Monday, July 7, 2008


Note: After reading the writing below, I could not resist but ask my fellow delegate (Wendy) to permit me to publish her piece at this blog. Many thanks Wendy for teaching us to look at things with eyes in the heart and in it, a pair of eyes!

IFPB MAY 31, 2008

By Wendy H.

Today I took a lot of notes, as has become my custom. But tonight is different, because I have a personal connection story to tell.

It happened this way. After the talk by Abir Kopty of Mosawa, who told us of current issues of racism and inequality facing Israeli citizens who are Palestinians, we lunched on Palestinian “hoagie style” sandwiches, and then rode the bus to begin the tour of destroyed villages. At the second village, Birwe, we were met by Ali, a second generation, middle aged man who works with the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced Persons in Israel, and two men in their late 60’s, Abu and Akim, survivors of the Naqba, and Cyrine, the beautiful 14 – 15 year old granddaughter of Abu. The men were dressed in (wrinkle free) spotless short sleeve buttoned shirts, tucked into belted trousers. They could have been at a business meeting, and perhaps they were, standing on the dry, dusty earth littered with stones, desiccated thistles, and patches of cowpats. Cyrine is small, slender in her black South Park tee shirt, her wavy black shoulder length hair crowned by a perky black and white checked baseball cap.

As Abu Asad began to tell us the story of his village’s destruction, my mind began to run on two tracks. Abu was born in 1939 (he is 3 years older than I), and was 9 years old at the time of the 1948 assault on his village. The Israeli military surrounded the village on the North, West and South, leaving the East open for an escape route. There were 1600 residents in the village, Muslims and Christians, sharing one life. There were no problems between the two faiths. Even though the town priest was the Christian leader, the Muslims participated in his selection because he represented the village.

The Israelis forced everyone to flee; this was equal opportunity oppression. Although some have remained living in nearby villages, others have scattered to cities in Israel, and the occupied territories, to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the United States – a full diaspora. No one is allowed to return. Israeli Jewish Settlers have built houses on the land. A barn stands where the church used to be.

Abu is a short man with sun weathered complexion and grey-white hair. He has deep creases on his face, and speaks with clarity and emphasis. He is a good storyteller. Hearing him put me in mind of my Grandma Bertha. She was born in a Jewish village in Russia near the end of the 19th century. In the year 1900, after suffering pogroms and attacks by the Cossacks, Bertha’s mother decided to send her two daughters to what she prayed would be a better life in America. Bertha, age 13 years, took her 8 year old sister, Jeannette, by the hand and joined a group of refugees to walk out of Russia and across Europe to an Atlantic port. They hid in barns during the day, progressing under cover of nighttime darkness. Sometimes they had to stay in hiding before crossing a border, waiting for the right (bribed) guard to be on duty. My grandmother made it to America, but she never saw her mother or her village again. Bertha was a good storyteller, like Abu. As I saw and heard him telling his story to us, and to his granddaughter, probably for the umpteenth time, I had a sensation of merging circles, of my family history merging with theirs.

People want to live their lives in harmony with their families, neighbors and land. When a mighty oppressor overpowers and displaces the people and demolishes the villages, it crushes more than houses and lives, it breaks the harmony composed by people and land that has been created and sustained for countless generations. The Israeli military has demolished Abu’s village, trying to change the landscape by knocking down all the homes and the mosque and church. They have taken stones from the church to use in road construction. They destroyed 3,000 – 4,000 olive trees. They desecrated the cemetery. Yet every refugee believes he will return. They come each year to plant new trees, and each time the Israeli bulldozers uproot the plantings.

Abu’s granddaughter, Cyrine, says, “We can’t give up. It is important not to forget…. Tell (young) people in the U.S. not to give up if they are oppressed. Keep hope.” A delegate asked what she would say to George Bush. A brief pause, and then, “I’d ask him what he would do if what happens to us happened to his kids.”

When I removed my shoes this evening, I noticed the crevices on the soles had retained the dust gathered by walking through the destroyed village. I shall not wash off this dust.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Happy July 4th - 232 Years of Independence, BUT for Who?

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاء لِلّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَى أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالأَقْرَبِينَ إِن يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقَيرًا فَاللّهُ أَوْلَى بِهِمَا فَلاَ تَتَّبِعُواْ الْهَوَى أَن تَعْدِلُواْ وَإِن تَلْوُواْ أَوْ تُعْرِضُواْ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا

O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin and whether it be against rich or poor: For God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well acquainted with all that you do. (Nisa, 135)

رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِّن لِّسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي

May our hearts be free of the lusts and may God make our hearts pristinely enlightened and mightily empowered for the love of Him and for the love of fellow human being, InshaAllah …

And, may our tongues be relieved of the twists and may our speech become clear and firm (qawlan sadida) for the causes of justice ...

As we celebrate the 232 years of our nation’s independence, we need to reflect …
what exactly did the people gain from this independence and what this independence must mean to us and what are our responsibilities as “independent people” …

God relieves those who are in “bondage & enslaved” in many ways but those who are “independent” do not have the same privilege.

The “independent” are obliged to follow the laws of the Creator… there’s no fursa for them from the principles, such as - “ta’amaruna bil ma’aroof wa tanhauna minil munkar” OR كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاء لِلّهِ

At a personal level, the struggle to excel against all odds & at a collective level to work against injustice and struggle for justice giving voice to the voiceless (the musta’adafeen) is an imperative for an “independent believer” that one cannot escape from …

Brothers and Sisters … by the Grace of Allah, we are privileged to live in a land of laws … we have many privileges and we have much prosperity & security, but …the question we may ask ourselves is if these laws are “just” &/or offer “ justice to the oppressed as his/her right and not as his/her privilege?”

Almost all aspects of our lives are governed by some or the other law … and within them are many anomalies … for example :

Having a firearm is your “constitutional right” but a drivers license is a “privilege” … strange one may say!

The question we may like to reflect this week of ‘independence’ is …

Is there a significant difference between a set of laws and a system of justice?
I say a big yes, and I like you to reflect on this using your own rationale and perhaps at some point we can have an open discussion & dialog, for the larger good of all of us and our generations to come, InshaAllah …

The Declaration of Independence stated, in 1776 that “all men are created equal,” … the question one may ask is … “if that was the case in 1776” … the answer is NO …

The slavery in our country was rampant & in fact the very framers of the constitution at the time were owners of many slaves, but yet they were writing “all men are created equal!”

The native American female warrior who stands atop the Capital Dome, as the statue of freedom (please do not mix her with the lady of liberty) was in fact casted by a Foundry of enslaved labor!

And, then the very building in which we make laws today, the Capitol building, a.k.a. the Hill, was constructed with enslaved labor!

No, my brothers & sisters “all men were NOT created equal” although the Declaration of Independence did say so … this is the weakness of human beings …

And it is because of that precise reason, Allah reminds us frequently and commands us to “ … stand firm for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin and whether it be against rich or poor …”

This is a MIGHTY challenge to the “believers” … you and I … and hence the reward is disproportionately generous in this life and in the life Hereafter, if we embrace this challenge in our lives!

What does it mean to be “independent” and what “responsibilities” do we have as “independent people.”

Let us fast forward now 232 years later … while we do enjoy “a level” of freedom and equality on one hand but on the other hand, we continue to have in our country …
· the indefinite detentions of innocent,
· the desperate youth wandering around for a job, and lawlessness among them,
· the (mostly) enslaved press who neither speak nor pursue the Truth in face of Tyranny (eg; Iraq) …
· The growing socio-economic divide and disparity …. Where “the top 1 percent of (American) households owns 40% of the nation’s household wealth[1]
What does it mean to be “independent” and what “responsibilities” do we have as “independent people.”

The independent America has become more debt-dependent than ever before in its entire history, with a total debt of $48 trillion, or $161,287 per man, woman and child!
Your son or your daughter … 2 day old or 12 year old is already in debt by $161,287 In other words, one may argue even before a child is born in America today, he/she is indebted to the State!

This is a massive economic injustice by those who are in power … “enslaving our generations” to come for no fault of theirs …

What does it mean to be ‘independent’ and what responsibilities do we have as ‘independent people’ that’s the question we need to ask ourselves today!

Thomas Jefferson, the founding father of this nation had said, "I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared."

The true concept of independence, my dear brothers and sisters in our Islamic tradition is simple, "to free oneself from the vices and to inculcate virtues." … Ta’amaruna bil Ma’aroof wa Tanhauna Anil Munkar … and then كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاء لِلّهِ

Not just individually but collectively, a society (a State) , has an obligation to strive …
to “establish good and be just” & hence the idea of a State & its obligations and the idea of “independence” and the role & responsibility of “independent people” …

these are mighty big responsibilities we have, as a people & as Believers …

we cannot simply go on with our lives & remain oblivious to the injustices of ourselves and our society … this must change and “we” must participate in the process of change …

indeed, Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they commit to change themselves … we have heard this quite frequently … didn’t we???

Pursuing independence from the shackles of evil is a mandate and not a choice. Gaining independence from the yoke of oppression in this world is not only necessary but also imperative.

The true independence lies in absolute servitude to the One Creator and freedom from the created.

It is time that we reflect rather soberly in our individual and institutional triumphs.
I believe, we have more possibilities in each moment, every breathing & living moment that we are blessed with, than we can ever realize!

It is too late if we don’t embrace this challenge in our lives, today …

Let us celebrate in the hope of Prophetic promise …

"Remember your Lord (swt) in times of ease, and He will recognize you in times of distress. What hit you could not have missed you, what missed you could not have hit you. Remember that success comes with patience, relief comes with affliction and ease comes with hardship.” (reported Abu 'Abbas' Abdullah) …

Let us renew our commitment to these Prophetic principles for the sake of celebrating life (in true independence & justice for all) & in our unconditional servitude of God All-Mighty and from total freedom of man over man!

Only then, we may have a chance to experience the “tranquility of our heart and peace in our soul” that Quran so emphatically talks about & asks us to pursue.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Jim Crow - Part II

Jim Crow – Part II
By Shakeel Syed

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, under criticism for frequent absences from Los Angeles, recently defended his trip to Israel by asserting that he is a global leader and not the mayor of "some small town in the desert somewhere." Yet the problem lies not only in his absence from Los Angeles, but in what he has brought back from his trip. He seems prepared to adopt parts of the outdated bigotry of the small-town Jim Crow era practiced today by Israel.

Israel ethnically profiles at its airport and discriminates against Palestinians in all aspects of life. At Israel's Ben Gurion airport, Palestinians – even those with American or Israeli citizenship -- stand in separate lines from Jewish Israelis and are routinely harassed and intimidated for hours.

As a leader of the Southern California Muslim community, it worries me that Israeli tactics of ethnic profiling and segregation may be copied here. Already the Muslim community has deep concerns that we are singled out for unfair scrutiny at American airports. Arab Americans have modified a term from African Americans to describe their discriminatory flying experience: FWA or Flying While Arab. A city as diverse as ours and one whose law enforcement officials are desperately attempting to mend relations with ethnic communities across the spectrum should shun Israel's discriminatory security practices.

Yet the mayor signed an agreement on behalf of the city for three Ben Gurion Airport security officials to advise LAX on security procedures. They will each earn $1,000 a day in city funds that could better be used for myriad other pressing needs in our city.

The mayor, a man I generally admire, invited me to participate on his recent trip to Israel. I declined because I was already scheduled to visit Israel and Palestine with an interfaith delegation of Americans organized by Interfaith Peace-Builders and the American Friends Service Committee. I am certain that I got a dramatically different view of Israel than our mayor.

My delegation was profiled from the moment it arrived. Co-leader Michael Brown breezed through security. Co-leader Miryam Rashid did not. A Palestinian American, she was held for five hours of questioning and faced repeated threats to bar her entry – despite the fact that her family roots are in occupied Palestinian territory. Palestinian Americans are regularly singled out by security. And whole families of Palestinians returning home through Ben Gurion can be seen waiting for interrogation in the holding room. The State Department notes numerous reports of "American citizens, of Arab descent, subjected to harsh and degrading treatment at border crossings."

How would Los Angelinos feel if they were interrogated for carrying literature about global warming or for a political candidate when traveling through LAX? I was challenged at Ben Gurion for possessing United Nations literature explaining the consequences of Israel's 41-year military occupation of Palestinian territory. Political litmus tests for travelers ought to be strongly denounced by city hall, not embraced.

The discrimination practiced at Ben Gurion is a feature of Israel's treatment of Palestinians in general. Mayor Villaraigosa might have traveled on Route 443, the apartheid road Israel has constructed on West Bank land. Israeli citizens are allowed to drive on this road, but the Palestinians living in the West Bank cannot, despite the fact that Palestinian land was expropriated to build it. According to Limor Yehuda of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, "There is already a separate legal system in the territories for Israelis and Palestinians. With the approval of separate roads…the word for it will be 'apartheid’." I can only imagine the outcry if Los Angeles designated certain roads for whites and others for African Americans or Latinos.

And the mayor also may have visited the Dead Sea. Palestinians have been barred from swimming in parts of the Sea. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Israelis managing the beaches there complained that a "mix" of patrons was hurting their business interests. An Israeli brigade commander has set up a checkpoint on weekends and holidays to keep local Palestinians away.

I grew up in India and Pakistan after the departure of the British colonial forces. But I will never forget the painful stories my parents told me of the exclusivist practices the British instituted that made parts of my parents' own country off limits to them. South Africa, of course, separated people on the basis of race, including at beaches. And the Jim Crow South kept African Americans away from whites-only swimming pools. We look back on those days as a shameful era in our nation's remarkable history. Why do our mayor and some City Council members – using our tax dollars -- now take inspiration from those who practice these same policies?