May Madness

The 2005 film Sometimes in April is a powerful reminder of the Rwandan Genocide that began in April 1994. There’s something about April, I suppose: the Armenian Genocide too began in April; and the Siege of Sarajevo, which many consider to be the beginning of the Bosnian Genocide, began in April as well. Three of the six most well-known genocides began in the same month…

But May isn’t much better…

May 17, 1984, Bhiwandi riots began when Hindus placed a saffron flag on top of a mosque… 278 dead. And in 1987, from March, through the entire month of May, and to June, riots occurred between Muslim and Hindu Indians in Meerut and resulted in the death of more than 350 people.

Yes, the Bhiwandi riots began when Hindus placed a saffron flag on top of a mosque? First of all, who cares, right? It’s just a flag? And, on the other hand, who would tarnish a religious building with the religious symbols of another religion? Disgusting insensitivity and hatred. It reminds me of swastikas on synagogues and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon flying an Israeli flag from the home he bought in the Muslim Old City of Jerusalem.

And, specifically, on this day, May 22, 1987, forty-two men were massacred by the Indian military in the Hashimpura neighborhood of Meerut, the state of UP. The victims were shot, and their bodies were dumped in water canals; a few days later dead bodies were found floating in the canals. The trials were delayed for decades and, on March 21, 2015, the verdict was returned, and the Tis Hazari Court in Delhi acquitted the 16 soldiers accused in the Hashimpura Massacre, due to “insufficient evidence.”

Fortunately, some semblance of justice and responsibility, in May 2015, the UP government announced a compensation equivalent to $US 500,000 to the family of each victim.

But the violence in the India haven’t stopped. Years later, but also in May, the 2006 Vadodara Dargah riots occurred in the state of Gujarat in India. The 2006 Riots were caused by the municipal council’s decision to remove a 300-year-old Sufi dargah (shrine). An independent people’s commission has stated that the police had targeted Muslims during the incident…. eight people were killed and forty-two injured, 16 of these were from police shooting.

Who votes to close a religious site in a city known for its religious strife? Yes, Gujarat is the same state that was home to the 1969 and 2002 Gujarat riots as well.

But the crimes against humanity and genocide in the Indian subcontinent is not all religiously-based war crimes, in the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide, Muslims killed Muslims over, at least at face-value, over language. May 5, 1971, the Gopalpur Massacre occurred when Muslim Pakistani forces murdered 195 Bengali Muslim workers at a sugar factor. And on May 20, 1971, many thousands of Bengali Hindu refugees were murdered in the Chuknagar massacre by Pakistani forces. Why? Religion? Language? Bloodlust? Probably all three….

Some much violence. So much hate and ignorance. Demographic tribalism and identity politics at its worst.

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May is not a good month for the continent of Asia. Also in this month of May, specifically May 21, 1864, Russia declared an end to the Russo-Circassian War after the scorched earth campaign initiated in 1862 under General Yevdokimov.  When the Circassian people refused to convert to Christianity from Islam, almost the entire population was forced into exile from their North Caucasus homeland.  More than 1.5 million Circassians were expelled — 90% of the total population at the time.  Most of them perished en route, victims of disease, hunger, and exhaustion. And, among the Circassians that stayed behind? Chechnyans. And you wonder why so many Chechnyans hate the Russians so much. As a war against civilians, forced transfer of populations, within the context of both ethnic and religious differences… another genocide. May 21st is designated as the Circassian Day of Mourning and recognizes the Circassian Genocide.  And just a few years ago, the 2014 Sochi Olympics were held on former Circassian land which caused an outcry from Circassian people as well as humans rights activists worldwide.

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From the Caucasus Mountains of western Asia, across the Indian subcontinent, to southeast Asia. In Cambodia, May 20, is The Day of Remembrance. Formerly called the National Day of Hatred, it commemorates the Cambodian genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled the country between 1975 and 1979; specifically, the date was selected since it marked the beginning of mass killings by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge…

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While the German Genocide, or Holocaust, started on that November night of Broken Glass and the Darfur Genocide began on a dusty February day in 2003… three well-known genocides all began Sometime in April… but unfortunately, genocide is more ordinary than extraordinary. May marks the beginning of the Palestinian Diaspora in 1948, the lesser known Greek Genocide, the Circassian Genocide, the more well-known Cambodian Genocide, as well as continuous violence in India and several massacres of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide.

Genocide is not a competition, and if we could see how pathetically ordinary it is in our human history, perhaps we could turn the corner and recognize one another as sister and brother, no matter race, ethnicity, nationality, or creed. Remember the sins of the past, remember that today is tomorrow’s yesterday. The choices we make today will be looked back upon tomorrow.

 

SLAM ~ May 16th

On this day, May 16, 1983, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (also known as the Sudan People’s Army Movement, or SLAM) began their rebellion against the Sudanese government. This Sudan People’s Army Movement began a civil war that culminated in both the Darfur Genocide as well as ultimately the independence of South Sudan.

Within Sudan are the northern Sudanese Arab Muslims, southern Sudanese African Christians, and western Sudanese African Muslims.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has based his rule on war.  As noted earlier, the Second Sudanese Civil War had been a conflict between the Northern Muslims and the Southern Christians.  The Darfur Conflict came as a result of many factors.  To an extent, Fighting a war can centralize authority, unify the population (to an extent), can eliminate political rivals and reduces the net population of military age men.  Just as when the Spanish conquest of the Iberian peninsula ended in 1492 and military age men looked for new lands to conquer (i.e., the Americas), after the Second Sudanese Civil War, al-Bashir needed a new enemy to deflect attention from his autocratic rule.

The Darfur genocide occurred in western Sudan and is/was a conflict was between the Abbala (camel-herding) and Baggara/Baqqarah (cattle-herding) Shuwa Arabs on the one side and the Masalit, Zaghawa, and Fur ethnic peoples on the other side.  The Fur people are the most numerous in the region; in fact “Dar-fur” means “Abode of the Fur.”  The crisis is a combination of racial, agricultural, and political conflict.  The Abbala and Baggara people are nomadic Arabs who follow herds of camels and cattle.  For their part, Masalit and Fur people are Sub-Saharan African (Black Africans) and are sedentary farmers.  The other Sub-Saharan tribe, the Zaghawa, is comprised mainly of sheep pastoralists.  Similar to the land wars in the nineteenth century American West, these farmers and herders are in conflict over access to water as well as the issue of fences.  As both sides of combatants are Muslim, the issue is more a conflict of “Arabization” than the Muslim-Christian tension that has served as a basis for the Second Sudan Civil War.

The government soon began to attack the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit people, particularly in the Marrah Mountains. Both sides employed light cavalry tactics (horse, camel or Toyota Land Cruisers) for quick strikes.  The tactics also included ‘scorched earth policy’ “with livestock seized, grain stores attacked and looted, wells and watering places poisoned … [as well as] … forced population movements engineered to perpetuate dependency and control.

Adding fuel to the fire of nearly all African conflicts is the ‘low congruence’ between ethnic boundaries and state borders.  The Masalit and Zaghawa people live in both eastern Chad and western Sudan.  In fact, the dictator of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno, is Zaghawa.  For their part, the Abbala and Baggara share a common Arab background with the political leaders of Sudan, particularly dictator Omar al-Bashir.  These Arab tribesmen have formed the Janjaweed militia and received support from al-Bashir’s government.

To counter the threat from the Sudanese government, On this day, May 16, 1983, the Fur, Masalit, and the Wagi clan of the Zaghawa peoples formed The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army or Haraka Tahrir Sudan (abbreviated as either SLM or SLA). Although the roots of the Darfur conflict go back decades to 1983, eventually the Conflict grew into what we now recognize as the (2002 or 2003) Darfur Genocide and eventually to the independence of South Sudan.

May 14, 1948 & May 14, 2018

Why Trump was right to move the US Embassy:

Each sovereign nation-state has the right to determine its own capital. The Israeli government has declared Jerusalem to be its capital, therefore the US Embassy should be in Jerusalem.

Why Trump was wrong to move the US Embassy:

Israel’s legal authority of both West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem are questionable.

Historical Context

In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne recognized British authority for the Mandate for Palestine. This was a result of the defeat of the Central Powers (specifically the Ottoman Empire) in World War I, and the subsequent collapse of the Ottoman Empire as a functioning nation-state. Thus, the legal jurisdiction of Israel-Palestine belonged to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a mandate under the League of Nations and international law.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations (the successor regime to the League of Nations) adopted the Plan as Resolution 181(II), which recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and an international authority for the city of Jerusalem. This UN Partition Plan for Palestine recommended a partition of Mandatory Palestine at the end of the British Mandate. The resolution also recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency accepted the proposal with reservations, but the Arab Commission argued that partition violated the principals of national self-determination in the UN Charter which granted people the right to decide their own destiny.

Almost immediately after adoption of the Resolution by the General Assembly, a low-level civil war broke out and violence occurred by both religious groups. Adding to the complexity of the situation, post-World War II emigration of European Jews to the British Mandate for Palestine continued, which altered the population ratios in the Mandate.

On May 14, 1948, Jewish leaders in the Mandate for Palestine issued the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel in defiance of the United Nation as Resolution 181(II) which set the stage for the 1948 Arab–Israeli War (or the First Arab–Israeli War) between the State of Israel and a military coalition of Arab states and forming the second stage of the 1948 Palestine war. In the war, Israeli forces soundly defeated the Arab coalition and took complete control of West Jerusalem. As a result of the war, the State of Israel controlled both the area that the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 had recommended for the proposed Jewish state as well as almost 60% of the area of Arab state proposed by the 1948 Partition Plan, including Jaffa, Galilee, and some parts of the Negev Tel Aviv–Jerusalem road. Transjordan, today known as Jordan, took control of East Jerusalem as well as what was left of the British Mandate, and the Egyptian military took control of the Gaza Strip. At that point in history, at the Jericho Conference of 1948, Egypt and Transjordan could have created a Palestinian state out of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the rump Mandate, but no state was created. However, because the Israeli control of Jerusalem was a military conquest and violation of UN Resolution 181, the US Embassy was built in Tel Aviv, not West Jerusalem.

Fast forwarding to the Six-Day War of June 1967: On June 7, 1967, Israel captured the Old City of East Jerusalem. Again, because the West Bank and East Jerusalem were a military conquest, not a diplomatic agreement, neither US President Lyndon Johnson nor did his eight successors relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

International Law

Since World War I, territorial expansion by military victory has been unrecognized by international law. Period. That’s it really. It’s as simple as that. Since World War I, territorial expansion by military victory has been unrecognized by international law. For example:

  • The German invasion of Poland, etc.? Wrong.
  • The Japanese invasion of East Asian territories? Wrong.
  • North Korea’s invasion of South Korea? Wrong.
  • Morocco’s invasion of Western Sahara? Wrong.
  • Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait? Wrong.
  • Russian conquest of Crimea? Wrong

What makes the Israeli conquest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem any different?

Nothing under international law, that’s for sure, though I have heard this argument, that Israel was attacked, Israel did not initiate the war, so that makes it different; Essentially, the argument goes that it’s the Arabs fault because they started the war. If one has siblings, then we are all aware of the goading that can go on before conflict. Regardless, however, there is no legal basis for that argument, no international legal caveat that says if you get attacked, you can conquer the world legally…and, finally, it may be worth pointing out that the belligerents in the 1967 War were the nation-states of Jordan and the Arab Republic of Egypt Syria, and not the Palestinian people.

Which only leaves this argument to justify the Israeli occupation and annexation of the West Bank: God. Well, specifically, the Torah. Yes, the Jewish holy texts record that God gave the land of Canaan to the Israelites. Unfortunately for Israel’s case before the international community, religious texts are not exactly admissible in international proceedings. After all, would the international community accept the words of Shiva or Krishna as binding legal documents? Do Israeli Jews accept the Qur’an’s legal weight? In fact, didn’t the Allied Commander for the Pacific Theater in WWII, Douglas MacArthur, didn’t MacArthur demand that the head of the Shinto faith, Emperor Hirohito, publicly change/alter/denounce the dogma of that religious tradition that the Emperor was the descendant of the Sun Goddess?

It seems that accepting Jewish scripture as an international legal document is playing favorites with world religion. The repatriation of European Jews was a decision made from guilt and cultural prejudice. The decision was made in wanton disregard for the existing Arab population in the British Mandate of Palestine, like European disregard for indigenous populations around the world. The decision is also a complete rejection for the principals of self-determination and territorial integrity spelled out in the Treaty of Versailles. International law cannot, ought not, to be henpecked.

So, am I saying that the State of Israel does not have a right to exist? Am I being anti-Semitic?

No, categorically, no. That is not what I’m saying. In the first place, there is a difference between de juro and de facto. For example, when the convention of delegates that was assembled in Philadelphia 1787 was charged with revising the Articles of Confederation, not replacing the US government; the Articles themselves states that the Articles could only be altered unanimously, but only 12 of the 13 states participated in the Constitutional Convention. So, what, we’re now going to abolish the US Government? No, of course not.

Yes, Israel came into being in 1948 in a dubious legal situation. But there is an equally important point to be made that, throughout history, Stateless People have been persecuted. Today, the Rohingya, as well as the Roma/Gypsies, the Kurds, and others, and yes, the Jewish people themselves. Kicked out of their historical homeland in 70 CE by the Roman Empire, the Jews were stateless people for almost 1900 years… and now, because of the creation of a Jewish Homeland, the Palestinian people have no homeland. I don’t know about you, but as a kid, I was taught that “Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right.”

And, if that point doesn’t seem to have merit, let’s try an analogy. If the Native Americans rose up from every reservation and from all corners of the current United States, if Native Americans took up arms and waged war against the European-American population of the United States, would that be legitimate? After all, like the Jewish people, this land was Native American first. Again, there seems to be an inherent bias in how many Americans perceive the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

Zero-Sum versus Positive Sum

In addition, too many Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians view the situation as a Zero-Sum Game. In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game a situation in which each participant(s) gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the other participant(s). That’s not the only option. The falsity and limitation of Zero-Sum thinking is pointed out by the Nash Equilibrium, and perhaps more importantly, by Positive-Sum thinking.

One of the falsehoods in the general discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is the binary belief in Identity Politics. No, not all Israelis are opposed to the Two-State Solution; many Israelis recognize the dehumanizing conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And no, not all Palestinians are supporters of violence who deny the right of Israel to exist. Remember Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish murderer, not a Palestinian terrorist. If it seems that Palestinians are more angry and expressive of their feelings, ask yourself who was more angry and expressive in the American Civil Rights movement.

Conclusion

The United States has often neglected its potential as an arbiter for peace in the world, but not always. The American-brokered Good Friday Agreement is an example of US leadership in the world. Peace can happen when Americans recognize the right of both Palestinians and Israelis to self-determination. Peace can happen when settlements on the West Bank are not being constructed at the same time supposed negotiations occur. Peace can happen when the United States spends as much financial aid for Palestinian schools, hospitals, and police-training, as it sends in military hardware to Israel.

And, finally, peace will happen when Palestinians reject the politics of violence, and Israelis embrace the politics of humanitarianism.

The enemies of peace abound. They exist in the profit margins of the American military-industrial complex, and hidden corners of the Israeli government chambers; the enemies of peace exist in some of the madrasas and mosques of the West Bank and Gaza, just as much as they exist in the pulpits of many American Christian churches and some of the yeshivas of Israeli and America.

Yes, West Jerusalem is -and should be- the capital of Israel. But East Jerusalem should also be the capital of a Palestinian State as well. Opening one embassy, not two, was an expression of Zero Sum politics and an abdication of American leadership for peace in the world.

 

Hunger Strikes and Self-Immolation (May 12th)

Image result for buddhist monk burning vietnam photographer

How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in? Would you kill for your beliefs? Would you die for your beliefs? Would you, commit suicide, as a means of political protest?

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Today, on this day, May 12, 1981, Francis Hughes starved to death in the Maze Prison during the 1981 Irish hunger strike. The Irish prisoners were objecting to the treatment they were receiving by the British prison authorities, and they were wanted political prisoner status to be granted to Provisional IRA prisoners. Following in the footsteps of India Independence leaders -most notably Gandhi, the Irish nationalists organized a Hunger Strike in 1980, and another strike in 1981. Bobby Sands (March 9, 1954 – 5 May 1981) was the leader of that 1981 hunger strike. Now, it should be noted, Gandhi was a pacifist and these IRA members were part of a violent terrorist organization. This narrative is not as an endorsement of the prisoners’ violence either in prison or before, but a recognition of a milestone in “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland’s history.

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But how can a person shut down hunger? Hardwired into our being is a sense of self-preservation…

In 1975, Article 6 of the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo stated that doctors are not allowed to force-feed hunger strikers. They are supposed to understand the prisoner’s independent wishes, and it is recommended to have a second opinion as to the capability of the prisoner to understand the implication of his decision and be capable of informed consent. Having said that, it is US Federal policy that when “a medical necessity for immediate treatment of a life or health threatening situation exists, the physician may order that treatment be administered without the consent of the inmate.”

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Apparently, some things are worth dying for, or at least risking one’s life for. And, respectfully, it seems to me that donning the uniform of our nation-state is relatively easy… After all, with the exception of the Vietnam era, there is a national admiration that goes out to those in uniform… and some perks too: Preferential boarding on Southwest Airlines, preferential hiring in some police departments, GI Bill, VA Housing Loans, etc., etc. Now, I’m not suggesting that soldiers don’t deserve it, nor am I saying that soldiering is not hard work. What I am saying, is that it’s not an incredibly difficult moral decision to wear one’s countries uniform. However, what if one doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the nation-state, then that’s a harder situation to put on the uniform, and perhaps it is an easier decision to raise weapons against the nation-state.

~~~

For example, also on this day, May 12, 1885, the four-day Battle of Batoche ended with a decisive rebel defeat. The rebels were the Métis people who had organized the North-West Rebellion against the Canadian government. The Métis are a people in Canada who trace their descent to First Nations peoples and European settlers, though only 1.7% of the Canadian population. They are now recognized as one of Canada’s aboriginal peoples under the Constitution Act of 1982, along with First Nations and Inuit peoples.

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On this day, May 12, 1998, the Trisakti shootings, or the Trisakti Tragedy took place at Trisakti University, Jakarta, Indonesia. A planned non-violent protest against the Suharto government started at the university on the 12th May 1998. By 10:00, over 6,000 students, lecturers, and staff had assembled in the university parking lot; the demonstrators began the protest by lowering the Indonesian flag to half-mast.

While the demonstration was primarily a protest over the declining economy, it is worth noting that the Indonesian government had a history of repression as well. The 1965 Tragedy in which 500,000 Communists were systematically murdered; later declared a genocide by an international tribunal, which also found the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia were all complicit in the crimes.

The Papua Conflict between the Indonesian government and the indigenous populations of Western New Guinea (Papua) since 1962, the East Timor Genocide (1975 to 1999)… Indonesia seems to have a propensity to use military force -with weapons supplied by the US and US allies- on ethnic, religious and ideological populations.

And May 12, 1998, was no different. During a demonstration against President Suharto, Indonesian soldiers opened fire on unarmed protestors. Four of the students (Elang Mulia Lesmana, Heri Hertanto, Hafidin Royan, and Hendriawan Sie) were killed and dozens more were injured. The shootings caused riots to break out throughout Indonesia eventually, in fact, leading to Suharto’s resignation.

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What about self-immolation: Remember Thích Quảng Đức, the famous Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death on June 11, 1963. [Photo Credit: (AP), Malcolm Wilde Browne]. He was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the American-supported South Vietnamese government of Ngô Đình Diệm. John F. Kennedy said in reference to the Thích Quảng Đức picture, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” That photograph of the self-immolation is as powerful today, as it was then…

Even today, we see Tibetan monks and even civilians using self-immolation as a tactic to bring attention to the Hanification of Tibet and the repression of Tibetan culture, religion, and political self-determination…

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Even in the US, there have been a series of hunger strikes in the extrajudicial detention in the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detention camps, in Cuba. Apparently as early as 2002, then 2005-2008, and as recently as 2013, there have been hunger strikes by the detainees. Records show more than 80 inmates weight dropped below 100 lbs during the peak of these strikes. The organizer of many of these strikes, Shaker Aamer, was later repatriated to Saudi Arabia when the US Government admitted there was insufficient evidence for trial.

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Self-immolation and hunger strikes. How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in? Would you die for your beliefs? Would you, commit suicide, as a means of political protest? Buddhists monks have done it. Today, on this day, May 12, 1981, Francis Hughes starved himself to death in the Maze Prison of Northern Ireland. Those Northern Irish Catholics also killed for their, albeit twisted means, but their belief in the right of the Irish to be independent of the UK, just like the Métis organized the North-West Rebellion against the Canadian government although the rebellion was ultimately defeated on this day, May 12, 1885. And May 12, 1998, was no different. Four students were killed and dozens more were injured while demonstrating against the autocratic rule of President Suharto…

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What would you die for? I know many of us would die for our family and friends, but Americans are blessed to live in relative safety compared to the rest of the world. What ideas would you die for, what principals would you sacrifice yourself for. Many of us would also probably defend our own demographic tribes, such as our government, as well as justice for our ethnic, religious and racial communities… would that we stood up as easily for other ethnic, religious, national and racial communities. Today, the Rohingya of Burma are dying, today the civilians of Yemen are dying by American weapons being used by Saudi forces, today the Syrian Civil War continues into its year… civilians that don’t look like many of us, Muslims who don’t pray like many of us, people that don’t live in our neighborhoods… It’s easy to stand up for our community and our beliefs, too bad we can’t stand up for other communities and people with differing political or religious beliefs as readily…

And that’s what happened This Day in Today…
Remember,
Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.
I am, Tom Keefe, the Babbling Professor!
Thank you for listening!

Hijabs, Date Palms, and my Visit to a Mosque

Have you ever wondered what goes on in a Muslim church or gathering of Muslim believers?

When we arrived at the Islamic Center of Golden, there were no burning Israeli flags to greet us. Instead, there was a smiling man from Libya holding open the door and showing us where we could keep our shoes while we walked on the fine carpets. There were no “Death to America” chants, but an abundantly stocked table with tea, Arabic coffee, donuts, candied date palms and orange juice for guests. Our female hosts had bright eyes framed by beautiful headscarves and smiled warmly, but somewhat nervously, as they offered us refreshments and welcome.

As it was already past noon, we were whisked into the main room of the mosque to witness and, if we wished, to participate in prayers. Omar, originally from the United Kingdom, formally welcomed us to the Islamic Center of Golden and introduced Osama (a graduate student at Mines originally from UAE) who lead the community in prayers. Osama’s rich and beautiful voice recited the call to prayer as those who wanted to pray lined up, shoulder to shoulder, facing northeast towards Mecca. Women and men prayed together, though in different rows, in beautiful solidarity as Osama then chanted prompts in Arabic and we went through a series of nods, bows, and prostrations to the Almighty. Whether we call this Creator by the Hebrew name Yahweh or simply know Abraham’s patron as God or Allah (al-lah, “The God”), there was a beautiful sense of peace as all prayed together. Man and woman; Christian and Muslim; young and old.

The mosque is beautiful in its simplicity. Formally a home or office, the non-structural walls had been removed and to facilitate community gathering and worship. There is an embroidered cloth with the Shahada (the essential Muslim prayer akin to the Shema of Judaism or the Our Father of Christianity) on the wall in the foyer. On the left an antechamber for ritual washing and on the right, there was a hospitality table of refreshments. The main open space of the mosque has a deep maroon carpet and white walls bare of anything but an occasional bookcase with green bound copies of the Holy Qu’ran. There are no pews and barely any furniture, save for some chairs on the side for elderly or infirm. On the northeastern side of the building, there was a wall-mounted mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca as well as the times for prayer.

After our welcome and prayer, Omar introduced other members of the ICG’s community who were present and asked us about our first impressions and what initial questions we had. Then, as we sat upon the lush carpet, Omar began a presentation on Islam and its place within the family of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions. Almost as a Shakespearian comic relief, the presentation was interrupted here and there by injections from a Pakistani Muslim woman. Omar patiently paused and gave the elder woman the honorific title of “Auntie” even though he had never met her before that day. Auntie kept Omar on schedule as we learned more about both the traditions of Islam as well as the similarities between Islam and Christianity.

The highlight of our community’s visit to the Islamic Center of Golden was undoubtedly the “intermission” during Omar’s presentation. At that point, while we were invited to refresh ourselves and stretch our legs, the female Muslims present took turns helping members of our group to try the beautiful hijab headscarves. What followed was a warm back and forth between the women of two faiths, communicated in broken English, warm smiles and plenty of laughs.

What I will remember from our tour of the Islamic Center of Golden, however, is not the variety of accents, nor the headscarves or candied date palms. I will not remember the terms and rituals that were so unfamiliar to me. I will remember the laughs, the smiles. I will remember Omar, standing there in his Bronco’s t-shirt, pronouncing “zero” as “naught” in his British accent and how “Auntie” kept interrupting him. I will remember soberly how he asked rhetorically why Muslims should have to be defined by the violent and vile actions of those who act against the teachings of Islam and Christianity alike. But most of all, I will remember how easily strangers became friends and how strange ideas came to be understood and respected. Maybe, just maybe, there is hope for peace after all.

Dangers of "Mishistory"

The editorial page is my favorite section of the paper. One can read the editorial opinion of the newspaper on a wide range of issues. One can see the editorial cartoons that satirize and lampoon issues and people in creative ways. And you can read the letters-to-the-editor. Some people write in once in a lifetime; others write in more frequently. Many are political: lauding Bush or attacking Bush. Condemning or defending the American presence in Iraq…

There is nothing wrong with civil disagreement of opinion. It’s both interesting and entertaining to watch (and maybe be involved with) the back and forth in the paper. However, I am increasingly concerned with the ease in which people get “mishistory” into print.

In less than a one week period (November 8-13), there were three letters-to-the-editor that misrepresented the facts in order to disseminate the authors’ opinions. To have an opinion based upon fact is respectable. To twist history or omit history to achieve a subjective agenda is harmful. When “mishistory” is disseminated, it gives credence to the letters’ contents. After all, if it’s in the paper, then it must be true, right? The editorial staff of any paper receives so many letters, that many cannot be printed. This I know. Unfortunately, when “mishistory” is printed and is left unchallenged –then some may be swayed. When such letters involve xenophobia, people can be hurt.

For example, Patrick Clark (“French wages of sin,” 11/13/05) suggests that the rioters in France are “the same groups that we have been engaged within Iraq for the last several years.” Point of fact: the rioters are Algerian-French citizens who are complaining about unemployment and racism. Yes, many are Muslim, but no they are not Iraqi-Sunni nationalists fighting against a government that they believe to be imposed and nor are they radical fundamentalists who purport to support a religion whose very teachings they violate.

Luckily, after I began writing this piece, Naomi Herzfeld had a letter printed in the paper which corrected Clark’s ignorance:
French riots about poverty, not religion
01:00 AM EST on Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Did Patrick Clark consult anything except his prejudices when he claimed, in his Nov. 13 letter (“French wages of sin”), that the French rioters are fanatic Muslim terrorists, “the same groups” as those in Iraq? Does he also believe that every Irish Catholic who commits violence is a member of the IRA?

Read your newspaper, Mr. Clark. The rioters are native French citizens, angry at a government that keeps them living in slums, lacking educational and employment opportunities, treated like second-class citizens because of their immigrant descent.

I don’t condone their violence, but these men are no more religious terrorists than the African-Americans who rioted in Watts and Los Angeles under similar conditions.
The only thing the French rioters have in common with Islamic extremists is that they call God by the same name — as do a billion peaceful, hard-working people throughout the world.

Let’s go with the facts, not bigoted stereotypes.

Bush’s Theocracy

Now that George W. Bush has agreed to let the Shi’ite majority have its way with the new Iraqi constitution, he can answer Cindy Sheehan’s question, “For what noble cause did you send my son to die in Iraq?” It was to set up an Islamic theocracy, just like the one in Iran.