Voice of Democrary
I just found out that my oldest daughter placed second in our high school's Voice of Democracy contest. Voice of Democracy is an essay contest sponsored by the Veteran's of Foreign Wars. The topic is this year was on Freedom.
Here's her essay:
"Freedom" is probably the most exploited word in America today. It has been devalued and distorted, stuck on the end of countless political goals to put a glorious mask over the true intentions behind them. Any cause can be justified as long as it comes with the phrase "defending our freedom." But our freedom is in deeper jeopardy than it has been in a long time, and it's not because of outside threats.
When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they began a brilliant new political movement that affected not only the U.S. but the entire world. Upon seeing the success of the newly formed American government, other countries took up arms against their own tyrannical rulers, the best example being the French Revolution.
Ever since, when countries have overthrown unjust governments and created new ones, many have based their own Constitutions on that of the United States. That is the way democracy is spread-- by setting an example, showing people that a society based on the power of the people can create a safe, free, and successful country, but essentially leaving the decision of whether or not to follow these footsteps up to the country's citizens.
Nowadays, however, this method isn't working as well as it once was. Because when people look at the U.S. today, they no longer see a land of freedom with a fair and effective government. Immigration to America continues because yes, life here is far better than life in many other countries. But few countries today actually look up to America with reverence--we're rapidly gaining a reputation as the bullies of the world.
And the problem worsens every day, because the U.S. government fails to see one obvious fact--you can't put a gun to someone's head and tell them "Be free!" Democracy results from choice, and therefore can never be spread by force. Any attempt to make a country into a democracy via outside intervention will only create turmoil, as we have clearly seen through many of our recent efforts in the Middle East.
As our foreign image deteriorates, we are faced with an equally grave problem here at home; even the cherished liberties of the American people are being steadily curtailed. Laws such as the Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act go specifically against the morals of the United States. We have always stood for, or at least claimed to stand for, the basic human rights to privacy and to fair trials, both of which are specifically targeted by our government today. We are told that these are protective measures, but since when were Americans slaves to fear? Since when were we willing to give up our freedom for the promise of protection? For a country that boasts of being the "land of the free" and "home of the brave", we're acting like complete cowards.
Bravery is the strength to keep your freedoms even in the face of adversity and to stand up to challenges that wear the mask of protection. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." From what I've seen, that’s exactly what a lot of Americans would do.
But it is our duty, if we are to call ourselves a free country, to defend our rights. We have to stand up against infringements against our freedoms before things get out of control and we lose even the right to protest. America is currently one of the best places to live because we can let our government know what they're doing wrong, and we, the citizens of this country, can create change. But will these qualities last forever? If the American public never wakes from its complacency, they will not. It's up to us to make a difference, not to progress to but to regress to the values that forged this country. Our society is congealing into a lazy mass of consumers who pay little attention to the proceedings of their own government, let alone the rest of the world. And any society that gives more concern to how well their team is doing in the Super Bowl than to the laws that are being passed that could directly affect them is wide open for manipulation.
America gives power to the people, a freedom that the people of many countries would die to attain. But we neglect our power, and therefore abandon it. We have the right to challenge our government, not to demean it but to correct it, and to ignore this precious right is nothing less than criminal. The American public, for the most part, sits indifferently and watches as their government spends billions of dollars in foreign aid to countries without justifying the need for it, passes laws that go against values that have withstood even the most troubled periods of American history, and kills thousands of people, both American soldiers and foreign civilians, for causes that seem to shift as new facts are revealed.
It's time for the American people to wake up. Many are, but they are powerless against an indifferent majority. We have the right to vote, and we should exercise it! We have the right to peaceful assembly, and petition, and free speech… and all of these need to be put into practice. Because some of them are slipping into more and more danger.
Freedom has been a central part of our government since its creation, and we have always been proud of it. Now, that pride continues, but the cause for it diminishes. We're forcing "freedom" on other countries around the globe, while neglecting our own country. Surely it's more important to keep our nation as close to its original purity as possible, to be an example for the rest of the world, than to try to spread our ideals by the gun? Our ideals which, as we spread them, become more and more corrupted.
It is important for people all over the world to be free, of course. And it is important for governments that mistreat and excessively restrict their citizens to be reformed or overthrown. But it's not acceptable for another country to use their struggle as an excuse to pursue its own goals in the name of liberty. The challenge freedom faces in the world today is even graver than many of us believe. Freedom's challenge in the modern world is not one of expansion, but of self preservation.
Rejoice -- Earth-like Planet Found!
A planet that could be covered with oceans, and harboring life, perhaps even intelligence. Wow! So cool!!
Of course, it lies some 20 light years from here, so even if we could send a message at the speed of light, it would take 40 years to get a response from whoever might possibly be living there (assuming there were such a thing and that they recognized our message as one and were inclined and able to respond to it.) So, I'm not expecting confirmation of alien civilization within my lifetime.
Still, it adds a layer of plausibility to all those first contact/first colony sf novels (including my own.)
And a layer of possibility that my descendants could one day walk on a planet in another solar system, conversing with aliens. I always believed that was plausible, even inevitable if humanity survives long enough. Now it seems almost imminent. (on the geologic time scale, just a drop in the bucket!)
I just hope that no one uses this as an excuse for not worrying about global warming and resource depletion. I can just hear the argument now -- when we use up this Earth, we'll just move to another planet like that one they just discovered around Gliese 581. Uh-huh, assuming we have the technology to do so, which is a big assumption. Better to keep this world clean and regulate our consumption.
Nobel Peace Laureate shot in Palestine
Her own description of the event:
"On Friday 20th April, 2007, Ann Patterson and I joined the Bil’in Peoples Committee, (outside Ramallah) on their weekly nonviolent protest march to the Apartheid Wall , together with Israeli peace activists and Internationalists from over 20 countries. The Internationals came from France, (over 200) America, Puerto Rico, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Canada, and India.
Before the peace vigil, I participated in a Press Conference with the Palestinian Minister for Information, Mustafa Barghouti, in front of the World Press. Minister Barghouti praised the nonviolent vigil of the Bil’in people and the nonviolent resistance of many people around Palestine,says Bil’in is a model and example to all. He called to stop the building of the wall, and for the upholding of Palestinian Rights under International Law.
I supported his call and thanked the people of Bil’in, offering my support for the nonviolent resistance to the Wall as it contravenes International Law, including the International Court of Justice decision in the Hague. I also called for an end to Palestinian occupation, which will be 40 years soon, and recognition by the International Community of the Palestinian Government, together with restoration of economic, political rights of the people.
Both Dr. Barghouti and I called for the release of the BBC Journalist Alan Johnston. I also called for the protection of Journalists all over the world, whose ability to cover the truth, is being infringed.
During the Conference the Israeli military drove through the Gate onto Palestinian Land, with many foot soldiers. They surrounded World Media and in Hebrew warned us that if we did not disperse they would attack in five minutes. Myself and Dr. Barghouti, condemned this as abuse of freedom of press, speech, and people's right to peaceful protest and speech.
During the press conference a man from San Paulo, climbed to the top of the Surveillance Mask and released a Palestinian Flag. He planned to stay there for 2 days.
We returned to the Village and joined the Peace Vigil moving down the road towards the wall. Several hundred people participated, the Palestinian men, women, and many young Palestinian males leading the march. Very courageous as young Palestinian males when arrested often get beaten. I walked with my Palestinian interpreter who told me his home was on the other side of the wall. His 12 acre land was confiscated by Israeli Authorities and his 400 year old olive trees uprooted, taken to Jerusalem and planted in new Israeli settlements.
When the walkers got half way down the road, the Israeli soldiers started firing nerve gas, and plastic bullets directly at us. At another point they used water cannons. We were a completely unarmed peaceful gathering and this vicious attack from the Israeli soldiers was totally unprovoked attack upon civilians. The soldiers block the upper part of the road, thus preventing Dr. Barghouti and some of the Palestinians joining the main vigillers. We were then tear gassed and as I helped a French woman retreat I was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet. Two young women, one from USA and one from New Zealand, helped me towards an ambulance. I saw an elderly Palestinian mother carried on a stretcher into the ambulance, as she was shot in the back with a plastic bullet. I saw a man whose face was covered in blood and a Palestinian youth overcome with the gas. About 20 people were injured. Ann and myself went back to the protest where the people were being viciously attacked with nerve gas and plastic bullets. I was overcome with gas and took a nose bleed which resulted in being carried to ambulance for treatment.
We were advised by medical staff not to return to vigil and obliged to leave our friends several hours later still heroically trying to get near the wall. On the road towards the village we watched 2 children playing in their garden, oblivious to the nerve gas floating down on the wind towards their home. This permeates their clothes, their lungs and the question has to be asked, what the health of these children will be like in a few years time.This is not only a question of abuse of human rights, international laws, by the Israeli government; it is a health and environment issue. We were all traumatized by our experience, and with the gas on the air, came the words flowing back to me of a Palestinian Doctor, who said “the whole Palestinian people, after 40 years of occupation, the whole people of Palestine are traumatized, it is time the International Community acted to put a stop to this suffering and injustice of our people”. I agree enough is enough; it is time for action to force the Israeli Government to enter into unconditional talks to end this tragedy of tragedies of good and gentle Palestinian people.
Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Ann Patterson
Jerusalem2lst April, 2007-04-21
One wonders, with international media present, why none of them reported on a Nobel Peace Prize winner being shot during a non-violent protest. Or, indeed, why news of these weekly non-violent protests has never made to the pages of those newspapers that cover every violent thing to happen in Palestine.
Evidently the "plastic bullets" were actually steel bullets cased in rubber.
More info here: http://www.palsolidarity.org/main/2007/04/21/april-20-bilin-protest/
This past week I've been working on the MPV Statement of Principles. It's pretty much done. Here's a sneak peek.
1) We accept as Muslim anyone who identifies as such. The veracity and integrity of that claim is between the individual and God, not a matter for the state, nor an issue which other individuals can or should judge.
2) We affirm the equal worth of all human beings, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, creed, sexual orientation, or ability. We are committed to work towards societies that ensure equality of social, political, educational, and economic opportunity for all.
3) We believe that freedom of conscience is not only essential to all human societies but integral to the Qur’anic view of humanity. As such, we resist the legislation of morality and endorse the separation of religion and state in all matters of public policy. We believe that secular government is the only way to achieve the Islamic ideal of freedom from compulsion in matters of faith.
4) We support freedom of expression and freedom of dissent, even when that expression may be offensive and that dissent may be blasphemous. In particular, we believe that concepts of patriotism, orthodoxy, or loyalty to one’s faith group must not be used to silence dissenting voices in the political, artistic, or religious spheres.
5) We support women's agency and self-determination in every aspect of their lives. We believe women’s full participation in society at every level and equality among genders is enshrined in the Quran.
6) We endorse the human rights, civil rights and civil liberties of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-sexual individuals.
7) We affirm that justice and compassion should be the guiding principles for all aspects of human conduct. We repudiate militarism and violence, whether on an individual, organizational, or national level; we support efforts for universal health care, universal public education, the protection of our environment, and the eradication of poverty around the world.
8) We call for critical inquiry and dynamic engagement with Islamic scripture, traditional jurisprudence, and current Muslim discourses. We promote interpretations and rulings that reflect basic Qur’anic principles of tolerance, inclusivity, mercy, compassion, and fairness.
9) We recognize the danger of religious extremism in all faith groups. We view the politicization of religion and the intrusion of religion into politics as twin threats to civil society and humane civilization. We will resist the intrusion of religion into politics and the exploitation of religion for political ends.
10) We affirm the diversity of inspirations that motivate people to embrace a commitment to justice and compassion, including a profound faith rooted in religious traditions, ethical imperatives developed throughout the centuries, and secular and humanist values shared by many Muslims today. As such, we will to engage with and contribute to other philosophical and spiritual traditions and progressive movements in pursuit of the aforementioned goals and principles.
Islamic Writers Alliance 2007 Poetry Contest
The IWA 2007 Poetry contest is under way. As always it takes place during the month of April to coincide with National Poetry Month here in the States.
This year the theme is open. One poem per person. Three categories: children/youth to age 18, non-IWA adults, and IWA members. Send submissions to: email@example.com
For more detailed info go here.
Partial Birth Abortion
So the Supreme Court has upheld the law banning partial birth abortions without an exception allowing them in the case where it would be best for the woman's health. A sad day, indeed, when women's health is held so cheap.
I heard one report about how many people objected to partial birth abortions because the foetus
progresses partially down the birth canal and then its skull is crushed. I don't see how the alternative described in the report -- the foetus
being dismembered within the womb before being removed -- is much better. Its really tough to say which is worse -- death by dismemberment or by having your skull crushed in. Abortion at a late stage is just not a pretty thing.
I can't help but wonder if the next step will be to ban these other abortion processes, even if the woman's heath is at risk.
I actually don't have a lot of sympathy for abortion. Especially abortion that is performed as a sort of retroactive birth control. And I do think that abortion lies in a grey area vis
the principle that your rights end at the tip of my nose. Is a foetus
a "me" yet? At what point does it become a "person?"
Conception is one easy place to draw the line. After that, it is much more difficult. Do we judge it to be a person when the heart starts beating (around 6 weeks)? When brain waves can first be detected (around 14 weeks)? When it can possibly survive on its own (with current medical technology, about 20-21 weeks)?
If we acknowledge that a government has the responsibility to protect the right of its citizens to life, then it is important to draw the line in the appropriate place. After the time that a foetus
is determined to be a person, abortion is no longer a matter of the woman having a right to control her body, or to make a moral choice, but rather it is a matter of the competing rights of individuals. It would seem the right to life has to trump the right not to be pregnant, or the right to moral agency. Once the foetus is a person, then the woman's right to make a choice stops at the end of that new person's nose.
The issue is further complicated because our society at present does not allow killing individuals who are completely dependent on other individuals or machines for their survival. A person who has to be fed or is dependent on an iron lung, for instance. This seems analogous
to the condition of a foetus
which is dependent upon another individual for survival.
Nonetheless, when I look at the consequences of outlawing abortion -- the impact on the quality of life for both the children and the mothers, and the extended family, the potential for horrible suffering
as women seek illegal abortions, the additional pressure that would come to bear on the welfare system, the pressure a million more souls each year would place on the medical system, on housing, social services, the environment -- I don't think we are in a position where we can outlaw it.
Regardles of these moral conundrums, however, it seems pretty clear to me that the Supreme Court's decision in which the women's health is not considered at all, was a bad decision.
Liviu Librescu: Inspiration in a moment of Darkness
The story of Liviu Librescu is perhaps the most inspiring thing to come out of the Virginia Tech massacre, which abounds with stories of personal bravery in the face of death, and self-sacrifice in order to protect others. But none compares to the story of Liviu Librescu.
Prof. Librescu was born and raised in Romania. He survived the Holocaust, and ended up in the States in 1986. Having survived one of the darkest periods of human history, and confronted with another appalling horror, he sacrified his life so nine of his students might live, holding the door shut while gunman Cho tried to force his way in.
The honor and human decency exemplified by Librescu, the simple human integrity and compassion in a man who had seen the worst humanity could dish out, is a testament to the power of human optimism, the strength of human compassion.
It would have been reasonable for Prof. Librescu to attempt to flee with his students. Or to feel that he had already paid his dues at the altar of human cruelty. His act of self-sacrifice, of stewardship for his students honors professors, Jews, human beings, everywhere. I stand in reverence.
What words can even come close to being adequate?
at the very moment
of fullest blossoming
if only the memories
the pain of loss
as cut tulips
leaving space for new
but a life cut
remains blood red
in our hearts
our shrieks of
My prayers for the families and friends who have lost so much this week.
Flying Imams and Creating Hysteria
Yesterday we had to change planes in the Minneapolis airport. Every ten minutes a recorded message announced that the Homeland Security Department has set the security alert level at orange. This continual reminder of "orange alert" and a message that passengers were only allowed to carry on three ounces of liquids or gels were the only announcement that played regularly. Not even the typical, do not leave your luggage unattended and don't carry on bags for strangers, messages were playing.
One wonders if this was really necessary. It certainly kept everyone in the airport reminded of the potential of terrorist attacks -- or rather, it kept them on edge and nervous about something that really is very, very unlikely. There have been no terrorist attacks on American planes for six years. And only one plot in the past five years overseas, and that was prevented in the planning stages, not by airport vigilance, and especially not by passenger vigilance. The attempted shoe bombing now appears to have been an isolated incident, carried out by an unstable individual.
As a woman who wears a headscarf, I couldn't help but wonder if every time the announcement went off some passenger would look at me fearfully. When my family decided to pray our evening prayers in an out of the way corner, I wondered if other passengers, provoked by the constant reminders, would decide those prayers were ominous.
It seems to me that the warnings were completely out of proportion to the danger. As such, they only served to create unnecessary fear and suspicion.
The imams who were pulled off their flights and are now suing the airlines for discrimination were flying out of Minneapolis. The suit names USAirways and some of the passengers. I wonder how much of a role these repetitive announcements played in creating the situation, in creating anxiety among the passengers that otherwise might not have existed, or exacerbating low level fears into something more intense.
Diligence is necessary -- but so too is common sense. Terrorists are not likely to wear clothing and facial hair that screams, "I'm Muslim." Nor are they likely to read Qu'ran aloud or pray in airports, potentially calling attention to themselves, and stirring up their fellow passengers.
Muslims would be wise to be considerate of the fears of other passengers -- even if they are irrational fears -- but so too, airport officials should not unnecessarily stir up those fears either.
My family and I are headed out to Oregon to visit with my parents and go skiing in the great NorthWest. As a result, postings on this blog will be spotty over the next week or so. See you when we get back!
Human Rights Campaign Clergy Call for Justice
From the HRC website: "Clergy from every state in the nation will converge on Capitol Hill to raise public awareness of the need for congress to pass legislation combating hate-motivated violence and banning workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans. Now is the time. Legislation to address hate crimes and employment discrimination will be moving in Congress this April. Americans need clergy to stand up for them now — and politicians need clergy to remind them of their moral duty to protect those who are most vulnerable."
I will be participating in this event, April 16th-17th, in Washington DC, representing Muslims for Progressive Values. (www.mpvusa.org
More info on the Human Rights Campaign and the Clergy Call here: http://www.hrc.org/Template.cfm?Section=Religion4&CONTENTID=35223&TEMPLATE=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm
I'm honored to be one of the Muslims presenting on this day. It is such an important issue -- either human rights, civil rights, and civil liberties are truly for all, or we sanction discrimination based upon certain religious groups ideas of sin and immorality. Once we start down that slippery slope, it won't be long until we are back to sanctioning racial discrimination, religious bigotry, and ethnic profiling.
Several years back I had PKR done on one eye and lasik done on the other. (I participated in a study and so got one free and the other at a very discounted price.) Since then, I've had a bit of ghosting when I look at lights at night. This is a common enough side effect of eye surgery (and of getting older) and I could control it by looking through the upper portion of my eyes at the object I wanted to view. (Say the full mooon -- looking straight on I'd get a ghostly shadow in the upper right hand quadrant; looking up at it, no shadow).
Well, one day about two weeks ago, that ghost disappeared. And it hasn't come back. Not that I'm complaining. I'm overjoyed. I just wonder if my astigmatism is also gone. I've always felt like that ghost was at least partly attributable to the astigmatism, which in my case, according to the doctor, was greater than it should have been given the shape of my eye.
I'm wondering if there was something floating around, or out of alignment inside my eye, or if my brain just finally figured out how to deal with the altered signal -- took three or four years to sort out what happened after 25 years of near-sightedness.
I'm tempted to go into the license bureau and ask them to test my eyesight just to see if it's gone as well. They'll probably tell me to go jump in the lake, unless I pretend I lost my driver's license...
After several weeks of reading comments on my articles over at OnFaith
, and a great deal of soul searching, I've come to the realization that the past twenty years of my life have been nothing but a delusion. Prophet Muhammad really was a violent, misogynist, pedophiliac, dishonest nut with visions of grandeur. He really did teach that Muslims are supposed to slay every non-Muslim where ever they find them, that women are second class and gays should be slaughtered, that Islam should be spread by any means necessary, at the point of the sword if that's what it takes, and that the growth of Islam both in the past and the present really has more to do with fear and birth rates than anything else.
And so I have decided to resign my positions in the various Muslim organizations I work with/for, and to renounce Islam.
In retrospect, I have to say it is not suprising that I was taken in by the romantic potrayals of the Prophet you find in the classical biographies. After all, what did I know of Islam? By my own admission... nothing! I was young, impressionable, and naive. So too their claims that Islam is a religion of peace, of justice, and charity.
Thankfully, those diligent On Faith commentators have opened my eyes. With any luck, given the longevity of my family, I still have at least half of my life to make up for wasted time. Tomorrow morning, I plan to have at least half a pound of bacon for breakfast, washed down with a large glass of orange mimosa.