Recent Blog Posts
- October 21, 2014
I arrived near the end of the candidate’s talk and the Q&A that followed. So although I had no opportunity to put a question to Sean Eldridge myself, I could see he wanted the job. He knew issues that concern voters. He was clear minded. He was open.
I reaffirmed my commitment to vote for this first-time candidate for the US Congress. The star of today’s luncheon, Eldridge is running on the Democratic Party ticket, opposing Gibson, Republican incumbent and congressman for our district. At least we have a race here, I thought. We finally have a credible opposing candidate.
It’s a lot of work learning about local candidates. Because this locality is known as strongly Republican, the Democratic Party passes us over. There’s often no party nominee; so no debate, and no media attention. Citizens feel marginalized, and-- what’s the word? —disenfranchised. It happens. And it’s a mistake. Uncontested elections are bad all around.
When I lived in Manhattan, we had a similar problem, only reversed. There, Democrats prevail and Republican contenders are hardly seen. When a district is so heavily in one political camp, the opposing party won’t even field a candidate. Today a large part of the country is polarized like this; thus most election outcomes are easily predicable. So they’re ignored; thus fewer residents in those areas even bother to vote.
The media and Party resources focus on places identified as ‘crucial’; this means the outcome is not as clear as it is in either Manhattan -- reliably Democrat, or upstate New York-- predictably Republican. A ‘crucial contest’ means there’s controversy: a viable challenger has appeared and the opposing Party is backing him or her; there are lively debates and verbal attacks. The incumbent faces criticism; parties pour more money into the race; there’s more advertizing and then more news coverage.
In my district, Sean Eldridge seems to be a serious contender for Gibson’s seat. How much the party agrees, I’m unsure. But this year my local election may not be as boring as in the past. I feel invigorated and commit myself to reversing the imbalance in Congress that has so hobbled the president.
But my vote isn’t enough. There are many like me out there, and our party’s local branch needs us. Still, we have to hammer on their door. Which is what I did.
I didn’t go to that meeting to shake hands with the young hopeful. I was trying to connect with my local Democratic Party.
A week had passed since, seeing a glossy mailer about Sean Eldridge, I checked his webpage; from there I emailed his campaign office. No reply. Two more emails, then a donation, then finally a phone number. I spoke to a real person and thus learned about the candidate’s luncheon. Now I’m signed up for a workshop to train for their phone campaign. Then I’ll donate a day to getting out the vote by phone.
Today I spoke to a neighbor. Yes, she saw a TV promotion for Eldridge. As a Democrat, she’ll vote for him. But she would have liked to meet him. “How many more are there like me?” she wonders. “I didn’t receive any flyer. How did you know about the luncheon?” She asks. “Tell me what is his position on job creation, on medical insurance, on threatened cuts?”
Voting wisely and being more than a bystander takes a lot of work these days. We have to forfeit the glamour that national political stars bring, and do some basic democratic grunge work for our home counties.[ Two Weeks from ElectionDay: Do I have to Vote? ]
- September 19, 2014
[ What Can I Say to My Fellow Syrians and Iraqis? ]
- August 23, 2014
Know your Yazidi. An anthropological sketch will assure support for US and Peshmarga military advances across Iraq, and sequester a competing other minority—Iraq’s Turkmen.
International concern in Iraq pivots around saving the Yazidi people. Christians seem to count too; the Shabak also merit some attention. One can only applaud humanitarian support for any threatened population. But why the total dismissal of their neighbors and fellow Iraqis, the Turkmen? They too are at grave risk. Augmenting Al-Mufti’s account from the ground is this disturbing report: “While the European Parliament … officially acknowledges the situation faced by minorities in ISIS occupied Iraq, their resolution … [2014/2716(RSP)] made no specific mention of Iraqi Turkmen… among the worst affected”.
Yes, Iraqi Turkmen are among millions now terrorized by the insufferable ISIS. Turkmen’s expulsion is not new however. A review of their history over the past decade reveals a pattern of forced removal from cities and villages across north Iraq. Not by ISIS, by American allies: Iraqi Kurds.
Telafar, a majority Turkmen city of 200,000 was all but depopulated beginning in 2003 when Kurdish Peshmarga reportedly conducted massacres there; attacks targeting Turkmen continued thereafter. This coincided with a political campaign to absorb ancient Kirkuk City along with Ninevah and Diyala provinces by Kurdish authorities. In 2009 the parliament of Kurdistan voted on a constitution to claim these areas, extending Kurdish rule beyond Suleimaniya, Dohok and Irbil. Mass Kurdish migration into Turkmen homelands displaced Turkmen, creating new facts-on-the-ground. In 2011 the Peshmarga Kurdish militia occupied Kirkuk, ostensibly to protect local inhabitants. The Turkmen National Front has been struggling with little success to push back Kurdish takeover. They’ve no militia of their own and support from Baghdad, always weak, has now collapsed.
International news and human rights agencies consistently disregarded Kurdish advances into Turkmen areas. Today too. Turkmen are being whited-out of the picture. Why? It appears to be part of a strategy to consolidate Kurdish claims over all the Turkmen homelands.
Kurds took command of Kirkuk a month ago, again “to save” the city, this time from ISIS. The Peshmarga militia is a major US ally; resupplied with heavy weapons, it’s now engaged with the US military to push ISIS out of Mosel.
We may find Kurdistan awarded full control over Ninevah and Diyala-- provinces they have long coveted. Its illegitimate constitutional claim becomes a reality.
One does not seek to tarnish one people at the expense of another. But the current situation in northern Iraq suggests it’s more than a heroic drive to protect endangered civilians. Here is an opportunity to answer Kurdish territorial and political ambitions.
Iraq’s Turkmen are ancient inhabitants of Iraq. Estimates of their numbers vary from 1-3 million: possibly 13% of the population, Iraq’s third main ethnic group. Turkmen are well known as loyal Iraqi nationals, Shiia and Sunni. They speak Turkish and Arabic. Avowedly non militant, they’ve been engaged in peaceful means to hold onto their rights and their homeland.[ Who, How and Where Are Iraq's Turkmen? ]
- August 20, 2014
Michael Brown is dead. Eighteen years old, a young man gunned down—not just shot--by police in his neighborhood in Ferguson, Missouri.
Brown’s experience earns international attention not because he is dead, but because of sustained outrage, first by his grieving family, then over video available from bystanders, then by people in his community demanding answers, then by shocked citizens around the country.
Extrajudicial killing of Black Americans, especially young men, is so, so common today. Many pass unnoticed. So, why the attention to this murder?
First, police refused to permit anyone near Brown’s body lying in the street. That ban included the boy’s own mother. Turned back by the police, she gazed at the lifeless body of her child in the road. Like a Gaza mother.
Second, residents alerted the media that Brown was lying in the road, guarded by police for more than four hours. No medics arrived to attend to him.
Third, a companion of Brown during the confrontation with the killer policeman testified Brown was unarmed, with his hands up in surrender when he was murdered.
Fourth, the community’s call for explanations of the killing went unanswered. For almost a week, the police chief refused to release the name of the officer who’d killed Brown (with 6 gunshots!). Finally when public outrage grew and civic protests increased, reinforced police arrived to repel them armed with assault rifles book of ra deluxe and armored vehicles. They placed snipers around the neighborhood, deploying rubber bullets and tear gas against peaceful demonstrators. Journalists were among those mistreated by police and arrested. Was this Gaza or Baghdad? No, it’s hometown, USA.
As protests continue you hear leaders shout, “Thank you Michael Brown”. Brown is a martyr. As civil rights leader Jesse Jackson remarked on the killing of another young Black American, Trayvon Martin in 2012, "We find our way from the light that comes from the martyr." People associate Brown’s fate with too many other bodies lying in our streets (http://time.com/3136685/travyon-sybrina-fulton-ferguson/). A quiescent people become mobilized.
Why do we view Michael Brown as a martyr? Because his death serves to expose these routine American injustices:-- shooting Black unarmed citizens, unreasonable suspicion of Black and Brown people; disrespecting the dead and their families (perhaps the way US troops do in Afghanistan and Iraq). Our authorities exhibit fear and violence rather than empathy and patience. (Perhaps many of these policemen are veterans who shot their way through Iraqi and Afghan villages). Finally this incident confronts us with how shamelessly warlike our community policing is. We’re accustomed to watching such images in movies and in news coverage of foreign wars.
Now we understand how widespread military tactics are across the USA. Although they’re rarely telecast so widely. Normally hidden from public scrutiny, they’re confined to minority neighborhoods and to suspect immigrants. ‘Swat’ teams regularly charge into American homes, rifles ready, to assault mainly Black citizens. Muslim Americans too experience this. Abuse of young Black people by police is endemic; detention goes unchallenged. Multiple shots fired at an unarmed suspect is not new.
Why is Michael Brown a martyr? Because his death helped bring these everyday injustices to the fore. Because his death became a national spectacle. Because his death rightfully shames USA. Brown’s death says: “this is what American is”; it challenges the leadership to prove otherwise. His death is a not just a legal matter; it’s a moral issue we cannot turn away from.
Thank you Michael Brown. Thank you sons and daughters of Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egyot, Yemen, Syria.
- August 12, 2014
The morals and principles of all authorities need to be periodically examined. So it is that we find the University of Illinois is yet another institute of higher learning that falls short.
U. Illinois fails on the principle of academic freedom, having withdrawn its appointment to my colleague, Professor Steven Salaita. Salaita, a brilliant and daring young scholar in comparative literature was set to join U. Illinois’ department of American Indian Studies. Besides his work in comparative studies, Salaita is an expert in Arab American fiction and author of The "Uncultured Wars" and "Israel’s Dead Soul" among many fine analytical treatises. U. Illinois’ decision to cancel Salaita’s appointment is said to be based on tweeted comments critical of Israel during the current Gaza crisis. But Salaita could well have already been targeted for his radical insights, his criticism of American liberalism, and analyses of Israeli policies. A campaign launched on behalf of Salaita is generating considerable attention.
Off the radar is the removal last week of another modest champion of free speech:-- “The Commentators”. The program aired over WHCR- 90.3fm “Voice of Harlem” at City College, a university celebrated for its progressivism. This too is a free-speech issue, since according to “The Commentators”’ host, Leroy Baylor, the administration attacked the show for inviting controversial guests such as American Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. Baylor claims the university has consistently accused the program of “anti-Semitism”.
American universities have a shameful tradition of purging courageous scholars from their ranks for saying unpopular things. I’m reminded of South African professor and former Robben Island prisoner, Fred Dube. Dube was expelled from his post at Stony Brook University of New York in the mid-80s. The campaign against Dube was launched after he raised some poignant questions about Zionism in his classes.
Then we had the notorious case of lucky ladys charmSami Al-Arian, a Palestinian American professor who not only was removed from U. Florida in 2002 stemming from statements he made in a TV interview; he was indicted, jailed, subject to years of legal harassment. (Only recently he was cleared of all charges.) Native American, Ward Churchill, distinguished professor of Ethnic Studies at U. Colorado was also fired because of statements made after the 911 attacks; Churchill was well known for his support of Palestinian rights (which de facto involves criticism of US-Israeli policies.) Then we have the case of Israel critic and author Norman Finkelstein. DePaul University fired him in 2012.
University administrators often conduct such purges over opposition from faculty committees.
These examples, where scholars fought back only to lose in the end, are the best known. In countless cases elsewhere, professors—it they are not fired—find themselves marginalized, denied promotion or otherwise ostracized for their stand in defense of Islam and in support of Muslim and Palestine rights. Others who speak out on certain taboo subjects early in their careers find themselves shut out completely.
In many institutions, most especially our exalted universities, there is an unspoken rule about criticizing Israel. Even a faculty member who hosts a ‘controversial’ guest lecturer can come under fire.
Some years ago I arrived at a New York university hosting a theatrical performance by an Arab American author. The scholar who invited me to lead the discussion afterwards was a doctoral candidate at that well-known graduate center. Welcoming me, she whispered “Every head of department here is Jewish”. I was shocked and asked: “What has this to do with the performance, or with me?” She could only reply, “Just keep it in mind.” In retrospect, I wonder if her warning was less about anything I might utter, and more a reflection of the chilling atmosphere in which she and fellow scholars function.
Today, activists and other concerned citizens feel the tide is turning-- that Israel can no longer control information and thwart free speech on our campuses. The campaign for U. Illinois to reverse its decision on Salaita rapidly garnered 13,000 signatures. Americans credit social media with spreading democracy across the globe. Can it be successfully mobilized in defense of freedom here?[ Challenging Academic Freedom in the USó the case of Steven Salaita ]
Men have singled out women of outstanding merit and put them on a pedestal to avoid recognizing the capabilities of all women--
Huda Shaarawi (1879-1947), Egyptian political activist and feminist
- a poem.. a song..
- "I Wash My Body in Beirut"
Summer, 2006 from Lebanon, by performance artist Andrea Assaf Flash
- Allahu Ya Allah
Praises to the Prophet, by women of As-Siddiq Institute and Mosque
- Book review
- Khaled Hosseini's
And The Mountains Echoed
reviewed by BN Aziz.
- Tahrir Team
- Read about Jad Abumrad in the team page.