Brooklyn Inshallah follows three Americans: Father Khader El Yateem, an Arab Lutheran pastor running for NYC Council, Muslim activist Linda Sarsour, and local community organizer, Aber Kawas.
[NOTE: Due to copyrights, the full film will be removed on September 27.]
We embark on the team’s journey as they attempt to make history. Arabs have lived in New York City for a 100 plus years, but not one has ever aspired to run for office before this. In the previous elections, only 250 out of 40,000 Arab Americans in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, had thought voting was worth the effort. Democracy is not working well for this new American community in Brooklyn. How can this team change that? How can they get a chance to tell their American story?
At first, the campaign is nothing more than a grand idea loosely grounded in reality. But idealism is not enough. The candidate and his team take to the streets to create alliances with Muslims, Christians and Jews.
The camera gets access to the inner core of the campaign, and is able to document up close the Islamophobia that many Arab Americans face – even one who is in fact a Christian pastor. The local election is as prone to scandals and madness as a national election. But things change when the Democratic Socialists of America join the cause and suddenly, 200 young volunteers emerge onto the streets, ready to knock on doors.
In the quieter moments, we hear the backstories and what has brought these three unique characters together with the common goal of electing the first Arab-American to city office in New York. The Christian candidate started the first Arab speaking church in North America. His story is not void of surprises. As an innocent and earnest 19-year-old theology student in Bethlehem, he was arrested, imprisoned and tortured by Israeli soldiers without a charge. This incident led him to embrace nonviolent leadership and change.
Linda Sarsour is a controversial, Brooklyn-born Palestinian who rose to prominence as one of the three organizers and keynote speakers at the Women’s March on Washington. We see her facing death threats, and being demonized as a terrorist. Sarsour embodies the tension: how can the community speak out against all the forces organized to silence it?
Aber Kawas leads the laborious groundwork. She has a personal stake in this campaign: her father was deported after 9-11 by the NYPD’s entrapment campaign that flagrantly violated human rights. America waged a war on Iraq and Afghanistan but before that, they tore the heart out of the Arab American community of Bay Ridge, who experienced heavy police surveillance and harassment in the wake of 9-11. We explore what 9-11 has meant for this particular demographic.
On election day, there is a lot of hope and optimism. More Arabs surge to the polls than ever before. But polling booths have translators working in Spanish and Mandarin, not Arabic. Many voters are unable to vote due to language challenges. Arabic translators are kicked out of the voting sites. Is the fix in?
Regardless of who wins or loses, this campaign changed Bay Ridge forever. It has given this community the permission to speak up, to speak out, to show that Arabs and Muslims are also American, and to demonstrate that they are defiantly and proudly American and that their story has to be told, as it is, finally, in “Brooklyn, Inshallah”.
The story of Khader El-Yateem and his supporters will show all Arab Americans and non-Arab Muslims that they too can build their political power and have a voice in American politics.
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