That’s not a chip on my shoulder. That’s your foot on my neck.  – Malcolm X

"We must never, ever give up. We must be brave. We must be courageous." John Lewis, activist, congressman. 1940-2020 

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. ~ Dalai Lama

"Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public."  Professor Cornel West.

"Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat."  Audre Lorde

"The serious function of racism is distraction". 1995, Toni Morrison; Portland lecture, Playing in The Dark

“If I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.” Nora Ephron

"Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another." author Toni Morrison (1931- 2019)

“If I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me”; Nora Ephron, author/comedian

"Make your story count". Michelle Obama

"Social pain is understood through the lens of racial animus". Researcher/author Sean McElwee writing in Salon, 2016

"We are citizens, not subjects. We have the right to criticize government without fear."  Chelsea Manning; activist/whisleblower

“My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I’m going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you, And no fascist minded people, like you, will drive me from it. Is that clear?” Paul Robeson; activist/singer

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent”. from civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?” Frederick Douglass, WHAT TO THE SLAVE IS 4TH JULY? 07.05.1852 (full text in blog)

Senator Elizabeth Warren "We're a country that is built on our differences; that is our strength, not our weakness"

"We are more alike than we are different" ~ Maya Angelou

As a Black writer, I was expected to accept the role of victim. That made it difficult in the beginning to be a writer.      James Baldwin

I often feel that there must have been something that I should’ve done that I didn’t do. But I can’t identify what it is that I didn’t do. That’s the first difficulty. And the second is, what makes you think you’re it?   

         Harry Belafonte, activist and singe


It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble; It's what you know for sure that just ainst so.

Mark Twain


You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.

Mary Tyler Moore


 You can’t defend Christianity by being against refugees and other religions

Pope Francis:


"I don't have to be what you want me to be". Muhammad Ali

"The Secret of Living Well and Longer: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure"  attributed to Tibetan sources

Recent audio posts include interviews with Rumi interpreter Shahram Shiva, London-based author Aamer Hussein, South African Muslim scholar, professor Farid Esack, and Iraqi journalist Nermeen Al-Mufti's brief account of Kirkuk City history. Your comments on our blogs are always welcome.


Damascus, Syria. Part 2


by Barbara Nimri Aziz

News of a diplomatic breakthrough in Syria-US relations in mid-February seems to be a surprise, to the press at least. It comes nine months after the Obama administration extended US sanctions against this quiet corner of the Arab world. Only a few weeks earlier Washington had announced that Syria was among the places of origin for travelers to the US who must undergo enhanced security procedures.

Of the new détente, photos appeared and opinions of ill-informed experts flooded airwaves and blogs. Then this news headline disappeared.

It is difficult to know what this diplomatic move means, apart from a new US ambassador arriving in Damascus after a hiatus of five years. We do not know the substance of the talks between a ‘high ranked State Department official and his Syrian counterpart. What real changes, in terms of economic and political policies, will result between the two nations, we can only speculate.

That said, one thing is clear from observing life in Syria first hand: Syria isn’t waiting for the Americans to expand Syria’s universities, its tourism industry, its private commercial sector. More than seven million tourists visit Syria every year. Thousands of students arrive from around the world to study here. And, more and more international companies, among them brand name apparel and restaurant chains, are opening outlets in the capital, Damascus.

On its side, Syrian industry is expanding, supplying goods to a wide range of local and international markets. All this keeps unemployment low, and the middle and upper class growing. Educated Syrians are more likely to stay at home with lucrative jobs now available in the commercial sector.

, which seems to have missed the global slowdown. Perhaps its omission from WTO, IMF and World Bank ‘patronage’ are to st1:place>Syria’s advantage under present conditions.

Syria, although included as a ‘third world’ nation by the westerner press, is not a debt-ridden developing country; it has ample local resources to feed and clothe its people, and a vibrant mercantile (commercial) community to attract investment and highly trained experts. (This, even though Syria bears the economic burden of more than a million Iraqi refugees inside the country.)

This is my second visit to Syria in recent months. I use it to take a closer look at the economy and explore corners of the capital that I had missed on previous visits. Some of my students were on winter break so I had ample company to the many cafes in the old city, the neighborhood of ‘Bab Touma’. Bab Touma was once known as “the Christian quarter’ of the city. An abundance of churches and seminaries may be found here; but it seems that as many mosques sit side by side with them.

This part of town once housed large families in elegant three story homes. Today, with increasing tourist demands, many of these elegant homes have been converted to enchanting cafes: Mona Lisa, Takaya, Alkaimaria, Beit Sitti and Beit Jiddu are five I visited. Besides offering western meals, they have the usual fare of local dishes. Fifteen years ago one found many small hostels in Bab Touma catering to back-packers. Today Bab Touma attracts more the middle class visitors. And the young. They pour into the quarter Thursday nights, couples arm in arm, cliques of girls, or boys. Some head for the chess cafes; others to hear bands, or solo musicians. It’s a free zone where you can munch hot waffles dipped in chocolate, puff arguile pipes and sip zattar tea in relaxing cafes. Whatever politicians any be planning, the Syrian public is confident their lives have already broken bounds.

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