Love, Hate and Islamophobia

I’m exceedingly proud to introduce my first guest blogger since the launch of the website earlier this year – my eminently talented and thoughtful younger sister, Jennifer. I will not be posting this week because nothing I have to say is nearly as urgent, and this deserves our collective attention. Please read and share.

Max and Jenny

In 2001, I met a man at work who intrigued me. We began dating shortly after the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2003, I married this man, and in 2007 we had our first child together – a beautiful little girl to join my older daughter from a previous marriage.

In 2016, we will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary with our children at Disney World – our favorite place on earth. Max loves me more than seems justified, but he’s exactly the father my kids deserve, the kind of man I wish I’d been able to look up to as a child. Everyone he works, prays, plays or engages with loves and respects him. He’s one of those rare people who doesn’t seem to have any enemies. But there’s just one little thing. Max is a Muslim.

The sad fact is, despite the qualities listed above, and the other terrific nuances that make Max a better man than most, some people that don’t know him at all hate him because of his religious beliefs. Oh, and they hate my 8 year-old daughter too. Facebook taught me that yesterday. In fact, Facebook has been educating me about the inherent disgust for my family for years now. However after last Friday’s senseless tragedy in Paris, the rejection of my loved ones reached a fever pitch.

It was a former aunt by marriage who posted a “fact” sheet (which I have not yet vetted) that delivered the blow that led to this post. The data in the meme purported to reflect Japanese restrictions on Muslims in their country. Said aunt (who has, it must be owned, recognized her prejudicial error, removed the post and apologized) added the editorial comment, “And so should the US,” in reference to Japan’s alleged closed door policy to Islamic people.

It’s not like I haven’t experienced different forms of hate or racism by proxy over the course of my relationship with Max. Quite the contrary. I’ve had my luggage contents dumped on the floor for all to see in an airport in Omaha. You know, because I was traveling with a bearded brown man. A hateful employee at O’Hare, the world’s largest as well as one of the most diverse travel hubs, attempted to prevent my husband and I from flying on the same plane to our honeymoon destination.

More recently, I was waved through a security checkpoint at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City even though my bracelets were tripping the metal detectors. However my cousin by marriage, wearing a hijab, was harassed about a blue dolphin statue that I purchased for my daughter at the Museum of Natural History. My cousin had been kind enough to tote the item for me on her stroller, and her kindness turned into an ugly memory.

I’ve asked these questions a million times. Does every Christian (or even an atheist gun owner) pay the price every time a rogue member of the flock shoots up an abortion clinic? Did every white American male have to apologize for or denounce the Unabomber? How about Timothy McVeigh? Did we close the borders to white Protestants after the evils perpetrated by the Klu Klux Klan? The obvious answer to all of these queries is “No.” Why obvious? Because it’s absurd to expect every American or Christian to denounce the distorted beliefs of a crazy person in order to stave off personal suspicion. As a culture, we do not afford the Muslim community that same courtesy.

You know those people that spout racist speech but then take cover under dubious claims when caught? They’ll say “Oh, I have black friends” after making pointedly ignorant statements about African-American culture. This phenomenon exists in discussions about the Islamic faith too. When I’m frustrated and emboldened enough to call someone out for their hate speech, and this has happened a few times, some are very quick to tell me they have Muslim friends who are “good people.” All better then, right?

1) No. I don’t believe you have Muslim friends. Because if you did, they would tell you that your gross, painful generalizations are unfounded.

2) I don’t think a Muslim – or any religious/ethnic minority – would befriend you knowing your opinions.

3) The second you protest that you have a ____ friend and are not a prejudiced against ______s as a result, you have lost the argument.

Max is a man of seemingly limitless tolerance and patience. But I’m not. Those security disasters I mentioned? My husband waits for them to end with humility. He does what he’s told and asks me to remain quiet so we can get through it and not draw extra attention to ourselves. He accepts that additional layers of mistrust and scrutiny are his lot in life – that he has to deal with being unnecessarily harassed for the good of the country. I sit there incensed and mortified. He just endures. I’ve learned to internalize my anger because if Max is willing to undergo racial profiling so we can board our plane to Disney World, who am I to presume greater entitlement to respect? Who am I to disrupt the peace he so desperately wants? But instead of getting used to the repetition of these indignities, they fester inside.

This is the world my daughters will inherit, the youngest of whom is being proudly raised in the Islamic faith. That’s what hurts and scares me the most. My husband is a big boy who can take care of himself. He was an adult with excellent coping skills before, during and after the horrible events of 9/11 that changed our country. But my baby girl is sweet and innocent, thinks the best of everyone. I dread the day she realizes that some will reject her based on one part of who she is. How will she react the first time she’s on the receiving end of a racist remark or hate speech about the only religion she knows? How will I react? My nearest and dearest should start saving bail money.

I spent part of yesterday morning watching President Obama’s speech at the G20 Summit in Turkey. I mentally applauded a particular quote as it was uttered, but in light of this recent, personal emotional roller coaster it bears repeating:

I had a lot of disagreements with George W. Bush on policy, but I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam. And the notion that some of those who have taken on leadership in his party would ignore all of that, that’s not who we are. On this, they should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse. It’s our better impulse. We don’t discriminate against people because of their faith. We don’t kill people because they’re different than us. That’s what separates us from them.”

For inquiries, please contact jennifer.ashrafi@yahoo.com 

Dogs & Cats, Living Together! Mass Hysteria!

Meko and Jude

This evening, during our regular constitutional with the dogs, Bob told me that Jude ate some random, discarded alley bread in the morning. Worse, it was the bleached white variety devoid of any nutrition or flavor. When they returned home, Jude made a beeline for the toilet in order to rinse his verboten snack down with some refreshing tank juice. An eight year-old, 65-pound Australian Shepherd/Rottweiler swarmed with affection, high quality food, medical care and fabulous designer dishes has the culinary inclinations of a starved Depression-era chain ganger. Bob and I imagined him a prisoner/bootlegger, using his white bread and john water to ferment jailhouse gin.

This is Jude.

In June, shortly after Bob and I began co-habitating, I came home to a household of three pets for one of the first times. Dino, my fluffy, four-pound, 16 year-old ball of kitty might, is renowned throughout the blogosphere. I’ve written about our relationship for some years. But life progresses unpredictably, and a woman never considered a dog person suddenly found herself eagerly learning the quirks and schedules of two new, very large babies. I met Bob one cold February night and that was it. My heart stretched to fit the exact dimensions of this motley crew.

I returned home that rainy June evening to Dino, Jude and our 10.5 year-old German Shepherd/Rottweiler mix, Meko. When Bob rescued her at age six, she had the longer name Kameko. Bob, ever the enemy of needless syllables, shortened the moniker. It fits. She’s a no-frills gal. I swear she even looks like a Meko.

Anyway Meko has been, as they say in the adoption world, “re-homed” twice. Bob is at least her third daddy. We’ll never know her complete history. But we’re certain that she’s very much afraid of storms. Not when she has the chance to run around in one in the yard, mind you. Fear of proximity would make entirely too much sense and dogs don’t operate on logic. Instead Meko cowers from tempests – but only when indoors. Actually no, cowers is absolutely the wrong word. More like she goes WWE on our garbage cans and rugs, tearing up the recyclable shopping bags with her considerable 70-pound fangs.

This is Meko.

So that June evening. It was raining rather intensely in the Chicago way, with lots of spring lightening and gusty wind. I walked home from the train after work as fast as I could, expecting to encounter one of two typical scenarios – a peed upon bath mat or golden showered doggie bed. Thankfully we have access to a large washing machine. But this was no rehearsed production. My adopted darling canines had much more in store for the new mom.

By workday because he is a grazer, tiny and both rescue dogs were ill-fed in their past lives (Bob adopted Jude at one, but the poor fella still has a strong aversion to old men bearing canes or umbrellas – sad and enduring), Dino is sequestered with his food, litter box, heating pad, kitty condo and water in our second bedroom. There’s a window facing East and the little bambino likes watching the sun rise.

One may access this room in two ways: a conventional door off a long hallway, or from a bathroom closet that hangs a sharp left into the back of the bedroom’s laundry space. No human being over the age of six can fit through the latter entrance, owing to the built-in (backless) shelves that straddle the width. But if one were to say, leave the bathroom closet door unlatched, there’s room enough for a burrowing duo of determined, troublemaking doggies.

On this stormy eve, as if ripped from an Edgar Allen Poe scene, I returned home to gruesome carnage. I entered through the kitchen and saw the red metal garbage can, slammed several feet distant into the front hall entrance – broken and twisted. Coffee grounds and stale beet juice remnants were smeared across three different rooms looking eerily like human waste and blood. Already horrified (by sight, smell and the knowledge that I’d be cleaning this mess) and unable to locate Jude and Meko, I ran toward the bathroom.

Sure enough, the closet door was open. I could see through it to the dramatically overturned laundry baskets that had been stacked against the french doors. Clean and dirty linens flung about the room in a tornado of chaos. Meko, the massacre’s ringleader, had burst through the blockade in a mad fit of rain distress, the sartorial fortress intended to add another layer between dog and cat food. Jude crept behind in her wake – the shameless scavenger. I’m not svelte enough to scrape through the passage, so I headed to the hallway to enter the second bedroom.

What greets me? The sight of two calm, satiated dogs leisurely relaxing on the floor, adjacent to a non-plussed feline covered in socks. Dino’s food (and water) of course long gone. I was furious. Dino looked at me with betrayed, accusing, hungry eyes (without the joy of the classic Eric Carmen tune).

But here’s where unmitigated gall surpassed credulity. Both pups had the nerve to look at me with innocent joy, I dare say relief, that someone they love came to the rescue. For as doggedly determined (pun intended) as they are to reach a goal, they’ve never figured out they need to retreat the way they invaded. Obedience school should teach the domestic harmony of covering crimes more intelligently.

Jude was so eager to run from a self-inflicted prison that he took off from his resting place like a shot, stepping on my bare right foot with untrimmed claws, cutting the big toe at the nailbed. Tons of delicate blood.

When Bob came home, I was in a fully outraged stir. Bandaged and 30 minutes into cleaning, straightening, and refreshing Dino’s food, I couldn’t wait to tell him what “his dogs” had done.

But as I started spinning my yarn (and you know? I do that), the body and spirit rejected righteous indignation. I reached the part of the story where Jude sliced my toe in haste to leave the scene, complete lack of guilt about his mien. I started laughing so hard I had no option but to let go. In anarchy, there is often delicious, humorous harmony. Bob labeled Meko’s destructive, trash and laundry-scattering fit, not an emulation of the Incredible Hulk, but rather a special Meko-brand Smash.

We giggled. Bob devised fake apologies and voices for the dogs, issuing long-winded regrets about our cheap, parental taste in cat food. He also created a bit involving an affronted Dino, shaking an elderly paw at the damned kids (middle-aged dogs) on his lawn. Then we laughed some more, toasted the silliness and wondered how we entertained ourselves before we became a family of five. A happy, messy menagerie.

Liberal Media Bias, Huh? Obama’s Common Sense, Successful Federal Inmate Release Ignored

Obama

“I’ve been fortunate enough to earn a journalist’s pulpit, and I’m going to use it to practice what I’m preaching to the dysfunctional members of the ‘liberal’ media. Be braver than this. Say ‘Thanks, Obama!’ for enacting a policy shift that this time, disproportionately and positively affects people of color. And do it without the fear and cynicism.”

Read the full post on the Contemptor website.

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin

FelderSeveral years ago, I had the first opportunity to appreciate the talents of Hershey Felder in his successful one-man show “George Gershwin Alone.” At the time I noted Felder’s gifts for dramatic storytelling, musical diversity and light comedy. They are too considerable to overlook.

However I don’t think it was until this week, during the Midwest press premiere of his latest success, “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin,” that I fully appreciated the artist as historian and archivist, as playwright, as versatile mimic. He owns the work completely. In the press materials distributed with my ticket, there are exactly two individuals credited with every nuance of the production: Director Trevor Hay (who previously collaborated with Felder on the Gershwin piece) and Felder himself. It is extremely rare to encounter a work of art so dependent on the vision and diversity of so few.

And “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” is beautiful, biographical art that requires the intimacy of stage to fully deliver on its subtle force. Felder is note perfect (in every sense) as “America’s composer” in a medium he has mastered. He knows how to work an audience familiar with Berlin’s iconic canon, hits such as the rollicking “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Like the masters he inhabits, Felder needs no side man.

Using Berlin’s long 101-year life and career as a natural structure, Felder becomes the man born in 1888 Belarus as Israel Isidore Baline. Fleeing Jewish persecution in the region, Berlin’s family emigrated to New York City in 1903. After the death of his father at the age of 13, Berlin took to the streets, selling newspapers and quite literally, singing for his supper. The young busker was ahead of his time in understanding an audience’s short attention span, and developed a precocious talent for catchy refrains, puns and lightly ribald riffs. A star was born, as is often the historical case, of want, poverty and nothing to lose.

With a 90-minute running time, Felder thoughtfully and carefully covers a number of highlights from a musical career marked by breathtaking proliferation. Of Berlin’s 232 top-ten hits and 25 number one songs, audiences can’t fail to tap their toes to “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” or feel the misty emotion of standards like “Always” and “White Christmas.”

On the subject of Christmas Felder, like his source of inspiration, displays a canny sense of marketing and timing. Originally the artist’s “I Found My Horn” was slated to run at the Royal George Theatre during the booking dates occupied by “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin.” However, sensing a unique and fitting opportunity to feature the work of an immigrant Jew who loved his adopted country and the holiday season, Felder made the programming change in mid-September. “I Found My Horn” will now make its debut next spring.

I commend Felder’s decision. As we took our seats, my companion for the evening remarked that given the recent shortening of days and advent of November, she hoped the performance would inspire the holiday spirit. I can confirm that we both thrilled at the production’s use of audio visual, which put Bing Crosby in the room for a few bars of “White Christmas.” It doesn’t get any more seasonally festive than that. The show’s flexible set also features a beautifully lit tree figuring in a number of the musical performances, as well as the stories of Berlin’s family life and long marriage to second wife Ellin Mackay.

The production’s press materials quote Jerome Kern, another iconic musical composer, as saying, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music — he is American music.” The same must be said of Felder. He’s in possession of rare talent for resurrecting the ghosts of our cultural past, breathing new life and relevancy into them, while stamping his own prodigious imprint. Berlin may have been a genius but I doubt he could have pulled off such a hilarious imitation of Ethel Merman, before pivoting to a heartbreaking chronicle of elderly widowerhood. The ability to evoke laughter and tears with equal, rapid effect should never be taken for granted.

It turns out for this critic, Hershey Felder, like the legends who inspire his work, grows more satisfying with each return experience. I’m already bugging my editor to assign me “I Found My Horn.”

“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” runs through Dec. 6 at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL. For info or tickets, call 312-988-9000 or visit the Royal George Theatre website.