Remember, Remember, the 1st of September

In Stefan Zweig’s autobiography The World of Yesterday, he says in the foreword,

If I conclude this survey of my life at a certain particular date, I do so intentionally – that September day in 1939 drew the closing line under the epoch that had formed and reared those of us who are of the generation now reaching the age of sixty. But if we can salvage only a splinter of truth from the structure of its ruin, and pass it on to the next generation by bearing witness to it, we will not have lived entirely in vain.

He wrote this as World War II was raging. His autobiography was published in 1942 and, as a Jew who had to flee the nightmares of Nazi Germany, he abhorred the war and suffering brought about in the name of nationalism.

Therefore, I don’t want to speak for him, but I can imagine he’d be pretty distraught at what’s happening this September day.

Israel is claiming about 1,000 acres of the West Bank and annexing it. So near Bethlehem (you know, where Jesus was born), the government of Israel is forcefully taking away the land from the people who live there and claiming it as Israeli territory.

Palestine_Map_2007_(Settlements)

It’s all part of the expansion of settlements throughout the West Bank, while Israel massacres Palestinian civilians in Gaza. So in the east, you have Israel forcefully stealing land from people and the west, you have Israel bombing civilian populations and calling it “self defense“.

That’s like Germany responding to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and calling it “self defense”.

Isn’t it notable that the token image of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is little children throwing rocks at tanks?

intifada

This is definitely an equal conflict.

So whenever people talk about ceasefires, it’s important to have this image in mind. Jon Stewart (believe it or not) had a segment on the U.S. supplying Israel with weapons a few weeks ago that was actually worthwhile:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvA7NhehocY]

Let’s not forget when Israel used white phosphorous supplied by the U.S. in 2009!

These aren’t isolated war crimes. This is a systematic genocide, supported by the United States.

I know that’s a heavy word, but seriously, let’s look at the United Nations definition of “genocide”:

“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

That’s a pretty solid definition, I’d say.

So what’s happening when Israel does all of these things to the Palestinians?

This is the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Poland. Germany’s subsequent destruction of Europe and Africa marks the fundamental shift in our cultural perceptions of genocide. We as a society have, at least superficially, said that genocide is unacceptable.

But here we are, 75 years later.

The Israeli Defense Forces pummel Gaza into dust and dye the sea red with blood. And they do it all with U.S. taxpayer money. And CNN puts U.S. senators and Israeli ambassadors on to say, “Israel has a right to defend itself.”

Defend itself against what, exactly?

Does the word “defense” cease to mean anything in this Orwellian twist?

Meanwhile, I remember seeing those despicable forest-green IDF shirts that people wore in my college classes. Or the sorority girls talking about their time on Birthright Israel, a program that takes young people and tours them around the Apartheid state. The program is called BIRTHRIGHT. As if that’s not the most vile name they could have chosen.

“We saw some villages in Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah in the distance. It was sooo scary!”

It makes me sick to my stomach, honestly.

We need to salvage more than a “splinter of truth” and instead struggle against the systematic destruction of the Palestinian people. If we remember, remember the 1st of September, we should be fighting any and all genocides with every tool in our bag.

Especially the ones that we have the ability to stop.

Mandela

Advertisements

9 questions about Syria that still haven’t been answered

Since March 2011, over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria. It’s taken two and half years, but people in the United States are finally talking about the civil war. I’ve seen multiple articles scattered around the internet attempting to explain the situation (and almost always falling pathetically short). This post is aimed at filling in some gaps.

One article stands out in particular: a Washington Post article entitled “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask” by Max Fisher.

SYRIA-CONFLICT-NATIONAL-DEFENCE-FORCES

1. What is Syria?

Syria is a country. Let’s move on.

2. Why are people in Syria killing each other?

Mr. Fisher doesn’t aim to answer this question accurately at all. So yes, it’s true that the civil uprising began in March/April 2011 and protests around the country swelled. It also happens to be true that the government did respond “like monsters”. But this is only half of the story.

In April 2011, there were also protests around the country in support of Assad and the current government. I’m talking hundreds of thousands of people. These protests, however, didn’t receive the fanfare in the Western media. This is because the narrative in the West, from the beginning, has been about how a terrible dictator is killing his people. It happens to be a bit more complex.

To further complicate said narrative, on July 29th, 2011, a conglomerate of defected soldiers and random people established the “Free Syrian Army”. The Free Syrian Army remains the major oppositional force in Syria, fighting alongside (and oftentimes against) other groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic Ahrar al-Sham Movement. Since the beginning, the rebels have had a difficult time developing any cohesive program, which has resulted in a civil war within a civil war.

On top of this, the FSA is a difficult organization to pin down. Some representatives claim that they want to establish a secular democracy. Some talk about an Islamic republic. All they can agree on is that they want Assad out of power. Keep in mind that this is the organization that gets its funding from Qatar, Turkey, Israel, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia.

Ultimately, people in Syria are killing each other, because they disagree on who should be in charge. Supporters of the government want Bashar al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army doesn’t really agree on who they want in charge (but I can guarantee you it’s a Sunni Arab male), and Al-Qaeda wants an state that wouldn’t be too radically different from Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

3. That’s horrible. But there are protests lots of places. How did it all go so wrong in Syria? And, please, just give me the short version.

It went “wrong” in Syria for a lot of reasons. One of the major reasons, which you’re never going to hear from the media, is that the opposition picked up guns. In the West, we’ve acted as though armed rebellion was totally justified, even though that’s exactly what threw the country into this bloody civil war. In fact, the opposition group that hasn’t been talked about at all is the nonviolent opposition.

4. I hear a lot about how Russia still loves Syria, though. And Iran, too. What’s their deal?

Let’s flip this: I hear a lot about how the U.S. still loves the rebels, though. And Saudi Arabia, too. What’s their deal?

The fact of the matter is that countries have their interests and act accordingly. Russia and Iran have a vested interest in seeing a stable and united Syria under Assad. Meanwhile, the U.S. has a vested interest in seeing an unstable Syria weaken Iran and Hezbollah. The loss of civilian lives is meaningless in the face of vital national interests.

So yes, the harsh reality is that governments do what they need to do, regardless of how many innocent people have to die in the process. Don’t believe me? Look at Darfur, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tibet and Xinjiang…

5. This is all feeling really bleak and hopeless. Can we take a music break?

I thought about putting a pro-government song here, just to contrast the original article, however that would be in poor taste. It also would misrepresent my views on the issue, because I’m not pro-Assad.

6. Why hasn’t the United States fixed this yet?

Here’s the big issue.

The United States hasn’t “fixed this yet”, because the United States is contributing to it. It is in the interest of the United States to see this war continue. That’s why it’s not even threatening to overthrow Assad.

Why?

Because right now you have members of Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah killing each other. You have Iran’s strongest ally in the Middle East faltering. You have Israel easily bombing southern Syria and continuing the occupation of the Golan Heights with no issues. At the same time, sectarian divisions are being exacerbated throughout the Middle East, which keeps too many of these countries from uniting and having more control over their oil.

7. So why would Obama bother with strikes that no one expects to actually solve anything?

The real answer is because Assad is winning. Striking at Assad would only weaken his forces and prolong the civil war. There is no “punishment” for using chemical weapons, because the rebels used chemical weapons in May and totally got away with it. Why would we want to prolong the civil war? See above.

8. Come on, what’s the big deal with chemical weapons? Assad kills 100,000 people with bullets and bombs but we’re freaked out over 1,000 who maybe died from poisonous gas? That seems silly.

I’m going to have to say this over and over and over, but:

ASSAD HAS NOT KILLED 100,000 PEOPLE WITH BULLETS AND BOMBS!

That number – 100,000 – is the number of people who have died in the civil war. That includes civilians, rebels, terrorists, priests, imams, soldiers, police officers, government officials, and everyone in between. To say that Assad has killed 100,000 people is total nonsense.

Also,

THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT ASSAD USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS

At least, not yet. The U.N. is still working on information gathering and hasn’t released any reports. Until the U.N. does so, everyone is relying on selected U.S. intelligence. And even U.S. intelligence analysts think it might have been the rebels! After all, it wouldn’t even be logical for Assad to have used chemical weapons, considering that he had U.N. inspectors in Damascus that day.

So there are some underlying questions left:

If it was the rebels, then are we going to retract any support for them? Didn’t they cross Obama’s “red line” in May? Why is the United States acting with such blatant hypocrisy?

Think about it.

9. Hi, there was too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find the big take-away. What’s going to happen?

The United States is maybe going to bomb a sovereign nation based on little evidence and a big ego.

On Being a Muslim Ambassador

When I accepted Islam a couple years ago, one thing I failed to anticipate was all of the new roles that I would immediately have to play. This was obviously due to my own naiveté, but being a white American Muslim has definitely had an affect on how I view the world and, in turn, how the world views me.

First off, I neglected to realize how many Americans simply know next to nothing about Islam, Muslims, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, cheese making, origami, beekeeping…

Image

And this isn’t any one individual’s fault per se, but it put me in a position of representing every single Muslim ever in history since the beginning of time. Let’s not forget that right now, Muslims make up about 1/4th of the planet.

That’s a lot of pressure. Especially when I’m competing with bizarre, yet common stereotypes and fears of the other. Seriously, people in this country are petrified by stuff they don’t understand.

Another thing that surprised me was the latent racism against Muslims in supposedly “tolerant” circles.

Over the past two years, I’ve had multiple white people accuse me of somehow not being sufficiently Muslim for one reason or another. What this tends to mean is that I don’t fit into their box of what a Muslim ought to be or how a Muslim ought to act.

What do they have in mind?

Probably a brown person with a beard and a turban.

Image

You called?

Of course, these people are often well-meaning, enlightened Liberals who probably don’t see themselves as having a racist bone in their body. The problem is: however well-meaning one might be, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Finally, there’s a general concept among many Americans that Muslims are all the same.

Many people speak of Muslims as one, undivided whole. Can you imagine grouping all Catholics or Jews or Atheists into a singular group? No, probably not.

In reality, the Islamic tradition is filled to the brim with differences of opinion.

Ramadan just began a few days ago and I’ve started to receive a whole bunch of questions from friends and family. No food? No water? How do you survive!?

I think that I should elaborate that I love getting asked respectful questions, because it means that people are curious and interested, which is the only way to fight against these negative stereotypes.

At the same time, it’s easier for a lot of people to talk to me, because I’m the nice Westernized white Muslim. I’m about as non-threatening as you can get, considering I come in the shape of a pasty twig with glasses.

But this is another huge problem of me serving as a representative, isn’t it?

Especially considering the demographics of Muslims in the United States. I serve as an interesting bridge between white suburban middle class America and black and brown Muslims who have an entirely different way of engaging with the United States. (I use the word “interesting” in place of “really fucked up”)muslims-are-coming

In all honesty, I don’t mind playing this role, even with all the setbacks and frustrations. Ultimately, it’s going to take Muslims in the West opening up the doors for dialogue and discourse in order to break down these barriers and move forward.

I just hope that when I’m acting as an ambassador for Islam and Muslims, I’m not doing a terrible job, inshaAllah.