But now we got weapons,
Of the chemical dust.
If fire them we’re forced to,
Then fire them we must.
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide,
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side.
I often travel around the United States and internationally present talks on numerous issues of social justice. A few years back, I gave a talk on the topic of heterosexism and cissexism at Pace University in New York City. I talked about my own experiences as the target of harassment and abuse growing up gay and differently gendered, and I discussed the thesis of my book, Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price. In the book I argue that everyone, regardless of one’s actual sexuality identity and gender identity and expression are hurt by sexuality and gender oppression, and, therefore, it is in everyone’s self-interest to work to reduce and ultimately eliminate these very real and insidious forms of oppression.
I know this is a difficult time for you and your family, which is partly why I’m reaching out, to let you know that I feel a deep kinship with you, despite the many differences in our circumstances and perspectives. While you lean conservative in your political views, I am an unyielding progressive. While you reside in a small town in Idaho, I am composing this from Pittsburgh, the city in which I live. And while your son was held captive for many years by the Taliban – while you struggled to secure his release with the determined focus only a father’s love could generate – I have struggled in a different way, working to move beyond the terror attack which injured my wife in Israel, an attack which has propelled me to fight for the human rights and dignity of my so-called enemy.
Despite these differences, our struggles have shared several fulcrum points, and these points have made it so difficult for me to watch politicians and the media exploit you and your family’s pain. There are moments this past week in which I have trembled with anger, have felt the need to lash out, to grip someone by the throat and scream, ‘Leave them alone’.
But I’m not a violent person. I’m a writer who acts with the pen, not with fists, and as such I’ve chosen to write to you in public as a way to support you in a country where so many want to reflexively do the opposite.
I hope this letter finds you in peace, and so I’ll begin again by saying שלום עלכם (shalom alechem), which is the Hebrew equivalent for the Arabic السلام عليكم (as-salam aleykum).
Peace be upon you.
by: Rae Abileah on June 4th, 2014 | Comments Off
Remember that montage in Love, Actually when all the couples and families are reuniting at the airport arrivals gate? That montage turned my heart to mush. And that scene in real life has the same effect. Since I was a kid I can recall loving to pick people up at the airport, or be picked up after a long flight; greeted by my mom beaming with smiles as I returned from a faraway trip or my boyfriend holding a bouquet of flowers and wearing a suit and top hat for the occasion.
My high school friends were in the marching band and we used to go to the SFO arrivals gate and play welcome music for random strangers just for fun. Throw in some free carnation flower handouts and we had ourselves an amusing night out. That moment of reuniting after a trip hasn’t lost it’s charm after all these years. In Love, Actually, the British Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, says:
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
Of course, since 9/11, security protocols have pushed arrivals gate greetings out to the baggage claim area. Nonetheless, the ritual continues.
by: Anna Challet on June 3rd, 2014 | 4 Comments »
(Cross-posted from New American Mediaby Anna Challet)
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Salmon Hossein, an Afghan-American Muslim working on a joint law and public policy degree at UC Berkeley and Harvard, says that his own family hates that he has a beard. The outward sign of his Muslim faith, he says, makes his family worry about his future.
“They say, ‘How are you going to get a job? How are you going to be successful?’” He knows that they’re just looking out for him, he says. But he intends to keep his beard; it provides him with a connection to his spiritual journey.
Hossein, who spoke on a recent panel of young Bay Area Muslims in San Jose organized by New America Media in partnership with the One Nation Bay Area Project, is among a generation of young Muslims who grew up in the shadow of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the rise of Islamophobia in America. Some have personal experience with hurtful speech and ignorant comments about their faith. Yet many still choose to show their faith through practices like prayer and fasting, wearing a hijab (head covering), or growing a beard.
by: Josh Healey on June 3rd, 2014 | Comments Off
I had this crazy dream last night.
Yuri Kochiyama and Amiri Baraka were up in heaven…playing Ronald Reagan and Strom Thurmond in a game of 2-on-2 basketball.
The stakes? Dismantling the segregated institutions of heaven. Why all the clouds gotta be white? Baraka asks. Why all the white angels get the nice harps, and we get these hand-me-down purgatory ukeleles?
The score is tied. 14-14. Next basket wins.
Yuri looks at Baraka like, Don’t worry, my dude. I got this.
Two young girls wearing banners that read "Abolish child slavery" in English and Yiddish. Credit: Creative Commons
On the one hand, Jews are deeply grateful that America provided us with a safe haven when so many other Christianity-dominated cultures had represented us as demon Christ-killers and created the preconditions for the rise of both secular and religious anti-Semitism. American Jews rejoiced in the promise of freedom and equality before the law, and played a major role in organizing, shaping, and leading social movements that could extend that promise to all of America’s citizens. The role of the United States in defeating Nazism at the expense of so many American lives remains an enduring source of pride even for the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who fought in World War II, and an enduring source of appreciation for this amazing country. And the generosity of the American people toward Jews has made it possible for us to thrive and feel the kind of safety we haven’t felt for two thousand years of exile and diaspora.
On the other hand, Jewish well-being in America came not because this society didn’t seek scapegoats, but rather because it already had a scapegoat long before most Jews arrived on these shores – African Americans, Native Americans, and other targets (most recently, feminists, homosexuals, and “illegal” immigrants). While other immigrant groups from Europe found their safety in part by identifying with the dominant culture and becoming “white” (a social construct for all light-skinned people who bought into the existing systems of privilege and power), a significant section of the Jewish people in the past 150 years of presence in the United States chose instead to identify with the oppressed – most significantly with African Americans, but also with the poor (of which we were a significant part in the years 1880-1940), the oppressed, the homeless, and the hungry.
by: Warren J. Blumenfeld on May 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments »
American politicians have prayed before public gatherings since the Founding Fathers crowded into a stuffy Philadelphia room to crank out the Constitution. The inaugural and emphatically Christian prayer at the First Continental Congress was delivered by an Anglican minister, who overcame objections from the assembled Quakers, Anabaptists and Presbyterians. The prayer united the mostly Christian Founding Fathers, and the rest is history.
Indeed, as U. S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy write in the 5-4 majority opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway , “…the rest is history.”
Church Ave and State Street intersect in Knoxville, Tennessee. Credit: Creative Commons/ Wyoming_Jackrabbit
While a strict separation of synagogue and state, mosque and state, Hindu and Buddhist temple and state, and separation of atheists and state and virtually all the other approximately 5000 religions and state has been enacted, on the other hand, church – predominantly Protestant denominations, but also Catholic – and state, have connected virtually seamlessly to the affairs and policies of what we call the United States of America, from the first invasion of Europeans in the 15th century on the Christian Julian to the Christian Gregorian Calendars up to 2014 Anno Domini (short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi – “In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”).
In the court case, two local women from Greece, New York filed suit against city officials for approving invocations with primarily overtly Christian content at monthly public sessions held on government property. However, according to Kennedy, “The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition, and does not coerce participation by nonadherents.”
Though the Sun beats down with extreme intensity upon the countries that comprise the Middle East, the almost constant barrage of troubling and often violent incidents metaphorically eclipse the golden rays from reaching the land and its people. During my latest trip to Israel in June of this year, however, I discovered glimmers of light and warmth and the potential for a brighter tomorrow.
I had the opportunity to attend a joint meeting between members of the Israeli non-governmental organization, Kav Mashve, and a group of 14 professional women from the Cleveland, Ohio area who were on an information-gathering trip conferring with women from throughout Israel. The trip was sponsored by The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).
Kav Mashve (“The Equator,” whose masthead subtitle is “Employees’ Coalition for Equality for Arab University Graduates) was founded in October 2007 by Jews and Arabs to promote equal employment opportunities and to increase substantially the number of Arab college and university graduates in the professional labor force, both public and private, within the state of Israel. My cousin and life-long friend, Larry Tishkoff, who works at the Israel office of JFNA, organized the week-long itinerary for the women who were visiting Israel under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.
by: Ibrahim Sundiata on April 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off
Hirsi Ali. Credit: Creative Commons
I write this on Easter Sunday. A little less than a month from now, on May 18, 2014, Brandeis University will hold its sixty-third commencement ceremony. I shall not be there; I am south of the Equator in Brazil. Someone else also will not be there —Somali feminist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I am glad she will not be. An invitation extended to her was withdrawn by the president of the university, Fred Lawrence. Many of the faculty had signed a letter of protest and the Muslim Students Association had added its voice. Yet, the whole episode leaves me with bittersweet taste. I was left with a nagging question. Ross Douhat in the New York Times said that the university should just come out and confess its bias: “I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic.” Elsewhere in the media the dustup at Brandeis was portrayed as a speed-bump in the battle over free speech. It was much more. In an age of identity politics can we criticize the formerly colonized or semi-colonized “Two-Thirds World” (in the faculty letter’s terminology)? How to address female genital mutilation in Somalia, slavery in Mauritania and the lynching of gays in Kenya? Especially when such occurrences are clothed with the authority of religion, how do we respond?
We are learning from news accounts that the alleged shooter in the murders of three people at two separate Jewish sites, a community center and a retirement village in Overland Park, Kansas just one day before the Jewish Passover, was inspired by hate.
According to Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass, “This was a hate crime.” The federal government can now prosecute the suspected perpetrator, Frazier Glenn Miller (a.k.a. Frazier Glenn Cross), 73-years old, on hate-crime charges.
The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Miller as a former grand-dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and a founding member of the White Patriot Party, a white supremacist group. Miller has posted approximately 12000 times on Vanguard News Network whose slogan is “No Jews, Just Right.”
So why did a self-described “white supremacist” target apparent white people at Jewish community centers? The answer is quite simple: Though Jewish people are members of every so-called “race,” even Jews of European heritage (Ashkenazim) have been and still continue to be “racially” othered by dominant Christian European-heritage communities in some quarters. For this reason, I argue that the federal and state prosecutors charge Miller with first-degree premeditated murder stemming from his religious, ethnic, and racial bigotry, even though it appears that he mistakenly targeted people who were not themselves Jewish. Anti-Jewish prejudice (a.k.a. anti-Semitism) is a form of racism.