If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?- Rabbi Hillel, Pirke Avot 1:14
Our world is riddled with tragedies: the epidemic of killings by police in the U.S. of African Americans, boats capsizing with hundreds of people fleeing war-torn countries in search of security, safety and well-being, children dying from illnesses stemming from malnutrition at alarming rates, women and girls being raped as victims of wars, and the list goes on. As spiritual seekers we desperately yearn for a day when peace and nonviolence, love and care, kindness and generosity as well as a deep connection with the sacred in one another and with the creative force of the universe reign.
Many of us, in our despair, turn to spiritual guidance and practices to soothe our pain and find solace. Feeling powerless to impact the enormity of the problem and recognizing that social change efforts often lack deep spiritual integration and wisdom, we instead decide to focus our energies on our inner work rather than align ourselves with larger social change movements. We find comfort in the belief that personal transformation alone can and will result in societal transformation.
by: Lubna Qureshi on May 11th, 2015 | No Comments »
On Sunday, May 3rd two gunmen were shot dead as they opened fire at the security guard, outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland Texas where, “Draw Muhammad” art contest was in progress. The gunmen planned to commit a heinous act of terrorism and in its pursuit shot the security guard on duty. The intended act of terrorism is as despicable as it can be so is the caricature drawing contest organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Though Pamela Geller, the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, exercised her legal right of freedom of expression yet her expression was not free from malice and spite towards Muslims.Of course, no one can stop anyone from practicing the First Amendment and the right to free speech. We Americans cherish the freedom to say what’s on our mind. However, freedom of expression becomes questionable when it focuses on maligning the faith or religious beliefs of any one, and in this case, 1.6 billion Muslims around the world.
Many argue that the cartoon contest was an innocent art event, with a glitzy prize of $10,000, where artists from around the nation gathered to exhibit their artistic talents. Some state that mere caricatures of the Prophet of Islam should not offend anyone since it’s just ink on the paper. Yet many fail to understand why the cartoon depiction of Prophet Muhammad is so upsetting to the practicing Muslims. Therefore it is essential to understand the logic that fosters the high standard of devotion and loyalty.
by: Mark Karlin on May 5th, 2015 | No Comments »
Credit: Quinn Dombrowski
When the New York Times starts posting articles warning of a dystopian future in the United States due to income equality, you know that the alarm bells are starting to sound even in the corporate mass media.
On April 28, the Times posted an analysis by reporter Eduardo Porter in its economy section. Porter bluntly stated:
But when it comes to the health, well-being and shared prosperity of its people, the United States has fallen far behind. Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four decades or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong turn along the way.
Porter manages to find a glimmer of hope in the grim statistics about the real state of the union. However, his sliver of optimism is only due to the fact that the deterioration of the nation as a community is so bad that he believes it will ultimately force a political solution. “The silver lining in these dismal, if abstract, statistics,” Porter writes, “is that they portend such a dysfunctional future that our broken political system might finally be forced to come together to prevent it.”
by: Robyn Purchia on May 4th, 2015 | No Comments »
Walls made out of straw? A solar victory overcoal? These aren’t lofty environmental dreams or fantasies of the Big Bad Wolf. These are just some of the ways Interfaith Power & Light’s (IPL) Cool Congregations Challenge winners take action to respond to the threat of climate change.
“It’s very inspiring to see so many congregations stepping up in response to climate change, especially this year as global leaders prepare to meet in Paris to discuss the reduction of global carbon pollution and the climate crisis,” said Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, founder and president of IPL. “IPL’s Cool Congregations are leaders. They’re not waiting until 2030 or 2050 to make a difference — they’re showing us that cutting emissions by 50% or more is not only possible now, but many have even gone carbon neutral.”
Having Fun With Sustainability
The Eco Center at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center in Little Rock, Arkansas is an excellent example of the myriad of energy-saving techniques that are possible now, a 5,300 square-foot green building out of straw, paper mache, beer bottles, old conveyor belts, and rocks.
by: Lubna Qureshi on April 28th, 2015 | 4 Comments »
The American Freedom Defense Initiative is continually allowed to run such repulsive ads as the one above. But free speech, when based on religious hatred, is detrimental to the morals of a society as a whole. Credit: CreativeCommons / OneCitizenSpeaking.com.
A recent ruling by a federal judge permitted the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) to display hateful advertisements on New York subway cars and buses. The tasteless ads relate the killing of Jews to Islamic teachings. This is nothing new for the AFDI. Since its inception in 2010, the AFDI has taken it upon itself to promote hateful advertisement by maligning the religious teachings of Islam under the flag of free speech. Pamela Geller, the self-proclaimed Islamophobe, organized the ad campaign. However, Geller fails to comprehend the long term consequences of the hate messages that may incite more anger and detestation in an already turbulent landscape. Although AFDI claims to exercise its right to free speech, it fails to realize the responsibilities that come with practicing the first amendment. The neglect of such responsibilities may be more harmful than even imagined.
by: Peter Balakian on April 24th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Formal recognition of the Armenian genocide is growing not only in the countries of the diaspora, but in Turkey itself. Above, the Armenian March to Remember Genocide in Hollywood, CA. Credit: CreativeCommons / JR Woodward.
I was standing under Halogen spot lights spoking the white walls of a chic art gallery on Istiktal Street in Istanbul, a bustling pedestrian avenue of boutiques and restaurants, as I shook hands with three young Turkish fiction writers. Their publicist from their publishing house Yapi Kredir, led us to the table where we each had a small microphone and a name card in front of us, which for me was a kind of identity card. Three Americans, three Turks, all were writers of fiction but me. We had English translations of our Turkish colleagues’ works, and I felt the silence in the room grow as we moved between Turkish and English.
I was here in Istanbul in late October of 2014 to read in public for the first time. I agreed to join a group of American writers organized by the poet Christopher Merrill who directs the Iowa Writers International School at the University of Iowa. The project was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy as a cultural reading tour to Turkey and Armenia. The underlying concept was to foster some kind of dialogue between Armenians and Turks on the eve of the centennial of the Armenian genocide.
by: Mechapesset Atid on April 16th, 2015 | 3 Comments »
"Don't Say We Did Not Know" is the defense invoked by Germans after World War II. Activist Amos Gvirtz's mission is to ensure that this excuse cannot be used by Israelis when asked to answer for crimes against Palestinians. Credit: Donna Baranski-Walker.
When accused of being a traitor to Israel, as Amos Gvirtz has sometimes been, the sexagenarian activist author responds by advising caution.
“If I am a traitor,” he replies, “then Israel, by its very essence, is against peace.”
Gvirtz, who is careful to describe himself as an activist rather than a journalist, is the author of a weekly email blast called “Don’t Say We Did Not Know.” This title and concept refer to a common defense invoked by Germans after World War II when questioned about atrocities committed by their country. Gvirtz’s mission is to ensure that this excuse cannot be used by Israelis when asked to answer for crimes against Palestinians.
“I try to tell stories that I did not see in the mainstream Israeli media,” he says. “I think the Israeli media is ignoring the great majority of the daily human rights violations.”
Gvirtz has recently compiled a number of his own essays for a book with the same title as his weekly email. At present, the book is available only in Hebrew, but he hopes to have it translated so that it can reach a wider audience.
“My editor asked me, ‘Who am I writing to?’ and I said, ‘To everybody who wants to know.’”
by: Jack Gilroy and Sharon Dellinger on April 10th, 2015 | No Comments »
Join Us In Washington, DC April 22-24th – Alternatives
to Violence Days
Are you over the hill with workshops, retreats and conferences and want to roll up your sleeves and do some real peace and justice action? Read on!
A truly sane individual does not continue to make the same mistakes. As a nation of individuals we need to work to end our U.S. Government’s practice of using violence rather than compassion and generosity. We know violence is a mistake. Help us correct our past by promoting the Global Marshall Plan, an alternative to violence.
Congressman Keith Ellison of Minneapolis/St. Paul, one of two Muslims in Congress, has presented House of Representatives Resolution Plan for 2015, the Global Marshall Plan. Congressional Resolutions are a good start to bringing about change. A Global Marshall Plan Act is our goal and it can be achieved.
We will be lobbying Progressive House of Representatives offices on April 22-24 to encourage people of compassion and sanity to support the Global Marshall Plan Resolution and Congressman Ellison’s HR 1464, the Inclusive Prosperity Act, a gateway bill to the Global Marshall Plan. Join us at the office of Jubilee USA, 212 East Capitol Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20003 on April 22nd at 9AM in the conference room (Jubilee is just a few blocks from the United States House of Representatives). As a lobbyist, you will have a packet which includes the Global Marshall Plan Resolution. A sheet with a few questions about how your meeting worked out will also be in the packet, along with an email address and telephone number to report on your meeting. Your feedback on the meetings will help guide us in future endeavors.
Mark Roland, one of the 6,000 babies born each year with Down syndrome, was a human beacon of unconditional love. Today, the National Down Syndrome Society provides vital resources for those affected by Down syndrome.
Born on March 27, 1970 Mark Roland, a down syndrome child, came into this troubled planet and in the process of his journey of 33 years, before he died of respiratory arrest in 2003, Mark touched countless people with his innocent, joyful and open heart including mine. Even though I had met him only once as a young child, I never forgot his deep knowing and joyful presence for he was indeed an innocent pure new soul whose only purpose was to unconditionally love.
One in every 691 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome, making Down syndrome the most common genetic condition in America. Approximately 400,000 Americans have Down syndrome and about 6,000 babies with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year. Regardless of the type of Down syndrome a person may have, all have an extra, critical portion of chromosome 21 present in all or some of their cells. This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome.
Individuals with Down syndrome (DS) are becoming increasingly integrated into society and community organizations, such as school, health care systems, work forces, and social and recreational activities. Most people with Down syndrome have cognitive delays that are mild to moderate but they also have gentle souls and a great capacity to give and receive love — and Mark Roland was the perfect example of that gift.
Another inspiring example of raising a child with Down syndrome is the story of London, a young girl:
by: Murali Balaji on March 26th, 2015 | 2 Comments »
The popular narrative in media and textbooks on the South Asian American population is that they’ve only existed in the United States for a few decades.
But such a narrative misrepresents and obscures a much longer history, especially at the turn of the century, when several thousand Indians settled in regions like Northern California. It’s the largely untold story of the migration of Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims from pre-partition India from the late 19th century up until the passage of the Asian Exclusion Act (which was passed to limit Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Indian migration).
Even before the act was passed, migrants from India faced many obstacles, including systemic discrimination and outright violence. The 1907 “anti-Hindoo” riots in Bellingham, Washington, for example, targeted mostly Sikh laborers whom whites had accused of stealing lumber jobs. Bellingham is only about an hour north of Bothell, Washington, where a Hindu temple was recently vandalized.
Still, in their small conclaves, the immigrants of different faiths began to find ways to develop a community identity, in part because they were largely shunned by whites. At the time, about two-thirds of Indian immigrants in California at the turn of the century were Sikh, and as a result, the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society — a gurdwara — opened in Stockton in 1911.
Because Hindus and Muslims in the region were still small in number, and unable to get the approvals to build any sites of worship, the Stockton gurdwara served as a place of worship for all three religions. While Hindu-Sikh co-worship was common in northern India for centuries, a place for all three groups in the United States was created by circumstance and sustained through interfaith bonds.