Be Better Than Fear

My last two posts were pretty bleak. I admit it. I don’t believe the world is ending just yet, but there are definitely signs of doom for democratic ideals.

The fear and loathing can’t be divorced from the current President, his administration and the mockery that is being made of fair governance. Basic human decency should be an occupational requirement. But it’s not.

Although actual progress on any part of the Trump agenda has been mercifully slow, change is very much in the air, dredging up fear on both sides of the aisle. It’s just being channeled and processed differently. On the left we’re seeing authoritarian activities we believed were ancient history once again in vogue – and we’re resisting. On the right…I honestly don’t know what we’re seeing. But the Party of No is gunning for women’s health, civil rights and immigration.

At the center of both reactions lies fear. For some conservatives, it’s fear of what America’s changing demographics look like, particularly in post-9/11 America. On the liberal left, there’s panic that we’ll never make it three and a half more years of Trump.

Fear drives ignorant, shortsighted behavior, such as a school teacher handing out a “Most Likely to be a Terrorist” certificate to a seventh grader (as a “joke”). In what universe is branding someone at the most turbulent stage of their life as a terrorist, funny? Or even remotely appropriate? It’s harassment, an attack on a child’s mental state, creating a hostile environment for the entire community. We can’t have the people entrusted with our kids damaging their mental health and creating a bullying culture from the top down.

That same fear of the “other” contributed to North Carolina’s racist voting district gerrymandering efforts. These moves placed large groups of African-Americans into the same few districts, concentrating their votes. In effect, gerrymanderers split representatives 10:3 in favor of traditional, white republican representation in areas where black voters skew democratic. This approach was struck down by the Supreme Court with the uncharacteristic support of Justice Clarence Thomas, rarely to be found on the “liberal” side of a case.

SCOTUS’ ruling in the North Carolina case is one of the few moments of clarity and bipartisan unity we’ve seen in recent months, an indication that black votes, voices and lives matter. There is hope to be found in the system of checks and balances, no matter how delayed.

There’s also reasons for optimism as courts across the country slap down Trump’s proposed travel ban time and time again. In fact, just this last weekend Following another terrorist attack in London, Prime Minister Theresa May called for action to restrict “the safe spaces it needs to breed.” Trump’s travel ban and May’s preference for a police state are responses of fear, because they do not understand the bigger picture.

The proposed ban exists to discriminate against six majority Islamic countries as a show of nationalism (not to be confused with patriotism). Somehow Trumpsters and their supporters fail to realize reducing all Muslims to terrorists is like conflating all Christians with the Westboro Baptist Church.

May, while having a legitimate cause for concern (this is the third attack on British soil within three months), is reacting to radical elements of Islam. She’s looking to penetrate so-called self-segregated communities and be “less delicate of their sensitivities.” It’s panic that targets civilians.

When we hear the word “terrorism,” it’s disturbing  to observe the automatic jump of many to Islam. We need to remember that terrorism isn’t a religion; it’s a tactic. A tactic founded upon bullying, sadism and sociopathic tendencies to control people through threats, intimidation and violent action.

Terrorism does not exist “over there.” Look no further than America and Breitbart’s hate-filled agenda, the constant stream of cultural ignorance (yes, those are different links) thrown at those who look or believe outside of hetero, Caucasian, Christian paradigms. Consider Betsy Devos’ anarchist, hands-off approach to education. Every day on the job, she’s developing a hostile experience for future generations.

There is a lot of negativity to weight us down at present, but we also need to look beyond our own fear. By doing so, we’ll learn how to advance together. By way of example, there’s the One Love Manchester concert benefiting victims of the second U.K. attack. There’s also the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling against gerrymandering, and the unprecedented number of women running for public office. There’s human decency and intelligence visible everywhere – if you know where to look. 

Allowing paralysis or backward movement under the weight of fear does no one any good. The ability to look forward is what will distinguish leaders matching the global, human challenges of these times.

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America Wants Sharia Law

no-hate

My first guest post of 2017 comes from my younger sister’s longtime friend, and thoughtful American, Kyle Twenty. No additional setup needed. Just read….

There’s been an idea germinating in my head for awhile now. This is an attempt to more fully work it out. I’m seeing increased hypocrisy amongst some of the very grassroots Christian movements using fear tactics and hate speech to justify Islamophobic actions.

It’s like this. Despite impassioned words to the opposite effect, many Americans seem to want Sharia law. As counterintuitive as it sounds, recent actions and decisions in this country have led me to believe that the same people who denounce the Islamic faith and everything it stands for, are the ones who are craving Sharia life the most. Allow me to explain.

Literally translated, Sharia means “the path to the watering hole,” or “the right path.” A recent description I encountered labels Sharia “…a religious code for living, in the same way the Bible offers a moral system for Christians.” Sharia deals with nearly every aspect of daily life, including politics, economics, banking, business law, contract law, sexuality, and social issues.

Growing up in a conservative, Midwestern, Christian family that regularly attended church, these spheres of influence were often topics for the Sunday sermon. The homilies that emanated from the preacher covered all of the above, interspersed with passages from the Bible that were meant to provide models for adapting the teachings into daily life and relationships.

I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to ceremonies from many religions of the world: Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Jewish, and yes, Islam. While I don’t pretend to understand every intricacy and nuance, all of these faiths use teachings of the past to help guide followers in the present and future. So though in name origin, “Sharia” hails from the Muslim culture, in practice the idea is part of every religious theology. In effect, all faiths have their own Sharia.

So why it is that many people who denounce Islamic Sharia have no struggle accepting Christian Sharia into their hearts and lives? It’s a rhetorical question to which I have no immediate answer. Perhaps it’s a lack of education or curiosity about other faiths. Maybe it’s a deep-rooted, hereditary fear laced with racial prejudice. Perhaps it is Christian dogma itself, which instructs the faithful to “Put no other Gods” before the Lord, or that “No one comes to the Father, if not through” (presumably) white Jesus.

Regardless of the motives, there is a decades-long movement at work in the United States to introduce more Christian law into conservative politics. Just like Islamic Sharia, many legislative leaders are interweaving religious dogma into governance, attempting to define how we should live. What is this if not Sharia?

The rampant fear of Islam and Islamic Sharia that’s overtaking the country stems from a very vocal minority of Muslims who misuse parts of the Qur’an to justify hatred and violence. These fringe members of the faith look at verses which state “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore, strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them, or “And fight with them until there is no more fight and religion should be only for Allah.” The extremists choose to interpret these words literally, without any review of context. And for convenience sake, Christians with a fear and loathing of Islam identify these same passages as “proof” of the religion’s malice. They fail to realize their own hypocrisy as they stand, clutching their King James Bibles, accusing Islamic Sharia of breeding chaos.

Before Christian Americans cast any more proverbial stones, perhaps we should take a look at our own Book. Deuteronomy 17:2-5 states that “If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord thy God, in transgressing his covenant, And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel; Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.”

Even the more forgiving New Testament, which forms the basis for modern Christianity, chimes in with these two gems. Luke 19:27 – “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” Matthews 10:34 -“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

Here we have two holy texts – the Qur’an and the Bible – with verses taken out of context, inciting violence. How exactly is this different?

Based on the excerpts offered, the conclusion could be drawn that, in a vacuum, Christian Sharia is a system just as violent as the Islamic variety. But for sociopolitical expediency, we ignore the Bible’s angry rhetoric. It’s there and we make peace with it as part of a larger belief system. Yet we’re unable to afford Muslim practitioners the same latitude.

In the end, it’s very simple. “Extremists” are those who try to push the boundaries of religious law – any religion – to gain power and justify inhumanity.

I ask you to consider the following question. What are the qualitative differences between the Islamic Sharia rejected with such vitriol by so many, and the conservative Christian Sharia being used to dominate and inflict pain upon the country in 2017?

Kyle Twenty is a 15-year veteran of the broadcast industry, from which he eventually escaped to settle in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife, two children, and their assortment of pets. He spends his time trying to use logic, reason, and facts to win over the hearts and minds of others, demonstrating that there are many sides to issues of the human condition. You can contact Kyle via email at ktwenty@comcast.net, or follow him on Twitter @gpsdetour.

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