Friday, August 24, 2012

Life Without Internet

I cancelled Comcast for the summer to save money, which has resulted in a TV and internet free environment for my family. Our entertainment has now been reduced to watching library DVDs on the computer. Because the computer is in the master bedroom, the scene is four kids trying to get away with eating pizza on the king sized futon and putting their feet on my pillows on a very regular basis. The upside of this situation is:

- The children will gladly make the bed and vacuum if it means they can watch a movie.

- Library DVDs usually have some educational or philosophical or cultural content.

- Nobody can watch anything while I am asleep or working on the computer.

Now that the summer of 2012 is nearing its close, I am evaluating the effects on my life of having no TV or internet in my home. On the negative side, it is harder for me to get updated on Islamic events. Today I rushed from the grocery store to the library to check my email 15 minutes before closing, but was too late. They had already shut down the computers. So I don’t know what time the Eid prayers will be held on Sunday. Luckily, I have someone’s phone number from the Islamic Center so no problem inshaAllah.

On the whole, the benefits outweigh the negatives, such as:

- Increased use of prioritizing internet time. The library only allows a person one hour on the computer, so Facebook time has been cut dramatically. Instead of checking all my friends’ updates, I go straight to my Inbox and reply only to personal mail, taking a half hour tops. That leaves me 30 minutes to pay an online bill, look up some item of interest, or update my blog. What a dramatic change from my old lifestyle of impatiently checking my updates all day long!

- Increased use of free print media. For wont of things to read to provoke my intellectual curiosity, I now more frequently pick up free neighborhood newspapers. As a result, I have been better informed about local events, very importantly including free public barbeque parties. A local bank’s five year anniversary party offered free burgers, hot dogs, chips, juice, cake, helium balloons, and a fistful of free pens. A local parish offered unlimited pony rides, a bouncy house, and food throughout another Saturday afternoon this summer. These events have turned out to be great ways to meet neighbors.

- Increased socializing. The upslope has not been dramatic, but steady. As my boredom increases with lack of contact with the outside world, the more the importance actual people take up of my time and energy; in particular people whose phone numbers I have. So whether it’s someone I knew from high school or someone I would like to know, the absence of internet in my home increases the likelihood of my calling them to say hello.

- Increased use of radio in the home. Needless to say, my tweenagers call the shots when it comes to what music we will listen to as we chop vegetables or tidy up the living room. This has given me increased insight as to what is meaningful to them. My son pointed out one popular song, telling me it was the story of my life, and I was touched that he had thought about the events of my life on such a level. On other occasions, the presence of radio in our home instead of the TV has resulted in family dance parties and recitals.

- Increased exercise. In the days when I had internet in my private office with a locked door that I could use to shut out all commotion, I spent the majority of my day with one hand on the mouse. This resulted in serious chronic muscle spasms in my neck as well as tendonitis in my arm. Now that we have no choice but to listen to CDs or cassettes, my children have become exposed to Pakistani Sufi music, Bob Dylan’s poetry, and the Beatles. It is so important for the human body to reach upwards with the arms. If we do not ever dance, we lose all the muscle tone in our shoulders, lungs, and stomach. Dance is the most intimate of physical activities beyond the marital act, so it is important to provide a private environment, but it is essential to the human condition to be able to express the human joy of living life to its full physical and emotional capacity.

- Going outside more. When there is nothing to do at home, the next thing to do is to leave. I am very proud of my 13 year old son, who has started walking home from the Boys and Girls Club to save me the trouble of picking him up, a walk which can take 40 minutes. When I was his age, I had to walk almost that far to school but nowadays we have to question whether or not walking home alone is safe. In my experience, a kid on a bike is more likely to get hassled, especially if someone wants to steal the bike. My advice is always to learn to ride a skateboard – it is faster than walking yet you can carry it onto a train or into a store so it is much more convenient than riding a bicycle.

School will soon begin again, and with school comes the stresses of homework, busses, and tests. I am glad we still live in a country where kids get the summer off, because even if they are not actually needed to tend to any crops, I still need them here to do chores around the home and help take care of their younger siblings. I want them to succeed academically but I am also very grateful to God that I had them here at home this summer so we could be a family.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Islamic Progress in America

Increasing reports of hate crimes against Muslims in recent years have created the impression that Muslim organizational efforts to raise awareness about Islam have been in vain, and that hostility against Muslims has been increasing in the US rather than declining. I am however reminded of the old saying that whenever you are preaching some obvious truth, the people will first laugh at you, then they will attack you, but in the end they will accept your insight as self-evident. It is only a matter of time before people connect the dots and hear Islam’s message of spiritual universalism.

This week I intended to review an obnoxious pseudo-documentary I saw at the library, which explored the question of how Islam inspires Lebanese militants to kill for the sake of God. I was so sickened by the DVD cover that I left, speechless, yet arguments rattled in my head about the extreme racism of how the question was phrased and marketed to a naïve American public, who would be almost guaranteed to have no concept of the context of political violence in Lebanon. I went to the library again today, my stomach in knots as I rehearsed how I was going to ask the librarian why they carry such vile racist stuff on their shelves. However, the DVD had already been checked out and I walked out with nothing more interesting than Blues Clues.

So now, some poor suckers are watching that slick propaganda financed by a seedy Zionist coalition of interest groups, and it will not likely occur to them to be as outraged as if they were watching a documentary questioning what psychopathology caused George Washington to decide to kill for the sake of God.

There is nothing particularly sinister about calling on God as you protect your humble village from being massacred by a foreign army. Popular freedom movements are generally based on the idea that God has given mankind certain inalienable rights. When some rag-tag militia stands up to a heavily armed, mighty empire, we usually regard such people as heroic – not as insane.

Yet, that evil racist mindset has been steadily promoted in the US throughout the past couple decades through seemingly benign but psychologically twisted docu-dramas and books, which are carefully calculated for psychological and political affect, framing religious Muslims as perpetrators of evil motivated by a bizarre alternate reality. Unfortunately, most people don’t see through it.

Today I attended a social event at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Boston, a denomination known for theological openness and social justice activism. So I was disturbed to read a recent sermon discussing forgiveness, citing Washington Post reporter Laura Blumenfeld, author of “Revenge, a Story of Hope,” whose American father, a rabbi, made “aliyah” to Israel and was shot (not seriously) in East Jerusalem by a Palestinian, Omar Khatib, who went to jail for that crime.

The pastor stated: “He says that what he did was not personal; that it was a necessary outcome of what he calls ‘the occupation’ of Palestinian lands by Israel.”

What he calls…? Why would the pastor of a respected church use newspaper-ese to downplay Israel’s siege upon the native population when people of conscience are boycotting Israel? Omar’s shortcomings aside, this level of insolence towards the oldest community of Christ’s followers on Earth, especially coming from a Christian minister, is seriously pathetic.

As the story goes, Laura writes to Omar in prison, and forgives him. Eventually, Omar goes free after promising never to hurt anyone ever again. This is all good, but the way the pastor frames it sounds blaringly racist:

“She wants her father to have a human face, to be real to them as well, and not be just some Jew that got in the way of the Palestinian quest for liberation.”

Some Jew who got in the way of the Palestinian quest for liberation? These Jews made the conscious decision to participate in a population war to squeeze out Palestinians from their own country. Her father accepted US taxpayers’ money to study Hebrew for free and receive government subsidies so that he would not have to work.

Laura didn’t participate in racist genocide because she was forced to by gunpoint, nor because she was a starving refugee. Laura was wealthy American Jew who simply decided to help ethnically cleanse people she had never met. You don’t move onto stolen property in the middle of a war zone and expect to live in peace, unless you are insane.

In this sermon, we never hear anything about how Laura realized that Zionism, a violent ethnic supremacist movement, was wrong. We never hear about how she apologized to Omar for self-worship that went so far beyond hate that she didn’t even visualize Palestinians as persons possessing legal rights. Laura never did repent for her blind arrogance, but she made a lot of money writing and promoting that book.

There are stories of Palestinians who forgave Jewish terrorists, including a Muslim father who donated his murdered son’s organs to needy Jews without getting any thanks. These Islamic examples of radical acts of charity are not mentioned in many American churches, though, because they are not part of a slick propaganda machine churning out feel-good stories that glorify Jews and vilify Muslims.

How could those Jewish parents snub the Palestinian who gave their beloved child a beating heart? It’s all part of the colonial mindset, Manifest Destiny, in which Jews feel entitled to take all of Palestine, including the body parts of murdered Palestinian children.

Yet, no American is ever asked to psychoanalyze the personality defects that would cause a person to disregard the human rights of Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land.

It would actually be very easy to copy the format of these propaganda flicks but turn the argument around to accuse the actual perpetrators of political violence. Why has it not been done? The truth stands out clear from error. My eleven-year-old recently noted that Jews treat Christians like children who can’t be expected to understand. I think it’s time for Muslims to give Christians the respect they deserve as adults, and to engage with them in all honesty.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Future of Racial Identity Politics

Racial difference was probably the most motivating force of 20th Century history, culminating in many racial genocides, two world wars, the American civil rights movement and the end of South African apartheid. There were various political movements that took place then, such as the Pan-African and Pan-Arab movements, which eventually morphed into a global Pan-Islamic movement, while European nationalist movements such as National Socialism eventually morphed into Zionism.

Widespread popular sentiment has diminished the value of Euro-America and Europe, classifying the former world powers collectively as a dying empire with low population growth. The mystery remains whether race wars will decide the fate of nations, or whether the keys to our cities will be handed over to the non-Europeans in an organized, educational and peaceful manner.

In the 21st Century, Americans have attained a certain legal equality on paper while social reform slowly progresses. However, despite the “code of color-blindness” usually enforced by upper-class liberal academic circles, racial identity seems to be just as important in our time. It is my hope that as our current century progresses, this time our motivation will be towards good not evil.

The two leading global competitors for both population growth and interracial cooperation are Islam and Catholicism, while locally, secular mainstream media’s promotion of interracial dating has resulted in our kindergarten classrooms looking much different than they did fifty years ago. Yet, it is not clear to me that we have moved beyond the Us vs. Them mentality.

Even though American mosques are probably the most racially diverse places you will ever find for human fellowship, I have always been startled again and again that no matter what city I’m in, the second question after “What’s your name?” is “Where are you from?” While I know that God created us into nations and tribes in order that we may know each other, it never c3eases to amaze me how quickly the question comes up.

If I say I’m from Michigan, I’ll be classified as a generic “white” person, so sometimes I want to explain that my parents were immigrants and that I too spent the first 20 years of my life trying to figure out how to fit in with American culture and the next 20 years coping with the realization that it’s never going to happen. But I have found that explaining that I’m Swiss only adds to the confusion.

I have had moments of feeling silently offended by Egyptian youngsters, who identified as Egyptian even if they were born in the US, labeling me as a “white” person, even though they were in many ways more assimilated than me! And I have come to shrink from the typical role of white women in the interracial mosque atmosphere, which has emerged as a sort of backlash against the stereotypical “Monica” depiction of white women in the media.

If you want to know who the white American converts are in any mosque, they are usually the ones wearing the most clothes. They are like the nuns of the Islamic movement. They often make the Asian, Arabic and African women uncomfortable with their exaggerated displays of piety. I was one of them once, and the reason was because I didn’t know what else to do. If the leadership asked me to give a talk in front of the congregation, I’d do it even though I’m naturally shy. If they asked me to visit women’s prisons to do some ministry I’d do it from the love of my heart. But I also realized that the reason they were asking me was because no one else would do it, because it’s not traditionally appropriate for a woman to be doing all this volunteer work outside of her home. It was a very bizarre situation to be stuck in! Why couldn’t I be the woman with the eyeliner and the great shoes who just shows up on Eid? No matter how much volunteer work I did, I’d never fit in because my sincerity just made people uncomfortable. Then I learned the “show a little hair” trick.

This is just a single example of a white person trying to negotiate her place in this confusing world, but even among Christians it has become a real issue of discussion. The white population is simply not reproducing itself, largely due to cultural factors, so those blue-eyes who remain among us are experiencing what it’s like to be a minority in the US.

While race advocates have expressed dismay that because the educated classes of white people use birth control, the only white people who are having babies are the stupid ones, who have babies by mistake, often out of wedlock. Popular media erodes the morality of white women, portraying them as blonde bimbos ready to trade their virtue for an alcoholic drink. Due to such stereotyping, white women face the threat of molestation or worse any time they travel abroad; meanwhile the US invasion of Kosova and Bosnia has resulted in a huge CIA sponsored business of kidnapping and trafficking white women as sex slaves in Israel and elsewhere.

As far as I know, nobody in my family ever enslaved, invaded or harmed black people in any way. Yet it may be hard for a lot of people to even sympathize with innocent white people, especially given the traditional American education, which casts group blame on an entire skin tone for the actions of very specific groups.

Malcolm X once stated that if whites would simply allow blacks to develop self-esteem, race war would become unnecessary. Half a century later, whites themselves have become demoralized and hopeless. Ultimately, what is probably needed is a Pan-European movement to increase the self-esteem of the new minority, which might eventually morph into the Pan-Islamic movement. When white people understand the value of what God gave them in their DNA, they will embrace peace.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Silence and Human Consciousness

One thing that has almost been lost in the modern world is silence. And with it, a large part of human consciousness. I have four children, and almost all of the time when we are together, they are all talking at once. It requires total focus to listen to four streams of thought simultaneously, especially while driving. I have been known to become hysterical, just begging them to please… stop… talking. If a downstairs neighbor falls asleep in front of the TV and leaves it on until morning, you will probably find me cranky tomorrow! As I write this, there has been some kind of verbal showdown between drunk drivers outside my window involving prolonged horn honking. With all that is going on around us, it is hard to complete a sentence even in our own minds. It is comforting that in this day and age there are places like mosques and temples and even prayer rooms in airports, where one could recharge, clear out and refresh the intellect.

Noise pollution affects all of our lives. Obviously, we need and want social interaction but we also need some time of the day when nobody is asking us about anything. Our mental files need to be sorted alphabetically so that we can recall them at future notice. We need our thoughts, so we can learn from our experiences. We need a time of silence to plan our dreams. Some people have said my home sounds like a grave, but truly I sometimes need a music-free environment to dig deeper, and to be reborn with a fresh point of view.

A lot of radio stations or TV stations seem like they are actually screaming at us to notice them and their advertisements! The constant stream of pseudo-information can become unpleasant within the kitchen situation when family members are trying to help each other and talk at the same time. Sometimes I even wish I could just unplug the refrigerator to escape that infernal humming and groaning. When I go to sleep I have to put on a loud fan to tune out the neighbors.

The Islamic warnings against music are not new to the 21st century, but the effect of canned music, such as from radio or Cd’s, is worth discussing primarily because of the commercialization of art. An average person could be exposed to someone else’s poetry literally 24 hours a day. Studies have shown that people who listen to popular country music radio have noticeably higher suicide rates. When you invite somebody’ else’s song into your house, you invite their heartache, their life story. This can have a profound effect on the personality.

Most Americans are addicted to constant external noise in their homes, broadcast from the satellites. They are completely terrified of being left alone with themselves. Because the second we turn off the TV and there is no one there but the bushes outside our window, we are left alone with God. We are left alone with our own thoughts, which we sometimes cannot even tolerate. The burden of withstanding our own company is so painful that we would fill it with radio commercials to take up the time, but until when? Until it’s time for dinner, until it’s time for the children to go to bed, until the morning when some talk show host will be telling you what to think about at breakfast? Tuning into public broadcast gives us a sense of passing the time, participating in public opinion, and perhaps for some, even doing our public duty to be “informed.”

At this particular moment in writing this article, I became overwhelmed by the silence in my own vicinity and elected to take a walk instead of filling the silence with noise. It was a beautiful night. The walk gave me time to replay scenes from earlier today and wonder what they meant. My cells filled with oxygen as I walked under the trees. The clouds glowed mysteriously in front of the moon. Even though the clouds and moon are always there, noticing their beauty can invigorate an entire evening.

When I was in fifth grade, I got elected to sing in the Ann Arbor All-City Choir, and the song we sang was “the Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. My parents being immigrants, I had never heard it though my classmates were already familiar with the music. It must have spoken to me though because I went on amazon last month and bought a $3 used cassette tape of Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest hits to listen to in the car. According to the song, “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls, and whispered in the sounds of silence.” Without question, the words of the prophets (pbut) were derived in moments of silence.

It is only in moments of silence that we can distinguish truth from falsehood, good ideas from bad ideas. We need to slow down once in a while and tune out so we can tune into our own thoughts and needs and ideas. Really, sometimes we don’t even know what we ourselves are about to do unless we sit down and discuss it with ourselves. Even if the plan is to just sit here for a while and not think.

Looking at the water flow always helps erase the past, but the best way to experience time is to just be. Just be yourself now, because “God don’t make no junk.” Ask yourself why you are here, how you got here, and where you are going. People who don’t do this just react to every event like some amoeba going after food or avoiding pain. We must take a few minutes a day to reflect, in order to stay human.