Monday, May 29, 2006
  Masked Ball
Three kids, three costumes and a camera... wow! This photo is basically unretouched (I cleaned up the bottom right corner a bit.) Amazing what kids can come up with if you just let them go!

Saturday, May 27, 2006
My panel on Both/And in an Either/Or world was last night. It went realy well. The room was packed (what do you expect with Ursula LeGuin on the panel?) and the audience was just super. A lot of insightful comments and questions.

One thing I found very interesting was the question of how do you present people who may be beyond the common notions or experience and still reach your audience. If your story is too far from mainstream perceptions will people just put it down saying, "I'm not interested in stories about...(insert topic)", or will they say, "Boy! I've never read about that kind of person, how interesting." Is it better to drop the reader right into the middle of the scenario, or sort of ease them into it, sneaking in your stereotype shattering stuff after they are already hooked. We didn't come up with a definitive answer -- after all, it depends a bit on who your character is and who your story is about and who your audience is, and what you are trying to do with the story.

Some of the things we did agree on -- there is the definite danger of being ghettoized if you are dealing with certain topics -- gay characters, or latino characters, for instance. There is the chance that you will be told you have to change the story if your main character is a Muslim named John (or Pamela!). Or that the audience will not react to this story as realistic enough.

The usual objections that you should be true to your art and not worry about the audience or selling the work were raised, and Ursula replied that a book is not just the author writing, it is the author writing for the reader, that the book, ultimately, is created by the two of them together, so you have to write so that you are accessible to your reader. I have to say, I agree completely with her (sorry James Joyce...).
Monday, May 22, 2006
  Home again
After several days in DC and then a day in Columbus OH, I'm finally home again. (Not for long though! I'm headed to Wisconsin in three days...)

The Network of Spiritual Progressives Conference was phenomenal. (more of my reflections on this tomorrow. In the meantime you can find more info about NSP at, and particularly at A Spiritual Covenant with America)

My visit at the St. Stevens Episcopalian church was also phenomenal. (more on that as well later.)

As I was travelling around, I thought about bringing some little thing for each of my children as I have done in the past. In the end, I decided that rather than buying them something, I would take some time to do something special with them in the next few days -- play a game, go to a movie, go to the park -- replacing some of the time we might have spent together while I was gone. While the older ones thought this was a decent idea, my littlest thought about it for a second and then informed me that really it would have been better to bring her something, but that since I hadn't, she would like our special time together to include a trip to Toys R Us. I had to work very hard to keep from laughing out loud.

It's always been challenging with my youngest -- she seems to want everything she lays eyes on. (Ok, lets be honest, every stuffed animal or plastic pony she lays eyes on.) It got so bad for a while that we worked out a system that if she didn't fuss for a toy for a whole week she got to go to the local drugstore and pick out something small. That helped a lot, but I'm still afraid she equates getting things with getting love. On the other hand, she plays truly elaborate pretend games with her villages of ponies and stuffed animals, so it may be more that she just likes to be able to have a lot of different characters to work with. Either way, I think it would be wise for me to spend quite a bit of time over the next months and years demonstrating some of the wonderful things that money can't buy, but make life truly beautiful.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
  Immigration column on Beliefnet
My column on immigration got picked up by beliefnet.

Much the same as what I posted here a few days ago, but perhaps a bit more coherent. :)
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
  Headed to Washington
I'm on my way to Washington DC tomorrow for the Network of Spiritual Progressives Conference. It's definately time for an alternative to the Religious Right, so that godly people don't feel they have only one alternative: The Republicans. I have some reservations about the NSP's organization and some of it's planks, but, then again, what political group do I not have some reservations about? The Democrats? No way. The Greens? Nope. The Socialist Part of America? Definately not.

At some point you just have to say, this is better than the existent choices and so I'm going to support it, even though I don't like everything about it. With the Progressive Muslim Union, it has surprised me how many people are not willing to compromise, even a small amount. It seems like they would rather have the status quo -- where Muslims are being represented solely by the hyper conservative and the moderately conservative -- than compromise and help bring a different voice to the stage, even if it isn't a perfect voice.

I guess that sums up the problems of the world in a nutshell, doesn't it? War is created by people who are not willing to compromise. Corporate greed is fueled by an uncompromising fixation on profits at all costs.

I think I need to start teaching my kids more about compromising...
Sunday, May 14, 2006
  Minimum wage
The New York Times recently reported that, according to their survey of housing prices, a full-time worker earning minimum wage (which translates into an annual salary of $10,700) cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in America at market rates. Heck, I doubt most people could survive half a year on that. Meanwhile, the CEO of ExxonMobile is earning 13,700 an HOUR.

Doesn't that say something about how "compassionate capitalism" is pretty much a broken system? Miminum wage needs a major boost in the arm (like, let's double it) and corporate greed needs to be reined in. Our government should be held responsible for selling out the American public to corporate America.

I keep wondering how long it can go on with the richest 1% amassing more and more of the wealth and the rest of us struggling to make ends meet. At what point will lowered wages hit the economy on the consumption side? If people can't afford the products they make and sell, at some point, profits are going to go down. Then, maybe, we'll realize that it's important to make life decent for all human beings, not just the rich, not, even, just Americans.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
  The Motherhood Manifesto
A long essay, but one well worth reading and taking to heart.

Friday, May 12, 2006

One of the things that amazes me every time the subject of immigration comes up, is the view of some poeple that there is something fundamentally wrong with the millions of people who want to come to the US to find a better job, a better education, a better life. You know what I'm talking about -- the nasty comments about immigrants being lazy, only wanting to take advantage of our welfare system or medical services, being selfish or self-centered.

The determination to take care of your family, even if it means traveling hundreds or thousands of miles away from them, even if it means risking imprisonment, low wages and harsh working conditions, can only be seen as a testament to the power of love and the human drive to lead a dignified life. How the willingness to make such sacrifices and face such hardships so one's family can live a better life can be called selfish, lazy, usurious... well, it beats me.

If my child was ill and had no access to a doctor, I would want to bring it to a doctor. If my family had to go hungry, or do without shoes, I would want to find a decent job to give them that. If I had to live forever in fear of my own government, or my neighbors, I would want to flee with my family to someplace safer. How could that possibly be evil?

One of the most basic precept of secular humanism is that you should not do to others what you would not want them to do to you, which is, of course, the golden rule taught by so many religions. Denying medical care, safety, or jobs to people who need them, in my books, counts as something I wouldn't want people to do to me.

I find it even more bewildering that those kinds of comments, along with disdainful regard for immigrants maintaining their culture and customs, come from people whose ancestors -- and often not so distant ancestors - were once in the exact same boat -- poor, looking for a better life, discriminated against, acused of not being willing to assimilate as they chose to speak German, Italian, Yiddish, Swedish, Dutch, dressed in their own clothing, maintained their own religions (yes, the Amish are still here to this day, as are the Quakers, and the Christian Scientists, etc, etc).

Solutions to some of the immigration problems facing us as a nation -- how to safeguard our borders without discriminating against certain groups, how to ensure timely processing of residency and citizenship applications, and what to do with the nearly 12 million immigrants who are here illegally -- are not simple. But xenophobia, racism, cultural elitism, and irrational fears don't help matters in the least. They only complicate matters, muddying the waters and making rational decisions elusive.

It seems to me that easy immigration is key -- we should be allowing in most the people who want to come in. America consumes and controls the vast majority of the world's wealth. Natural resources should not be the province of a few lucky people. Rather, they should serve to enrich all the world's people. As such, America has an obligation to share its wealth with the world -- in the form of jobs, education offerrings, and in the form of economic aid to developing countries so they can build up their infrastructure so there will be less need for people to come here to make a decent living.

We should be strenuously promoting human and civil rights, the rule of law and due process across the world (rather than propping up dictators who serve us, undermining popularly elected governments who don't, and toppling regimes who no longer prove useful...).

If we really want to stem the tide of immigration, the only real solution, is to make the entire world a desireable place to live, not just a handful of countries.

The Qur'an has a beautiful passage that expounds upon this idea. It's in the chapter called Women, and it spans parts of verses 36 an 37: Be good to your parents, to relatives, to orphans, to the needy, to neighbors from among your people and neighbors who are strangers, to the friend by your side and the wayfarer, and to those who have been enslaved. God does not like the arrogant, and boastful, those who hoard their wealth and encourage others to be miserly.”

Would that everyone took such messages to heart.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
  Two weeks Til the End of School...
...and I can't wait! I know a lot of parents who groan when summer rolls around. Bored kids, sibling squabbles, tv on all the time... but I love it.

I love the laid back, if you're bored get outside, if you're fighting one of you stay inside while the other one goes outside, fresh vegetable, reading in the crook of a tree, swimming in the stream, get up late and make pancakes, stay up late and watch distant lightning spar with the tree tops, roller skating, bike riding, ice cream melting long days of summer.

I love the lets go drive all over the United States and see what there is to see, follow old Route 66 from Chicago to Albuquerque, head 18 miles down the dirt road to Chaco, skip across the desert to the lava tubes, and hoodoos, and maybe if we feel like it, we'll get all the way to the Grand Canyon and Crater National Park, then back east across Oklahoma and Texas, all the while listening to Nancy Drew or Brian Jacques on tapes, or singing songs from Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story at the tops of our lungs, having picnics at the rest area and tenting out in stateparks. And you know, I may not even plan out a timeline for it, when we get there we get there, and when we get back, we get back.

I love not having soccer, or homework, no lunches to make in the morning (though the past year or so my hubby's taken over that job, so I really have nothing to complain about!), no lessons if I don't want to schedule them.

What could be better?!

I can only thank God (and my husband) that my husband has been able and willing to provide for the family so that I can stay home with the kids, do my writing (which bring in some income, but certainly not enough to support a family), and have summers like a tall, sweaty glass of chocolate frappe.
Monday, May 08, 2006
  New Column
I am starting a new column over at MWU, Cultural Currents . It's going to be about Muslim cultural stuff -- everything from book reviews to preserving our cultural heritage to... well, whatever I want. Anything to do with Muslim culture!

I designed my own logo, which required an inordinate amount of fiddling with font to get exactly the look I wanted (and even then I went in a photoshopped a few of the letters...).

I might start using the star with my K as a regular feature of my online signature. So often people assume I'm not Muslim, given that I don't have a muslim name and am on the liberal end of the Islamic spectrum. My editors at RNS always want me to state that I'm muslim in the first paragraph.

I'm really resistant to the idea of taking a psuedonym. I could change Kay to Khalid (a la a hypenated last name, but it's not particularly Islamic to change your last name) Something like Khatiba or another name with Muslim overtones, but none of them sound quite right. Maybe the star in the crook of the K would work enough to make people think, ok something's different here, and then realize oh, it's a reference to the star and moon. Or maybe, I'm just dreaming and people will never get that kind of stylized symbolism.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
  Atwar Bahjat, In Memoriam
I did not know the name of Atwar Bahjat until this afternoon. She was an Iraqi journalist, apparently a famous one. One known for advocating unity, justice, and harmony for Iraq. One known for her dedication to her country, which she proudly displayed by wearing a locket in the shape of Iraq during her broadcasts. One who was also known as a devout Muslim woman.

She was tortured and murdered, brutally, by other Muslims. (If you care to have your stomach turned, you can read the full account here. The account appears in a British newspaper, but it is nonetheless extremely graphic and disturbing.)

When I am confronted with evil such as this, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by impotence and helplessness. How can I prevent such horrible things from happening?

How can I ensure that journalists are free to report the news without fearing for their lives? What can I do to promote freedom of the press, and immunity for reporters? I can send contributions to Reporters without Borders, but that hardly seems adequate. I can write articles in American newspapers, calling for the protection of journalists, but who's reading? Certainly not the people who would carry out such a murder. I can call my senators, and my UN reprsentative, demanding protections and pressure, demanding resolutions and international laws, but will they pass legislation? And if they do, will people inclined to kill reporters obey such laws? I doubt it.

How can I convince fellow Muslims that torture and murder are completely and totally against Islamic teachings? I can write and write and write about the horror of it, the shock of Muslims killing other Muslims, and the hypocracy of doing so while howling over non-Muslims killing Muslims, but the ones who murder and torture are not reading the papers I write for; we don't even speak the same language, so how can I possibly reach them? I can give to Muslim organizations that preach peace, harmony, and tolerance, but can they reach these people? Do they have any more influence than I do? I'm afraid these killers listen only to others who believe as they believe, who preach hatred and violence.

How can I keep my government from starting wars that lead to the kind of civil strife that leads to this sort of horrific violence in the first place. I marched in DC with the hundreds of thousands of other anti-war protestors. I took my kids to march in DC. Bush didn't want to listen to us. Too many people were out for blood, eager to punish whoever was responsible for 9-11, including Iraq despite the fact that it was in no way responsible for 9-11. Too many people were consumed with fear and hatred of the other, of foreigners, of Muslims, of Arabs, and willing to accept patently false claims that Iraq had, or was developing, weapons of mass destruction, and that mere possession of said weapons was sufficient grounds to go to war. If they were willing to ignore the largest peaceful protests ever, how can I convince my government that war is not the solution to our oil dependency, or to Israel's security concerns? How can I convince people that it is stupid to hate other people just because they have different beliefs, different customs, different languages or skin color?

How can I protect women from being targets of warfare? How can I prevent rape, murder, or torture of women from being a tool that one group of men uses against another group of men? How can I help improve the lives of women living overseas, in other countries where literacy rates are nominal, and no one speaks English anyway? I can join organizations working in those countries and send money to them. But in the end, it's only dollars, and my resources are limited. I wish I were as rich as Bill Gates, or Donald Trump. Then I could give to my heart's content. As it is, I can only send my twenties, my fifties to a select few, and each group I send to means I don't send to some other group. I feel like a heartless miser, turning down the Fraternal Order of Police, or the Make a Wish Foundation, but when people's lives are at stake, hard choices have to be made.

There are days when I feel like a heartless miser just for living -- a middle class existence in suburban Indianapolis seems far too luxurious, far too comfortable, to be justifiable in face of what other people around the world have to live with. And then I think this angst is simply self-indulgence. So I feel impotent or helpless, what is that to complain about? I am not sufferring-- I don't feel the pangs of hunger day in an day out; no militias are threatening my life or the lives of my children; I do not have to worry about my country being invaded. Worse, I am not prepared to give up this life, to subject my children to those dangers and hardships. I'm not willing to give up music lessons or karate for them, or, even, to forgo coffee at my favorite coffee shop, so as to have a few more dollars to give. Am I then heartless? I don't think so, but what good is feeling guilty, feeling sad, or overwhelmed, if it does not spur you to greater action, if it doesn't create enough anguish to cause you to sacrifice somethings?

And then I think, what would be the point? It's like trying to hold back the sea with a shovelfull of sand. Even if I gave up everything I owned, it would like dropping a penny in a fountain, when we need billions of pennies.

There is so much evil happening in this world. So much injustice. I can't understand how people can dehumanize another person to the extent that they can torture and kill that person. How can they listen to a woman's cries, and continue to rape her? What is the glory in that? Where is the satisfaction? What has been so warped in that person's heart and intellect that they can do such a thing?

And me... I wish I could curse them. I wish I could ask God to strike them with hellfire. But I can't even do that. I can't wish eternal damnation and sufferring on anyone, even a murderer, even a murderer who tortures and then kills. How could I possibly want that person to suffer for eternity for a deed that lasted perhaps half an hour, or even extended over days or months? That, too, would be an injustice.

There are days when I believe no one will stay in Hell forever. But that doesn't seem fair either -- those who never harmed a single soul side by side with murderers in Heaven. There are days when I think there will be no Heaven and Hell, that both are merely tools -- God holding out a carrot and a stick so that we'll behave here on Earth, but not real, because neither one seems fair. If that's the case, they are, evidently, woefully inadequate.

There are days I know God is good, and days when I think, He must be cruel indeed, or merely indifferent. I always wondered how people decided God was perfect. The Perfect is not among the 99 names of Allah. And while it would be nice to think God is perfect, and perfectly loving, there are times when I feel this world cannot be the reflection of a perfectly loving God. There can be freedom of choice, without there having to be such thoroughly horrific choices. I've always told my children, it is ok to be angry, and when you are angry you may hit a pillow, or stomp your feet, or go for a walk, or lock yourself in your room, or even yell, but you may not hit a person, or stomp on their feet, or walk all over their feelings. So God could have said, you may hurt another person, but I will not allow you to torture them or to kill them wantonly. Evil didn't have to be sooo evil.

Truly, when I start thinking of these things -- of the injustice of an eternal Hell, of the extent of evil a human is capable of -- the pull of atheism is strong in my heart. There would be so many fewer questions if the world just was, without moral value at all. That's when I need to take a stroll in the cool night air, and look up into the stars, to recall God to my heart. When I need to think of the Prophet, and his life, to remind me of why I started believing in the first place.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
  Iran Awakening
My review of Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi was in today's Indianapolis Star. As usual the title I suggested was rejected in favor of a much better title (titles seem to be my buggaboo). Anyway, you can read Nobel Laureate's Tale will Chill and Inspire here.

I highly recommend the book. It is indeed both chilling and inspiring. Perhaps most interesting of all Ebadi makes it very clear that she is a devout woman, deeply spiritual, and sincerely praticing Islam... and wholly opposed to theocracy in general and the policies of her government in particular. Despite her clear-eyed criticism of the ayatollahs, she is also feverently dedicated to Iran, refusing as to flee to safer, freer pastures as so many of her friends and family did. All in all, it is a fascinating story about a remarkable woman living through truly incredible events.

Her integrity, her courage in the face of terrible dangers, her commitment to justice, and her pro bono championing of the downtrodden -- this is what I think of when I think the character a Muslim is supposed to have.
Friday, May 05, 2006
My daughter Saara and I went to see Turandot tonight. While the opera was lovely, and the singers and musicians wonderful, the costumes left me wondering.

Some of the characters were dressed in something resembling the loincloths of Sumo wrestlers. Others wore armor that looked like it had been inpsired by the Mongol hordes of Disney's Mulan. The Emperor wore white robes that looked almost Middle Eastern. Quite a few of the women characters wore kimonos. A whole troupe of children were draped in red tulle, as were a group of male singers, the significance of which was totally lost on me. There were also a few amazonian women, wearing leather dominatrix bikinis exposing their tatooed bellies. Some of the characters had faces painted as in Chinese opera (not just the comic characters) and others wore partial face masks while the three of the four leads were in straight makeup. At one point despite the line, "Don't they look tempting behind their veils" four seductresses appearing in sequiined suits reminiscient of circus performers. Some of the "peasants" had elaborately styled hair, others wore traditional chinese straw hats. Perhaps the oddest thing was the sumo wrestler fellows, whose hair was spiked into a long, swirling queue that, Daliesque, swooped out behind them.

I couldn't help but wonder if this was the way Puccini had envisioned it. It seemed possible, as there is a mixing of cultures in the opera itself -- Turandot is obviously not a Chinese name (it's is in fact Persian in origin), the hero is Tartar. Even so, the entirety is supposed to be set in Peking.

If it's not what Puccini called for (and even if it is) I wondered why the eclectic choices. Was it to universalize the story, make it exotic or foreign rather than Chinese in particular? Or perhaps to make it Asian, but not Chinese per se? Was it simply ignorance of the differences between Chinese and Japanese culture, between Han China and Mongol China? (Although that still doesn't explain the amazonian biker women...) Or perhaps, it was an attempt to portray the diversity of people who visited the Forbidden City. (although that diversity consisted of visitors not people not serving as court executioners or royal guards). I really couldn't explain the choice in a manner that made sense to me.

It certainly raised issues in cultural appropriation that any writer using foreign characters would do well to think about. From naming conventions -- why make a Chinese princess have a Persian name??? (Has your african character got a Tusti last name and a Hutu first name? YIKES!) -- to mixing and matching cultures within a story. It is so easy for people to get cultures wrong. Or, if not outright wrong, to miss details that jump out at someone from that culture that make them say, "no one from my country would ever do that." When I catch those kinds of errors I find it distracting, and it really takes away from the book -- if the author hasn't done her/his research, or run it by someone from that culture to make sure it sounds authentic, then what else will be inauthentic? The character's motivations, goals, aspirations and desires? The entire culture, or just bits of it?

Perhaps that was the point of the ecclectic mix of costumes. No one could think, man, this designer nailed Chinese period costuming, except for this one detail... It was a completely defiant mishmash -- an adamant insistence upon blending. Perhaps the idea was to say, this could happen in any of these places, or even, in your home country.

I usually aim for authenticity when I write about other cultures -- I believe that it is better to try and present them as they really are -- but there is something appealing in saying, I am not going to try for authenticity, I am going to put in the things I think are interesting, in this case visually stimulating, rather than what might be real. But... I do think for that to work, it has to be done very consciously, with the reader's/audience's full knowledge. Otherwise, it too easily looks like the creator doesn't know what he/she's about.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
  The Netherlands, Feminism, and the Burqa
Let me preface this discussion by saying I have no sympathy for the burqa. I believe it is not only not required in Islam, but that Islam actively discourages it. I believe it is harmful to women -- in terms of their ability to function on a day to day basis, and in terms of the social expectations it engenders and reflects, and in terms of the effects of those social expectations on women's self-esteem, quality of life, educational and vocational opportunities, etc, etc, etc. To me, burqas are the flipside of Playboy -- in both cases women are completely sexualized -- one with the intent to exploit that sexuality and the other with the intent of supressing it. Neither one is a healthy position. We need to develop a middle ground, a moderate way, that allows women to enjoy their sexuality while sparing them from being essentialized as merely bodies either for men's enjoyment or for procreation.

Having said that... as I've said before on this blog, I believe that every woman should be able to choose to wear what she wants to wear (whether it be bikini or burqa), especially if she believes it is a religious requirement. Self-determination is such a central platform of feminism, I don't see how a feminist can say, you should be in control of your own life, unless, of course, you want to make certain choices, in which case the government has the right to tell you what you can and cannot wear. Just as I oppose governments telling women what they must wear, so to, I don't think the government has any place telling women what they cannot wear.

This came to the fore recently because there's been a proposal in The Netherlands that would allow Amsterdam to deny welfare payments to women who wear a burqa, or niqab (variations on the face veil), especially if wearing it prevents them from getting a job. (see report below). This follows in the footsteps of Utrecht, who voted last year to reduce the benefits by 10% for unemployed women if they refused to stop wearing a face veil and if that prevented them from finding a job. (see second report below!)

This proposal created a huge and volitale discussion on one of my progressive Muslim groups. Some were very happy to support not only this legislation, but a complete ban on the burqa and face veiling. Anything to eradicate a hated practice, they said.

I couldn't agree with this at all. Yes, I'd love to see burqas disappear (and with them all the prejudicial attitudes and treatment of women that comes along with burqas). But, if we believe freedom of religion is a universal human right, then we have to extend that to all people, even if they make some choices we don't like. Some Muslim women sincerely believe the burqa to be mandated by Islam; their choice should be protected by law. We can't simply grant freedom of religion to those we agree with. That's not freedom at all.

How we combat something matters. Not every solution to every problem is a good solution. Do we in the name of liberation trample on freedom of religion? I think that is self-contradictory -- if a woman isn't free to pratice her religion as she sees fit, then how free is she really?

But, then again, does championing freedom of religion mean that we are enabling the oppression of women, for certainly many religions are oppressive of women. What of polygamy? FGM? Slavery, which so many religions allow. What if their religious beliefs are, like the Southern Baptists, that the wife should be submissive to the will of the husband? Is education enough? That is my usual answer -- win their minds, their hearts and their souls with persuassive writing, with passionate arguments.

But somtimes, it sure doesn't feel like enough! I try to draw a line at any action, religiously mandated or not, which would result in an individual harming another individual -- like FGM --or which negates the basic human rights or other individuals -- like slavery. But what of emotional harm? Is polygamy an emotionally harmful arrangement that should be outlawed, or can there be situations in which polygamy is beneficial to the women? What if both polygamy and polyandry are allowed, does that make any difference? Or would it just allow for men to exploit women and women to exploit men? And, what of the emotional and social toll of burqas? Is the damage to women enough that we should advocate for the government to step in, paternalistically, and say, we know what is best for you, and so we are going to ban this?

I don't think so, but this is partially because I come from a culture where wearing a burqa is very much a matter of choice, and a choice that is not easy to make, one which requires a good deal of inner strength. It is, largely, free of the prejudicial social millieu that make burqas in places like Afghanistan so objectionable. Would I support a burqa ban in Afghanistan, I might well do so, given the context. In America, I wouldn't, but in Afghanistan it might not be a bad idea.

This long debate raised some other issues for me that we didn't discuss. The primary being how can a feminist support proposals to cut welfare payments to women who insist upon wearing a face veil and therefore cannot get jobs. It is punishing the most vulnerable segment of society -- poor women -- for having the gall to make their own choices. Heck, there are probably some who did not make their own choice, but who have family or spouses who have pressured them into wearing it, which would be a double whammy -- punishing them for something they had no choice about! This seems so antithetical to feminist principles, and yet, staunch feminists were applauding the notion.

Again, I come back to the idea that how one fights oppression matters. If in the struggle to liberate women, you enact laws that are prejudicial against them, how is that liberation? Especially when those laws impact one social class of women (and probably one ethnic background of women) disproportionately. Class, race, gender, they are inextricably linked. And I don't see how feminists can support something that hits one class more than another, especially when it is the poor class -- the women who most need help and support.

Do I think they should abandon their burqas so as to get a job? Heck yes! But the way to encourage that can't be taking away welfare payments if they insist it is their religious obligation to wear it, even if we disagree with them.

Ahmed Aboutaleb, a member of the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA) and a Dutch citizen of Moroccan descent, has proposed legislation that would allow Amsterdam to end welfare payments to women whose wearing a burqa is the reason she can't find a job. "Nobody wants to hire someone with a burqa," Aboutaleb told the Dutch women's magazine Opzij. "In that case, I say: off with the burqa and apply for work. If you don't want to do that, that's fine, but you don't get a benefit payment." He added, in reference to a Muslim woman who refused to shake hands with men at work. "She has to realize that her behavior is building enormous obstacles for her in almost every situation. This woman must recognize that she is sidelining herself and that she runs the risk of being turned down for other jobs, too."

The Utrecht City Council has voted to reduce benefits by 10 percent for unemployed women if (1) they refuse to take off their burqas and (2) that prevents them from finding a job. The council reached this decision after two Muslim women receiving €550 a month in unemployment benefits told announced that they had stopped going to job interviews because their burqas meant they had no success. A spokesman for the Dutch city noted that the problem is more one of principle than economics: "People get benefits when they are out of work but there is also an obligation to do everything to get a job. These women were educated, spoke good Dutch and had opportunities in the labour market." The city also noted that the official Equality Commission backed employers refusing positions to burqa-clad women, as seeing a person's face is essential to many jobs.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
  Writing Short
I try to support Muslim writers and new writers of all ilk as much as I possibly can. (My budget sometimes doesn't stretch quite as far as I wish it did...) Aside from buying books, one of the ways I do this is by writing reviews and doing feature articles about authors. I had a blast writing the following review (see below). I had a 100 word limit. Not an easy task to capture the feel of a book in 100 words! There was a time, in fact, when I would have thrown up my hands in despair at ever being able to do so.

However, writing my columnette for the Indianapolis Star ( has taught me a great deal about getting across a point about an important topic in less space that I'd normally devote to, say, describing the setting of a story. It has often been a challenge to cut out everything but the core issue (and to be honest, there are some issues I haven't tackled because they are just too complex to fit into 200 words).

It sems to me that the skill of being able to convey a lot in a few words is increasingly important. People read the headlines and the first paragraphs of a news story or opinion piece, rarely the whole thing. When I get a piece forwarded to me on the internet that is huge, I zone out quickly. Effective persuassion has to happen quickly.

Of course, we also need room for nuance, for complex arguments, and multi-layered approaches to alot of todays problems. But, realistically, most readers won't get to the bottom of that article. Which means as writers, we need to be able to capture the essence of our argument in the first two paragraphs, and then develop the complexity, the depth and width and breadth in the following graphs, realizing many won't ever read them.

Anyway, here is the review. It was fun to write, and, I think, it will really give readers an idea of what this book is about, and what makes it different from all those other cookbooks out there.

Halal Food, Fun, and Laughter

When I was a child I spent a great deal of time in my grandmother's kitchen, chopping onions, stirring stew, or whipping up a batch of cookies, while Grammy told me tales of her childhood. Halal Food, Fun, and Laughter, by Linda D. Delgado, recaptures the spirit of my grandmother's kitchen, combining stories, poems, delightful animated spoon comics, and quotes fom Qur'an and hadith with recipes from around the world. The result is a warm, good feeling inside, coupled with delicious food on your table. It's like having your Chicken Soup for the Muslim soul, and eating it too.

Halal Food, Fun, and Laughter is available at
Monday, May 01, 2006
  He got what he was asking for
Last week (or so) I went in to my local Sprint store to purchase a hands free headset for my cell phone. The guy behind the counter asked if there was anything else I needed... how about an extra line? I jokingly replied, "Nope, not unless if you can give it to me at no extra monthly charge."

His answer? "I think I can do that."

And he did. So now my teenage daughter has a cell phone (which is great because she needs to be picked up afterschool five days a week and the timing is dependent upon how long the tennis matches run.) and it isn't costing us anything beyond the thirty bucks I paid for the phone itself and the twenty bucks to initialize it.

This little incident really struck me, because I almost said, "Nope, just the headset." If I hadn't asked, I wouldn't have gotten the deal.

It reminded me of my sister-in-law, who at the fireworks clearance sale last year asked the proprietor, "what kind of deal can you give me?" And so instead of buying 1 and getting 3 free, we bought 1 and got 5 free. Without having to wheedle or bargain... just for the asking.

It also reminded me of an article I read last year which said that one of the reasons women with comparable skills and background don't make as much as men for comparable work is because women are more uncomfortable than men about asking for a high salary or for promotions and raises. In essence, they lowball themselves, accepting whatever is offered, while men ask for more than they expect they will get. As a result, men get paid more.

In one study of university grads, the difference averaged out to men making 7% more -- over 4,000 dollars more -- each year. In the lifetime of a career, that equates to some $500,000! While this seven percent doesn't account for the total wage gap between men and women -- women on average currently make about 76 cents on the dollar compared to men -- it is a significant percentage.

The studies found that not only do women lack confidence when it comes to negotiating a salary (or the price of a car) but also they also tend to be less likely to promote themselves at work -- they are more hesitant to let others know about their successes, resulting in the perception that they are less competant, continuing a vicious cycle of lower percentage pay raises than their male counterparts. When you consider that this can add up to nearly a half million dollars over a lifetime, it can make the difference between a comfortable retirement, the quality of a child's education, the ability to care for sick parents, etc, etc, etc.

For more details -- check out Women Don't ask. You can find a sample chapter here and a listing of statistics from the book here.

This is an issue for me personally, although I have learned to deal with it over the past five or six years. Used to, someone would ask me, how much do you want for editing a paper or a book manuscript, or how much do you want for this article, and I'd hem and haw, uncomfortable asking what I felt was a decent rate, unsure if what I thought was decent really was, not wanting to ask too much, but not wanting to sell myself short either. Part of that was for a long time, I didn't know what the going rate was -- so I was taking a stab in the dark. The Writer's Market "What Should I Charge" Guide, which has information about everything from ghost writing to copywriting, from tecnical writing to book editing, has been invaluable for me in setting prices, and in negotiating. I use it to show prospective clients what the normal range is, and then ask for a sum that I think is both affordable for my client and reasonable for myself. There is also a good guide at the Editorial Freelancers Association. It's not as comprehensive as the Writer's Market guide, but it is less daunting for a client.

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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. The organization that has done the most, as far as I can tell, to pull the countries progressive side together.
Network of Spiritual Progressives. Working to reclaim religion and morality for the religious left.

Blogs Worth Reading

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

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