursue higher education and to experience the American Dream. But within a short time my life was completely changed due to one single incident. The lesson I learned from that incident transformed my life and motivated me to educate people against hate crime.”
And here is Rais Bhuiyan in a YouTube video, describing WorldWithoutHate, and his related perspectives.
Some people have mentioned that while they generally admire Bhuiyan’s attitudes, that it is only reasonable to consider the feelings of those whose family members lost their lives. Many of us find this view to be understandable, and well know that the murder of one of our loved ones might well be harder to forgive than horrific violence that was done to us.
“Bhuiyan said his efforts on behalf of Stroman were motivated by his Muslim faith. The Koran teaches that those who forsake retribution and forgive those who have wronged them become closer to God, he said.
“My faith teaches me that saving a life is like saving the entire human race,” he said.
Bhuiyan is not alone in his efforts to save Stroman’s life. He has support from family members of the other victims, including the widows of the two murdered men, Waqar Husan and Vasudev Patel, he said.
“We decided to forgive him and want to give him a chance to be a better person,” Nadeem Akhtar, Husan’s brother-in-law, said in an interview.
Akhtar said that his sister, Husan’s widow, had written a letter requesting that the Dallas district attorney’s office support the effort to obtain clemency for Stroman.”
Three people: a widow, a brother-in-law who sister’s husband was murdered, and a man who was shot full in the face with a shotgun; all suffering unimaginable loss, because one violent man could not understand the difference between Muslim extremists, and mainstream Muslims.
All three Muslims sought to see the murderer of their loved ones (in the case of Nadeem Akhtar and the widowed Mrs. Husan); the unspeakably violent person who shot him in the face (in the case of Rais Bhuiyan), saved from the death penalty, and for reasons that almost all of us likely consider to be exemplary, coming from the members of any religion.
“Hate only brings fear, resentment and disaster to human life. It creates obstacles which prevent growth, which in turn, diminishes society as a whole.”
In my experience, it’s not so much a matter that critics of Islam promote myths about Sharia law, but that they really don’t understand it at all.
It has also been my experience that those who have pre-judged that they do not like something – Islam and/or Muslims, in the case of many critics of Islam, do not tend to provide accurate information. At the very least, the information they offer tends to be negatively spun, to the point of being very distorted.
And so, I would suggest that it behooves all of us to educate ourselves a bit about Muslims, Islam and Shariah from reputable Muslim and non-Muslim sources — not as a matter of religion, but as a matter of civic responsibility.
The quickest way to end the error-based prejudice against millions of Americans who worship as Muslims is via the reviewing and sharing of accurate information.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
~Declaration of Independence, 1776
Thankfully, almost all overt forms of prejudice have been largely eradicated in the United States. Sadly, though, anti-Muslim prejudice, aka Islamophobia, is currently a significant issue, among certain non-Muslim Americans. As with all prejudice, anti-Muslim prejudice is based in error.
Considering this, how is Islamophobia even possible, then?
There are two key factors which allow prejudice against Muslims to take place:
The concerted effort by a small, dedicated group, some of them professional anti-Muslims, to disseminate anti-Muslim propaganda in various ways.
The fact that most Americans don’t know any Muslims personally, and don’t know much about Islam.
These two factors dovetail in ways that would not be possible with any other relatively large group of Americans.
Simply Put: if you have any general sense of distrust, dislike or fear concerning Muslims, you have believed some untrue statements about Muslims or Islam that anti-Muslims want you to believe. If you are prejudiced against Muslims, you’ve been manipulated, and you can prove this to yourself, to your own satisfaction, very easily, if you really want to know the truth.
I know this is true, because it’s what I did.
I’m often asked why I spend so much time, on Islam-related threads on Huffington Post, standing up for my fellow Americans who worship as Muslims. The answer is very simple: I know that anti-Muslim arguments are incorrect. How did I determine this? It was both easy and simple to do. I can read, I know how to use Google, and most importantly, I was, and am, willing to see the truth.
A Tale Of Two Community Centers
Last year, when a project to create a Muslim community center (like a YMCA, or Jewish Community Center) in lower Manhattan was initiated by Muslims was ominously re-cast as a “Mega-Mosque at Ground Zero”, thanks to anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, I wasn’t too sure about the project, myself. Who were these Muslims? Why did they want to put their center so close to Ground Zero? Then I read a single word which made all the difference for me: “Sufi”. Sufi Muslims are peaceful, tolerant, and motivated by compassion and goodwill. The famous poet Rumi was a Sufi Muslim. All of a sudden, the description of a “Mega-Mosque at Ground Zero” made no sense whatsoever, and my research began.
I learned that the project’s founder, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is a respected inter-faith leader in New York City; both he and his project enjoy the respect and support of many religious and community leaders in New York City and elsewhere. Many families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks respect and support Imam Feisal, and his project, as well. So does New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Imam Feisal is the author of books such as What’s Right With Islam, which are designed to help non-Muslims and Muslims understand one another, and, thus, to get along well. Imam Feisal is an American Citizen (he has lived here since age thirteen) and he has traveled on behalf of the U.S. State Department, under both the Bush and Obama Administrations, to facilitate friendship between the U.S. and Muslims around the world. This year, he was invited by the University of North Carolina to deliver the Weil Lecture on American Citizenship.
Imam Feisal’s vision is to create a community center that everyone in the area can enjoy, like a YMCA or JCC (Jewish Community Center). It is not a mosque, it is not at Ground Zero (it is two blocks away and around a corner), and the project’s founder is a peaceful American Sufi who is liked and respected, locally, nationally and internationally. Imam Feisal supports Karen Armstrong’s Charter For Compassion, and delivered the eloquent talk “Lose Your Ego, Find Your Compassion” at the prestigious TED Conference, in 2009. He also delivered the eulogy for Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl, who had been murdered by Muslim extremists in Pakistan, and he delivered it at the B’nai Jeshurun synagogue in New York City, where he referred to himself as a Jew, and a Christian, as well as a Muslim.
In short, essentially everything negative about Imam Feisal, generally, and his community center project, specifically, was made up wholesale by anti-Muslims.
When people are strongly against something or someone, the tendency to fabricate seems to become almost irresistible (see: Birthers). This is because their priority is getting you to agree with them, and facts are of a secondary importance, if they are considered at all.
The Law in Dearborn, Michigan
Dearborn, Michigan is another example. Dearborn was said to be “under Sharia law”, because it had been “taken over by Muslims”, according to anti-Muslims who claimed to know. I was informed by someone at Thanksgiving Dinner last year that this was indeed the case; it’s not. “Sharia law” is the totalitarian system of Islamic law which doesn’t actually exist except in the vivid imaginations of anti-Muslims. What it lacks in actuality, it more than makes up for in its ability to get otherwise sane people to behave in amazingly irrational ways.
Shariah, on the other hand, is an Arabic term meaning “the path to the source”. Shariah refers to the structure by which Muslims live their lives, in a similar manner to how the term law is used in Judaism. Shariah provides the set of principles governing guidelines for religious practice, and, in certain Muslim-majority countries, various facets of civic life, as well. “Sharia law” is a misnomer; Shariah refers to the underlying principles by with the specific laws (fiqh) and punishments (hudud) are created.
The six principles of Shariah as given in the Quran are: the right to the protection of Life, Family, Education, Religion, Property (access to resources) and Human Dignity.
As with all legal systems, both good and bad law had been created under the auspices of Shariah. The very worst iterations of law and punishment, practiced by the most extreme of extremist Muslims (i.e. the Taliban) and the most extremely-conservative Muslim-majority governments (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Iran), combined with certain fabricated and exaggerated items, have been codified, erroneously, in the minds of anti-Muslims as “Sharia law”.
And so, back to Dearborn, and last year, when the “Sharia law” fiction-meme had spread so widely as to be articulated by former Senate candidate, Sharron Angle. The Mayor of Dearborn, John O’Reilly, took exception to her incorrect assertion that Dearborn was “under Sharia law”, and he appeared on CNN with Anderson Cooper, to discuss the reality of Dearborn, Michigan in a national interview.
Quite a few non-Muslims, including Terry Jones of Quran-burning notoriety, didn’t watch CNN that day, it seems. And so, Terry Jones traveled to Dearborn early this year, to protest across at the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in North America, and the just-possible reason that Dearborn has been singled out as a problematic location by anti-Muslims.
Now, anti-Muslims may “know” that Dearborn, Michigan has been “taken over” by Sharia-wielding Extremist Muslims intent on turning all non-Muslims into subservient chattel, and they may really want the rest of us to “know” this, too, but do the Muslims of Dearborn “know” this?
“As Muslims, this does not bother us. We have no problem with him coming to the Islamic Center of America to protest whatever he believes. We all in live in a free country.”
Despite the Imam’s ultra-tolerant statement, the City of Dearborn, decided that there was too much likelihood of trouble, and required that Jones’ protest take place in front of City Hall. Much ado was made, in certain circles, as to how Jones’ rights to free speech had been violated, ostensibly due to the power of “Sharia law” in Dearborn. However, per this shared interview involving both Terry Jones and Imam Sayyid Hassan al-Qazwini, on the Detroit-area TV show Let It Rip, this appears not to be the case, even a little bit.
Beyond these types of fabrications, anti-Muslims like to paint the Quran itself as violent, when only 5% of its content is violent or cruel. They suggest that because extremists act on violent interpretations of certain Quranic verses, that this tells us about Islam, or Muslims, when it simply tells us a little about extremists, and how they try to motivate people, and try to justify their crimes. The real reason for terrorism by Muslim extremists is not directly connected with religion, but with their views of certain geo-political realities.
There are 1.6 Billion Muslims in the world; every fourth to fifth person on the planet is a Muslim. In any group that large, most of the people in it are always going to be regular people, not extremists, and not violent. Extremists comprise something like 1% of 1% of all Muslims, yet anti-Muslims suggest that all, or most, Muslims think like extremists do.
This is both staggeringly incorrect, as well as the very definition of bigotry.
What You Can Do
And so, this Fourth of July holiday, when we celebrate our Independence, please consider also declaring your independence from the untrue ideas of people who want you to dislike Islam and Muslims as much as they dislike Islam and Muslims.
And please remember: you don’t have to take my word for it; if you can read, and if you know how to use Google, you have all the tools you need to prove the truth of what I’m saying in this article, to yourself.
Please seriously consider standing with those of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who know that America is ready to be free from error-based prejudice.
There are, of course, serious problems in Muslim populations around the world, which affect Muslims and non-Muslims, alike. The problems include extremism on the part of a very small percentage of the population; abusively ultra-conservative interpretations of law and religion on the part of a small percentage, as well, and some truly dysfunctional governments among the world’s sixty-plus Muslim-majority nations.
These realities affect all of us, and we can all work together to resolve them, because most of us, Muslim or non-Muslim are natural allies, and inherently on the same side – the side of peace, reason and cooperation for the common good, and the uplifting of all.
The anti-Muslim narrative described in this article distorts reality in ways that don’t benefit anyone, because that narrative is based in fabrication and conjecture.
If we are willing to see clearly, we’ll see that Muslims, specifically American Muslims, are our fellow Americans; friends, neighbors, colleagues, and our natural allies in the shared endeavor to create a nation and a world where we can all celebrate true independence and fulfillment.
Here’s Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf giving an hour-long video overview of the principles outlined in his book What’s Right With Islam.
The presentation is excellent, and showcases the type of person Imam Rauf actually is, and provides a good overview on some of the principles of what Islam actually teaches. Includes and overview concerning what Sharia law is actually about (as opposed to the fabricated versions promoting by anti-Muslims).
Prejudice against Muslims is not due to Muslim extremists. Muslim extremists represent literally 1% of 1% or so of the world’s 1.6 Billion Muslims, and most people are able to therefore realize that 99.99% of all Muslims are not extremists.
Anti-Muslim prejudice is due to things that people have made up about Muslims. Many of these efforts are professional. A relatively small cadre of people with an anti-Muslim agenda are involved.
The Southern Poverty Law Center recently published three articles on professional anti-Muslim efforts in the United States which outlines who the players are, and what they are doing.