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Archive for the ‘Inter-Culturalism’ Category

Nelson Mandela: A Jewish Perspective


by: on December 6th, 2013 | 7 Comments »

Jews love and loved Nelson Mandela. He inspired us with his insistence that the old regime of apartheid would crumble more quickly and fully when faced with revolutionary love and compassion than when faced with anger and violence.

Mandela also challenged us to think deeply about whether the current situation in Israel/Palestine reflects the ethic of compassion that is so central to Judaism.

Credit: Creative Commons/Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Some people on the Left reject Mandela’s strategy. “How can one be openhearted toward one’s oppressors?” they say. “Fostering compassion toward oppressors will undermine the revolutionary spirit needed to defeat the evil ones.”

Yet Mandela showed us the opposite – that one can generate more solidarity and more willingness to take risks in struggle when one can clearly present one’s own movement as morally superior to the actions of the oppressors. Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement claimed this moral superiority through being able to respond to the oppressors’ hatred with great love. When Che Guevara said, “A true revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love,” he was alluding to this same truth. And this is what the Torah teaches when it instructs us to “love the stranger” (the “other”).


Why Mandela Forgave the Butchers


by: on December 6th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

Mandela with Desmond Tutu

Back in the early 1960s, black South African lawyer and activist Oliver Tambo was asked to describe a colleague who had just gone to prison for resisting white minority rule in that country. He replied that this man is “passionate, emotional, sensitive, quickly stung to bitterness and retaliation by insult and patronage.” Tambo was talking about his law-firm partner, Nelson Mandela – remembered today for his grace, humor, and empathy, as well as his remarkable courage and leadership.

What happened to Mandela in prison, what changed him so radically, is still a bit of mystery in my mind. He was often asked about a slice of this question – how he let go of the anger he felt specifically toward whites – and his responses were usually of a fairly standard therapeutic variety. Bill Clinton, in an interview aired last night by CBS Evening News, related one such exchange with Mandela.


An American Muslim Thanksgiving Journey


by: on November 27th, 2013 | 9 Comments »

This year will be the first time my family officially participates in the tradition of Thanksgiving, despite having lived in the United States for the last 15 years. That’s not to say I’m against American holidays, but being an American Muslim often implies conflict in terms of national and international observances. So while other immigrants are quick to participate in the celebrations of their adopted countries, American Muslims like me, who identify strongly with their religion, find it difficult to tread this path lightly. Here’s why.


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?


Proof of Religion


by: on October 13th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard famously said, “Once you label me you negate me.” But despite this, it seems that as human beings, we love labels. We spend much of our lives labeling not just others but ourselves as well. Skin color, race, education level, professional qualifications… you name it, we’ve got it and using it with gusto. Some labels – like doctor, author, white person – we apply on ourselves with pride, while others – black, dropout, druggie – are pasted on our psyches by others without our consent. It’s also an undeniable fact that labels, positive and negative, lead to stereotypes more frequently than they lead to motivation or greater self-esteem. Yet we continue to label ourselves and others without regard for consequences. A particularly dangerous label in the current national political and cultural situation is religion. As a culture we have started looking at people through “God glasses” – asking people what they believe in, assuming their religious preference based on their accent, color and most importantly their dress. It’s no longer a private matter, and it almost always results in discrimination.


Born to Belonging: Praying the Primal Elements


by: Larry Rasmussen on October 8th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

We would all be well advised to listen to the counsel of Wendell Berry, who has been for the past fifty years America’s foremost teacher on the subject of the wholeness of creation. “To cherish the remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal,” he warns, “is our only legitimate hope for survival.” There is no more effective way to cherish the remains of the Earth than first, to recognize the primal elements of earth, air, water and fire as sacred and therefore worthy of reverence. Then, as we perceive more deeply the wholeness of creation, we understand as well that we have been born to belonging to the sacred primal elements, of which we are composed and without which we could not live.

(CC-BY-NC-SA by www.martin-liebermann.de)

From the moment we are born until our death, we need air. Likewise water. Our body mass is, like the planet’s, 70 percent water. As the descendents of Adam, whose name derives from the Hebrew word adama (soil), we are groundlings, earthlings, the good clods who became the cultivators. We are creatures of dust, a little water, and the breath of God. Our identity is in our belonging to the sacred elements, a heritage that unites us with a past stretching back millions of years; yet, this identity has current implications as well. We live in a period of transition from an industrial-technological civilization to an ecological civilization, a transition that some have called the greatest that humans have ever faced. This transition marks the emergence from the Holocene Age to the Anthropocene Age.


Muslim Women Set Precedent for Religious Freedom


by: on October 4th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Religious accommodation in the workplace seems to be gaining strength in recent times. Last month, corporate America received a huge setback as retail giant Abercrombie and Fitch was found by a federal judge to have discriminated against a Muslim clerk who wore a hijab to work and was subsequently fired. While that story took the nation, especially American Muslim circles by storm, I refrained from writing about it for the simple reason that there didn’t seem much else to say. A court of law of the United States had already given a powerful message that American Muslims, with our infinite rituals and practices, were part of the fabric of American life and deserved equal treatment under the law. What more could anyone add? Yet here I am less than a month later, writing about this landmark case, not to state the obvious but because it seems that this case may have set some sort of precedent for religious accommodation.


Why Are So Few Chinese Youth Applying for DACA?


by: Valeria Fernández on September 4th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

(Cross-posted from New America Media)

A year after a deportation reprieve became available to undocumented youth, analysts are noticing a trend: Very few Chinese immigrants are applying for it.

“We suspected this was the case, that there would be low numbers,” said Anoop Prasad, a staff attorney from the Immigrant Rights Program at the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco who has worked with many Chinese applicants.

Mexican youth make up the largest number of those eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and also had the highest rate of applications, with 64 percent or 637,000 applications according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). But the absence of Chinese youth from the top 20 countries that applied for DACA came as a surprise to researchers – especially since Chinese rank in 9th place in terms of eligibility.

“Even though Chinese are eligible, they’re not applying at a high rate to appear in the statistics the Department of Homeland Security put out,” said Jeanne Batalova, MPI’s senior policy analyst and demographer. “Some did apply, but they didn’t make it to the top.”


50 Years After the March on Washington: Reflections on Racism


by: Cherie R. Brown on September 2nd, 2013 | 10 Comments »

march on washington

Protesters take part in the original March on Washington fifty years ago. Credit: Creative Commons/mikek7890.

As the events unfolded on the National Mall this past week commemorating 50 years since the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I have been thinking about the anniversary, trying to place it into the context of the unfinished work against racism in the U.S., which I know well from my work with the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI). The NCBI is a nonprofit leadership-training organization that builds resource teams in public schools, college campuses, governmental agencies, advocacy organizations, businesses, law enforcement agencies, and community groups to take on racism and all forms of discrimination.

I remember the heartbreak of Black/African heritage leaders in my organization in learning that in the same week that the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), it also voided parts of the Voting Rights Act, a crowning achievement of the Civil Rights Movement. As moving as it was to witness a huge victory for Gay Liberation, the Supreme Court’s rulings said to all of us, but especially to Black people, that federal protections for gay marriage – an unimaginable prospect just a few years ago – would move forward while the basic right to vote for many African Americans did not warrant similar protection. How can African Americans in the U.S. not wonder whether progress to end racism trails behind other liberation work?


Tiphares vs Elysium — Welcome to the Age of Appropriation


by: Andrew Lam on August 22nd, 2013 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons/Battle Angel Alita Wiki and Michele Ficara Manganelli

(Cross-posted from New America Media)

Many years ago, before the age of cyperspace, I found a Japanese manga series at a specialty bookstore in San Francisco. Created by Yukito Kishiro, Battle Angel Alita is the story of a post apocalyptic world where humans scavenge to survive, many using robotic technology to replace lost limbs. These semi-automated humans live in a ruinous metropolis called Scrapyard, which smolders beneath the fabled floating city of Tiphares.

Fast-forward two decades and Tiphares is renamed Elysium, one of this summer’s box office hits. The film stars Matt Damon as Max, a reluctant hero trying to knock down the doors of Elysium to gain access to life-saving technology. In the process, Max becomes the key to bringing Elysium and its privileged elite down to earth.

Elysium is the latest in a series of American productions that show how the Information Age has become the Age of Appropriation, one in which ideas and stories exist side by side for the borrowing, the taking, and ultimately, the mixing. What it also shows is that after almost a century of imitating the West, the tables are indeed turning and Hollywood is increasingly looking east.

At first it was a trickle. The 1954 film Seven Samurai, by legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, became the star studded Magnificent Seven, by John Sturges. Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) turned into Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. Then came the Wachowski brothers’ 1999 cult classic The Matrix, which defined a generation. Based on the Japanese manga series Ghost in a Shell and starring Keanu Reeves as the messianic Neo, the film initiated a torrent of cinematic influences originating from Asia.

The martial arts genre, especially, has long held sway here. Over the decades it has found great enthusiasts, more notably among them famed directors like Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola and Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino of Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction fame was “inspired” by Hong Kong director Ringo Lam’s much earlier City on Fire, which became the 1992 film Reservoir Dogs. While he later claimed it was homage and not stealing, the reality is that in the Age of Appropriation, the line between the one and the other is fading.