Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Making Sense of Senseless Violence

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The recent murder of the U.S. Marines in Chattanooga reminds us of the mordant wit of the Sufi mystic who said “I love the moon because it brightens the sky and helps us navigate the dark night. And I hate the sun because it only comes out during the day when it is bright anyway.”

Most of us are capable of missing what is perfectly obvious, especially when we allow our thinking to become fogged with strong emotion.

Yes, we should condemn the murder and mourn the loss of lives in Chattanooga. But we should also struggle to open our eyes and discern the perfectly obvious patterned behavior here.

Why do so many always express utter shock and fail to see common threads among the mass killings that take place roughly every two weeks in America? Why are we not able to pick out the recognizable patterns in the behavior, however aberrant, of solo killers like Mohammod Abdulazeez, Dylann Roof, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Jared Loughner, Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold?

An exhaustive 2013 USA Today report called Behind the Bloodshed: The Untold Story of America’s Mass Killings helps us make some actual sense of all-too-frequent bloodbaths in this country that are usually labeled either "senseless" or else fueled by murderous ideology.

Among other valuable revelations, the report discloses that the majority of mass killers give vent to their murderous rage in the context of marital breakups, estrangements, depressions, and family arguments. In a word, our mass killers are almost all profoundly isolated and alienated; they are lost souls who imagine they will “achieve” something through lethal violence. To no one does the the lost soul pattern apply more perfectly than to young Abdulazeez, a “young man in a downward spiral,” as The New York Times aptly titled its profile of the latest shooter.  

We know this in part of our brain. We understand how extreme alienation and murderous rage go hand in hand. But almost always we ignore this part of what we know in our rush to find an ideology on which to pin the mayhem, whether that ideology is radical jihadism, runaway Islamophobia, twisted anti-Semitism, wacky survivalist paranoia, or poisonous white supremacism. Yes, these toxins are real and need to be countered. We have spent our professional lives trying to counter them. But there is always more. Even when there is no known ideology in play, there is always the fatal isolation factor. We ignore this factor at our peril.

The other dimension of our willful blindness concerns the ease of access to guns in U.S. culture. Here, too, part of our brain knows perfectly well that widespread bloodshed can be expected in a country that has at least as many civilian-controlled guns as it has people. But the accepted and even encouraged response to reports of yet more gun violence is to go out and heavy up on our own supply of firepower.

More broadly, even as we recoil in horror from the latest shooting, we also tend to remind ourselves that “we” are all good and decent, whereas “they” are all deranged haters. In this way, we help to keep the process of alienation and isolation going. In an ever-more interconnected and interdependent world, this is a sure recipe for continuing disaster.

There is surely some irony in the fact that we who have learned to see so well in the dark--witness the marvelous three-billion-mile journey of New Horizons to Pluto--are still not able to see what is right before us in the plain light of day. We persist in talking about “lone wolves” without really probing their savage loneliness, let alone trying to heal it. We mount dubious ideology-focused campaigns like the Justice Department’s Countering Violent Extremism while letting the gun lobby and the gun makers block any effort to curb access to lethal weapons.

In an age of connecting the cosmos, America must learn to make connections here on earth between corrosive psychological violence and lethal gun violence, between our tribalism and “their” isolation and alienation, and most obviously between all those bullet-riddled corpses and the smoking guns that any lost soul can so easily buy or steal. Otherwise, we may continue to believe that sunlight is a waste because the days are always bright anyway.

Rev. Peter Laarman coordinates the LA-based interfaith project known as Justice Not Jails. Shakeel Syed is executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sin Grows With Doing Good “Sin grows with doing good,” wrote T.S. Eliot, a major twentieth century poet who was born in Missouri, home to the City of Ferguson. “My conscience is clear,” said Darren Wilson, the Ferguson cop, after the grand jury verdict and before resigning with full benefits. “I did not mean to hurt Mr. Garner,” said Daniel Pantaleo, the New York cop, after the grand jury verdict and while remaining on job with full benefits. Both cops firmly believed they were doing good. Both juries believed Michael Brown and Eric Garner were wrong. A large number of Americans, mostly colored, agrees with T. S. Eliot. They believe the cops sinned thinking they are doing good. It may take decades to learn who is right and who is not. In the interim, America must ask itself: · How could and for how long will white cops keep killing black and brown unarmed men and children? · What makes juries vindicate killer cops? · Why does the nation prefer to remain in slumber? · Who will wake the nation? · When will America begin to see itself from the eyes of a widow or a wailing mother? Unless we seek answers to these questions, sin will keep growing. The bullets and the chokeholds will kill more black and brown men and children and sin will keep growing. Priests will keep preaching. Pundits will keep barking. Politicians will keep pacifying and sin will keep growing. There is a way however to stop America from sinning. America’s redemption lies in the words of a black man, spoken nearly five decades ago … “We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” Let us become a person-centered society where “all” persons are valued and respected. Else prepare for the day when the wretched of the earth shall rise against the sinners!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Ramadan Holocaust

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The Ramadan Holocaust

This past Ramadan, the world near silently witnessed yet another holocaust in occupied Palestine. The Palestinians have lived with such painful reality since they were uprooted from their homes and hearth to compensate for Hitler’s crimes. And they may continue to pay this price but only till the world discovers its conscience. It is Living Holocaust for them.

Undoubtedly what was and has been inflicted upon the Palestinians writes new chapters in a certain people’s inhumanity.

The latest atrocities brought contrasting reactions from Muslims in many parts of the world. Despite the oft repeated boasting of being more than a billion, the global Muslim leadership largely remained a timid observer. The biggest protests however were held by Muslim masses particularly in countries where they live as minorities, even as insignificant minorities.

Some social activists relied heavily on the images of dead and mangled bodies. Perhaps, this was their attempt to awaken the slumbering Muslim rulers and as well the masses. Certainly, they may have done so in good conscience in their own understanding. However, one may wonder if using the images of the mangled bodies (for the purposes of mobilizing masses) undermines the sanctity of human body while raising other ethical questions.

The British Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, who resigned in protest after failing to persuade her prime minister to change his morally indefensible policy, took one of the most telling actions. Ostensibly free of conscience, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, instead went on vacation. However, Warsi’s timely tweet to her 60,000 followers (and imagine the re-tweets) made Cameron’s vacation went awry as his own Conservative Party, coalition partner Liberals Democrats, and other opinion makers condemned Cameron and praised Warsi. As expected the hate lobby is trying to defame Warsi but she stands tall.

Regrettably, no such principled action was seen either by Muslim rulers, leaders or scholars except the French-born-British-based Dr. Tariq Ramadan, who decided to boycott the popular annual exhibitions by ISNA & by RIS.

It is up to the Muslims of North America to realize the role that their institutions must play and the responsibility that their leaders must honor. Borrowing the sage words of the martyred Martin Luther King, Jr. that “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

For now and until next Ramadan, various Muslim and non-Muslim aid agencies - each with their own agendas – will be asking for funds to feed the starving, clothe the naked and provide shelter to the bombed people of Gaza only if they are allowed to do so by the Apartheid Israel.

In the interim, the questions must Muslims ask themselves are: who will wipe the tears of orphans, who will restore the smiles of widows and who will heal a people so deeply bruised and battered for more than half a century and that will the next holocaust be inflicted next Ramadan or the one after?

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Poisoned Iftar ...

You are invited to the poisoned Iftar!

I am very disappointed I did not receive the White House Iftar invite. Perhaps because:  
Heck ya - I will do this all over again and many times over.

After I signed on the petition to boycott WH Iftar, I received some responses from the "Good Muslims"  which I share below for your pleasure read.
  • When President calls, you go.
  • America has blessed me and I will not boycott the President.
  • No King calls me for Iftar, President does
And now let's see few responses from the "Bad Muslims." 
  • I would never sit in the same room with the blood thirsty suckers in dark suits.
  • I will die over becoming killers' accomplice.
  • Sure I will go if the WH flies me first class & sends a limo so that I can have the Kabobs at the Afghan Kabob House in Arlington, VA 
I have overheard that some Muslims have not only boycotted the WH Iftar but called for a justice-vigil outside the WH while some Muslim organizations have already shipped out their men and women of valor to break bread with Brother Hussein who is afraid to use his middle name.

Since I am at this, let me quote a conversation I have had few years ago with a leading Muslim leader about the WH Iftar:
  • Me: Why are "you: not invited to the WH Iftar, after all you are a leading voice of Muslims
  • Leader: Shame on me if I am invited and double shame on me if I accept it
  • Me: Why do you say "shame?"
  • Leader: Any Muslim who is invited to the WH Iftar must be ashamed of himself/herself and the organization they work for. Instead they should ask themselves a critical question, "what are they doing wrong?"

Now I ask that you - whoever you may be the Good Muslim or the Bad Muslim - look up the list of WH Iftar proponents & ask the question to yourself - "are they in service of people or the Master?"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Musical presentation of our pilgrimage for pathway to citizenship

A beautiful musical presentation by fellow pilgrims ... Music by Josth Stenner, Vocals by Diana Campos and video editing by Estefany Mendez.
Click here to watch.

A Professorial Rebuttal to Knucklehead Kevin McCarthy

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My fellow pilgrim Professor Gonzalo Santos offers a sober rebuttal to the knucklehead Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Click here to watch.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Here's a video clip of knucklehead Kevin McCarthy who shamelessly tried to defend himself for not meeting with the pilgrims (including me) who walked 285 miles in 21 days to meet him in his district at his office. And, yet he has the audacity to try to pivot the discussion from immigration reform to my fellow pilgrim Prof. Gonzalo Santos. In a video response, my dear brother Prof. Santos not only graciously responds to Kevin McCarthy's lame attempts but also sets the record straight by explaining why comprehensive immigration reform is long over due in our country. Si Se Peude.