Introducing “Most Hated” – with much love

With Roi in New York City - April 9, 2009
With Roi in New York City - April 9, 2009

This past week, I attended a seder at the home of my good friend, Israeli journalist Roi Ben-Yehuda. (Read about the multifaith, modern seder Roi prepared here).

Roi’s gotten a lot of love on this blog, but also deserving of some major props is his brother, Yoni – aka “Sneakas”, a very talented rap artist. He’s not your average lyricist or performer – he turns his time on the mic into action for positive social change. I met Sneakas two years ago, when I learned that he’s hard at work using his music to promote constructive dialogue between Jews and Muslims.

Me with Sneakas - April 8, 2009
Me with Sneakas - April 8, 2009

But Sneakas has taken his message of understanding a step further: he’s collaborating with Mazzi, another young rap artist. Mazzi’s an Iranian Muslim, and together they are “Most Hated” – a smart, powerful rap duo that’s set to change both the music scene and the minds and hearts of Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and others the world over. Their single “Tug of War” tells the story of a young Israeli soldier and a would-be suicide bomber from Palestine meeting face to face. Watch the video by clicking here. Please watch through to the end – Sneakas and Mazzi explain the video in a behind-the-scenes commentary you shouldn’t miss.

Publico features Roi Ben-Yehuda and myself

for love is as strong as death".

My necklace: at left, "Allah"; at right, a gift - it bears a verse from Song of Solomon: "Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is as strong as death."

Publico, Portugal’s largest daily paper, just published an interview with Roi Ben-Yehuda and myself. In it, we discuss how we, an Israeli and a Muslim who are friends, view the conflict in Gaza and our hopes for peace. Click here to view the online edition, and if you’re in Portugal – grab a copy of the print edition!

“As a woman, I have experienced the kind of violence only the worst and most vile of men can perpetrate, yet I do not hate men. I have seen death, I have seen disease and desperation – yet I do not resent God. I cannot claim to know the life of a Palestinian or an Israeli, but I do know that we are greater than the sum of our anger and the scars of our pain. The world would be wise to intervene in material ways – economy, security, diplomacy – but we must also highlight the voices of those Palestinians and Israelis who sincerely call for peace. Images of hate serve only our most destructive aims – a masochistic appeasement of the worst of ourselves. It is far more uncomfortable to see the enemy’s real humanity. I call for us all to take personal responsibility in bringing a new generation of peacemakers forward… the lives of our children are worth far more than what we are doing to one another today.”

– From the interview

Bidding adieu to 2008 (and – inauguration day is coming!)

Change we can believe in. (Flickr / riverwatcher09)
Change we can believe in. (Flickr / riverwatcher09)

December 31, 2008 – a few hours before midnight,  I momentarily set my perpetually poor-performing laptop  down on the floor. Upon returning it to my lap, I am given nothing but the error message “operating system not found.”

Fluff post? It may sound that way.  The point is – 2008 was ending quite aptly: nothing sums it up better than “operating system not found.” In fact, technology references seem mighty appropriate for 2008 – someone get me a fire wire to rapidly send all useful data to a stable-state hard drive, please. Call in the geek squad for a full system restore.

2009 didn’t start much better. On a personal note, I began today by committing a major misfire in text-message communication.  In context, the message was innocent. Sent to the wrong person, less so.  Smooth, Saraswati. I’m blaming that snafu on the fog of sheer exhaustion I’ve been living in over the past few months.

On a global scale, we’re dealing with one of the least promising conflicts in human history. We are at a death toll of almost 400 – mainly Palestinian civilians.

Yesterday, January 1, marks the one-year anniversary of the deaths of Sarah and Amina Said. Honor killings take some 8,000+ lives per year. Read about the case of Afsaneh, a woman whose sentence – death by stoning – is being upheld despite opposition. We have seen an increase in honor killings in places like Pakistan.

Two women in Kuwait were attacked recently, allegedly for not wearing the hijab. “Morality police” in Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are stepping up their offensives against women.

The Taliban is threatening to blow up girls’ schools if they don’t shut down.

I could keep going – and the ladies at Muslimah Media Watch can provide you with links to even more stories like these.

As you can see, we have a lot of work to do in 2009 – and, despite the enormous magnitude of the problems presented in the stories above, we have reason to believe that women and men can continue to make change.

See these women, who are taking action to end the conflict in Gaza. Subservient? Submissive? Not a chance.

Salima Ebrahim, a Canadian of Kenyan descent, is confronting injustice and prejudice head on. Her mission of  “dignity for everyone” is one many big-time activists claim in order to get the big bucks – but few actually make human dignity a priority. It sounds like Salima’s voice is a sincere one. Congratulations to this up-and-coming sister!

A Saudi doctor was able to save two girls – one 5 years old, the other 11 – from forced marriage. Doctors like her deserve to be commended.

I hope you’ll join me in seeing the hope these last stories can provide. I’ll need your help to make a difference. Stay tuned to the links at right for organizations and people who are with us in the struggle for dignity, equity and justice for all.  Happy new year.

Love for the Palestinian people – not sympathy for Hamas

Israeli journalist Roi Ben-Yehuda (I’ve mentioned him before – here and here) has just published a piece in Haaretz on the Muslim response to Hamas. He quotes me, but the most important reason to read his article is that  voices like his are the kind we need to bring hope, peace, and reconciliation into the new year.

A couple of days ago, Roi emailed me to ask: why does it seem as though more Muslims are speaking out against Hamas these days? Good question. Here’s the very short answer I sent him from my BlackBerry.

A Palestinian man cries over the body of his son. (REUTERS / Ismail Zaydah, Gaza)
A Palestinian man cries over the body of his son. (REUTERS / Ismail Zaydah, Gaza)

“The simple reason we see Muslims speaking out against Hamas is this: the organization has proved itself to be terrorist by nature and function, and while the larger Muslim community has always stated its rejection of terrorism, we see the pressing need to make our voices louder in these especially contentious times. The past near-decade in particular has placed the Muslim community at the center of most all public discourse on conflict, terror and violence. To engage the power of peace, we must also speak to the viral nature of violence from even the smallest factions of our own.  In short: supporting innocent Palestinians is not the same as supporting Hamas; just as believing in meaningful dialogue with Jews doesn’t mean support for the deplorable way in which Palestinians have been treated in Hebron.

Further, our dissenting and even outraged voices are nothing new. Recent history shows that over 80% of Palestinians distrust Hamas. Surrounding Arab states aren’t Hamas sympathizers: in fact, the Iranian government is one of Hamas’ only supporters in the region.

One cannot watch the scene unfold – Hamas hiding rocket launchers in residential neighborhoods, for example – and not see that they are effectively using Palestinians as human sacrifices to further their own aims. Muslims who care about Palestinians would never want them sacrificed in such provocations as Hamas’ recent violation of the ceasefire. 
Unfortunately, the Arab world has left the Palestinian people without a reasonable force to look to for help. As Israel obliterates civilians – including children – we run the risk of Hamas emerging as the “freedom fighters” they believe themselves to be. In other words, when a mother has lost her husband and child, when Palestinian children must identify their parents from a pit of 100 bloodied bodies, they understandably look to see who is fighting for them. If Hamas presents itself as the only hope to stop the destruction, that 80% will decrease out of desperation. If the world does not sufficiently aid the Palestinian people, a terrorist may inevitably appear to be a freedom fighter – and it is up to the rest of us to stop disempowering and dehumanizing Palestinians into this non-choice.”

“The formation of a free Palestine is not in the interest of the tyrants and despots that rule the Arab world… If the Arab rulers do not have Israel to demonize, they will have to deal with their own human rights violations.” – El-Farouk Khaki

Don’t forget their names

AP Photo /Adil al-Khazali
AP Photo /Adil al-Khazali

At least 57 people have been killed in Baghdad, following a series of bombings in the city. Three female suicide bombers and a roadside bomb are to blame for the attacks aimed at Shia Muslims.

This week, many Shia Muslims are making the Kadhimiya pilgrimage, one of the major events on the Shia Muslim calendar. The neighborhood surrounding the Kadhimiya mosque was once an epicenter of Shia learning. Over the years, it has been at the forefront of conflict in Iraq – and this week, the sacred site is once again marked by blood.

This pilgrimage was outlawed by Saddam Hussein, who was responsible for the brutalization of Shia Muslims during his reign. The ceremony has grown in size since his defeat and death. As evidenced by this latest outbreak in sectarian violence, any security force would have a long way to go before it can claim success in Baghdad.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with some colleagues about conflict, and the casualties that have been the result of violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza and beyond. We talked about how we are often (not always) able to put a face, name, and story behind American victims. Not so when it comes to others. We hear body counts. Injury counts. We may see a photo like the one above. “A man” and “a child”, they are called.

This isn’t good enough. It isn’t good enough to know a number that can rarely be confirmed. We – Muslims, non-Muslims, Americans and our fellow global citizens – must have something to put to those numbers. I want to know who we have lost.

As a Muslim, I am angry. I am angry that a Sunni would dare to kill in my name. I want to know the names of the dead so I may pray for them. I want to know their names to whisper apologies to their families. I want to know if “a man” and “a child” have lost a wife and mother.

As an American, I grieve the loss of our soldiers. I stop and watch their faces on the news. I listen to the mothers, the younger brothers, the grandparents and partners. I want to thank them. I want to say that yes, I believe this war is wrong but yes, I thank them still.

For both, I cry. For both, I love.

Watch what you wave

Last year, a friend and I were returning home after an afternoon out, and decided to take a longer route than usual. On the way, we passed a Jewish temple. We quickly noticed the prominence of the building, but more so we noticed the prominence of the flag waving above it.

The Israeli flag was striking for one reason: while the building itself was certainly impressive, the stature of the building seemed almost an afterthought beneath the flag itself. A shadow, almost. But how could an enormous building be a mere shadow of cloth?

We noted how odd it must have looked to passersby: a hijab-clad woman pondering the facade of a Jewish temple in the middle of the quite secular city. I’ll admit – we even shared a laugh about how strange it must have looked.

As we stood there, someone was making their way to the entrance for a service that evening. The person smiled and — what? Held the door open for us, thinking we were actually on our way inside.

Talk about crumbling walls. No, this didn’t break down the checkpoints, stop rocket fire, or bring down the firing posts looming from atop the wall tragically marking the Middle Eastern skyline. But it certainly threw me for a loop. I was being invited in, hijab and all. There was absolutely no animosity, fear, or hesitation in this stranger’s eyes. I declined the invitation, but was left with something to reflect on for the evening.

No image is simple.

Just before leaving the premises, my friend snapped a picture of me. Quickly. It was a picture of my face and the Israeli flag blowing above me. I was neither saluting nor cursing it. I wasn’t looking at it, either – I was looking ahead, even away from it. 

It was, at the time, simple: a snapshot of seemingly irreconcilable imagery. On a more analytical level, perhaps it was me looking toward a future where being invited inside wouldn’t have struck me as odd at all.

 Of course, nothing is simple. Flags are not simple, garments are not simple. People get seriously wound up about flags, about who they represent – and who they fail to represent.

Once the photograph was released, the lesson about flags was drilled into my conscience.  People made all kinds of assumptions about what the photo signified. They assumed – without bothering to ask.