Thursday, December 27, 2012

In 2013, I Resolve to Stop Beating Myself Up

When I was young, New Year’s Eve was spent listening to the Top 40 music countdown with Casey Kasem and playing monopoly with my parents and siblings. I also wrote down my New Year’s resolutions and took them very seriously. Sadly, most of my self-improvement ideas revolved around body image and social popularity. Starting even when I was still too young to wear a bra, I was resolving to lose weight every new year. I resolved to dress more fashionably. I resolved to stop being so shy around boys. In short, my New Year’s Resolutions displayed a sad lack of self esteem, and my bitter attempt to gain a sense of self-worth through social acceptance. My New Year’s Resolutions were just one more way to beat myself up over not being pretty enough.

When I grew up, I realized that my flaws were really virtues. My wide hips, I learned, could easily birth a ten pound baby despite my small frame. My shyness, I learned, is a virtue considered attractive to the kind of man whom I would want to be with. I also learned that I perhaps too often put myself aside in order to accommodate others. I started looking at myself more clearly to try and pinpoint why I don’t have what I want in life.
One weird thing I noticed was that I habitually ate the broken cookies, leaving the good cookies for the others, while other people generally go straight for the biggest, best cookies. I wondered why I did that. Years later, I noticed that even though I was going to bed hungry in order to preserve food for my children to eat tomorrow, someone else was waiting until we went to sleep and eating all the food! At a certain point I realized that some people habitually make use of other people’s selfless sacrifices without giving it a thought. While I was reducing my ego to the size of a mustard seed, working hard to change myself in order to be what other people needed me to be, I was inviting others to take advantage of my generosity. My strong love for my children eventually forced me to note that Mommy needs to be centered in her own self in order to adequately protect them.
There are two personality extremes: the Narcissist and the Neurotic. The Narcissist believes that others exist to serve him, while the Neurotic exists to serve others. The Narcissist blames others for everything, while the Neurotic takes personal responsibility for all the problems in the world. Both types operate from a self-esteem deficit.
The results of excessive Narcissism are obviously dangerous, but an out of control Neurotic will also reach a point of destructive anger – because everything the Neurotic does for others – all that eagerness to please – is motivated at heart by a deep need for others to return the same level of concern. The Neurotic person is not actually engaging in selfless acts out of selflessness. He is trying to earn love.
The Narcissist covers up his lack of self-worth by imposing himself upon others. He takes whatever he can get away with, and he when he gives, he gives in order to make a public display of himself, to gain public recognition, so that other people will then feel obligated towards him. In the mind of the Narcissist everyone “owes” him.
Well, guess what I figured out. Actions cannot earn anyone’s love, not even righteous actions. If someone took a bullet for someone else, he might be owed some appreciation. But love is something more like God’s grace, it happens only when the heart opens without any obstruction. No one – not even God – can truly love you or work miracles through you, if you are not being yourself. If you are bending over backwards trying to please people or accommodate people, they might be thankful. But love can neither be earned nor owed.
True Love is something like oxygen that swooshes in to fill a vacuum, which is created when a person gives up worship of everything that is not God, and submits to Reality. Our lives are all sparks of light emitted from the Everliving. When we connect with other people in God’s love, we are creating something like an electrical circuit of energy flow. The light does not belong to you or me, but it becomes brightest when the energy is flowing freely without ego obstructions. The path of Love is the Middle Way between Narcissism and Neurosis. It requires developing a Conscience about how we treat ourselves. It’s meaningless to love your neighbor as yourself, if you don’t love yourself.
The New Year’s resolutions I will make this year will not be about how I can be less of a person to take up less space in the world. They will be more closely aligned with how I can stoke the fire of life energy at the core of my being. I believe that in so doing, all the other parts of my being will become better aligned with my true purpose.
I will spend more time identifying and working to fulfill my desires. I will not postpone my life too long for others. I will shop, cook, and eat as much as I want, to the extent of my ability. I will make time for play. I will make time to sleep. I will buy myself the winter coat and the summer sandals I’ve been doing without all these years. I will spend more time alone. I will spend more time socializing. When I get cranky, I will figure out what I need, just like I did with my babies. I will stop trying to cope with my situation by expecting less. Instead, I will visualize what I want and then take the steps to reach my goals. I will set fire to my anger instead of wallowing in it. When the devil is trying to destroy you, the best thing you can do is keep trusting that God created us all to fulfill our true potential in life, like a plant reaching for the sun. Living well is the best revenge.
The most radical thing we can do for change, to create a world of healthy, happy, peaceful people, is to start taking care of ourselves and stop giving away our personal power. Only when our light is shining brightly and steadily can we light the path for others.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fracking Requires Oversight

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a relatively new way of extracting natural gas or oil from shale by exploding the rock with pressurized water mixed with chemicals. Scott Tong writes in Marketplace that fracking has “unlocked a new geologic door to fossil energy.” The drilling is done horizontally, which means fewer holes are able to extract larger amounts of gas. 

It also means that an oil company could extract gas from the ground beneath your house, or underneath local wildlife preserves. 

The upsides of the domestic gas and oil boom include less dependency on foreign suppliers, jobs for Americans, and new businesses opening to cater to the needs of the industry. However, serious hazards are involved – water, soil and air contamination have long term consequences – plus more immediate dangers like huge explosions that could wipe out entire neighborhoods. If steps are not taken to regulate this growing industry more effectively, the results of fracking could end up being far more costly in the long run than any short term economic benefits.

In the US, oil and gas companies are privately owned, and they compete against each other. The government does not own the mineral rights below the surface of the earth, even when it’s below a National Park. The oil and gas industry is one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States. They have been able to fight environmental regulations and get exceptions. 

The government is currently extremely limited in its ability to oversee the fracking process and to ensure that safety measures are in place. Environmental departments are already generally understaffed, so to create an environmental department capable of inspecting hundreds of thousands of oil wells, all the underground piping and the related paperwork puts an unreasonable burden upon taxpayers. Yet, because of oil companies’ legal rights, the government cannot get overly involved in their affairs until after a crime is committed – or to help with evacuations and clean up after a spill or leak has occurred. 

Another serious obstacle in the way of public safety is that the law usually puts the burden of proof on the accuser. The victim of environmental poisoning must prove that his sickness was caused by the nearby drilling. Many homeowners do not test their well water for contamination until after there is a problem. The law requires them to present previous documentation of the well not being contaminated before the oil company started drilling, in order to make the claim that the drilling is responsible. Even if recent contamination can be proven, the homeowner still has to demonstrate how those particular contaminants were created by what process and by which oil company. This is far beyond the scope of power of ordinary individuals. Most private citizens are not in a position to determine the exact sources of pollutants. The oil companies themselves don’t even have accurate maps of where all the underground pipes are located.

Many neighborhoods and towns are organizing their own environmental watch dog groups to do scientific research, collect data and keep records in order to pressure the government to be more vigilant about inspections and more firm in punishing violations so that they do not recur. 

Even George Mitchell, the oilman who discovered and developed fracking techniques, wants Americans to stiffly regulate drillers, especially small, independent players.

“I’ve had too much experience running independents,” Mitchell says. “They’re wild people. You just can’t control them. Penalize the oil and gas people. Get tough with them.” 

All the research shows that thousands of oil wells are not being inspected regularly by the government. When the wells are inspected, safety violations are found. Inspection procedures for the piping and other elements of the process do not even exist. 

One Texas community founded the Gardenville Accountability Project after being utterly run over by Berry Petroleum. They are well organized and fighting back, documenting abuses. Berry has plans for 300 wells in a 12 square mile area. None of the land owners own the mineral rights under the surface. On December 6, 2012, Dan Boggs, president of Gardendale Accountability Project listed multiple and frightening problems on their community blog:

“As I write this there is a gas pipeline fire after an explosion down the road a few miles from Gardendale near a small community. Our prayer is that no one was hurt. Last night in Gardendale there was a 10 barrel oil spill from a well. Some reports have oil shooting 75 feet into the air. This morning (the second time in a week) we had noxious fumes drift over our home. It was reported to the health dept. and the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality). I suspect both releases were from the same well. Recently we have had a gas flare FALL OVER and threaten homes. Another gas flare fire shot flaming liquid high into the air and sent black smoke belching into the sky. How long will our representatives ignore the health and safety hazards they allow in our communities?”

A former pipeline executive told Fort Worth Weekly, “The truth is, it’s just insane to have wet gas around schools. Yet you go down to Vickery and Horne and turn north and see pipes right across the street from a school. And all pipes leak over time. They corrode and rot out, and the initial builder sells out, and you wind up with some jackleg [company] with little insurance owning the lines, not being able to maintain them properly.” 

Gas can soak into the ground around the pipeline. You can’t see it, smell it, taste it. And then boom! The maze of underground pipes is so complex that when an explosion happens, it is often difficult to determine which company it belongs to, so they can shut off the valve. Emergency crews do not even have access to the gas shut-off valves.

The lack of regulation by the state and local governments is “simply gross negligence.”

Royce Don Deaver of Houston, a pipeline engineer and expert witness in pipeline explosion cases, considers pipelines to be a relatively safe way to move gas, but only if they are regulated properly. Stronger, thicker steel construction is particularly important in an urban environment, he said. 

“The solution is there. It’s just money. But the cost issue is so great that pipeline companies are not going to do it unless they’re pushed. And the way things are now, regulators don’t have scientists telling them what to do.”

Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project has compiled data on the immediate health effects of fracking on Texans. They conclude that the state’s present regulations, laws and enforcement policies are far too weak. Each year, hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells – 53 to 91% of wells in the states studied – are operating with no inspections to determine whether they are in compliance with state rules. When inspections do uncover rule violations, the violations often are not formally recorded. When violations are recorded, they result in so few penalties that they provide little incentive for companies to not offend again.

Earthworks reports: “Not only are the resources for dealing with the health and environmental impacts of gas production insufficient to meet the scale of the boom, but state regulators consistently downplay the risks, take sides with industry against landowners, and respond to complaints feebly, if at all.”

Where drilling goes, contamination, burning nostrils, and health problems follow. Affected neighbors are forced to buy bottled water, and in some cases, must even buy water to bathe. 

“It’s ruining us,” Bartonville resident Kelly Gant told  The New York Times in February 2011. She said her 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son have had severe asthma attacks, dizzy spells and headaches since a compressor station and a gas well were set up near her house about two years ago. 

“I’m not an activist, an alarmist, a Democrat, environmentalist or anything like that,” Ms. Gant said. “I’m just a person who isn’t able to manage the health of my family because of all this drilling.”

In 2009, Wolf Eagle Environmental sampled the air in Dish, Texas and confirmed the presence of high concentrations of carcinogens and neurotoxins in air near or on residential properties.

When the millions of gallons of contaminated water used for hydraulic fracturing returns to the surface as “flowback,” this toxic soup requires permanent disposal in deep sealed wells. The question of how to prevent fracking water from returning to the normal water cycle presents a scientific problem like storing nuclear waste. 

Fracking is too profitable to go away anytime soon. Scientific advances are expected to make the process more effective and we hope, more safe. In the meantime, certain states are trying to place limits on what the oil companies can dig up in order to preserve natural beauty. New York and Pennsylvania have placed a moratorium on oil development in certain areas. 

Don Barber told Mother Jones. “The federal government sold [Americans] out when they exempted fracking from the Clean Water and Air Acts. Federal and state governments are not advocating for the civil society. There’s only one level left. That’s the local government, and it puts a tremendous load on our shoulders.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fighting Key to Marital Happiness?

It is widely taught that the most important quality in a potential spouse is high moral character. Yet, many people still choose their life partner based on superficial desires of the ego such as beauty or wealth. Since both beauty and wealth are temporary, such marriages often cannot withstand the test of time.

However, sometimes, in their quest to secure a relationship with a person of high moral character, people are still drawn towards superficialities. Often, even deeply religious people dream of a spouse whose style of dress will match their outfit. They want a spouse who will increase their status in the community. They should belong to a certain family or a certain social class. Many single people have a long checklist of things that they are looking for in a person before they will even consider them in marriage.

Most people wish to find the perfect mate, with whom they can agree on all things. However, no matter who you choose, all married couples fight. Some will eventually learn to tolerate each other. But that is not the same thing as being happy! They key to marital bliss is in how you fight, say psychologists.

Therapist John Gottman says he can predict how long a couple will last, not by studying how well a couple gets along, but by studying how well a couple doesn’t get along. A relationship is only as strong as its weakest link— how a couple handles their challenges.

Generally speaking, people from the same cultural or religious background will experience less friction in marriage than people from very different backgrounds. Yet, shared beliefs are also no guarantee of happiness. Someone who is very dogmatic about religion might adopt a judgmental and narrow-minded approach to disagreements, even going so far as to imply that to disagree with him is to disobey God. Even deeply pious people might be hyper-sensitive, whiny, passive aggressive, or overly critical at times. 

Therefore, it is not usually enough just to seek a “suitable match.” What we should really seek is a partner who is spiritually and emotionally capable of what Aristotle called a “Relationship of Shared Virtue.”

The number one thing to look for in a potential spouse is not perfection, but their sincere interest in engaging in continued personal growth through relationship, suggests Karen Salmansohn, author of “Prince Harming Syndrome.” 

“After all, if your partner doesn’t value growth, he won’t be ready to deal with non-fun, inevitable conflicts in a high integrity way,” writes Salmansohn.

“Good character values not only come in handy on a day-to-day basis, but during those eventual, inevitable times of conflict. If you and your partner do not value putting in the effort of acting with strong character values during times of disagreement, disappointment, stress, crisis, temptation, sadness, monetary-challenges, illness, vulnerability, misunderstandings—then your relationship will always suffer… 

“Take the time to find out if your (potential) partner values embracing empathy, listening, direct communication, honesty, loyalty and growth. After all, a guy’s character will always be the determinant behind his choosing to be naughty or nice—thereby making you feel sad or happy.”

You know you are in a healthy relationship when being together makes you feel happier and improves your life. Unhealthy relationships make you more unhappy, insecure, unsafe, or just plain frazzled! But negative communication patterns can be overcome through patience, wisdom and compassion.

Relationship therapist Arhata Osho advises: “It’s good to acknowledge and remember that those who choose to not be friendly… are likely dealing with their own issues while of course, denying it. It’s rarely the person who is ignored’s fault… they may be dealing with more than you or I can really help them with. Be open to them coming around, or not… Be free to be your real self, and move toward those few who cherish the same way! A loving person just accepts everyone for what they choose to be.”

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D, author of “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom,” writes that when you recognize the deeper wants of others, they feel seen and are less likely to be reactive: 

“Consider any significant relationship: How does it feel when they misinterpret what you want? Or worse, when they could care less about understanding what you want? Ouch.”

“During an interaction with someone who is difficult for you – or while reflecting about the relationship as a whole – try to see the deeper wants in the other person, behind the acts of thought, word, or deed that have bothered or hurt you… and if you like, try to figure out less harmful ways to fulfill (them),” continues Hanson.

We all have some bad communication habits that we learned in childhood. While unhealthy communication styles often stimulate the worst parts of ourselves to come out, healthy and positive relationships support our spiritual growth so that we can gain the strength to transcend bad habits and even addictions.

This is why Muslims say, “Marriage is half the faith.” It is not enough to simply be married. The marriage relationship helps a person develop themselves spiritually by providing causes for conflict.

Each conflict provides a couple with the opportunity to learn how to go beyond ego reactions such as fear of abandonment and learn to see another person’s point of view. Disagreements which are handled in a good way will lead to a deeper, more meaningful relationship. Therefore, the secret to a happy relationship is in the way you fight. Happy couples learn from their fights. Arguing in the best way means seeking truth, wisdom and inner beauty together – not defeating the other person. 

“As you live deeper in the Heart, the mirror gets clearer and clearer,” wrote Rumi.

The less ego we project upon a conflict, the more purely the Light of the spirit shines through us, and ultimately, the closer we are to God.

Friday, December 07, 2012

As court martial approaches, support for Bradley Manning grows

In 2010, 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was charged with leaking classified information to Wikileaks, which was widely seen as a catalyst for the Arab Spring that began in December 2010.

Asia Times reported that the documents revealed “US war crimes, including the video of US soldiers in a helicopter gunship enjoying themselves murdering civilians walking along the street as if the soldiers were playing a video game.”

“According to the US Military Code, US soldiers are required to make war crimes known. However, the law on the books provided no protection to Bradley Manning,”  wrote Paul Craig Roberts.

Last week, Bradley Manning’s defense faced off with military prosecutors in Ft. Meade, Maryland to argue that all charges be dismissed because of “unlawful pretrial punishment.” This hearing was second in importance only to the court martial.

Manning testified about his treatment at a military prison in Quantico, Virginia. He can only see natural light as a reflected gleam from a window down the hall when he holds his head to the door of his cell and looks through the crack. His 6ft by 8ft  cell contains a toilet that is in full vision of the guards. When he needs toilet paper, he told the court, he has to stand to attention and shout: "Lance Corporal Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!" Held in solitary confinement and prohibited from exercising, Manning testified that he is “authorized to have 20 minutes sunshine, in chains, every 24 hours.” Expert witnesses stated that these harsh restrictions are worse than Guantanamo Bay or even death row.

Military judge Colonel Denise Lind announced that Manning's court martial, which had been set to begin in February, would now be delayed until March 16 at the earliest, due to the debate over his unlawful confinement.

Under the most severe of the 22 counts he faces – "aiding the enemy" – Manning could be detained in military custody for the rest of his life. In a proposed plea bargain, Manning would admit to leaking a battlefield video file, classified memos, Iraq war logs, Afghanistan war logs and other classified materials. He would also plead guilty to wrongfully storing classified information, in hopes of a lighter sentence.

Meanwhile, peace activists around the world are pushing for dismissal of all charges. Protests at Fort Meade, recruiting centers, and US embassies demanded fair treatment for Bradley, considered by many to be the most important whistleblower of our time.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire and Adolfo PĂ©rez Esquivel published a letter of support in The Nation on December 3, 2012, which stated:

“We Nobel Peace Prize laureates condemn the persecution Bradley Manning has suffered, including imprisonment in conditions declared “cruel, inhuman and degrading” by the United Nations, and call upon Americans to stand up in support of this whistleblower who defended their democratic rights...

If Bradley Manning released the documents, as the prosecution contends, we should express to him our gratitude for his efforts toward accountability in government, informed democracy and peace.”
Ray McGovern, a high-ranking retired C.I.A. analyst, called Manning “our friend” and “a hero.”

Bradley Manning Support Network is asking all people to submit photos of themselves holding a sign that reads “I am Bradley Manning,” to show the world that people from all walks of life believe the public deserves to know the truth. Their website, states:

“Whistle-blowers play an important role in a democracy, and by revealing evidence of unpunished war crimes, as well as secret corporate influence on U.S. foreign policy, Bradley Manning acted in the interest of American citizens.”

Commentator Glenn Greenwald wrote, “Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado: all without so much as having been convicted of anything.” 

David House, a 23-year-old MIT researcher who befriended Manning after his detention (and then had his laptops, camera and cellphone seized by Homeland Security) is one of the few people to have visited Manning several times at Quantico. He describes worrying changes in Manning’s physical appearance and behavior just over the course of a few months.

President Obama's state department spokesman, retired air force colonel PJ Crowley, resigned after publicly condemning Manning's treatment.

According to chat logs released by Wired Magazine, Manning clearly believed that he was a whistle-blower acting with the noblest of motives.

Manning told hacker Adrian Lamo that the leaks were intended to create “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Manning described to Lamo the incident which first made him seriously question the US government. He was instructed to work on the case of Iraqi “insurgents” who had been detained for distributing so-called “insurgent” literature which, when Manning had it translated, turned out to be nothing more than “a scholarly critique against PM Maliki.”

“I had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees… i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…” wrote Manning.

Lamo reported Manning to US authorities.

“The government's radical theory is that, although Manning had no intent to do so, the leaked information could have helped al-Qaida, a theory that essentially equates any disclosure of classified information – by any whistleblower, or a newspaper – with treason,” writes Greenwald.

79-year-old former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who is often praised for his 1971 leak of the Pentagon's secret history of the Vietnam War, said that Wikileaks' disclosure of government secrets on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and thousands of diplomatic cables was “exactly the right thing” to do. Ellsberg once faced criminal charges over his leak, but they were thrown out by a judge.

But military law experts told The Huffington Post that the odds are low that his charges will simply be dismissed.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Catching Up with Enaam Arnaout of Benevolence International Foundation

pic-friedemannThere are many sad stories about Muslims who were sent to prison. Not all of them were misguided romantics framed by the FBI. Some earlier victims of the “War on Terror” were sincere followers of Islam, who went out of their way to serve the poor and hungry in war torn areas around the globe. Many of these people like Iraqi Dr. Rafil Dhafir, of Help the Needy and Palestinian Shukri Abu Baker of Holy Land Foundation, will likely die in prison due to their long sentences, for no crime besides raising money to feed Muslims living under US and Israeli military occupation. 

Dr. Aafia Siddique, a child development researcher who became passionately obsessed with helping the Bosnians, started a collection of used boots while studying at at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She made a purchase in a military surplus outlet, possibly steel toed boots, sparking FBI interest. Dr. Siddique and her three children were kidnapped while awaiting a train in Pakistan in 2003. She and at least one son spent years being tortured in Bagram prison in Afghanistan until news of her existence was spread by prisoners who were released as a result of a bombing by the Taliban. Siddique was released to the US after inquiries from the UK as to her whereabouts following these reports. She remains imprisoned in a mental hospital in New York State despite repeated requests from the Pakistani government to have her repatriated.

Therefore, it is on a bright note that TMO reports that our dear Syrian brother Enaam Arnaout was released in July 2010. He is alive in Chicago and doing reasonably well after serving nine years in a CMU prison in Terre Haute, largely for his involvement in supplying the Bosnian army with steel toed boots in an effort to help prevent injuries from land mines. Prosecutors accused him of defrauding donors to Benevolence International Foundation, which was collecting money for humanitarian relief, in providing “military equipment.” However, this author clearly remembers that BIF fundraisers focused on the need for protective footwear. There was no fraud involved.

The whole case made very little sense to the public, since we thought the US was supposedly on Bosnia’s side in the war. Court documents imply that the charity was targeted by neocons in the Bush administration because international money exchanges made by Islamic charity organizations often use mechanisms outside of the western banking system. 

Muslims sponsoring orphans in foreign lands were not considered the threat, per se, but the ability of Muslim organizations to move money around in order to perhaps influence the outcome of world events – keeping people alive  to fight another day – was seen as a threat to the world order. 

Arnaout’s drama unfolded in 2002, when he was taken away from us, shortly after his charity office in Palos Hills, IL was raided by the FBI. Bush closed all the orphanages and clinics that American Muslims sponsored in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Azerbaijan and China; upon which thousands of children, including polio victims, were depending on for their survival. 

The Chicago Tribune reports: “About a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration highlighted the charges against Arnaout, saying he had provided material support to al-Qaida. But on the day of his trial in 2003, the Syrian native pleaded guilty to diverting charity money to pay for boots, uniforms and other equipment for Islamic fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya. The government dropped charges that he aided a terrorist group.

“According to his lawyers, Arnaout was released in July 2010 from federal prison to a halfway house, then placed on home detention so he could work as a used-car salesman. By February 2011, he began his three-year supervised release.”

That he received so light a sentence (nine years) is remarkable, especially after the publicizing of his old photos from LIFE magazine in the 80’s showing him walking next to Osama bin Laden, testifying to Arab News on Soviet napalm bombing, and US news reports that he had driven bin Laden’s wife to the airport. 

While he was working on his masters degree in Pakistan, he met many public figures including Abdullah Azzam. Arnaout fought in the Battle of Jaji in 1987 against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and is regarded by many as a war hero. 

Now 50 years old, Arnaout lives alone in Chicago and works long hours at a used car lot in order to support his six children, who live abroad. He has not seen them, nor their mothers, since his release from prison due to fears that he might be subject to arrest if he travels to those countries because of his history. Arnaout communicates by Skype with his family regularly. 

Arnaout gained permission from a judge to travel to Saudi Arabia twice during his probation period in order to see his elderly mother, brother, and other family members. He was greeted with rose petals and great festivities, as he kissed his mother’s feet. His travel was delayed due to harassment by Turkish and Jordanian authorities at airports, despite being cleared for travel by US authorities. His probation period will end in February 2014.

Arnaout is the eighth of ten children, three of whom were murdered in their home in Hamah by a special force of the Syrian army in 1980, due to his brother Bassam Arnaout, a famous leader of an Islamic Brotherhood splinter group of front fighters in militant opposition to Hafez al Assad’s government.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Women, Mother Earth & the Environment


In the past, I have written about the connection between the women’s hijab and the struggle for protecting environmental resources. Hijab – beyond religion – is a political statement saying, “I will not be commodified.” 

Women’s bodies are essentially part of the earth’s resources. Her offspring can either thrive or become endangered. That is one reason why it is important to protect women.

Yet women’s persons are resources in themselves – embodiments of boundless love, beauty, organization and creativity when properly nourished. Women are the personal maintainers of human life and human culture. Yet, women are also usually in a weaker position than men, and so must struggle to complete their tasks on earth while simultaneously struggling to create a situation of sustainability on earth. 

Sustainability, in environmental terms, means actions that lead to general health of the soil, air and water. Sustainability, in human terms, means actions that lead to the general health of self esteem, relationships, and ability to contribute to the community. Many times, people in weaker positions like women and children, or indigenous populations such as Native Americans or Palestinians, suffer a lot because of the inability or refusal of the ruling class to hear their voices or care how they feel.

At this time in history, we as humans are at a watershed moment. The environment is in a state of crisis, largely our fault, due to a combination of unbridled consumerism and unbridled warmongering leading to burning up the ozone layer with bombs, airplanes, factories and automobiles. We as a species are at a point where we have to take responsibility for the way things are, and try to do better. Because if we don’t, we will all lose the feeling that our planet is a comfortable and safe place to live and have children.

While this is a pretty scary thing to realize, it’s also pretty amazing. God chose us, out of all the living species, to decide what is going to happen on this planet. There is no other species besides us that is competing for the goal of making decisions for everyone. Yes, whether you believe in God or not, we cannot deny that we as a species have been made responsible for everything – even a frog. And the proof is that there is no frog on earth, except in a fairy tale, that would ever be able to take responsibility for a human.

If we were imbued with the spirit of hope and faith, the potential of good action when realizing this intensely glorifying responsibility would be beyond religion. But most people are not aware that God created us to make the world a better place. 

Many people have already become cynical and decided that the earth is not a good place for raising children and have told themselves that they are doing the right thing by not investing in the future. Those of us who do have children often feel like victims of a hurricane, needing intense amounts of help but not ever receiving enough. It takes a village to raise a child, but today’s world is a prison complex of individual cells, where nobody really talks to anybody, and each child is completely and utterly on their own. 

Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for Biological Diversity, made five simple demands of President Obama in a recent article in the Huffington Post: 

1. Address climate change and ocean acidification.
2. Stem the extinction crisis.
3. Keep politics out of the Endangered Species Act and other vital environmental laws.
4. Safeguard our public lands, wild places and the Arctic.
5. Embrace a newer, cleaner energy.

While an oppressed person might view these demands for a safe living environment as basic part of being alive, a ruling class person might view other people’s life demands as negotiable, or even justify denying them through force. 

In Brazil, indigenous peoples and traditional groups occupied the Belo Monte construction site to protest the building of a dam. According to White Wolf Pack:

“Everything started with 13 fisherman camping on an island and evolved to almost 200 people between river-dependent community members, small farmers, boat pilots, indigenous leaders, and fisherman. Those 13 brave warriors managed to build a beautiful and organized community. A team of three women cooked day and night for everybody. The stories shared under the stunning sun and crazy storms; the laughs; tears; even the quarrels between people were a sign that we were becoming a big family. No dam could take that from us.” 

The protesters were all there “to denounce the violation of their rights and the government’s pre-conditions that where never met by the company. People should never have to negotiate to secure their rights. With that in mind, we know that the battle is not over, and the dream to stop the Belo Monte dam continues.”

The importance of power dynamics is addressed by Yashar Ali, Los Angeles author of On Her Terms: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Romance:

“Women are consciously and unconsciously taught that they are responsible for keeping the man by doing what’s necessary to make him happy. The onus is on women to change, to adjust, to push aside what they need or want in an effort to appease men so that they are willing to engage in dating or being in a relationship at all… Women are faced with the responsibility of maintaining the relationship, while men have the power to direct where the relationship goes.”

Ali’s book is meant to encourage women to stop ignoring or accepting behavior that makes them feel uncomfortable, and to stop making massive adjustments in their character and fundamental selves in order to make a man more comfortable.

“It’s time for women to stop giving up ground when it comes to romance and it’s also time for men to stop expecting them to give up this territory. For too many women, the tone, tenor, nature, path, and dynamics of the romantic part of their life is on the man’s terms. And it’s time for our society at large to recognize it and work to shift that imbalance.”

One of the beautiful things about Islam is that people should never have to negotiate to secure their rights. Human rights are non-negotiable. They are God-given and self-evident. The honor of the life of a human being is never negotiable. It is important for women to address imbalances in their personal relationships in the same way that it is important for all oppressed people who value the Earth to address imbalances in the environment.

Friday, November 09, 2012

From Foster Care to Life in Prison

Few children in the US are fully prepared for the responsibilities of adulthood by their eighteenth birthdays, even with the best of families. American young people generally spend their twenties in a state of limbo, searching for themselves as they complete their education and/or enter the workforce.
imagesJuveniles who have been placed in foster care face special challenges when they turn 18 because they must suddenly become responsible for managing their own lives. 

When kids “age out” of the system, they often end up returning to the unstable parental homes from which they were originally removed. The Boston Foundation conducted a study of the problem in 2008, and found that: 37 percent of former foster kids older than 18 had experienced homelessness; 54 percent were unemployed, and half of those with jobs worked fewer than 20 hours a week; 30 percent had been threatened or injured with a weapon; 25 percent had been arrested in the prior 12 months; and 11 percent reported being raped.” The study also showed that 39 percent reported being moved to 10 or more foster homes over the course of their lives, which resulted in a disruption of their education. 59 percent of the teens surveyed reported feeling “sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row.”

The government stops tracking young adults once they leave foster care, but independent studies have demonstrated that up to 20 percent of all prisoners in the nation are former foster children. A government database of National Youth in Transition is being compiled, but it will not be completed until 2016. 

Steve Holt reports in Boston Magazine that “the New York-based group Children’s Rights is suing Massachusetts for violating the constitutional rights of children in its care. The class-action suit, expected to be heard in US District Court in Springfield early next year, was filed on behalf of six children the organization says have been “badly harmed” by abuse, neglect, and numerous placements while in the state’s foster care system. Connor B. v. Patrick also accuses the state of not adequately preparing adolescents in foster care for living independently as adults.”

Marie, a single mother overwhelmed with caring for her sick son lost her job, so her two children were temporarily removed from her home. When she finally got her children back, she learned that both of them “had been sexually abused over and over again” by the fourteen year old son of the foster mother.”

Former social worker Judy Andreas writes: “’Sendy was only two years old at the time,’ Marie cried to me. ‘Where was the foster mother? Why had Social Services snatched the children from my loving arms to put them in harms way?’” 

Marcia Robinson Lowry, Children’s Rights’ executive director explains that “taxpayers are paying for a system that, rather than protecting children, is further contributing to damage that children have gotten already in a home environment.”

Former foster child Donald Rudolph, age 18, murdered three people including his mother and sister in Weymouth, Massachusetts last year. Donald had “spent the past two years moving between foster homes, his parents’ houses, and the street,” reports Boston Magazine. He had been arrested four times and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia within a year after he left foster care. 

Donald had actually applied for continued assistance from the Department of Children and Families (DFC) but was automatically cut off after being incarcerated. Donald had the choice to reapply, but he did not do so. 

“And with that, Massachusetts willfully cut ties with a man it knew was mentally ill and a threat to others,” writes Holt. 

Donald’s mother reportedly told police he was off his medications and was out of control. Donald was arrested and pleaded guilty to burglary, dealing marijuana, and shooting a random woman with a pellet gun. On September 14, 2011, District Court Judge Diane Moriarty ordered him to receive mental health treatment, but no one was appointed to oversee his care. In October, he was arrested again for burglary, and was again set free, pending a November 29 court date. 

On November 10, 2011, he murdered his family. 

Donald’s surviving sister, Brittany Rudolph, who was away at college the night of the murders, says her brother’s years in foster car were filled with neglect and abuse. She says state officials missed clear signs that her brother needed continued intervention. “The way they handled it – the system,” she says, “they basically created a criminal.” 

Donald is certainly not Massachusetts’ youngest murderer. Fourteen-year-old Ernest Watkins IV of Boston was charged on October 6, 2012 with the death of a 39-year-old man during a robbery, after stabbing him 37 times. Under state law, any juvenile charged with murder is automatically tried as an adult. He will likely receive life in prison.  

Such cases as this inspire discussions on how violent youth crime could be best prevented, whether by putting more resources into supervising troubled teenagers or by locking them up more swiftly to prevent them from committing worse crimes. 

The flip side of the “tough on crime” approach of giving long prison terms to young murderers is that now the state faces increasing financial burdens from aging prisoners requiring medical care. James Ridgeway wrote an article in the Bay State Banner entitled “The Other Death Sentence: Aging and Dying in Prison,” about the experiences faced in prison by “men in various stages of bad health or terminal illness.” 

He describes the last days of Lefty Gilday, “a minor league ballplayer turned ‘60s revolutionary, a convicted cop killer and target of one of the most famous manhunts in Massachusetts history.” Lefty was loved and respected by the other inmates, who came to him to settle disputes. When he became infirm, his friends helped him to the toilet and cleaned him up. Joe Labriola, 66, who was convicted of killing an FBI informant, used to help Lefty get some fresh air by wheeling his chair into the yard and sitting with his arm around Lefty to keep him from falling out. 

Lefty was placed in isolation for throwing an empty milk carton at a prison guard, but Labriola snuck into Lefty’s cell one day and found stacks of unopened food containers. “Lefty said he couldn’t open the tabs to get at the food. The stench of piss and feces was overwhelming,” Ridgeway reports. 

There are countless prisoners who are so old and sick they are bed-ridden, clad in adult diapers. Some of them have families who are willing to take them, but the government refuses the release of prisoners, who are well beyond the point of posing a threat to society. Many other prisoners, who committed violent crimes as teenagers decades ago, but who have worked hard to better themselves and whose parole board has recommended their release, remain imprisoned at our expense. 

Funds are extremely limited for teens who need supervised help, yet funding seems to be unlimited for housing prisoners even until death. The amount of money spent on each life prisoner far exceeds what it would have cost to send each one to Harvard.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Massachusetts Candidates Differ Only Slightly on MidEast

While President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney have dominated presidential election coverage, the Massachusetts Senate race may be the second-most important race in the country. The Senate elections are crucial for President Obama. A return of a Democratic majority may unite the divided government he has had to work with the past two years.

Harvard Law School professor and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren has prided herself on going after Wall Street banks and being “for the people.” The Democratic candidate, who enjoys a slight lead over Republican Scott Brown, made a splash in the most recent televised debate when she said, “I want to be blunt; we should not be fighting about equal pay for equal work and access to birth control in 2012.” 

When it comes to Israel, one could hope that Brown’s Republican values of lower taxation and less government spending – or Warren’s 99% values – would end our forced taxation by Israel. Sadly, not only do both candidates support Israel unconditionally, but they maintain a racist position encouraging and sponsoring the violent policing of non-Jews in the region.

Brown brags that he supported the Senate’s resolution which “reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself during Operation Cast Lead.” He writes, “I also firmly support the security barrier erected by Israel.” Brown states: 

“I unequivocally support the recently executed ten-year memorandum of understanding between the US and Israel which will provide $30 billion in military aid to Israel until 2017. Since the vast majority of that aid is spent on American products, it is good for both American employment and the American economy.”

Aren’t Republicans supposed to support free enterprise? Using taxpayer money to support specific businesses, most likely Jewish or Zionist-owned corporations like Starbucks and Home Depot to supply Israeli settlements and cities would certainly not help the average American small business owner. 

Warren is less clear on exactly how much of American taxpayers’ money she is willing to fork over to Israel but makes it clear that she will be spending US money to protect apartheid in the Holy Land: “To me, it is a moral imperative to support and defend Israel, and I am committed to ensuring its long-term security by maintaining its qualitative military edge. Israel must be able to defend itself from the serious threats it faces from terrorist organizations to hostile states, including Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and others…” 

Warren claims that Massachusetts benefits from high tech businesses owned by dual citizen Israelis. “There are approximately 100 companies in Massachusetts with Israeli founders or based on Israeli technologies – creating $2.4 billion in value and thousands of jobs for our economy.” However, Israeli companies, indirectly subsidized by US taxpayers, suck money away from the very working class citizen base that Warren appeals to. American high tech companies, which are not Jewish-owned, have a harder time competing for contracts when the US government practices such favoritism. 

Scott Brown’s foreign policy statement relies heavily on racist soundbites obviously borrowed from some unnamed “Talking Points Memo,” even maligning the Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes. Elizabeth Warren phrases her own foreign policy statement in a more pleasantly ambiguous way but clearly accepts behavior that is violently racist in favor of Jews against Arabs and Muslims, and appears to draw from the same “Talking Points Memo.” 

For example, regarding Palestine, Brown emphasizes that his support for a two-state solution for peace is “premised on security for Israel and is not imposed by outside parties,” while Warren clarifies, “I do not believe that a lasting peace can be imposed from the outside.” What does this mean, other than that Israel’s decision to stop committing genocide against Palestinians must be purely voluntary? That the US has an obligation to arm Israel but no other country or group may arm Palestine? Both candidates clearly view Israel’s security as more important than the security of the United States by keeping us involved in this conflict.

Warren openly opposes the Palestinians’ application for UN membership. She claims to believe in a two-state solution but opposes the recognition of Palestine as a country. How can two countries negotiate when only one country is recognized as a country? This is one of many bizarre mental cliff leaps Warren’s political position takes. Brown’s logic also ventures into bizarro-land as he sloppily copies “Israel’s unconditional right to live in peace is equal to that of all other nations of the world” from the same “Talking Points Memo” – as if any other nation on earth enjoyed any “unconditional right to live in peace!” The racist tyrade continues as Brown reiterates the age old anti-Palestinian canard that there are no leaders to negotiate peace with: 

“I stand with Israel and the majority of leaders in support of a two-sate solution… However, with the Palestinian leadership now divided by a terrorist entity (Hamas) and the Palestinian authority, we do not yet have the fundamental requirements in place to begin negotiations… Until there is a non-terrorist entity on the other side of the table, negotiations cannot start.” 

Both Brown and Warren also oppose the non-existent Iranian nuclear bomb threat. Warren supports economic sanctions against Iran: “Like the President, I believe that the careless talk of rushing to war is unhelpful, and, like the President, I believe the United States must take the necessary steps to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” When a blogger recently mentioned to her that Iran is not even working on a nuclear weapon according to US official sources, Warren answered that she would have to “look into it.” Warren’s ignorance and arrogance against Iran seems almost palatable compared to the nearly psychotic ranting on Brown’s website: 

“Iran, the brutal theocracy run by a cabal of mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, represents an existential threat to Israel and a menace to United States interests. With visions of regional domination and international troublemaking, Ahmedinejad has stated with great clarity that the Holocaust did not occur and that Israel should be ‘wiped off the map.’”

Not only does Scott support divestment from Iran but he would make it illegal to do business with any country that does business with Iran. He continues: “I also would work to restore funding for the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC ) which was recently cut by the Obama administration and support continued intelligence sharing by the Mossad and the CIA.”

Regarding both Massachusetts Senatorial candidates, it would seem that they are largely struggling over who can agree with the same positions more forcefully, except that Warren prefers to starve Iranians rather than kill them with bombs, and that Scott seems to enjoy personal ties with the Mossad.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Islam or Hislam?

The other day while our children played together, I chatted with a couple of Arab Muslim men about problems facing people living in America. I mentioned that once, while walking to the grocery store in Detroit, a gang of teenage boys followed me and I overheard them discussing throwing me into the trunk of their car. One brother asked immediately whether or not I had been wearing hijab. I said, “No, that was before I became Muslim – but I was wearing totally normal clothes and it was broad daylight.” Nevertheless, he commented without a hint of shame at his audacity, “Women who walk around uncovered are asking for it.” Restraining my shock, I allowed the other brother to gently disagree with this extremely offensive statement. I ended my story by saying that an Iraqi shopkeeper noticed the hoodlums waiting for me outside his shop door and chased them away, likely saving my life. So then of course it became a story of how great Arabs are. The brother never even thought to apologize for insinuating that I had dressed provocatively and had thus invited attack.

How can it be that a young woman, minding her own business, on her way to buy some milk, could be asking to be kidnapped, gang-raped, or murdered? Those men who advocate hijab as a means for avoiding attack are only looking at their own perspective. Perhaps they themselves would be less likely to rape a woman who was wearing hijab, and perhaps in certain neighborhoods, wearing hijab would make a woman less likely to be harmed. But in some other neighborhoods, a woman would be more likely to be raped or killed if she was wearing hijab, because her dress would attract negative attention from people who hate Muslims – or who view hijab as a rejection of their manhood.

In some cases, wearing Islamic gear can even attract unwanted sexual harassment! My friend Layla mentioned to me that a stranger in a restaurant once came up to her and said, “You dress like this when you go out, but I bet you sleep naked.” Another woman Maryam, wearing full covering including niqab, visited New York City with her husband and overheard some passersby having a disagreement over whether or not she might be beautiful or ugly. Instead of protecting her from objectification, Maryam’s Islamic gear actually invited a conversation about her physical beauty (or lack thereof)!

Quran says women should dress appropriately when they go outside, so that they would not be harassed. Yet, those women who are serious about not being harassed will have to do more than simply cover themselves with a certain amount of cloth. Recent American women converts can be especially vulnerable to loud laughter and jeering from strangers, as they unsuccessfully attempt to gracefully don ill-fitting, hand-me-down foreign costumes. Women who are seriously trying to avoid attracting unwanted attention have to respect the culture of the majority of people around them. They should dress modestly in a way that says, “I am a high class lady who commands respect” in a fashion language, which the local culture understands. This will vary. Women who seek to avoid harassment should not dress in a way that invites attention, mockery, or disrespect, even if that dress is considered Islamic.

There are certain types of rapists who actually target women with loose-fitting garments, who lurk outside fitness centers because sweat pants with their elastic waistbands are so quickly and easily removed, even if the woman is resisting. Contrast that ugly situation with the scene in an alley that a friend of mine, Liz, witnessed from a window. A man was attempting to forcibly remove the clothes of a woman who was screaming and fighting. Liz called the police and shouted out her window as the man relentlessly struggled with the woman but just could not rape her. Why? She was wearing extremely tight button-fly jeans that were so incredibly difficult to remove that the police arrived before the man had succeeded in sexually violating her. Therefore women who are serious about not being raped will have to do far more than merely wear loose-fitting clothing. They should consider wearing skin-tight button-fly jeans underneath their jilbabs. 

While it is easy to find examples of male chauvinism in Muslim cultures, it also exists in the West. Because of the blurry lines defining what is socially acceptable vs. immoral behavior, women are easily violated and then blamed for being victimized. An American woman, Amy was at a party and was offered whiskey. Trying to be cool, she drank from the bottle that was being passed around. Before she realized it, she was unconscious on the sofa. When she awoke, she found herself without her clothes on, having no memory of the past four hours except for a few seconds in which things were being done to her, without her being in any condition to react or respond. Feeling horribly wronged, and knowing she never flirted with anyone nor agreed to get naked with anyone, she tried to get some sympathy from a friend but was told that she should have known that “men are pigs,” and was shamed for allowing herself to lose control of the situation. While this experience will certainly be a lesson for Amy about the evils of drink, is it really true that a person cannot reasonably expect to pass out on a friend’s couch without inviting oneself to be wronged in front of other party guests? Because she was a woman, Amy was expected to accept that “boys will be boys” and take the blame for what happened.

Huda al Khattab writes in “Bent Rib: A Journey Through Women’s Issues in Islam” about the hypocrisy of male chauvinism: “In most traditional societies, and even to some extent in the west, the entire responsibility for protecting morality is placed squarely on our (supposedly delicate and weak) shoulders. That this should be so is astounding – are men so feeble-minded and weak-willed that they are so easily led astray?… Moreover, such notions of women’s moral burden are in stark contrast to the Quran, where the command to lower one’s gaze and guard one’s modesty is given to men first.”

While moralists can argue that God commands mercy and justice among His people, and that all He basically asks of us is that we not wrong each other, realists can’t deny that there are plenty of egoists who would view only those aspects of Islam that benefit themselves as laws, while those aspects of Islam that require more in depth personal responsibility, they would view as mere moral recommendations.

As the weaker sex, women are always going to be vulnerable to various forms of oppression, tyranny and dehumanization. We cannot be fools.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Developing Creative Intelligence

This morning Gail, my hairdresser told me an interesting story. Some years ago, she had a dream that her mother had died, and during the funeral her father sighed, “If only she had gone to the doctor!” She and her mother speak almost daily on the phone, so Gail mentioned the dream in passing. A couple weeks later her mother told her that she was supposed to go in for a chest scan but had not made the appointment until after Gail had that dream. The scan showed that she had Stage 1 lung cancer.

“Is your mother still alive?” I asked. Yes! Gail’s mother is not only alive but well – thanks to early detection and treatment, something very rare with lung cancer, which is usually only detected in its final and fatal stages. Not normally mystical in her orientation, Gail explained that “God usually talks to me in the daytime, not in dreams.” But because at that time, she happened to be reading the story of the Prophet Joseph (sa) in the Bible, she took this dream more seriously than she had taken other dreams.

Most of us have had times in our lives when we allowed our creative intelligence take priority over our academic training or rational intelligence. Sometimes following our dreams can lead us to great things, and other times it can provide us with a deep and abiding lesson about the laws of cause and effect.

Einstein said that no problem can be solved on the same mental level as it was created. He experienced many of his brainy “jumps” to unique conclusions of various long-unsolved problems at completely random moments such as while riding the bus, simply allowing his mind to wander freely.

Solving problems creatively by overriding dominant patterns of thinking requires the ability to make subconscious connections between billions of memories of thoughts and impressions; bring that information into personal consciousness in a clear moment’ and translate this raw data into words and pictures, so that this information could then be transmitted to other human beings. Creative intelligence incorporates yet supersedes both emotional and rational intelligence, because it tunes into and taps into the Divine Spirit which is beyond ego.

How do we become creative and spiritual human beings?

“Failure often overwhelms people who desire, or think they desire, to take up and maintain a spiritual orientation to life. This is so because the ego is the greatest test there is. We may wake up any morning with the firmest resolve that we will concentrate only on the purest, most blessed, and highest thoughts. Yet all it takes is a phone call, telling us that we are overdrawn at the bank, or that the children have broken a window, and before we know what has happened, we have lost our concentration. Only later in the afternoon do we recall our resolution to remember God. Therefore, one must constantly restate and restart one’s intention all the time. At first, it may be difficult, and failures may occur. But sooner than one would imagine, the intention leads to a habit, the most positive habit possible. After a time, you don’t forget,” writes Shaykh Hakim Moinuddin Chishti in his “Book of Sufi Healing.”

Chishti concludes, “Thus with obedience and the grace of Allah does the soul progress from its state at inception – of helpless egotism – to divine unity, if Allah wills it.”

As parents, is there a way to help our children develop habits that will lead to creative intelligence? How do we help them move from a state of mind where the world exists only to meet the child’s needs, to a state of mind where a person develops, who wants to honor the Creator through service?

“Children with creative intelligence have a more developed sense of imagination. They can play games with a few blocks or faceless dolls. They often create imaginary friends. They don’t need a lot to be stimulated. When too much is done for them, they don’t develop their imagination,” writes popular psychologist John Gray, PhD, in “Children Are From Heaven.”

“Too much TV, where images are visual, can weaken children’s ability to imagine. Just as every intelligence grows by being used, a creative intelligence grows when imagination is stimulated, enabling children to think differently. They succeed in life where others fail because they can look at things in a new and different way,” Gray concludes.

“Because the images from television and the movies are so powerful and change so quickly, children often do not understand the story line, and are left imitating the rapid movements and the elements that make the strongest impressions: chasing, shooting, crashing, and so on,” writes Waldorf educator Rahima Baldwin-Dancy in “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher.”

“As a preschool and kindergarten teacher, I observed a dramatic difference in the quality of the play of children who did not watch television. Their inside play was much more imaginative and more likely to have a story line, compared to the running around and catching one another that was dominant with the other children.”

Since God is the Creator, developing creative intelligence requires aligning our consciousness with His, and often this is helped along by tuning into our subconscious inner symbolism. So, in a lot of ways, the less we do and the less input we give our children, the better. Instead of teaching them anything in particular, we can help them find what is within themselves, simply by eliminating distractions.

Halloween Descends Upon America

An Irish Blessing for Halloween

At all Hallow’s Tide, may God keep you safe

From goblin and pooka and black-hearted stranger,

From harm of the water and hurt of the fire,

From thorns of the bramble, from all other danger,

From Will o’ the Wisp haunting the mire;

From stumbles and tumbles and tricksters to vex you,

May God in His Mercy, this week protect you.

By Maureen McCabe

As the nights become chilly, the leaves turn crunchy. The autumn equinox has passed us by, with or without a bonfire. We feel a shiver in our bones. It is only natural to think about life and death at this sacred time when all the flowers have turned into shriveled compost and the fruit is being collected. What we harvest this year will be what we rely upon this coming winter. That is a terrifying knowledge. No matter what your line of work, life changes with the falling temperatures.

Is your car ready for winter? Do you have a snow shovel? Do you have a scraper for your windshield? Is your heater working properly? Do you need to weatherize your apartment? Do all your children have mittens and coats and boots? And to top it all off, have you planned out the appropriate family-friendly activities such as ice skating and sledding into your already overbooked schedule?

If you think your life is stressful now, imagine what your life might have looked like before electricity. You would be feeling a genuine fear right now, that you or some member of your family might not see spring next year. The shorter days of less sunlight didn’t just mean emotional depression, back not so long ago. You might actually die of hunger or cold as a working person living in America. The genuine human fear of the fall season dates back thousands of years and is validated in the Halloween tradition, a largely Pagan/Catholic festival that is celebrated in many countries.

The ancient Irish tradition of carving a jack o’ lantern was intended to ward off evil spirits and ghosts as they traveled to the next world on All Saints’ Day, November 1. The mask face and costumes were supposed to trick soul-grabbers into bypassing those whom we love, who would otherwise die this winter.

Many different countries and cultures have traditions of making lanterns and encouraging children to parade through the streets begging for food or candy at the time of year when the days become shorter. Even the squirrels are collecting nuts at this time. Humans are made to fear and prepare for the cold.

While irrational fear is uncalled for, the autumn season can call us all as a nation to rational fear, even if we don’t celebrate Halloween. Thanksgiving, the day of feasting, comes about three weeks after Halloween. After that will come Christmas, the day of gift-giving. All of these occasions are great days for charity, for helping out those who are cold or lonely.

But don’t forget! Eid ul-Adha is supposed to fall on October 26 this year. This is the time when we give meat to the poor. Much more useful than a pumpkin, a freezer full of meat would indeed help guarantee survival to any family worried about the coming winter. Perhaps there could be a way to create an interfaith activity combining the concerns of Eid ul-Adha and Halloween? For those interested in gore, a visit to the local slaughterhouse might be more than appropriate!

Islam could play a role in easing American fears of the supernatural. To a Muslim, our death should be the best day of our lives, because this is the day when we will meet Allah. We spend our lives preparing for that day. We remember death often, not for drama, but for perspective.

I asked the cashiers at Ashmont Market in Boston for their opinion on the meaning of Halloween in their lives. Two young men, probably in their twenties, informed me that, as Irish Catholics growing up in Boston, Halloween was about two things only. Candy – and egging people’s houses. However, they had no idea where the tradition comes from, of egging people’s houses. I laughed and said in Detroit, Halloween was all about setting things on fire! They mentioned All Saint’s Day as being the official Catholic holiday, but they had never visited a cemetery nor did anything other than get the day off school.

November 2 is a huge holiday called “Day of the Dead” in Mexico, while October 30 is called “Devils Night” in the American Midwest, and “Mischief Night” in England. So basically, Haloween is a four day international holiday celebrating and mocking the fear of death. Halloween has replaced Christmas as the ultimate secular holiday that brings neighbors together, that causes people to knock on each others’ doors. The love of candy has surpassed the love of Christ, but really it’s the same concept of connecting with people on the ancient level of survival: sharing food. Americans hang “Indian Corn” on their doors during the autumn season. Marketed as purely decorative, this tradition points to the fact that ancient Americans used to worship corn as life itself.

While we are alive, we prove our holiness or holy aspirations by loving our neighbor, while trying to balance others’ needs with our own legitimate requirements. We are possessed with the power to notice, or not to notice, the needs and feelings of those people around us. Now and then, we may have to knock on a door to inquire whether or not our neighbor is doing fine. Because sometimes, our neighbor might not be doing fine.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Benefits of Befriending Older People

One of the greatest things about reaching forty is that all people become truly interesting to talk to, regardless of age. When we are younger, we are generally encouraged to spend time socializing with people within our age group, who are experiencing the same life changes and struggles as ourselves. But finally, at a certain point, we reach a plateau and things are not changing that much anymore. We are simply living our lives. Often, we have made certain sacrifices so that we can provide a stable environment for the younger generation to thrive and grow and go through their own changes, very beautiful to observe. Other people come into focus, rather than the mere requirements of our own personal development. As we age, the years roll by faster and faster, like a rock rolling down a mountainside, but we fear less, because we have generally learned what to expect.
By the time we reach forty, we can truly interact as peers with anyone from age 20 to 60. It’s like being on a boat in the middle of a big lake and you can see the horizon from every angle of your vision and only the sky above. It’s a dizzying and electrifying time of life to experience! We are old enough to advise the younger generation on their path, and yet able to question the older generation still living. We must use our social skills to pry the personal stories out of our elders because there is probably nothing more valuable on earth, certainly not cash or gold, than the jokes and life tales of our elders. During my four decades, I have written tens of thousands of pages, but there are still things I have never mentioned to anyone. In many cases, it’s just because nobody ever asked. So, just ask an older person today, anything! Even if you have to beg them to tell you something that will make you really laugh hard or help you gain perspective on whatever it is!

Older people know what things are worth putting energy into and what issues are best to just drop like a hot potato. Heather, a woman with long white flowing hair who is still turning away suitors, who raised 8 children in a 2 bedroom apartment, only one her own, has many stories. Her advice regarding divorce? Her primary regret was that she spent way too much time in a state of rage at her ex-husband. “Think of him as a babysitter who sometimes shows up,” she advised others.
Joe, a semi-retired real estate attorney, admitted that when pressed, he told his wife whom he was planning to vote for. His wife protested in astonishment, and he explained to her that this is why he does not discuss politics with anyone. A brilliant part of growing up is realizing that not everyone has to agree with you, in order for you to love them; And also, that you can love someone totally and completely – without telling them everything. But you can really enjoy the stuff you discuss!
George, a retired musician, is absolutely thrilled by new inventions such as a microphone that plugs into an ipad, and thinks that Youtube is the best new thing since the car. Such things make his face light up like a child.

Leah, a housewife in New Jersey explains: “My first husband believed the conspiracy theory that America never actually landed on the moon, based on the observation that in the photo, the flag appeared to be waving in the wind. My second husband, who was older and remembered that day clearly, explained that it was in all the news back then that the US brought to the moon a wooden replica of a flag waving in the wind, just to look good for the photos!” Many old mysteries can be explained away simply by talking to people who were alive at that time. You don’t actually have to marry them, thankfully, but maybe feed them.
People who have lived through several decades can provide a certain amount of insight that we lack. When we have older friends, we can benefit from their successes and their mistakes. It is especially important to talk to people who have spent time in prison, or overcome major illnesses, for during that time they probably thought about a lot of things that we never had time to think about. And, unlike many of us, they really may have figured out what was important to them and what they wanted to do with their lives once they got their health and freedom back.

When we were young and had no idea about life, it appeared that there were so many choices and so many possible paths. Yet the older we became and the more wisdom we acquired, the fewer choices and paths there remained – because when you can predict the probable outcome of events, you will usually only choose the action that will lead to the desired outcome and avoid other choices. Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri calls it “The Freedom of No Choice” in his book by that title. This is the Islamic Middle Path between the competing philosophies of Destiny vs. Free Will.
If your will were completely aligned with God’s will, and if you had all the information about every variable past and present, you would make the absolutely best choice in every situation. However, in most cases, you are fluctuating in between the opinions of your various internal selves and reacting emotionally. Loss is an inevitable part of going through time on this earth. Only loss enables us to fully experience the value of what we had. As we grow in spiritual experience, we learn which actions will lead to loss, and which actions will lead to gain. At the same time, growing older helps many of us to appreciate and enjoy God’s everyday gifts, like the weather, a phone call, or our eyesight. The more you learn to pray and meditate deeply with a clear mind, you will more quickly recognize and fix mistakes that you have made as they occur. This truly takes decades of practice.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Importance of Pleasing Wives in Islam

“And among His signs is that He has created for you spouses from among yourselves so that you may live in tranquility with them; and He has created love and mercy between you. Verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” (Quran 30:21)

There have been several recent anthropological studies done on how feminism has influenced the goals of traditional Muslim women, and also a lot of discussion both private and public about the effects of Western influence on marriage and family within the Muslim community. When women marry young, with increasing frequency we find that around middle age, they start to feel like they have lost out on life because of their innocent devotion to husband, home and family. They start to regret that they never got their PhD, for example. The husband becomes in their mind like an obstacle to overcome in order to realize their true potential in life. One Arab woman commented to her husband that when she comes home, she doesn’t feel the same respect from him that she gets from her professors and the other students. An Iranian man whose wife left him after over 20 years of marriage was completely baffled by her decision. “I gave her everything. I bought her a car and let her drive all over the country. Maybe I gave her too much freedom?” An American woman abandoned her husband of ten years, leaving two young children behind for no reason other than to become a historical tour guide downtown.

These explanations for divorce focus on the lack of intellectual stimulation experienced by the majority of housewives and are no doubt partially true, but they overlook a key reason why some women might choose to focus excessively on personal or intellectual interests outside the home. Women around age 35 reach their biological sexual peak, while men begin to decline starting at 40. When a husband is older than his wife, this can become a serious problem, especially if he never studied the arts of love.

Imam Ali taught that “Almighty God has created the sexual desire in ten parts; He gave nine parts to women and one to men,” but that “God gave the women equal parts of shyness.”

“Many times this shyness makes the man ignore the desires of his wife,” writes Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi in Marriage and Morals in Islam. Fatima Mernissi has also written about the cultural tendency among many Muslim men to avoid emotional investment in women.

The Prophet (sa) said, “When one of you sees a woman and he feels attracted to her, he should hurry to his wife. With her, it would be the same as with the other one.” Yet a dawah pamphlet published in Pakistan summarizes this minimally offensive hadith in an astonishingly cheap way by stating that the man should hurry to his wife in order to “put his sperm in the proper receptacle.”

At a certain point, women who have been thought about or treated in such a way, if they have any intelligence, will become tired of it and want something more – whether or not they have been exposed to feminist theory. They will desire the passionate love that true Islam promises. A man should make love to his wife like he is worshipping Allah, with the same spiritual intensity.

The Prophet (sa) said, “When a man approaches his wife, he is guarded by two angels and he is like a warrior fighting for the cause of Allah. When he has intercourse with her, his sins fall like the leaves of the tree [in fall season]. When he performs the major ablution, he is cleansed from sins.”

Imam Jafar as-Sadiq said, “I do not think that a person’s faith can increase positively unless his love for women has increased… Whenever a person’s love for women increases, his faith increases in quality.”

There is no room in the prophetic tradition to regard wives as halal containers, like sacred toilets, for the collection of distasteful male emissions. Women in Islam are rather revered as spiritual pleasure mates whose physical enjoyment is regarded as a right.

The Prophet (sa) said, “Three people are cruel, [including] a person who has sex with his wife before foreplay.” The Prophet (sa) also said that the mutual foreplay of a man with his wife is haqq, in other words it is a means to the realization of Truth. Therefore, women who have learned how to actively pleasure themselves with their husbands are rewarded with high status:

“The best woman among you is the one who discards the armor of shyness when she undresses for her husband, and puts on the armor of shyness when she dresses up again,” stated Imam Muhammad al-Baqir.

Married people are described in the Quran as being “garments” for each other, because when people are satisfied at home, they can go out in the world with a clean heart and don’t attract sexual attention from others. They are spiritually “covered” because their chastity is protected by the love of their spouse. Yet many men are not aware of their Islamic duty to protect their wives spiritually by fulfilling their desires.

Imam Ghazali wrote, “The woman’s ejaculation is sometimes a much slower process and during that process her sexual desire grows stronger and to withdraw from her before she reaches her pleasure is harmful to her” (at-Tabrasi, al-Ihtijaj).

Imam Ali said, “When you intend to have sex with your wife, do not rush because the woman also has needs.” When Imam Jafar as-Sadiq was asked about this, he answered, “It means kissing and talking.”

According to a hadith related by Ubaydullah bin Zurarah, an old man owned a young slave-girl. Because of his old age, he could not fully satisfy her during sexual intercourse. She would therefore ask him to do some things to please her as she liked it.

It is remarkable to note that many Muslim wives today can only dream about the respect that even a slave-girl was given in the early days of Islam.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Jane Digby el Mezrab, Umm el-Laban (Mother of Milk)

Jane Digby el Mezrab, Umm el-Laban

article with portrait of Jane Digby:

The story of Jane Digby (1807–1881) is presented among other historical biographies of white women who escaped the confines of 19th Century Europe by going to live among the Muslims in “The Wilder Shores of Love” by Lesley Blanch. Digby, born an aristocrat in Norfolk England, was known in Europe as Lady Ellenborough, Baroness Vennigan, and later as Countess Theotoky. She had married and divorced four times and was 48 years old when she met her fifth and last husband, her true love, a dark-skinned Syrian warlord Sheik Abdul Medjuel El Mezrab, who was fifteen years her junior. She died in his arms after nearly thirty years of marriage.

Jane Digby’s life was such a fabulous scandal that I am surprised that I had never heard of her before. During her youth, she was the mistress of many princes and kings, including Napoleon before he was famous. In old age, she slept in a Bedouin tent and rode side by side with her husband on horseback to battle, also granting protection to desert travelers in exchange for a large fee. She received adventurous royalty and traveling dignitaries from all over Europe in her husband’s luxurious Damascus home, including Richard Burton, the famed “Lawrence of Arabia.” His wife, Isabel Burton, knew Jane Digby since youth and regarded her as a peer. Blanch writes: “Everyone who knew her in Syria, from the local missionaries to Dom Pedro, Emperor of Brazil, was enchanted with the timeless charm and simplicity of the real woman.”

While other women of that era were fighting for the right to vote, Digby never doubted her equality with men. Clearly, she loved men. She had no sense of being bound by the social conventions of her time. Her freedom was of course enhanced by the regular income she received by right of her noble status, yet she was not a manipulative person, nor was she seeking political influence. There was just something about her that instantly attracted men of high caliber. She was very well-read, which made her an exceedingly pleasant conversational partner. Traveling scholars would seek her to learn of the latest news in archeology, for she was considered to be very knowledgeable on that topic. Yet she was no academic. She was a Romantic. She was athletic, wild and adventurous, and she possessed some kind of eternal idealism free of cynicism. She was 74 years old when she finally accepted the role of a wife who stays home while her husband goes out, and this pained her as greatly as her death which soon followed.

Her passionate love of horses no doubt contributed to her mystique and led her to her fate. She went to Syria to purchase an Arabian stallion. There she met a desert nomad who told her, “This horse is untameable, but I love it more than I love my three wives.” It is said that this Lady had made slaves of kings just by making eye contact and this horse was no different. The animal submitted to her, seemingly without any effort on her part. The Sheik told her, “I see you have tamed my wild horse, but still I will not sell it to you for any price, except one.” It was in this fashion that he proposed marriage. She considered it on condition that he dismiss his other wives and live with her as man and wife in the European sense. He protested, “But I am not a poor man. It would be embarrassing for someone of my stature to only have one wife.” So, she went on with her travels, marrying another Muslim man, who took her on pilgrimage to Iraq. Upon hearing news of her return and learning that the relationship with this other man did not work out, the Sheik sent someone to meet her en route with a gift of his best horse. This time she agreed to marry him.

Her marriage with the Sheik is an interesting lesson in both interfaith and intercultural relations. First off, they agreed to a marital compromise that for three years, he would be her monogamous husband. After that, he was free to reinstate his harem. He lived with her for life as a devoted husband, though in later years he quietly married his son’s step-daughter. Half the year, they camped in a tent and half the year they lived in the house.

Jane Digby never converted to Islam. Given her British noble ancestry, this made political sense. She served as a cultural bridge between the Christian and Muslim worlds. She didn’t want to live as a secluded Arab wife. She insisted on being her noble husband’s equal. She threw herself into her husband’s culture with pleasure, for she spoke Arabic fluently in many dialects, and she was having a great time, dressing in the Muslim gear, smoking from the nargila and sleeping on the ground. By remaining a Christian, she was able to continue to define herself by her own rules, never to conform, except as she chose.

Digby insisted upon being buried in a Protestant Christian cemetery when she died. However, she gave up her British citizenship and became a Turkish citizen upon marriage. This became a problem in 1871, for the British embassy could be of no assistance when Kurds and Druze reportedly raped, massacred and mutilated all the Christians in Damascus. It is said that corpses were piled high and the stench and noise of the tortured and dying filled the air. Digby’s house on the outskirts of town remained unharmed, for she was protected by her husband. However, upon hearing of the carnage, Jane left her home to go see what was going on in the city. There was not much of anything she could do, and she returned home soon. But her action embarrassed the Sheik, for it seemed that she was taking sides with the Christians, and his interest in her cooled. True to fashion, she used this opportunity to kindle a brief flame with a rival Arabian warlord Sheik Fares. She made her husband jealous and won him back into her spell. Digby’s life was never boring. She was not a saint, but she was a genius.

During her very solemn funeral procession, her husband caused a scene by jumping out of his carriage and running away. His action surely caused a lot of whispers. However, just as she was about to be put in the ground, he returned, galloping on his wife’s favorite black steed. He knew that she would want her horse to be in attendance at her burial. The Sheik truly understood that beloved woman, even if no one else ever will. Like Cleopatra, Umm el-Laban was a remarkable woman who never lost her beauty. Her life makes clear that through Allah, all things are possible.