Genesis 11:5

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. Genesis 11:5

When We Die As Martyrs

The world is distracted. We're trying to rebuild Japan, and halt foreign intervention in Libya

Airstrikes on Libya 21 March 2011
Meanwhile, Israel launched airstrikes over Gaza this week, injuring at least 17 Palestinians, and killing 8, including children. Why are the Palestinians ignored? Why does no one hear their cries? Understandably, Palestinians asked for international protection citing the rise in attacks by Israeli settlers. And what has been done? To add insult to injury, Sara Palin visited the Promised Land this week, proclaimed her deep connection to the story of the Jewish nation and love for Israel, and pledged to carry around an Israeli flag in the US when she returns. Danny Dannon is quoted saying that "[Palin] didn’t go into diplomatic issues, but I can clearly say from the questions she asked in relation to our conflict here with the Muslims in these holy sites that she knows that we are right and that the Muslims are just claiming things for provocation and they’re not right,” Danon said.

When We Die as Martyrs (with English subtitles)

During Palestine Solidarity Week at the University, I attended a lecture by Belkis Wille on Gaza and the Occupied territories. Based on her experience in Gaza and fact-finding on the ground, Wille provided us the following introduction into the current and worsening situation in Gaza. 

 Today, only 5-10 percent of the water in Gaza’s portion of the coastal aquifer is drinkable. This number is quickly getting smaller. No fishing is allowed. Fishermen used to be able to fish up to 39 km from the coast, but it has been reduced to 11km. At this point, Israeli soldiers are now firing at boats 5.5km from the coast. Fishermen have been captured, stripped and forced to swim to their boats, even arrested and taken to Israeli prisons. There are documented cases of Israelis dumping sewage onto the Palestinian fishing boats.

In May 2009 Israeli air force planes dropped leaflets stating that the Israeli-imposed security ‘buffer zone’ along the inside of the walls and fences surrounding Gaza was being unilaterally expanded to 300 metres. Between a quarter and a third of Gaza’s agricultural land now lies within this no-go area, which in reality extends anywhere between one to two kilometres into Gaza. As a consequence, many farmers have lost their livelihood. On January 10th 2011 a 65 year old farmer who was working his land was shot and killed.

In 2009 4 children were arrested and one killed because they were playing with stray dogs in the buffer zone. The body of the child was found 1 km from the border fence. Thousands of children are currently working and dying in the smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, trying to raise money for their families, trying to bring food and water to their families in Gaza. 

Testimony of Palestinian Child (with English subtitles)

During the 2009 military offensive, Israel destroyed 18 schools, (including eight government schools, two private schools and eight kindergartens) and at least 280 schools were damaged. Six of the destroyed government schools were in North Gaza alone, affecting almost 9,000 students who had to relocate to other schools. There is a general ban on building materials entering Gaza. Israel is letting in for the first time a small supply of construction materials but only for UN and international organizations’ projects. This still leaves tends of thousands living in temporary shelters.

Blockade restrictions have caused long delays in or denial of entry of basic educational supplies such as textbooks and paper. In the first semester of the 2007-2008 school year, only 20% of sixth graders in Gaza passed standardised exams in Math, Science, English and Arabic. During the 2008–2009 academic year 14,000 students (or 6.76%) of students in all UNRWA schools in Gaza failed all subjects of the standardized tests. Of those students who failed their examinations, 1,900 underwent a comprehensive health assessment during the months of September and October as part of UNRWA’s Schools of Excellence and Summer Learning program. The most common health issues identified were malnutrition and anaemia.

In January of this year an innocent 66 year old Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli soldiers while sleeping. His wife was praying in the bedroom when the soldiers entered. Her husband was shot over ten times.

I have to admit that I am still learning about the situation in Palestine and the plight of Palestinians. But with every bit of knowledge I gain, my prayer for the freedom of Palestinians grows more desperate. In addition to other links that I have provided here, perhaps you can find a way to advocate for Palestinians at Palestine Solidarity Campaign. I'm treading water here, seeking a way to effectively oppose the genocide of Palestinians. Humanity cannot afford such a loss.

What Good is a PhD?

I had this feeling about 2011. I had a feeling that 2011 would be a big, monumental year, even before it really started. Maybe it's being 25 now, but it's one of the first years I actually felt that I braced myself to enter. The last few days of December 2010 felt something like standing at the edge of a diving board, looking down at my toes hanging over the edge, and the sparkling chlorinated water below. Honestly, I was nervous about the whole thing. But on New Year's Day my sister Sophia warned me in a gchat that <2011 is going to be a damn good year, whether we like it or not!> Well friends, we're only 3 months in, and the year has been jam packed with memorable events.

It was just February when I rejoiced over the Egyptian revolution, and was inspired by the nonviolent power of a people united. My recent job offer will certainly stand out in my mind, as a memorable feat of 2011. Oh God, the massive earthquake and deadly tsunami in Japan that took place just 9 days ago is unforgettable. Yesterday, 19 March, was my beautiful mother's 60th birthday. This year I went a few extra miles to express my deep thankfulness to my mother, and also spent time reflecting on how significant my mother's 60 years on this earth have been to me. Often I miss my father, and still neglect to remain conscious of how grateful I am that my mother is here to celebrate achievements and mourn losses with me and my siblings. 

And then there is today, 20 March. I'll remember this day more vividly than I do the day the US started bombing Iraq, probably because I feel more connected to Libya than I did to Iraq, probably because I am more educated and opinionated politically than I was then, and because I feel more responsible in light of my age and education for this American crime. The quote from Hotel Rwanda is "[after Paul thanks him for shooting footage of the genocide] I think if people see this footage, they'll say Oh, my God, that's horrible. And then they'll go on eating their dinners." This morning I was eating left-over Saag Lamb Aloo and Vegetable Korma for breakfast, when I learned that the US and the UK bombed Libya, enforcing the no-fly-zone that was imposed a couple of days ago. Yesterday, President Barack Obama gave a speech saying that "the people of Libya must be protected" and today saying that "we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that 'there will be no mercy'." 

I've lost hope, Obama. Even you are sinking to such a level, to consider the lives of innocent Libyan civilians 'collateral damage' in efforts to cash into Libyan oil reserves. We stood idly by during the genocide in Darfur. We're are doing more than standing idly by as Palestinians are being killed systematically by Israelis, as Palestinian land is being stolen day in and day out - We are funding the genocide of Palestinians. So why then, can we not stand idly by as Libyans sort out their politics? Not to mention that many an online forum out there will suggest that the recent speech of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah could be considered tyrannical, as he seriously threatened any who dare oppose the monarchy. Nevertheless, the US keeps quiet in such a case, since close ties to Saudi oil are well within the American self-interest.

David Cameron boldly claimed that UK and US intervention in the case of Libya is "necessary, legal and right," completely ignoring the clear opposition Libyan people have expressed to foreign intervention. Peace activist John Rees of the Stop the War Coalition speaks from London in the following clip about the devastating impact western intervention will have on the Libyan people:

For me, the destruction of Libya is not just a political matter, not just a war in a distant land like the war in Iraq was to me at its inception. No, this war on Libya is deeply personal to me now, as the conflict and Libya and threat of foreign intervention has already plagued the hearts and homes of my dear Libyan friends and acquaintances. I met one of my Libyan friends last weekend in the grocery store, and immediately noticed that her usually cheerful face was stricken with depression. She said that no Libyan students are studying - everyone is worried about their country and their family. She said that the Libyan people may seem strong, but they are quite sensitive when it comes to death and loss; they really cannot bear to hear of all of the death thus far in Libya. Libyan students at home and abroad have lost all motivation for their studies: What good is a PhD to me, if I do not have my country? she cried.

My dear friend who taught me how to pray over a year ago lives in Libya with her husband and two young children. I haven't heard whether she is safe or not. How many are like her, just trying to live peacefully in their homeland? Unfortunately, I do not feel that the US government thinks about the human lives that they are wasting with their bombs. At this point, I'm desperate to learn of ways to express my opposition to the west's intervention in Libya. If you know of any, please comment on this post. It seems that Stop the War Coalition at least provides some informative material useful for raising awareness about this urgent issue. I'll conclude with this slightly disturbing image that I received last year in an forwarded email:

To be honest

Good news, friends. If you haven't already heard, there's been a small victory in my life. A new leaf has turned over, a new chapter has begun. I got a job. I don't know why it feels and seems like this is my first real job, considering I have been working since I was 15 years old, but that is how it feels. Maybe it's because the position is actually related to my MA in Refugee Care, and therefore, I am one of a handful of the world's Humanities graduates that is actually earning money with their degree. I interviewed on Friday morning at the Medical Foundation for the care of victims of torture, and within a couple of hours, they called and told me that they would love for me to work with them. Surreal. I was riding on a London double-decker, and my phone started ringing and vibrating in my hand; I just stared at the number, in complete disbelief. They told me on my way out the door that they would only call me if I got the job. Still when I answered, I expected that they were making an exception to the rule, so that I would save my time - I told them that I would stay out of the underground all day, so as not to miss their call.

I took this photo over a year ago, as the daughter as a dear friend of mine from Saudi Arabia poured Arabic coffee.

As for Friday evening, I was invited to a 'Sisters' Circle,' a.k.a. the Islamic Society's women's weekly social gathering. For weeks I've been declining, excusing myself for travel to London. Of course, let me just get this out in the open, I'm not really telling them what I'm doing in London. Sometimes I can mention something about the British Red Cross, but otherwise, I just lie via omission. Once in a while a friend asks me what I'm doing, and I say ambiguously, yet over-confidently that "I'm seeing a friend." Now, you know me - I've never been one to lie, nor to have a thing to hide. Truly, this behaviour is contrary to my personality and habitual transparency. Nevertheless, in this case these women will most likely not understand my situation, and most likely, they will not approve.

There are two close friends of mine from Saudi who I've been able to breathe a small word of this to, one a bit more than the other. Neither of them condemned or judged me. But the others couldn't handle this, and I couldn't handle them knowing. Unfortunately, I cannot consider these women to be  genuine friends, based on the reality that I'm hiding an enormously significant dimension of my life from them.  I must admit that it's partially my fault for not giving them the chance to know me well, so I should not hold this against them - they only know what I tell them.

Not to mention, on some level, perhaps I am hiding something from myself. If I were honestly allowing Islam to inform my behaviour and overall spiritual commitment, then I would completely alter the pattern of this relationship. But it doesn't take long for me to dismiss the thought. To be honest, I feel quite hypocritical. Yes, I may be incorporating aspects of Islam into my life, but Islam doesn't work that way. Islam is like antibiotic - you have to take the entire course of medication. Picking and choosing is not an option, which is why I can't seem to embrace Islam in its entirety.

The grace of Islam is that the religion does not expect perfection prior to conversion. At the Essex Islamic Conference (2011) Jalal Ibn Sayeed taught us that a man came to the Prophet Muhammad ( صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم ), and told the Prophet that he wanted to convert to Islam, but he had too many issues. The Prophet simply asked, "Do you believe in one God? Do you believe that Muhammad is his messenger?" This is the beginning. Islam offers forgiveness and mercy. Belief in the oneness of God is the most crucial part of Islam. Islam does outline which behaviours are permissible and which are sinful. But the greatest 'sin' is considered to be the denial of Islam. In other words, it would be worse to reject the religion because of the 'sin' in one's life, rather than accept the religion and address the imperfections in time. Sayeed taught that the things in life, which lead the heart towards bad should not be deterrents from the good of Islam itself. "Islam is a guide, designed to help you find only things that are better for you."

This is why the women ask me so often why I am taking so much time to think about Islam before conversion. If I am comfortable with the basic foundation of Islam, namely monotheism and the Prophet Muhammad ( صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم ), then I should not hesitate. But I guess I realise my main offense against Islam, and I want to resolve it beforehand. I also feel that religious conversion should be taken very seriously, just as marriage should not be thought of casually. I don't want to make a commitment, only to fall out of love and divorce a year later. I want to know what I'm getting into. The women are only concerned that I am intimidated by Islam, and that I don't realise how accessible the faith is.

The irony of it all is that I think that the very person who compromises my relationship with Islam, has unknowingly inspired me to pursue the faith. By simply living and praying and letting me do and believe and decide whatever I want, he has nurtured my respect and admiration for Islam.

My God, please make my life easier.
ربي سهل لي امري

Rotten Apples in Orange County

Friends, this week I received an email from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, notifying me of the shameful protests that took place in Orange County, California last month. Richard Adams of the The Guardian called the protests "the ugly face of Islamophobia" quite generously, if you ask me. Where has this hate come from? There is no suggestion in these protests that people want to sit down and clarify misconceptions. The protesters show no interest in learning about the 'other' in order to dispel myths that spur on their hatred. On the contrary, the politicians who spoke at the event blatantly oppose diversity and equality. Republican Ed Royce argues in his speech that "multiculturalism" is a threat to society. Is the hate speech saturating these protests terrifyingly reminiscent of the Nazi Regime, of the Ku Klux Klan? Note that the Muslims attending the fundraiser behave non-violently towards the protesters, despite the offensive blasphemy of the Prophet Muhammad ( صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم ).

Today Kim posted a link to Filmaker Usama Alshaibi's account of what he calls an "Anti-Arab attack." Reading his story, I encountered a "new" hateful American vocabulary word: "sand-nigger." I am sickened to even post it, but I feel that the term must be closely scrutinized, and considered a warning sign that every conscientious global citizen must act quickly to put out this fire of hatred against Muslims before it spreads any further.

I was originally inspired to write this blog after receiving a completely misguided email from my American Aunt entitled "FWD: Muslim Belief." The email is written for an evangelical Christian audience, and begins with the warning that "The Muslim religion is the fastest growing religion per capita in the United States, especially in the minority races," three exclamation points following. I must clarify for those of you who are not threatened by this statement, that it is meant to conjure fear in the reader - fear of Muslim people, fear of Islam, fear of the unknown. The email continues to claim that all Muslims have been commanded to kill 'infidel' non-Muslims, and describes one Imam of being shamed like "a little boy who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar" when he was 'cornered' into admitting this belief to a Christian man.

I don't have to tell you that misunderstanding and misconceptions about Islam are running rampant in the US and abroad. We all have stories about our families, our friends, our neighbours, and even ourselves making inaccurate judgments about Islam and Muslim people. I remember years ago when I was a young Christian growing up in Full-Gospel Church of God, and my teachers gave me a blue two-pocket folder with fluorescent orange papers inside. The pages described all of the 'false' world religions, including Islam. I remember when missionaries came to the church and told us how distant Muslims feel from God. One evangelist told us that to Muslims, God is a heartless observer, hovering over the world with something comparable to a club in his hand, just waiting to punish anyone who makes a mistake.

This was long before 9/11. So why didn't anyone tell me at that point how Muslims open every prayer?
Several weeks ago in my job interview with the Islamic Human Rights Commission, I was asked what connection I see between Islam and Human Rights. This was the last question of the interview. I definitely had not consciously prepared for this one at all, although some of you may think it would be an obvious one for them to ask. Several years ago, I doubt that I would have answered the way that I did. It wasn't just to get the job that I told the interviews that Islam mandates human rights. A deep value for human life is embedded in the Islamic faith. I referenced a passage from the Quranic equivalent to the Biblical account of Adam and Eve's sons, Cain and Abel. Al-Maidah 32

whoever kills a soul unless for a soul228 or for corruption [done] in the land229 – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one230 – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.
228 in legal retribution for murder
229 that requiring the death penalty
230 or refrains from killing

Sometimes I don't know what topic to address first. I am so eager to learn about Islam, and I feel overwhelmed by how much more there is to learn. I've hardly begun reading Hadiths of the Prophet ( صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم ), as I'm now focusing on the Quran. Regardless of whether or not I consider Islam a religion worthy of conversion, how essential it is in our day and age to be educated with the faith and people of Islam. For political reasons, in order to pursue a peaceful future, and to dismantle the hatred that is rising up against Muslims, I must be well-informed about their beliefs and the process behind them. When horrid displays of ignorance about Islam arise, such as the protests in Orange County, my drive to become as informed about Islam as possible grows stronger. I do hope that I can articulate some of my learnings through my posts here, and I ask for your patience as they unfold.

Eritrean Asylum-Seekers Held Hostage in Sinai

The message I am including below is highly disturbing. Please stop reading if you find it too difficult. I could hardly get through this email I found in my Inbox today. After participating in the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration Conference in 2009, I ended up on a number of mailing lists maintained by people deep into the field of Refugee Care. This morning I received the following shocking message:
I just spoke to 28 Eritreans who are being held in the Egypt Sinai desert, they told me that they were kidnapped in Sudan by the Rashaida and were sold to the Egyptian Boudins. Most of the men I talked to told me that people came at the Sudanese refugee camp and offered them a farm job, they worked at the farm for over two months and was refused their salaries, and they then were sold to Rashaidas who held them captive near the Nile for over two months. The Rashaidas chained their feet and hands and refused to give them food, in order to survive they had to eat grass for over two months, the women were being gang raped in front of all every one. Two women has disappeared, no one knows what they did with them. After all this they put them in big tracks and sold them to Egyptian Boudins, on their way to the Sinai a 23 years old man died of hunger.

29 Eritreans In the Sinai held in underground dungeons, was asked to pay 20 thousand dollars each, they gave them three cell phones to make a miss call to their families and ask for help. The sad thing is all of them come from a poor family and there is no way they can get that kind of money. A 22 year old man told them, he could not get the money; he was then executed in front of everyone as a lesson. The captors are telling them we bought you for 20 thousand dollars each and we will get our money either way, you give us our money or we kill you and sell your organs and get our money back. All of them told me how they are being tortured every hour, how they are using electric shock and beating them every hour of the day.

Please help this poor Eritreans; you can call and talk to them with one of these three numbers
Three mobile phone numbers were listed at the bottom of the email. I'm still receiving email after email in response to this message, as the community of professionals shares their knowledge of the crisis. Someone wrote back saying that they've heard many "horror stories" like this one from Eritrean and Sudanese refugees. Several have mentioned that "Egyptian police seem to be part of the sordid system in many cases." If this is of interest to you, please take a look at this report on African asylum seekers being smuggled into Israel from the Egyptian Sinai. Furthermore, here is a link to the "Hotline for Migrant Workers" testimony report (PDF).

How shocking that such occurrences are part of the day to day lives of thousands upon thousands of displaced persons around the globe. For me this is incomprehensible. And I dare venture to say that the men and women inflicting and victimised by such violence are absolutely stunned, as well. What possesses one human being to impose such pain on another? If you have access to any resources to assist the victims described in the email above, and would like to be put in contact with the folks working to help them, please let me know. Otherwise, the best we can all do is keep them in our prayers, and learn how our actions support governments and corporations and industries that create and perpetuate violence.

I am in the middle of an outstanding novel completely based on the real life experiences of many refugees and asylum seekers entering the UK: The Other Hand. Half of the story is narrated by a young Nigerian refugee girl to England. As soon as she arrives she is placed in a detention centre, and she is held there for two years, simply for the crime of being a refugee. She is only released because another girl in the centre sleeps with one of the detention centre officers four times, and he releases three other young women with her so that his behaviour does not seem suspicious. That is only the very beginning. If possible, get your hands on this book and let me know what you think.