Cihan Kaan is a Texas-born, Brooklyn-based writer and filmmaker. A multi-talented artist, his first work of video art premiered as part of an ensemble show at MoMA at the tender age of 17. By 21, Cihan (pronounced — Je’han) Kaan had directed several music videos in rotation on MTV. His short film She’s Got an Atomic Bomb (2004) won Best Short Film for the Evil City Festival and toured underground film festivals such as the Coney Island Film Festival, the B-Movie Film Festival (winner of the Audience Award), and the Lost Film Festival. His second short film, Shuffle Mode (2006) won Best Short Film at the Sin Cine NYC Erotic Film Festival. He is currently finishing his book of short stories, which can only be described as a collection of urban Sufi myths from the streets of America. His day job is in Interactive Digital Media. He is the first American fiction author of Crimean Tatar descent.
In May 2009, Kaan was invited to read from his stories at Hunter College. The two classes: Muslim Diaspora and Asian Pacific American Media were asked to read the stories and offer their voices in the construction of this first draft of the manuscript. Thank you Zohra Saed for inviting Cihan into the classroom. Here are some highlights from the visit to the Muslim Diaspora course and their reading of Misli Midhib: Punk Rock Hijabi from the upcoming short story collection, Halal Pork.
Excerpt from the story Misli Midhib: Punk Rock Hijabi
The day Jamil Makam decided to do a fifteen-hundred-word story on an up and coming Muslim musician, a meteor fell from the sky. A nameless lightning bolt hit a magical Afghan carpet from a distant star, carrying on it a wandering babushka caught in a world between the skies. Drifting space rocks, a homeland memory that dropped her through our atmosphere onto the Central Asian steppe of Coney Island, New York. She walked the rustic shores, lived in broken amusement parks and worked silently inside sideshows.
Her name was an intonation of the larynx and flip of the lip, nearly incoherent by our human tongue but sounding close to Masaly or Misoul-E. She came to be known by the underbelly of New York exiles as Misili Midhib.
Misili was discovered by sideshow gals known as the Brooklyn Exiles, a group of native New York girls pushed out of their neighborhoods by the hordes of out of state kids who now occupied the surrounding lands. They lived communally under the remaining portion of the Coney Island boardwalk. All of them possessed an athleticism beyond the masses that allowed them to do things like swallow swords, hang from ropes using their teeth and tame snakes with bare hands. The amusement park had been demolished and replaced by a mega-development of condominiums alongside so-called futuristic rides flashing holograms of explosions blasting eurotrance all to entertain the new immigrants (suburban middle America fodder) and the Brooklyn Exiles would make their livelihood by performing at the sideshow, the last vestige of the original spirit of the island.
Comments on the story Misli Midhib: Punk Rock Hijabi from our test readers:
“The veil has always been seen as something out of the ordinary and this story took the meaning of that to a literal level. Misili was considered an alien because of her covering and one great example of her presenting “supernatural” powers was when she was walking away from a group of boys who were trying to “holler” at her. She was gliding in a way, with her burqa flowing and covering her feet, which made her seem like she was flying. This confirms the fact that the veil is a good way to prevent the unwanted gaze of strangers, therefore, veiling allows women to view the world while they remain a mystery.” Alvina
“Although the premise is a new one, the underlying theme is not and Cihan Kaan’s expression of it is brilliant. In today’s day and age, the Muslim hijabi is usually isolated from the mainstream pubic. She’s alienated to such a point that it wouldn’t be too farfetched for her to feel as if her fellow human beings were instead treating her like an alien. Kaan takes this idea and implements it in the literal sense with the lead character being an alien hijabi who uses techniques implemented in Sufism to express herself. The average hijabi has experienced moments where she feels as if she’s a stranger to the world as many do tend to treat her as such. This also correlates with an Islamic concept: The concept of being a stranger in the material world. Islam teaches Muslims concepts that are foreign to today’s world, thus making them strangers. So it is not uncommon that in today’s world, many Muslims represent themselves as “strangers” to the mainstream public. It was said by the Prophet (PBUH) that “Islam came into the world as something strange and it will leave the world as something strange. Thus, glad tidings to the strangers.” As a result, Muslims today, particularly hijabis who are moreso treated like outsiders, embrace this “strangeness” as a part of Islam and Kaan brilliantly incorporates this apparent stigma of being strange into the physical form of a literal Muslim alien.” Shehnaz
“In “Punk Rock Hijabi”, Cihan Khan is basically addressing the many Muslim’s who misrepresented Islam post 9-11. The character of the journalist or reporter Shiraz Ayanda reminded me of many Muslim women who took stories of oppressed women and blamed Islam for this. There was a movie made where a woman was naked in a see-through Burqah and had ayats of the Quran (Holy Book) written all over her body. Watching that movie as a Muslim disgusted me because I am aware of the true Islam but as a non-Muslim, I would only feel sympathy for an oppressed woman who has to endure abuse, force, rape, etc. because she is “obeying God”. It’s sad that a lot of the people that try to misrepresent the image of Islam have been Muslims prior to that. I think similar to many of the works we’ve seen so far, such as Lina Khan and Hanif Kureisha, Cihan Khan’s approach to addressing this issue of the misrepresentation of Islam is great. In an imaginative way, he shows what Muslims are being portrayed as and how they are being alienated and being treated as the other even with their own community. I also really liked how Cihan incorporated the Sufi tradition into this story because I have a strong respect for the Sufi religion. Misli’s twirling symbolizes with the direct connection twirling dervishes get with God. Even though these type of stories are new to me, I feel like I would be interested to read more of Cihan’s work when it comes out.” Anum
Thank you Muslim Diaspora class for participating in this test reading. Up-Set Press and Cihan Kaan have taken the suggestions, critique and the praise into account as we edit the stories. Thank you for the love!
Excerpt from Crimean Saladin:
Mehmet Vatanoglu’s (pronounced vah-tan-O-loo) real name was Mustafa Patrov. His tie was a blend of polyester and rayon, the poor man’s silk. Polyrayon, although being a popular substitute for silk, actually feels nothing like the real thing. Mustafa, or rather Mehmet, adjusted the new tie, proud of his reflection. His mother had told him back in the homeland, “A man’s tie reflects his soul.” To that effect, Mustafa, or rather Mehmet, was reflecting a Tatar displaced from that homeland living in Brooklyn, New York wearing a silk rip-off. He brushed the dust from his over starched shirt and threw on the corduroy blazer he usurped from the local thrift store. We say “usurped” here to differentiate between the slight act Mustafa committed the day before in order to get the suit and the act committed in the part of the world Mustafa is actually from, which we shall refer to as being “stolen,” having been stolen from the Tatars, incidentally and more specifically the Crimean Tatars, by the Russians way back in 1944. Crimea or Kirim or Qirim, depending on which side of it you’re from, is a little known isthmus in the Black Sea. It is also ironically the point of origin for some 250,000 remaining Crimean Tatars on the planet, spread out like a frugal smearing of tartar sauce over a globalized fried fish fillet. Mehmet thought of his people and their cause. He thought of their search for a stolen homeland and their right to return. Mehmet thought about all the things that come with being displaced and left his house as Mustafa, the saver of the Tatari.
Comments from students:
“It was a pleasure to hear this story from the author himself. I really began to understand the true meaning of the story. I was always taught about how bad and evil the Tatars were (Especially in the History of Russian culture) class that I took. It was good to hear another side of the story for a change.” Leonid
“I enjoyed this short story for a number of reasons. It was elegantly and beautifully written, which I appreciate as a creative writing major. The language used was nearly poetic in its ability to capture the reality faced by an alienated individual seeking to reconnect with his imagined homeland with the tools granted him by assimilation. The narrative voice was one of a sort of reporter, someone imparting information upon a reader who may know little to nothing of the culture being described. This voice lends to the story rather than detracting from it, in that the reader can acknowledge that she is being educated on the topic while being shown a slice of life of those members of a little known diaspora. The stark imagery of people trapped in train cars pitted against the hopeful ideal of a reclaimed glorious homeland ends with a nightmare of failure. There is beauty there, though, in the sinking of the ship.” Caroline
“It takes generations to be able to see a tragic event like the genocide in Kirim and see it without all the gruesome details. It takes generations to be able to talk about because it brings back painful memories. Like in the story the old couple Altan and Janim, were both affected by Mehmet’s proposal. Janim remembered how she had to throw her stillborn baby out of the train instead of having a proper burial. Taking that into consideration Cihan Kaan was able to let us know about all this in a way no one would be offended.” Prianka
Thank you brilliant students for the critique and support of the story. Of course, comments have been integrated into the manuscript. The reading ended as all college class readings should end… with a pizza party!
Thank you Hunter College students for participating.