Tuesday, January 31, 2006
  Samira Munir and Freedom of Speech
This brilliant and chilling article by Rafia Zakaria, a woman I am proud to be able to call friend and colleague, shows exactly how important it is to defend freedom of speech at every turn, and is very much in line with my increasing feeling that choosing to wear a scarf is less and less tenable in a world where the hijab is coming to stand for totalitarian enforcement of the strictest interpretations of Islam. One can fight and aruge for the scarf to mean nothing more than it means to each individual who wears it, but when proponents of it are not content with essays and letter writing, with books and oration, but cross the line into attacking women who speak against it, or who do not wear it, it no longer can be worn with purity of intention. It is besmirched by its very defenders.

Prophet Muhammad's beard would be wet with tears if he knew what his ummah has come to -- the Qur'an says there is no compulsion in religion, Prophet Muhammad told us not to try and catch our neighbors out, and the very people who attack women who speak their mind like to throw around an incident in which a woman stood up in the mosque and took Omar to task for trying to limit the dowry paid to women. One wonders what would happen to that woman today -- most likely she would be called a hypocrite or worse, materialistic, hedonistic, receive death threats for daring to impugn the character of the leader of the Muslims, etc, etc, etc. Sigh. If only religion didn't have followers I would be a lot more comfortable being a religionist...

Anyway, the article, as always brought to you with permission of the author:

Veil and a warning

The mysterious death of Samira Munir, a Norwegian politician, in Oslo comes as a chilling deterrent to Muslim women who speak out about the violence against women in their communities in the West.


The assimilation sentiment manifests itself in the expatriate Muslim community by the oppressive pressure placed on those that can be most easily controlled, girls and women.

THE battle over headscarves in Europe appears to have claimed its first human casualty. Samira Munir, a Norwegian politician of Pakistani origin and the first Muslim woman to support a ban on headscarves in Norwegian schools, died mysteriously after falling on train tracks in suburban Oslo.

On November 14, 2005, a Norwegian human rights group, Human Rights Service, reported the news of her death, yet another catastrophe in the blood-smeared landscape of European Islam.

Samira Munir's death is a chilling deterrent to Muslim women who choose to speak out about the violence in their communities and aggressively seek reform instead of conforming to the religiously "acceptable" forms of rights discourse that are tolerated by Muslim communities in the West. Samira Munir was unapologetic about her position and unwilling to buy into the rhetoric of the liberated hijab (headscarf) increasingly bandied about by many Muslims.

For this outspokenness, this political divergence from the much-lauded camp of liberated Muslim women that celebrates the hijab as a voluntary act of faith, Samira Munir was condemned to die under mysterious circumstances. The terror of her last moments is amplified by the ominous statements that she made prior to her death. She received threatening phone calls on a daily basis and was being harassed by Muslim men who accosted her on the streets and threatened to kill her.

The intimidation did not stop there: in interviews to Norwegian newspapers Samira Munir spoke about feeling pressured by the Pakistani Ambassador to Oslo, Shahbaz Shahbaz, who twice summoned her to the Pakistan Embassy. The embassy visits were purportedly arranged to "discuss her political views". Samira Munir also said that the Ambassador had repeatedly mentioned the fact that "she still had her family in Pakistan". The message implicit in the Ambassador's reminder of this vulnerability has apparently become clear now.

Her voice was too loud and her commitment to women's rights simply too threatening to be tolerated, and she was obliterated in the isolation of a suburban Oslo train station. Here was a woman who had lived in Norway for 20 years, a Norwegian citizen and a member of the Oslo City Council. Only Norwegian newspapers reported her death. The Pakistan Ambassador, so concerned about her political views in life, did not make any public statement about her death. The Pakistani community, otherwise so vocal in all matters affecting Pakistani-Norwegians, maintained a macabre silence.

Rumours are afloat that her death may have been a case of suicide, but despite the existence of surveillance cameras in the train station no definitive account of the cause of her death is available. Unwilling to grapple with the complex political issues surrounding her death, most people seem to welcome the assumption that she simply took her own life.

The death of Samira Munir lies at the epicentre of a gaping tension between the religiously conservative Pakistani-Norwegian community opposed to any restraints on cultural practices and the Norwegian state accustomed to treating all things cultural as innately sacred and unworthy of state intervention.

In the middle of this chasm lie the women whose interests Samira Munir was attempting to represent, the young Pakistani-Norwegian girls alienated from their parents' culture and prevented from identifying with Norwegian culture. In supporting a ban on the hijab in Norway's public schools, Samira Munir sought to establish for these girls the choice that many Muslim women who support the hijab tout as their reasons for adopting it.

In securing for them a state-sponsored space that would allow them to develop as women unencumbered with cultural and parentally imposed restraints, Samira Munir sought to procure for them the ability to make a choice based on their own beliefs rather than those of their parents.

It is in welcoming state intervention in developing such a space that she was labelled as an enemy of Islam and a threat to the image of solidarity that Norwegian Muslims sought to project to the Norwegian majority.

In the wake of the controversy over headscarves in France, scores of Muslim women have spoken out in defence of the hijab. Indeed, hundreds of Norwegian Muslim women demonstrated in Oslo against implementing the ban. Their remonstrations on behalf of the hijab focus predominantly on two crucial aspects; first the notion that the hijab is a required tenet of Muslim religious practice and second that they chose to wear the hijab of their own volition.

However, the two prongs of the argument represent a problematic logic. Even if the divergence of views on the hijab as a requirement of faith is ignored, can such a requirement be constructed simultaneously as an essential obligation of a practising Muslim and an act of free will? The philosophical underpinnings of this complex inquiry provide only one conclusion, the fact that school-age girls stand vulnerable to becoming pawns in the hands of parents trying desperately to cling to the traditional practices of their past and retain a cultural identity free of Western influence.

Even a cursory analysis of the Norwegian Muslim community presents significant evidence of pervasive anti-integration sentiments typical of European Muslim communities.
The unwelcome communal burden of post-9/11 scrutiny in the guise of anti-terrorism measures has promoted a victimised and beleaguered self-image, deeply suspicious of the Norwegian culture that surrounds it.

Religious conservatives within the community frown on assimilation and integration and often paint it as an abandonment of Islam and as the adoption of the wayward ways of the West. In the summer of 2005, an Urdu publication entitled Iblis ki Aulad (Children of Satan) was released within the community by the All Pakistan Muslim Association. The author of the book, allegedly a Pakistani mullah, not only attacks Norwegian ethics and morality but describes all Norwegian children as illegitimate and conceived "here and there".

Expectedly, the anti-assimilation sentiment manifests itself in the community by the oppressive pressure placed on those that can be most easily controlled, girls and women. The hijab thus becomes an effective instrument of this control, a convenient means of extending the control exerted by fathers, husbands and brothers in the private sphere into the public sphere of school life. The tension between those that consider the hijab a requirement of faith and those that do not is also increasingly obvious within the Muslim community.

Norwegian school officials such as Anne Bech Skogen, the principal of a girls' school in Oslo, report not only an increase in headscarves in girls schools but also fights among Muslim girls in which girls not wearing the hijab are called prostitutes. The tussles in the schoolyard represent an extension of the battles against integration to an arena that should be devoted solely to educational pursuits.

Also caught in this tumultuous current are hundreds of Norwegian-Pakistani girls fleeing forced marriages who have been contacting relief centres pleading for state protection against their families. Like their counterparts in other West European countries, these girls fear for their lives for flouting tradition. According to newspaper reports, the girls, most of them under 18, are often brought to the centres by their teachers in whom they confide. Despite being given new legal identities, new addresses and portable alarms, many report feeling threatened by their parents.

There is good reason for their fear. Months before the mysterious death of Samira Munir, a 20-year-old Pakistani girl named Rahila Iqbal was killed during a trip to Pakistan. In a gruesome set of events, Rahila was lured to Pakistan under the guise of a conciliatory family vacation. There, in rural Punjab, the unwitting Rahila was surreptitiously drugged, then raped and drowned in a staged car accident at the behest of her own family. The murderers included Rahila's mother, who conspired against her to erase the shame brought upon the family by Rahila's love marriage. The family members have since been indicted in Norwegian courts and are facing criminal trial.

Rahila's killing was a crime of honour, fuelled by a desire to erase the existence of a daughter who had chosen to reiterate her own will against that of her family. Against the backdrop of such unabashed commodification of women as emblems of family honour, the issue of hijab becomes problematic and the question of state intervention in "cultural matters" even more imperative.

Should Western liberal states reconsider their non-intervention policies towards Muslim minorities at the risk of being accused of adopting imperialist and paternalistic attitudes towards them or should the potential for the abuse of the rights of Muslim women like Rahila endorse a proactive attitude towards integration that justifies a ban on headscarves in public schools?
Some avenues to investigating these questions can be found in the articulations of the European Court of Human Rights on the issue of the headscarf ban in Turkish educational institutions. In 2005, a court decided that Istanbul University's refusal to allow a female student, Leyla Hasin, to wear an Islamic headscarf during an examination was not a violation of her human rights.

The court quoted a decision from the Supreme Administrative Court in Turkey saying: "Beyond being a mere innocent practice, wearing the headscarf is in the process of becoming the symbol of a vision that is contrary to the freedoms of women." Within hours of the release of the Hasin decision, Muslim groups in Europe issued statements condemning the Islamophobia of the European court.

Among them was the extremist Muslim group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which issued a statement that the verdict "had served to convince Muslim women further that only the unification of Turkey and all Muslim countries under an Islamic Caliphate state would guarantee the protection of the rights and honour of women in the Muslim world". Other European Muslim publications condemned the ban, accusing the court of "implementing tyranny" and "being unable to deliver justice".

Such was the vitriol against which Samira Munir raised her voice. She was not alone in being condemned for speaking out against practices she saw as holding women back. Many women championing other causes related to Muslim women have been singled out for intimidation and even assassination. In Iraq, Zeena Al Qushtaini, the owner of Baghdad's best known pharmacy, was killed for "working with women's activists and wearing Western clothes".

Her death followed those of Aquila Al Hashimia, Nisreen Mustafa Al-Burawati and Amal al-Ma'amalachi, all murdered for supporting women's rights. Yanar Mohammad, the head of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq who opposed the replacement of the existing Personal Status Code by Sharia law, has been threatened by the Army of Sahaba (Jaysh Al-Sahaba).

In Afghanistan, five women have been killed in the past year for working for aid organisations that support women's issues. In Pakistan, Zubeida Begum, a worker for the women's rights group Aurat Foundation and an active campaigner for women's right to participate in local elections, was murdered by an unknown person as she slept in her house.

In a recent interview, women's rights activist Amna Buttar of the Asian American Network Against Abuse (AANAA) reported being told by a top Pakistani government official that "it is extremely easy for us to get someone knocked off even on the streets of New York", clearly implying that living in the United States was no guarantee for her safety if she continued to speak out against rape and sexual abuse of Pakistani women.

On January 8, a delegation led by Asma Jehangir, the renowned women's rights activist in Pakistan, was fired on by unknown gunmen, under the watchful eyes of Pakistani paramilitary troops who refused to come to the aid of the activists.

These threats and tragic deaths are indelible marks on the conscience of Muslims everywhere. When Muslim women in the West raise their voices in support of the hijab and proclaim their right to wear it, they must also acknowledge the reality of the oppression faced by those Muslim women who refuse to wear it. The fact that many Muslim women choose to wear the hijab as an independent act of faith does not erase the subjugation perpetrated on other women whose suffering is just as real if not as vocal.

The real causes for Samira Munir's death remain shrouded in mystery, but the fact that she was singled out for threats and intimidation for acknowledging both of these realities is exceedingly and unarguably clear. It is only in unequivocally endorsing the freedom to oppose the hijab that European Muslims can claim the right to support it.

Rafia Zakaria is a lawyer and member of Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Women.

Monday, January 30, 2006
  Freedom of Expression
A Danish newspaper today offered an apology to Muslims in general and Saudi Arabia in particular for publishing twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. This is after a furor in the Middle East -- the withdrawal of Saudi Arabia's consul, a lawsuit by the United Arab Emirates, and a boycott of Danish goods which made a drastic reduction in sales.

Now, the apology may have been justified as some of the cartoons weren't particularly nice -- like the one that shows Muhammad with a bomb for a turban, or the one that depicts him with devil horns. I mean, really, if someone painted Jesus or Buddha with horns, one would expect some objection. The issue at hand, clearly, is not merely the depiction of Muhammad as some would have it, but also the way in which he was depicted.

Many of the cartoons, however, reflected ironically on the newspaper that put out a call for the cartoons in the first place. One shows the editor of the paper wearing a turban with a bomb labeled pr tucked in amongst the folds, another shows Muhammad as a modern teacher writing on a blackboard "Jylland-Posten's journalists are a bunch of reactionary provacatuers." Clearly, some of the artists were suspicious of the paper's motives in putting forth this call -- was it just to sell more papers, or was it really to test the limits of free speech?

Either way, the cartoons do raise some serious issues.

1) Where do the limits of free speech lie? Internationally, the standard seems to be that anything goes, so long as you aren't actively encouraging people to harm others. The question remains though as to what what may encourage someone to harm others. Does it have to be something direct, like saying, go find a Muslim and kick him in the balls for Jill Carroll's sake? Or can something that reinforces negative stereotypes, and hatred of an entire people be sufficient?
Certainly many of the cartoons did just that -- reinforcing the notion that Muslims are irrational, violent, big nosed, sword wielding turban wearers.

There is a reason so many groups have challenged stereotypical portrayals -- from the Jews, to the Italians and Irish and Poles, to African Americans and Latinos -- and that is because stereotyping does indeed lead to harm to real people. Whether it be discrimination on the job, in school, in the housing market, stereotyping makes it difficult for people to live their lives. Does anyone really think that encouraging the notion that all muslims are violent and irrational will help resolve current tensions between Europeans and Muslims? Of course not.

However, facing this reality, is the opposite reality that it is impossible to regulate speech without the world turning into a replica of a Barney video. Are you going to outlaw sarcasm? Irony? Articles or stories that deal with real problems facing us? How can you possibly draw the line?

To me, it's clear that freedom of expression must be upheld, even the freedom to say hateful, horrible things. Hand in hand with that, though, must be an equality of opportunity, of access to the mass media. The Danish paper thankfully didn't supress the cartoons that took it to task for scandal mongering; and while it would have been nice if they could have found one cartoonist that was able to capture something of Prophet Muhammad's humanity, his wisdom and gentleness, his adherence to honesty and justice, I suppose it's not very surprising that his good qualities are not much touted in non-Muslim circles.

Unfortunately, all too often, it is difficult to get ideas contrary to the prevailing ones heard. Me writing on my blog doesn't quite carry the reach of even the smallest of newspapers. (Not yet at least, maybe after my books get published and reach best seller status. *wink*)

2) What is the appropriate reaction to hateful speech? I find the boycott of Danish goods, the removal of ambassadors and lawsuits against the paper to be rather out of proportion. After all, a lot worse is going on in the world than a few people drawing some pictures. Withdraw your ambassador because the US is adventuring in Iraq, maybe. Or because they rubber stamp oil corporations who would very much like to suck all the profit of natural resources which should be used to build the infrastructure of the countries beneath whose soil the oil lies. Yeah.

But all this furor because someone depicted prophet Muhammad? Heck, Muslims themselves have depicted Prophet Muhammad, such as in this picture where he is shown being carried by Gabriel, or these where he is shown without a face, or this one where Gabriel is presenting him the city of Madinah.

To be honest, such depictions would no doubt be condemned by the people who condemned the Danish cartoons -- the consensus for the greater part of Muslim history has been that drawing the Prophet is a big no-no. Some refuse to draw any of the major historical figures; others believe it is forbidden to draw any animal life, including people. But the point still remains that a handful of silly drawings is nothing compared to the real injustices that are occurring in many parts of the Muslim world.

My idea of an appropriate response -- a calm explanation that drawing (or acting the role of) goes against our religious teachings, which we'd really like for you to honor, and if you're not going to, then please don't insult our Prophet by portaying him as something he wasn't. I'd probably stop buying the paper myself. If I was in a position to be placing ads, my marketing dollars would go to other outlets. But lawsuits, recalling ambassadors, and boycotting all Danish products... umm, no.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
A bunch of the writers on my egroup have been in a funk this week (including myself). Writing fiction is one of the few career choices I know of where people can stop working if they are having problems with their calling. Journalists have to get on with it, as do technical writers. If a surgeon feels like he just can't face the next operation, too bad. And I can just imagine what the boss would say if an engineer called in with a number funk. So why do writer's get to declare they are blocked, or in a funk? Shouldn't professional fiction writers just get on with it? And yet, if we do, will it be worth reading? If we don't, will we ever finish that next novel...
Friday, January 27, 2006
With Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court looking like a done deal, and with fears that his will be the last needed vote to overturn Roe vs Wade, I thought this might be an opportune moment to ruminate a bit about abortion.

I've always been opposed to abortion, but I find myself believing that it must remain legal, and that way to reduce it (hopefully drastically) is through better education, provision of quality, affordable day care, developing a society that supports parenting rather than the current corporate culture that tries to wring every second from a person's life that it can, holding fathers equally responsible for child care (just paying child support is not enough!), and access to reliable, inexpensive birth control for all.

Until we develop sound alternatives for women, until we are truly supportive of parenting, until our society stops pushing kids into sexual relationships long before they are ready, until the best, most reliable birth control is available to everyone, then there are going to be unwanted pregnancies. And as long as there are unwanted pregnancies, women will try to get abortions. A sudden change in the abortion law -- making it illegal in a matter of months or even a couple years -- would clearly result in a horrifying mess. Hundreds of thousands of women get abortions each year; it is unrealistic to think that the number of unwanted pregnancies would drop significantly if the only change is that abortion is no longer legal with out any of the other necessary social, economic, and educational changes. Which means tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of back alley abortions with all their attendant horrors. Babies will be dying; mothers would be dying along with them.

This is not a very comfortable position for me to take.

As I said, I've always been opposed to abortion. I can help but see it as taking a life, stopping a beating heart, ending a person who would grow up to be something wonderful.

I was what one might call a love child, although my parents were engaged when I was conceived, and they got married seven months before I was born. Nonetheless, they were young, in the middle of college, and chances are if I'd been conceived today I'd have been an abortion. That is not to suggest that my parents hate me, or that they wish I hadn't been born. In fact, we have an excellent relationship, very loving and mutually gratifying. I had a great childhood with fun, involved, supportive parents. The fact that I have four children of my own ought to suggest that I was not raised thinking that children are an unbearable burden, but rather that they are a delight and an enrichment of our lives. And yet, I can never forget that had abortion been available, there's a good chance none of this would have happened. Needless to say, this background gives one a very visceral reaction to the issue. 1) a cold shiver of "I could have been a statistic in a trash can" and 2) my parents got over their initial reactions, made the best of a challenging and at times difficult situation, and everything worked out pretty darn well.

I had the opportunity to meet a young man this summer who has overcome many, many physical challenges in his young life. (He's written about them in an inspirational book called Wrestling with the Goddess.) What one takes away from Azeem's story is that you do what you've got to do, and things turn out for the better. What I take away from my parent's story is much the same -- you rise to meet the challenges you are faced with, and life turns out ok. I often wonder, if people who think they could not possibly handle a kid might find out they could. Or if they think that it is too embarassing, painful, etc to carry the baby to term and give it up for adoption, that they might find out, they could handle that. After all, when push comes to shove we can do what we never imagined we could.

Of course, there are very real issues that go along with the idea that abortion should be avoided at all costs. Social pressure is immense. We may not have honor killings, but there is a lot of denigration and belittling of teen moms, single moms and so on in our society. If those pressures were relieved, perhaps things wouldn't look quite so dire to young folks faced with "being in trouble." If quality child care were readily available and affordable, perhaps things wouldn't look quite so black. If dads weren't so easily able to walk out of a child's life, if our society raised its boys to be responsible, active parents rather than just the guy who brings home the bacon, maybe that would alleviate alot of the pressure as well.

And then I think, if we had more education about the probabilities of pregnancy, about the other emotional, phyisical, and social drawbacks to early sexual encounters, less glorification of sex as the ultimate human experience in our media then we'd have less of a problem to begin with. It seems like, for Hollywood and the advertising community sex has become the most meaningful, powerful human experience. I think there are other experiences which are equally profound or more so -- experiences like altruism, like love between family and friends, spiritual experiences. Can you imagine if more cars were sold on the basis of bringing families together and less on the basis of power, speed and sexiness? Can you imagine if the thing that brought lovers together in the movies was not passion, but the deep joy one gets from a lasting bond with another human being? Or that the most moving experience of a human life was the mystical bond that human feels with the Divine, the rest of creation, other humans? Maybe, then, kids would be looking for those things, rather than sex.

What if being an adult was defined not only as being sexually mature, but also being fiscally, socially and emotionally mature? What if one's stature wasn't measured by one's wealth and one's looks, but by one's charitableness, the sweetness of one's tongue. Those are values not often portrayed in the popular culture.

If they were, maybe the intensity of the abortion issue would fade, because the sheer number of abortions would fade.

Another problematical issue for me lies in the argument that it is a woman's body she should be able to do with it as she pleases. Yes, and no. It is also the body of a developing child. I don't believe that women's agency is compromised by making abortion illegal; I think that is a red herring -- she has the agency to choose not to engage in sexual activities or to make darn sure she is protected if she does choose to engage in them. That's where women's agency lies -- in controlling how they want to express their sexuality. It shouldn't extend into terminating a life, pre- or post-natally. It should extend into deciding if she wants to give that child up for adoption or not -- no one should be forced to raise a child they don't want -- but that doesn't giver her the right to terminate that life any more than she would have the right to terminate it once it was no longer within her body.

And yet, despite all the reasons to be anti-abortion, there remains the fact that even with impeccable sex ed, and widely available and affordable birth control, people are going to get pregnant when the didn't intend to or when they don't want to. And at that point, the question becomes, it is worse to have women risking their lives in back alley operations, or to have the procedure done safely, and legally, under regulation. And, when push comes to shove, I have to stand for keeping abortion legal. The consequences otherwise are simply too ghastly.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
  More on Hamas
Ok, with a stunning arrogance people like Tony Blair are saying the Hamas has to eschew violence before the British government will work with them. Might help if the British government would eschew that itself rather than helping America pre-emptively invade countries! I swear the double standards are enough to make one ill!
  NY Times on Alito
Once again the NY Times nails it. A perfect analysis of the dangers of Alito and the "scratch my tummy" puppy dogs of the Senate.

Hamas appears to have won a landslide in Palestine. It's obviously a tricky situation. Making it even trickier is the fact that most people in the US aren't getting certain crucial bits of information.

1) Hamas ran on a domestic platform. They didn't run on a "let's get the Israelis" platform. The vote should be seen not as a referendum on how to deal with Israel, but rather a rejection of the corruption that has plagued Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, and a vote for social programs and development that have not happened under Fatah. Hamas has a reputation for honesty and a history of social service, which brings us to point 2...

2) Hamas has an extensive social service program, and has long been a crucial player in relief work and economic development in Palestine. We almost never hear about Hamas activities other than their support/planning of suicide strikes against Israeli targets. The fact of the matter is that Hamas has done a lot of good work in Palestine -- funding, schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. "Approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities," writes the Israeli scholar Reuven Paz. (source here)

This makes the picture a whole lot murkier than the simplified "Palestinians vote for Terror" that some talk show hosts are going to be bandying about.

Making the picture even more complicated is the fact that the elections appear to be have been an exercise in democracy that truly worked. Reports are that 78% of the eligible voters actually turned out. That's a statistic that ought to make American voters turn pink with embarrassmentt, given that our participation rates are abysmally low. I've yet to hear charges of vote fraud or voter intimidation (not that such charges may not yet come, but it isn't being bandied about yet.)

If we are serious about promoting democracy in the Middle East, Western nations are going to have to come to grips with popular choices that bring Islamist parties to power. I have to say I am not happy about Islamists coming to power; I believe in the separation of church and state, and I also believe that the shar'iah as advocated today is a miscarriage of Islamic justice, often contradicting the letter and the spirit of the Qur'an and the Prophet, and Islamist parties all advocate for Shari'ah. BUT if I'm going to be serious about democracy, then I have to accept the popular vote and work for my vision of Islam through whatever peaceful means are available.

The West's reaction to the military coup in Algeria back in the early 1990s was shameful. Rather than supporting democratically elected representatives whose world view we disagreed with, we sighed in relief when the military stepped in and voided the election results. We should have stood with the popular vote, even if we weren't happy about the outcome of that vote, and insisted that the military allow the results to stand. Aside from the wrongness of siding with usurpers and military power over democracy, the result has been a radicalization of the Islamic movement in Algeria and a deepened distrust of American posturing in support of Democracy. Democracy for all but Muslims is the way many Muslims feel America thinks.

Which also means that any move to negate the Hamas win, will only backfire.

So where does that leave us -- with little choice but to try and convince Hamas to refrain from violence. That is going to require a lot more give from Israel -- illegal settlements, the "security" wall, which annexes large tracts of Palestinian land in controvention of international law and several UN resolutions, policies of collective punishment, targeted assasination, extra judicial detention, and so on need to be eliminated. The road to real peace requires the resort to legal rather than military solutions by both sides.

Ironically, I wrote a column about this very topic this week which got picked up by the Charlotte observer. One can only hope sanity prevails.

Often when radical groups get political power, they moderate their stances. Let's hope this is what happens with Hamas.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
  No good deed goes unrewarded...
I know, that's not the way the phrase goes, but I think it's truer. Last night I got an emergency call from Saara's teacher asking if I could be a chaperone for today's field trip. I could, so this morning I headed to the Indianapolis Children's Museum with four sixth grade classes.

The museum has opened a new dinosaur display which is really, really good. Some of the highlights were: real fossil skeletons, not just casts. Viewing of a newly discovered species (it's only been on display for a couple of weeks.) The first trial of a new program which allows the students to make presentations within the gallery space using power point and their own research. I was amazed at some of the questions the kids were investigating -- things like are the eggs of herbivores different from the eggs of carnivores (turns out the answer is yes!), can we tell from the teeth of a dinosaur if it was a predator or a scavenger (assuming a meat eating dinosaur). I know we hear alot about the dumbing down of school, but I was impressed with this unit and the technology that these kids are learning to use as a matter of daily life. Also, a real live meteorite which measured some half meter long and about a third of a meter wide and deep!! That alone made my day! Hands on exploration of field cast and how palentologists prepared them for study one they get them back in the lab. And so on. A really excellent new display that I highly recommend to anyone living in or passing through Indianapolis.

But the real treat was out in the main hall -- the Children's museum is going to be home to the newest, and largest glass sculpture by artist Dale Chihuly Dale's work is internationally reknown and truly spectacular. The coolest part is that the installation is going right now, so we got to watch as they assembled the sculpture. It looks like assembly is going to take several days, if not weeks, so, again if you are living in Indianapolis, or passing through in the near future, I would strongly recommend stopping by to see how it's done. It's really a once in a lifetime chance. Click here for a slide show of some of his other chandellier installations.

When I said yes this morning, I had no idea that I was going to the dinosaur exhibit, that I'd see this enormous meteorite and be able to touch it, or that I'd get to witness part the installation of a Chihuly sculpture. Like I said, no good deed goes unrewarded!
  Nasty Nasty
So you live in a country where a large numbers of a certain ethnicity are living in slums, isolated, angry, feeling that they cannot get ahead economically and socially, and that their civil rights are regularly violated. The situation is so bad that riots have broken out in the past few months with complaints of economic discrimination and unfair practices by the police. Knowing that a disproportionate number of these folks are poor, and that a significant portion of the poor come from that group, your charity kitchen decides to serve a food you know they can't eat.

I'm sorry, but that's just nasty. It wouldn't surprise me if God throws that bit of charity into the list of "bad deeds."

This, of course, is exactly what's going on in France, right now. Some right wing groups are serving pork soup in their kitchens, deliberately excluding poor Muslims from their charity. It's a clear provocation, though they claim like breathless ingenues that they're just serving a traditional French food.

There are plenty of traditional French foods which don't include pork, and they know it.

This is pure racism and utterly hateful. It certainly isn't going to help alleviate tensions between the French Muslim community and the mainstream French community. Indeed, it seems designed to exacerbate them.

How did we get to a world, where people who run charity kitchens are so hateful?? These are are our philanthropists, our paragons of virtue, and yet they are so lacking in compassion. Sigh.

AP's report on the situation: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060124/ap_on_re_eu/france_pork_soup
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
  wrong priorities
Well, Alito looks to be a shoe-in, Canada seems to be headed down the tubes... Argentina anyone? Actually, I have no idea if Argentina is a good country to be in or not. American news reports almost nothing about Argentina. Which makes me think, it must not be a bad place at all...

People have been talking about the rise of the religious right for a long time now, and talking about how it was a backlash against the moral laxity of the 60's and 70s. Since this backlash started back in the 80s we've had some 25 years of it. And since the phenomenon it supposedly was a reaction to only lasted 20-25 years, maybe we're ready for the next sea change -- back to a more liberal, tolerant, civil rights focused bent. One can only hope!!

Unfortunately relgious fundamentalism and extremism seems to be on the rise all over the world. And I'm afraid it is going to get worse before it gets better, with rampant commercialism and nationalism, and people killing and hating based upon nothing more than the language one speaks, the clothes one eats, the beliefs one holds dear.

It seems like so many unimportant things come before human life, and particular before ensuring that all humans can live with a dignity that goes beyond mere survival. It is shameful, what we are wreaking in this age. Completely shameful. One wonders how priorities can get placed on such unimportant matters! Like Trump, who is suing an author for $5 billion because he claimed Trump's net worth is not what Trump claims it is. Who the heck cares whether he's worth 150 million or 10 billion -- he ought to give enough of it away that he's got enough to live decently and be done with it. Or how about the billions of dollars that's been spent on plastic surgery in this country? I'm not talking reparative surgery after someone has been severely burned or in a terrible accident, I mean the kind that is supposed to keep you younger looking or sexier. How can you justify liposuction when children's stomachs are bulging not with fat but malnutrition?

It's quite enough to make one want to go hide in a cabin in the woods and never talk to a human being ever again.
Monday, January 23, 2006
  New Tricks
Well, today has been a day for new tricks. First, I got notice that my poem Foreign Thoughts was accepted for publication by Star*Line which is the bi-monthly journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. This was the first sci-fi poem I have ever written. (Lots of science fiction prose, lots of poetry, but the first time together.) I may have to try my hand at more. I have to say, it wasn't easy forcing an idea to come to my brain, but once it came, the poem flowed pretty well. Unfortunately for all y'all that might want to read it, it's not coming out till the Nov/Dec issue. At least you have something to look forward to ALL YEAR LONG!

The other new trick -- I wrote a song! A nasheed to be exact. (Nasheed for those of you who probably don't know are like psalms, or hymns in praise of God.) This is also the first song I've ever written. I love music, I love songs (Winterreise is perhaps my favorite song cycle ever), I would kill to be able to write like Beethoven or Chopin (ok, no I wouldn't but I would be sooo happy!). Unfortunately, I cannot write a single original stanza. Period. But now I have written the lyrics to a song and if I'm lucky they will be selected by the singer Ahmed Bukhatir to be made into a nasheed. Of course, if he does choose to use my lyrics, it won't sound anything like The Halleluiah Chorus, or even Scherezade; nonetheles it's exciting to think about adding lyricist to my list of odd writerly jobs.

I think I not only have to write a few more sf poems, but I also have to write a couple more nasheed, in case Mr. Bukhatir would like more than one, and in case he doesn't like the first one! Gosh, see how quick what was an old trick becomes a new one?
Sunday, January 22, 2006
  Where do you get your inspiration?
How do you come up with your ideas? This is a question a lot of people ask writers, especially science fiction writers, since our books/stories are often nothing like reality. For me, they seem to spring into my mind unbidden -- the novel I'm currently working on came from hearing a single word (which became the title) in the middle of my daughter talking about something she had read in school. Along with it came a picture of a ritual and a world and a society. It's been expanded greatly from them, and, the way things are going, the ritual, which I love and wish I could go into in detail, features only minorly in the book.

In fact, word association or overhearing a phrase and then that word or phrase taking on a new direction is a fairly common way I get inspired. One of the short stories that I should have coming out soon from Mundania happened that way as well.

Other times I'm not even aware of what made me think of a story, it just pops up, like my sort story that was in Citizen Culture. I was standing in the kitchen watching the birds at the birdfeeder and all of sudden there was this story idea in my head. I suppose it was the fruition of ideas about religious extremism and positive and negative responses to them that had been on my mind ever since Sept 11th, but I certainly hadn't been thinking, I need to write a short story about this.

There are times I set out to tackle a topic that I consider important. (Almost all my writing has some polemical content to it, even when I didn't intend it to be that way.) Usually, the writing that results is not as high quality as the stuff that just comes to me. Unless it's an essay, of course. Makes sense, fiction is about the story more than the moral, so if you're writing a story for moral purposes, it can often be... well... preachy, or staid. Read the novel Pamela if you don't know what I mean. I really admire writers who can address moral issues with fiction and not end up preachy -- Barbara Kingsolver and Louise Marley are two who jump to mind.

Anyway, this blog post was inspired by something that just tickles my fancy so much. My older daughters are all writers in their own right. (The youngest is only six, I expect her to follow in our footsteps.) The eldest is working on a spoof fantasy novel with two of her friends. The middle two are always writing short stories that plan to be novels. The younger of these two (younger by 40 minutes mind you) gets her inspiration by hanging out with our pony. I think this is SOOO quintessentially what being a young girl is about -- love of the animals in your life and love of self-expression in words -- she jumps up on the pony's back (a feat she had to pratice for months since the pony's back it about shoulder level for her) and gets out her notebook and pencil and writes. She says that's when her best inspirations come to her. I love it!
Saturday, January 21, 2006
  Black Belt
Today my oldest daughter got her adult black belt. She's been a junior black belt for several years, but she promoted today to adult ranking, which means she finally outranks me (something she's been looking forward to since the moment I started karate). Needless to say, I'm proud as punch. And, sorry Tasneem, even though you outrank me, I'm still your mom and you have to do what I say, at least for a few more years. :)

Of course, the batteries on my camera died in the middle of the test (the supposedly brand new, fresh batteries...) But here are a couple of photos:

Thursday, January 19, 2006
  How to write about Muslims
I recently saw a page on how to write about Africans... thought I'd do the writerly community a favor and explain how to write about Muslims...

1) Make sure they are violent, irrational, vicious, mean-spirited, and oh, did I say violent? Can't forget that one.

2) Know that Muslims are fanatics. Even those who claim to be moderate, are fanatic compared to your average Christian or Jew. As fanatics, they are all motivated by the 72 virgins they are supposed to get in Heaven. God knows what the women are motivated by, because they are going be those virgins. Of course, it doesn't really matter what the women are motivated by, after all female Muslims don't really count cause they are just puppets of Muslim men

3) Muslim women all wear headscarves; most of them cover their faces. Past a certain age, they're all fat and wear black, floor length dresses shaped like tents. None of them can read, and they prefer to be barefoot, pregnant, and slaving over a hot stove or serving tea. They don't lift their eyes from the floor and are terrified of men in general, their husbands and uncles in particular. God forbid they actually have an opinion.

4) Before Muslims commit acts of violence, they pray. Not for forgiveness. It's more like a triumpant offerring up of their blood sacrifice to God.

5) Even though they pretend to be pious, Muslims are big sinners. They drink, they curse, they sleep with women (just don't let any Muslim women get caught sleeping with men or they'll end up dead by dawn). Morals? What's that?

6) They all speak with heavy accents. Grammar is as beyond them as morals...

7) The only things Muslims care about are Paradise and Palestine.

8) They are dirty and smelly. I know, it's kind of amazing, given that they have to wash all the time before those five daily prayers, but even so, they're are filthy.

9) They keep camels in the backyard, or maybe the front.

10) The men wear dresses and scarves too -- that ought to tell you what kind of men they really are! That's why they beat their wives so much, cause otherwise everyone will find out they aren't real men.

11) Art? Poetry? Fiction? Music? C'mon we're talking Muslims here.


Here's some links to REAL Muslims.

Salma Arustu, artist

Asma Jehangir, lawyer, political activist

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Azhar Usman, stand up comic

Daniel Abdal Hayy Moore, poet

Abdal Sattar Edhi, relief worker

Mohamed Odeh, amateur astronomer (check out the link to the Jordanian Astronomical Society!)
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
  Wire Tapping
Our family has joked for a long time about people listening to our phone calls, or the house being bugged. Looks like it wasn't a joke at all. In fact, the phone of EVERYONE in the United States of America is being tapped. By the NSA. Not just Muslims (because, after all, it's pretty hard to tell who is Muslim and not, since our census doesn't ask about religious affiliation and an awful lot of Muslims have names like... oh... Pamela Taylor...). If you've ever talked about jihad (even if you said, man this jihad stuff scares me silly) then your call got flagged by the NSA.

Last time this kind of thing happened, the president resigned before he could be impeached. Last time people were outraged. Somehow I expect this time most people will not be outraged. They will complacently nod that this things are necessary now. Like sheep being led to the slaughter.

How long will it be before we're all nodding, yes it's ok for the government to bug our houses, or install cameras inside them - that way we'll be sure no one is doing anything illegal in there. That way we'll be safe.

How long will it be before it's not just the war on terror, but the war on drugs, on petty theft, etc that are being waged in this manner?
  The Latest on the Hajj Khutbah
It has been widely reported that during his Eid Khutbah, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Sheikh, slammed America. What has not been reported is that he concluded his sermon with the following statement: "Islam does not allow terrorism because it stands for peace and harmony. Muslims all over the world must unite to follow true Islam propagated by Prophet Mohammed." Clearly if he sees a conflict with America, it is an intellectual and cultural conflict, not one waged with acts of violence.

Let's be clear, I have no great love for the Saudi Kingdom, and the Mufti, who is appointed by the government. But, I believe his stand against terrorism in this year's Eid sermon ranks among the most significant declarations against terrorism by Muslims. Yes, the Fiqh councils (a council of islamic scholars and imam) in America and Canada has issued fatwas (religious edicts) against terrorism. Yes, various sheikhs, scholars, and imams have condemned it for years. But the Eid sermon in Mecca, with an immediate audience of some 2. 5 million muslims, and a much larger global audience, declaring so boldly that terrorism has no place in Islam -- it is definately more significant.
Monday, January 16, 2006
  Happy Martin Luther King's Day
Here's to hoping that some real progress is made on the remaining issues in race relations.

Ironically, today I was showing my father-in-law the class composite photo from Noora's 1st grade. I was pointing out her best friends in the class and one of the pictures didn't really look like the girl very much.

"Is that really Adriana? It's doesn't look at bit like Adriana," I said to Noora.

"No," she said, "Adriana is up here."

And she was -- with the name Jaylin under her photo. Then I started looking at the other pictures. 7-8 of the little black girls in the class were mixed up with each other. The wrong names had been put under their pictures. None of the little blond boys with crew cuts were mixed up, of course, just the black kids. Talk about outrageous. I wonder if we'll get a replacement with the correct names going with the faces. Somehow I doubt it.

That photo certainly would make it tough in 35 years when they have one of those, can you guess who all these kids grew up to be. The jokes on you -- even if you guess right, the picture is wrong!

This was definately one of those warped galaxy moments -- really warped!
Sunday, January 15, 2006
  Bad poetry
A while back I wrote that there is an awful lot of bad Islamic poetry written in English. (Heck, there's an awful lot of bad poetry written in English period, Islamic or not.) A friend wrote to me to ask what I meant by bad poetry. I thought what I came up with might be useful for other (beginning) writers, so I decided to post it here.

So, according to my definition, bad poetry includes one or more of the following flaws:

1) Rhymes that don't quite work. I know this is done by some of the great masters when they rhyme "again" with "rain," and so on, but it irks. (And maybe back then the pronounciation of those words was a lot closer than it is in today's English). I see this all the time. Things like:

You hate my hijab
but it makes me feel glad
You hate my jihad
but it isn't really bad

Unless you twist the pronunciation of "hijab" and "jihad" and ignore the b, the rhyme just doesn't cut it.

2) Rhymes that force the poem in directions it shouldn't really go. You know what I mean -- you're reading along, and after a few lines, things suddenly don't fit very well any more. Then you realize the poet got stuck after line 5, -- s/he couldn't quite figure out a good rhyme for line 6, and so came up with a phrase/image/sentence that sort of works to go with the available words, but not quite. The meaning doesn't quite fit with what came before, but the poet settles for it, rather than looking for a different way to phrase line 5, so line 6 can make sense.

So if we continue the above poem:

You hate my hijab
but it makes me feel glad
You hate my jihad
but it isn't really bad
Everything you hate
Is on my plate
Because it's God command
In the Holy Qur'an.

You see what I mean. The poem seems to be about how hijab and jihad aren't really the negative things that people think they are, but then it kind of swings away from that thought into how they are God's command, rather than continuing the thought about why they aren't bad. Not only that, but the line "Is on my plate" doesn't quite convey the meaning needed -- ie I practice this because... It feels like a stretch, like the poet was confined by the rhyme rather than the rhyme being a tool in the poet's hand to make the poem richer and deeper. This problem is perhaps even more common than the first one!

I suppose I ought to at this point confess that I don't much care for poetry that rhymes (at least not modern poetry, I'm a fool for Poe who was one of the few writers I can actually identify as having had an influence on me.). Perhaps that's because so much of the poetry that rhymes reminds me of Dr. Suess. Dr. Suess gets around points 1 and 2 by inventing words (you delightful old cheat!) and it works, but the rest of us are stuck with real English, and often enough it doesn't work. Or, it forces us into triteness, equally bad.

Which brings us to...

3) Poor word choice/Use of empty words. The above poem is bad not only because of the bad rhymes and stretched imagery, but because I've chosen a bunch of empty words:bad, glad, etc. These words don't convey anything concrete. They are vague almost to the point of being meaningless. Not good. Poetry is supposed to be a window into the poet's soul -- hopefully our souls are more complex than bad and glad. Even the word jihad has become nebulous -- is the poet talking about the jihad which means struggling against one's inner demons, or the jihad of the popular press which is holy war? Certainly that has a huge impact on the meaning of the poem. If it's the former, then it's saying you're misinterpreting Islam; if it's the latter then this is a defense of militarism. (!!) The poet needs to make a it perfectly clearer what she is talking about! (In this case that people are misunderstanding the concept of jihad.) Using empty/nebulous words is another problem I see all over the place.

4) Hand in hand with empty words are images that are stale. Sometimes completely cliched.

To go back to our example:

Everything you hate
Is on my plate
Because it's God command
In the Holy Qur'an.
When you think I'm mean
I want to scream
You cause me so much pain
my tears fall like rain.

That's bad prose, let alone bad poetry! Tears falling like rain, hearts bursting with (insert emotion), sunny smiles, cheeks as red as apples, eyes as black as night. Cliches make boring poetry. Again, this is ubiquitous. I repeat Poetry is supposed offer a glimpse into the heart of the writer -- that deep, secret inner part of us where we are each unique. Needless to say, cliches don't do that, unless the poet is using them very purposefully to demonstrate a point.

5) Rhythm that doesn't work. I'm not talking iambic pentameter that missess a beat, but when the line doesn't flow well -- the rhythm of the words is choppy or uneven, or one line is too long for the others, the poet has a three syllable word when a two syllable word would work better. It doesn't have to have a repetitive rhythm like poetry of long ago, but it should have a musical quality to it, a flow to the words. Not:

When you think I'm mean
I want to scream
You cause me so much pain
my tears fall like rain.
Stop stereotyping me
I'm more than what you see

Can you hear it? Stereotyping brings the poem to a screeching halt. Labeling might be a better choice.

5) Poetry which is really just a bunch of sentences strung together. Poetry shouldn't be grammatically challenged prose. That is, it should have density of language/image/ideas, uniqueness of word/grammar usage, phrasing and juxtaposition of images that go beyond prose. The example I've been spinning out is really an essay chopped up into bits. There's nothing particularly that makes it a poem, except the layout. In fact, it would be better as an essay, because the poet could fuly explore the ideas she's trying to put forth.

I'm sure there are other things that make for bad poetry, but these are things that I'm seeing all the time in Muslim poetry in English. Alhamdulillah, more and more people are working on their craft and striving towards quality.

If you've put up with my pontificating this long, I'll try and give you a hijab poem I think is decent (sorry if it's not great -- I'm writing this one on the wing, and you're getting the first draft.)

By Pamela K. Taylor

A slip of pink chiffon
It might as well be concrete
A Berlin wall of fabric
between you and me
Thank God
If we try to cross
This textile no man's land
No guns will fire
No dogs will leap
To tear out throats
No Fletchers here
We stand to lose
Only our own conceits
Let us be the Wetzels
The Strlzycks of hijab
Let us soar
On scraps of nylon
On discarded bits
Of misperception
Soar over the covered hairs
The covered minds
Into uncharted
lands of amity
Friday, January 13, 2006
  The glamour of writing
Nonsequitor nails it.

  Tanzania's New President
It's not often you hear good news about Muslim politicians, or for that matter good news coming out of Africa. So I was pleased to read about Tanzania's newly elected President, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete in the Nation:

"By winning the presidency with more than 9.1 million votes, Tanzania’sPresident-elect Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete is easily East Africa’s most popular leader. Mr Kikwete, popularly referred to as 'JK’ to his supporters, trounced other nine contenders capturing more than 80 per cent of the votes cast.:

In particular it was nice to read:

"But unknown to many, the newly-elected Tanzanian leader could have been president in 1995. At the end of Tanzania’s second president, Alhaji AliHassan Mwinyi’s reign, the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party held its primaries in which Mr Kikwete defeated the then Foreign Affairs ministerBenjamin Mkapa.However, Tanzania’s founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and CCM bigwigsprevailed upon Mr Kikwete, then 45, to step down in favour of the58-year-old Mkapa."

A Muslim leader willingly stepping aside from power! Wow. I know that's cynical and there are plenty of Muslim leaders who step aside once their terms are over (Think Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, not to mention any Muslim politician in a non-Muslim state, etc, etc, etc) but so often we hear about kings or dictators or generals who seize power in military coups or even elected presidents who refuse to step aside at the end of their term.

I suppose it comes as no suprise that he is described as brilliant, likeable and tolerant.

"Mr Kikwete is a very simple, brilliant and likeable fellow who mixes with everybody," says Kenyan member of the East African Legislative Assembly(EALA), Mr Calist Mwatela. Mr Kikwete had been the Chairman of the East African Council of ministers and one of the longest serving ministers in the EAC organ."


"The affable political operator was always happy to share a joke with journalists after giving interviews when he served in different ministerial portfolios, including Finance and, Energy and Minerals.

Though a Muslim, Mr Kikwete is also popular with Christians."

Mr. Kiwete's plans for the next few years?

"Our focus will be economic growth. We shall have to ensure that there is no
slippage in macro-economic gains. Most of our people, 80 per cent of them,
are peasant farmers, fishermen and livestock keepers. Our challenge is how
to improve agriculture, fishing and livestock keeping. If there is more
productivity, more produce, then there is more income," says Mr Kikwete.

He believes that with improved farming, which employs 80 per cent of the
Tanzanian population, poverty can be alleviated significantly."

That seems to make sense, although, unfortunately, "To meet these goals, he banks on support from donors. Due to economic reforms and impressive debt payment record, Tanzania is one of Africa’s leading aid recipients."

I guess I better send my check in the mail.

For the whole story see:

Behind the jolly mask of East Africa's new favourite son

The Nation, Nairobi

Tuesday, January 10, 2006
  Strep Throat
Just in time for Eid I came down with strep. At least I think that's what this is. I don't have an appointment to confirm it until tomorrow morning, but we took Ameera to the doctor's Sunday and she was diagnosed with it, given antibiotics, and told to stay home from school, so I assume, since my symptoms are the same, that that's what I've got.

As a result, I sat through the Eid services in the car (I just couldn't see potentially spreading strep to some 2000 congregants, especially as it is very contagious...) and I'll be skipping dinner with my friends tonight. (No way I want all their babies getting it!). And I had to write my editor and say there was just no way I could turn in an article today - I'm not completely coherent at the moment.

Ah well, I'm not grousing, after all I could be northern Pakistan this Eid, or Palestine, or New Orleans, or any other number of spots in the world where my prognosis could be a whole lot worse than a sort throat and fever. Places where tylenol and robitussin aren't readily available. Where food and shelter may not be available. Whenever anything unpleasant occurs to me, that's what I try to think about. Kind of immature perhaps, but it helps me. And, hopefully, when I get better, the remembrance spurs me to do something for people in those situations.
Monday, January 09, 2006
  Eid Mubarak!
Well, the kitchen is a wreck. My house smells like some odd herbal tea. And there's a pile of presents sitting on the couch of all places.

That's what a henna party will do to you. *grin*

Twice a year -- for Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha -- we have a henna sleepover party the night before Eid. This usually includes a variety of my kid's friends -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- of various ages. Since Eid falls on a school day this time around, the crowd was a bit more limited than it has been in the past, but we still had a kitchen full of girls. Pizza, chips, soda, candy, a movie (actually one for the bigger kids and another for the younger set), and a lot of laughter, plus several hours of painting designs on hands, feet, wrists, anlkles, arms, legs, bellies, wherever we feel like it! Years ago, I had to do all the painting. Now, the kids are way better than I ever was, so they take turns making designs for each other and for me.

Tomorrow we'll get up pretty much the same time we always do, get dressed in fancy clothes and head to the masjid (the mosque). There's a chant - La Baik Allahuma, La baik - At your service, Oh God, at your service - that we sing. And also another one that is more musical, praising Allah, and calling for blessings on the Prophet and his companions, wives, descendants. This is always especially meaningful to me as my husband and my kids are descendants of Prophet Muhammad, so I'm asking very directly for God's blessings on them, something that's near and dear to my heart.

At the masjid there will be more chanting/singing, special prayers that are similar to the daily salaat, but different enough to make it feel unique, and then a sermon. Hopefully a good one! Afterwards there will be breakfast in the multipurpose hall, plus candy and balloons for kids. We usually try to take it easy on the food, because we always go out for lunch for Eid. In Ramadan, this is a bit more significant, after all we've been fasting a whole month, lunch suddenly takes on a new importance. For Eid ul Adha it isn't as significant, but I try to think of the other ritual that happens during Eid -- the sacrifice of a lamb, a goat or a cow to commemorate the sacrifice of Ismail by Abraham and his being replaced by a ram by Allah. We usually have our sacrifice done overseas in a country where people desperately need the food, so we don't have much personal participation in that. But as you break bread together, it's a good thing to remind oneself about.

After lunch we'll open presents. I know a lot of families do the presents first thing in the morning, but we've always had it after the prayers. It seems appropriate -- Eid is about worship, about celebrating God's blessings and His generosity in our lives, about acknowledging His care and guidance, and for celebrating our own efforts to reach out to God, to please God.

One of the things that I have always loved about the Eids is that they are celebrations of the acts of today's believers -- a celebration of the community's fasting and pilgrimage. Hajj commemorates many acts that took place in the past -- the striving of Hajr, the determination of Abraham and Ismail (and yes, in the Islamic stories it is Ismail, not Issac who agrees to be sacrificed), the turning away from evil -- but the commemoration of these acts is not passive -- it is active - the pilgrims run between the hills of Safa and Marwa as Hajr did, they pray upon the Mount of Arafat as Muhammad did, and sacrifice a lamb as did Abraham. They throw stones at the pillars of Shaitan, symbolizing their personal commitment to turn away from evil and temptation. Thus Eid is not just a commemoration of historic deeds, but also a celebration of the deeds of the Hajjis. To me this is so life affirming, so redolent of Islam's message that people are good, people are beautiful and worth celebrating. I love that feeling proud of one's accomplishments is not only acceptable, but even mandatory! What a profound acknowledgement of the joy of being alive, of being blessed with the abilty to do good and to worship!

In the evening, we are going to a friend's house to have a pitch-in dinner with our Qur'an study group members. I'm sure there will be great fellowship, with lots of laughter and serious discussion as well.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Spoiler alert -- I can't talk about this movie without spoiling some of the plot, so if you don't want to know some of the details of what happens, then don't read this until after you have seen the movie. And, yes, you need to go see Munich.

As you can guess, I just got back from the theater. I wasn't sure I wanted to see this movie -- after all, it's about tracking down and killing Palestinian terrorists. My heart bleeds for the Palestinian people. They are my people -- my brothers and sisters. They are the Native Americans. The Mayans. The Inca. I am the European; it was my ancestors who pushed aside and killed the people who lived on this land. If the plight of the Palestinians weren't enough to stir my soul, my angst over my people's guilt in that earlier crime transfers to the Palestinians. I cannot but feel horror at the Israeli usurption, at the prospect of another people robbed of their land the way my ancestors stole America. At the time, Native Americans were portrayed at blood thirsty savages, but now we see them as a desperate people trying to save their way of life. Today we see the Palestinians as terrorists and radicals, will someday they be seen as a desperate people trying to save their homes, their way of life by any and all means? Will history books acknowledge that attrocities were committed, but that for a people whose backs are against the wall, often no alteratives seem viable? I am not saying that killing athletes or civilians in a pizza parlor or on a bus is justifible, even when you are waging a war, but I do think the issue is far more complex than the portrayal we usually get.

My heart also bleeds for the Jews -- for the Holocaust, for the continuing anti-semitism that plagues this world. I am angry at Israeli politics, but I feel for the Jewish people. I can understand their desire for a safe place, a place where you don't have to wonder what your neighbor is saying, or what he or she might do to you tomorrow. Living as Muslim in America has many, many parallels to living as Jew in early 20th century Europe -- the suspicion, the stereotyping, the willingness of the populace to strip rights and priviledges from a particular group, the fear that if the government decided they didn't like you, there would be little recourse. I am well aware that the occasional support for the notion of interning Muslims from the likes of Daniel Pipes and Anne Coulter, the attacks on mosques, on individual Muslims (and Sikhs misidentified as Muslims), are two or three orders of magnitude less significant than the Holocaust, but I can identify with what it feels like to live in fear.

So I went to see Munich with some trepidation, fearing that in the final analysis, the film would condone Israeli policies, and prepared for a great deal of heartwrenching.

I got the heartwrenching I expected. I cried when the Palestinians were shot along with their wives, when teenagers were killed. I cried when the Jewish team members were killed. I cried when the hero was terrified for his daughter. Heck, I probably cried through most of the movie. It's just that raw. Spielberg does not pull any punches. There's gore, but it's not the gore that gets you, it's the humanity of the people dying. Each character is a real person. In fact, we get to know many of the targeted Palestinians. We hear their longing for a safe place to live, for home, a longing that echoes the Jewish longing for a safe home voiced by Golda Meir and the protagonist's mom. Spielberg makes us like the Palestinians. I do wonder how effective this is for people who are programmed to hate Palestinians and Arabs, who have been told for years they are irrational and violent, not fully human. I am predisposed to feel for the Palestinians, so perhaps this aspect of the movie came through particularly strongly for me. Either way, this is absolutely the first hollywood movie I've seen that acknowledges the Palestinians as people, that admits their needs, their hopes and dreams are as real, and even as valid, as the Israeli hopes and dreams. That gives an authentic voice to their characters. The only other one that comes even close was The Seige in which the Arab terrorists were previously CIA operatives who had been abandoned to a slaughter by the enemies they had been fighting for the CIA because it was no longer politically expedient for the CIA to continue supporting them. In that movie, the terrorists had valid cause for anger, but they were still monsters. In Munich, they do not come across as monsters, but as people. Dangerous, violent people acting beyond morality, but people none the less.

Perhaps more significantly, the Mossad agents who hunt them down are portrayed as not much different than the Palestinians -- they also are dangerous, violent people who are acting if not beyond the bounds or morality, at least very, very close to the edge. The transformation of the characters from self-assured soldiers to people who question the morality of what they are doing, of their government (and various other governments). One of the most incredible sequences involves a woman who tracks down one of the Israeli agents and murders him -- we don't know alot about her, but it's made clear she's been hired to exact revenge for the assassinations the Israelis have carried out. The protagonist and his team then go and kill her --exacting their own revenge. The endlessness of the cycle -- vengeance upon vengeance upon vengeance really strikes home at this point. The movie ties in several other acts of terrorism -- the killing of a hundred people on a flight to Athens, a bus bombing in Israel -- to vengeance for each assassination.

This is the reality we NEVER get to hear in the American media. Everything is justified as a retaliation, as a means to the end of a safe home.

Much to my surprise, Spielberg never relents. The Israeli higher-ups come off as cold-blooded murderers, as do the Palestinians who killed the athletes in Munich. The agents who actually do the killing all (except one) end up doubting what they are doing, the rightness of assassination (at one point the protagonist demands proof of these men's guilt, and doesn't get it), the possibility that assassination and conflict will ever lead to peace. Again, perhaps my reading of the movie is colored by my own understanding of the situation, but it is quite clear that the protagonist thinks what he and his team did is wrong, that the cycle of violence will never lead to peace; it will just continue on and on with more and more bloodshed.

The end is quite bleak. The Israeli government is unrepentant, and hostile to the protagonist, who has abandoned his home in Israel. The cycle of violence continues, and the "hero" is emotionally destroyed. Of course, he is still alive, unlike most everyone else in the movie.

I have always admired Spielberg's talent as a filmmaker. I now stand in awe of his moral fibre. He has done one of the things the artist is supposed to do -- to be the conscience of the world. Munich packs a punch right in the gut -- it does not glamorize violence, or lionize one side or the other of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it does call us to reconsider morality, and whether the ends justify the means (with a resounding authorial no to go with the question). It demands that we remember the humanity of every individual, no matter whether Arab, Jew, or whatever.

It is difficult to stand up and say my people are involved in insanity, especially on this issue which is so incredibly volitile and about which people have such strong opinions. I can imagine the kinds of reviews this is going to get -- the kinds of emails he is going to get. (I get them myself often enough.) If only there were more Jews, more Palestinians, more people period, who were willing to stand up and say what this movie says -- this is madness, and it's got to stop.
Friday, January 06, 2006
  Didn't win
Well, I didn't win the Andalusia Prize. I suppose that's both good and bad news. Bad news because it's fun to win prizes, they look good on your resume, and $1000 never hurts. Good because that means there's a decent level of competition out there. Contempory poetry by Muslims in English, especially that of a religious bent, can be rather... umm... childish. I don't know if that's because of a lack of knowledge about poetry, or because the people who are writing Islamic poetry have a simple faith, or why. Whyever it is, there is a lot of bad Islamic poetry out there. Losing the prize means there's also a lot of good Islamic poetry out there.

Anyway, I thought I'd list some Muslim poets sites I enjoy. Maybe you will like them too.

http://www.danielmoorepoetry.com/ Daniel Abdal Hayy Moore is an excellent poet and an all around cool guy. He posts a new poem every week, a real treat for the soul.

http://www.asmasociety.org/culture/literary_kahf.html This is a page where you can find some of Mohja Kahf's work. Mohja is so full of energy and the joy of life, you can't help but feel uplifted reading her work.

www.muslimpoet.com Run by Dasham "Dash" Brookins. The poetry on Muslim poet is self selected so the quality runs the gamut. Dasham himself is a great spoken word artist.

http://muslimvoicespoetry.4t.com/ Ok, so this is a bit of shameless self-promotion, this is the site where you can find the poems of the winners of the Muslim Voices 2006 poetry contest. I look forward to seeing the poems for coming years.

Suggestions from others very welcome
Thursday, January 05, 2006
  Never jump to conclusions...
Ok, now I have to eat crow. My editor at beliefnet just sent me a very nice email explaining they had decided to split the story into two parts, since the first section seemed appropriate for all audiences while the remainining part is aimed specifically at Muslims. And the second story will be going up soon, insha Allah. So, I don't really have any reason to be peeved. Just shows it's never good to jump to conclusions!

On the other hand, it would be nice if editors told us of these things before the fact. On several occassions, I've waited and waited to hear back from an editor about an article, finally given up and sent off an email inquiry, only to be told, "Oh, we published that weeks ago, you should be getting your check any day now."

Not to mention the editors/agents who think that no answer means no thanks, even if you've included a SASE with your submission. What if the submission got lost in the mail? What if the acceptance did? And since when did common courtesy go by the wayside?

Ah well, so much for ranting. Alls well that ends well, as the bard said.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
  Hajj for those who Stay at Home
My article on Hajj and what it means to those who stay at home is up at Beliefnet. I am a bit peeved as they cut what I considered to be the most important part of the story -- my ideas for to connect with Hajj.

So here goes... something different than the usual, pray more, fast more, give more charity, read more Qur'an...

1) Follow along with the Hajj as it is being performed. Set aside some time each day to reflect on the rituals the Hajjis are performing that day. (For those who need help remembering the different components of the Hajj, there are dozens of Hajj manuals that explain what is to be done, when it is being done, and in which location. Michael Wolfe’s virtual tour, click on the link at http://www.beliefnet.com/story/15/story_1516_1.html, is easy to use, with gorgeous photos.) Think about the meaning of the day’s rituals, and how it applies to your life. Look at pictures of people performing those rituals, and imagine yourself doing them along with the Hajjis. What would you be feeling? What du’a (supplications and prayers) would you make?

2) Read a personal memoir of Hajj. There are a variety of personal travel memoirs describing individual Hajj experiences. Wolfe’s autobiographical work, “The Hadj, an American’s Pilgimage to Mecca,” describes in comprehensive detail his trip to Mecca via Morocco. Wolfe also edited the anthology “One Thousand Roads to Mecca,” which features 23 short memoirs by a wide variety of personalities from Ibn Batuta to Muhamad Asad. “Journey of Discovery,” a very intimate account by Shamima Shaikh and Na’eem Jeenah, follows this South African husband and wife on their Hajj and offers the unique perspective of a post-apartheid couple. The provocative “Standing Alone in Mecca” by Asra Nomani is a vivid report of the kind of personal impact Hajj can make on an individual’s life. And Ali Shariati’s reflections on the meaning of Hajj in his book, “Hajj,” is also considered to be among the most uplifting of pilgrimage stories.

3) Watch a documentary about Hajj. In addition to his written memoir, Wolfe produced a documentary about his 1997 Hajj experiences with “Nightline”’s Ted Koppel. Riz Khan filmed two well-known documentaries for CNN in 1998 and 2000 detailing everything about the Hajj. The Discovery Channel also produced a documentary on Hajj, and National Geographic’s, “Inside Mecca,” presents three different personal Hajj stories: one Malaysian, one South African, and one American.

4) Tune into Radio Hajj. With broadcasts following the Hajj rituals, religious shows, discussions of issues, and children’s programming, Radio Hajj is designed to help listeners to keep up to date with events during the Islamic holy month of Dhil-Hijjah. Radio Hajj is available live on the internet at: www.radiohajj.net. There is also Hajj TV through Islamicity, but you have to subscribe.

5) Buddy up with a new Muslim to help them learn about Hajj. Most new converts to Islam have only the fuzziest ideas of what Hajj and Eid ul Adha is all about. Get together with a new Muslim in your community and explain the what, where, who, when and why of Hajj over a leisurly cup of tea. Be sure to bring visual aids! In the process you’re likely to make a new friend, and you might just learn something yourself.

6) Volunteer to give a talk in a local school or library about the Hajj. Most public schools and community libraries are eager to have people of different faiths come in and explain their holidays and rituals. Visual aids and cultural artifacts--prayer rugs, scarves, ihram clothes, Eid cards and clothes--all go over well, especially with children. Explaining Hajj and Eid ul Adha to non-Muslims can help you remember why it is important to yourself.

7) For the younger set… Play the Hajj Fun Game, which introduces Hajj to kids aged 10 and up. I've never played it, so I can't attest to whether it really is fun or not, but it's worth a shot!
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
  Where are the Unions when you need them?!
I've been watching the progress of the WV mine rescue (which looks at this point like it is going to be a recovery of remains, rather than life-saving operation) with anguish and anger. Anguish for the poor men who appear to have perished, and for their families, their children, their friends. Anger because the mining company had 208 safety violations in the past year, nearly half of them substantial. And according to US gov officials, it is not the worst among the safety records of mines. Indeed, they are saying it's fairly typical for mines of its size.

"Federal regulators' allegations against the Sago Mine included failure to dilute coal dust, which can lead to explosions, and failure to properly operate and maintain machinery, according to the U.S. Labor Department," reports AP news. "Ninety-six of the citations were considered "significant and substantial" by inspectors." And the average fine -- $250. That's gotta got hurt.

Where the heck are our unions -- insisting on decent working conditions? Where are our government oversight agencies whose job it is to protect workers? I feel like I'm living back in the 1880s.
Monday, January 02, 2006
  Ninety Nine Names of Allah
As I mentioned before, my daughter memorized all nintey nine names of Allah this past week. I personally love that Allah has many names. For one, it shows that God is not uni-dimensional, but is complex, with many characteristics, some seemingly in conflict with others -- a real person as it were. More importantly, the names demonstrate important things about God's nature.

The two most repeated names of Allah are Ar-Rahman and Ar-Raheem. They are mentioned literally hundreds of times in the Qur'an, and are repeated dozens of times in the daily prayers. What do they mean? The Merciful, the Compassionate. How beautiful that Allah's most weighty names are those of compassion and mercy, of love!

The next five in frequence of mention in the Qur'an include al-Malik -- the King; al-Quddus -- the Pure; and Al-Salam -- The Maker of Peace; Al-Mumin -- the Inspirer of Faith; Al-Muhaiymin -- the Protector.

What strikes me, again, in this list is the prevalence of caring virtues -- peace, inspiration, protection, purity (as in freedom from harming others and evil impulses). Only one refers to God's majesty. Clearly, in the Qur'an, God is telling us how much He cares for us.

After this there are some that refer to His strength, majesty, and power, and then we are back to creative, bringing of good, etc.

One of the things that I find most attractive about the names of God is that they include what are traditionally considered feminine characteristics -- nurturing, maternality, creativity, compassion, humility, peacefulness, receptiveness -- in balance with what have traditionally been considered masculine characteristics -- strength, power, majesty, authority. I don't particularly subscribe to those characteristics being either masculine or feminine, but I do think that the balance between the caring, loving side and the majestic side is important. God is not male, nor is God female, but all emcompassing, as the attributes mentioned in His names indicate.

One of the more fascinating things you find in the Qur'an are references to God with the pronoun "ma." Ma literally means "that which." Not the person who does x, y, or z, but the THING that does x, y, or z. This can be found in some of the shorter surahs, near the end of the Qur'an, Surah Duha for instance: "By the sun and her glorious rising, by the moon when she follows her, by the day as she reveals her, by the night as she conceals her, by the sky and that which raised her, the earth and that which spread her wide, the soul and that which formed her, and inspired her with knowledge of evil and righteousness."

Of course, this is a very accurate translation -- in most translations you will find the wording masculinized, reinforcing patriarchal notions -- such as Yusuf Ali's "By the sun and his glorious Splendor, by the moon as she follows him." It rather makes me boil that the translators take such liberties and reinforce notions that aren't present in the Qur'an, but what can you do? It's one major reason to learn Arabic -- whoever said reading the Qur'an in translation is not the same as reading it in the original was dead right.

Incidentally, I'm working on a series of poems based on the ninety-nine names. Some of them are reflections on the meaning of an individual name, others are more commentary on human nature. Hopefully they will be finished sooner or later and then accumulated into a chapbook.
  Poem Up
My New Year's poem is up at Circadian poems.


Also my personal essay about my experience of delivering the sermon and leading prayers last summer is up at the Scruffy Dog Review.

Sunday, January 01, 2006
  Home again
I'm back home from a week at Muslim Youth Camp. Quite an experience! Not the least of which was that my oldest daughter learned the ninety-nine names of Allah in the five days we were there. (They were having a competition.) She managed to do this without either my husband or myself knowing that she was even trying to do it! I promise to blog more on the ninety-nine names of Allah soon, but there are other pressing issues at hand...

Happy New Year's!


Hajj Mubarak!!

Today is the first day of the Hajj, Islam's pilgrimage. You all probably know that this is the largest religious gathering anywhere, and it takes place in Mecca. Hajjis (the people who go for Hajj) visit the Kabah -- which stands on the site where Abraham and Ismail built a temple for God, which in turn is said to stand where Adam built his temple -- and they pray on the mount of Arafat, as Prophet Muhammad did. They throw pebbles at three stone pillars that represent the devil's whisperings to turn away from God. They sacrifice a goat in remembrance of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, and give the meat in charity, as charity is a prime value in Islam.

Among all these rather masculine rites is the woman-affirming commemoration of Hajar's perseverance in the desert, and her reliance upon God -- the running between the hills of Safa and Marwa which remember Hajar's running back and forth to find water for her son, the drinking of Zam Zam, in remembrance of how God answered her prayers and raised water in the desert -- a spring which continues to flow to this day.

Needless to say, the fact that 2 million Hajjis, male and female, commemorate the deeds of a woman is pretty heady stuff for all us Muslim women. The fact that the rite (which is repeated several times during the Hajj) is celebrating the personality of Hajar is even more significant.

I look at the role Mary plays (in Islam, can't speak for Catholicism where, I know, she is a very central figure, although it would be fascinating to hear more about how Catholics relate to her)... Anyway! Mary seems to me to embody the chalice -- the empty feminine who is made useful by having the male essence poured into her (Jesus, who the Qur'an identifies as the Word of God). Yes, she is given this blessing as a result of her piety, but in the Qur'an she is passive, silent, receptive, waiting for the male (the infant who speaks from the cradle!) to defend her. A very typical female role.

Hajar on the other hand is active -- running in the desert from hill to hill until she collapses in exhaustion -- she prays to God for succor (rather than being informed that she has been chosen by God to receive his blessing) and God answers. WOW! Need I say more about how empowering that is! And the fact that it is celebrated and commemorated by millions in the Hajj! It is the active, determined woman, the one who seeks out God, rather than the one who is passive and receptive that we remember every year! Heady stuff indeed!!

How sad that the modern ideal of Muslim womanhood seems to have been cast in the role of Mariam not Hajar.

My Photo
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.

What I'm reading now

Cane River
An interesting exploration of the gradual whiting of a family through slavery to modern days.

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.

Recent Posts

October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
July 2008
December 2008
January 2009
February 2009
March 2009
April 2009
May 2009
June 2009
July 2009
February 2013
March 2013
April 2013
July 2013