Friday, January 25, 2013

Why Don’t More Families Recycle?

“But waste not by excess: for Allah loveth not the wasters.” (Quran 6:141)

Recycle20ArrowswGlobe20GuyOne question that has puzzled me since I took shahada 20 years ago, is why I don’t see the Muslims recycling their garbage. Surely, there are exceptions, but I continue to be completely baffled by the general level of environmental disregard. I would have thought that in 20 years, we would have made more progress in terms of our consciousness about the burden we put upon our fellow citizens to cope with our daily waste. 

Recently I was visiting an Iraqi family for dinner. When I inquired why they preferred to live in America even after the political situation had stabilized back home, they told me that Iraq is a terrible place to live because it’s full of garbage. After dinner, I watched them stuffing a huge bag full of trash from just one meal! I asked them why they don’t make use of the government trash recycling services, now that they live in a country that has curbside pickup. They said they had no recycling bin. I told them you just call the City and they will give you one. They said it didn’t matter because they had a neighbor who hauls away their trash for them so that they don’t have to pay the garbage removal fee. I was truly shocked.

Their friend is hauling away their garbage for them as a favor, and they don’t have the decency to reduce their amount of trash? Even though recycling is free and garbage dumping costs money? As I was leaving, I noticed that they actually did have a recycling bin in the garage. It was being used to store baseball bats and other sports equipment. I started feeling resentful, like they came to my country just to fill it with garbage! They’ve been here for ten years, their children were born here. At what point will they start caring about their adopted country enough to recycle their garbage? Don’t get me wrong, they have many good qualities too.

The Muslims’ hesitancy to recycle their garbage is all the more perplexing, since one of the most popular dawah pamphlets continues to be the “Environment and Islam.” It points out Quranic verses such as, “Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order” (7:56), and applies them to the scientific concept of maintaining a balanced ecosystem. This appealed to me as a young person who was terrified by dire predictions that due to environmental pollution, there would not be enough oxygen to sustain human life on earth within 50 years. The threat of impending planetary doom put the fear of God in my heart and made me want to live more consciously. 

When I was a child, there was no recycling. Recycling services are something that ordinary citizens and environmental organizations worked and fought hard for. It began with volunteers collecting recyclable trash at various church and school parking lots. People who recycled were often belittled as ridiculous idealists, but they kept struggling and striving to slow the steady stream of trash into our landfills and trash incinerators. Eventually, citizen pressure resulted in recycling programs in many cities. 

When Ann Arbor, Michigan got its first recycling truck I was 18. I enthusiastically volunteered on the truck for one day, hauling bottles and newspapers from the curb. I gained a lot of respect for all trash collectors, as every muscle in my body hurt at the end of the day! Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his last speech in support of Memphis Tennessee’s sanitation workers, where he compared their importance to that of doctors, because society relies upon them to protect us from disease. Recycling reduces the amount of rotting material by separating the clean garbage from the gross garbage. Composting food scraps in the garden reduces the amount of rotting waste even more. 

Yet, recycling is done by just half of Americans daily, and 13 percent don’t recycle at all. Research points to apathy and lack of convenience being the main reasons people neglect their civic duty to reduce their human footprint upon the earth. In many cases, confusion about what can and cannot be recycled plays a large role. Education and peer pressure seem to be the keys to compliance. 

Pride in home ownership might also go a long way in sculpting attitudes about garbage. In my neighborhood, the streets where most people are renters are usually strewn with garbage while the streets where most homes are owned by their inhabitants are usually clean. People who identify with and value their property are more likely to pay attention to the mess that their garbage creates. Yet, even if we rent an apartment, we can cultivate an attitude of pride in our town, our country, or our planet. 

People who don’t recycle often feel like their efforts don’t make a difference. It may be that people with a strong sense of self-worth might be more likely to believe that even a small contribution to the recycling bin could be meaningful. Immigrants who feel like it’s fine to pollute America because it’s not “their” country should be encouraged to participate in the communal health of our country as a matter of self esteem, and as a baby step towards civic engagement.

Every community usually has at least one concerned individual. This person should help make recycling convenient at the local mosque or Islamic center by obtaining recycling bins and encouraging people to use them. The City will generally have a list of the types of items they accept that can be printed out from their website. Posting these instructions near the recycling bin might go a long way towards reducing confusion. 

Youth groups could play a large role in educating parents and creating peer pressure to recycle. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where we have curbside recycling. Those communities who don’t have it, should lobby for it. This could be a great way to join a cause and cooperate with your neighbors about something that helps everyone. 

Feeling like we are part of a community makes us want to recycle our garbage because of the way our garbage makes us look. It’s embarrassing when you have a huge pile of trash outside your house on garbage day and your recycling bin just has a few newspapers. At the same time, caring about the environment can help us feel connected with others and provide opportunities to work within our community on issues of mutual benefit. 

Either way you look at it, recycling is a win-win solution for society that goes beyond the immediate material concerns of trash removal.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Boston Sixth Graders Need a New Textbook on Ancient World History

Due to social pressure, great strides have been made within the past 50 years to include women and non-whites in the picture of the past. However, American students still have an extremely warped view of world history and how it relates to current events because of the way Jews and Israel are discussed at school, and the way Arabs and Islam are excluded from mention, even when the topic is ancient Canaan.

I am deeply concerned about my daughter's 6th grade social studies textbook, which I believe violates the law by teaching Bible history (Zionist mythology) instead of sticking to the facts when discussing ancient Canaan and Jewish history. I truly feel like David facing Goliath when bringing up these issues with the school administration.

The textbook I am concerned about is “History Alive! The Ancient World” by the Teachers' Curriculum Institute. There are six units: Early Humans and the Rise of Civilization, which discusses Mesopotamia; Ancient Egypt and the Middle East, which includes two chapters on Judaism; Ancient India, which introduces Hinduism and Buddhism; Ancient China, which discusses Confusionism, Daoism and Legalism; Ancient Greece, which discusses Democracy and Greek contribution to the modern world; and Rome, which discusses Christianity and Rome’s legacy in the modern world.

The chapters present artifacts, archaeological evidence, cultural traditions and photos of these regions in modern day. They piece together a scientific understanding of history based on what we know - all except those relating to Canaan! There is no excuse for this omission of facts and evidence from the Middle East Section, because Canaan is full of artifacts, ancient ruins, and traditional culture.

“The narrative doesn't recognize the importance of the actual geo-political history of the region as part of the indigenous timeline from Syrian Phoenician Nabatean Arabian 'Judaism' to 'Christianity' and then to 'Islam' all as part of one continuous history,” notes Oxford scholar Lilia Patterson.

Instead of a rich discussion on history, the chapters on Canaan contain only Bible stories told from a radically Judeo-centric perspective. For example, Abraham is mentioned as the father of Judaism but the textbook neglects to mention he had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. That is why Muslims refer to Jews as their “cousins.” It would have been so easy to add a statement saying that Arabian historical legends also date back to Abraham, but this topic is carefully avoided to the point of absurdity.

Many different people lived in ancient Canaan besides Israelites. Over time, these many tribes intermarried with each other. Canaanite scholar Mazin Qumsiyeh explains, “The Palestinians of today, Muslims and Christians, trace their descent to all the peoples who have lived on this land from the time of the Canaanites.”

The exclusion of Arabic history from the section on the Middle East creates a textbook that is not only biased but wildly inaccurate. The history of Canaan needs to be told in a secular, scientific way based on archaeological, cultural and linguistic evidence, just like all other histories are taught. Bible stories are not supposed to be taught as historical fact. Many paragraphs start with "The Hebrew Bible says..." (then proceed to misrepresent what the Bible says), while several actually present legend as fact.

The Jewish connection to the Middle East is presented as a continuum dating back to the ancient times, ending with their expulsion by the Romans in the first century after Christ, even though historical evidence finds no proof of any major migrations. Instead, what has been found is that most of the descendants of the ancient Israelites accepted Christianity and eventually embraced Islam.

“Archeologists at Tel Aviv University showed that city states and kingdoms were routinely made and obliterated in the ancient land of Canaan while the natives survived and continued to live.” The various Canaanite groups “lived, fought, interacted and collaborated, but no group was obliterated in history,” writes Qumsiyeh.

Established by the Jebusites (not by King David) in 3000 BC, Jerusalem has always been an international city with a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community. After King Solomon’s death, the majority of the Israelites no longer considered Jerusalem their capital. Yet, the textbook refers only to Jerusalem as the Jewish capital of Israel.

The textbook’s discussion of the Temple of Solomon and its importance to Jews is also completely inadequate because again, it relies exclusively on Biblical mythology and omits extremely important facts about the Arab history of the region.

After the Romans expelled the Jews in the 1st century CE, they also destroyed the Temple of Solomon. All that was left was a small remnant of a wall. It could barely be seen as the area was used as a garbage dump.

The first goal of the first Muslim generation after the death of the Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century CE was to liberate Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Islamic Caliph Umar lifted the ban on Jews living in Jerusalem for the first time since 70 CE. The new Muslim government and the Jewish community worked together to clean up the garbage and build a new house of worship on the Temple Mount, incorporating the Wailing Wall, which Jews hold sacred. Karen Armstrong writes:

"As soon as the platform had been cleared, Umar summoned Ka'b ibn Ahbar, a Jewish convert to Islam and an expert on the isra'iliyat or as we would say, "Jewish studies." It came naturally to the Muslims to consult the Jews about the disposition of the site that had been sacred to their ancestors. Both the Jewish and Muslim sources make it clear that Jews took part in the reclamation of the Mount."

When European Crusaders took over Jerusalem, both Muslims and Jews were persecuted and banished from the city. When Saladin reconquered the city in the late 12th century, Jews and Muslims were invited back into the holy city. Jerusalem became known as the “City of Peace” where Muslims, Christians and Jews could worship freely.

These are important details to omit. Instead of facts, the textbook dishonestly presents the history of modern-day Israel as the “return” of exiled Jews to their “homeland.” It is simply wrong to teach two chapters on Judaism, one chapter on every other religion, but not one sentence mentioning the Abrahamic origins of Islam. When I complained, I was told that this is because Islam is not an ancient religion.

However, all of the other chapters attempt to create a picture of the modern day that relates to the past. Even the chapter on Mesopotamia includes a photo of modern day Iraq. The textbook includes photos of a synagogue in Czechoslovakia, and many other scenes of European Jewish life which, while interesting, have no historical connection to ancient Canaan whatsoever. Since this Ancient World textbook devotes an entire chapter to Jews in modern times, it makes no sense not to mention once that in modern day Mesopotamia, Syria, Canaan, and Egypt, most people are Muslim or Christian and they speak Arabic.

Our exposure to information at a young age sets the tone for all future understanding. This textbook reflects an outdated, Bible mythology-based world view that is racist, historically inaccurate and absolutely inappropriate for use in a public school.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Confronting the Needs of the Elderly

Elderly_Woman_,_B&W_image_by_Chalmers_ButterfieldImagine if you had 100 pennies, and you counted them, one by one. It does not take a very long time. Now imagine that each penny is one year of your life. 52 weeks go by so quickly. It’s no time at all. Holiday after holiday. Season after season. It all keeps going by, into the sunset. We struggle to hang on to our youth, but sooner or later, our face falls apart, and our organs start failing just like a car when it reaches 100,000 miles. Our children grow up faster than we can blink an eye.

The most important thing we can do in our lifetime is to introduce the children in our lives to the elders in our lives, before they die. This may require travel.  But do not delay! I delayed a visit to family friends in 2003 and have regretted it ever since, because they died before I ever got to see them again or introduce them to my children, whose birthdays they had unfailingly remembered by mail, their entire lives. 

There are certain people that touch your life. They are usually ordinary people with nothing special to say but they show you what it’s like to be whatever it is they are. If we didn’t have family and friends, we would have no idea what it’s like to be a normal human being. We would just sit alone in some kind of scary isolation chamber.

It would be best if all the old people of the world could sit on their rocking chairs within somebody’s living room and work on their knitting; and when they became too blind to knit, they could at least be there for anyone who needs a hug. Unfortunately, aging has become almost like a crime in this world nowadays. The elderly are often treated like prisoners.

Recently, I visited an old age home to see a 99 year old woman related to me by marriage. She was healthy but too weak to take care of herself. Still of sound mind, she was deeply unhappy. She could neither hear nor see very much, so all she did was sit alone near the window in a chair. That was depressing enough, but what I did not understand was why the hospital had hooked her up to an alarm that went off anytime she shifted her weight or stood up from the chair. This alarm was torturing her to the point where she felt she could not cope emotionally, and no longer wished to live. 

Well meaning people try to look after their elders, but they have full time work. Caring for an elder can be as much work as caring for a newborn baby or more, but it can actually go on past twenty years. Sooner or later, that old person is going to be sent to an old people’s home, or else they will become some family member’s full time job, when they become too weak to take care of themselves.

In particular, white people are facing an elderly population boom. The entire reason Europe invited all those controversial foreign workers was to pay the social security taxes for the aging white population. The Western lifestyle, with its small families, rebellious children, and small individual dwellings, is not equipped to meet the needs of the elderly. Most European countries have a socialist medical framework, so that takes a huge load off families, but in the US, an aging person can truly be an expensive burden. It is not possible to hire the help you need to keep an old person at home, unless you are very rich. 

Sometimes, when we think about old people, we think about what they have already accomplished and we think all is said and done, it’s all memories from here on. But their time is just as valuable as our time! Only God knows how much time they have left, or what they have left to think, learn, say and do.

What if, that which a person could accomplish between 60 and 80 would be considered as interesting and important as what people try to accomplish between 20 and 40? It’s the same amount of time. Ageism is the false belief that young people are more interesting than old people. All those revolutionary groups trying to save the world better make room for the elders, because not only do they exist, but usually they have something to tell us. 

When the things older people have to say are not nice – whether they are unpleasant truths, unfounded criticism, or outdated politics, it can be easier to just shut them out of our lives. In many cases, there can be a direct connection between unhappy parent-child relationships and the distance between the grown up child and the aging parent. If there is lingering resentment, or a personality conflict, taking care of someone you don’t like, or who makes you feel bad about yourself, would definitely be a real trial.  

So, if you have children, take care of them well, because the amount of cuddling and positive emotional reinforcement they have received from you will probably have a direct impact on their level of personal interest in taking care of you when you grow up. If your mother weaned you too young and put you in day care when you were a baby so that she could go to work, perhaps you will feel justified putting her in a home so you can concentrate on your career. Unless you can find a way to break the cycle of emotional violence and learn to give to your parents what you have not received. This would require deep meditation and soul searching.

The extended family structure is essential to maintaining the well being of all its members so that work and responsibilities can be shared. It is too much for one person to take care of a child, let alone an aging person. If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to take care of the grandparents.

We are all going to meet on Judgment Day anyway, so it makes sense to meet each other earlier and try to make amends while we are still living. Why not. There are so many things we could care about – why not care about the people who have the most rights upon you?

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Burma Adopts “Tea Party” Tactics

In November, 2012, President Obama became the first US president to visit Burma since 1955. Human Rights activists felt this goodwill gesture was premature, given the very recent government abuses concerning the Muslim minority in addition to other things, but Obama is anxious to make an Asian friend who might create a counter-balance against China’s influence in the region. Burma has very recently dissolved military rule of the country and is transitioning over to “democracy.” Unfortunately, Burma has embraced some of the uglier aspects of majority rule, namely the genocide of the minority Muslims. 

The campaign against Myanmar Muslims by the Buddhists is very different than the Israeli campaign against the Palestinians. It is much more personal and gory, involving rape and mutilation of corpses, even hanging of children in their own homes. The Israelis prefer to just bulldoze a family under the rubble or fry them from the sky rather than cut off their sexual parts. The Buddhists of Burma have taken the word “monster” to an entirely new level. Nevertheless, it comes as no big surprise that the Israelis have been providing weapons to Burma to help ethnically cleanse the Muslim population from the region.

The politics have taken on the familiar tone of the Tea Party rhetoric against Mexican immigrants to the US. Burma’s Muslims, who have been there for generations and centuries, all of a sudden are being accused of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The Buddhist government and mainstream majority want the Muslims to be killed or expelled from the country. However, Bangladesh is only willing to take on a limited number of refugees.

Muslims whose homes have been destroyed have been rounded up into concentration camps, with very little aid. They cannot leave the camps to buy groceries because Buddhist monks have declared a boycott against selling to Muslims. 

The BBC reports that Buddhist complaints against Muslims have been primarily focused on concerns about population growth and not any kind of group level of criminality. Like the Christian Orthodox in Serbia complained about the Bosnians, the Buddhists feel “threatened” by the feeling that they are surrounded by increasing numbers of Muslims, who lead different lifestyles than themselves.

In truth, there is not that much difference between a Buddhist and a Muslim. They both wake up pre-dawn to perform prayer and prostrations; the only difference is that Buddhists pray towards a statue while Muslims pray to a direction determined by a GPS. Both cultures value compassion, chastity, self-denial and generosity.

As has been the case with India, it is reasonable to assume that Zionist propagandists are working hand in hand with the genocidalists to create a media war against the Muslims to facilitate their demonization, marginalization, murder and expulsion from the region.

The communal rioting has been invigorated by the internet distribution of photos of corpses, with both enraged Buddhists and Muslims claiming the dead as their own. However, there really are not two sides to the “story.” Muslims are being forced from their homes by the hundreds of thousands and Burma’s government is participating.

It is more than possible that Obama’s interest in Burma friendliness has to do with replacing the world heroin supply in the event of a Taliban victory in Afghanistan.

“Indeed the pending departure of the US from Afghanistan and the return of the Indigenous Taliban to power will mean a repeat of the Taliban destruction of the Afghan opium industry in 2000-2001 and the consequent need for Neocon America to boost opium production in SE Asia for profit and continued, evil, opiate-based destabilization of Iran, Russia, Central Asia, African America, Latin America and China,” writes Gideon Polya.

Myanmar Muslims have been targeted for ethnic cleansing based on the assumption that the Muslims might join with a global political Islamist movement and seek foreign aid in order to get their issues addressed. Until this point, the Myanmar Muslims have not engaged themselves in political alliances or violence. However, the attacks on their population have created an unavoidable need for foreign aid and interference. 

American Muslims are in a primary position to lend a voice to this awful situation. Obama has stated that he wants Burma to be a friend of the US, and that he is trusting Burma to go forward with reforms on human rights issues. Unfortunately, the US is taking the usual “blame both sides” approach to genocide, thereby taking zero responsibility for the outcome. Nevertheless, US Muslims are now in a position to act as American ambassadors to promote a win-win solution in the region, if they choose to do so.

Since nobody actually has a plan, whoever comes up with one and seeks to implement it will be at an advantage. Basically, Muslims in Burma are asking to be treated as human equals and to be granted citizenship in Burma, a right they had previously enjoyed. The situation is similar in Greater Israel, where many Palestinians live without any citizenship. 

Americans are in a unique and wonderful position at this time in history, to apply the lessons learned from our civil rights movement in order to solve political problems in the world. The basic solution for most communal violence situations remains that the oppressed group should be given equal rights and citizenship, the right to vote, and they should be integrated in society. 

There really is no other way. Breaking up the world into smaller and smaller pieces of land where the people there agree with each other or share DNA just is not reasonable nowadays.