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Is There Finally Hope for Challenging Orientalism in Hollywood?


by: on March 31st, 2014 | 11 Comments »

Last week the world of American Muslim social media (if there is such a thing) was rocked by an unexpected victory. A proposed ABCFamily show provocatively entitled Alice in Arabia was cancelled after a protest by American Muslims. The reason: this tale of an American girl kidnapped by Saudi relatives and held, veiled against her will in Saudi Arabia was all too familiar as stereotypical orientalism. The question then becomes, with films and television shows preceding it rife with the racist prejudices of our American consciousness, why was Alice in Arabia different?


Why Everyone Should Care about NYPD’s Surveillance of Muslims


by: on March 4th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Last week the U.S. District Court dismissed a long-standing case against the NYPD for their secret surveillance of Muslims in New York and New Jersey in the years after 9/11. Yet few Americans outside of the American Muslim community spoke out against the judgment, and not all newspapers carried the news. For the average American of a different faith, this wasn’t really too newsworthy. Here’s why they are wrong.


Sharon Abreu’s Song for “The Left Hand of God”


by: Sharon Abreu on February 25th, 2014 | 13 Comments »

Sharon Abreu

An environmentalist friend of mine whose religion is Christian Science recently sent me a 2010 article from the Christian Science Sentinel. The article is about author John Merritt (called “The Green Baptist” by Christianity Today) and his book Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. Merritt is quoted as saying, “How can you be a Christian and not care about the environment?”

This question excited me. And, not surprisingly, it brought me back to the Network of Spiritual Progressives, which I joined in 2003 when it first sprang from Tikkun as the “Tikkun Community”. So much of our work since 2003, and so much of Rabbi Lerner’s work over decades, has addressed the question of why so many people seem to vote against their own best interests, which includes voting for candidates who promote natural resource extraction over environmental protection, progressive energy policies, and the health and well-being of the voters who put those politicians in office.

I’ve been encouraged over the last few years to see more Christians speaking out in favor of environmental protection, acknowledging the reality of climate change and the likelihood that human activity is intensifying global warming. I appreciate groups like Restoring Eden and Christians for the Mountains, who understand that the rights of nature and of people are inseparable.


Mis-Remembering Ariel Sharon


by: on January 30th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

(Ariel Sharon/ Credit: Creative Commons)

The media has no problem focusing on the petty offenses and sexual infidelities of public figures but seems unable to acknowledge when some have engaged in or abetted human rights abuses or inflicted pain, violence, or murder on civilians. So we’ve been subjected to the iconization of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and — since his death earlier this month — of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Of all the murders he ordered, the one that sticks out most in my mind is the first set, in which he ordered his clandestine military unit in the early 1950s to take revenge on Palestinians who had been crossing the Armistice lines of 1949 in order to reclaim land that had been theirs before the Israel’s military victories that pushed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes. To terrorize the Palestinians, his unit entered and massacred a Palestinian village, setting fire to homes in which primarily women and children perished.

What is equally egregious is the media’s repeating of the lie that Ariel Sharon was on the verge of reducing West Bank settlements when he died, a follow-up to his supposedly peace-oriented move to remove the Israeli settlers from Gaza. But as Sharon’s close assistant and adviser Dov Weinglas explained to the leaders of the Settlement movement, the withdrawal of 5,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza was a strategic move aimed at undermining international pressure to remove settlers from the West Bank. But how could Sharon be sure it would play out in that way? Simple: instead of negotiating the withdrawal with the Palestinian Authority, he would insist that there was “no one to talk to” among Palestinians, and that therefore Israel would simply unilaterally withdraw, thereby assuring that Hamas, which had taken control of Gaza by eliminating the representatives of the Palestinian Authority, would then be in control of Gaza. Yes, from the standpoint of undermining international pressure on Israel to end the settlements, this was a brilliant cynical move. But it was the opposite of a move designed to bring peace. With Hamas in charge of Gaza, the rage of Palestinians would be given full expression, and then Israel could say, as it subsequently did, “see, we gave the Palestinians Gaza and all they did was to use it as a base to attack Israel.” A fuller discussion of this appears in my 2012 book Embracing Israel/Palestine. But the central point is this: Ariel Sharon was the father of the settlement movement, and his ideological and practical political moves were all about holding on to the West Bank as part of Israel. He was not a closet peacemaker, and the attempts in the media to portray him as such were nothing short of bizarre.


Stepping-Stone Journalism: When Reporters Seek Positions of Power


by: on December 17th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

After John Miller’s infomercial for the NSA had run its course on 60 Minutes, it was reported – to nobody’s great surprise – that the CBS newsman was ditching his television contract to take a top intelligence post at the NYPD.

For Miller, this was just a continuation of his revolving door professional career, alternating between national security appointments and journalism posts. Problematic? Of course. However, the most troubling aspect was the revelation that Miller had been under consideration for the NYPD post while working on his NSA story.

He wasn’t just a past insider ‘reporting’ on the NSA. This was a future insider doing a story about the inside. This was a journalist having full access to the inside and reporting upon it not to critique it, but to celebrate it, knowing his goal was to become a part of it.


Making Sense of Incognito’s Bullying


by: Jay Sterling Silver on November 21st, 2013 | Comments Off

The reasoning behind Richie Incognito’s racist bullying of Miami Dolphin’s teammate Jonathan Martin must be fully understood before we can make any sense of the sketchy facts and conflicting opinions surrounding the story, or appreciate how the logic fails.

(Richie Incognito/ Credit: Creative Commons)

As the argument goes, Martin, a mild-mannered, cerebral Stanford grad, had to be “toughened up” to thrive in the heat of NFL battle. Like the verbal abuse heaped on raw recruits in boot camp to engender a fighting spirit, the anger provoked by racial derogation and talk of sodomizing Martin’s sister would, in theory, acquaint him with the fire in the belly that he needed to summon on Sundays to vanquish opposing linemen. This type of bullying, the reasoning goes, promotes the greater good – in this case, of winning football games.

The trouble with this reasoning is two fold. First, the target is non-consenting, since the strategy wouldn’t work if he was. The statement “Mr. Martin, we’ll be calling you horrible names and expressing the crudest desires with regard to your lovely family as a sort of drill, like running laps or lifting weights, so you’ll play better” would thwart the exercise.

Like the office or the plant where the rest of us labor, though, the locker room is a workplace subject to laws that protect the workforce. Certain employers and employees may yearn for the days when harassment wasn’t actionable and the workplace was as hostile as the boss chose to make it, but the legislature saw no need to carve out an exception for racist bullying or threats of violence on the offensive line any more than on the assembly line. Players’ accountsof the rough and tumble locker-room culture where “men are men” are no more morally compelling than wistful accounts of the days when women and minorities “knew their place.” And Dolphins’ head coach Joe Philbin wasn’t kidding when, asked about the locker-room harassment, he responded “I’m not concerned about any of that stuff. My focus is on [the team's next opponent] Tampa Bay.”


Slavery: The Sorrow, the Pity, the Evasion — Thoughts on “Twelve Years a Slave”


by: on November 20th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

(Credit: Creative Commons)

Recently I attended a preview of Twelve Years a Slave, a film graphically showcasing bondage in Dixie. In one scene I watched a white man in a sadomasochistic frenzy rape a young black woman -blood and semen seemed to drip in equal measure. I left the theater shocked and angry. This was the ultimate form of human degradation. I trembled. We seem to be under a continuing curse of psychotic racism spurred by a bloodlust so strong that even God Himself cannot cure it. Slavery is our own “Original Sin.”

It took some days to erase the searing images from the movie. As a historian I began to reflect. The actor who played the central character, Solomon Northrup, is Anglo-African Chiwetel Eijofor. When he mentioned that he is of Igbo descent and had heard of slavery in the West Indies, my antennae went up. Slavery in Igboland was a central fact of its nineteenth’s century economy. It seems that Eijofor wished to isolate a particular variety of slavery, one far removed from African realities.Americans do talk a lot about race and history, but are bound up in a highly stylized version of it —-The Dixie Narrative. By the last quarter of the twentieth century, the paternalistic image of U.S. slavery summoned up in Gone with the Wind and other works on the “Gallant South” had been consigned to the junk heap of history for most of us. The turbulence and violence of the 1950s and 1960s meant that the nation would, thank God, never again embrace any benevolent view of slavery.


Rejoice: Openly Socialist Candidate Wins Seattle City Council Seat


by: on November 18th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

(Flyer for Sawant/ Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Natalie Woo)

It’s true. Seattle elected a socialist candidate to its City Council. Kshama Sawant, a 40-year-old community college instructor and immigrant, is the kind of socialist spiritual progressives can feel delighted about. She ran on an Occupy platform of raising the minimum wage a hefty $5 to $15/hour, instituting rent control, public ownership of utilities, expanding paid sick leave, increasing citizen oversight of police, and taxing millionaires. She even said, under prodding, that one could make a case for nationalizing Amazon and Boeing; it wouldn’t happen, and she wasn’t running on it, but one could make an argument. And she was still elected.

How did she do it?


The Spiritual Truth of JFK (As Movie and Reality)


by: on November 18th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

[Editor's Note: November 22 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and virtually all major TV channels, magazines, and other media outlets are planning specials, documentaries, articles with historical analyses and personal retellings of where people were at the time of assassination. Also, Oliver Stone's 1991 Oscar-nominated film JFK challenging the conventional theory that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman and suggesting that there may have been a conspiracy to kill Kennedy will be shown this month in over 250 theaters nationwide. To put the Kennedy assassination in a historical perspective that is both spiritual and political, we here reprint Peter Gabel's brilliant article on the subject, "The Spiritual Truth of JFK (As Movie and Reality)," originally published in Tikkun in March/April 1992 in response to the original release of Stone's film. Gabel's piece is an example of the kind of historical analysis we are trying to develop in Tikkun - locating the critical event of JFK's assassination in the context of the repression of our collective spiritual longings for a loving world that characterized the 1950s, and what he calls the "opening up of desire" represented by JFK. In defending Stone's film against its critics, Gabel also shows how the conflict between hope and fear, between the desire for an erotic, loving, and caring world and the forces seeking to deny and contain that desire, is central to understanding the meaning of historical events. His analysis also implicitly helps explain why this month there is such an outpouring of memory, pain, longing, and loss in recollecting the assassination fifty years later.]

(JFK, an Oliver Stone film/ CC-BY-NC-SA by www.impawards.com)

Oliver Stone’s JFK is a great movie, but not because it “proves” that John F. Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy. Stone himself has acknowledged that the movie is a myth — a countermyth to the myth produced by the Warren Commission — but a myth that contains what Stone calls a spiritual truth. To understand that spiritual truth, we must look deeply into the psychological and social meaning of the assassination — its meaning for American society at the time that it occurred, and for understanding contemporary American politics and culture.

The spiritual problem that the movie speaks to is an underlying truth about life in American society — the truth that we all live in a social world characterized by feelings of alienation, isolation, and a chronic inability to connect with one another in a life-giving and powerful way. In our political and economic institutions, this alienation is lived out as a feeling of being “underneath” and at an infinite distance from an alien external world that seems to determine our lives from the outside. True democracy would require that we be actively engaged in ongoing processes of social interaction that strengthen our bonds of connectedness to one another, while at the same time allowing us to realize our need for a sense of social meaning and ethical purpose through the active remaking of the no-longer “external” world around us. But we do not yet live in such a world, and the isolation and distance from reality that envelops us is a cause of immense psychological and emotional pain, a social starvation that is in fact analogous to physical hunger and other forms of physical suffering.


Stand with the LGBT Community: Boycott Ender’s Game


by: Michael Hulshof-Schmidt on November 5th, 2013 | 12 Comments »

(Orson Scott Card/ CC-BY-NC-SA by Alex Erde)

Let’s be clear from the outset. Every ticket sold for the movie Ender’s Game enhances the wealth and status of a celebrity who has used his power to promote homophobia. Orson Scott Card has been an enormously successful science fiction and fantasy author and has used his wealth and fame to denigrate and oppose the LGBT community at every turn. Every outlet that promotes the film without acknowledging Card’s opinions and influence is colluding with his hateful efforts.

I write this article with a great sadness and heaviness upon my heart, given the first major promotional piece I saw for the film. I was watching the Graham Norton Show as Harrison Ford was promoting the movie. Shame on Graham Norton for even giving airtime to the nefarious Card and sustaining a heterosexist culture. How ironic that precious minutes of his show were so exceedingly harmful to the LGBT community, including Norton himself.