Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's been a while...

The last time I posted was a month before the 10-anniversary of the 9/11 tragedies. I meant to write things (I did write -- in other fora) in that time, and especially around 9/11. Maybe I will recap some of that in a few of the upcoming posts. There has been a lot that has happened, personally and professionally, some of which inspires me to write a blog or two, so hopefully I will incorporate those different thoughts and topics.

I also have not forgotten my promise to write a second part to my thoughts on Heroin Addiction in Israel & Palestine, and how the principles behind many 12-step programs of recovery from addiction -- and perhaps the recovering addicts themselves in both nations -- may be helpful in providing a way forward that brings peace and serenity for all, a way to look for solutions instead of problems, etc. (The principles of recovery that I mention are not exclusive to those programs, as the wisdom that they have distilled is found in many other places, but still concentrated there... and quite a useful mechanism, I thought, when dealing with addiction is Israel and Palestine... and I didn't mean to use "addiction" as a metaphor for war or conflict or anything... It was an honest-to-goodness, oh-so-earnest, "Here are some simple lessons that Recovery teaches, and with the shared experience of hell and redemption from it, all Palestinians and Israelis who were former users... maybe even current users... may provide ).

See you soon!

Friday, August 12, 2011

LGBT Elders: Equality and Equity Concerns

Minister for the Aging of Quebec, Marguerite Blais, has announced a Charter for the protection of elderly homosexuals. Now that the population of LGBT folk who have come out is aging and entering care centers and hospitals, there is a risk of elder abuse and homophobia against them in these settings.

This charter is something that all care institutions can sign, setting up best practices, and committing themselves to the equal treatment and recognition of the inherent dignity of all people, including LGBT's, as they age and become more vulnerable and dependent on the care of others. This is progress.

Elder abuse is an issue regardless of orientation. It is hard to believe that the elderly may become the targets of abuse, but it does occur. The abuse ranges from physical and emotional abuse to neglect, or exploitation like theft or embezzlement of funds under a trustee's care. When sexual orientation is added to the mix, societal homophobia can increase the elderly's vulnerability.

USA National trends in abuse of vulnerable adults sixty and older (from Adult Protective Services):

    Estimates of the frequency of elder abuse range from 2 to 10% (Lachs & Pillemer, 2004). 
    One in 14 incidents, excluding self-neglect, come to the attention of authorities (Pillemer & Finkelhor, 1998). 
    The overall reporting of financial exploitation is only 1 in 25 cases, suggesting at least five million financial abuse victims each year (Wasik, 2000). 
    One large survey of staff working in nursing homes found that 36% had observed physical abuse and 81% witnessed psychological abuse (Pillemer & Moore, 1989).  
And of course, even aside from abuse, elders in the LGBT community face particular challenges, which vary from country to country. In the USA, these challenges include inequality in a range of public and social programs (like social security, etc.).

For more information:

    A link to a US community-based organization that serves the needs of LGBT elders, Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE);

    a report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force on public policy issues facing LGBT elders;

    National Center on Elder Abuse "Statistics At Glance."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Peace Now & Serenity When? Trauma & Addiction in Israel & Palestine (Part I)

A while back I posted Kieron Monks’ “East Jerusalem Suffers Heroin Plague”  (July 6, 2011) to Facebook. Monks spotlights burgeoning heroin use in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem, a town divided, is definitely not at peace. Serenity eludes it, and Monks’ article shows how within a substratum of the population of this ancient city, people are suffering in a very particular way. 

The article, on Al-Jazeera’s English-language website, started me thinking about recovery from trauma & addiction in the very specific context of Israel and Palestine: Do the guidelines that suggest how to recover from trauma and addiction even apply in Israel and Palestine? Can there be any recovery in those places? Can a program of recovery from addiction have anything to teach this center of civilizations, this cradle of monotheistic faiths? Could it possibly be a vector for peace? 

Yes, and why not?

The process of recovery from trauma and addiction requires skills and spiritual attitudes that could very well be the key to unlock solutions for Israel and Palestine—in the Divine’s Own time, of course.

Here, then, are my bold, radical proposals: 
* Israel and Palestine are like everywhere else; Israelis and Palestinians are like everyone else. 
Recovery from trauma & addiction in Israel and Palestine is possible. 
Neither side can get better unless the other side does too.
* The principles that aid recovery and help addicts achieve serenity are exactly the same as those that can bring peace to Israel and Palestine.

I am a human rights lawyer and diversity and inclusion consultant. In addition to this training, I have some experience with, but am no expert or spokesperson for any one group or trend in, recovery, harm reduction, self-care, or mediation and conflict resolution. From the foundation of my experiences and education, it is my opinion that recovery has much to offer here, and that recovering addicts in Israel and Palestine in particular, whom many in their individual societies might view as pariahs, may be uniquely placed to find the way forward. From the depths of their pain, a new freedom may emerge.

Can one write about trauma, drug use/misuse/addiction, harm reduction and recovery in Israel and Palestine without discussing politics, the taking or reclaiming of land, the cycles of violence and degradation, fear and vulnerability?

I believe so.

Both Palestinians and Israelis experience violence and insecurity, to different degrees and with different levels of arbitrariness. This violence and insecurity itself generates trauma, fuel for the conflagration that is the disease of addiction (or the bio-psycho-social condition or disorder of drug misuse, if you prefer).

While recognizing that social, political, and economic conditions create fertile conditions for the development of addictions, I suggest that recovery can come first, in any situation, and that recovery from addiction may provide a model or the skills and mental framework necessary to proceed with the difficult negotiations that will make a peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians possible.

How so?

First bold, radical statement (in two parts): Israel and Palestine are like everywhere else; Israelis and Palestinians are like everyone else. 

There are specificities to Israel and Palestine that matter. Yes. But every location, every individual, has important specificities. Israel and Palestine is not the first war or conflict strewn territory that experiences a concomitant rise in drug use. This is a common correlation, beyond the fact that some armed struggles are financed via off-the-books trades, including the sale of drugs, as in Afghanistan or Colombia, Ireland, and Turkey, or that drugs are used to numb the pain of the violence seen or to get fighters to fight beyond human endurance, as in Liberia (a separate, interesting question, is how successful has the US policy of supporting counter-narcotic efforts been?).

Israelis and Palestinians are human beings, like all the rest of us. It is impossible to know whether the numbers are equivalent, but for every pro-Israeli person who sees all Palestinians and their supporters only as hateful and immoral killers, I have no doubt there is a pro-Palestinian person who sees all Israelis and their supporters as hateful and immoral killers. It is one way all are alike. The feelings of fear and judgment, the convictions of self-righteousness and victimhood, all of us can fall prey to these.

So, I repeat: Israelis and Palestinians are human beings, like all the rest of us. Not only do they (and we) all experience the same instinctive drives for security, dignity and ambition, like each of us, each Israeli and Palestinian faces unique, personal challenges.

Our uniqueness is our commonality: In being different, we are all alike. Not only do we all have the same feelings and drives for security, ambition, dignity, when we feel different from those around us and those in “the opposite camp,” we are again all alike.

Every human being thrives, just gets by, or suffers through hir* own:

personal experiences;

personal genes and biological or physical circumstances;

social, political, and economic situations;

psychological frameworks, coping skills, vulnerabilities, including family heritage, narratives (spoken and unspoken), and skills transmitted by parents and others who pass along trauma knowingly and willingly, or unconsciously, along with patterns or justifications for different dysfunctions; and

spiritual, ethical, and emotional resources or traditions that may help us learn to forgive and have compassion for others and for ourselves.

Second bold, radical statement: Recovery from trauma & addiction in Israel and Palestine is possible. 

It is possible there just as it is anywhere else. The path may be long and slow (just as anywhere else), and it will require courage, rigorous honesty, willingness and o pen-mindedness, a challenging measure of compassion for oneself and for others (indeed, just as anywhere else), and a turning away from a near-narcissistic obsession with our own hurts—shifting instead towards helping others—because we can only get better as part of a larger whole and keep what we have by giving it away. These are some of the principles of recovery.

The work is the same everywhere, but the conditions or expressions of the disease varies in each of us.

Are you recovering from physical or emotional abuse by a parent? sexual abuse or assault as an adult or as a child? deprivation and under-earning? love or sex addiction? gambling addiction? drug or alcohol addiction? obsessive or compulsive worry about the future (anxiety) or rehashing of failures and harms of the past (depression)?

The work to get over these difficulties and the ways in which we may “act out” on unexpressed feelings and unresolved conflicts is very similar. Each of us may find a different path that works for us, but the principles at work are the same.

You are not alone. You need not suffer alone. You need not struggle alone. Others have worked through these issues and can help you get better. In fact, they get better when they have someone to help. It is like healing the past, standing up for someone else who is walking the difficult path of recovery, as others have stood up for us, helping us along our journeys.

Third bold, radical statement: neither side can get better unless the other side does too.

One of Monks’ many points in the article was that despite a context of little to no security or economic prospects for the stateless Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, activists are doing their best to provide services for and to treat those who are struggling with heroin addiction. 

Another point it made, though you would be forgiven for missing it, was the interconnectedness of the Palestinian heroin users’ plight to that of heroin users in Israel. Not because of the fact that occupation brings trauma, and trauma triggers unhealthy coping mechanisms, (that was a large part of the article—not a point you could miss), but rather that there are co-occurring epidemics, one in Israel, and one in Palestine: 
Palestine is suffering from proximity to Israeli society that is suffering its own epidemic. The Israeli anti-drug authority estimated there are over 300,000 addicts in the country, including 70,000 teenagers, in a market worth around US $2 billion a year.
I would argue the problem is not one of “proximity”—it is not as though the drugs or drug use were a contagious bug wafting on a gentle breeze, penetrating Jerusalem’s stone fortress castles, or navigating its charming, winding alleys.

These two societies are interconnected, whether they like it or not. Even more importantly, all humanity is interconnected. The fantasy of separateness (even with a wall) is just that: a fantasy (more likely a nightmare).

Every crisis is also an opportunity. In Palestine and Israel, this scourge of heroin addiction offers an opportunity to unite across a difference. This very real public health problem requires solutions here and now. Lives are at stake. We may have to look for solutions outside the box. Now.

Yet we cannot solve the problem in one area without solving the problem in the other. This is a perfect example of how because we are all human, if you, my brother, have a problem, I too have a problem. These neighbors have the same problem. They are interconnected, and the solution is interconnected. 

It may be truly radical for them to start thinking of each other as brothers. Cousins who hate each other, they can barely handle, but brothers? That might be pushing them too far!

(I kid; they’ll deal. I hope.)

Fourth bold, radical statement: The principles that aid recovery and help addicts achieve serenity are exactly the same as those that can bring peace to Israel and Palestine.

What are these principles? Honesty. Open-mindedness. Willingness. Humility. A re-ordering of attitudes and outlooks that comes from a searching and fearless self-examination, taking responsibility for our part in things, right-sizing our perspectives away from hyperbole, away from always seeing ourselves as victims and never looking at what we contribute to a problem or could contribute to a solution. A recognition of and shift of one’s attention to the things we have in common, away from the things that make us different from others, and in particular those we think are out to get us. Another shift of perspective, from what others do that is wrong to what it is they do that is right. We seek freedom from the cycles of gripe and grudge. We are committed to and practice (we are not perfect!) forgiveness and compassion, patience and forbearance, charity and service.

All this may sound grandly selfless, but in the end it can rightly be viewed as selfish, selfish in a good way: helping you helps me, so I have incentive to help you, if I want to stay free of the hell of active addiction. And most who have struggled through one form of addiction or other, like the heroin addicts in East Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, will go to any lengths to maintain the freedom and happiness, the sense of usefulness they get in their recovery grounded in abstinence from the drugs and behaviors that brought them such suffering.

Recovery can be a path to understanding and moving forward for another reason: Each addict who goes through the pain of addiction, the trauma or enslavement to a drug or process addiction, and comes out the others side, shares a kinship with all others who have been through the same or are still struggling. We are survivors of the same shipwreck, as some have said, and a feeling of fellowship can grow up among us because of this very thing. Unlike those putative shipwreck survivors who walk away from the wreckage, the risk for us stays with us, so the fellowship stays alive (and indeed, we need it to stay alive as well). This fellowship is a beautiful thing.

Who could imagine that the terrible suffering of a Palestinian heroin user in East Jerusalem actually could make him a brother to the heroin user in Tel Aviv? Since addicts help each other out as part of recovery (helping others helps us, remember?), this could be the foundation of a new relationship. Imagine: a new way of relating as Palestinians and Israelis, as Arabs and Jews.

I can imagine it. Can you?

It won’t erase everything else, but it is a beginning.

And while that beginning, the change it promises, and challenging the enslavement of addiction is not easy, if we keep our eyes on the prize and hold on, the change is possible.

[Coming Soon, Part II: “Everything Else” — the struggle for freedom from trauma and addiction continues, in the specific social, political, and economic context.] 

* “hir” is a gender-neutral pronoun increasingly being used to avoid using the plural “they” that some people employ in order not to say “him” or “her” when they want to be gender-neutral but still refer to a singular person. For more information, see:,, and

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rallying for Rights

I missed the May 31, 2011, rally to preserve New York City’s HIV-services budget. The Bloomberg Administration’s solution to the current fiscal crisis is to cut funding across the City’s budget (some suggest, fairly). Critics propose raising taxes on the banks that caused the financial crisis, asserting that:

“There’s plenty of money,” said Heather Stepanek, 29, from the Bronx. “It’s not a revenue crisis, it’s a priority crisis.”

Today, June 2, 2011, City Hall faces another rally. New Yorkers are determined not to let Cairo, Casablanca, or Tunis have all the glory! And New York City can show the world what it looks like when a government allows citizens freedom of assembly and opinion—even when those citizens criticize their government and leaders.

The right to education is a human right, a civil right. Literacy is fundamental to the right to education. Citizens cannot function fully within society without being literate. At the very least, they are at a significant and unfair disadvantage without literacy.

Literacy facilitates economic self-sufficiency. With literacy, people are dramatically better able to support themselves. Economic self-sufficiency is laudable all on its own. But it also brings greater empowerment: power to make decisions and choices for ourselves; power to access health care and advocate for our needs; power to leave abusive relationships and stand on our own; power to demand safer sex from a partner or spouse who pays the bills but we believe may cheat (this is a big issue in male-to-female transmission of HIV around the world). Literacy education enables positive change in a society, in people’s economic conditions, and in their quality of life.

The statistics on adult literacy in NYC are clear. The need is great:
38% of New Yorkers are foreign-born (2000 Census).
47% of New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home (2000 Census).
Barely one-third of public school students performed at grade level on the 2001 English Language Arts exams (NYC Department of Education). 
1.5 to 2 million adults in NYC need literacy services. Fewer than 60,000 receive them (NYC Mayor’s Office).

The fact that New York has a sizeable foreign-born population matters because many countries around the world fail to educate their citizens adequately. Morocco, for example, has a literacy rate of 52%. The literacy rate for Moroccan women is just under 40%, which definitely has implications for HIV-prevention, domestic violence prevention, and other issues.

The Bloomberg Administration has shown it cares about these issues. But it needs us, the citizens, to press it to do the right thing. This is what democracy looks like: we are all accountable, not just the politicians and the banks. We all need to do our part.

Will you join me at the rally?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gay Pride, Civil Rights, and Usama bin Ladin

For my last post, Usama bin Ladin’s (Osama bin Laden’s) death spurred me into action. The news has sunk in a bit more, now, and diverse responses to it still stream in from the far corners of our shared Earth. As Gay Pride Month begins here in NYC and having just come back from an LGBT Muslim Retreat, I wonder how to view Usama’s legacy. As a Muslim, I am not defined by bin Ladin. No, the connection I see is all about justice, fairness, and peace.

Most Arabs or Muslims I know did not like Usama bin Ladin or the violent path he chose to pursue the change he wanted to bring to the world (his advocates might say, to right the wrongs he saw in the world). While I am not the Ultimate Judge, I believe he caused great harm, and planned and urged others to do great harm. Yet there are some in the Arab and Muslim worlds who do not feel he was a bad man. Still others believe he is not dead, seeing machinations of Empire and distrusted regimes behind such claims (one news source presents these varying responses and perspectives, pro and con and everything in between, including a Facebook page created by some who proclaim, “Usama bin Ladin is not dead. We are all Usama bin Ladin”).

I try not to judge the man. I look not for what makes us different, but what makes us the same. I try to relate to the commitment to social change and justice that a charitable person might say motivated him. But I come up a little bit short. This is the tricky thing with grand, beautiful, blank notions like “Justice” and “Peace.” Who doesn’t want justice and peace!?? But remember, “God is in the details” (or is it, “The Devil is in the details”?).

At a minimum, as anyone who knows me can attest, I believe Usama bin Ladin’s way is not the right way to bring about change. I am not Omniscient, but I am pretty sure I would not have liked the world he envisioned, nor do I believe he would have wanted me to live in it, anyway!

If one does not like a situation, and believes Justice cries out for its correction, I believe peaceful resistance and change efforts are the better route to follow. Peaceful resistance and change efforts are not easy and in fact may require facing danger, yet they produce more real and lasting peaceful outcomes than violence. If peace is the End we seek, peace must be the Means.

Violence begets more violence, anger engenders anger, revenge incites revenge, and everyone feels justified. Everyone can feel they are the “real” victims. Everyone can point to an earlier source of pain as the reason they are “striking back.” Few will choose to identify with their enemy, to see how they are similar, if not truly, the same. Few choose to see we all are human, we all feel pain, we all face loss. Instead, we use our wounds to fuel our mirroring, self-righteous wrath.

As I wrote above, this past weekend I attended a Muslim retreat housed within a Quaker campus for spiritual reflection. During mealtimes, I chatted with some of the Quakers who live in that retreat community, and was exposed a little more to their values. They truly reminded me of Muslim ethics: simplicity, compassion, integrity, and peace as core values. I heard more from them about the famous Quaker Peace Testimony, which I believe has something to teach all of us and can guide all of us.

The American Friends Service Committee, which is how the USA Society of Friends (or Quakers) put their Quaker values in action, inspires me. As a Muslim, their commitment to justice and peace resonates with the type of Islam I was raised with, and choose to practice (it is not the only way but it is my Way). 

AFSC projects, including their work in Palestine and between Israelis and Palestinians, along with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, all make sense to me spiritually, as a Muslim. These projects show Quakers’ commitment to practice what they preach. Candidly, they seem not to preach so much, but rather to share simply what they believe, what they witness. This jives with another spiritual principle I once learned: if a Way is Right and True, it will be attractive, and need not be promoted.

How does this relate to Gay Rights? Well, first, because Quakers’ peace and social justice values mean they strive for civil rights and equality for all, including for LGBTIQQ people. Muslims also can have this perspective, as the example of the group Muslims for Progressive Values and its individual members attest (they also supported the Retreat).

The Quakers were excited to host the LGBT Muslim Retreat and meet us because they shared an earnest commitment to counter Islamophobia we face as Muslims, and homophobia and transphobia we face as LGBT people. Their anti-oppression framework, their peace and justice commitment, makes it imperative. As I said, they are an inspiring, and Spirit-led, people.

Here in the US, the Quakers have had an impact that we do not always recognize. It was these same Quaker values that informed Martin Luther King, Jr., and the non-violent resistance US Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, foundational to so many civil rights struggles that followed it. There is a Queer connection too: MLK, Jr., was trained by Bayard Rustin, a Quaker with an intimate experience of oppression, as a Black, Gay man in America (Rustin served time in US jails for civil disobedience and because the US at the time criminalized homosexuality, not to mention that the Powers-That-Were did not appreciate his pro-peace activism).

Yet the indomitable Bayard Rustin did not permit his heart to become bitter with hatred or twisted by pain. Instead, he shared his knowledge of Gandhian principles and Quaker values of peaceful resistance with MLK, Jr. Rustin is a hero of the Black Civil Rights Movement (he was the main organizer of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, in addition to training MLK, Jr., in peaceful, civil disobedience), though many forget he was Gay. He is a hero of the Gay Civil Rights Movement, though too many ignore he existed.

Bayard Rustin and MLK, Jr., stand as witnesses to the truths that peaceful resistance and committed action have powerfully changed the world before, and can again. The recent, brave experiments in Tunis and Cairo (not yet over) give me hope that ongoing peaceful resistance there will show those who want change in the region that Usama’s is not the only way.

My faith in Islam, like my faith in peaceful resistance, is a conscious choice. Without it, I admit, I might despair. I prefer a conscious commitment to open-mindedness, to peace and reconciliation. Islam says this life can be full of trials, and that the solution to this is to live in faith, do good works, be rigorously honest, and be patient.

As I learned this weekend, forbearance need not mean complacency. We are called to action, led by the Spirit, to reduce our brothers’ and sisters’ suffering. And Usama, my brother, and all those like you, you did not reduce suffering, but only caused more of it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

How to React to Osama's Death?

How did you react when you heard  Osama bin Laden was dead?

My first—immediately suppressed—urge was to dance, “Ding, dong, Osama’s dead!” (I refer, of course, to the paean sung by liberated Munchkins, “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead!” in the Hollywood classic The Wizard of Oz, interpreted here by the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald).  A more restrained and adult part of me held sway—an inner voice reminding me never to rejoice in the death or suffering of another, even a self-declared enemy—and I contemplated what the families and friends of those who perished on September 11, 2001 (some, people I knew) might be feeling, along with survivors of terrorism committed in the name of Al-Qacida around the world.

I don’t usually take my direction from the mouthpiece of the Vatican, but sometimes they say something I pretty much agree with—so when they do, why not repeat it?: “In front of the death of man, a Christian never rejoices but rather reflects on the grave responsibility of each one in front of God and men, and hopes and commits himself so that every moment not be an occasion for hatred to grow but for peace” (only difference for me, is I would add “and women” to that sentence and I think it’s true of most people, non-Christians too).  Thank you, Brandon Lacy Campos, for directing me to that quote and the one that follows: "Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble" (Proverbs 24:17).  Surely there is wisdom in these words.

Some disclosure: I am a proud US citizen, and a proud Moroccan citizen.  I am Muslim.  Ethnically, I am Arab and Amazigh on my father’s side (though I know much more about the Arab ancestry as can trace my lineage to the founding Arab Muslim fathers of the modern Moroccan Kingdom, in the late 700’s C.E.), and Greek and Italian on my mother’s side (all of it from the island of Crete, with its ancient, pre-Hellenic, Minoan roots, and where I also trace ancestry to a Venetian family that first came to Crete in the 16th Century C.E.).  I am gay and in a committed relationship with a man (we’ve been together 6 years).  I admit to having an Ivy League undergrad & law school education, preceded by a private American and International School education in Casablanca Morocco, where I was born and raised. 

Bottom line: Al-Qacida never was going to be my friend!  And I doubt I will ever be theirs either.

I lived and worked in NYC on September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center was attacked.  I saw the first tower go down on a TV in our office conference room (I worked for Children’s Defense Fund-NY on immigrants’ access to health care).  I saw the second tower go down as I walked down Fifth Avenue from our offices at 45th & Lexington to a friend’s apartment in Chelsea, not having been able to get by the camouflage-wearing National Guard keeping all from entering Grand Central Station, and from subways or trains home.  I remember a pervasive sense of fear as people pushed at the yelling Guards trying to keep order (those guards still are there, though probably not as rattled today as they were then).

I drifted down into Chelsea, passing clumps of people marching up Fifth Avenue, some covered in powder I could not comprehend, obviously refugees from the WTC.  I heard for the first time (not the last) a woman say to her companions, “We need to round up all those Arabs and Muslims!  I’m telling you!  Put them in camps like the Japanese in WWII!”  I silently walked on, unaware I was attending the birth of an onslaught I have since termed, “The New Anti-Semitism” (sadly, the “old” anti-Semitism is alive and well, even in the USA).

Then I witnessed the second tower go down in a cloud of dust.  People around me screamed in shock; it took my mind a while to register what the billowing cloud signified.  I doubt any one of us truly fathoms what we witnessed that day.

I still live in New York, most of the year, though I write this from Casablanca, in Morocco, a city and country going through tremendous transition.  The Arab Spring blowing through the region is airing out this corner of the Arab World too.  It has moved the King to re-launch a process of reform.  Perhaps the King now agrees with his sometimes-estranged cousin, Moulay Hicham, that the interests of the monarchy are best served by reform

Morocco also has suffered from Islamist terrorism in the past, some inspired by the late, unlamented Osama.  While things here have been pretty safe, just last week a café in Marrakesh was bombed—an odious act as yet unclaimed by any hostile government, faction, or terrorist group.  The café faced a historic square , a World Heritage site. The response has been heartening—Moroccan citizens across the country have rallied to denounce terrorism, global support pours in through online sites, and the government has proclaimed that the need for security can coexist with the project of reforms.  This gives me hope Morocco can be a leader for the region as it meets this challenge.  It also can show the world another face to Islam.  If the change takes, it will be a beacon for human rights and dignity, answering the call that kindled the Arab Awakening.

Thankfully, President Obama proclaimed “the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam… our war is not against Islam, because bin Ladin was not a Muslim leader, he was a mass murderer of Muslims.  Indeed, al-Qacida has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”

As a Muslim, Osama never spoke for me, nor did he ever represent what I saw as the best in Islam.  I understand what he was angry about.  He hated any “foreign” interference in Muslim lands: he hated the Soviets for invading Afghanistan (1979) and was radicalized then; later, when the US planted garrisons in Saudi Arabia, near Islam’s heart and holiest sites leading up to the 1991 Gulf War, he decided the US was his enemy and began a 20-year campaign against us (we fought back, obviously, and it is not over, though Osama may be gone).

Osama and Al-Qacida represent a fringe group within Islam that is self-righteously puritanical.  I believe they commit the ultimate sin in Islam, shirk: they arrogantly aggregate themselves with the Divine, asserting they know what the Divine's will is and denying the rest of us the right to think for ourselves or to approach the Eternal in our own way, on our own path.  

I am not the only American Arab or Muslim who rejects Osama and his ideology.  Many Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans have rejoiced, “Obama got Osama!”  I am glad to report most Arab and Muslim reaction around the world was the same, denouncing terror, rejecting Osama.  All but HAMAS, whose Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, condemned the killing and described bin Laden as a holy warrior.

At the same time as I completely reject the totalitarian ideologues within the Islamic Right, the surge in anti-Arab attitudes and Islamophobia in the US and the West following the attacks of 9/11 worries me today just as it made me feel unsafe on the streets of NYC, my home right back in 2001.  I remember being called by friends to join them at Union Square for candlelight vigils, and fearing leaving the apartment.  I feared another possible attack from the skies (or who knows where), but also was not sure my fellow citizens on the ground would not assault me (there were regular news reports of assaults).

Less than a week after the 9/11 attacks, back at CDF, I rode a packed elevator up to my office, overhearing yet another woman assert, "We need to round up all those Arabs!"  “Will they pass a law requiring me to wear clothing identifying myself as Muslim first?”  I thought to myself.  Thankfully, that has not happened, but the rise in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim attitudes continues.

I recently came across printed out copies of hate mail and death threats the Gay and Lesbian Arab Society received—from Americans using anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slurs (not hate mail from Osama and Al-Qacida, who I am sure had no love for us either)—that we distributed amongst ourselves.  I remember Ramzi telling us how he, gay and Christian, was visited at 3 a.m. by the FBI at his apartment, who interviewed him and said they were there to ensure his safety, yet all the while their questions were only whether he had any terrorist ties.  

While anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate crimes continue to rise, the FBI has improved at partnering with and serving Arab and Muslim constituencies.  Many non-Arab and non-Muslim Americans stood up for us and alongside us (and all those mistaken as Arabs and Muslims).  Among them were prominent Jewish Americans and organizations, like the Anti-Defamation League, which joined in an interfaith group formed to protect mosques from attack.  In New York, Mayor Bloomberg and many 9/11 families spoke up against the hysteria regarding the World Trade Center (Adjacent) mosque.  I hope my fellow Arabs and Muslims with any of the “old” Anti-Semitism pay attention to this and excise that hatred.  Aware of their history "littered with injustice and tragedy,” our Semitic cousins came to our aid.  I, for one, am thankful for it.

Just like I cannot expect Islamic extremists out there to disappear with Osama’s splunk in the ocean, there will still be nut jobs committed to seeing Muslims as a threat.  Even Western Muslims’ seeking to integrate into our host societies—while retaining a commitment to our faith, as each of us, individually, may interpret it—may be seen as harboring a fantastic hidden agenda of Islamic Supremacy.  These lunatics fantasize about a potential Islamic Caliphate as much as Osama bin Laden!

I understand fear and pain due to loss of loved ones or a sense of insecurity resulting from the attacks; this incites anger.  I don’t understand that the fear and doubt would apply indiscriminately to all Muslims.  No matter how many times Muslims or Muslim groups act or say otherwise, some people remain convinced we are all dissimulating sleeper cell agents for Islamic militant groups like HAMAS.  Their Muslim Panics, alongside immigration panics and other obsessions make me wonder if the version of the US they will end up creating if they successfully infect America with their hate is not perhaps aptly portrayed in the innovative and dystopic facebook game, America2049, created by Breakthrough.

So, back to my conflicted initial urge and subsequent self-control: I am glad I did not cheer and dance.  I do not find it seemly or appropriate, and I am concerned about fall out images of Americans cheering in the streets will generate.  I understand why people joined the jubilation and celebration, but I also know how distressing I find cheering crowds burning American flags.  So, a self-declared enemy was laid low.  Maybe, as a Muslim relative here in Morocco said, “He was responsible for terrible crimes.  He got what he deserved.”  I don’t know.

I wish he had been tried in a court, all the while treated for his diabetes.  I think the compassion would have been a triumph over his hate.  I believe Martin Luther King, Jr., violence begets violence, “Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.  In fact, violence merely increases hate…  Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

What’s more, I know there is always another side.  Growing up a bridge between cultures, I learned this: every story can be viewed from an alternate perspective.

Casablanca, Morocco
May 2nd, 2011