Wednesday, April 18, 2007

On being Muslim in America

Really interesting series in the Washington Post.

Chat Transcript with Hadia Mubarak and Ingrid Mateson

What does it mean to be Muslim in America?

Assimilation is not a disappearing act - by Hadia Mubarak

The underlying problem, I believe, is with subconsciously defining Muslims as something other than American, because it forces Muslims to choose between their religion and nationality, which is antithetical to the American spirit of religious pluralism and tolerance.

The characterization of Muslim religiosity as somehow un-American is deeply racist and bigoted at its root, because it operates on the premise that American society is exclusively Judeo-Christian and thus, the outward manifestation of any other religion is un-American.

Why is it that when young Muslim girls decide to wear the hijab? asks a Washington Post editorial, then answers that they are choosing their “Islamic identity over their American one.” Yet when a young Baptist girl decides to attend Bible study classes and youth group, it is regarded as inherent part of American culture.

I heart Hadia Mubarak.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni's moving speech at today's service:

We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today and we will be sad for quite awhile. WE are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to know when to cry and sad enough to know we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did not deserve it but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, but neither do the invisible children walking the night to avoid being captured by a rogue army. Neither does the baby elephant watching his community be devastated for ivory; neither does the Appalachian infant in the killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech. The Hokie Nation embraces our own with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid. We are better than we think, not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imagination and the possibility we will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness. We are the Hokies. We will prevail, we will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech. "

But by the end of the convocation -- after Virginia Tech English professor and poet Nikki Giovanni roused the gathering by declaring, "We are the Hokies! We will prevail!" -- students were on their feet chanting "Let's go Hokies!" to rhythmic applause.

Virginia Tech

I am horrified by the shootings at VT.

I don't know what else to say, except that I am keeping the families of the victims in my thoughts and prayers. I'm worried about my college-age friends and family also.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Postcards from Tora Bora

Postcards from Tora Bora
War's stubborn imprint on a family
and a country

The trailer

Sunday, April 08, 2007

In The News*

I didn't want to write this week's Sunday Scribblings. I was planning on skipping it. But this is on my mind and I might as well get it out.
Taliban kill Afghan journalist.
The Taleban in Afghanistan say they have killed an Afghan reporter abducted last month with an Italian journalist.
Afghanistan is in the news often, usually disheartening news about suicide attacks, losing hearts and minds and etc. I imagine it doesn't make much sense to others but it's painful for me. I read the news obsessively, checking and all the other Afghan-news sources. But I can't process the information very quickly; I'm usually consumed by worry and anger, hope and hopelessness.

The news is my connection to Afghanistan, the everyday barometer of my life, of the lives of my loved ones. I don't like to talk about it; it forces me to confront so many fears and so many issues.

Confronting the privilege of being a refugee in the U.S. and not stuck in a soul-crushing regime. Watching local Afghans put themselves in danger to help their families, to right wrongs and maintain dignity in the dusty swirl of the current Afghanistan. Seeing that, yes, a person's nationality does make him more important to others. The mighty weight of a first world country reverberating in the little vinyl passport saves some and makes others less important in the great game of political chess.

The Taliban killed Ajmal Naqshbandi, Afghan journalist. It is a maneuver, to highlight the weaknesses of the Afghan government. The Taliban, the so-called Muslims, have killed a man. Have they never had any mercy in their lives? Did they consider, ever consider letting him go? That the Prophet (pbuh) wouldn’t allow a litter of puppies to be hurt by fighting and these people can’t save the life of a man? A fellow Muslim? A fellow Afghan?

Didn't they see something of themselves in him?

I imagine that the Naqshbandi family has been doing khatems, praying and crying, hoping for good news. Visitors have been coming to the Naqshbandi house, crying with them and praying. Women scurrying to quickly prepare snacks, meals and tea. They’re exhausted but hoping continuously.

I hope this is wrong. I hope it’s not true. But what else can we do now but pray?

*for more Sunday Scribbles

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Morocco & Learning from the Past

I want to go to Fez: The Soul of Morocco

Thanks to Sand Gets In My Eyes for pointing out this very interesting article: Relatives of Interned Japanese-Americans Side with Muslims

Friday, April 06, 2007

Staying the Course

To the anti-war protestors who want NATO to pull out of Afghanistan...

Staying the Course

The NDP and others now argue for an immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops. But pulling troops out of Kandahar would simply open the door to another Taliban takeover. There is also a real danger that the return of the Taliban would lead to civil war, since anti-Taliban warlords would almost certainly call up their militias again. It’s an odd position for the left, which has always prided itself on a commitment to social justice, to advocate a policy that could result in the suffering of millions of Afghans.
“If the international community, NATO, leaves Afghanistan—if the Taliban and al-Qaeda have southern Afghanistan—we know what will happen because we’ve already seen it,” she said. “That basically makes us complicit in what will be a crime against humanity.”

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Feminism does not belong exclusively to non-Muslims

I don't agree with everything she says, especially the attack on Amina Wadud, but I think her point is an important one - it's too easy for feminists to push us out of the conversation because we don't look like them. I argue that this applies not only to women who wear the hijab but all Muslim women:


COLUMN: Feminism does not belong exclusively to non-Muslims By: Rebecca
Mahfouz Posted: 4/3/07

The resurrection of the Equal Rights Amendment isn't stirring up the controversy it did in the 70s. Americans now have more pressing issues to deal with than whether women deserve the "Equality of rights under the law," set forth in the amendment. Aside from the Iraq quagmire and the quagmire-to- be in Iran, we still don't know who will be America's Next Top Model.

With these historic events unfolding, it's no wonder ERA isn't getting much attention. In feminist circles, however, the amendment is generating debate and the usual hostility toward women who don't buy the received definition of "feminism."

A few days ago, I stood outside CASL as some of the women's studies crowd discussed ERA. Being acquainted with two of the young feminists, I offered my view of Phyllis Schlafly and her anti-woman minions. My considered analysis of opposition to the amendment was met with silence and incredulous looks.

One brave young lady finally spoke, "So do you really consider yourself a feminist?" That was it, what it always comes down to with this set; that I cover my hair. This automatically excludes me from any conversation on women's rights. To them, I am a victim of oppression, someone to be "saved."

Attending a mid-Michigan college a few years ago, one of my professors said he was impressed by my thoughtful remarks and surprised because, "Muslim women don't usually hold those kinds of progressive opinions." It's hardly likely that a middle-aged Caucasian Christian man living in Midland, MI, and teaching at a college where about one percent of the students were Muslim knows more Muslim women than I do. But he certainly felt, like most people, that he had a good handle on what we are and are not. So what he was saying, essentially, was, "I'm glad you've absorbed 'our' ideas, God [in the Christian sense of God] knows, 'you people' don't have any ideas of your own."

No matter how many times I encounter this attitude, it's always a surprise that there are still people who believe that a woman's brain shuts down when she puts on a scarf. However enlightened someone seems, seeing a woman in hijab kills the part of their brain used for rational thought, substituting a Fox News-type banner, featuring lines like "Muslim women oppressed, American feminists pledge to save them."

While feminists try to "save" us from our scarves, they refuse to allow us to be a part of the dialogue about ourselves. By the same token, Muslim women often shy away from the term "feminist" because, as American feminists have made all too clear, there is one acceptable brand of feminism and that is the white, middle-class variety that allows for mini-skirts and grrrrl T-shirts, crew cuts and combat boots, but not for hijab.

So, a note to progressive Muslim women who don't care to be associated with the stereotypical man-hating feminist movement: those who yell loudest do not "own" feminism. We have to insist that they hear and include us.

And to the current crop of feminists who like to write about us, but not listen to us: Muslim feminists do exist and need not follow the model of fake-"edgy" publicity-hounds like Irshad Manji and Amina Wadud. If feminists bothered to talk to us, instead of about us, they might find that we doindeed hold some beliefs in common.

And finally, if there's any saving to be done, we'll let you know.
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(c) Copyright 2007 Michigan Journal

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

15 guidelines for int'l development/peacekeepers

From Jan Pronk, former UN Envoy to Sudan. I think these important lessons apply to international development also and therefore have posted his guidelines in its entirety. I like #12 the best. from Jan Pronk - Weblog

Before my final departure from Sudan in December last year I addressed the UN staff in Khartoum and Juba. In my address I presented fifteen guidelines for peacekeepers. Several colleagues asked me to put these on paper. Here they are:

First: United Nations peacekeepers in a country are visitors. Their presence is temporary. Their function is catalytic, no more. Peace ought to be home grown.

Second: There is no peacekeeping without peace. Peace, to be made by the parties to a conflict themselves, should precede efforts to keep the peace.

Third: The sovereignty of a state has to be respected, but brought into balance with the protection of the people within that state. Keep that balance!

Fourth: Respect national traditions and domestic cultures

Fifth: International staff members should respect national staff members, their views and their positions. They are vulnerable: they have no ticket to leave the country. They know their country better than you.
National staff members should have patience with international staff members.
They could have chosen for comfort back home. They are idealists, or anyway, once they have been idealists.

Sixth: All UN staff members have the duty to follow a unified approach, in whichever agency they work, as peacekeepers or as humanitarian and development workers. That implies a commitment to the same goals and a duty to respect the same boundary conditions, for instance those set by the Security Council representing the international community. A unified approach of all UN agencies also implies the duty to consult each other about each other’s work, the duty to cooperate and to use a common infrastructure and common services. Finally this unified approach requires the acceptance of a unified command.

Seventh: Delegate, decentralize, trust your staff and show this to them.

Eight: Work as a team.

Nine: The field is more important than headquarters. People in headquarters should understand this. But those who are working in the field, when critical about headquarters, should be aware that they are not “the” field, but that, farther away, other colleagues may consider them too as a headquarter

Ten: Never be satisfied. There is no room for complacency, despite many achievements.

Eleven: Insecurity, risk, uncertainty and political pressure are not a hindrance, but a challenge. They are no exceptions to a normal and stable pattern. They are not exogenous factors, but inherent to peacekeeping.

Twelve: Fight bureaucracy. Fight also the bureaucrat in yourself. Stay a movement; keep the spirit of a pioneer.

Thirteen: Care for people. People first.

Fourteen: Peacekeeping is a calling, not a job

Fifteen: Please, stay

We are dainty dainty flowers.

Caring for your introvert

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Deepest Darkest

I initially considered scribbling about my deepest, darkest emotion: fear. How I gulp down worry about going back to Afghanistan. Will I get sick again? Can I handle the dizzying maze of Afghan etiquette and politics?

But that's just too heavy right now. I don't feel like giving all that time and attention to fear. It gets boring. Also, the living room is hot and heavily scented with my mom's Sunday cooking and all I can think about is ice cream. So, I pushed the fear to the side and reached further in.

When I delve into the deepest darkest depths of my mind, I uncover memories that are not mine and memories that aren’t necessarily theirs but collective memories of the family. Each is different, somewhat skewed depending on the person who heard it and who they heard it from.

They are funny stories, sad stories, and some random anecdotes that were repeated so often that they have firmly taken hold in my mind. They are stored in the back of my mind, like dusty boxes of sugar cubes, ready to be pulled out over tea but rarely are anymore.

Like the time most of the family went to India. They stopped off in a new Pakistan and the children wrangled permission to watch the new Elizabeth Taylor movie, Cleopatra. Unfortunately, the children refused to stand up during the Pakistani national anthem and were kicked out of the movie theater.
Or do you remember W? She played basketball like a man; she would’ve been in the WNBA...
And I wonder, what will I contribute to the list of stories? Will the next generation listen and will they store this in the dark, dank cabinets of their minds, pulling the expired memories out and thinking, why do I know this? What use is this? Of course, the answer is this: to add more color to your life, add a dash of Technicolor to our black and white memories. So, here is my addition to the family cupboard:

During our trip to India, H and I, spent long days out and about, despite the weather. It was either raining or we waded through the wet about-to-rain air, hoping for air-conditioned stores with pretty saris. One evening, as we neared the end of our shopping expedition, I dragged H into a lovely store. It was well lit and organized well, each sari on a hanger and tagged. The hangers were hung in shelves with sliding glass doors.

I found a burgundy sari with delicate gold embroidery. Breathtaking. The color was just right and the embroidery was perfect. I needed it.

I slid the glass door to the side, pulled it out and called to H, “Hey, come help me bargain for this.”

H responded, “Well, ask how many meters first.”

I turned to the salesman, who took the sari from me and gave me a look. I imagined that he was taking in my shiny face, frizzy hair and muddy pants. Perhaps he thought I couldn't pay for it. I gave him a haughty look and took the sari back from him and said, “How many meters?” in clear, precise English.

The salesman with the same bemused expression, took the sari back again and said, “Ma’am, this is a dry-cleaner, not a store.”

**For more Sunday Scribblings.