Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Anderson Cooper takes on GOP anti-mosque candidate

From Talking Points Memo:

On Friday night, Anderson Cooper took on Renee Ellmers, a Republican House candidate in North Carolina who has now based her campaign on opposing the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," the Muslim community center project all the way up north in New York City. And the interview sure was a sight to behold.

Ellmers is running against incumbent Democrat Bob Etheridge. Her ad declared: "After the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, and Cordoba, and Constantinople, they built victory mosques. And now, they want to build a mosque by Ground Zero. Where does Bob Etheridge stand? He won't say, won't speak out, won't take a stand." Ellmers herself then cut in: "The terrorists haven't won. And we should tell them in plain English, no, there will never be a mosque at Ground Zero."

For one thing, Cooper asked Ellmers about how her ad uses the terms "Muslim" and "terrorists" interchangeably. Ellmers actually tried to wiggle out of that: "Well, to be honest, I think that you could make that assumption, but, you know, that's -- that's not giving me the benefit of the doubt."

Cooper replied: "I mean, that's -- your words are very carefully selected."

"The words are carefully selected, but that is certainly not what I'm intending to say. I am not intending to say that all Muslims are terrorists," Ellmers replied. "Basically, what I am saying, sir, is that there were terrorists who attacked us. They were Islamic jihadists. And, as a result of that, we have seen the devastation on 9/11."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Discovering the terrorism of the Christian Left

An assistant professor of mathematics at Abilene Christian University in Texas, Robert Huff, wrote an article critiquing Shane Claiborne because of his association with the Christian left, most notably organizations such as Voices for Creative Nonviolence (formerly called Voices) and Christian Peacemaker Teams. His critique of Claiborne was promopted by Claiborne's latest book being required freshman reading at Abilene Christian University.

Huff believes that there are often connections between "self-described peaceful activist groups and those that condone, support, or participate in various forms of terrorist violence." Huff first describes the radical organization Voices, and then goes on to describe Christian Peaceamaker Teams.
The group Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), founded in the mid-1980s by a handful of leftist religious organizations, conducts most of its operations in the Middle East, where it has been involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1992. Working closely with Palestinian political leaders, CPT members promote peace by engaging in "direct-action" sabotage against the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). According to, "CPT cooperates with, shares personnel with, and works alongside the International Solidarity Movement (ISM)," a radical, anti-Israeli organization led by Palestinians who work with American recruiters to invite Western volunteers to Israel for the purpose of disrupting the activities of the IDF.
Huff then goes on to describe ISM's supposed connection to a terrorist bombing in 2003. In addition he critiques CPT for their work in Iraq, posits CPT and voices were puppets for Saddam's regime, and takes aim at CPT's critiques of U.S.-led troops. He cites a statement by CPT regarding the kidnapping of 4 of their peacemakers to prove that CPT wrongly places blame on those who liberated the CPT peacemakers:
... We believe that the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping and so much pain and suffering in Iraq. The occupation must end. ... During these past months, we have tasted of the pain that has been the daily bread of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis ...
Apparently Christians who approach CPT should "proceed with extreme caution." You should, cause we are crazy, and we are radical.

Seeking the peace of Palestine by engaging our own settler reality

A post from a colleague of mine.  

27 September 2010
by Steve Heinrichs

A life-changing thought came to mind this past week while I was serving in the village of at-Tuwani.  I was out with Palestinian shepherds, watching the Jewish settlers of Ma'on construct another large chicken barn on stolen Palestinian land.  As I watched, all of a sudden, the armed Jewish settlers and their bulldozers vanished from sight, only to be replaced by other white settlers—persons of European origin, carrying Bibles, guns, and Christian civilization.  Then the Palestinian shepherds next to me, a couple of young Muslim teenagers, also disappeared, and in their place stood two men of First Nations origin.  And before I knew it, the desert land beneath my feet began to tremble, and thousands of huge Douglas Firs erupted from the hillsides, while a raging river full of salmon and steelhead burst forth from the rocky valley below.

There was no mistaking it.  I was in my “home and native land,” my country of Canada, my province of British Columbia.  And as I looked around, I perceived the disturbing truth of the dream.

Historian Norman Finkelstein thinks what happened to the indigenous of Turtle Island (North America) is the best analogy one can draw on to understand current events in Palestine—the ethnic cleansing, the theft of lands, the racist policies.  But I'm pressing beyond illuminating parallels.  Could it be that the oppressions of these two peoples are connected in some deeper way?  And could it be that we North Americans who seek justice in Palestine cannot actually do this work with efficacy, let alone integrity, unless we are seeking the same justice for the host peoples in our countries?

We see (or read about) the Israeli colonialists grabbing more and more land, and getting rid of more and more natives.  We see and we cry out; we rage and resist.  But where is the similar protest on behalf of the peoples who have suffered the largest holocaust the world has ever known?  Conservative estimates assert that there were at least 10 million Native persons living on Turtle Island when Columbus came.  By 1900, only 250,000 were left.

Where is our rage?  And where is our repentance as inheritors and benefactors of the North American settler movement?  If we condemn today's Israeli settlers for stealing Canaan from the Palestinians, what will we do about the Promised Land our settler forefathers wrested from indigenous people, land that we've inherited, land that we live on (and land, of course, symbolizing all our stolen wealth, power, privilege, culture, etc.)  Is that simply all in the past?

We North Americans who are seeking justice and peace for the people of Palestine need some new priorities: to get to know the “Palestinians” back home, to hear their stories, and seek justice in solidarity with them.  If we did, greater integrity would certainly come our way, but also something much more important.  For in a cosmos in which Creator has made everything interrelated, the fight for justice in both places (abroad and at home) might mean that both peoples will experience some kind of just peace sooner.

The distinguished Palestinian poet Mahmoud believed and proclaimed that Palestinian and Native suffering were profoundly connected.  In his poem, “The Speech of the Red Indian,” he tells settlers of all stripes—be they Jewish or North American like us —the posture that we need to adopt in order to heal our one human body.  It is not a comfortable posture for us settlers.  But it is the right and necessary one, and so deserves the last word:

There are dead who light up the night
of butterflies,
and the dead who come at dawn
to drink your tea

as peaceful as on the day your
guns mowed them down.
O you who are guests in this place,
leave a few chairs empty
for your hosts to read out

the conditions for peace
in a treaty with the dead.

Longing and Heartbreak

I missed my friends in Palestine a lot today, not totally sure why.  Cried a little, not sure why.  It's hard to transition to the States and realize I can't be in two places at once, and its hard to face the reality that my ability to see my friends is the hands of an unfriendly, uncaring group of folks, that being the Israeli Ministry of Interior.  I feel like I went through a bad break up, cause I have some heartache.  My heart isn't totally here in California.  Thus, it feels like a piece of me is missing, because, in all truthfulness, I think it is.

I talked to Ahmed and Musab today.  It was good to hear their voices, the Arabic came back surprisingly well.  

Some of the heartache is that Ahmed and Musab, and many others, are people that I love.  Those people that I love get fucked every single day of their lives by a racist and unjust set of systems and policies.  Systems and policies sound too abstract, their problems are tangible and fleshy -- the near impossibility of trucking in water, the fear of schoolchildren who have been beaten with chains and bats by Israeli settlers on the way to school and will surely be beaten again by the same people, the daily humiliation of Israeli soldiers and police treating you like you're a quarter of a human, that the value of your life and your family's lives pales in comparison to the value of a Jewish settler's life.  

Ahmed said, "Well, you know how it is," when I asked him how the situation was in his village.  "The problems are minor."
"Yeah, I know, there are always problems, but I am glad the problems are minor," I offered.  "How is the army escort of the school kids."
"Yeah it's good, the kids are getting to school."
"How are your mom and dad?"
"They are well, and your family? Send greetings to everyone there."
"Will do.  Sounds like you are out shepherding right now.  Have you seen settlers or soldiers recently?"
"A bit, but hopefully it will be quiet."
"Inshallah, it will be quiet today, Inshallah."

I smiled when I hung up, happy that I had spoken with Ahmed.  Then I cried.  I cried for Ahmed and the dozens of times I have seen him run with all of his might to avoid arrest, or worse, for simply shepherding his flock.  I cried for his brother who was headbutted by an Israeli soldier, who then threateningly cocked his rifle in the air while his mother shouted in desperation, "Ibni! Ibni! Khali Ibni! (My son! My son! Leave my son alone!).  I cried for his cousin who was beaten, blindfolded, and dragged away by the soldiers during the same incident.  I just cried in general, for all the shit they are put through.  I cried for all the evil Ahmed has seen.  I cried knowing that he bottles some of it up, I cried knowing that he must internalize that evil and that hatred.  

This world must change.  It must.  I don't know if it will, but I must retain the hope that change will come.  

I will fight, alongside Ahmed, for this world to be a just place.  A place where school kids don't need an armed military escort to get to school, where people don't have to travel an extra two hours by donkey to avoid being attacked by Zionist thugs, we'll fight for a world where people are granted dignity, decency, and respect based of their humanness, not on their ethnicity.  

Racism, injustice, and oppression are breathing their last breaths.  Their sun is setting. Inshallah.    

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ali Abunimah on Obama's speech at the UN

Ali Abunimah, one of my favorite thinkers and analysts about Israeli-Palestinian issues, hits the nail squarely on the head again.  Abunimah comments on Obama's speech at the United Nations.  

"Israel doesn't seem to show any interest in the two state solution...."  

Tune in for Ali's reasonings for thinking Israel doesn't want peace.  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Let the shops clap their hands

A reflection by my CPT colleague

CPTnet 23 de septiembre AL-KHALIL (HEBRON) REFLECTION: 
God’s justice, even for the shops by Steve Heinrichs “And the shops of the city will clap their hands!”

That’s what those radical biblical prophets would be singing if they were here in occupied Hebron, tramping through the streets of the Old City, seeing the overwhelming number of Palestinian shops that have been shut down by the Israeli forces. A long time ago, courageous truth-telling Jews like Isaiah and Jeremiah went around proclaiming to the oppressed that God was coming to bring justice to all things. Not only people, but everything would receive God's peace, so that, according to the prophetic imagination, even “the trees will clap their hands” (Is. 55:12). And if trees clap, why not Palestinian shops? 

The prophets dreamt of a world with jubilant trees because the trees were one of the chief victims of ancient imperial politics. They had been clear-cut by empire after empire in order to satisfy a variety of violent and extravagant purposes; military chariots, fleets of naval war ships, opulent palace residences, and temples. "But there is hope for the trees!" shout the prophets. One day they will clap their hands because God will come at last to rescue them from the death-dealing ways of the empire. One day the trees will clap because the powers of this earth will finally stop abusing them, stop taking more than they really need, and never again cut them down for purposes of war. 

Today, in the streets of Hebron's Old City, I can hear those old prophets singing that familiar tune once again, yet remixing the powerful words to speak hope and challenge into this particular situation. “And the shops of the city will clap their hands.” 

Over the past decade, more than five hundred Palestinian shops have been welded shut and well over a thousand more closed due to Israeli imperial politics. That is about 75% of the shops in this place, and the impact of such oppression, as you can well imagine, has been devastating. Once the hub of trade, giving life to the entire community, today’s Old City struggles simply to survive. And the violence against the shops continues. This past month, we have witnessed Israeli soldiers arbitrarily breaking open the doors of three more shops, and welding shut three others. 

The prophetic tradition will not stand idly by. So if you and I have ears to hear, let us hear those ancient Palestinian activists singing a subversive song in today’s Palestine, crying out to God and to us and against the Israeli Empire, “And the shops of the city will clap their hands.” 

One day, God will restore all things; not just Israeli and Palestinian, but even trees, and yes, even the shops of Hebron. Until that day, let us boldly sing the song of our elder prophets, and perhaps we will hear a little clapping, even today.

Tension bubbles over in Silwan

Things are heating up in Silwan.  The situation is always bad in Palestine, it's always bad for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and there are times when resistance ramps up.  When a settler security guard, whose salary is paid by the Israeli government but lives as a civilian in the settlement, kills two Palestinians -- it provides an impetus, a spark for all of the anger stemming from the daily oppression and humiliation that East Jerusalemites face.  

A couple indispensable resources:

Joseph Dana's reporting from Silwan.  If nothing else, follow that link to see more pictures like this. 

Phillip Weiss reporting from Jerusalem, with quotes from Silwan residents.

Joel Beinin at the Middle East Report Online shares some important history about the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan

The poor Palestinians of East Jerusalem have few assured human or civil rights. Anyone may do anything to them at any time, and they have little recourse. They can be thrown out of property they legally purchased after 1948, and made to live in tents in front of their former residences; and then the tents can be demolished by Israeli police. Aggressive, larcenous Jewish squatters continually attempt to effect a slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, using fraud and sometimes force.
The 55,000 Palestinians of the Silwan area (formerly a village but now annexed to Jerusalem) are mad as hell and not going to take it any more. Three hundred militant settlers have been inserted in their midst on the basis of some fable that a legendary King David dwelled there in the 10th century BC (archeology has found Jerusalem largely uninhabited in that period and has never found firm evidence of a Jewish kingdom during that era or even that a David or Solomon existed; they are not mentioned in contemporary Assyrian sources).
It is as though hundreds of armed men showed up in front of your house and demanded you take your family and leave and give it to them because their ancestor was a king and he is buried deep under its foundations. But you have the same ancestors that they do! (Jerusalem was founded some 5000 years ago by the common ancestors of most Jews and Palestinians).
The Palestinians started throwing stones at the squatters on some provocation. But the squatters have private armed security guards (an increasing tendency worldwide for colonial ventures). One of the guards opened fire. The accounts are murky, but the guard appears to have killed two innocent bystanders, one a Palestinian father of five who was driving by. The private guard wounded another Palestinian, who appears to have been fleeing him.
And to get a sense of the mood in Silwan, this is a worthwhile video.  These people aren't animals.  They have been treated like animals for decades, and they are angry.  Wouldn't you be?  (Oh, and the man who murdered the two Palestinians, he has already been released from custody).  


Peace talks, settlements, and status quo solutions

Will these peace talks work? -- Mahmoud Abbas seems to want peace -- If Israel extends the settlement freeze, then Palestine needs to stay at the negotiating table -- Is this the last chance for negotiations?

People seem to ask me more questions about a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict when there are some kind of swirling rumors about proximity talks or direct negotiations or whatever you call them. In the spirit of responding to these questions and comments about settlement freezes and peace talks, I will present a few points, explode a few myths, and probably bore a few readers.

First, settlement moratorium. You have to understand, all Israeli settlements are illegal. No one has ever disputed that, not even the United States. The establishment of an Israeli settlement is always theft of land, and it is land theft sanctioned, permitted, and encouraged by the state of Israel. Every additional housing unit built and every additional square meter of land stolen is another sizable obstacle in the way to human rights being recognized and peace being realized. So back to the settlement moratorium. Well, the so-called-10-month freeze…it never really happened. Remember when Peace Now found 492 violations of the partial moratorium?

One quarter of all the settlements violated the moratorium. 600 housing units in 60 settlements began to be constructed during the 'moratorium.' The standard building rate, during that same period is 1,130 units. That means the moratorium cut the building in half. Again, every single unit is a violation of international law. So, the moratorium only stopped half of the violations of international law.

Additionally, here is a video from the largest settlement near Hebron, called Kiryat Arba. Settlers are publicly pissing all over the settlement moratorium, in open view of the main highway. If you look closely you can see a concrete pouring machine, a concrete truck turning its tank, and a concrete truck leaving the settlement. (h/t Mondoweiss)

Today at the United Nations, Obama came to the podium, like the Nobel Peace Prize winner he is (gag reflex), and uttered, "Israel's settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks."

Well Mr. President, the moratorium has not made a difference on the ground, it has only cemented the realities of colonialist land theft and dispossession of the Palestinian people at a slightly slower rate. And, Mr. President, you believe that racist colonialist thiefs should stop what they are doing and that international law shouldn't be publicly flouted? But you won't do anything about it if it is openly flouted? Well that's brave Mr. POTUS-Noble-Peace-Prize Winner.

Secondly, Mahmoud Abbas doesn't represent the Palestinian people. Elections were supposed to be held eons ago, and every Palestinian I have ever met simply hates Abbas, believing, rightly so, that he is nothing more than a politician who loves his seat and sleeps with Israel and the United States in order to keep his facade of legitimacy. When Obama said today, "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas -- who stands up for his people in front of the world," he couldn't have been more wrong. Mahmoud Abbas does not stand for the Palestinian people. That's not my opinion, that is the unanimous voice of the Palestinian street.

Thirdly, you shouldn't be positive or optimistic about these peace talks. If they 'succeed,' it won't be success in terms of human rights for all people or for a just peace. These peace talks seem to be seeking to maintain the status quo, which isn't tenable in the long term. Rather, the realities on the ground must change: apartheid laws that privilege Jews over non-Jews, settlements that continue to steal land, Palestinian borders and airspace controlled by Israel, to name just a few. Here is Nadia Hijab, who explains the point much better than I do myself:

…next year is likely to see a grand ceremony where Palestinian leaders will sign away the right of return and other Palestinian rights in an agreement that would change little on the ground. The plan of the PA’s appointed prime minister, Salam Fayyad, to declare a Palestinian state in 2011 could unwittingly contribute to this outcome by providing the appearance of an “end of conflict” while the reality remains unchanged. If the rest of the world sees that the government of “Palestine” is satisfied with international recognition and a U.N. seat, they will be happy to move on to other problems leaving the Palestinians at Israel’s mercy.

Such a scenario could sound a death-knell for Palestinian human rights. The Palestinian people have shown a remarkable capacity to regenerate resistance and evolve new strategies after suffering harsh setbacks over the past century. But there may be no recovery this time around. A “peace agreement” would end the applicability of international law to the resolution of the conflict; permanently fragment the Palestinian people; and demobilize Arab and international solidarity.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

11 things you should hear this September 11th

[1] I donated to the Cordoba Initiative to commemorate 9/11. The Cordoba Initiative is behind the Park 51 Islamic Community Center that is being built near Ground Zero. I donated money to the Cordoba initiative for myriad reasons (donate here). Several investigative pieces have recently been written (here, here, and here) about the funding sources for the anti-mosque campaign. Needless to say, their coffers are overflowing and it donned on me that a big part of the anti-mosque campaign's success and visibility is their deep pockets. There have been ridiculous and absurd pot-shots leveled against the Cordoba project because of their supposed financial support from Saudi terrorist groups. I wanted to make a tangible, and monetary, statement to all the doubters and anti-mosque proponents that there are Christian white boys from California who are funding this project. There are Christian white surfer boys who say 'no' to the bigotry of equating Islam with 19 murderers and their murderous intent which we saw played out nine years ago. Islam isn't terrorism-inclined and the 19 terrorists were acting in contradiction to the tenets of their faith when they killed themselves and others on September 11,2001. After I decided to donate to the Cordoba Initiative, I saw that Michael Moore had the same idea. Read Moore's much-more-eloquently-stated reasoning for supporting the project and donate away (pay special attention to his promise to match donations):
I am opposed to the building of the "mosque" two blocks from Ground Zero.

I want it built on Ground Zero.

Why? Because I believe in an America that protects those who are the victims of hate and prejudice. I believe in an America that says you have the right to worship whatever God you have, wherever you want to worship. And I believe in an America that says to the world that we are a loving and generous people and if a bunch of murderers steal your religion from you and use it as their excuse to kill 3,000 souls, then I want to help you get your religion back. And I want to put it at the spot where it was stolen from you.
Friends, we all have a responsibility NOW to make sure that Muslim community center gets built. Once again, 70% of the country (the same number that initially supported the Iraq War) is on the wrong side and want the "mosque" moved. Enormous pressure has been put on the Imam to stop his project. We have to turn this thing around. Are we going to let the bullies and thugs win another one? Aren't you fed up by now? When would be a good time to take our country back from the haters?
I say right now. Let's each of us make a statement by donating to the building of this community center! It's a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization and you can donate a dollar or ten dollars (or more) right now through a secure pay pal account by clicking here. I will personally match the first $10,000 raised (forward your PayPal receipt to If each one of you reading this blog/email donated just a couple of dollars, that would give the center over $6 million, more than what Donald Trump has offered to buy the Imam out. C'mon everyone, let's pitch in and help those who are being debased for simply wanting to do something good. We could all make a huge statement of love on this solemn day.

[2] A NYC Firefighter speaks about 9/11:

and Rudy, a NY medical first responder speaks about 9/11:

[3] On Sarah Palin's twitter, she stated that burning the Quran: "is an insensitive and unnecessary provocation -- much like building a mosque at Ground Zero." So burning a Quran is equivalent to wanting to read the Quran in Manhattan? Shut up, Sarah.

[4] The NY Times editorial today picked up on another instance of the association made between burning a Quran and building a mosque:
It was bad enough to see a fringe figure acting out for cable news and Web sites, but it was deeply disturbing to hear John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, equate Mr. Jones’s antics with the Muslim center.

In both cases, he told ABC News, “Just because you have a right to do something in America does not mean it is the right thing to do.” The Constitution does, indeed, protect both, but they are not morally equivalent. In New York City, a group of Muslims is trying to build something. Mr. Jones and his supporters are trying to tear down more than two centuries of religious tolerance.
[5] Robert Fisk comments on the aftermath of 9/11. Monsters were created, people were tortured, hundreds of thousands are left dead, 'collateral damage' became the sickest euphemism of all, God is used routinely as a justification for crimes of war, and we haven't learned a damn thing nine years later. This is the most sobering and honest piece I have read this 9/11/2010 about the legacy of 9/11. I can't excerpt any of this, you just had to read it all.

[6] "God commands justice, the doing of good, and giving to others; and God forbids all shameful deeds, injustice, and oppression. God instructs you so that you may be mindful." Qur'an 16:90

[7] Across America today, we are seeing an increase in fear and suspicion of people of Muslim faith. Rev. Deborah Lindsay reflects on the urgent need for understanding and peace-making, and she says a true Christian message is one of respect and understanding for all people of all faiths and traditions. After all, we are ALL created in the image of God.

Excerpt from sermon video from Sunday, August 29, worship service, First Community Church, Columbus, OH, with Rev. Deborah C. Lindsay preaching (WELL worth the 10 minutes):

[8] Photos from anti-mosque demonstration held today at Ground Zero. Worst T-Shirt EVER can be seen in these photos, it reads: "Waterboarding Instructor."

[9] The faithful, Nichols Kristof, covers the rising Islamaphobia in the United States in his column, Is This America?:
For a glimpse of how venomous and debased the discourse about Islam has become, consider a blog post in The New Republic this month. Written by Martin Peretz, the magazine’s editor in chief, it asserted: “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.”

Mr. Peretz added: “I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

Thus a prominent American commentator, in a magazine long associated with tolerance, ponders whether Muslims should be afforded constitutional freedoms. Is it possible to imagine the same kind of casual slur tossed off about blacks or Jews? How do America’s nearly seven million American Muslims feel when their faith is denounced as barbaric?

This is one of those times that test our values, a bit like the shameful interning of Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the disgraceful refusal to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe.

[10] "If you do judge, judge between them justly. God loves the just."
Quran: 5:42

[11] And finally, the most important thing to take away from 9/11/2010, in addition to donating to the Cordoba Initiative of course, is:
The daily interruption of hatred is a job for all of us.
Last week, in a Queens Dunkin’ Donuts, one of us walked in on a woman who berated the Bangladeshi American staff for five minutes over the supposed wrongness of her coffee. She proceeded to call the server ugly, take a breath—clearly considering her next line for maximum impact—and declare, “You’re all a bunch of terrorists.”

But there was an important lesson for us all in that exchange. A mild, “There’s no need for that” was enough to disrupt the woman’s rant. Maybe that woman won’t change her attitude, but there were a dozen adults and four children there—and they might. The scene said everything: A few loud voices are spewing hate, but unless the rest of us stand up and counter it they will set the tone for us all.
But the real problem is that everyday Americans keep silent about too much of this. America is a land of individual freedom. Now more than ever we need to exercise our freedom of speech, rather than huddling in fear and fascination at the group-think that can so quickly take over our country. We don’t need Bush or Obama to give us a moral compass. This isn’t just about challenging the most extreme versions of Islamaphobia. It’s also about responding when neighbors argue that the Cordoba House should be moved for sensitivity’s sake; challenging colleagues who “ask” whether Obama is secretly Muslim; and questioning popular representations of Muslims even when you’re just watching TV with family. It’s hard to confront bigotry, whether it comes from your uncle or a stranger. Your blood pressure goes up and your heart races. But if we lead with love and acceptance, we will always know the right thing to say, and we will set an example for someone else.

Amen, and amen.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Burning the Quran or Producing Love and Tolerance: You choose

This blog was worth posting in (nearly) its entirety. Juan Cole touches on a Florida Church's plan to the Quran on 9/11, U.S. General Petraeus concern for U.S. troops in Afghanistan because is this Florida church's Quran burning, on a couple misinterpretations of the Quran, and on the inclusivity of the Quran especially towards 'people of the Book' (Jews, Christians, and Muslims).

Cross-posted from Informed Comment by Juan Cole.

Every day for the past few days there have been demonstrations in Afghanistan against the scheme of the Christian fundamentalist Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, to burn copies of the Qur’an on September 11. This sort of grandstanding by a tiny congregation with global ramifications reminds us that in the contemporary world, technology magnifies the power of individuals and small groups, which is a real problem when they are hateful. (The evangelical leadership has scolded the group for this action).

The Kabul demonstrations have alarmed Gen. David Petraeus, who is attempting a gargantuan counter-insurgency project in Afghanistan, which depends for its success on America winning the hearts and minds of Afghan Muslims. He issued a statement on Monday deploring the Dove Outreach plan and saying, “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan.”

Iran’s PressTv has more:

It isn’t only Petraeus who is petrified by the way this auto-da-fe could spin out of control. The Catholic cardinal in Mumbai, India and an archbishop in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, have condemned the stunt, as well. Likewise, Christian leaders in Indonesia have jointly protested the Gainesville church’s plans. Terry Jones, the Dove pastor, appears to want to prove Muslims are intolerant by provoking them to attack ‘Christians’ over the burning of their scripture. I.e., he thinks just like al-Qaeda, which wanted to provoke Christians to attack Muslims so as to demonstrate Christian imperialism. If what you want to do is spread hate and produce dead bodies, that is easy. Sowing rancor and harvesting corpses is no harder than piling up garbage. Producing love and tolerance and unity across ethnic and religious boundaries is what is hard, and it is very, very hard. The most difficult thing in the world, like balancing a pyramid on its nose. Which is why we honor the Gandhis and the Martin Luther Kings, who strive toward it on a large scale. What is worrisome is that technology is magnifying the power of tiny fringe hate groups to shape the world.

As I pointed out in late July, “The German poet Heinrich Heine (d. 1856), in his play lamenting the forced conversion of Spain’s Muslims to Christianity, “Almansor,” wrote, “Wherever they burn books, in the end they will burn human beings.” (When the Nazis burned books in 1933, Heine’s were among those set afire, and his prediction was borne out).” (For the full posting, click here).

A correspondent from Gainesville writes,
As a long time resident of Gainesville FL, it pained me to hear this morning on NPR of a demonstration in Afghanistan against the 9/11 Quran burning here. We in Gainesville pride ourselves as being a progressive, tolerant and forward looking city. We also happen to be home of the small (less than 50) Dove Outreach church, a reactionary and publicity seeking outfit. Please, people of the world, know that this stunt has stimulated much pain and concern in our community. It has stimulated a lot of planning and dialogue, and there will be a variety of events to counter the proposed burning. There has been wildly inaccurate reporting about the event, with the Wall Street Journal repeating the false report that Dove is a “mega-church”. It is a micro-church, also run as a used furniture store . . . They are loving all the publicity, while the rest of our community can only look on in horror and try to come up with a cogent response. That this small group of wing-nuts have garnered so much publicity is a shame; hopefully we will make it through the week peacefully and come out with a community made even stronger. But to the world, we can only say we are sorry, and please don’t judge us by these bigoted few.’

One of the accusations that anti-Muslim bigots like the Dove group constantly make against the Qur’an is that it promotes vigilante violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, scholars of religion have found that the Bible is far more violent than the Qur’an.

In this regard, I’ll just reprint something I wrote earlier on the Qur’an.. (See also the links listed here.)

“Dangerous falsehoods are being promulgated to the American public. The Quran does not preach violence against Christians. [It does urge the early Muslim community in Yathrib or Medina to fight to defend itself against the genocidal campaign of the pagans of the west Arabian city of Mecca, who wanted to wipe out the Muslims and destroy monotheistic Islam. When verses in, e.g., Chapter 8, urge Muslims to fight the 'infidels,' they are referring to bloodthirsty polytheists, not to Jews and Christians, who I think the Qur'an never calls infidels without qualification.]
Quran 5:69 says (Arberry): “Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabeaans, whoso believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness–their wage waits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow.”
In other words, the Quran promises Christians and Jews along with Muslims that if they have faith and works, they need have no fear in the afterlife. It is not saying that non-Muslims go to hell– quite the opposite.

When speaking of the 7th-century situation in the Muslim city-state of Medina, which was at war with pagan Mecca, the Quran notes that the polytheists and many Arabian Jewish tribes were opposed to Islam, but then goes on to say:
5:82. ” . . . and you will find the nearest in love to the believers (Muslims) those who say: ‘We are Christians.’ That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud.”
So the Quran not only does not urge Muslims to commit violence against Christians, it calls them “nearest in love” to the Muslims! The reason given is their piety, their ability to produce holy persons dedicated to God, and their lack of overweening pride.

The tendency when reading the Quran is to read a word like “kafir” (infidel) as referring to all non-Muslims. But it is clear from a close study of the way the Quran uses the word that it refers to those who actively oppose and persecute Muslims. The word literally meant “ingrate” in ancient Arabic. So the polytheists (“mushrikun”) who tried to wipe out Islam were the main referents of the word “infidel.” Christians, as we see above, were mostly in a completely different category. The Christian Ethiopian monarch gave refuge to the Muslims at one point when things got hot in Mecca. The Quran does at one point speak of the “infidels” among the Jews and Christians (2:105: “those who committed kufr/infidelity from among the people of the Book.”) But this verse only proves that it did not think they were all infidels, and it is probably referring to specific Jewish and Christian groups who joined with the Meccans in trying to wipe out the early Muslim community. (The Quran calls Jews and Christians “people of the book” because they have a monotheistic scripture).

People often also ask me about this verse:
[5:51] O you who believe, do not take Jews and Christians as friends; these are friends of one another. Those among you who ally themselves with these belong with them.
This is actually not a good translation of the original, which has a very specific context. In the Arabia of Muhammad’s time, it was possible for an individual to become an honorary member or “client” of a powerful tribe. But of course, if you did that you would be subordinating yourself politically to that tribe. The word used in Arabic here does not mean “friend.” It means “political patron” (wali). What the Quran is trying to do is to discourage stray Muslims from subordinating themselves to Christian or Jewish tribes that might in turn ally with pagan Mecca, or in any case might have interests at odds with those of the general Muslim community.

So the verse actually says:
[5:51] O you who believe, do not take Jews and Christians as tribal patrons; these are tribal patrons of one another. Those among you who become clients of these belong with them.
Since the Quran considers Christians nearest in love to Muslims, it obviously does not have an objection to friendship between the two. But apparently now it is some Christians who have that hateful attitude, of no friendship with “infidels.” ”

Burn a Quran on 9/11

This is the kind of crap I am talking about. More to say later after I gather my thoughts and lay down so I don't faint.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Fear based suspicion

Nicholas Kristof's new column is worth a read. Kristof touches on the recent mosque controversy and the rise of Islamaphobia in the country. It's not difficult to make the connections between the marginalization, suspicion, and fear of Muslims today, and the fear seen towards many other people groups in history:

Suspicion of outsiders, of people who behave or worship differently, may be an ingraineda element of the human condition, a survival instinct from our cave-man days. But we should also recognize that historically this distrust has led us to burn witches, intern Japanese-Americans, and turn away Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.

Perhaps the closest parallel to today’s hysteria about Islam is the 19th-century fear spread by the Know Nothing movement about “the Catholic menace.” One book warned that Catholicism was “the primary source” of all of America’s misfortunes, and there were whispering campaigns that presidents including Martin Van Buren and William McKinley were secretly working with the pope. Does that sound familiar?

Critics warned that the pope was plotting to snatch the Mississippi Valley and secretly conspiring to overthrow American democracy. “Rome looks with wistful eye to domination of this broad land, a magnificent seat for a sovereign pontiff,” one writer cautioned.

Historically, unreal suspicions were sometimes rooted in genuine and significant differences. Many new Catholic immigrants lacked experience in democracy. Mormons were engaged in polygamy. And today some extremist Muslims do plot to blow up planes, and Islam has real problems to work out about the rights of women. The pattern has been for demagogues to take real abuses and exaggerate them, portraying, for example, the most venal wing of the Catholic Church as representative of all Catholicism — just as fundamentalist Wahabis today are caricatured as more representative of Islam than the incomparably more numerous moderate Muslims of Indonesia (who have elected a woman as president before Americans have).

In the 19th century, fears were stoked by books written by people who supposedly had “escaped” Catholicism. These books luridly recounted orgies between priests and nuns, girls kidnapped and held in secret dungeons, and networks of tunnels at convents to allow priests to rape nuns. One woman claiming to have been a priest’s sex slave wrote a “memoir” asserting that Catholics killed boys and ground them into sausage for sale.

I can't but help of think of my recent post about the 'Green Prince' when I read about the strongest critiques and the most fearful sentiment being brought by those who had 'escaped' their previous religion.

A developing apartheid state

Haaretz, the Israeli daily reports:
Sixty four percent of Israeli teens aged 15 to 18 say that Arab Israelis do not enjoy full equal rights in Israel, and from that group, 59 percent believe that they should not have full equal rights, according to a special survey prepared for the "Education in the Digital Age" conference held in Haifa on Monday.

The survey also revealed that 96 percent of the respondents want Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state, but 27 percent believe that those who object should be tried in court, and 41 percent support stripping them of their citizenship.

In answer to a question if they would be willing to learn in a classroom with one or more students with special needs, 32 percent answered in the negative. When the question was asked regarding Arab students, 50 percent of respondents answered in the negative. In addition, 23 percent said that they wouldn't want gays or lesbians in their class.

The survey was conducted by Professor Camil Fuchs from the Statistics Department of Tel Aviv University, in cooperation with the company Sample Project. The poll included about 500 people between the ages of 15 and 18. The conference has been sponsored by "Reshet Shocken," in cooperation with Haifa City Council.

The poll also revealed that 40 percent of Jewish youth have never been a part of a youth group, and 45 percent have never volunteered in any capacity.

In regard to motivation to serve in the IDF, 83 percent said that they don't doubt that they will serve, but about half said that they have friends that do not plan on enlisting.

More than half of the survey's respondents, 59 percent, said that they did not want to serve in combat units of the army. In response to a question of whether they would refuse to serve in the territories, 24 percent said they would refuse, 47 percent said that they would not refuse, and the remainder had not yet decided.
Maybe those 59% will refuse to serve in the IDF. Here's to hoping.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The 'Green Prince' speaks in Auburn, CA

Saturday night, Calvary Chapel Church in Auburn, CA hosted Mosab Hassan Yousef. Mosab, a Palestinian and son of a Hamas leader and founder, spied for the Israeli intelligence agency, Shin Bet, from 1997-2007. In March 2010, Mosab released a book titled, Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices.

Mosab moved to the United States following his decade of serving as a double agent with Hamas and Shin Bet. Mosab decided to tell his story through his book and continues to tell his story and promote his book through speaking engagements.

Calvary Chapel is a Christian denomination founded in 1965, which is "doctrinally evangelical, dispensational, pretribulationist, and believes in the principle of Sola Scriptura," (Wikipedia). Calvary Chapel also believes that the Jews remain the people of God and that Israel will play a central role in the end times and the return of Christ (i.e. Christian Zionism).

The event on Saturday evening started with several Christian worship songs, which were followed by a taped broadcast from Israeli Channel 2 News, and concluded with an hour Q&A between Mosab and Greg Denham, the senior pastor of Auburn Calvary Chapel.

My reactions to the event were quite complex and multi-layered.

Mosab's conversion to Christianity seems quite genuine, as does his distaste for the way that Hamas operates, chooses to resist, and suppresses dissent within the Palestinian community. Mosab spoke from his own faith perspective, about how his feeling of Christ's presence and the words of the Bible have dramatically changed his life and his view of the world.

I take issues with no part of his faith journey or the barebones of his decision to leave Hamas and seek to prevent future suicide bombings and Hamas' use of torture.

But frankly, I don't want to spend my time recounting what Mosab presented to the hundreds of people (maybe one thousand) who were present. If you want to hear his story, read his book, or watch his interviews. I can't take issue with Mosab's story, because it is uniquely his story, which he has the right to tell. But I do disagree with much of his analysis of the political situation in Israel/Palestine and I vehemently disagree with his presentation of the Islamic faith. Additionally, Mosab attempted to represent more than his own voice and seemed to be speaking for all Muslims and all Palestinians. His opinion, perspective, and analysis was presented as fact. Sadly, I think many in the audience were hearing a Palestinian speak for the first time and were also hearing a Muslim (albeit a former Muslim who has now converted to Christian) speak for the first time.

For digestive purposes, we will move forward working with the two themes I have identified: political situation in Israel/Palestine and the presentation of Islam. I will provide excerpted quotes or near quotes from Mosab (except when another speaker is identified) with which I take issue, followed or not followed by my response to the speaker's statement. I don't know how to do this otherwise because I have far too many disconnected thoughts about this event. The speakers quotes (or paraphrased quotes) come first, my responses follow in italics.

Political Situation in Israel/Palestine
-There are tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, which terrorists used to smuggle weapons and arms into the Gaza Strip. --This may very well be true, but a more accurate portrayal of the Rafah tunnels are tunnels in which nearly every good finds it's way into the Gaza Strip. Food, medicine, cars, and generators also come in through the tunnels because many products (such as wood for building) are banned by Israel from entering Gaza through entry points or are so limitied in their quota allowance that additional quantities of the goods must be found.
-The Arabs in 1948 tried to throw the Jews into the sea. --There was violence by Jewish guerilla groups and there was also violence by Palestinian factions. The end result after the violence of 1948 was that 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes or fled as a result of the violence. None of those refugees have been permitted to return to their homes.
-The Arabs lost their offensive war of 1948. --That's disputable at best, that the war was an Arab offensive. Read the first two paragraphs of the Wikipedia article about the June War of 1967. Israel launched an surprise large-scale air strike in response to Egypt's closure of the Straits of Tiran, this was the beginning of the 1967 War.
-The occupation was not to blame for our suffering, our problems was bigger than foreign weapons and armies. --Not sure if he is speaking collectively for Palestinians, but I can say that the occupation is a huge part of daily suffering for the huge majority of Palestinians.
-If their [Palestinians] goal was to build a state and build peace instead of trying to destroy Israel, they would have a state and peace already (followed by grand applause from the crowd). --I simply disagree. Israel holds the cards. They have the power. They control borders, airspace, the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank, what comes in/out of Gaza. They have resisted granting Palestinian statehood in terms that Palestinians would find exceptable. Israel will not come to the table of the basis of returning to the borders before the 1967 war, would would be the starting place according to international law. Both parties have made mistakes and miscalculations, but Palestinians haven't had the power to achieve statehood.

-The conflict between Israel and Palestine is a war between the God of Islam and the God of the Bible.
-The God of Islam wants all of the land, but the God of the Bible gave this land to his people. -- That's a particular reading of the Bible (not to mention a particular reading of the Quran) that I disagree with.
-While a photo of the Old City of Jerusalem, centered on the Dome of the Rock and the temple mount, was on the screen, Mosab recounted a passage from the Quran. The passage recounts a miracle where Mohammed ascends to the sky on a donkey, from the area around the Dome of the Rock. Mosab emphasized there were no witnesses, and joked that it was foolish to perform a miracle without witnesses. Who was Mohammed trying to impress, the donkey? --I found this quite distasteful, this is a sacred text according to 1.5 billion Muslims. Disrespecting someone else's faith and their sacred texts is...well, it's just not very nice, it's disrespectful.
-Mosab said he can't wait for the day that God will build his kingdom in Jerusalem instead of this ugly yellow building being present (referring the building built around the Dome of the Rock). --Distasteful. And, the dispensationalist and zionist theology was just oozing at this point. It's a theology that is so ubiquitous and ingrained into evangelical Christian theology, of which Calvary Chapel is part, that I am sure that many people didn't even recognize it as a theology that many Christians would disagree with.
-Quran says to kill Jews. Quran says Jews are sons of pigs and monkeys. --Most Quranic scholars would refute this and present a different reading or understanding of the text. In a similar vain, most Biblical scholars wouldn't say, "we are to kill women and children because in this passage God commanded his people to go into the land west of the Jordan River and kill and the women and children." Biblical scholars, or at least those scholars who have an ounce of a soul, will provide context and an alternative reading of the passage instead of telling Christians to go kill women and children in the land God gave them.
-It's in the DNA of Islam to kill the infidels. Most muslims are on the first rung of Islam, but the top of the ladder is to be a militant, a fighter for the cause of Islam. The top of the ladder isn't extremism, that is Islam.
-The more you follow Islam, the more you become a terrorist. Their God is a terrorist and their prophet is a terrorist. --That is simply fomenting the Islamaphobia and hatred of Muslims that is already present and snowballing in America. I know plenty of Muslims that claim to have increased their love and respect for other people as they become more connected with their Islamic faith.
-There are Islamic terrorists because they are following Islam. --Yep. Let's forget about stated reasons that many groups carry out terror attacks, such as Al Qaeda's stated opposition to the presence of US troops on the Arabian peninsula, Palestinian terrorist factions who explicitly act in opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and siege of the Gaza Strip. Also, what about the fact that from 1980-2003, the majority of terrorist attacks were carried out by secular, athiest, and marxist groups (such as the Tamil Tigers). Are the Tamil Tigers secretly following Islam without knowing it? Marx said religion was the opiate of the people, but he was secretly inserting Islamic theology into his writings. That tricky devil.
-As a Muslim I believed Christ was a prophet, and I believed that Mohammed who raped, killed, and stole, is better than Christ.
-Islam is a religion of war. It's lies. It's a perfect lie wrapped in some truths, facts, and morals. The morals that are in Islam were stolen from Christianity and Judasim. --Stolen because those values belonged to Christianity and Judaism, and Christianity and Judaism invented them? I would tend to believe many of Christian-Judeo values predate the origin of the religion.
-We will defeat Islam. --I assume he means Christians will defeat Islam. Kinda scary, and no thanks, I want no part in forcibly defeating Islam.

Mosab told his story, fair, but he also spoke with authority and conviction about the political realities in Israel/Palestine and about the Islamic faith without ever once stating that this was his opinion or his particular perspective. He presented the things I have quoted above as facts, that the audience should accept, full stop. And sadly, it seemed like the audience bought it, hook, line and sinker. He is entitled to his opinion, and I am sure his tumultuous relationship with Hamas (an explicitly Islamic political movement) and also his split life between Israeli and Palestinian circles formed many of his opinions. He was also exposed to an especially radical form of Islam, that has gotten all wrapped up in an armed political resistance movement. Nonetheless, no one, not even the 'Green Prince', Mosab Hassan Yousef, can speak representing more than his own voice. He cannot be the Muslim voice, the Palestinian voice, the ex-Hamas voice, or the Muslim who converted to Christianity voice. He is the Mosab Hassan Yousef voice. In the same way I can speak with my own voice, as my own voice, not as the Auburn voice, the Christian voice, the human rights worker voice, nor as the American voice.

My fear is that a group of (primarily) evangelical Christians, some of which carry a degree of animosity towards Muslims (a recent poll reported that many Americans feel animosity towards Muslims), had their fears of Islam and their animosity towards Muslims confirmed and even accentuated. Even more, the palpable hatred towards Islam, Muslims, and mosques that has been especially prevelant as a result of the recent (2 blocks from) 'Ground Zero Mosque, may have been fomented last night. I also fear that the common evangelical Christian perspective that Israel is God's country, that Israel is a Jewish nation necessary for the coming of Christ, and that Israel is a poor victim of Palestinian terror was strengthened last night. Sadly these positions may have been strengthened last night, contrary to the facts of the political realities in the Middle East. Also, the Islamic faith, a faith sacred and beautiful for more than a billion people, was slandered last night, contrary to the most basic of rules: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.