Friday, March 31, 2006
  On the road again...
Tomorrow we're headed out to Florida for a week to visit with my in-laws. I'm looking forward to warm temps, the Atlantic, and tiny lizards.

Found out I didn't make the cut for Fiddler on the Roof. Honestly, I'm not surprised, given how the singing went.

Last night at about midnight, the carbon monoxide alarm went off. Looks like we'll need a new furnace. Joy.

And, last but not least, even if it's a bit late, thank God for the release of Jill Caroll!
 
Thursday, March 30, 2006
  Revising
Sometimes I feel like I'd be better off not revising.... The short story I wrote the other day, Dodging, started out at about 1200 words. Then I decided there was an info dump that was too many facts, too abruptly, right at the end, so I went back and added two scenes to ease readers into the info. Now the story is 2400 words long. 1200 words just to avoid one 50 word paragraph info dump. Hmm... maybe the info dump would have been better!

Seems like that is always the way I end up going -- I read over what I've written and say, gosh, there needs to be another scene here. Or, I ought to show this rather than tell it, and then I end up with twice as much material.

It never goes the other direction -- I never say, you know, this scene really doesn't add to the plot or the character develoment or anything -- it's just extraneous info. Maybe that's because I'm not very good at seeing what isn't needed, cause I'm too in love with my characters. Or maybe that just reflects the fact that I tend to write fast and may gloss over things that needed filling out.

I know a lot of writers say go back and cut, cut, cut. And, to be sure, there are places where I can cut -- usually when I've said the same thing twice, just in subtly different ways. It's just there more places to add than to cut.

Interestingly, I very, very rarely get the comment that my writing drags, that there's too much info weighing it down. More often I'll get, "Gosh, we got from point a to point b awfully quickly."

Whyever it may be, I figure if I want the final draft to be x number of words, I should aim for 2x/3 of the goal. Then when I get done editing, it'll be about right....
 
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
  Muslim Women Leaders
There's an excellent article by Raheel Raza about Muslim women leaders up at MuslimWakeUp.com.

Raheel also has a new book out called Their Jihad... Not my Jihad. I've just started reading it, but I can already tell it's going to be a great book.

Having just spent a couple days with Raheel in Michican recently, I can also attest to her being a vibrant, incredibly intelligent and personable woman. I wish more people knew Muslim women like her. Heck! I wish I knew more Muslim women like her!

While I'm on the topic of inspiring Muslim women... check out Widad Delgado's publishing business, Muslim Writers Publishing. Widad has made it her life goal to publish as many Muslim writers of fiction as she can. I've had the pleasure of editing several of the titles she's just published, and I contributed a cute poem to her cookbook.

I wish I could write something about all the inspiring Muslim women that have come through my life in the past few years -- Rafia Zakaria, Nakia Jackson, Asra Nomani, Farzana Hasan, Laury Silvers, Ginan Rauf, Saleemah Ghaffur, on and on and on. I wish these women were the face of Islam.
 
Monday, March 27, 2006
  Moderation and Character Development
Today I auditioned for a community theater production of Fiddler on the Roof. We had to perform a song. (Which in my case went horribly -- the piano was so out of tune I couldn't even tell if I was singing the melody correctly, let alone worry about details of intonation and delivery! And the pianist apparently wasn't familiar with the song I performed -- Cabaret -- because rather than the driving beat that is called for, she was using full pedal and a lush, romantic style. Picture a cross between Amazing Grace and Liza Minelli. Agh!)

Anyway, when it got to the reading part, the director asked for a Jewish accent. (I assume he meant a Yiddish accent, but we won't nit pick here.) As the people in front of me read (with noticeably MidWestern accents, lol) I debated whether to lay it on thick -- the stereotype of a Jewish mother -- or whether to paint the accent with a lighter brush -- noticable, but not a caricature. I chose to do the latter, which is, of course, not only harder to do, but which also leaves open the possibility that you're being so subtle the audience doesn't notice it.

I find the same dilmena in writing characters from other cultures. It is easy to make them a caricature of that culture, but tricky to write them subtly and with nuance, and often people think that you just haven't bothered to try to make them different or that you aren't aware of the stereotypical images.

For instance, I've written pieces about Muslims only to have people tell me, "Don't you know, Timothy isn't a Muslim name." It is if your character happens to be a convert who didn't change his name. Similarly, when I wrote about a Catholic character who was quite extreme in his beliefs, people told me, Catholics aren't like that. Sure, most of them aren't (which was mentioned in the piece) but some sure are, like, say, Mel Gibson.

I find that a lot of sci-fi that draws from other cultures or which depicts alien species and their cultures tends to gravitate towards the more caricature-like renditions -- the characters tend to be boldly drawn, the cultures very rigid. Kind of like the Jewish mother-in-law from Planet X.

I wonder if my attempts at subtlety will be perceived as a weak characterization or a nuanced one. I wonder if my audience, like the director, who didn't think about the fact that a lot of Jews don't have Yiddish accents, won't appreciate or even understand the subtlety I'm trying to create. I have a nagging feeling my audition would have been better appreciated if I'd put on the broadest accent I could muster, rather than confining it to a few words with appropriate gestures. I hope my writing won't suffer from the same fate!
 
Sunday, March 26, 2006
  Too busy!
That describes life at the Taylor/Khalid household this week -- running here and there for doctor's appointments (mamogram Tuesday, follow-up mamogram Thursday which revealed the calcifications in my breasts are the benign type not the cancerous type), Qur'an group (an interesting discussion on the Qur'an and evolution, more on this later), book group (this month we read Confessions of SuperMom), chauferring my kids to and from activities, meetings about future work, awards day (four kids -- three straight A's, and one with all A's, except for a single B), planning a birthday party, (my baby, Noora, is seven!), and sitting on a promotion board (Saara and Ameera are now purple belts!). Who has time to breathe, let alone write!!

Actually, in all that, I did write a futuristic short story about draft dodging, and submitted it. I realized later (after submitting it, of course) that it needs some work -- it could use some buildup rather than just a single scene. That rewrite is on today's agenda. Along with a children's story I've been meaning to work on. (It keeps banging on the front door of my brain, usually while I'm driving in rush hour traffic... let me out, let me out! Write me down! NOW! Amazing how stories seem to have a life of their own.)

Ah well, time to get to work. I promised myself when I started this blog that I would not let it take away time from "serious" writing, and so far I've done a pretty good job of that. I read about these bloggers who have turned their "blog" into money, sometimes producing a decent income, and then I see how many hours a day they are putting into it (more hours than I would want to put into any one thing, period) and think... yeah, it's not a "blog" at that point, it's a job, or an obsession.
 
Saturday, March 25, 2006
  Apostasy in Islam
So here's what the Qur'an has to say about belief and disbelief:


Some salient points:

The message that religion is a personal matter, not for others to force upon someone, is repeated many times in the Qur'an. (This list is not comprehensive, it's a sampling.) Compare this to the mention of things which have consumed our community, like hijab -- two vague verses which can be interpretted as supporting hijab; or insulting the Prophet -- about which there are no verses, although one can extrapolate from a verse that tells Muslims not to insult the Gods of other religions because those who believe in those Gods will insult Islam.

These verses stand in direct contradiction to the hadith which purport that the Prophet killed apostates. The classical schools have opted in favor of the hadith over the Qur'an, which is yet again a demonstration of why we need to abandon significant chunks of the classical shariah and challenge the rulings of the four sunni schools of thought that have become orthodox.
 
Thursday, March 23, 2006
  Miscellaneous Thoughts
Sometimes my mind is a jumble -- like today. I'm so happy the remaining three Christian Peacemakers have been rescued in Iraq. Kidnapping and hostage holding is horrific in all cases, but the nature of these men's work -- protecting Iraqis, documenting abuses, and protesting the war -- makes their kidnapping all the more horrific.

I am terribly sad at the death of Tom Fox, and pray for God's mercy on him. No one deserves to die this way, and every account of Mr. Fox is that he was a good man, a man beyond merely good. May God keep his soul and give peace to those who knew and loved him.

I'm horrified that a man who converted from Islam to Christianity is being tried in Afghanistan for apostasy. The Qur'an says:

So where do they get off putting this poor man on trial for converting to another religion!!

And my brain is filled with an idea for a kid's story - Attack of the Cuddle Monster Mother... may have to write the first draft before I go to bed.

Plus I've been daydreaming about Aila and Ghiyath (from Windsisters), trying to figure out how to move them to where I want them to be without it taking a hundred pages. And wondering if two weeks is too fast to change the relationship the ways I want it to change. I'm afraid yes, but that means more pages... ugh! Oh well, I'm at the point where I'm just going to write it and I can cut, cut, cut afterwards.

Oh, and Mutawwa is now available for purchase: http://www.zinio.com/issue?is=135035453&ns=zno

 
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
  Resolution (Why I love America!)
Well, today I was told the situation with Tasneem and the language program has been resolved. She's been admitted on the basis of her academic qualifications. (Yay!) I had called the Indiana University Office of Diversity and explained the situation, and they followed up really quickly with a meeting with the head of the program and the head of the foreign languages department. On the phone today, they actually thanked me for bringing the issue to their attention. I guess I'm not too surprised, because in a conversation with the director she had mentioned a past student and her approach to him was quite similar to the approach she had taken with Tasneem, though he was a Buddhist not a Muslim. Basically, she felt she had the right to tell kids how or how much they should practice their religion, and to base their admission to the program on whether they respected her wishes, rather than their academic qualifications.

Of course, it's a bit of a tricky issue, because it is a foreign study program, and character does figure in the application process. But, at the same time, she was telling Tasneem she should not wear her headscarf, and later telling me that it was ok to tie it behind her head, but under her chin was too much. Similarly, she told this Buddhist boy that he shouldn't meditate two hours in the morning before class, it was excessive, he needed his sleep and 1/2 hour should suffice. Clearly these are issues quite separate from issues of character, and tantamount to religious discrimination.


So what does this have to do with why I love America?

One, it was clear throughout the process that the director meant no harm -- she clearly had good intentions, even if they were misguided good intentions that happened to result in something illegal. I know that deliberate discrimination against Muslims does occur in the US, but in my experience it's very rare. Most of the reports I read in the news about discrimination are very similar to this, and are resolved quickly and with relative ease. Further, there is no institutionalized discrimination (with the exception of the airport security) such as we see in France. To me, that is a huge plus. Discrimination, especially institutionalized, systemic discrimination is a breeding ground for bitterness, resentment, alienation, and hatred. I think one of the reasons that Europe is having some problems is because there are systemic forces at play that keep the Muslim immigrants there estranged from their societies, even after two, three and four generations. That America has chosen a different path -- to honor and protect all religions and to allow people free reign in practicing their religion -- and that Americans as a people are committed to equality and tolerance for all is one reason I love America.

Two, everyone we talked to was very supportive of Tasneem and the fact that religious discrimination just isn't acceptable. This support meant a great deal to me, personally, and I think it will come to be important to Tasneem as she gets older and thinks back on the incident. The overwhelming positive response we got shows that when something does go awry, people are ready to step in and do something, to stand for a principle. I have seen this time and time again -- the hand stretched forward to help a person and/or community in need. I know this is not unique to the US -- compassion and striving for justice is a value in all religions and pretty much every culture I know, but the fact that I see it practiced in my own country makes me love it and my neighbors. We could have been told, "don't rock the boat" but that's not what happened. We were met with support and action that will help my children understand that the incident was an isolated case, not the norm -- and that ties right back into the whole alienation vs feeling a part of the society. They will know that they are indeed part and parcel of this society, as much as anyone else, no matter what they wear, or what religion they practice. What a wonderful knowledge to have; what a wonderful society to live in!
 
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
  Grumpy!
ARGH! I hate poison ivy! I hate starlings! I hate kids who squabble just because they are bored! (OK, I don't hate the kids, I hate the behavior.) I need chocolate. Can you tell I've just gotten my period?

I actually do hate poison ivy. It's been a week since Noora and I were working in the garden, pulling weeds, and we pulled up a bunch of runners. Some of them were mint (I've pulled them in years past) and some of them apparently were poison ivy runners. I've got a rash all over the bottom half of my face, my hands, arms, and legs, and new patches are still popping up, a whole week after we were exposed. It itches like crazy. Worse than the chicken pox I got a few years back (yes, yours truly who cannot tolerate itching at all, actually got chicken pox twice -- once as a child and once as an adult, thank you very much.).

The only thing that I've found that stops the itching for more than a few minutes is scratching so vigorously that the skin is abraded away. If you don't have any skin, it can't itch. So now I have lots of scabs all over my body -- looks like chicken pox again. Of course, scabs have an itch of their own, so I'm still scratching from time to time. At least the facial rash isn't itchy -- it's hard and red and burns a bit. NOT FUN!!

Poor Noora also has a rash on her face and in spots here and there. It's humiliating that she's taking it much better than I. My only consolation is that it must not be as itchy (thank goodness, poor little dear! I hate to think of her sufferring!). Now, it turns out my huband and older daughter have gotten some too - apparently from where Noora or I touched them. I guess the oil on the roots is very tenacious!

It seems like life would be a whole lot better if poison ivy were just ivy. It's a very prolific spreader -- it's not like it needs poison to survive. My life would certainly be a whole lot better if I didn't have to try to keep it from encroaching on my lawn every year.

It's so distracting it's hard to concentrate on anything. And I've got it between my fingers, on my palms, so it's hard to type -- movement makes the stuff between the fingers itch and my palms burn. Man, you'd think a woman who gave birth naturally four times could handly a bit of discomfort, but nope, it drives me nuts...

Oh well, enough whining... but that sure did feel good. :) Nothing like a good mental scratch... except maybe a good physical one.
 
Sunday, March 19, 2006
  Preview of Mutawwa
My story Mutawwa is being published in the 7th and 8th issues of Citizen Culture (I think it will work well divided like that, although I imagine people will have to re-read the beginning of the story once the 8th issue comes out, just because a lot of the names will be unfamiliar to most Americans.)

Anyway, the preview of the issue is up... looks to be provocative (not surprising, Citizen Culture usually is), and some really interesting articles -- an interview with the fellow Irving, who was recently sentenced to three years in prison for Holocaust denial, a discussion of a Hindu man being "confirmed" in his religion. I'm looking forward to reading those! The issue theme is Faith and Ethnicity.

I'm a little bit nervous about this story coming out. I'm afraid some people will take it as an anti-Islam screed, although that is not the point at all, and I went to some length to show positive Muslim characters as well. Unforunately, it was edited down heavily, so some of the positive side may have been lost...

Anyway, you can find a pdf preview at: http://www.citizenculture.com/issue8-preview.pdf

Here's the cover...
 
Saturday, March 18, 2006
  Bring our Troops Home
I suppose it is fairly obvious that I would be against continued US military presence in Iraq.

For one, the war was based on lies, deception and manipulation -- there were no weapons of mass destruction (and most of us realized that well in advance of the war); Iraq was not on the verge of attacking anyone, especially not America or any of its allies; Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11 and did not encourage terrorism.

This alone merits an end to the war - we had no business starting it, we have no busines continuing it. What was wrong in the beginning, is wrong in the end.

But there are far more reasons to oppose continued military operations in Iraq.

1) People are dying. Innnocent people. 2300+ American service men and women who were lied to by their government have died. But worse, an immense number of Iraqis -- the government places the estimate at 33,000, others estimate the casualties as high as 250,000. Even taking the lowest number, that's 10 times the number of people who died on 9-11. That's 33,000 people who had nothing to do with 9-11; whose government had nothing to do with 9-11. It makes one stop and ask -- who's the biggest killer? who is terrorizing whom? Iraqis are people just like any other people. Their lives are just as valuable as American lives. It breaks my heart to hear of 2300 fellow Americans who have died in this war -- my neighbors, the sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of my friends and neighbors. And it breaks my heart to hear of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died -- they also are my neighbors, my global neighbors, and my brothers in sisters in humanity, as well as in faith.

We live in a small world. A world which is increasingly interdependent, and where violence in one part of the world affects people everywhere. Islam is not going to magically disappear as much as some people might like it to. Christians and Jews are not going to convert enmasse, even though some folks would like that too. We have to learn to get along together, or we are going to die together. Plain and simple. Diversity is, and we've got to deal with it.

2) History has shown that "insurgencies" (or, opposition to occupation as the insurgencies tend to see themselves) do not fade away under assault, that military pressure and/or punishment does not convince these fighters that the price is too high, but rather strengthens their determination precisely because the price they have paid has been so high already. The US military presence in Iraq only adds fuel to the insurgency. It exacerbates the conflicts which are creeping ever closer to civil war. It undermines the authority of the Iraqi government, as more and more people see it as an American stooge, as propped up by the Americans rather than a representation of the Iraqi people's will. Until we leave, things will continue to get worse.

3) We made a mess for the Iraqi people, but they are capable of solving their own problems by themselves. They are not children, they are not backward neanderthals who cannot fathom how to build a civil society. We propped up Saddam -- helped ensure that a brutal dictator survived. We starved the Iraqi citizens with ten years of sanctions (even though it was quite clear that Saddam and the ruling party were not being affected, only the Iraqi people). We invaded and destroyed much of the Iraqi infrastructure (power plants, hospitals, etc). Yes, we owe a LOT to the Iraqi people. We should invest heavily in reconstruction -- with the profits of reconstruction projects remaining in the country and helping to fuel it's economy. But we should also stop patronizing the Iraqis. They can handle their problems. We don't have to solve it for them.

4) We can't afford to stay. Our schools are desperately underfunded. Social programs for the poor, for the elderly, for the disabled, for college education, are being slashed right and left. Our national debt is so high most of us cannot even comprehend the number. But we can spend 6 billion dollars a month in Iraq. That's 20 millions dollars every day. There are so many better ways to spend this money.


Anyway, it's late, I'm tired and depressed because it looks like Bush is intent on attacking Iran, which would be an even worse debacle than Iraq. When will sanity and love reign, rather than greed, power grabbing, and self-aggrandizement?
 
Friday, March 17, 2006
  Hello from Detroit!
Well, I'm in Detroit, having arrived late last night, driving through some of the most incredible snow storms I've ever seen -- litterally snowing snowballs -- huge chunks of snow, rather than flakes or clumps of flakes.

I'm participating in a conference on Islam, Gender and Diversity -- I'm really looking forward to the various presentations, and rather nervous. I'm on a panel with none other than Yvonne Haddad, the grandmother of American Islamic studies. Guess this is one time when I'm going to emphasize my activist background rather than my academic one!

Back in the 90s I went to a presentation by Yvonne, and she was both humble and realistic. She understood how she was a groundbreaker in American Islamic studies, but also that there are limits to what one can learn in a sociological study. Samples of Muslims attending masjids are naturally going to be a certain subset of Muslims -- a more conservative group than the entirety of the community, which includes many more Muslims who do not go to mosque regularly.

So, she made a case for the limited nature of her presentation, and I'll be making a case for anecdotal nature of mine... After all how can we negotiate reality, except through the lenses of our own experiences and observations. And while academic studies of a phenomenon are important, the experience of living the phenomenon is also important -- different approaches to the same issue, but both with their own value.

It doesn't help that while gardening the other day with Noora (we planted peas! Yay!) we both seem to have come in contact with a skin irritant. The whole of my face below my eyes is inflamed -- red, itchy, bumpy, burning! I've got little itchy patches elsewhere that look like poison ivy, so I'm assuming that some of the roots we pulled out of the garden were poison ivy shooters. Noora also has a patch of the rash on her face, much more localized, thank goodness, and it doesn't appear to be bothering her. Wish I could say the same for myself. I look a sight and am very uncomfortable!

Anyway, more later on the various presentations.
 
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
  Stunned
Today my oldest daughter, Tasneem, was supposed to have her interview for the Indiana University high school honors program in France. It's a summer program where the kids live with a family and go to several hours of french class each day -- very competitive and pretty prestigious at least in state.

Well, when I picked her up from tennis practice (she's joined the tennis team at high school), I asked her how the interview went, and she said, she didn't really have it. Apparently the interviewer asked about her scarf, and told her that she wouldn't be able to go if she intended to wear her scarf -- it was against program rules. She also said that if she went, she wouldn't be able to go to the mosque for the six weeks she would be in France, and that she would have to pray silently, in her room, not out loud. Tasneem told her that she wasn't going to stop wearing the scarf, and the interviewer told her that if something changed over the next year (ie she stopped wearing the scarf) she could reapply then.

Needless to say, I am totally shocked. Last I checked it was illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of religion, especially at state funded universities.

I wonder if the woman told Catholics they couldn't go to mass while they were in France. Or advised Sikh students that they need not apply if they wear turbans, or jewish students if they wear yarmulkes.

To be fair, I've only heard Tasneem's side, but she is being very non-inflammatory about it (I'm the one upset, not her) and I think she's presented it pretty much straight up about how the conversation went. Also to be fair, we got a call from Tasneem's French teacher who was shocked at the reported conversation and planning to follow up. Needless to say, I also will be calling the program director tomorrow.

Iunderstand it is a bit tricky now, with the ban on hijab in public schools. But this is a university program sponsored by a US university. And in France they are not going to a school. The facility is a private conference center. So the hijab ban wouldn't apply at all. And it's a university program, and the ban is on elementary, jr highs and high schools, not universities. So again it wouldn't apply.

Sigh. This is really the last thing I need, or my kids need. I really, really don't want them to become bitter or alienated from American society. But if they are disqualified from programs at American universities solely because of their religious practice, I'm afraid that is exactly what will happen.
 
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
  Goals and Evaluation
Last year I set some goals for the year, and I met a significant number of them. Of course, there were a few I didn't meet, but at least I was keeping track.

I feel like setting concrete goals is so important in the absence of a deadline. Even with deadlines it's important -- so you can see where you are, where you're trying to get, and how well you're making progress towards it. So you can change whatever needs to be changed in order for you to reach your goals. Or so you can adjust your goals to something more achievable, and thereby less frustrating.

One of the things I try to do when I set my goals is to say things like, "write and submit five short stories to the major sf magazines" rather than "get three stories published in a major sf magazine" because I have a lot more control over the writing/submission end than the acceptance/rejection end.

Similarly, I don't go for a word count goal for fiction -- I go for an hours per day or hours per week, or even sessions per week with a flexible time frame (not writing long enough in a session is not an issue for me, I NEVER write for just fifteen minutes, it's always two or three hours minimum).

The exception to that is non-fic. Two columns a month for RNS is my current goal. And three columnettes a month for the Indy Star.

Of course, to be effective setting goals should go hand in hand with regular progress checks to see how well you are doing at meeting those goals. Otherwise you can arrive at the end of the year and be no where near your goals.

So, my progress so far:

One of my goals this year was to get 100 publishing credits for the year -- articles, columns, poems, and short stories, paid or unpaid. I'm at 31 clips, with four more in the works for the next month or two. I need three more actually published by the end of April to keep on track for this goal, so I'm ahead of the game. I just hope I can keep it up for another nine months!

WIPs -- I still am having problems picking one wip to focus on. grr. I've written about 35000 words on a "short story" that is becoming a novel and about 8000 on Windsisters. Given that another short story was unmanageable as a short and also is going to be a novel, that brings me to six novels in progress. NOT a good plan. The problem I am having, though, is I just can't keep my mind on one set of characters. It's not that I'm not finding the stories gripping or interesting, it's that they ALL call to me at once! I think I need to just bite the bullet and pick one. If I really concentrated, I think I could finish a first draft of three of them this year, given that I have three between 1/2 and 2/3ds of the way done. Figure 40,000 words in three months, that makes 120,000 in nine more months. That would definately carry me through the end of the three most finished works.

Non-fic -- I've been pretty good about keeping up with the RNS columns and the Indy Star columnette. The cartoon controversy took a lot of my attention, so I missed a couple weeks in February. Don't see much need for change here.

Poetry -- I have a goal to write a chapbook of poems on the 99 Names of Allah. progress on this is fitful. Been concentrating on fiction and op-ed. And writing whatever poetry comes to mind rather than taking the time to focus on a theme.

Exercise -- I know, this doesn't seem to have anything to do with writing, but... I dont' feel good sitting at the computer all morning, helping kids with homework and driving them around to activities all afternoon, and then sneaking in a couple more hours after bedtime. It's just too sedentary. I feel better when my body is moving. Not to mention I'm really unhappy being overweight, and I'm currently way overweight. So one of my resolutions has been to exercise more and hopefully lose weight. I've been doing pretty good on the exercising part -- karate and the gym, but losing weight isn't happening. Too fond of sweets, need to regulate portion sizes, and eat out less. With the crazy kid schedule we have, I eat out fast food way too often. I need to start packing a salad to take with me.
 
Monday, March 13, 2006
  Why the death penalty can't be implemented
The lastest news from the trial determining whether confessed Al-Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui will receive life in prison or the death pentalty is that the government deliberately and illegally coached witnesses.

According to an AP report, "The FAA witnesses have been tainted and no matter how much they contend that they can be truthful, they have been coached concerning the defects in the government's case and how to overcome those defects."

Carla Martin, one of the lawyers for the prosecution, e-mailed "the upcoming witnesses includ[ing] excerpts of the government's opening statement and Martin's assessment that the opening statement "has created a credibility gap that the defense can drive a truck through." She expressed concern that FAA witnesses would be made to look foolish on cross-examination and warned them to be prepared for certain topics."

The judge said that she had "never seen such an egregious violation of a rule on witnesses." Even the prosecutor, David Novak, agreed that Martin's actions were "horrendously wrong."

Of course, he doesn't think that should invalidate the testimony of those witnesses who have been coached on what to say, or result in a mistrial. No, he says to let things proceed, even though the witnesses have been told what to say, and a man's life is in the balance.

This is precisely why we can't implement the death penalty -- because our justice system is far from infallible and our government is apparently determined to get terror convictions and executions even if they don't have a case that will hold water.

So much for due process...
 
Sunday, March 12, 2006
  Will you still love me when I'm sixty four?
Not long ago a friend of mine and I went to a local senior citizens center for a crafts class. As it turned out it was more of a needlework circle, and as my friend doesn't knit, or crochet or tat, we ended up playing a game of scrabble.

What struck me most was the vibrant personalities of the men and women at the center -- one was clearly bold and outspoken. Her hair was impeccably styled, and she wore a bright sweater. She had an stately manner, sitting tall as she flipped through the pattern books. You could tell she approached life with a can-do attitude, and that she had an opinion on everything.

Another was quiet, almost mousy, but she was hard at work, her hands deftly weaving the threads as she tatted doilies. She had several finished ones with her, and when my friend asked, "Do you sell them?" She answered, "Oh, no. They're for love gifts." You could tell she was a loyal friend, and a sweet, generous soul.

So often old people are thought of as decrepit, boring, doing nothing, and interested in little beyond their own illnesses. Yes, I overheard some talk about doctor's visits that afternoon, but most of it focused on other things -- family, friends, projects.

I wish more people visited the senior center -- and not just old people. It would help us remember old people are just people who've lived a bit longer than the rest of us, just as unique and as interesting, if not more so for having had more experiences, than we are.

When I was a girl, my scout trip paid regular visits to a nursing home, and that was good. I grew to be comfortable around people who needed help in their daily life. But it was a skewed view of what it means to grow old. And it's a view that by and large permeates popular culture. Yes, we need to address the issues that can confront us as we age, but we also need to be aware of the joys of being an older person as well.
 
Saturday, March 11, 2006
  race traitors, going native, and cultural relativism
Ok, I'll say up front, this is a topic that can use more than one blog entry, and I'll no doubt revisit it from time to time. Which relieves me of the burden of trying to cover everything there is to say on the matter... which is a lot!

Anyway... I find a recurrent theme in my writing is that of a protagonist who "goes native" or at least who ends up doing a 180 and coming to support an opposing point of view, often at significant personal cost. No doubt this mirrors my own experiences of converting from a particularly virulent atheism to a reviled religion (more so now than when I converted, but even then largely disliked in America) the vast majority of whose adherents belong to cultures and races that are foreign to my own.

I find the emotional, cultural, social, racial, etc implications, challenges, dilemnas to conversion (whether it be religious or cultural or philosohpical conversion) fascinating, and an endless source of interesting combinations of emotional outcomes.

The experience of embracing the other is profoundly moving. And yet, it can also be profoundly discomfitting. I am proud to call myself a race traitor -- as the folks over ar Race Traitor like to say, being a traitor to whiteness is being loyal to humanity. By whiteness, I don't mean the color of skin, but rather the phenomenon of white priviledge -- of it being easier for white people to get a loan, to be respected, to rise to the ranks of CEO, etc, etc. To reject notions of Western cultural/intellectual superiority.

And yet, in that rejection of a priori superiority lies the danger of cultural relativism. The notion that all cultures are equally good, or free to be what they are. I reject that notion as well -- just because I'm white and American doesn't mean I have to be silent about misogynist laws in Pakistan, any more than I would be silent about misogynist laws in the US. I don't have to be silent about governments that hold the lives of young men cheap, whether those governments are in North America or the Middle East. Indeed, to remain silent seems to me a form of patronizing -- you are inherently inferior to us, and therefore do not need to be held to the same standards. The trick is to hold all societies to the same standards.

This has been on my mind alot with regards to honor killings. Naturally, I'm appalled at the whole concept of honor killings -- taking a woman's life because she dared marry someone you don't like, or because she flirted with someone, etc., supposedly maintaining the family's honor by erasing the one who brought shame to them. To me it seems like the murder of a sister, a daughter, a cousin, would be far more shameful, but, of course, that's not how they see it.

What's been irking me is that a lot of folks express horror (rightfully) over this crime, but act as though it only happens in the Middle East or Pakistan. What? We have tons of honor crimes here in the US, we just don't call them that. We call them "enraged husband kills wife for affair" or "ex kills wife and her new boyfriend" or "boyfriend kills girlfriend." In fact, it's not so different from an honor killing, only it's personal honor rather than familial honor at stake. And it's terribly common -- over a third of the murders of women in this country are by a husband or boyfriend, for women between the ages of 30 and 50 it jumps to 40% or higher. More than 3 women each day are killed by their husband, ex, or a boyfriend. (statistics from the US Department of Justice)

Both of these crimes must be opposed, but also they should be seen in the same light -- men killing women because they don't conform to the man's sexual dictates. (whether those dictates are dervied from cultural standards, personal sense of dignity, etc.) Americans shouldn't feel smug when opposing honor crimes overseas, cause we've got our own problems.

At the same time, converts often recieve a lot of pressure from "native" populations to withhold criticisms. It deemed unseemly, traitorous to one's community of choice, especially when that community of choice is already sufferring from a poor image (as a result of some of those very things the convert would oppose!). Again, there is this notion of superiority, and the idea that if you buy into one part, you have to buy into the whole package.

Why? Especially if the cultural practices are contrary to the religious package one bought into, but even there, why does conversion require total allegience? Why would one replace one blind affiliation with another? Isn't allegience to one's community of choice similar to allegience to one's community of birth -- both of them are a betrayal of humankind, and the basic humanity of the people you are dealing with.

So, I guess I'll be a "race" traitor on all sides, if need be -- from my "race" of birth and my "race" of choice...

See! Definately cool things worth exploring in fiction!!
 
Thursday, March 09, 2006
  one, two, three strikes...
You're out! Actually, it's three of my kids who are out... out of school tomorrow with the flu. No doubt, I'll be next. Cause what is the absolute favorite thing of a sick kid? Cuddling with mom, of course. And with three of them crowded in around me, I'm bound to get it.

Saara and I are supposed to go to the opera tomorrow to see the Marriage of Figaro, but if she doesn't improve by about noon, we'll have to postpone till Sunday. I don't think anyone in the audience would appreciate her coughing all the way through, not to mention the lovely colds they'd come down with in a few days' time.

Ah well, I'm looking forward to a day of making onion soup (or maybe chicken noodle), reading books, listening to records (yes, we actually still play those big black things, mostly show tunes). Maybe we'll even have a fire in the fire place. Funny how being sick can actually turn out to be a nice thing...
 
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
  International Women's Day
I've been debating all day what to put up for International Women's Day. There is so much so much depressing news out there that needs to be shared -- from women demonstrators in Pakistan protesting hudud laws (with the government opposing the protest, let alone the idea of changing their laws...) to reports of American female soldiers dying in their sleep of dehyrdration because they weren't drinking after a certain hour because going to the bathroom at night was practically a guaranteed way to get raped (and our government covering it up, lying on the women's death certificates rather than confronting the problem...) But I've had enough of bad news lately. Today, I want to share my joy in being a woman. So here's a poem I penned for the occassion:

Jubilation
By Pamela K. Taylor
International Women’s Day
March 8, 2006

Let me celebrate this day
The ways of womanhood
The palm tree curve bodies
Made to withstand
Gale forces
Rooted firm in their place
Upright, proud
Yet pliant enough to endure

Let me celebrate
The life blood womb nest
That grows persons
But more
The life blood heart nest
That nurtures persons
From within
And without

Let me celebrate
Her of the sweet kisses
And her of the tattered book
Of the running shoe
And the open score
The eye cast up to heaven
Or a down a microscope
Her of the knitting needle
The back pack and canoe

Let me celebrate
The dancing eye
Arcing lip
Swaying hip
Swinging breast
Broad footed
Square handed
Joy of womanhood

Let me celebrate
This day at least
Before I return to battle
 
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
  Frivolous?
I love science fiction -- I love to read it, I love to write it, I love to think about the ideas it engenders -- but there are times I feel like it is frivolous to write science fiction when there are so many problems facing this world. After all the people I would most love to reach are not reading science fiction.

I have a variety of justifications that I use to myself to get past this feeling... those people aren't reading the kinds of magazines/newspapers I write for either; the science fiction I write challenges certain notions in my own community, particularly the biases that I find all too common in intellectual circles, and which, if alleviated might lessen the changes of our nation doing other stupid and violent things; there is value in upholding the beauty of human creation in the face of human destruction; and so on.

But sometimes they just ring hollow. Sometimes I feel like it is incredibly selfish to write science fiction when I should be out running for office, or working in a soup kitchen, or writing treatises on justice and peace.
 
Monday, March 06, 2006
  Congratulations Marlys
The first novel of my friend Marly's Pearson, The Price of Temptation, has been named as a finalist in the Lambda awards in the romance category. Best of luck Marlys!

(hmm, the last author I wished luck for an award was my friend Louise Marley. Maybe there's some connection here... Marlys... Marley... hmm... the writing gods favor a certain phoneme?)

Anyway, as I scanned the list, I saw the late Octavia Bulter's Fledgling had been nominated in the sf/fantasy category. Also Bilal's Bread, by Sulayman X was nominated in the new writer category. I've heard good things about Fledgling so that's been added to my list. And I'll have to track down Sulayman's book; I'm just very, very curious about an african american gay Muslim story(at least that's what it appears to be)!
 
  More on women imams
Here's a link to my essay on the importance of the former mufti of marseilles following a woman imam (me!). It's been in a local paper, NUVO, and is on beliefnet now (linked to on the front page!)

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/186/story_18653_1.html

I was really sad that this column didn't get picked up by more news outlets. I'm hoping maybe some will still print it, as it talks about a year's worth of history since last March. The NUVO version draws some paralells between the Catholic women who were ordained in Canada last year. They are part of a movement that's been going on in Europe for 4-5 years. In doing research for this essay, I came across a story about Buddhist nuns being ordained for the first time in 1500 years.

It' is absolutely incredible to be part of a movement that cuts across religions and seems to be a groundswell of women standing up for themselves.
 
  Other Voices International Project
I was recently invited to participate in the Other Voices International Project, which is "a cyber-anthology that erases the boundaries of nations, ethnicities, religions, cultures, and age to bring you some of the world's best poetry." So now my page is up:
www.othervoicespoetry.org/vol19/taylor/index.html

I have really enjoyed browsing through this site and plan to make regular visits to check out the poets featured there.
 
Saturday, March 04, 2006
  Focus
I've always felt that focus was a challenge for me. Not in terms of concentrating on the task at hand; I'm good at that. I can sit and write for hours on end. But in terms of picking one task and staying with it through to completion. Part of it is that I'm interested in so many things that it is easy to get distracted with something else. Similarly, I have so many stories bumping around in my head that want to be told, it seems like just when I start to sink my teeth into one, another one pops up demanding time and attention.

That and I decided some time ago that a good career move would be to write some short stories along with the longer stuff I was doing. Only problem... the short stuff keeps turning out to have more plot to it than I can squeeze into a short. But, having been envisioned as a short, they usualy don't have enough to make it quite to a full novel.

So now I've got six works in progress all of which could be novel length, and I have to try and focus on one or two. I suppose it is as much a discipline problem as it is a focus problem -- it takes discipline to stick with the one story and not go off chasing other stories that are equally interesting.

And, of course, the new story has the allure of being new, the excitement of dreaming up new characters and new plot twists, rather than just writing out what you've already plotted out (or having to plot yourself out of corners you've written yourself into!).

Anyway, I think at the next con I go to I'm going to ask the pros -- how do you decide which project to go with, and how do you stick to it once you've chosen?
 
Friday, March 03, 2006
  new blog to check out
http://wandacampbell.blogspot.com/

This is the blog of Wanda Campbell, also known as Nochipa. Wanda is a superb poet -- her poetry has a breathtaking simplicity combined with profundity and a depth of compassion that simply astounds. I can't say enough good about -- Nochipa deserves to be a widely-read and recognized poet. You can find some of her poetry at the Scruffy Dog Review.

She is also a novellist and we are all eagerly awaiting the publication of her first novel.

Her blog, so far, is inspiring and she writes just the sort of things I like to write and read. I think of Nochipa as a soul-sister and remember with great fondness the trip we took together to WisCon.
 
Thursday, March 02, 2006
  Hijrah to or Hijrah from
Two articles I read recently which I really enjoyed -- not only because they are uplifting stories, but because they are really well written, indepth pieces. So often we get the "headline" news which barely tells us anything.

Mosque works to better the community

Middle East Team in MidWest Football


Of particular interest, in the first article one of the men who moved into a crime ridden neighborhood with the intent of helping make it a better place to live said, "I see coming here as a hijra to live a better life." Not as in live in financial plenty, but as in, this particular neighborhood is full of people who need a helping hand so it is easy for me to fulfill the Islamic commands to help my neighbor.

I found that idea fascinating. Usually hijra (migration) is used to refer to moving away from a corrupt, bad place to a good, wholesome place. The emphasis being on the fact that in the bad place practicing one's religion is difficult, and often one suffers persecution for it, while in the good place it is easy to practice one's religion because lots of other people there are also practicing; it is not only tolerated, but you also have the support of your co-religionists. In fact, there have been some scholars who have said we should move out of non-Muslim majority lands as a matter of religious duty, citing the fact that the Prophet moved from pagan dominated Mecca to Muslim dominated Medinah. (Needless to say, I disagree with this point of view.)

Either way, it was very interesting to read this man's different take on hijrah -- that he was purposefully moving into an area full of corruption and crime, not to convert people, but to help them, and perceived this as his fulfillment of his religious duty of hijrah. I find that notion much more uplifting than the traditional, isolationist interpretation.

And, in fact, one of the reasons Prophet Muhammad moved from Mecca to Madinah was that the tribes in Medina were bickering among themselves and asked him to come and rule between them, as they could not resolve their differences amicably. It was to help those people in their conflicts, much as this man, Br. Bobo, is helping the people of the neighborhood he moved to.

The other reason always stated was that it was possible to practice Islam in Medinah as it was not in Mecca. I really like how the brother Bobo in the Bay area translated that into practice of Islam in his world. It is not Islam to live far removed from the people who need the most help, but to move to the place where you can be of the most use.
 
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
  Anti-Blashpemy laws a step in the wrong direction
A group of Muslim scholars, including Hamza Yusuf who is arguably the most popular scholar in North America, have issued the following call:

"We call upon the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) as well
as Muslim countries and governments and the international community to
press the United Nations to issue a declaration criminalizing any insult to
Muhammad, Jesus or Moses or to any other revered prophetic figure."


This would be bad enough, if it were not prefaced by a description of the cartoon episode which is so distorted as to be nearly surreal:

"The events in Denmark concerning the Messenger of God represent an
entirely unacceptable crime of aggression that has violated the highest
sanctities of the Muslim people.


Huh? Drawing a cartoon is an act of aggression? Given this context, it is clear that the scholars would like to outlaw pretty much any discussion of Muhammad, Jesus or Moses, etc that does not run along the lines of "Gee, wasn't x prophet a great guy?" Can we say Barney redux?

Aside from the fact that civil society depends upon people having the freedom to believe and say whatever they think (just as people who disagree with them also have the freedom to state their disagreement), there is the very sticky problem of what constitutes an insult.

I remember well the case of Pakistani professor a couple of years ago. He said in class one day that the Prophet's marriage to Khadija was not Islamic. This is not an unreasonable statement, as Muhammad did not start receiving revelations until some 15 years after his marriage to Khadija, so it was, in practical terms, impossible for their marriage to have been Islamic. Some of his students were terribly offended, turned him in to the police for blasphemy, and he was sentenced to prison. But those who had gotten him sent to prison were not satisfied, one of them committed a crime in order to get imprisoned in the same jail as the professor, and once there, killed him.

For making a statement that is clearly a matter of fact!


Clearly, this call must be opposed strenuously. And if the OIC does call upon the UN to enact blasphemy laws, we must oppose any UN action on the matter as well.
 

My Photo
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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