The WT Swimming Pool, Stereotypes, and Africa


This afternoon I took three children aged eight and ten to the WTAMU (a local university) swimming pool, found myself a comfortable chair, opened my book, and proceeded to read.  When I looked up I saw this:

“This isn’t a democracy anymore.

It’s a Ricktatorship.”

These words boldly stood out in white on a black T-shirt.  For those not from Texas, the Rick to whom the statement refers is the governor of Texas where I live.  Between the two sentences was a photo of a cop with a gun pointed directly at me, the reader of the quotation.  Looking at the woman, young, unkept, no makeup, pimpled, overweight, I never would have expected her to adorn herself with this particular shirt especially in this intensely Republican part of Texas.  Then it hit me; I was stereotyping. I felt a bit horrified with myself.  How can you tell by the appearance of a person whether they are liberal, moderate, or conservative.  You can’t.

 

I went back to reading which was perhaps a mistake.  When it first became a rather famous book, I purchased Say You’re One Of Them by Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian writer-he is originally from Nigeria.  It contains five stories some quite short and some of novella length.  Why has it taken me so very long to get through this book?  These are not stories one can sit down and casually read.  This volume of searing, well written stories tells of immense horrors. The settings of the stories include various countries in West Africa, including Nigeria, and Rwanda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  Today, I finally got around to reading the story from which the book gets its title.  Now I wonder how I can sleep tonight.  All the stories describe the lives of individuals brutalized by war, modern slavery, and ethnic and religious hatred.  All the stories are from the viewpoint of a child, the oldest of whom is sixteen.  Today’s story, the longest in the book, takes place in modern times in Nigeria.  If you do not already have some inkling as to Nigerian politics, the whys and wherefores of Boka Haram, the violence in the oil fields in the south, and the intensity of the rivalries and hatreds among the various tribal factions and Muslims and Christians, this story will both enlighten and horrify you.  The sixteen year old young man in the story is fleeing the north with many other refugees.  Although he is Muslim, his Muslim friends turn against him even though he had his hand chopped off for stealing a goat.  They think he is too moderate and does not hate Christians sufficiently.  The Christians with whom he is a refugee turn against him because he is Muslim.  His story is not uncommon.  Look at Syria, Iraq, the Congo.  The rest of the world needs to know.  Hatred and violence can occur anywhere.  What happens in a distant corner of our planet affects each and every one of us.

Much as Love and Murder, Freedom is a Many-Splendored Thing


northierthanthou

17711-series-header Yapto Soerjosoemarno is a middle-aged man. He is the leader of Pankasila, an Indonesian youth group three million strong. The camera follows him out onto a golf course where he explains; “Gangsters are free men. They want to live life in their style. Relax and Rolex.” A moment later he tells his young caddy she has a mole on her pussy.

And she smiles.

Of course all of this comes after Yapto explains that Pankasila had killed all the communists in Indonesia. It comes after he has spoken at a Pankasila rally, one in which he calls himself the biggest gangster of all.

What else could the young girl do but smile?

KillingAs he and his friends try on colorful gangster outfits, Anwar Kongo waxes on about his inspirations; Al Pacino, John Wayne, and others like them. He goes on to relate the story of how he once placed the…

View original post 1,449 more words

For All the Lonely, Lost Young Men


At first, I planned to simply post a poem by this title, a response to the bombing in Boston and the young men who orchestrated it.  Then I decided that a few comments seemed more appropriate.  These comments come from a realization and conversations with a couple of colleagues at work noticing that all the perpetrators of the bombings and mass killings have been young males.  These young men cite various causes from the anger of being disenfranchised and bullied to religious fervor of a certain type to insanity.  All acknowledged anger over something, a rage so profound they felt driven to act, at least for those to whom authorities could talk.  Most appeared to be alienated from their culture, friends, or family, young men who failed to fit in.  Although we must condemn their horrific acts, perhaps it would also prove more productive to ask, “Why?” Unless we know why and address the causes, these events will be repeated somewhere at some totally unforeseen time.  And many innocents will die again and again.  Perhaps equally disturbing is the fact that we are not alone.  These types of events repeat themselves in one way or another in many other countries in the world.  Additionally, I realize that many people feel the solution lies in revenge, punishment, justice as they see it.  For those, many of the sentiments I express in this poem may seem too simplistic, too kind, too naive.  I teach high school.  I work with all types of young men daily.  I see their fear, anger, loneliness even if fleeting and only momentarily.  We can make a difference; we can reach out.

Look at yourselves

filled with

fear,

anger,

hatred.

This world may not embody

the perfect place

of which you dream;

do not despair.

We care.

Do not shoot me.

I care.

Do not throw bombs at the innocent;

They care.

Do not hate the different.

They care.

Do not despair.

Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror


This blog began as a vehicle to “make” me write more and share my writings, e.g. poetry, flash memoir, essays, with others and to learn from reader responses.  Along the way, it morphed into my recipes—starting with friends requesting them, my travels and adventures, inspirations, and thoughts.  This post will morph me into something I fear may be far more controversial, but also feel I must explore. Several years ago, a couple of friends and I enrolled as continuing education students in a course about Islamic thought and literature.  Our hope was to learn more about exactly what the title indicated.  Although I had already read quite a lot of Middle Eastern literature, especially Iranian, and also some Turkish novels as well as memoirs and nonfiction books, I had no one with whom to discuss my readings and thoughts.  This presented an ideal opportunity.  After a couple of weeks, it became quite clear that the teacher had a definite agenda.  Although she never overtly discussed her own religious beliefs, she generally chose parts of readings to discuss to promote a certain, anti-Islamic bias.  We read the Quran (in translation because none of us spoke or read Arabic—mine was a Pakistani translation), Ayaan Hirsi Ali—various works including Infidel, Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography, and short stories by Iranian, Palestinian, and other Middle Eastern authors.  None were from Southeast Asia where the majority of the world’s Muslims live.  None were from India.  When we discussed the Quran, she chose very specific passages that zeroed in on what she perceived to be Islam’s oppression of women and promotion of violence and war.  When the rest of us tried to also discuss passages about ones duty to the oppressed, the orphans, the poor, she would channel the discussion back to her chosen agenda.  Some dropped out.  The rest of us decided to stay because we wanted to read and discuss the writings in spite of the situation.  Over time, our insistence on a broader based view seemed to affect her strong bias slightly.  In the end, she even showed the Iranian movie, “Children of Heaven”, which presents the plight of a poor Iranian family in a very sympathetic light.  The father overtly loves his wife and struggles valiantly to help her and his family in any way he can. This class has led me to further pursue my readings of literature from Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, India, etc., both fiction and non-fiction and to learn as much as I can about the past and present as it relates to issues in these parts of the world.  Since then, I have also experienced the privilege of hosting exchange students from Thailand, Brazil, and Argentina.  One of my closest friends grew up Muslim in Indonesia.  I also have Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan and atheist friends from many parts of the world, and some who have little interest in religion. Recently, the librarian where I teach asked me to read Wanted Women, Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror:  The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui.  I finished it recently and highly recommend reading this book.  The author, Deborah Scroggins, spent six years following the lives of these two women, including interviewing their colleagues, family members, self proclaimed jihadists, and government officials from several countries.  She delineates an incredible amount of information and data.  If you care about the political and spiritual future of this planet and the ongoing controversies surrounding Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, this book provides an excellent opportunity to explore history and the events of the last 20-30 years, and then to develop your own insights.  My hope is that this post will encourage others to explore new avenues of knowledge and open wider venues of thought that encourage a better, kinder world in which we respect and value each others’ differences.

Recommended additional readings:   This is one of my favorite magazines.  It is free and covers art, cuisine, nature, history, literature, geography, just about everything imaginable.  For teachers, they have suggested uses and additional materials at the back.  It comes out six times per year.

If you are unfamiliar with literature from the Arab world, this is a good place to start.  Mahfouz won the Nobel prize for literature.  Although his novels take place in Egypt, the themes are universal.

In spite of the word jihad in the title, this is more of a “fun” read.  The Iranian American author, a journalist, decided to go to the Iran of her roots and work and live there for a while.  This book describes her adventures as a journalist in Iran.

Other books I recommend are Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith by Gina B. Nahai                   (this is one of my all time favorite books), No God but God by Reza Aslan, another Iranian journalist, The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak (this book is a novel about Rumi, whose beliefs Islamists do not find acceptable), and Shattering the Stereotypes:  Muslim Women Speak Out edited by Afzal-Khan.

Another source of information about events, literature, art, etc. in the Middle East is a blog entitled “Sugar Street Review”.  One of their latest blog posts, Top Five Female Arab Writers provides a list of these women with photos, brief bios, and some critique.

The Land in Love with Guns


In the United States firearms kill approximately 15,000 individuals per year.  In Britain, Australia, and Canada, the average is 350 per year.  Spain’s rate is even lower.  In Germany, it is less than 800.  A young person here dies about every 4 ½ hours, shot dead.  The US murder rate is 19.5, nearly 20 times higher that the next 22 richest countries.  In the 23 richest countries combined, 80 percent of all gun related deaths are in the US; 87 percent of children killed are shot by guns here.  In the last 45 years, bullets killed more than one million people in the US.

Gun sales are big money.  More than a dozen hand guns are sold per minute.  One survey indicates that one out of every four US homes possess a gun; another survey says 39 percent.  However, most guns are owned by only a small proportion of the population, gun “collectors” who own an average of seven weapons per person.  Guns are cheap here and bullets even cheaper, about 50 cents each.  The Mexican government contends that our cheap guns help fuel the dreadful violence there which then overflows to here.

In spite of all this, the US murder rate is the lowest in more than 45 years.  The NRA claims more guns equal less violent crime.  The NRA contends that the lower crime rate is the result of less strict gun laws and more people owning guns.  Nevertheless, mass murder occurs on a regular basis.  We mourn, we lament, but nothing changes.

Eventually, another mass murder occurs and the cycle repeats itself.  Why?  Who or what is responsible?  What can be done?  Will more restrictive gun laws help or hinder?  Debates continue; opposing views and answers abound, but the cycle continues.  Will it ever change?

I wrote the above after the last mass murder event.  Nothing changed.  Now the conversation appears more strident, more active.  Apparently, the mass killing of children is more heinous, more scary than the mass murder of adults even if the adults are young.  The NRA advocates armed guards at schools.  How will that prevent mass killings at movie theaters, at malls, at churches, on the street, e.g. the three murders this week in Pennsylvania?

Australia was another country in love with guns, but after a mass killing there, they changed their collective mind.  They enacted strict gun control laws for assault weapons and ammunition.  Could that work here?  I think not.  This is a country in love with guns because the right to own a gun symbolizes  what is perceived as individual rights.  This is a country where personal liberty remains far more important than community safety and social justice.  Until that changes, mass murders will continue.