Category Archives: Intolerance

Paint to Freedom

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Shurooq Amin had her gallery “It’s A Man’s World” at Al Salhiya tonight, and was surprised to find that someone had reported her artworks to be ‘inappropriate’. Police received complaints of people feeling ‘insulted’ by her artworks, and around 10 PM headed there to notify Shurooq that her gallery would be shut down, and if she didn’t comply she would have to pay a fine. They referred to her artwork as “pornographic” and مخلة. They took photos of her artworks, saying that they would be sending them to the ministry.

This is exactly why we’re always either stuck in limbo or in a constant state of regression rather than progress. We can’t find proper books in our own country anymore, now with Virgin being shut down and all the good writers banned in the other bookstores. Our movies are censored, and instead we’re fed a bunch of media advertisements to turn us into consumerist robots during those 15 minutes that the cinema had cut out. Our writings are censored, it’s inappropriate to write about love and inappropriate to address the endless issues our society is facing. How does denial help anyone? Why is it believed that if we pretend a problem doesn’t exist, it’ll go away? It only gets worse the more it’s ignored. Shurooq addressed those issues in her paintings and I for one am glad she did, someone needed to speak up. As a writer I relate to her, because I know how frustrating it is to constantly be forced to bite my tongue and mute my voice when I know that what I’m seeing is wrong – yet, pointing out the wrongs of society is apparently wrong in itself.

I say it needs to end. The intellectuals of the Arab society need to unite to fight censorship and ignorance and regression. I really wouldn’t be surprised if this regression was planned. Why would higher powers want ‘the public’ to enlighten and liberate themselves from their own shackles? Better to make them love those shackles and brainwash them well enough to have them enforce your ideologies on others too. That way, it won’t just be your security forces imposing your beliefs on others. It’ll be the monsters you created too.

Please hashtag #painttofreedom with any tweets regarding Shurooq Amin’s gallery or art/writing censorship in the Gulf.

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“Why Fewer Young American Jews Share Their Parents’ View of Israel”

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This is an interesting article I came across on Time.com

you can find it here

“I’m trembling,” my mother says when I tell her I’m working on an article about how younger and older American Jews are reacting differently to the Palestinians’ bid for statehood at the United Nations. I understand the frustrations of the Palestinians who are dealing with ongoing Israeli settlement construction and sympathize with their decision to approach the U.N., but my mom supports President Obama’s promise to wield the U.S. veto, sharing his view that a two-state solution can be achieved only through negotiations with Israel.

“This is so emotional,” she says as we cautiously discuss our difference of opinion. “It makes me feel absolutely terrible when you stridently voice criticisms of Israel.” (See pictures of the West Bank settlements.)

A lump of guilt and sadness rises in my throat. I’ve written harshly of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and assault on Gaza in 2009, and on civil rights issues in Israel. But speaking my mind on these topics — a very Jewish thing to do — has never been easy. During my childhood in the New York suburbs, support for Israel was as fundamental a family tradition as voting Democratic or lighting the Shabbos candles on Friday night.

My mom has a master’s degree in Jewish history and is the program director of a large synagogue. Her youthful experiences in Israel, volunteering on a kibbutz and meeting descendants of my great-grandmother’s siblings, are part of my own mythology. Raised within the Conservative movement, I learned at Hebrew school that Israel was the “land of milk and honey,” where Holocaust survivors irrigated the deserts and made flowers bloom.

What I didn’t hear much about was the lives of Palestinians. It was only after I went to college, met Muslim friends and enrolled in a Middle Eastern history and politics course that I was challenged to reconcile my liberal, humanist worldview with the fact that the Jewish state of which I was so proud was occupying the land of 4.4 million stateless Palestinians, many of them refugees displaced by Israel’s creation.

Like many young American Jews, during my senior year of college I took the free trip to Israel offered by the Taglit-Birthright program. The bliss I felt floating in the Dead Sea, sampling succulent fruits grown by Jewish farmers and roaming the medieval city of Safed, the historic center of Kabbalah mysticism, was tempered by other experiences: watching the construction of the imposing “security” fence, which not only tamped down terrorist attacks but also separated Palestinian villagers from their land and water supply. I spent hours in hushed conversation with a young Israeli soldier who was horrified by what he said was the routinely rough and contemptuous treatment of Palestinian civilians at Israeli military checkpoints.

That trip deepened my conviction that as an American Jew, I could no longer in good conscience offer Israel unquestioning support. I’m not alone. Polling of young American Jews shows that with the exception of the Orthodox, many of us feel less attached to Israel than do our baby boomer parents, who came of age during the era of the 1967 and 1973 wars, when Israel was less of an aggressor and more a victim.  A 2007 poll by Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis found that although the majority of American Jews of all ages continue to identify as “pro-Israel,” those under 35 are less likely to identify as “Zionist.” Over 40% of American Jews under 35 believe that “Israel occupies land belonging to someone else,” and over 30% report sometimes feeling “ashamed” of Israel’s actions.

Hanna King, an 18-year-old sophomore at Swarthmore College, epitomizes the generational shift. Raised in Seattle as a Conservative Jew, King was part of a group of activists last November who heckled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with slogans against the occupation at a New Orleans meeting of the Jewish Federations General Assembly.

“Netanyahu repeatedly claims himself as a representative of all Jews,” King says. “The protest was an outlet for me to make a clear statement … that those injustices don’t occur in my name. It served as a vehicle for reclaiming my own Judaism.”

A more moderate critique is expressed by J Street, the political action committee launched in 2008 as a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” counterweight to the influence in Washington of the more hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Simone Zimmerman heads J Street’s campus affiliate at the University of California, Berkeley. A graduate of Jewish private schools, she lived in Tel Aviv as an exchange student during high school but never heard the word occupation spoken in relation to Israel until she got to college.

During Zimmerman’s freshman year, Berkeley became embroiled in a contentious debate over whether the university should divest from corporations that do business with the Israeli army. Although Zimmerman opposed divestment, she was profoundly affected by the stories she heard from Palestinian-American activists on campus.

“They were sharing their families’ experiences of life under occupation and life during the war in Gaza,” she remembers. “So much of what they were talking about related to things that I had always been taught to defend, like human rights and social justice, and the value of each individual’s life.”

Even young rabbis are, as a cohort, more likely to be critical of Israel than are older rabbis. Last week, Cohen, the Hebrew Union College researcher, released a survey of rabbinical students at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, the premier institution for training Conservative rabbis. Though current students are just as likely as their elders to have studied and lived in Israel and to believe Israel is “very important” to their Judaism, about 70% of the young prospective rabbis report feeling “disturbed” by Israel’s treatment of Arab Israelis and Palestinians, compared with about half of those ordained between 1980 and 1994.

Benjamin Resnick, 27, is one of the rabbinical students who took the survey. In July, he published an op-ed pointing out the ideological inconsistencies between Zionism, which upholds the principle of Israel as a Jewish state, and American liberal democracy, which emphasizes individual rights regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. “The tragedy,” Resnick says, is that the two worldviews may be “irreconcilable.”

Still, after living in Jerusalem for 10 months and then returning to New York, Resnick continues to consider himself a Zionist. He quotes the Torah in support of his view that American Jews should press Israel to end settlement expansion and help facilitate a Palestinian state: “Love without rebuke,” he says, “is not love.”

Kuwait’s Double Standards

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Kuwait’s double standards when it comes to gender is by far the most pathetic issue we have here. Men and women are simply not equal, and anyone that claims otherwise is in denial or is living too luxuriously to acknowledge other people’s problems. Guys can stay out late, girls can’t. Guys can leave the house in the middle of the night, girls can’t. Guys can travel with their buddies, girls need a “male escort” — because she’s a little girl who needs her hand to be held, even if she is 24 and leaving for her MA degree. Guys can study abroad and have fun and meet amazing professors and people and build a proper college experience, girls are looked down on if they do. Guys can smoke, girls are considered dirty if they do. Guys can swim shirtless – girls are given dirty looks even if they’re wearing boarding shorts over their swimsuit. If a guy is good at sports, he’s a popular jock. If a girl is good at sports, she’s a “boya”. Guys can have as many ‘relationships’ (i.e. flings) as they want, but if a girl falls in love with one guy she genuinely cared about, she is forever looked upon as tainted goods. Because really, that’s what women are in Kuwait – goods. When a guy wants to get married, he evaluates her as he would evaluate a product. Is she good looking? Is she clean? Has she been used before? Is she purebred? Has her previous owner tamed her properly? Does she sit when I tell her to, ask “how high” when I tell her to jump? How does she dress? Has she been exposed to foreign places? Has she done any of the things I have shamelessly done? If so, I want nothing to do with her, and I pray that every “good” Kuwaiti man (whatever that is) be warded from this tainted woman.
Guys wouldn’t be able to last ONE day living as Kuwaiti girls, let alone a lifetime of living in this society that is so damn miserable. And if we do try to go against everything that this messed up society stands for and deems “honorable” and “virtuous” – we lose every ounce of respect that we have worked so hard to earn. We’ve worked hard to earn that respect by doing something good for others, by taking part in our community, by being good to all, by thinking outside the box, by educating ourselves, by reading about taboo subjects in an effort to expand our thinking, by demanding our right to be equals, by wanting to love and to be loved, by asking for our simple right to have coffee with friends of the opposite sex. Every ounce of respect, obliterated. Why? We had coffee with a coworker. We fell in love. We went tanning in a bikini. We pursued an education abroad – because we want to learn from the very best, not because we are hoping to get lucky like the guys are. We openly discussed how unjust the different standards for marriage are for men and women, different standards for everything. And we were labeled “impure”. Keep your definition of purity if it means I must oppress myself so you can buy me later on.

The Significance of Names

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I am thoroughly enjoying the Language and Culture unit we are doing in English. A few days ago we focused on an integral part of each culture: names. Mot of the time, names reveal a person’s ethnic background. Us Arabs have very obvious names; Fahad, Noor, Bader. Sometimes they reveal religion; Mohammed, Abrar, Abdullah. As for our full names, last names reveal history. It tells strangers where we descended from, what kind of lives our ancestors lived, what conditions they lived through, what struggles they overcame or what luxury they lived in. It tells people what kind of person you are; maybe your parents gave you a name that made you want to live up to its meaning.

My English teacher is originally from Guiana, and told us that the last name she carries is not technically hers. When slaves were still owned, they would take the last name of their ‘owners’. My teacher is proud of her last name because as she said, her people have nothing to be ashamed of, and did nothing to be ashamed of. The ‘owners’, on the other hand–the whites–do. The same people who deem themselves ethical and everyone else to be primitive today, have a long, disgusting history of torture, imperialism, oppressive methods, and establishing supremacy. When my teacher was in school, whites and blacks had recently started attending classes together. But the content they studied, of course, focused solely on white history. When my teacher would ask if they could even sing black music in Music Class, it would be dismissed as “backwards” and “primitive”. Whites would impose their beliefs on the blacks, trying to get them to despise themselves and feel ashamed of their innocent ancestors, imposing their immoral perspective on them, leading to their self-loathing and sadness.
In my Understanding Knowledge class, we looked at a form the U.S. uses for their annual census. I can’t seem to find it online, but one of the things the citizen would have to fill out was identifying his race by putting a check mark next to the options given. The options were extremely limited. “White – Hispanic – Asian – Black – Other – Declined to provide.” Now think about just how many races fall under ‘other’! Are all the other races — including us as Arabs — too insignificant for the officials to be bothered to include them? Or is the point of these options to hurt our pride and make us choose “declined to provide”? Declined to provide could mean three things: 1) we didn’t want to be categorized as “other”. 2) we were too insulted by their racism to actually tell them where we are from. 3) some may actually feel ashamed of their race. Which, again, makes no sense to me, as we do not have a shameful history. At some point we were the most powerful people on Earth, and that is good reason to be proud of our heritage.

I see nothing wrong with embracing certain positive aspects about the Western culture, such as education and a different way of thinking – but I do not think that we should strip ourselves of our own cultures. If we do that we are signing up for our own ethnic cleansing upon our Arab culture – at some point our grandchildren/great grandchildren would not speak Arabic, would not know how Gulf countries reached their current economic statuses, would never read Arabic. Our language is one of the most difficult languages to learn for foreigners who are so fascinated by it and want to learn how to speak, write, and read it so badly. We are privileged enough to have been born as native Arabic speakers. It is an integral part of who we are, and I think it’s vital that we never let that part go – it is in our blood. In honor of all the sacrifices our ancestors have made for us, the least we could do is cherish our cultures. Balance is key.

Post 9/11 America

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Mona El Tahawy is one of my favorite Arab journalists. She’s a brilliant Egyptian woman who writes about Arab affairs beautifully and puts justice to perfect words. She wrote this on 9/11/2011:

For most of my life, the US was never anything more than vacation memories. My family visited almost 30 years ago for a vacation that marked the end of our years of living in the UK and which came just before we moved to Saudi Arabia.

New York City dazzled, of course, and a road trip with an uncle and his family from Wyoming through the Rockies to California where Mickey Mouse greeted us in Disneyland, was a lesson in the sheer vastness that is the United States.

But then I fell in love with an American and I flew to NYC to meet him for the millennium celebrations and even though we fought and I gave him back his engagement ring, I agreed to marry him and I did what I vowed I’d never do: I left my job and my home for a man.

The year after I moved to be with him in Seattle, early one Tuesday, his mother called us from her home at the other end of the country – three time zones away in Florida – urging us to turn on the television because something terrible was happening in New York. I rushed to awaken my brother and his wife who were visiting us.

That morning of 11 September 2001 as we watched the twin towers crumble on live television, America and I would develop a bond that has proven deeper and more enduring – for better or worse, through sickness and health – than the one I had with my now ex-husband.

“If this is Muslims, they’re going to round us up,” I told him. He took the day off work and we didn’t leave the apartment for two days, worried that my sister-in-law would be attacked for her headscarf. A drunk unsuccessfully tried to set our local mosque on fire; the neighbourhood stood guard outside the mosque for weeks afterwards holding signs that read “Muslims are Americans”.

“What’s it like to f**k a terrorist?” a group of young men asked the white American husband of a Pakistani-American woman I knew.

I left my husband a year after 9/11. Not because he was an American and I an Egyptian, nothing to do with culture or religion; nothing to do with 9/11. We brought out the worst in each other. But before we separated we visited NYC one more time together for a friend’s engagement and we went to pay our respects at the site of the attacks. I had no words. Just tears and prayers as we took in the gaping hole, the makeshift shrines of teddy bears and notes desperately seeking the whereabouts of loved ones.

Ironically, he now lives in Asia and I’ve stayed in the US. I stayed to fight. To say that’s not my Islam. To yell Muslims weren’t invented on 9/11. Those planes crashing again and again into the towers were the first introduction to Islam and Muslims for too many Americans but we – American Muslims – are sick and tired of explaining. None of those men was an American Muslim and we’re done explaining and apologising. Enough.

I stayed to give my middle finger to Tea Partiers who tried to intimidate a group of us in 2010 because we supported the right of an Islamic community centre to build near the site of the attacks. They came to bully us and I bullied them right back. I wanted them to know Muslims will not be intimidated so think twice before you try to bully another one.

I became an American in April of this year, almost 11 years after I moved here. I could’ve become naturalised earlier but I realised soon after I took the oath and we watched a video of President Obama congratulating us that if it had been President Bush I would’ve probably run out, screaming.

Despite an appearance by Bush at a mosque after 9/11 to show he didn’t hold all Muslims responsible, his administration proceeded to do exactly that: military trials for civilians, secret prisons, the detention of hundreds of Muslim men without charge, the torture and harsh interrogation of detainees and the invasions of two Muslim-majority countries.

And the latest stain on the US civil liberties record: an Associated Press expose in August on ways the CIA and the NYPD are combining forces to spy on Muslims in New York City. The thought that someone could be following me to my favourite book shops or night clubs is as pathetic and sinister as when the Mubarak regime tapped my phone and had me followed when I lived in Egypt.

And I will continue to stay in the US for my nieces and nephews. I have chosen not to have children. I am a happy aunt to two girls and two boys between the ages of three and eight. They were the first Americans in our family and the thought that anyone could question either their nationality or faith – or demand they choose between the two – enrages me.

Over the past 10 years, American Muslims have fought not just the hate and stereotypes and the profiling from those outside the community, we’ve also had major fights within the Muslim community. As a friend described it, 9/11 pushed many Muslims to “come out” as liberals or progressives. For too long, huge, conservative national organisations claimed to speak for all of us but there is a much greater diversity of American Muslim voices now and that benefits everyone. Conservative does not equal authentic.

People think I’m Brazilian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, anything but Muslim because many people equate a Muslim woman with the wearing of a headscarf. So like someone who’s gay who might make sure to tell you soon after you meet, I try to include within the first three sentences of a new meeting that I’m a Muslim.

Before 9/11, some Muslims lived quiet, uneventful suburban lives; the dentists and the accountants and the attorneys. 9/11 robbed them of that boring existence. But in struggling to become boring again, American Muslims have over the past 10 years made our community here the most vibrant of any Muslim community in the world, Tea Party and Bush legacy be damned!

We’re your friends, lovers and spouses, America. We’re your comedians, taxi drivers, chefs, politicians and singers. And we’re your doctors, like my brother and his wife who were visiting me from the midwest in Seattle 10 years ago.

My brother, a cardiologist, was visited by special agents from the FBI in November 2001 who asked him if he knew anyone who celebrated the attacks. His wife is an obstetrician/gynaecologist.

One day she and I were watching one of those medical dramas when she told me an anecdote that neatly sums it all up: “I was delivering a baby the other day and the father was watching via Skype cam. He was a soldier in Afghanistan. And I thought, here I am: a Muslim doctor in a headscarf delivering a baby whose father is an American soldier in Afghanistan, a Muslim country.”

Let’s draw the curtain on 9/11 anniversaries after this 10th one. Every year on 11 September you can taste the grief in NYC. The wound will never heal if every year we scratch the scar off and open the way to hate and prejudice.

Some of the earliest Muslims came to the US across the Atlantic on slave ships from west Africa. Not far from where I live in Harlem, there’s a west African community complete with a mosque, restaurants and French-speaking people. 9/11 changed everything and 9/11 changed nothing at all. America – I’m not going anywhere.

The Social Pyramid Makes or Breaks You

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Sometime in February during my Junior year of high school, my English teacher said something to me that made my classmates laugh — which, of course, made me immediately take what he said as an insult. Later on that day I mentioned it to a friend who said that I shouldn’t have been offended, it was actually a compliment, an honorable one at that. I spent five days a week, two hours a day, and nine months for a whole year with this teacher. He had a good understanding of my personality and my character from the way I behaved in his room and from my opinions during certain discussions we would have as a class. Usually by February, all teachers have a good idea of what kind of person you are. So his comment was a result of several months of observation and contemplation, since he he deemed it fit to say to me.

I don’t remember what exactly caused him to say it, but if my memory serves me correctly, one of my classmates had a slight cold and he sneezed, so I got up and passed him a tissue box. My English teacher looked at me for a few moments and then said, “You’d be a good nurse.”

I was surprised. I’ve been told I’d be a good journalist, a good writer, a good lawyer, a good counselor, and many other career suggestions. But I’ve never been told I’d be a good nurse. The stifled laughs of two or three guys in my class with extremely low IQ’s made me say, “A nurse?” and my teacher persisted, “Yes, you’d be a very good nurse, you’d take good care of patients.” And I didn’t answer, not wanting to pursue the topic in front of my classmates. So we both dropped it.

But now, 6 months later, I have a completely different outlook on this. I’m trying to understand what it was that made me take offense at what was obviously a compliment. What’s wrong with being a nurse? Nurses are the ones who have taken care of our grandparents as they took their last breaths in hospitals, they will care for our parents when they grow old, and they care for us and our families and loved ones when we fall ill. They’re patient, understanding, caring, and gentle; they do everything they can to ensure that you are comfortable even though you are in pain. They don’t just take care of you physically, they take care of you emotionally as well. It’s very common to see nurses calming down scared children if their parents are not around. They do a good job of keeping patients’ fear under control. I think they’re a lot like teachers, underestimated, under-appreciated, and underpaid. They put up with a lot of bullshit too; lots of disrespect and mistreatment is aimed their way as a result of families’ frustration, but they take it with stride. In my opinion, they are every bit as important to the patient as the doctor.

I’m glad my point of view has changed since February, and it was a long, intense process that required me to think twice about a lot of my beliefs, but I’m still wondering what kind of brainwash society puts us through that has conditioned all citizens to having the same views on the same matters. They look down on nurses, garbage-men, street-cleaners, salon workers, and waiters, but not parliament members that steal money and disgrace the country, tarnishing its reputation universally. Is it about status? Is it about money? The more money you make, the more respect you gain? Why isn’t it about honor? Why isn’t honor enough? If a man or a woman is doing something good for society, and he or she is doing it with honor, don’t they deserve as much respect as that trashy parliament member you think so highly of? Where would we be anyway, without these “low-class” workers? I think it’s so wrong that non-Kuwaitis are cleaning the streets of Kuwait. There is no logic or honor behind it. It should be Kuwaitis cleaning up their streets, although they should not be dirty to begin with. But unfortunately, I doubt a great number of Kuwaitis would volunteer to clean up the streets, even though it is our land and our responsibility.

Just something to ponder over.