Miami Terror Arrests
In the snippets of time away from my grandfather's death bed, I've seen bits of news about the arrests in Miami of seven men who are alleged to have been plotting to blow up the Sears Building in Chicago. The reports raise a lot of questions:
1) The men are being called radical Muslims, but at least one of their members says they are part of a religious sect called "Seas of David." Little is known about this group, but in response to questioning by CNN
, one of the men replied, "we study and we train through the Bible, not only physical -- not only physical, but mentally." Group members say they worship in a "temple," not in an Islamic mosque. They also seem to have had no connection to other radical Muslim groups -- not Al-Qaeda, who they were trying to contact; nor were they connected to the group arrested recently in Toronto.
As a Muslim, I have grave concerns over the increasing perception of polarization between Muslims and non-Muslims. I honestly believe we have far more in common than is often perceived -- human beings all want basically the same things, a decent living, a safe home, family and friends, a dignified life free from poverty and oppression; and all religions teach the same basic values -- peace, harmony, charity, compassion for others, especially the needy, love for other humans, responsibility in our dealings with the world, etc. The perception that "Islam" stands on one side of a divide with "The West" or "Judeo-Chrisitan civilization" on the other is horribly damaging. We live on one small planet, and there is little likelihood of our being able to colonize other worlds in even the medium range future. We simply have to learn to live togther. 1.6 billion Muslims aren't going to suddenly disappear, convert en masse to Christianity or become Westernized overnight, just as a similar number of Chrisitians aren't going to disappear, convert to Islam, or develop new sensibilities. It is insanity to sensationalize current affairs in such a way as to provoke a greater divide than actually exists. It is madness to relate to all Muslims as though they agree with Osama Bin Laden, or are represented by him, just as it would be madness to assume that all Christians agree with Timothy McVeigh or the IRA.
Because Muslims are often foriegn, often brown-skinned, often speaking different languages, eating different foods, and living with different customs, it is easy to stereotype, to lump us all into a single group. But that is as fallacious as it would be to lump all Christians into a single group. And far more dangerous. A war between Islam and the West will not be pretty. A never-ending war on terror will forever alter the face of American democracy... eroding civil liberties and rights that we hold dear, resulting in an overly powerful president who acts like a dictator rather than a president withing a system which balances his power with Congressional and Judicial checks.
2) While the coverage I have seen of the arrests does not make a great deal over the race of the suspects, it is significant that they are African Americans. Clearly, there have been radical/violent black groups in the past. By and large, however, the African American Muslim community has steered clear of radicalism and violence. They tend to focus on personal and spiritual development as the first step to social improvement, with a commitment to promoting black business, individual social, emotional and fiscal responsibility. If this group really is associated with African American Islam, it represents a major departure from the trend. From what I've seen, I believe that they are at best a fringe group that has extremely loose ties with Islam, if any, and as such don't represent African American Islam in any way. That does not mean, however, that the African American Muslim community may not be held guilty by association, and subjected to far more criticism from the pundits than they have been previously. African American Muslims have largely been exempted from the scathing attacks on Islam, and the claims that one cannot be a Muslim and still have loyalty to America, since the vast majority of them have roots in this country that go back centuries. There is a danger that this case could throw into doubt (in some people's minds) that loyalty, which would be a terrible development 1) because it doesn't reflect reality, and 2) because it would feed into the Us/Them rhetoric I was just mentioning.
3) The men were charged on conspiracy to commit terrorist acts. According to CNN, no weapons were found, no bomb- making equipment was found in their Miami warehouse. Even the plans appear to have been hazy -- there is no mention of pages of detailed strategy, or anything like that. I keep thinking of that Phillip Dick story, Minority Report. At what point does preventitive arrest become arresting an innocent person who just likes to bluster a lot, or a group who sits around inventing fairy tales, but who won't really ever do anything? How do you decide which group will actually start to implement their plans, and which group is just spouting hot air? According to reports from the Canadian press, the men in Toronto tried to buy explosives from a Canadian Security Services operative. In fact, it appears a dummy load of fertilizer was actually delivered to them. It seems pretty clear they were taking the steps needed to put their plans into action. The men in Miami tried to make contact with someone they thought was from AlQaeda (again details are hazy -- did they try to make contact or did the undercover agent contact them and they were willing to meet with him?). But the absence of concrete plans, and the materials needed to carry out their supposed agenda makes the case seem a lot more shaky in this second arrest. While protecting the country from further attacks is essential, so to is the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. As preventitive arrests are being made, it is important to hold tightly to standards which protect the arrested from over-zealous protective measures.
Our vacation, but far worse my grandfather's life. Last week the doctors told him that his condition was much worse that they had realized and that he had three weeks left to live. We raced back across the country to be with him, and arrived in Indiana yesterday.
Originally, my grandfather was planning a private, family only ceremony at the graveyard, but as news of his impending death has spread so many people have called and visited that he has been convinced that a memorial service would be appreciated by many.
My grandfather is and was a truly caring man. He headed a construction company and kept people in work throughout the winter and slow times, times when other companies might have given them a temporary lay off. He helped out families who were in need, not just once in a while, but in long-term ways. He was a boy scout leader for years, and a founding member of the River Rats, who cleaned up a local river bank and turned it into a wonderful park for the town of Columbus. For years, he and my grandmother made hundreds of wooden toy cars and baby beds with dollies to give to a local shelter for families escaping abuse. After my grandmother's death, he volunteered for Love's Chapel several days a week, delivering food to the needy and local institutions.
In my own life, he played a very important role. Every summer I spent a month with him and my grandmother. They were instrumental in giving me a strong sense of my self, of being someone wonderful. With my grandmother I shared games of solitaire and a love of reading. My grandfather, however, impacted me on a larger scale. He got me a pony when I was six or so, and took me riding, cementing a life long love with horses. He and my grandmother took me to Africa when I was eleven, an event that literally changed my outlook on the world, on race, on language, on living in America, on our responsibility to one another as human beings, on what the very planet was like. It opened to me a sense of wonder and delight in things foreign and different that has a profound impact on my writing and my embrace of Islam, of people from different backgrounds and cultures. He and my grandmother also took me to Mexico where I was able to practice my highschool Spanish and develop a desire to study abroad. He gave me flying lessons, and helped me become a private pilot, again fostering my self-confidence and self-esteem and engendering a love of small aircraft that has stuck with me. Flying low and slow above the fields of Indiana, and the woods of Massachusetts, reinforced my understanding of the unity of our world, and impacted upon my environmental views with regards to the need to preserve natural spaces. He visited me in China when I was there, sharing another experience which taught me so much about my own values, xenophobia, the strengths and weaknesses of communism and capitalism as practiced, the value of freedom, and the truly oppressive nature of institutionalized poverty. With the birth of my children, and the love he has shown to them and they have shown to him, from sitting on his lap listening to tv through his headphones to camping out in his rv, his affection and obvious love of my children has given me a lens through which to appreciate and understand the depth of love he has always shown me. Throughout my life, my grandfather has been a back bone of love and acceptance, of encouragement and expanding life experiences. Needless to say, his passing is a time of great sorrow. I only wish I could find the words to express to him how much he has meant to me, and will continue to mean to me.
One van, eight days of driving, two preteens, one tent, no tv, no internet, no dvd, no cell phone... sounds like a fair description of hell... but it's been awesome. We laughed and sang our way across Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Sometimes the road turned to gravel, once it disappeared completely. We were awed by giant green spacemen, immense flour factories, and long horn steer. We ate in little diners, toured a cavern where Jesse James hid out, camped out in the woods and in a canyon. We've observed the stars in cities and towns, and in the some of the darkest skies in North America.
Some of the route was down right depressing. Businesses have closed, houses are boarded up, hotels stand empty. At one point, one of my twins said that George Bush ought to drive this road if he thinks America is doing ok. Certainly small town America along route 66 is in the process of dying.
Here are some highlights:
Saara and Ameera and I have plans for a light pollution observation/experiment. It's our substitution for the science fair that their elementary school doesn't do. Tonight was the first observation. It's our homebase baseline observation. Below's the chart we worked out. It's been a lot of fun thinking about what we needed to write down -- from obvious things like how big the moon was, which obviously has an impact on what can be seen, and how cloudy it was, to less obvious things like wind and humidity which can impact on visibility, and the time (it's a lot darker an hour and a half after sunset than it is an hour after sunset).
It will be interesting to see how other cities, towns and rural areas compare.
Date: June 7, 2006
Time: 10:36 pm
Sunset Time: 9:11 pm (1 hr 25 min after sunset)
¾ moon (hidden behind tree)
Light-moderate wind (10 MPH)
Dew point: 56º
No clouds Barometric Pressure: 29.91
Observers: Saara Ameera Mommy
Big Dipper :
Alkaid ( 1.86) yes yes yes
Mizar (2.27) yes yes yes
*Alcor ( 4.1) yes yes yes
Alioth (1.77) yes yes yes
Megrez (3.31) yes yes yes
Phecda (2.44) yes yes yes
Merak (2.37) yes yes yes
Dubhe (1.79) yes yes yes
Polaris (2.02) yes yes yes
Delta (4.36) no no no
*4 (4.80) no no no
Epsilon (4.21) no no no
*2 ( 4.24) no no no
*5 (4.25) no no no
Zeta ( 4.29) no no no
Eta ( 4.95) no no no
Pherkad (3.05) yes yes yes
Kochab (2.08) yes yes yes
So, about ten miles from the center of Indianapolis, we were able to see down to a 4.1 magnitude star (just barely). I thought it was interesting that Saara and Ameera, who just got new glasses, and I all saw the same stars. I had thought they might see more than I did.
On the road yet again...
Tasneem is headed to France, Noora is on her way to New Mexico, and the twins and I are headed with our tent and sleeping bags to Route 66. We'll meet up with Noora and Arif in Albuquerque, tour Arizona, head east to visit family, and return home in a month!
I will be trying to update this blog as frequently as possible, but being dependent on wireless connections I happen across may make it spotty.
In the meantime, I'd like to direct y'all to an EXCELLENT column by Tarek Fatah about confronting terrorism
. It's a real honor and a priviledge to be able to work with Tarek in the Progressive Muslim Union and the Muslim Canadian Congress. Sometimes Tarek and I dont' see eye to eye, and he can be a downright curmdgeon, but he is a paragon of speaking out and taking action when it needs to be taken. He doesn't mince words, and he isn't apologetic. He just sets things out as they are. And, as I've gotten to know him, it has become clear that he cares deeply and truly for people -- an example of this: another article
from the Toronto Star, showing how Tarek was the only national Muslim leader present at the arraignment of the terror suspects, and how he was defending the families from the onslaught of the media, even though their sons may have been involved in acts that are an anathema to him, and they were wearing burqas which Tarek (like many of us) positively hates. May God bless him for all the good he does.
Yup, the new camera is easy for kids to use! These were taken with almost no instruction (just showed them where the close up button was and where to turn on and off the flash).
The tunnel underneath our street:
The peas in our garden:
a picture in my office/bedroom:
I think I have some budding photographers!
As Tasneem is headed off to France for the summer, I purchased a new camera for our family, so she could either take the new one with her, or use our old one while she is there. Our old one (an Olympus c-3000) was great, but it's a bit of a pain in the neck. The smart cards used for storing the photos become unreadable all the time. (The trick to restoring them is to use a pencil eraser and rub along the gold metal plates on the front of the disk... don't ask me why this works, but it does, most of the time...) There is also a long lag between pressing the button and the actual photo being taken.
I did a lot of research, because I wasn't interested in spending a ton of money, but I wanted a better camera than I already had, and one which was easy enough to use that my kids could take great pictures, but also advanced enough that I could do more sophisticated things with it. I read a lot of reviews, and picked one that sounded like a good combination. Only later did I realize that it didn't have a view finder. I really like having the view finder on my old camera, because it is heavy enough that if you don't have one, it's a bit tricky to get a clear shot.
Fortunately, in just snapping around, it's clear that the new one (an olympus stylus 600) is light enough that that isn't going to be a big problem. It is also a lot faster than my old camera... so my initial impression is great. It's very easy to access the menu options, transfer to my pc is very fast, and the quality of the photos I was able to take by fiddling around with the button, never having looked at the manual is excellent. I have great hopes that once I've actually read the manual that it will be even better. :) Clearly, one of my goals has been met -- my kids will be able to use this camera without problems. As for the other goal, well, time will tell.
I have to admit, one of my pet peeves is all the people on epinions.com or other sites who post a honeymoon review (like this one... written minutes, hours or days after they've gotten the camera). The reviews from this camera (and every other camera I read about) ran from the euphoric to the abysmal. People loved it, they hated it, they adored it, they despised it. There was exactly one useful user review written by a guy who had had his for six months. There were several professional reviews that were very helpful.
In the spirit of professionalism, I'll try to post a review after I've taken a summer's worth of pictures (or after my daughter has if she decides she'd rather use this camera than the other one...)
Sample images (unretouched photos, just sized down to be web friendly)
Extreme closeup view
medium close up
portrait (of Saara)
Obviously, there is a lot more to experiment with, but I'm glad I agree with the euphoric reviews rather than the, "I'm about to throw this camera in the toilet" reviews.
Terror Arrests in Canada
The news from Canada is that a large circle of men have been arrested for plotting terrorist activities. This news is disturbing for a variety of reasons.
1) It appears that the possibility of a 7/7 type strike on Canadian or American soil is much more likely than many of us had assumed. One of the most disturbing things about the 7/7 train/bus bombing is that it was carried out by young men who called Britain home, some of whom were even born in Britain. Similarly, some of the men who were arrested in Canada were second generation.
I cannot quite get my mind around what is happening in our community that leads to this kind of violence being seen as acceptable. These men went through public schools. They led decent lives. How did they get to feel so oppressed, or hateful that they deemed a terrorist attack acceptable? How did they get so alienated from their own country that they would deem an attack against their own people/government not only to be ok, but to be necessary? Canada isn't a horrible country, if anything their record of respecting different cultures and embracing them is one of the best in the world.
Has the Muslim community, in our endeavor to keep our children within the fold of Islam, emphasized the beauty of Islam so strongly that our children cannot appreciate anything else? Have we allowed ourselves to devalue other peoples and faiths so much that terrorist strikes that would kill innocents seem ok? Have we over-emphasized their "otherness" (with good intentions) and restricted them from too many cultural activities, so much that it leaves them vulnerable to extremists who are also other, and who also reject that culture? Or is there something completely outside of our parenting that leads to this kind of disaffection?
I know as a parent I teach my children that much is truly wonderful about America (nothing but the truth for my kids!), even though I have grave concerns about the direction the country is headed in terms of the Patriot Act, corporate culture and the invasion of politics by the corporation, and our dismal foreign policy since WWII. We discuss those failings honestly, but we also discuss the strengths of America, and the American people. We have friends of all faiths, as do all my Muslim friends. We discuss religion in a humane and tolerant manner. We participate in American holidays (with joy!) and partake of Western culture. I cannot imagine my children turning out like the 7/7 bombers, but then again, neither did the parents of those bombers.
Even more perplexing, the men and women I grew up with who had the strictest families have rebelled against those strictures, not against the culture their parents were so afraid would corrupt their kids. What happened to those young men who bombed the trains in London? Were their families too strict? Were they too lax? Did they have some profound alienating experience that changed their lives, or was it an insidious, continuous drip of experiences? How can we safeguard our children against the influence of extreme idiologies and the ravages of silent racism?
2) Already there seems to be an assumption of guilt, despite the fact that Canada, like the US, operates on a justice system that presumes innocence, and despite the fact that the three tons of fertilizer were apparently "planted" upon the suspets in a sting operation. I have no idea if the men are innocent or guilty; either way they deserve a fair trial.
I have serious doubts, however, that a fair trial by a jury of their peers is possible. Kind of like OJ. I doubt it would have been possible for him to get a fair trial either. The jury is going to be biased, one way or the other.
3) Whether those men are guilty or innocent, the Muslim community does not deserve to be tarred and feathered for their crimes. Already a mosque in Toronto has been attacked with some 50 windows broken and several cars in the area smashed. I don't know if churches were attacked after Timothy McVeigh's arrest. Maybe they were; and that would have been wrong too. I don't know if windows in Catholic churches were smashed after IRA bombings in London. That, too, would have been wrong.
Muslims in America and in Canada need to feel safe from their neighbors or more youth will become disaffected and vulnerable to extremists. Backlash just pushes more kids over the edge.
A kiss is still a kiss... as time goes by
Today my grandfather, who was widowed in 2004, remarried. The combined ages of the bride and groom -- 171! Wow! The newlyweds are headed off to Brown County State Park for their honeymoon. During their courtship, this adventerous couple went canoeing, snowshoeing, dogsledding, and camping out in "the Bambi" (Grampy's small rv), and I'm sure they have many more adventures ahead of them. It's truly wonderful to see love blossom at such a ripe old age. So often we think of old people as nothing more than their ailments, or as frail, fragile and unconnected to the vibrancy of life. It's good to remember that people are people at any age, that love and affection fill our hearts just as strongly at 89 as they do at 29 or 49. That, as the song says, a kiss is still a kiss. I'm glad my grandfather has found a wonderful woman to share his life, and that Anna has found a wonderful guy to share her life with. It's a bit odd feeling, to get a step grandmother when one is 41, and my dad suddenly has inherited seven step brothers and sisters at the age of 62, but the expansion of the circle of loved ones can only be a good thing.
So, at long last, here is the commentary on the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
First and foremost, I came away from the conference with a great sense that we are living on the cusp of momentous change. The organizers of NSP appear to be saavy, deliberate, sincere, charismatic, experienced, both practical and idealistic, and determined. Those characteristsics speak to me of a great probability for success. If the NSP can demonstrate even limited influence in the upcoming elections, in formulating policy, and then again in 2008, I think it will be cemented as a force to contend with in American politics.
The reestablishment of hope among the left is perhaps one of the most important goals for the next couple of years. During the anti-war protests, there was such a feeling of empowerment and hope that we could stop something horrible from happening. When Bush seemed to simply ignore the millions of Americans pouring into the streets, it delivered a crushing blow as to the impact even large groups can have on American politics. It left many of us feeling that there was little or no point to trying to work for change, because the government had no sense of accountability to the people or any need to do what the people willed. If NSP can demonstrate some success in changing public policy, it will breathe life back into the left, and, I believe, help bring about a sea change in the way the liberal public (especially the liberal public living in red states) feels.
Of course, I also hope that NSP can be successful in challenging corporate hegemony, and redirecting our nations resources to bettering life for people in need, both in this country and abroad, in encouraging a humane vision for the future where people are seen as more than consumers waiting to be sold to. It was so refreshing to be in a forum where the arts were celebrated, where people were celebrated for their ability to love, to create, to hold dear family and friends, to celebrate the Divine Impulse, and the divine within each other, not just as points in a political game or dollars in the race to create more wealth for the few. It was wonderful to hear people speaking about business as a place to provide for the needs of the many, to support families, not just vehicles to generate more capital, more profits.
I guess it is pretty obvious, I came away from the meeting hopeful and wanting to be a part of this movement, to the best of my ability.