Sunday, December 25, 2005
  Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas to all those who are celebrating today!

I have to admit, I have some ambivalence about wishing my Christian friends joy on this holiday. I don't believe in the Trinity; indeed I think the doctrine is basically a mistaken interpretation of Jesus's teachings and life, and it seems a bit odd to offer felicitations to people for what I believe is essentially an error.

That is mitigated a bit by the fact that I believe Jesus is a prophet, and thus a celebration of his birth is a celebration of God's engagement with the world; but I don't celebrate the births of any other prophet, so it seems out of proportion.

At the same time, I full-heartedly embrace the message of Christ -- that God is infinitely merciful, that He/She/It loves this creation and everything in it without reserve, and actively expresses that mercy, love, and forgiveness in this world. Whether it is the compassion of the Boddhisattva who delays his or her own nirvana to help other souls along the path to enlightenment, the sacrifice of Christ to atone for humanity's sins, or the guidance Allah offers in the Qur'an and the promise of ever extended mercy, love, provision and forgiveness from him, the idea that God is not just the creator, that he did not just set the process of creation in motion with the Big Bang and then abandon the world, but remains actively engaged in this world, in helping humanity overcome our baser instincts is present in many religions. I don't think this is without reason. We may not always understand how God works, but I believe God does, and does so with love and mercy for all.

When I look around me, I see ample evidence of God's love. The heart-stopping beauty of the natural world, the love that flows between people, the impulse to goodness we all feel. If one believes in God, it seems impossible to believe in a God that is anything less that a artist who is fully in love with his/her/its work of art.
 
Friday, December 23, 2005
  Intelligent Design, Science Class and faith
I know this is a day late, but still, it was with relief that I saw the notices that Judge Jones in Pennsylvania has ruled that Intelligent Design has no place in a biology class. I agree wholeheartedly. Like the push to rename Christmas displays and festivals with non-Christian nomenclature so that government to continue to celebrate Christmas, the move to rename creationism so it can be slipped into the science curriculum under a different guise is a basket of rotten red herring that needs to be heaved into the compost heap.

Let's be clear here -- I probably subscribe to something that could be called intelligent design. That is, I don't believe (and never have believed) that the Big Bang just happened spontaneously. That goes against basic scientific principles I was taught as a child. Thus, I think that there had to be a cause of the Big Bang. Perhaps science will someday come up with an explanation that is purely physical, but the idea that some intelligent being set up the parameters and the conditions, amassed the physical elements, etc to create the Big Bang and all the subsequent, unfolding history of the Universe seems reasonable to me.

I read passages in the Qur'an about Adam and Eve (and Noah and the flood, Abraham's survival in the fire, the switching of Ismail and the ram as sacrifices, the turning of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt, etc, etc) as parables akin to Aesop's fables, meant to teach moral lessons not to relate history verbatim. No one has problems getting the message of the Lion and the Mouse, while acknowledging that lions and mice do not talk to each other, that a lion is not going to stop and listen to a mouse while it is in the middle of eating it, or that a mouse is not going to chew a lion out of a net in gratitude for having been released, etc, etc. So too, no one should have a problem getting the lessons of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (et al), while accepting that the story is not 100% factual.

Other passages in the Qur'an about the creation of the universe are coherent with a notion of a God who creates through natural laws. Passages which indicate that God stands outside human Time, passages talking about the orbits of the sun and the earth and the moon. Passages talking about how solids were separated out from air, the rain cycle, the separation of the salty water and the fresh, etc, etc, etc.

Having said all that -- I would never teach that as part of a science curriculum. I would present it in a religion class, and I am a firm believer that public school should have classes in world religion, but it isn't scientific. It is faith. That is why it is called faith to begin with -- because you can't know, you can only believe, take it on faith, as it were.

Perhaps someday we will be able to measure God quantifiably, until that time, faith is only a matter of belief, even if we feel that we know God and know that He/She/It exists. It may be deep belief, one held firmly, and based upon mystical experiences (which as an atheist I experienced as a connectedness to the totality of the Universe, not as a touching of the Divine), but it is still belief, a conviction, not something that has been scientifically proven.

Yes, there are people who say that the result is proof enough of the cause, but I recall an argument a long time ago that I read about a clock. The argument ran that one might come across a clock, sealed and locked so one could not determine the inner workings. One might come up with an explanation of how the clock worked, and, indeed, one might come up with the correct explanation, but until you cut through the lock and exposed the inner workings, you could not know if you had the correct explanation or not. It could be something totally different from what you thought. This is the way I see God. Perhaps some day we will discover how to cut through the barriers that separate the Divine and the Mundane, but until then we won't know if God as the cause of the universe is a fact, or just a satisfying explanation. And until that day, God has no place in the scientific curriculum, either as the Creator in Seven Days, or as the Intelligent Designer who set off the Big Bang.
 
  A history of torture
Naomi Klein (who I consider to be one of the best commentators around) in the Guardian wrote about the US's involvement in torture since Vietnam (and earlier). A lot of us who love the ideals expressed by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the etching on the Statue of Liberty, etc, have a hard time looking squarely at the worst things our government has done since WWII. They make us sick, imbue us with feelings of rage and impotence and despair that a government that can at once be very good for its people and yet so horrible for other people's. Of course, many of us see that our government is growing less and less good for its own people -- how much worse then, will it get for other peoples as well!

The article is worth reading, if only to remind ourselves that we can never give up the fight for humane government, and also to force ourselves to look our government squarely in the eyes and access what it has done wrong and what we can do to correct it. Many Americans have an innocence born of ignorance when it comes to our government; we see the good and don't notice the bad (which of course, various agencies, etc have tried to keep from us). We can't allow that ignorance to continue, because it allows and facilitates atrocities that go against everything we believe America stands for. We can't allow our own feelings of discomfort at what our government is capable of allow us to be turn a blind eye, to become complacent. Like co-dependent wives of abusers or alcoholics, we only enable that we hate, when we refuse to get out of our own comfort zones.

Anyway, here's the article. I hope you read it, and I hope it spurs us all to action.

A History of Torture:
By Naomi Klein

The US has used torture for decades. All that's new is the openness about it. By ignoring past abuses, opponents of torture are in danger of pushing it back into the shadows instead of abolishing it.
Full story at:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1664174,00.html
 
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
  Woo-hoo!
Ok, this isn't the best picture in the universe, but it is me on a snowboard, in the middle of a mountain....


...and the fact that I'm typing this is proof that I made it down! I actually made it down in control, doing a toe-side falling leaf pattern most of the way. (Going very slowly, but I only fell twice, and I didn't scoot down on my bottom despite the great temptation to do so!) So, according to my dad who is actually a snowboard instructor and has written a book about how to teach snowboarding, I can call myself a snowboarder. However... I've got a long way to go before I can be called a competant snowboarder. Still, there's nothing like accomplishing something you weren't quite sure you were going to be able to do.

The other thing I've done in the past day that I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do... I managed to cut a column on Eid and the need some of us American Muslims feel to compete with Christmas I'm writing for the Religion News Service from 988 word to 785. That also is no mean feat! It's a complex issue, with lots and lots of facets. I couldn't address all of them in the column, but I'm pleased with the over all result.
 
Monday, December 19, 2005
  something new
You know how they say you can't teach an old dog new tricks... well, I'm wondering if they aren't right.

Today, I had my first snowboarding lesson. That was... hmm... interesting. I've got to learn a new set of reflexes. The one's I have developed over 30 some years of skiing don't work on a snowboard.
I'm stiff all over, sore in spots, and wondering if I'm not a bit crazy.

On the other hand, the boots didn't hurt (once I loosened them so they weren't cutting off my circulation)(ski boots have always hurt terribly), the boards are way the heck easier to carry than skis, and it's kind of fun lying around in the snow all day. Falling on a snowboard, though, is a lot worse than falling on skis. I think this is why people either get it quickly, or give up quickly. It hurts too much! Fortunately, it took enough concentration that spending the entire day on the bunny slope was ok.

I'm going out again tomorrow (God and my thigh muscles willing). We'll see if I don't get a little better.

At the very least, they also say that learning something new may help ward off alzheimers. I may never be a great snowboarder, but maybe I won't go senile!
 
Saturday, December 17, 2005
  Warped galaxies
I often feel as though the galaxy I'm living in is warped, twisted, things are so awry in the way this world works. This morning was one of those times. Picture this -- the lady at the NorthWest ticket counter announces that the 7:30 flight to Minneapolis has been delayed to 8:55, and is greeted with cheers of joy! Yes, that's exactly what happened.... because 650 people had descended upon Indianapolis Airport's Northwest ticket counter trying to get out this morning. The line was so bad, they took people to a holding area before sending them up to the real line! It took about an hour and a half just to get checked in. Now maybe this is normal in some airports, but Indianapolis is such a sleepy place that usually check in takes 5 minutes, maximum 15 minutes. Either Northwest had a spectacular failure in planning, or something went awry somewhere.

Fortunately, this was a fairly benign awry. Because of the delay we missed our connection and got to spend a few hours with my aunt and uncle -- Zehra Pupujan and Ehsan Uncle. (Pupu is the Urdu word referring to the younger sister of your father and her husband) So, not only were we delighted to be delayed an hour an a half, we were also delighted to learn that our delay would result in an extra eight hours in Minneapolis!

I'll be glad though, when we finally get to Montana.

At least, in this case, the warp in the warp and woof threads of the galaxy was pretty benign. Unfortunately, all too often it seems to be cancerous.
 
  On my way to Montana
Our family is headed out to Montana for a week of skiing with my folks, and then for a week to Ohio for a Muslim Youth Camp, so things may be a bit spotty for the next couple weeks. In the meantime, lets celebrate McCain's success at forcing Bush to go along with the ban on torture. (That sounds horrific doesn't it, we had to twist his arm to get him to agree to not torture people! lol.) And, another huge milestone... the Senate's decision not to renew the Patriot Act! HOORAY!! Two gigantic Christmas presents on one day. Maybe I'm going to start believing in Santa after all!!

Of course, I don't think the Patriot Act is dead, I'm sure there will be some repackaging and revamping and then many of the same provisions that were so intrusive and so patently uninformative will be reproposed. Things like the right to search library records. I'm sorry to impunge the intelligence community, but what I read does not say much about what I believe. I read all sorts of stuff. Some of it I agree with, some of it I don't. I might read up on chemistry (especially when my kids need help on an exam) or physics (when I'm doing research for a book). Neither indicates I'm trying to learn how to build a bomb. I might read Das Kapital or the Upanishads. That doesn't mean I'm going to become a communist or a Hindu. It means I'm a curious person and I want to learn about people who think differently than I do. Last I checked, that wasn't a threat against our national security. Or maybe it is, after all if we read about other people and get to know them, then maybe we will find it harder to sit by while our government slaughters tens of thousands of their civilians.
 
Thursday, December 15, 2005
  On Feminism and Hijab
This post to Feministe and the long line of comments on it provoked a bunch of thoughts on hijab and feminism, which I've sort of thrown together below. Basically, the author of feministe assigned her class to do something radically different from their normal routine. One of the girls came in without her hijab, and confronted a bully who had been tormenting her little sister. The discussion was about, what else, the meaning of hijab and whether American Muslim women who wear hijab can claim their choice is a feminist one (and, or course, whether they really had a choice or not), what the limits to feminist action can be, can a symbol which has come to mean one thing be appropriated to mean something quite different, and so on. So here are my rather disorganized thoughts on some of the issues:

I have worn a scarf for 19+ years. As a teenager, I was one of those the other kids called "harry" cause I didn't shave my legs and wouldn't wear makeup, tight jeans, or heels of any sort. When I read about hijab, my instictive reaction that this was a far more proactive way to say "up yours" to the men who would wolf whistle when I was out for a jog, or say "hi girls" when my mom and I passed them in our canoe. I joyfully embraced what I saw as a way to unequivocally state-- "It's my body! Keep your hands, eyes, and mind off."

I don't think a lot of Muslim women necessarily embrace it in that manner -- for many it is tied up a lot more with spirituality and identity and modesty and what they believe God wants than it was for me. Yes, I did believe that God wanted women to wear it (I've since come to the conclusion that this is at best one of many possible interpretions of the Qur'anic verses surrounding identity and modesty, and that it is definately not a big priority on God's list of what a Muslim should do), but it made sense to me that God would mandate scarves, since God was non-sexist, and had a vested interest in women staking claim to their own bodies. So, while I accepted that it was a religious thing, I wecolmed it as a way to identify mysefl as Muslim, I felt that God was recommending it as a rejection of objectification.

And, you do hear alot of Muslim women, particulary American Muslim women who are highly educated talking about the fact that they percieve hijab as a means to reject the hollywood/mabelline/car ad beauty tyranny objectifcation of women. But I think that while a lot of them talk about the objectification of women's bodies, they may not be aware of how the hijab often represents the flip side of that coin -- in America women's bodies are sexualized, bared, and exploited; in Muslim communities women's bodies are sexualized, covered, and closeted. In either case, women's bodies are implicitly and explicity viewed as primarily sexual objects.

On a personal level, I have been increasingly dismayed to find that my attempts to buck the system while very successful in American society, are coupled with a lot of baggage in Muslim societies. There is an assumption that those who wear hijab are more pious and pure, which I reject completely, and that wearing the hijab means you accept the notion that men are uncontrollably attracted to women's bodies (again something I reject, this time as being incredibly anti-male). In compensation, I am known in my local community for arguing against the mandatory nature of hijab (it is NOT in the Qur'an), and I try to poke holes in Muslim peoples' assumptions about me and the meaning of hijab all the time. I also am on the forefront of arguing and acting for women's rights in Islam -- and by that I don't mean the right to be maintained by the men in your lives and have half the amount of inheritance as your brother, by that I mean the right to lead prayers, the right to financial independance, to self-determination in education, career, marriage choice, child-bearing choices, to live a life free from the worry of violence, arbitrary divorce or custody rulings, etc. Those things, to me, are umpteen times more important than what a person is wearing!

At the same time, it is frustrating, although I understand why non-Muslim people see it this way, to have to deal with the common stereotype that hijabbed women are submissive and oppressed. Get to know a few hijabbed women -- more often than not, in America, they are very outspoken. That may not be the case overseas, but the fact of the matter is, I don't live overseas, I live in America, that is my millieu and that is where my actions have meaning, and the context in which I should be judged. (if judging is going to happen at all!)

Be all that as it may, I wish your average American accepted that, in a place like America, wearing hijab is a young woman's choice, not something forced on them. I mean, honestly, how hard is it to walk out the door with your scarf on to please mommy or daddy, but the second the bus turns the corner, or you get to school, off it goes into the bookbag or the locker? Sure, in Saudi Arabia or Iran the situation is totally different, but as I said above, we're not living there, I never been there, or even places like Egypt or Indonesia, I really can't speak to how much choice young women do or do not have in those countries. I can imagine it being much like it is here in the US, and I can imagine a lot more peer/social pressure around the issue -- that is, pressure towards wearing it, not against wearing it as we have in America.

Indeed, an interesting dynamic that we're finding in the Muslim community these days, in fact, are kids who are wearing it in defiance of their parents. Many parents are, for good reason, gravely concerned about their kids experiencing unpleasant or even violent racism in response to the hijab. Some worry that public school teachers will discriminate against them because of a choice. Some come from countries where hijab is not the norm and can't quite understand why the kids see it as being so important. Others worry that like the Bangledeshi girl in NY, their daughters will be hauled in by homeland security. So, often, it is actually an act of defiance against the parents, as well as a rejection of the beauty myths of this country.

But, be all that as it may, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the perceived symbolism of hijab and the fact that my wearing can/might be interpretted as sympathy for those elements (particularly overseas) that require it (ala Iran, Saudi Arabia, and various Islamist parties who do violence to women who do not cover), or who interpret it as preserving a woman's dignity, honor, etc. As though a woman without a head scarf cannot be modest, has no self-respect, etc. (Which, it should be clear, I consider pure bull-sh**). I've often said that if I were living in a country where there was intense societal pressure to wear one, I wouldn't.

After 9-11, hijab has become more and more a political symbol -- those who wear it associated with political Islam (correctly or incorrectly) and as being apologists for some of the more egregiously anti-women aspects of muslim society. (Whether it be the lack of leadership roles within the mosque, gender-defined social roles, or a defense of polygamy as a man's right, etc). While I have for years felt that my personal stances and pov, which I have never had any hesitation to voice, compensated for some people's misperceptions, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that I can no longer wear this scarf because there is no way in hell I want people (Muslim and non-Muslim) to think I approve of or condone current misogynist practices in various countries, or the Islamist/apologist parties that promote them. I cannot reconcile my rejection of those movements with wearing a piece of cloth that says to most people (Muslim and non-Muslim) that I accept them, even if I find it personally useful.

For many years, I vociferously disagreed with anyone who tried to tell me that my choice wasn't essentially feminist. Sure, there are other ways to get the same message about objectification across, but this was my way, and it was damned effective too. Now, I am much more conflicted about it. I don't want to give up a tool that I found useful, and in particular, I don't want it to become a symbol of something that stands for exactly the opposite of why I started wearing it. But I'm afraid it is a losing battle, and I will in a very short time feel the negatives outweigh the positives enough that I will abandon it.

Anyway, this is getting to be a long post. One last note: a lot of people say, what the heck, it a piece of cloth, if a woman wants to wear it, it's her choice, what right do you have to judge what she should or should not wear. I tend to agree with this argument, but I also think that nothing we do is ever done in isolation. Yes, women should have the right to wear whatever they want to wear (or not wear whatever they do not want to wear), but at the same time, you cannot wear something that is politically, emotionally, and socially charged and demand people forget those connotations. When you choose to put on a piece of clothing (or take it off) you have to deal with the fact that it has meaning beyond its value as clothing. If I walked into a Republican Convention wearing a Che Guevara shirt, I would expect a reaction. If I walk into a feminist convention wearing a hijab, I expect to have to deal with a bit of crap. Basically, as far s I can see, anything worth doing, is going give you some crap to deal with.
 
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
  Picture of the Day


Think if I wait here long enough they'll just fly into my mouth??

(Fortunately, our kitty hasn't caught any birds. And he was smart enough not to take on the squirrel that was about the same size as he is!)
 
  Quote of the Day
“I’m not anti-Bush; I’m anti-Bush behavior. In other words, I’m against cheating, greed, cruelty, racism, imperialism, religious fundamentalism, treason, and the seemingly limitless capacity for hypocrisy shown by Bush and his administration.” Viggo Mortensen, as told to Progressive Magazine.

RIGHT ON, VIGGO!
 
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
  Detainee Deaths and Honor Killing
NPR has been doing some powerful stories lately.

December 7th, Anne Garrels did a story on honor killings in Iraq. She profiled one young woman, Fatima, a 16-year-old who was kidnapped by unidentified assailants in West Baghdad. The kidnappers threatened to rape and kill Fatima unless her brother quit the Iraqi police force. He did, and Fatima was released, but not, Garrels says, into safety. The mere possibility that she might have been raped was unbearable to her family. They couldn't live with that kind of "disgrace," and in order to preserve their "honor," her cousin Sarhan shot her.

Sarhan, who speaks freely and with seemingly no remorse to Garrels, is chilling. Listen to the report just to hear him: "She knew the customs, but I don't think she expected we would kill her," he tells Garrels. "She was crying. I saw in her eyes that she thought we would take her in our arms and say, 'Thank god you are safe.' But she got bullets instead."

This is not honor. This is sick. It is such a perversion of justice -- punish the victim not the aggressor. Sarhan admits that this has nothing to do with Islam, that it is tribal custom... in which case, I'm beginning to believe those folks need more Islam!


The second story which really caught my attention was on December 8th, when Daniel Zwerdling told the story of Richard Rust, a man who wanted to immigrate to the US, and was detained for a security check. Thrown into prison is what that means. While he was there, he had a heart attack, and medical assistance was so delayed he died. Zwerdling chronicles a chilling story of what happened to the men who protested the treatment (or lack there of) of Rust, and follows a trail of would-be-immigrant deaths that is enough to turn anyone's stomach. It's worth listening to, so you can write your senator and ask him what the hell is going on in this country! Send us your poor, indeed!

I long ago became disgusted with the way immigration officials treated simple men and women, innocent men and women, when I tried to help a cello playing friend of mine come from China to the States to get his BA. He had a full scholarship, a host family who had bought him a $10,000 cello because it was too difficult to bring his, a mother, sister and fiancee in Beijing to ensure he would return home, and still they treated him like scum. I suppose he should count himself lucky, since he didn't end up dead like Richard Rust and so many others.

Sigh. Why can't the world be a nicer place?
 
Monday, December 12, 2005
  What do you need?
Well, first of all... I have found out I don't need a garage. In fact, I find it much scraping the windshield much less annoying having to open the garage door, get in my car and back it out of the garage, then get out again and close the garage door, and then get back into my car. I know, that probably puts me in a minority, but it has given me perspective on why electric garage door openers are so popular.

The second half of this entry is borrowed from a friend, Aishah Schwartz. She suggested googling (I actually prefer Altavista) with the following phrase "x needs" where x is your name. The results are interesting, silly, thoughtprovoking, and just plain old fun.

Here's what I got (today, yesterday it was different)

1) Pamela needs to trust her talents and instincts so she can ride out the waves of...
PK: publishing! The surf in the world of writers is pretty rough at times.

2)Pamela needs to get a few things off her chest.
PK: I suppose that's why I write so much...

3) Pamela needs sperm donor.
PK: Um, with four kids, I don't think so!

4) Pamela Needs an Easier Life Now!
Now who could say no to that?


What do I really need? Family, music, a quiet corner to write (computer greatly appreciated), books, and trees.

What do I really like? Movies, needle crafts, streams, snow (could you tell?), good food, fires in the fireplace and roasted marshmallows, an empty masjid, oceans, mountains.
 
Sunday, December 11, 2005
  Muhammad ElBaradei Wins Nobel Peace Prize
I saw this great bit of news this morning. A drop compared to the bucket of bad news about Muslims that we see on a daily basis, but the irony of a Muslim winning the Peace Prize will hopefully wake some folks up to the notion that not all Muslims are bloodthirsty, hyper-violent terrorists. Indeed, only a miniscule percentage are.

Some of ElBaradei's comments:

"If we hope to escape self-destruction, then I believe nuclear weapons should have no place in our collective conscience, and no role in our security."

"Our security strategies have not yet caught up with the security threats we are facing. The globalization that has swept away the barriers to the movement of goods, ideas and people has also removed barriers that confined and localized security threats."

"The hard part is: how do we create an environment in which all of us would look at nuclear weapons the way we look at slavery or genocide, as a taboo and a historical anomaly?"

That's the issue in a nutshell.

Using nuclear weapons is insane. Like many, I don't understand why we still have countries with major arsenals, on constant alert. The authorities mention nuclear terrorism, but does anyone really think a nuclear terrorist is going to be deterred by the potential destruction of, say, Saudi Arabia or whatever country? Do Pakistan and India really want to obliterate hundreds of thousands of people and make portions of their countries completely unlivable for hundreds of years? Surely whatever political differences they have cannot possibly merit that!! So why do we still have countries who think it is imperative to have these weapons? Are our leaders that crazy??

One of ElBaradei's suggestions --

To set up a nuclear fuel bank under the IAEA [the nuclear weapons watch-dog organization ElBaradei heads], so countries could have access to fissionable material for peaceful uses, such as power plants, without building their own atomic fuel processing centers that also could be used for weapons.

That seems to make a lot of sense. In the whole Iran nuclear power debate, I have always felt that it is unfair of nuclear weapons states to demand that third world countries forgo nuclear power simply because the plants that make the fuel can also make fuel for bombs. This would be an elegant solution to that issue.


I also found his comments on the state of the world economy and its contribution to violence to be particularly pertinent.

"He said poverty and the loss of hope that it engendered was "fertile ground" for organised crime, civil wars, terrorism and extremism.

"We may have torn down walls between the east and the west, but we have yet to build bridges between the north and south, between the rich and poor," he said. "

As a kid I learned that one of the greatest ills of feudalism was that the rich lived these splendid lives, and the poor lived in squallor. I don't see that that has changed much. Indeed, I often wonder if the gap between rich and poor isn't wider now than it was during the fuedal ages. Clearly economic frustration, despair, and difficulty of many people's lives is a contributing factor to the anger many feel at the West and at America in particular.


Here's a couple reports on ElBaradei and the Nobel Peace Prize:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4516554.stm

http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=514&e=7&u=/ap/20051210/ap_on_re_eu/nobel_peace_prize_3

Of course, yahoo's front page news story on the issue is not that this Muslim nuclear weapons watchdog won the Nobel Peace Prize, but that pop stars, including Julianne Moore and Salma Hayek, are going to celebrate with him. Go figure.
 
Saturday, December 10, 2005
  Narnia
So we went to see Narnia today. All in all a wondrous film. I expect it to get a bunch of Oscar nominations. The winter forest scenes are stunningly beautiful (of course, you all know how I feel about snow, so that might be a bit biased...). The acting is strong, the story is exciting, fast-paced, with a great combination of magic, talking animals, the evil witch and her equally evil minions, and the epic battle between good and bad. Not to mention a few nicely placed lessons about the importance of family, forgiveness, and trust. The special effects are really well done, especially some of the animals. And if none of that floats your boat, who can resist rosy-cheeked children speaking with British accents?


SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE STORY AND DON'T WANT TO, DON'T READ MY BEEFS WITH THE FILM/NOVEL BELOW!!
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So now for the beefs... There are a couple of spots where the acting isn't as good -- one where the little girl is crying and it sounds more like hiccupping... but then again, she is a little girl, it's forgiveable given her age. I found the professor who takes the children into his home to protect them from the bombing of London during WWII totally unbelievable, and hopefully when they do the second book in the series they will find somebody new to play the part. It really needed someone much more mystical and warm.

Then there is the characterization of Edmund as a traitor. This has always bothered me. In the beginning, when he first goes to Narnia, he meets the witch and tells her about his brother and sisters, but he doesn't realize how he's letting the cat out of the bag. He doesn't know about the prophecy, or why she might have an interest in them. That can't exactly be considered a betrayal.

Then, the witch tricks him, makes him think she is nice, and that she sees special qualities in him and will make him her heir. In a moment of younger brother sibling rivarly, he asks if his older brother Peter will be king too, and she tells him Peter can be his servant, along with their sisters, Susan and Lucy. Edmund seems to accept this, but what nine or ten year old boy wouldn't when he's daydreaming about being king? If it actually came down to it, you seriously doubt he would order his brother and sisters about. Again, this hardly seems bad enough to call him a traitor to his family.

Then when they all come to Narnia together, Edmund is confused. The witch was nice to him, she made nice promises, but everyone else says she's evil. He has no way to evaluate their statements about her (he's supposed to take them on face value, after he's seen a sweet, albeit faked, side of her?). So he runs off, to confront her, to question her, to keep his promise to return. Again, he doesn't know enough for this to be considered a real betrayal. He doesn't know she plans to kill them, and the animals who talk about how bad she is don't say it either.

Later he reveals important information, but he does so not to betray his family, but in a desperate bid to save the life of an innocent animal. Perhaps it was a poor choice, perhaps not. Does the need of the moment outweigh the potential damage his information might do? The fox was going to die. Perhaps the information will be harmful, or perhaps it might not. Certainly not a decision that should make Edmund bear the shame of being known as a traitor.

Of course, all this could be why Aslan trusts him and welcomes him in, and then offers his life in exchange for Edmunds. But everyone else seems to accept that he has betrayed his family and the cause of good. Even Edmund himself. And that has never seemed fair to me.

The other beef is... well, the story isn't exactly what you'd call feminist. The girls are pretty well sidelined. The boys are the heroes who save the day, and the girls just sort of tag along, getting themselves into trouble and needing to be rescued. When the great battle comes, although there are female centaurs in the ranks, the girls are off keeping vigil over the slain Aslan. This is a departure from the book, in which they head back to join the battle -- perhaps so as to bring the christian symbolism more into the fore as their vigil reminds of the vigil of Christ's female companions, and their witness of the stone breaking and Aslan's ressurrection is parallel to the women seeing the stone roll aside and Jesus's Ascention. The book doesn't draw the Christian parallel so plainly (indeed many non-Christians didn't pick up on it at all.) and I wish the movie didn't feel the need to add it.

Susan does make one well-place shot with her arrow, long after the battle is over, to save Edmund, but it's such a minor part in the epic struggle that it serves almost to point out just how little she and her sister have done. Lucy's part is to use the magic potion Santa gave her to heal Edmund's wounds. Not even her own power -- and of course, there we are again, women healing the world. Some people might say, look when it was written, but compare Susan and Lucy to Alice or Dorothy. And no matter when it was written, one might expect the movie to update the gender roles to fit more modern expectations.

Depite all these issues, I did enjoy the movie a great deal and would recommend it to anyone look for a couple hours of escapism.
 
Friday, December 09, 2005
  moderation in death
So we didn't have a snowday afterall. But we managed to have a blast anyway. To see our winter fun album, click here

After sledding, sipping, baking, decorating, and snarfing snow icecream, we headed off to Qur'an group. Today's uplifting topic... death and the remembrance of death. Now this is not as much of a downer as one might surmise... think Tuesdays with Morrie, a living record of a man's death and a surprisingly uplifting book.

The impetus of the discussion was a quote from Al-Ghazali's Remembrance of Death the gist of which was you should remember death often, and think upon it.

Sounds rather gruesome, but the point was that remembering that you can't take it with you, and that status, wealth, career, etc will seem rather unimportant when you're confronted with your deeds -- good and bad as weighed by Allah -- in the hereafter.

The discussion was wideranging, from why do children die (I always think of the story of Khidr when confronted with this situation (see below) Since no one, not even the Prophet, is exempt from making errors/sinning, an early demise may have to do with the Mercy of Allah rather than His wrath at whatever the innocent child has done) to how can thinking about death help us sort out our true priorities. (why are you a doctor, engineer, lawyer, writer -- to make a lot of money? (ok, not if you're a writer) so people will be impressed with you? to help people?)

The thought that struck me was that one should also consider death in moderation. Moderation is one of the things that attracted me about Islam. Muslims should not be profligate, but neither should they be ascetics. Being wealthy, and enjoying the blessings of the Lord are not sins in Islam, but at the same time, one should use one's wealth to benefit society and less well off individuals. We eschew sexual relations outside of marriage, but within marriage they are an act of worship, and there is no monasticism in Islam, nor is divorce forbidden. We pray and fast, but not constantly. Everything in balance.

So too our view of the world in light of death should be balanced. Considering our own deaths can help us achieve a healthy distance from worldly problems. Spats with one's spouse seem trivial, slights from a co-worker are less important, whether you get that big screen tv or a slightly smaller version doesn't really make much difference, when you really think about the ways of the universe. The connections we have with people, the joy we bring into their lives, the happiness and justice we help generate -- these are important things, who wins the game this Sunday... well... need I say more?

At the same time, we should not let this contemplation of death make us disdainful of the world. Islam doesn't ask us to ignore Earth, or to despise our lives. Rather, it asks us to engage with it, to be caretakers and guardians, to be bastions of virtue who stand up for the downtrodden and oppressed. In particular, contemplation of the hereafter should not make us devalue the world, and other human beings so completely, that we consider their lives worthless, expendable. Allah loves the world It has fashioned, and tells us in the Qur'an that killing a single soul wrongfully is like killing the entirety of mankind. How then are we to take lightly the life that has been given to us and to others?

Unfortunately, we are living in a day and age where many people lack this sense of balance (Muslims and non-Muslims). Where what you call God and how you perform your prayers is a matter for slaughter. Where oil wealth is more important than human lives. Where a cheap sneaker is more important than inhumane working conditions. I suspect we are not going to see an end to this inequilibrium anytime soon, but one can hope, and pray.



*The story of Khidr is a longish tale in which Moses seeks out Khidr who is known to be wise and to receive knowledge from God. Moses wishes to learn from Khidr. Khidr reluctantly allows Moses to follow along, although he extracts a promise that Moses should not question his actions. Well the first thing he does, as they walk along the seashore is stave in the boat of some fishermen. The next thing, he kills a young boy. Then, they enter a town, and seek lodgings at various homes. Only the poorest family has the kindness to welcome them in. In the morning, Khidr pulls down a wall in the back of the house before they depart. Moses is, naturally, outraged at Khidr's behavior, and each time he does something that appears to be completely evil, he asks Khidr how can he do such a thing. At last Khidr is fed up with Moses's questions, and says Moses must go his own way, but he will explain why he did what he did. Allah had showed him that there was a navy fleet sailing the morning before, conscripting ships for their war. The fishermen, busy on shore repairing their boat, were spared being drafted into warfare, losing the livelihood their families depended upon. The boy, Allah had shown him, would grow up to give his parents much grief and to wreak havoc on the world, so Allah had shown mercy upon his soul and taken him before he could do such things. As for the wall, beneath it lay a treasure that had belonged to the ancestors of the family, but which had been forgotten about, and when they repaired the wall, they would find it.

One of the
 
Thursday, December 08, 2005
  Snow day... please!
Snow day... snow day... snow day...snow day...

Ok, there's my voodooo chant, let's hope it works. :)




That's Tasneem shoveling during the great 27" storm last year.


Sometimes I wonder why adults feel as excited about snowdays as kids. I guess it brings back feelings from when we were kids. Or maybe we just like seeing our kids so happy. Or maybe we actually like spending some extra time with them!


If we do have a snow day tomorrow, we're building a snowman, having a fire in the fireplace, drinking hot cocoa with halal marshmallow (the kind with no pork gelatin), and making gingerbread cookies, insha Allah (god willing)!! I can't wait!!!
 
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
  The Battle over Torture
Let's start with the fact that I'm totally opposed to torture. Period. It's grotesque. It's inhumane. It doesn't produce reliable results. An all around evil thing to do.

So it was with relief that I read Condolezza Rice's statement:

"As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States' obligations under the CAT (Convention against Torture), which prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment -- those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States," Rice told reporters in Ukraine.

This is welcome step forward from the old policy which was we don't torture on US soil, but it leaves some gaping holes. In fact, thes hole are wide enough that it makes me wonder if it isn't just a clever attempt at obfuscation -- sort of a "of course we don't support torture" while taking advantage of any and every ambiguity possible. In particular:

1) What about "extraordinary rendition?" Are we going to continue shipping people to Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc and letting those governments torture them. Sure, we won't do it ourselves, but we'll get someone else to...

2) What about non-US personal on US bases. Do we get some Cubans to handle the ugly stuff at Gitmo and that makes everything is hunky-dory?

3) How exactly do you define cruel and unusual? I'm sure I would have a much more extensive list than the US government. Even the international standards are going to be open to interpretation -- just how loosely or tightly are we going to understand them?


The other thing that makes Condi's announcement a bit suspicious is the timing. Couldn't come at a better time to take the wind our of Senator McCain's sails as he tries to get anti-torture legislation through Congress. The timing alone makes me think this is more a pr move than anything else.
 
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
  And you thought raccoons were bad...
Adapted from the AP story:

Effort, PA: On Sunday, Pedro Sainvil sent his two children, ages 8 and 9, outside to play in the snow.

"After 15 or 20 minutes, they came back screaming, 'Dad, Dad! There's a bear under the house!'" Sainvil said.

The 600- to 700-pound male bear seems to have settled in for hibernation.

State wildlife conservation officer, Pete Sussenbach, says he needs two more people to help him tranquilize the bear, safely remove it from underneath the porch and take it to a den in one of the state's game lands.

"This is a situation that's not uncommon in the Northeast and especially the Poconos area," said State Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser.

Feaser said people should bear-proof their homes by blocking crawl spaces and other small spaces that might entice bears during denning season. The space under the Sainvil's porch is open.

The full story here
 
Monday, December 05, 2005
  Sleeper Cell
Ah, the next new disaster to come out of Hollywood.... Underground Muslim terrorist cell operating in LA. Watch out folks, they could be bombing the Rose Bowl Parade or UCLA.

So Showtime is bringing out this newminiseries -- Sleeper Cell -- an action/thriller about an American Muslim who infiltrates an L.A.-based, Islamist terrorist cell. The show depicts the supposed lives of these would-be terrorists as they select targets, perform Islamic rituals, and blend seamlessly into American society -- going to bowling alleys, having birthday parties in parks, coaching kids basketball teams.

The writers of the show argue that they are making the characters likable, sort of like the Sopranos -- you hate them when the kill somebody, but most of the time they're great fellows. And, they argue, since one of the main characters is a Muslim FBI agent who tells his handler that "These guys have nothing to do with my faith!" and since they give air time to a visiting Yemeni scholar who tells them terrorism is not jihad, and there is no place for it in Islam, there isn't any real harm to the American Muslim community. In fact, they say, it plays up the diveristy within the community.

I beg to differ. I can well imagine the next time I take my kids to the playground, the bowling alley, or sign them up for the soccer league they've been playing in the for the past two years, that some folks may view me with a bit of extra suspicion. That's the sort of things those terrorists on tv do. You never know who might be "one of them." Heck, just going to the park can now be a suspicious activity -- you know those tricky terrrorists, they just do these things so they can blend in.

The African American community has been dealing with this for years -- all those images of young, angry black men talking street, dealing drugs, fighting, shooting each other up --now half of America won't drive through certain neighborhoods and get nervous anytime they see a young black male. Sure, there are young black men doing these things, but I'm willing to be they are a minority, a small one.

The American Muslim community has been trying to distance itself from suspicion by association for a long time. Just as there are young black men who are trouble impersonated, there are surely Muslim terrorists living in America. But... even if they number in the tens of thousands, that would make up less than 1% of our population. Globally, the terrorist population has to be even smaller -- 1/100th of a percent or less. (My poem on this, Pipe Dreams, can be found here)

And they certainly don't tell the other 99.9% of us who they are. I mean really, do people honestly believe this fellow who is so good at seamlessly blending in is going to march into the mosque one friday and accounce to all and sundry that he's planning to blow up people? Get a grip, folks!

I would love to see 99% of the Muslim characters on tv and in the movies as just your average joes, trying to live a decent life, raise their kids, and get ahead in life the way everyone else does. Where's the Muslim Sanford and Sons, or Cosby Shows?

I suppose it is the nature of the beast, that Hollywood will always choose sensational stories and don't really care what the impact on a given community may or may not be, so long as the show sells. Kind of like the news media. Bad news sells papers, good news doesn't. Muslim terrorists sell miniseries, average Muslims don't.
 
Sunday, December 04, 2005
  Reading lists...
This is the time of year for the "10 Best Books of 2005," "The 100 Best Novels," "A Hundred Science Fiction Books You Just Have to Read," "21 Best Westerns," and so on.

I thought I'd post a list you don't often see... feminist sf for everyone! This is neither an exhaustive list, nor a "best of" list. It's just what my feminist sf reading group recommended when someone asked recently for some good books to take on her vacation.

So here you have it: A list of feminist sf authors regular people have enjoyed:

Bear, Elizabeth: Hammered, and Scardown (the third volume in the trilogy is due out quite soon.)

Butler, Octavia: Fledgling New. A vampire story! The lead character is a 53-year-old vampire in the body of a 10 year old black girl, who starts the book with amnesia. (Octavia has other feminist books such as Xenogenesis and Kindred)

Carter, Angela: Nights at the Circus, and Passion of New Eve (a brilliant sci-fi/magic realist romp about Evelyn's unasked for sex change into Eve).

Charnas, Suzy McKee: The Vampire Tapestry (first and among the very best of the "modern" vampire stories); and Dorothea Dreams (quite simply stunning). Holdfast Series (classic feminist s/f: dystopian post apocalyptic patriarchies; utopian matriarchies)

Farmer, Nancy: Sea of Trolls (plot driven, ya book. Some interesting twists on Norse Mythology/culture, not exactly feminist per se but one of the main characters is a young woman who grapple with issues of gender, and eventually comes to terms with her identity.

Hand, Elizabeth: Mortal Love (Gothic fantasy, centering on the Kirstien, Rosemary: Steerswomen series (series of 4 so far, and there are supposed to be a total of 8 (7+ a prequel) by the time she's done. They read like fantasy [but are Science Fiction ultimately]).

Marley, Louise: Singer in the Snow. The Child Goddess. Terrorists of Irustan (a must read).

McKillip , Patricia: Alphabet of Thorn, Ombria in Shadow, In the Forests of Serre, Od Magic...(luminous, page-turning, beautiful thought-provoking pure fantasy).

Pierce, Tamora: The Empress of the World (Fluffy and fun, a continuation of the Circle of Magic series - they grow up a bit. Here there be lesbians. [yay! finally!])

Piercy, Marge: Sex Wars (historical fiction, not F/SF. Post-civil war era, and takes on the progressive reform issues, and has as characters Victoria Woodhull, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among others). Pre-Raphaelites and the power of the muse in the life of an artist.) and Waking the Moon (she does dark gothic Slater, Lauren: Lying(Not SF, but you could call it speculative. Well-written, perturbing. Good food for SF readers and writers from the "literary" world.)

Slonczewski, Joan – A Door Into Ocean, Daughter of Elysium, The Children Star, Brain Plague.

Starhawk - The Fifth Sacred Thing, Walking to Mercury

Tepper, Sheri - The Family Tree, Grass, Beauty, and especially The Fresco, Gibbons Decline and Fall, and The Gate to Womens Country. Also Six Moon Dance and A Plague of Angels

Traviss, Karen: The World Beyond (very good indeed, but read the first two books in the sequence first: Crossing the Line and City of Pearl)

Waters, Sarah: Fingersmith (while not actually SF, is fabulous and nice and fat.)

Wren, M.K.- A Gift Upon the Shore (post apocalyptic tale of two women in Pac. NW and a neighboring community)

Gopnik, Adam: The King in the Window (young boy in Paris accidentally becomes the new King of Windows and Water. I'm recommending this book to everyone I know.)

Hartman, Keith: The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse and Gumshoe Gorilla. (They're part scifi part detective story - very hilarious. Great female characters.)

Ryman, Geoff: Air (The U.N. tests a technology that puts Internet in everyone's heads "for free". GREAT.)

Tiedemann, Mark: Remains (Private detective in space investigates the mysterious death of his wife in a dome "accident" meets a young brain-augmented (damaged?) immigrant girl…Immigration, power dynamics, recorded personalities, modular brains, schizophrenia, identity and gender politics.)

Wilson, Robert Charles: Spin ( balances fascinating science with character development).


Avid sf readers will perceive some notable absenses... Ursula Le Guin, Leah Carter, Maureen McHugh, Margaret Atwood, Samuel Delaney, James Triptee, and so on. An exhaustive site on feminist sf is: http://www.feministsf.org/femsf/ If you have any interest in this area at all, feminist sf.org is the place to go!
 
Saturday, December 03, 2005
  The HollyDazzle Day
Ok, this is the stupidest thing I've heard...

Newport News, Va., is getting ready for their annual Christmas celebration, except they aren't calling it that. They're calling it Hollydazzle. And instead of lighting the Christmas Tree, they'll be lighting the “Tree of Illumination.”

Who do they think they are fooling? Does anyone really imagine that American Jews drape their menorahs with holly garlands during Hanukkah? Or that Muslims put up trees (of illumination or any other sort) to celebrate Eid? Or maybe that Hindus hang ornaments off the many arms of Kali each December? Of course not!

And when all the folks gather around the tree down in Newport News, waiting for the firemen to light it up, will any of them really think how beautiful the Multifaith Tree of Illumination is going to be? Heck, no! Christmas trees are Christmas trees; celebrations where you light trees are celebrations of Christmas. Changing the name doesn't change the nature of what you are doing, it just makes a mockery of multiculturalism and the separation of church and state.

The government should either get out of the business of holiday celebrations or they should practice true multiculturalism. Since the vast majority of Americans do not want the government to stop celebrating events important to their lives -- even my atheist friends and family celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter -- the solution, clearly, is not to eliminate holidays, but to have public celebrations that actually include other faiths.

Pretending that Christian traditions can be universal under a different name won’t pass the muster. It offends Christians, who rightfully do not want their holidays watered down into some meaningless, politically correct verbiage. And it offends non-Christians because such renaming is clearly nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by some to maintain the status quo – that is to have the government continue celebrating Christmas and acting as though Christianity were the state religion, just disguising it under obfuscating titles.

True multiculturalism is welcoming many different celebrations, customs, and holidays. It’s lighting a Christmas Tree one week, and lighting a Menorah the next. It’s hanging Ramadan lanterns in October and Christmas decorations in December.

Some public institutions are already doing this. My children's elementary school, for instance, had winter holiday parties that were truly celebrations of winter traditions. The walls of the school were decorated with posters depicting Divali, Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr (which at the time fell near Christmas), Chinese New Year, Kwanza, Hanukkah, and various incarnations of Christmas. The parties often included songs, games, or crafts from different cultures. Children were invited to talk about their own celebrations.

Our federal government has demonstrated another model – maintaining Christian traditions, while adding celebrations of other faiths to the calendar. The President still lights the National Christmas Tree, and the White House still boasts the largest wreath in Washington DC. But the President also hosts an annual Ramadan Iftar – the dinner to break fast. During Hanukkah, the White House displays a Menorah and hosts lighting ceremonies. He sends greetings to the Chinese community on Chinese New Year, and the African American community on Kwanza.

That is the way government celebrations should be handled – with acknowledgement of the diversity that makes this country vibrant, and with respect for the principle that the government should not prefer one religion over another. Whether it is in one unified celebration that incorporates aspects of many faiths, or in a multiplication of celebrations doesn’t really matter so long as it is a substantive move towards inclusiveness. Lip-service – coming up with feel-good names that fool nobody, and don’t please anybody – simply isn’t good enough.
 
Friday, December 02, 2005
  House Prayers Can't Invoke Jesus
I've been trying hard not to post twice a day, although sometimes it is a challenge when many important or fascinating things are going on. This one just couldn't wait... A federal judge has ruled that the daily invocation at the beginning of the House of Representatives sessions can't be performed in the name of Christ or any other sectarian diety. Thank God! My faith in the judicial system has been restored (at least temporarily). One hopes Mr. Hamilton makes it to the Supreme Court one day.

Of course, I don't see why there should be an invocation of God at all. Ideally, a minute for private reflection, dedication, and prayer.

Anyway, here's my write up of the incident:

Federal Judge Rules Opening Prayers Can’t Invoke Jesus
By Pamela K. Taylor

Indianapolis IN. Dec 1, 2005. Federal Judge David Hamilton has ruled that the prayers opening each day’s session of the Indiana House of Representatives must be non-sectarian. The ruling specifically states that the prayers must not be made in the name of Jesus and that people chosen to give the invocation must be instructed that they may not advance any one faith or use the prayers in a bid to convert listeners. Hamilton based his decision on a 1983 Supreme Court ruling setting the boundaries of legislative prayer.

“Individuals do not have a First Amendment right to use an official platform like the Speaker's podium to express their own religious faiths,'” Hamilton said.

The case, which was filed by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four citizens, contended that the House opening prayers -- a 188-year old tradition – were overwhelmingly Christian and at times stepped over the bounds of prayer into proselytizing.

One preacher advised the representatives “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Another advocated worldwide conversion to Christianity: “We look forward to the day when all nations and all people of the earth will have the opportunity to hear and respond to messages of love of the Almighty God who has revealed Himself in the saving power of Jesus Christ.” Another “prayer” included the singing of a hymn at which Rep. David Orentlicher, D-Indianapolis, who is Jewish, walked out. These and other incidents prompted the lawsuit.

Of 53 prayers offered in the House during the 2005 session, 41 were delivered by people identified with Christian churches, Hamilton's written opinion says. Of the 45 prayers for which transcripts were available, 29 were offered in the name of Jesus, the Savior and/or the Son.

While some religious leaders have decried the decision as another incidence of court discrimination against Christianity, it has been welcomed by members of various faiths – Jewish, Muslim, and Christian.

It is likely that the ruling will have ramifications for other government bodies in Indiana that have prayer to open meetings, such as city councils or school boards.

#

Can you imagine the reaction if a Muslim got up at the House of Representatives and said, “We look forward to the day when all nations and all people of the earth will have the opportunity to hear and respond to messages of love of Allah, the Almighty, who has revealed His Word to Prophet Muhammad in the Qur'an.” Or if a Hindu advices the reps, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Vishnu.” Or maybe a wiccan sang a hymn in praise of the Goddess. Oh yeah, the first would have Daniel Pipes jumping up and down, calling for him to be packed off to jail as a suspected Islamist terrorist.
 
  Progressive Islam and Racism
I was browsing through Fellowship Magazine's online issue for this month and found two must read articles.

The first, an Africana View of Progressive American Islam, by Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad is fabulous. It articulates almost exactly my vision of Islam. I'm posting a section here (see below). You should read the whole article.

The second White Like Me:A Woman Rabbi Gazes into the Mirror of American Racism , is written by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, and expresses almost exactly my sentiments about being white, while at the same time belonging to a minority community. Just replace Jewish with Muslim. Of course, some of her examples don't fit the Muslim scheme, but the sense of prejudice and danger in one's own home is common in both communities, and Muslims can bring their own stories of Anti-Islamism -- from murders to vandalisms and arson of mosques, from slurs hurled from passing cars to Hollywood's ubiquitous depictions of Muslims and Arabs as violence, misogynist terrorists. Again, selected exerpts below, but I strongly recommend the entire article.


From the article on Progressive Islam:

Progressive Islam:
* Understands that the Qur'anic message is essentially universalist regarding salvation, while it remains unitarian regarding the Oneness of God. The string of prophets mentioned in the Holy Qur'an up through Jesus and Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon them) is a short list pointing toward thousands of others who have brought God's revelations to humankind. The divine message has remained essentially the same, with degrees of cosmetic modification fashioned for differing cultures, languages, needs, and times. And in the post-Muhammadan period, according to the experiential insights of the great illuminationist philosophers, Sufi saints, and mystics, God's infinite self-revealing continues in extra-scriptural forms.

* Distinguishes the unconditional faith in Allah's Oneness and the voluntary submission of self to God's sovereignty from historically- and politically-conditioned beliefs, and practices informed by such beliefs. These remain open to rational investigation and possible change in the context of hard-fought social struggles.

* Emphasizes free will as a gift to humankind from God, rather than fatalism in religion.

* Declares white supremacist ideology and its twin, Christian triumphalism, along with their strategies of violence-based domestic social control, imperialism, and militarism, as manifestations of spiritually darkened hearts in need of social and political repentance and a long process of religio-psychological rehabilitation. Reparations in some form are an essential element of this rehabilitation.

* Takes into thoughtful consideration the idea that religious experience has an ideological basis in material reality. The class-, race-, gender- and authority-based ideological underpinnings of all religions must constantly be exposed and assessed.

* Insists on a historically conscious praxis. For progressive African-American Muslim thinkers especially, it is never enough to merely project logically consistent religious thoughts, beautifully articulated in some abstract way. Critically informed and organized action is paramount for qualitative social change.

* Respects the Jeffersonian dictum of church-state separation as promoting religious pluralism, and liberal religious tolerance as in keeping with an authentic and liberative Qur'anic hermeneutic.

* Lifts up the meditative and theosophical Islamic sciences/practices. The works of the Muslim spiritual masters are voluminous and hold out much hope for religious universalism based on a grasp of the oneness of reality.

* Advocates nonviolent resistance to oppression as the morally superior equivalent of the militarist notion of jihad. Shaykh Amadou Bamba of Senegal and Abdul Ghaffar Khan of India have credentials equal to those of M. Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Malcolm X's politically righteous slogan of "by any means necessary" must be read in an ethically consistent way that does no violence to the exhortations and limits of sacred scripture.

* Advances the spirit of internationalism and regionalism by use of the ideas in human rights conventions.

* Enters into coalitions with other progressive religious and/or secular activists in support of civil liberties and qualitative social change.

* Uplifts Islamic philosophical inquiry and the unrestricted use of reason in the practice of ijtihad (personal judgment of religious matters). This point assumes that a narrowly conceived traditionalist orthodoxy is problematic.

Agenda: thinking outside the box

It follows from these principles that progressive Islamic thought must ever regard its doings in the world as tentative and subject to change. God's plan, and the guidance we receive as creatures of the Universal One, are not to be boxed into some neat and tidy or permanent explanation and practice. The only real and lasting thing is submission of self to divine guidance. This is unavoidable. All creation must, at some point in its journey or evolving, submit to its Creator's Will. But we, in our limitations, may not in this life ever comprehend that Will.

(...)
Medieval Islamic history demonstrates that Muslims who get obsessed with "being right" are not above employing compulsion in religion, no matter what the Qur'an may teach. If we want to take Qur'anic teaching seriously, we have first of all got to let compulsion go. And that means there can be no enforceable orthodoxy.


From the article on racism:

Within the North American construct of racism, I am Jewish and I am white. Like other white people, and especially those committed to social justice, identifying with my whiteness makes me squirm. Whiteness brings up feelings of embarrassment, rage, helplessness, and guilt for our shameful past and present.

As a Jew, my impulse is to emphasize the ways in which my whiteness is different. When people of color share their experience of racism, my first feeling is often, wait a minute, I’m not white, I’m Jewish! I belong in the “people of color circle.”

This is a common response among Jews of European descent. We want to be in a category all our own. But when I mention to people of color that many Euro-Jews do not consider themselves white, most respond with looks of complete non-comprehension. We certainly look white to them. When I walk down an American street, no one assumes I am a person of color. When I look into America’s racial mirror, America reflects back the color white.
(...)

Still, the temptation to deny whiteness is strong among Jews like myself. Like most of my peers, I have always lived with a sense of alienation from American society based on my Jewishness. Our disturbing history at the hands of the white Christian world includes the horrors of the Crusades, Inquisition, pogroms, and the Holocaust that murdered one-third of the entire world population of Jews less than sixty years ago. The story of the St. Louis, the ship of Jews turned away from American shores and returned to Germany during the most profound period of genocide in Jewish history, confirms the assumption that Jewish safety, even in America, is always conditional. Accusations of “Christ killer” and the oft-repeated stereotypes that Jews control the media, the world’s money, and the world’s government, coupled with the pressure to assimilate and convert, cause Jews to feel insecure about our status even in America. Moreover, whiteness is associated with Christianity. In the circles of the Klan, white supremacists, and other manifestations of racist Christianity, Jews are not white. We are viewed along with African-Americans and other people of color as the cause of racial impurity. These factors in Jewish life set us apart from other white people.

Even in good times, it is daunting to be Jewish in an America where four out of five people are Christian. For example, during one Christmas saturation period from Thanksgiving to the New Year, I took my son to the mall (a rare trip for us!) to see the Lubavitch Hasidim light a menorah in a public space. Nataniel commented, “Finally, someone remembered Chanukah!” It is hard for a Jewish child to grow up with the knowledge that he or she is not normative. Jewish children who seek acceptance and want to avoid the anti-Jewish slurs so commonly spoken in their schools, or to fit into the sports team that prays to Christ before every game, often choose to hide or leave behind the Jewish part of their identity in order to fit in. Given that children in school often divide themselves along racial lines, Jewish children are faced with the issue of how they place themselves in a world that does not allow them to be themselves. Many Jewish people grow up with negative feelings about being Jewish. Jews are very vulnerable to assimilation into normative whiteness. This is not a positive development.
 
Thursday, December 01, 2005
  Stan Berenstain passes away
I just saw that Stan Berenstain passed away. For those of you without kids, Stan and his wife, Jan, are the creators of the Berestain Bears, a set of delightful books for kids. Our favorites are The Bike Lesson and the Bear Scouts to the Rescue and Brother and the Dinosaurs. Thanks for all the great books, Stan. My hat's off to you.
 
  Research
One of favorite parts about writing (any writing) is the research. But it can be a problem, because often I get so engrossed in the issue that I don't get back to writing...

Like last night. One of the characters in my current wip gets into a brief tussle with an eagle-like creature. The result is some lacerations to his arm and face. So I'm sitting there, typing away wondering, hmmm... should I have the cut get infected? That could increase the tension in the next few scenes, especially since this is a primitive civilization without modern medicine, which means an infection could be a serious issue...

I honestly don't know much about infected wounds, except that gangrene can set in. Turns out, an infection can be a big deal, crippling, or even fatal, even in a civilization with modern medicine. (Did you know that there are lots of different types of bacteria and viruses that can infect a cut? And that they can spread to other parts of the body from the infected wound?) I don't want the guy to die (I've got better plans for him than that, bwahahahaha), nor do I want to go the cliched route of he's on the crux, delirious with fever, but makes it through the night and recovers completely. (eye roll, please) So it looks like infection is out. That's easy enough, since they are in a remote location on another planet. I would have had to jump through some hoops to explain why there were bacteria or viruses that could cause an infection anyway.

But what about shock? Several big cuts like that... could he lose enough blood to put him into shock? (Another life threatening situation, one not quite so cliched, yay!). So I did some research on shock. The severity of the shock depends on the amount of blood lost. So, how much blood is this guy realistically going to lose? That's the question.

Guess what... there aren't any websites that tell you that sort of thing (at least that I could find). I did however, learn:

Anyway, after several hours (like four or five) of reading about a wide variety of topics, I now have a plan for my guy that is going to be very realistic. Of course, that translates into a handful of sentences in one place, a couple more elsewhere, a truly spectacular scar, and a whole bunch of things that the protagonists are NOT going to do. From the reader's perspective, it's five minutes worth of reading, and a relatively minor incident. For me, it has it's purposes -- it moves things along in the direction I want them to go on several levels: it takes the two characters places I want them to go, both as individuals as well as in terms of the relationship that's developing between them, it sets up a situation which is going to create some difficulties down the road for one of the characters, adds some tension to the plot in a section that needed it, etc, etc.

Most important, all that work kept me from writing something that will pull the reader out and make them think, "Oh, right, that kind of thing never happens in real life." Sometimes, I think I spend too much time in research, and other times I think every second of it is worth it.

 

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Name: Pamela Taylor
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm a stay-at-home mom/freelance writer/author. While I make a living at journalism and op-ed, my first love is fiction, particularly science fiction. I also write poetry, mostly of a religious bent.


What I'm reading now



SuperMom Saves the World
By Melanie Lynne Houser. The sequel to Confessions of Supermom. I've just started reading it, but before the end of the first page I was laughing out loud. A fun, fast-paced, light read that is perfect for the plane or that lazy day on the beach.

To see an archive of all the books I've read (well the ones I've read and review since I started the blog) with comments, please click here

Causes Worth Supporting

This is just a short list -- a few of my favorites.

English Language Islamic Fiction. We need more of it. Lots more.
Pay a Teacher's Salary in Afghanistan. The Hunger site actually has a lot of worthwhile programs. You can find them all here .
Muslims for Progressive Values. My organization. We can always use donations, of time or money!
Human Rights Campaign for the glbt community
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
The ACLU I'm a card carrying member. Hope you'll become one too.
MoveOn.org. The organization that has done the most, as far as I can tell, to pull the countries progressive side together.
Network of Spiritual Progressives. Working to reclaim religion and morality for the religious left.

Blogs Worth Reading

Wanda Campbell also known as Nochipa A very gifted poet and a gentle, compassionate soul. Nochipa and I are on the same page on sooooo many things
Writeous Sister Aminah Hernandez, she's got some excellent latino pieces and always has good writing info on her blog.
Sister Scorpion aka Leila Montour - Leila is a fount of energy, quirky humor, and bad attitude. She's also a talented poet.
Muhajabah Very interesting commentary here. I don't always agree with her, but her pieces are always thought-provoking.
Georgie Dowdell Georgie is a great writer and a good friend.
Louise Marley Another great writer. I think Louise is one of the best sf writers exploring faith themes.
Ink in My Coffee Devon Ellington (who has numerous aliases) who is also the editor of Circadian Poems. A truly inspiring woman with a seemingly endless supply of energy.
Ethnically Incorrect With a name like that, isn't a given I'm going to enjoy this writer?
Freedom from the Mundane Colin Galbraith, another excellent writer, from Scotland.
The Scruffy Dog Review This is a new e-zine with an ecclectic mix of fiction, poetry, and non-fic, some really enjoyable pieces here.
Ramblings of a Suburban Soccer Mom Lara, another gentle soul, very thoughtful.
Circadian Poems A journal of poetry, new stuff up all the time.
Ye Olde Inkwell Michelle writes romance and is one of my writing buddies.
Muhammad Michael Knight The original punk Muslim writer. Like him or love him, Mike is always coming up with the unexpected.

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