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Archive for the ‘General News’ Category



Looking Back: Rachel Dolezal and the Wages

Jun29

by: on June 29th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Several weeks ago, the American media was transfixed by a story of racial “passing.” Now the story has been pushed off the front pages by the true tragedy of the massacre of nine African American congregants in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The media saturation bombing of Rachel Dolezal, the former president of the Spokane NAACP, looks increasingly trivial. In a country where black folk are seemingly eternally subject to violence, the story of Dolezal now seems trite. But why was the nation briefly so focused on her story? Ms. Dolezal, born “white,” was accused of disguising herself as “black.” She had become a community activist and had married a black man. In addition, she had adopted black children. Her parents “outed” her as white. They stoutly maintain that they are “Caucasian” (but one assumes not in the same way as condemned Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev). I find the jumbled facts of the case insufficient to explain the national furor. She and ISIS appeared on the front page of the New York Times on the same day. Dolezal may be personally mendacious and manipulative, but her construction of herself, however contrived, struck a raw nerve in the American psyche. The “white” woman turned ‘black” is even more transgressive than transgenders. Her professed bisexuality attracts less attention than her racial identification.

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Terrorism in Charleston: It’s About Racism, Stupid!

Jun23

by: on June 23rd, 2015 | No Comments »

The following written on a cardboard box, "terrorism / noun / 1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes".

Credit: CreativeCommons / Jagz Mario.

While all available evidence points to Dylann Storm Roof’s racist motives in his admitted mass murder of 9 worshipers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday evening, June 17, in Charleston, South Carolina, still, a number of conservative Republican politicians frame the tragedy as either something we can never truly understand, or primarily as an attack on Christians, Christianity, and religious liberty.

According to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley: “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

Well, Governor Haley, I believe that in most instances of terrorism directed against houses of worship in the United States, the attackers’ motives were crystal clear: white supremacism!

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In-Between “Racialized” Category of European-Heritage Jews

Jun19

by: on June 19th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

An older Jewish gentleman.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Thomas Hawk

Sometimes I don’t know which side of the wall I’m on.
—Wladylaw Szpilman, The Pianist

On numerous occasions, I have attended the annual National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s “Creating Change” conference, bringing together grass-roots activists from throughout North America as well as other countries around the world. At one of the conferences in the early 1990s, I was a participant in a well-attended workshop titled “Activists of Color/White Activists Dialogue” facilitated by two highly-respected activists: a woman of color and a white Christian man.

When the workshop began, the woman outlined the agenda for the next one-and-one-half hours: the workshop would concentrate on the concepts of “race” and dialogue across racial divides, and include two separate panels of participant volunteers: one composed of four people of color, the other of four white people. Panel members were to each, in turn, answer four questions put to them by the facilitators, first the people of color panelists followed by the white people panelists. The questions were: 1. “What do you love about being your racial identity?” 2. “What has been difficult for you growing up this racial identity?” 3. “What do you never want to hear said again about or seen done to people of your racial identity group?,” and 4. “How can people of other racial groups support you and be your allies?”

As she explained the intended focus and agenda, great confusion came over me: Should I volunteer? Well, maybe, but I really can’t because I’m not sure if either of the categories on which the panels are organized include me. I know for certain that I am not eligible to volunteer for the “persons of color” panel. But, also, I feel as if I somehow don’t belong on the “white persons” panel either. Maybe I should just listen to the panelists, which I did.

But, what caused my bewilderment? What got in my way of self-defining as “white”? From where was this feeling of not-belonging on either panel, or my feeling of in-betweenness coming? Thinking back, I came to realize that it stems, I believe, from both personal and collective experience.

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Goodkill… Or Not

May25

by: on May 25th, 2015 | No Comments »

Memorial Day seems a fitting time to review the movie “Goodkill,” now playing in theaters around the country. The movie, based on actual events, portrays a morally-conflicted and psychologically-tormented operator of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or “drones”), played by Ethan Hawke.

Even though the plot includes some obvious Hollywood enhancements, it presents some basic facts about drone warfare, facts that are little known to the U.S. public. For instance, drone operators accidentally kill civilians, but sometimes see that civilians (including children) are present and proceed (or are ordered to proceed) anyway. “Signature strikes” do not target individually-recognized terrorists, but groups that fit a particular profile. A “double tap” means that after a drone attack, a second drone targets rescue workers or people attending the funeral of victims from the first attack.

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Integrating Spirituality and Activism – How to Change the World

May13

by: on May 13th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

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 The Politics of Love and Justice Summitpeople 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.


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Acceptance Weighs More Than Denouncement

May11

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.

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U.S. Tops for Income Inequality and Incarceration, but Near Bottom for National Health

May5

by: Mark Karlin on May 5th, 2015 | Comments Off

Post-Its that say "end income inequality."

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.”

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U.S. Congregations Take Action on Climate Change

May4

by: Robyn Purchia on May 4th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

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

Group of people siting on haybales inside a house made of hay.

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.


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An Answer to Pam: A United Front Between Jews and Muslims

Apr28

by: Lubna Qureshi on April 28th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

An Islamophobic bus ad that reads Muslims are savages.

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.

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The Grandmothers

Apr24

by: Peter Balakian on April 24th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

An aerial view of thousands of people marching for the Armenian genocide.

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.

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