“Anti-American bullpucky”

The entrance to my polling place
November 4, 2008: The entrance to my polling place reflects the makeup of the surrounding community

This afternoon, I cast my ballot for Barack Obama.

Less than ten minutes after arriving my polling location, I was stating my address and handing over my identification. An enthusiastic election official complimented my passport photo and directed me to one of the many available voting booths. From behind the privacy of a partition, I made my selections. I then walked over to the optical scanning machine to insert my ballot. I was assisted by a gentleman who was ultra-cautious to look away from the paper in my hand, sending me on my way with an accented “congratulations.”

For me, there were no lines. No one tried to influence my vote by threatening my liberty, my safety or my status. Gender, race, religion, class, sexual orientation, profession, political persuasion – none of these prevented me from excercising my right to vote. Not only is my choice of candidate my secret to keep (or share!), but it also isn’t something that could cost me my citizenship or my life. Walking away, I was more or less confident that my vote was accurately counted.

My 2008 ballot

Well – duh, right? I’m in America, not one of those “other” places, where intimidation is par for the course or where women and minorities are barred from voting.

Not so fast. It isn’t all democracy and free choice here in these United States. In fact, the fight against basic American rights is not just sobering – it’s frightening.

In Virginia, flyers bearing a mockup of the state’s official seal were distributed, indicating that Democrats should actually show up to vote on Wednesday — the day after election day. Latino voters have been phoned in Nevada and elsewhere, being told that they can vote over the phone rather than by showing up at the polls. Individuals have even been threatened with jail should they show up to cast their ballots.

These attempts at thieving Americans’ rights have targeted youth and minorities – groups that have come out in overwhelming support of Barack Obama. For the Republicans, there could be no greater stain on their patriotic party line than this crime against the very principles upon which this country was founded.

Disenfranchisement is nothing new. In fact, the stories you’re hearing here and on the news only begin to scratch the surface on just how disempowering the American electoral process is for many.

For as monumental as it would be for an African-American candidate to win today’s election, it is just as significant that America’s criminal disenfranchisement laws mean that 13% of African-American men cannot vote at all. We live under a criminal justice system that already disproportionately targets black men. What this means around election time is that in some states, one in five black men is stripped of his voting rights. Human Rights Watch projects that, given current rates of incarceration, some 40% of African-American men will at some point find themselves permanently disenfranchised.

Nationwide, 1.4 million Americans (of all races) are prevented from voting – despite having already served their criminal sentences. These are ex-offenders who have re-entered society and who are expected to meet other requirements of law-abiding citizenship, including the payment of taxes.

Preventing these individuals from voting serves no defensible purpose. To argue that preventing ex-offenders from voting preserves the “virtue” of the voting booth is to say that our criminal justice system is not a place for rehabilitation or reform – but merely a “holding tank” for the subhuman. It also asserts that “virtue” is effectively a qualifier for American citizenship, including for the natural-born. As uncomfortable as it may be to say so, even those we consider less “virtuous” are still entitled to basic rights granted them by their American citizenship.

“Restrictions on the franchise in the United States seem to be singularly unreasonable as well as racially discriminatory, in violation of democratic principles and international human rights law.” – Human Rights Watch

What can you do?

* Learn more from Human Rights Watch.

* The Democratic Party provides resources here.

Yes, another Rachel Maddow video. Bear with me. I’ll quit it eventually. Wait…bullpucky. No I won’t. Enjoy:

John McCain, the jealous diva

Not only does it appear that John McCain can’t do anything but defend “the surge! THE SURGE!”, but…

It also appears that he’s a little bitter about Obama’s celeb status.

A recent campaign ad got him into hot water with none other than the Hiltons. Why? McCain used the Hilton heiress, Paris, in his ad. You’ve got to see it – and then let me know if it makes any sense to you. I think they’re trying to suggest that Obama’s more famous than Britney or Paris, and just as unfit a statesperson. Or they’re trying to assert that his youth and fame will lead him to shave his head and get caught partying down with Lindsay Lohan. Maybe? 

Doesn’t quite work, though. Kind of like his off-shore drilling plans.

What does work? Paris’ retaliation. Check out her spoof of the McCain ad here.

Oh, and p.s. – Paris’ mom is a McCain donor. Not a smart move on the part of his campaign.

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.

This Muslim knows how to have fun & great minds to watch out for

We all have our vices, whether we like to ‘fess up to them or not. Mine are slightly embarassing. But I’m willing to own up to them:

* Independent bookstores: the one in my neighborhood has the most incredible Middle Eastern politics, current affairs and history sections I’ve ever experienced. It’s tiny, but hard-to-find and rarely-encountered volumes abound. I’m like a kid in a candy store.

* Caffeine: I don’t drink alcohol (no, not at all). Nor do I smoke. But I drink a good four shots of espresso a day. Six if my hours are especially long. Yes, my doctor and I talk about this. She’s not thrilled with me. At least it’s fair trade and organic, right?! (If you’re ever in San Diego, you must check out my favorite coffee shop in North America).

 * Miscellaneous: book-collecting, za’atar, the feeling I get after a great workout, the smell of jasmine, orchids, and clean floors (swoon).

But the worst of my vices? The one that makes my friends think me truly bizarre?

CNN / MSNBC / the whole political-commentary universe that is auto-programmed on my cheap analog set.

I can’t get enough. I even get glued to the commentators who make my skin crawl. After all, what’s more invigorating than countering their slimy, often empty points with scholary and sassy remarks?

Love, you say? Fortune? No way. I’ll take my nerd-time over both any day. Politics never bore. I can’t say the same for romance. Sorry – do I sound bitter? Must be all of that espresso.

Last night, when my internet cut out for several hours, I spent my Friday night (this is the “this Muslim knows how to have fun” part) simultaneously cursing at and commending MSNBC.

In a feisty conversation about Obama’s presence on the world stage and McCain’s – uh – blathering at a restaurant (‘scuse me, he was blathering at “Schmidt’s Sausage Haus” – closest he could get to Berlin I guess), I ruminated on some recent commentary by one of my favorite pundits, well, ever. I’m talking about the hyperintelligent, quick-as-a-whip Rachel Maddow.

My Friday night TV-watching buddy didn’t know of Ms. Maddow – nor do a lot of people I come into contact with. Sad, considering that most people can recognize at least a name or two off the roster of ornery old dudes she outshines on MSNBC.

I won’t belabor you with biographical data – that’s what Google’s for. I will say that I personally think she should have her own show — perhaps she could replace the one show on CNN I simply cannot stomach.

Below, one of my favorite debates: Rachel Maddow vs. Pat Buchanan on healthcare. It’s just too delish.

“Let American Muslims share the stage” – Zainab Al-Suwaij

No rejection of hijabi sisters this time!

I meant to share this article quite some time ago, but was reminded of it this week.

See this piece by Zainab Al-Suwaij, founder of the American Islamic Congress, about how the US presidential candidates can best engage American Muslims.



“…neither Republicans nor Democrats have developed a clear approach to the Muslim community. Beyond the political implications for both campaigns, this shortcoming also impacts America’s social fabric. For the good of the country, McCain and Obama need to deal with the Muslim community openly and honestly.”


“O men, We created you from a male and female, and formed you into nations and tribes, that you may recognise each other. He who has more integrity has indeed greater honour with God…” Qur’an 49:12

Featured blog: “The Sudanese Thinker”

Another blog to share with you: The Sudanese Thinker. Drima, a 21-year old Sudanese Afro-Arab Muslim and self-proclaimed “political junkie” quips about John McCain, comments on current events from every corner of the globe, keeps us up-to-date on what’s happening in Sudan … and does it all with wit, smarts, and a bit of, well, snarkiness. The good, refreshing kind.

Plus, he gave yours truly a holler in a recent blog entry. Thanks, Drima!

Rudy Giuliani: If it was good enough for Pol Pot, it MIGHT be good enough for me!

Rudy Giuliani “isn’t sure” if waterboarding – a simulated drowning technique allegedly used by the United States armed forces in the war on terror – is torture. Waterboarding induces the feeling of imminent death – see also, mock execution – which is illegal under international law. Used during the Spanish Inquisition and in the Cambodian genocide, waterboarding was considered a war crime in WWII.

Giuliani alleges that the “liberal media” portrays the technique inaccurately, and says the line between what is torture and what isn’t is “very delicate and very difficult”. However, even a key player in his own party, Senator John McCain (who served in Vietnam and survived torture himself) sharply rebuked Giuliani’s statements:

“Anyone who knows what waterboarding is could not be unsure. It is a horrible torture technique used by Pol Pot and being used on Buddhist monks as we speak… people who have worn the uniform and had the experience know that this is a terrible and odious practice and should never be condoned. We are a better nation than that.”

Bottom line? Giuliani thinks torture is ok… sometimes. For instance, it’s ok when it is part of “aggressive questioning of Islamic terrorists”. Just Islamic terrorists, Rudy? I suppose I should appreciate that he can be sure about something.

To further open mouth and insert foot, he equated long hours on the campaign trail to sleep deprivation – another form of torture used in interrogation processes and condemned by the European Court of Human Rights and the Supreme Court of Israel. He must have confused his penchant for luxury, waterfront hotels – which he reaches via private jet – with Guantanamo Bay.

With even experienced military men like John McCain not just condemning, but also questioning the efficacy of “methods” like waterboarding, Giuliani’s credibility takes a shot. But to put any sort of fuzzy conditions on torture? Reprehensible. I can hear Giuliani squirm as I say that he needs to take a page from Nancy Pelosi’s book. In her explicit condemnation of the Armenian genocide, she said:

“Some of what harms our troops relates to values – Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, torture. Our troops are well-served when we declare who we are as a country, and we declare it to the rest of the world.”

Rudy, torture is torture. And if you can’t stomach Pelosi’s principles, didn’t you once say that relying on God’s guidance is at the core of who you are? Surely spiritual reflection would guide one to the realization that there is never any condition which makes torture excusable.