Sister on a Mission

A Muslimah in the Midwest trying to counteract all the "war on terror" propaganda.

Location: Midwest, United States

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Kofi Annan in Kansas City

Kofi Annan gave his farewell speech in Independence, Missouri this week (the KC suburb from which Harry S. Truman hails). It was one of the most amazing speeches I've ever heard.

Annan is a cosumate diplomat and always well-spoken, but this speech combined genuine concern, sincerity, and the best slams on the Bush administration since Hugo Chavez graced the podium at the general assembly. It was incredible. Of course Hugo was about as diplomatic as an AK-47....

Anyway, Annan spoke of five lessons he's learned while serving as Secretary General of the UN. The first was that everyone's security is related to everyone else's security. One country cannot have security at the expense of depriving another country of the same.

Second, we are responsible to some degree for each other's welfare. At least in offering equal opportunities. The world cannot continue when some people are getting massively rich off of globalization and others have no opportunities but to starve. A system that lopsided will never work.

Third, both prosperity and security depend on the respecting of human rights and the rule of law.
We must be willing to stand up for those things, whether they are being denied by inter-country conflict or by tyrants abusing their own populations.

Fourth, all governments must be held accountable for their actions - not just the poor ones and not just enemies of the US.

Fifth, situations in the world must be addressed in multilateral ways and the institutions through which that occurs must be organized and run democratically, giving the weak and poor nations some measure of say-so.

What a brilliant and sincere man. He is truly calling for a return to the ideals and vision (American, btw) that created the UN. He is appealing to America for selfless leadership and responsible actions in a world where the balance of power is so lopsided that the only thing that can couterbalance it is responsible, sane and concensus-oriented leadership.

You can read Monday's farewell speech here: ss_opinion/columns

And listen to it here:

The date of the broadcast was Monday, Dec. 11, 2006

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Turkey and the Pope

I heard on NPR this morning that Turkey is all aflutter owing to the pope's scheduled visit. He originally planned the visit to improve Roman Catholic relations with the Eastern Orthodox church, but since his unfortunate comments and the unfortunate reaction to them a few months ago, he'll also have some Muslim/Christian issues to deal with.

One of the interesting aspects of this story was how the reporter described the 100,000-strong Christian minority in Turkey. She explained that priests are not allowed to wear their frocks in public nor to train new clerics, etc. What she didn't mention is that Muslims are similarly discriminated against. Women who wear hijab are not allowed to attend university or serve in parliment. Europe is leaning this way as well: French Muslimahs are not allowed to wear hijab to school and the Dutch have outlawed niqab.

The truth is that Turkey is going through the same secularist identity crisis that much of Western Europe is experiencing. The gov't wants to be so secular that it is trying to erase religion alltogether. Of course Ataturk began this process in Turkey by outlawing the fez, the niqab, Arabic script and other traditions/forms of ibadaat. Westerners call this "REFORM". But when it is Christians on the receiving end it is "oppression".

The elusive balance that neither Europe nor Turkey seem to be able to strike is the basis of true freedom. Respecting human rights and living in freedom means that everyone be allowed to practice his faith freely, not that you outlaw anyone's faith. Europe and Turkey both need to get their brains (and their policies) around that concept.

Monday, May 22, 2006

And Dear Fatah......

The following is an open letter to Fatah, which follows my open letter to Hamas.

Dear Fatah,

AsSalaamu Alaikum, brothers and sisters. I just heard a report that the infighting on the ground in Gaza is getting worse. A wounded Fatah official vowed revenge against Hamas, who he's sure executed a bombing/assasination attempt this weekend. "We are the authority! They will never have authority!" he insisted.

Brothers, please think about what's happening here. Divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the book. And you all are playing directly into the hands of the Zionists by dutifully going at each other's throats.

And there is so much at stake here!

Your homeland, your constituents, your families, your livilihoods, the very soul of Palestine is being ripped apart by the Zionists and you are helping them.

Petty authority is worthless. Leadership is what your people need. And that's a whole other subject. It takes vision, sacrifice, patience and courage. It takes caring more about your people than you care about yourselves. It takes leaders who dread that responsiblity, not clamour after "authority".

If Fatah and Hamas were to combine forces and lead - truly lead - the Palestinian people, no oppressor could stand in your way. If you lead your people to put down their useless conventional weapons and pick up the mantle of moral armor that is Nonviolent Resistance, there would be no stopping you. You could bring the mighty Zionist army, with all its tanks and apache helicopters and F15 fighter jets and nuclear weapons to its knees.

Killing a soldier here and a non-soldier there is doing nothing but sabatoging your own efforts and endangering your own souls. Fighting and killing your fellow Palestinians is just a cause for the Zionists to have a good chuckle over their morning coffee. At some point someone has to lead. Someone has to overcome their own nafs and steer Palestine in the direction that such a noble people deserve to go.

I know it is comlicated. I know the culture of weapons is deeply entrenched. I know there are para-military factions that are not easily controlled. But I also know that a movement of active nonviolence could catch on, once people see the results it will bring.

Nonviolence is not the coward's way out. It is not a tactic of people who preach peace at any cost. It is a potent weapon to use against an enemy that thrives on visiting others with the same horror the last generation of their own people suffered. It is the loudest way to demand justice for Palestine. And once justice is achieved, then peace will be the natural outcome.

IF you and Hamas keep leading instead of vying for authority.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Dear Hamas

The following is an open letter to the leadership of Hamas and the new Palestinian government:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

AsSalaamu Alaikum. I'm writing to discuss with you some possible policies for your new administration.

Since 1987 your organization and all of Palestine have been actively fighting the injustice and oppression of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. This is a legitimate and laudable goal but I would like to suggest some more effective ways for you to go about it.

The history of your struggle against the Zionist state basically looks like a contest. One side attacks, then the other side, then the other. But the Zionists have much of the world's media - especially US media - in their pockets. So the way events get covered, in the US especially, makes it look like the Zionists attack a legitimate Palestinian target, perhaps "accidentally" kill a few civilians in the process, and then one Palestinian group or another retaliates by bombing a bus or a hotel or other civilian target. The result is that the entire conflict gets boiled down to who kills more civilians. And since the Zionist "incursions" are not properly covered, it often looks like Hamas and other Palestinian organizations are taking the cheap shots at civilians. So the most effective weapon in America - Public Opinion - is swayed against Palestine.

This is a very decisive moment in history. Your organization has just been elected to take the reigns and possibly change the direction of the Palestinian state. I would like to urge you to consider adopting a strict policy of ABSOLUTE NONVIOLENCE, like Badshah Khan, Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. These men led revolutions that outsted oppressors, defeated tyrants and won civil rights for people who had been treated as second class citizens for literally centuries.

I'm not suggesting this because I don't believe you have a right to fight for your homeland - I'm suggesting this because I believe that nonviolence is the most effective weapon at your disposal with which to conduct that fight.

If Palestinians, under your leadership, simply stood their ground and demanded their rights, without attacking anyone, it would not be possible to boil the issue down to a simple "deuling body count" on the evening news, like it is now. The world would come face-to-face with who the real bullies are. The spotlight would be shifted to the Zionist state, which would be caught red-handed killing, maiming and looting from all the people of Palestine. You could even take some of the money that is currently being spent on arms and buy small video cameras and computers for Palestinian journalists to document and upload the truth of what's going on at ground level.

Not only do I believe that these tactics would be effective, but if your jihad is powerfully nonviolent, ALL those who die at the hands of the Zionists would attain the status of shaheed, whereas now some people are facing the hereafter having killed civilians who might just have been innocent.

Your government could go down in history as the first Muslim nation to use the weapons of righteousness and public opinion together to defeat an oppressive and racist regime.

Please consider taking this courageous step.


Who's the Terrorist?

When I was speaking at a university last month about Islam, one of the
audience members asked me if I thought Hamas was a terrist organization.

To answer that question we have to define terrorism. According to the
American Heritage Dictionary, terrorism is "The unlawful use or
threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group
against people or property with the intention of intimidating or
coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political

That is the exact definition of what the Zionists have been doing
to the Palestinians for 57 years. From Sabra and Shatila to Gaza and
the West Bank, violence, threats, economic strangulation and dehumanizing
oppression have been systematically used against the Palestinian people -
first to outst them and then to break them. And all of this under the
auspices of an illegal occupation.

So it is the Zionist state which the terrorist organization.

Hamas is a group of Palestinians who have been fighting an
oppressive and illegal occupation for years, using whatever methods
are at their disposal. This is not called terrorism. This is called
defending your homeland.

THAT SAID, HOWEVER....I do not agree with this strategy, and I also make a distinction between Jihad, which is the Islamically acceptable practice of
attacking soldiers at checkpoints, etc., (completely legitimate targets
according to anyone's definition of a just war)and things which don't qualify
as jihad, such as the bombing of buses, etc., where the targets are civilian
and not military. Our dear Prophet (sal Allahu Alaihi wa sallam) left us
with strict rules to follow in the conduct of jihad, and not harming
civilians, the elderly and children is one of those non-negotiable
rules. Any operation which kills civilians is a sin, not an act of
jihad. And it doesn't matter how many innocent children the Zionist
miltary kills; they are not our role models. Islam instructs us to be
above such evil, and because our morals and methods of conduct come from
Islam, we should never allow ourselves to be sucked down to their level.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Bad Apples

It was one of those bright February days that reassures you it won’t be winter forever. The air was cold and crisp but the sun had that springtime cheerfulness. I was on my way home to visit my parents in central Kansas, with three kids and my mother-in-law in tow. We were enjoying the trip and decided to make a pit-stop at Peabody. I love to visit the small towns of Kansas and I thought the 1880’s Main Street would be a treat for my mother-in-law to experience. She’s visiting from overseas and by way of downtowns had only seen the big city's (where we live), which doesn’t sport much in the way of Americana.

We drove down Main Street and turned around, deciding to eat at Sharon’s Korner Kitchen. As we rounded the block to find a parking space a grey car passed us going the other direction. My kids' jaws dropped open and my youngest declared, “Mom, that guy ‘flicked’ us off!” I giggled, amused by both the way he had misspoken and by the willingness of some people to display the low level of their intellect in public. I told them to just ignore it.

But when we pulled near our parking spot on the north side of the Korner Kitchen, the guy, sporting short brown hair and vicious expression, passed us again – this time with his arm hanging out the window, at the ready. As he passed us he flipped me the bird directly in my face. “Whew!” I thought. “Some people need a hobby.” I didn’t think any more about him until we got out of our car and found him parked across Main Street, staring at us as we entered the restaurant.

I thought about our venture into Peabody. Had we done something to offend this gentleman? All we had done was drive down Main Street and stop for lunch. It had to be our scarves. I’m an American Muslim, and my mother-in-law and I both cover ourselves in the same manner that nuns traditionally do. You can’t tell by looking at me, but I’m 100% Kansas raised – the product of a long line of patriotic ancestors. My great-great-grandfather Mathew Golding served in the Union army, my grandfather was at the Battle of the Bulge, and my father was in the Air Force during Vietnam. I was even born on an Air Force Base. I’ve been Muslim for 18 years, and am proud of both my heritage and my faith, which dovetail together in a value structure of good morals and strong service. I have never encountered anyone who treated me venomously because of my faith or my manner of dress, as most Kansans are fair-minded, interested in different cultures and generous of heart. They understand that a few criminals don’t represent an entire faith.

When we sat down and looked north out the window of Sharon’s we were horrified to see our friend cross Main Street and pull into the bank parking lot north of Sharon’s and simply sit there, facing our car which was parked on the street. When he remained there several minutes it became obvious that he was waiting for us to come out.

Although I have never had cause to be afraid anywhere in Kansas, I was afraid that day. What kind of person gets a thrill out of intimidating women and children like that? What did he plan to do when we emerged from Sharon’s? But God says in the Qur’an, “Verily, with difficulty comes ease”, and ease that day came in the form of police officer Travis Wilson, who was eating his lunch at the next table. I told him our story and asked him to keep an eye on the grey car, which he gladly agreed to do, and we tried to eat our meal.

God works in mysterious ways, and that day He used one malcontent to show us the kind hearts and protective souls of Peabody. Soon Officer Wilson was joined by his mother, grandmother and nephew, who heard us telling our server about the man in the grey car. His mother told me they’d all walk us to our car if necessary.

By this time the man in the grey car, who thought he was watching us, was the most watched man in town. Everyone in the restaurant marveled at his audacity and wondered about his questionable motives. They laughed at his arrogance and reassured us that the rest of the town was not so bigoted or malevolent. They embraced us and made us feel welcome in their midst. My mother-in-law and I were almost brought to tears by their kindness and concern. We were finally able to eat a little of our wonderful lunches.

A half hour later when he was finished with his lunch, Officer Wilson drove around and pulled in next to the man in the grey car. This was enough to cause him to reconsider his plans and he hightailed it out of there PDQ. We left soon after and not only did Officer Wilson accompany us out of town, but his mother sent us off with hugs and the entire restaurant added their good wishes. While we had entered Sharon’s doubting human nature, we left glowing with the knowledge of the truth that had been reiterated to us: a few criminals don’t represent the whole, and in fact bad apples often serve to highlight the sweetness of the rest. God bless the great people of Peabody!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Murder and Muslim Don't Mix

I was in Syria this summer when the London bombings occurred. At about that time there was a shoot-out in Damascus during a raid and some suspected Al Qaeda members were killed. These things, along with the daily dose of insanity from Iraq, really infuriated me. I wrote an article at the time but it was completely incoherent – I was so angry I couldn’t articulate anything.

Some time has passed now, and I am going to try my hand at articulating a little better after having pondered it all this time, but I am certainly no less angry. I am sick and bloody tired of these miscreants who think they’re serving Allah by perpetrating violence. And even though I do believe that some of the violence attributed to the shadowy “Al Qaeda” is either misattributed or flat-out set up, there obviously are some “Muslims” in the world who believe that killing innocent people is a way to gain hassanet (blessings, reward).

In reality Islam came not to destroy innocent people but to destroy the belief that killing innocent people is acceptable. Human rights, women’s rights, freedom of religion and even prisoner rights as we know them today were born with Islam. Many major provisions of the Geneva Conventions could have been taken straight out of an Islamic Law book. When Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) closest friend and the first Khalifa, sent his men into battle he advised them as the Prophet had advised him: Do not destroy crops. Do not harm women and children. Do not harm the elderly. Do not harm non-combatants. Do not harm those who have taken sanctuary in religious institutions. THAT is how Muslims conduct war.

Not by attacking night clubs or killing commuters or toppling towers.

Attacks of that nature are haram (forbidden) on so many levels! God forbids the killing of innocents, He forbids His servants from killing themselves, from using fire as a weapon, from killing other Muslims unless it is a judicially ordered capital punishment arrived at after due process……there is simply no way to twist these depraved acts into something praiseworthy, no matter how hard one might wish to try.

Now add to all that the fact that these sorts of destructive lashings out hurt regular Muslims more than anyone else. The terrorists consider us fair game because we have not crossed over to their “dark side”, the public views us with suspicion, fear and prejudice, and western governments feel free to create things like the Patriot Act to keep us in line, to shut down our legitimate charities and nonprofit organizations, and to justify whatever collateral damage “happens” when they “go after the terrorists”. Translation: regular Muslims find themselves in everyone’s crosshairs.

It’s as if Al Qaeda and the Bush administration are both working toward the same goals, just from different ends of the field. “With us or against us” is just as obtuse and ignorant and dangerous whether it comes from a cowboy president or a shady salafi. So the rest of us need to form an alliance. Regular Muslims and regular non-Muslims need to reach out to each other. Because then we’ll have a means of fighting back. We can fight violence with peaceful refusal to give in to it. We can fight ignorance with relationships. And we can fight extremism with solid understanding. If we endeavor to create a strong community of regular people will we be able to defeat the hotheads among us – whether they wear spurs or turbans.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

What Americans Stand For (And What We Don't)

The American Embassy is a lonely place these days.

The stucco walls and strong steel fence remember better times, though. Times when hope and determination laced the breeze like the smell of baby talc - promising new beginnings and endless possibilities for the young people standing every day in the endless line. They knew that when their turn finally came their future would begin. A chance to make their way to a land where everyone is respected for what he himself has to offer, not for what his father offered; where no wastaw is needed to get into school and one might reinvent himself into what he's learned he really wants to be. Love, too, and a future family might await one on those shores. All these dreams wove a spell of hope and whispered prayers around the stark white building so strong that sometimes even the taciturn guards were affected enough to smile.

Now all that remains is the dappled sunlight on the empty sidewalk, reflecting off the security cameras and the guards' guns. Lady Liberty has spent the past five years disassembling the dreams of those who once believed in her - both those in the hopeful lines and those born under her skirts. Foreigners of certain persuasions are no longer welcome, rights of her own sons and daughters are being limited and stripped away altogether, sacrificed wholesale on the alter of security until her very identity is twisted into something closed, wary and unrecognizable.

In one way the clamping down of the American borders is no surprise. When nations feel threatened they often turn to the right - so sharply that the effect is of a person with his right foot nailed to the floor, flailing endlessly in right-handed circles until he dies of exhaustion and spiritual starvation. But the reason it is so astonishing in our current times is that we had convinced ourselves that we knew better. We had looked to history's abundant examples and had sworn, "Never again." From Rome's tutorial on imperialism and implosion to Germany's hard-fought lessons that exclusion and racism breed malignancy and death for nations as a whole, to Japan's well-learned lesson that too much aggression results in being visited with the same, we congratulated ourselves on having enough wisdom and morality to avoid others' mistakes. Apparently, though, we didn't really learn from the mistakes we were so smug about. Maybe these are lessons a nation must live to really learn?

In the meantime, my government refuses visas to entire nations full of hopeful young men and women, and people in my own family contend that even illegal aliens from our neighboring states (not the rich one to the north - we don' t mind them) should be deported. "They're not 'undocumented workers', they're ILLEGAL ALIENS - they are breaking the law by being here...." They may be worthy of our passing pity, but they certainly don't deserve to share in our blessings of opportunity and abundance. Those are ours and we have every right to horde them for ourselves. Maybe people have to have actually lived somewhere where they see real want, real poverty, real despair, and the universality of hard work, hope and determination, in order to understand the obscenity and futility of that attitude. God does not grant a people the great blessings we Americans enjoy as a special favor for having been born in one place rather than another. He grants them as a test - a test our nation is failing. Those who have are obliged to share with those who don't - not just with string-laden "foreign aid", but with genuinely open hearts and arms. On so many levels we are not doing this; rather we are building walls around our riches. We exclude and even attack those who don't have money and those who don't have freedom, and then contend that everyone hates us because of our material blessings and our freedom. Most amazingly, the irony is lost on a large number of flag-waving, "Support Our Troops" demanding Americans.

America has responded to perceived threats from the outside by circling the wagons and protecting what is "ours". By blaming others' belief structures and striking out against faceless millions and redefining liberty as something that exists only within the constricted confines of the misleadingly-named "Patriot Act" instead of engaging in self-reflection and systematically hunting down the criminals responsible. Our worst tendencies are being allowed to run amok. We are becoming like the regimes we purport to hate. We are sabotoging the very values we claim to stand for. And we are trying to reorganize the globe by force. The result is that more people hate us now than ever did before, and with good reason. They may not harm us; we may not suffer the results of their frustration. God willing we will never see another terrorist attack. But if we continue on the path this administration has marked out for us - if dissent and discussion continue to be viewd as threats instead of the pillars of democracy that they really are; if we continue to horde our blessings and deprive others of the same, if we continue to try to orchestrate "democracy" by manipulation or force in the lands of those who are not our allies while we allow selfish, moniacal dictators to flourish as long as they do our bidding, and if more real Americans who know what our country stands for don't speak up - we will still die the slow, painful, inevitable death that results from walking in selfish, lonely, right-handed circles.