Monday, November 19, 2012

The lesser of two evils just became the greater …

The lesser of two evils just became the greater … During the recent presidential election cycle, many good-hearted Muslim and non-Muslim friends tried to convince me to choose the lesser of the two evils. Among other components in my response, I asked them three questions: 1. Do you agree that the lesser of the two evils would still be evil? 2. What if the lesser of the two evils keeps doing evil for a protracted period of time; would that candidate still qualify as the lesser evil? 3. Lastly, if the lesser of the two evils surprised them with a heinous act of evil, would they favor truth over hope? Instead of a yes or no answer, most of my good-hearted friends expressed their big hope in the lesser of the two evils. They also asked me to prepare myself for many “pleasant surprises” and to embrace them when they happen. I certainly was waiting for them. These surprises did come early….but I ask, “Are they pleasant?” Less than two weeks after the victory songs earlier this month, we now have two ugly surprises from the lesser of the two evils. Just in case someone failed to notice, here they are: 1. The lesser of two evils declared that “he fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself”, implying that the occupied and the embattled Palestinians are to be denied this same right. The Palestinians evidently are to thank him--the lesser of the two evils and the evil he supports--for the airborne killing machines flying overhead which are so much more merciful than the land-based killers crawling all over them. (Perhaps we are to ignore Israel’s many hints about an imminent ground invasion of Gaza.) 2. The lesser of two evils earns the distinction of being the first to visit Myanmar – a land of monks running amuck. There, the lesser of the two evils heaps praise and offers hope to those who have been killing and watching the killing of a nameless and stateless people: the Rohingyas. May I now ask my good-hearted Muslim and non-Muslim friends to join me in mourning the 10 month old Hanin Tafesh and the mass instantaneous murder of 3 generations of Dalu family. And, having received almost no call-backs from my many good-hearted Muslim and non-Muslim friends, believers in the lesser of two evils, I decided to write this open letter as a reminder that, yes, the lesser of two evils is still evil!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Voter's Memo to President Obama

A voter’s memo to President Obama: Reply requested by Nov 5th or earlier (Shakeel S – you know where to find me!) As an independent voter, I enthusiastically voted for you in 2008. In 2012 however, I will not vote for you. Here is my very short [initial] list of top ten reasons and I will grant you an opportunity to respond and convince me otherwise. 1. Do you remember Guantanamo! During your last campaign you promised to close the dreaded Gitmo (link) but I guess you forgot. I wonder if you were thinking of them when you accepted the Nobel Peace Prize? 2. I thought no act could inflict more harm than George Bush’s Patriot Act. You proved me wrong. You not only extended the Patriot Act (link, link) but wrote your own National Defense Authorization Act (link) that makes Patriot Act look like a No-Parking sign. As a constitutional law professor, Mr. President, you have encoded sheer government abuse as law of this land (link) and you continue indefinite detentions without review (link, link). Don’t you think all this disguises the Pharaoh as an angel? 3. And, don’t you also have a kill list, assassinating (link) my fellow citizens (and citizens of other sovereign nations). And you claim that you are the judge, jury and the executioner (link) and you do not need any judicial review to kill anyone and anywhere. 4. Also, didn’t you ask for thousands of secret spying warrants (link). Who are you afraid of, Sir? Or are you simply recalling the words of your predecessor from across the aisle: “Why do they hate us?” 5. And then you have the audacity to defend your warrantless wiretapping (link) while trying to stop the Supreme Court from hearing a challenge of warrantless wiretapping (link) and also pushing for laws making it easier to wiretap (link) on innocent and law abiding citizens. 6. On your watch, my tax dollars were spent on illegal and immoral surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods and houses of worship (link). Remember that, Sir? I do. 7. And was it your administration who authorized the raids at the homes of my fellow peace activists (link)? 8. As a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, can you rationalize your peddling $60 billion worth of arms to the Saudi Arabian dictators (link) and continuing the sickening legacy of our annual $3 billion charity to apartheid Israel while my children’s teachers are losing their jobs and their spouses have already lost theirs. 9. Your “withdrawal plan” from Afghanistan leaves more troops than when you started (link) your presidency. So who are you fooling, my friend? We may be a country of fools, but most us can still count. 10. Your drones have killed more innocent people in Pakistan and Afghanistan (link) than any of your predecessors. So, Mr. President, I was not happy but appreciated George W Bush because he was honest and said, hang-in-by-the-cliff, buddy. But in your case Mr. President, you have been dishonest and deceptive; you are asking me to jump from GWB’s cliff and “hope” for a soft landing! Standing by to hear from you & to watch who drops first from the cliff! Si Si Peude…

America: Connect the Dots

The recent tragic death of the US Ambassador and four staff members of the US Embassy in Libya by asphyxiation in the embassy fire ignited by the irate Libyans reminded me of a nomad’s satire. The nomad walks into a café and gives a verdict on the cosmos by saying “I love the moon and hate the sun.” Baffled patrons in the café ask the nomad about his love and hate relationship with the moon and the sun. The nomad explains. “I love the moon because it brightens the night and guides us to find our ways and then he adds, I hate the Sun because it comes out only during the day when it is bright anyway!” Most people miss the most obvious especially when thinking is fogged with emotions. While we condemn the senseless violence and mourn the loss of innocent lives in Libya, I cannot help but remind myself of an incident four years ago in September 2008. About 60 days before the Presidential elections in September 2008, millions of Americans in 14 battleground states received a DVD gift in the mail, titled: “Obsession : Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” That movie was produced by Rabbi Raphael Shore for a tax-exempt New York-based charity by the name “Clarion Fund ” with connections to a strongly pro-Israel Jewish educational organization – Aish HaTorah based out of Israel and an office in the United States. Clarion Fund did not just produce Obsession but also produced The Third Jihad and Iranium. News analysis at the time helped many Americans connect the dots about the September 2008 DVD being used to influence the November 2008 Presidential elections. Now, in September 2012, the world learns of yet another movie, The Innocence of Muslims. More dot-connecting is required. Los Angeles Times reports that the movie was filmed and produced in Southern California but in much mystery. Allegedly, the producer is a Coptic-Christian of Egyptian origins holding extreme anti-Islam views. And then there is a movie consultant and scriptwriter, Steve Klein, based out of the City of Hemet who claims to know but refuses to reveal the identities of those associated with the film in various capacities. Although much is shrouded in mystery, the movie consultant has revealed himself as did some of the production crew-members. And according to the Associated Press a person identifying himself as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula may in fact be Sam Bacille who initially was reported to be “the” man behind the movie. Much uncertainty remains but what we do know for certain is that this 14 minute movie has already contributed four American deaths. The nation is in mourning and political tensions are rising in the region. Conservative political leaders often speak of pre-emptive police action against American Muslims, particularly in Los Angeles. Muslim-American political rights are, to them, expendable. But when right-wing cranks like Steve Klein seek to inflame passions that lead directly to American deaths too many conservative pundits and politicians have preferred to blame President Obama. It is time for American conservatives to criticize the hatred in their own ranks. A more thoughtful position would be to criticize both the film and those carrying out the violence in Libya and other countries. An effort to label President Obama as a Muslim or a Muslim sympathizer – as if being a Muslim is unacceptable – is likely to again sweep the political rights. Mainstream conservatives should denounce such bigotry and Americans should be connecting the dots leading from September 11, 2012 leading to the election on November 6, 2012. ----------------------

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Curiosity on Mars & Mayhem in Milwaukee Unlike other sluggish Sundays, this past Sunday I woke up early and excitedly log on to the NASA website to follow the 154 million-mile journey of Curiosity. Instead, I was shocked to read the breaking news about the horrendous act of terrorism at a Sikh gurdwara in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Instinctively I knew this American terrorist intended to kill Muslims at a mosque but ended up killing Sikhs at a gurdwara as similar acts of terrorism have occurred more than once since September 11, 2001. So, after all, what’s the difference between Sikhs and Muslims and gurdwaras and mosques? I found the answer in a devout Jewish friend’s email: “An attack on one house of worship is an attack upon all of us. An assault on one faith community is an assault upon all of us.” Until America embraces this paradigm, some American terrorist will keep killing some innocent and faithful worshiper somewhere. And this reminds me of a man who lived and died for that America: to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We may have traveled into galaxies and reached stars but have not yet learned how to live on earth like brothers and sisters.” This sage reminder is especially apt at the convergence of the Curiosity completing its 154 million-mile journey to Mars while Wade Michael Page, a former U.S. military PsyOps specialist-turned-terrorist, massacred seven innocent faithful Sikhs. Teresa Carlson, the FBI special agent in charge of the investigation of Sunday's massacre, said “no motive for the attack has been established.” I must ask what else would be necessary to establish the motive? Page was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. military where he served as a Psy-Ops analyst AND the Southern Poverty Law Center identified him as a neo-Nazi AND he shot innocent people at a place of worship. Several other questions keep bothering me. Did Mr. Page’s neo-Nazi instincts precede his U.S. military career or are they a result of his service? Does Mr. Page’s level of education reflect the U.S. military’s criteria for those whose hands are permitted to take lives of others in the name of our country? What about a citizen’s constitutional right to own a firearm versus the State’s privilege to grant a driver’s license: a dishonorably discharged psycho from the U.S. military can own a firearm and massacre innocent people but a law abiding tax paying citizen’s driving privilege can be suspended or revoked if he’s unable to pay couple of parking tickets. While I pondered these questions, I was alerted to another act of terrorism. On the day after the Wisconsin shooting, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri was torched to the ground in the pre-dawn hours during the most holy season of Ramadan when Muslims fast, pray, and give to charity each year. Of course, this is not the first mosque that has been burnt down. A few years ago, a mosque in Adelanto was razed to the ground and some months thereafter an Imam in the same area was tied to a chair in his house and burnt alive. The slow wheel of justice is still turning and no one as yet has been held accountable for this heinous act. We may have reached Mars and may even travel beyond but will that stop massacres and mayhem on our planet earth? Our country has spent $2.5 billion to reach Mars and to study stones. Today, will you spend 2.5 minutes--or a bit more--and force your heart to hear the sobbing orphans and wailing widows in Milwaukee, Wisconsin? While fasting today, I am reading and reflecting on all the darkness that seems to be surrounding us. I am reminded of the sage words, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And I add, whether on Mars or on Earth, without selfless love and sincere empathy we may continue our curiosity but will not cure the darkness in which we live.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Stifling free speech to help Israel

First published as an op-ed in LA Daily News Republished at Information Clearing House Shakeel Syed is a Muslim-American and a board member of American Muslims for Palestine Jeff Warner is a Jewish-American and a member of Los Angeles Jews for Peace Our message was simple: “Tell Congress: Spend Our Money at Home, Not on the Israeli Military.” We wanted people to understand how their tax dollars are spent. We contracted with CBS Outdoor for a 28-day campaign of 23 billboards. They erected them in Los Angeles and surrounding cities, and we thanked them for allowing free speech. However, a week later, CBS Outdoor took down all our billboards, telling us laughably that our applauding them for allowing free speech was tantamount to their endorsement of our message. They wanted us to take our money and go away quietly. But we decided otherwise. The truth is that CBS Outdoor likely buckled to pressure from pro-Israeli groups and their paid shills in Congress. Rep. Howard Berman wrote a memo (available on his website) to the Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel, the sponsor of the billboard campaign, condemning the billboards and referring to alleged complaints from his San Fernando Valley constituents. In response, Berman received praise from pro-Israel groups such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League, organizations who called the billboards “provocative.” So what if the billboards contained a message that Rep. Berman and these pro-Israel groups found provocative. Who are they to judge what political messages people in Los Angeles should be allowed to see? On the other hand, we believe that provocative discussions make democracy flourish and stifling discussion will kill democracy. By taking down the billboards and advocating against them, we charge CBS Outdoor and Rep. Berman with stifling discussion and undermining our democracy. As taxpayers, we care how Congress spends our money. As citizens, we want our country to be generous, but not reckless. Rep. Berman and vast majority of his Congressional colleagues continually demonstrate recklessness in wasting our treasure serving Israeli interests rather than fulfilling the needs of the American people. The money the United States is spending on the Israeli military this year, if used at home, would help tens of thousands of Americans recover from the ongoing recession with affordable housing, college loans, green job training, health care, and other support. Rep. Berman demands that America must keep aiding Israel although it was recently ranked by the Center for Public Integrity as one of the top ten human rights abusers in the world receiving U.S. weapons, and Israeli misuse of American-supplied weapons to dispossess and bombard Palestinians may violate the United States Arms Export Control Act, which limits the use of U.S. weapons to “internal security” and “legitimate self-defense.” We disagree. Why is Rep. Berman intentionally disregarding these laws in hawking more weapons to Israel at the expense of unmet domestic needs? Perhaps the answer lies in Rep. Berman being a beneficiary of pro-Israel political action committees, which are among his top five contributors, keeping him in Congress as their many strong advocates. Rep. Berman should stop pandering for military aid to Israel and instead start aiding Americans who are homeless and the jobless, children and the elderly, libraries and schools, police and fire departments. He can start with those right there in his district in the San Fernando Valley. For example, the money destined for the Israeli military under a $30 billion ten year agreement would provide primary health care to 23 million Americans. As for CBS Outdoor whose slogan is, “Always On,” apparently is on for some and off for others. Suppressing free speech, especially that which engenders a debate to mend the American economy, is not only un-American but anti-capitalist. As Jewish and Muslim Americans who devote our lives to seeking peace among peoples of all faiths, we hold CBS Outdoor and Rep. Berman responsible for suppressing an important conversation; the billboards called on our nation to revisit its misplaced spending priorities. We believe in a vibrant and provocative discussion through all lawful means, including by erecting billboards. This is an imperative and not an option. American leaders say they want to see genuine peace and stability in the Middle East. To achieve that America must first stop its financial and military aid to Israel and then use whatever integrity it has left to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people. As long as America’s treasure is bled away to support the tyranny of the Israeli occupation and as long as corporations and Congressmen like Rep. Berman stifles debate and discussion, our country will continue to suffer. CBS Outdoor should not censor the billboards and Rep. Berman should not attempt to chill free speech. Americans deserve to debate the negative impact of U.S. military aid to Israel. Our billboard may have been removed but our spirits soar high with our message to Congress: “Spend Our Money at Home, Not on the Israeli Military.”

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Let's burn the village to save it

Friends of all persuasion ... Are you as deeply mad as I am today to begin 2012? Never in my half a century of life I was so mad to start a new year.

The charming fool made lawlessness, a law!

What other choice do I have, but to re-commit to never accept and always refuse to be subjected by the legal lawlessness of our country!

I was near convinced in 2011 but now fully at peace to embrace the adage of the sages ... "let's burn this village to save it." Would you join me?

Jan 1, 2012.