Tag Archives: Middle East

Peace Matters: A Mother Responds to the Call for Action Against Syria

War and PeaceAs I pull my truck up to the local harbor beach, loaded with sunscreened kids, oversized striped towels and inner tubes, John Kerry’s voice breaks in over my radio, tuned into NHPR. “This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this crime against the most fundamental principles of international community, against the norm of the international community, this matters to us, and it matters to who we are.”

“It Matters” is an eloquently written persuasive argument in favor of punitive action in Syria for their obvious use of chemical weapons against their own people. And as Kerry pontificates on the necessity of action, I’m mothering my way through the last bits of summer vacation.

Kids tumble out of the truck, doors slam, happy screams pierce, sun shines, and I grip the wheel. How does a peace-seeking person like me feel about this?

I hate war. I hate it. I hate that women who lovingly grow tiny seeds into human beings have to watch as their sons and daughters are sent overseas because the overwhelming majority of men on this planet value power, money and ego over life, love and collaboration.

While I hate war, I do not hate the men who declare it. In fact, the opposite. I love men as much as I love anyone, and I want to see men live long, healthy and productive lives. But as the world turns, I see what men do and what men make and I’m tired of dealing with the consequences of greed, power and competition.

For thousands of years we’ve been deserted by fathers, raped by prom dates, suppressed by regimes, penetrated by uncles, underestimated by brothers, underpaid by bosses, beaten by husbands and ignored by society. For thousands of years we’ve had to stand by while men make decisions about our fate and the fate of our planet. If during these thousands of years, men have not found a way to create a peaceful planet through leadership, it makes me wonder if men truly desire peace. Or are men addicted to conflict and combat? Are they afraid that the end of war will mean the end of their manly value?

Every one of us is hard wired with drive, with the desire to be the best at something, with the need to control our environment. It’s always been this way. But just because this is the way it’s always been doesn’t mean it’s right. History is doomed to repeat itself because we human beings aren’t brave enough to choose collaboration over competition – on a personal level, on a professional level, on a local level, on a global level, on a 1st grade recess level, on a college application level, on an I-got-the-job-now-what level. We’re all at war with one another. All of us. Heck, most of us are at war with ourselves.

We are never happy the way we are, which makes it impossible to accept others the way they are. This seems so mundane, so small. But this is life. This is people. War is people, too. War is one man with a severe sociopathic condition and a powerful following. But the problem of war isn’t THEM. The problem isn’t WHY. The problem is US. You and me. US.

There is so much work to do. And the work doesn’t start in Congress. It starts with you and me. It starts in bed at night when your mind is focused on office politics and peer manipulation. It starts in the kitchen when I stare down a bag of Newman’s Ginger O’s that will only add to my increasingly unmanageable lower belly. It starts on the playground when one sad, confused, pained little boy is labeled a bully because he hasn’t mastered impulse control or feels unlovable and unworthy of kindness. This is where war begins.  With the tiny seed of you and me.

This brings me back to the front seat of my parked Ford truck, simmering in the driver’s seat, white knuckling the wheel, “It matters,” Kerry asserts, “if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens.”

Yes, it does matter, Secretary Kerry. It matters. But peace matters, too. We belong to the most creative human society to tromp the earth. We send rocket ships to Mars, we Skype with our sisters living in Hong Kong, we collect energy from the sun and turn it into electricity. We are innovators. Let’s use this innovation and creativity to inspire peace. There is a way. There is always a way. Peace matters.

No boots on the ground, yes I know. Just a drone strike. But is it ever that simple? Strikes have consequences and I don’t believe for a minute that three-four-shut-the-door will be the result of Obama’s proposed swift and concise action.

More lives, more anger, more more more. How about a little less less less? Doesn’t that sound nice? A little less breaking news? A little less testosterone? A little less shrouded children? A little less worry? A little less tossing and turning? As unlikely as it may seem, peace matters. Peace now.

Deepak Chopra: Can We Create Peace in Egypt?

If you’ve been following the news in the past few weeks then you’re undoubtedly aware of the troubling political violence erupting in Egypt. In one week, alone, more than 900 people died, prompting EU-affiliated countries to suspend arms sales to the country.

In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak is joined by two young Arab women leaders to discuss the current situation in Egypt and the steps to creating peace and resolving conflict.

Does taking sides, as Deepak says, perpetuate conflict? Or is there ever a line at which we should take one side to help overcome another? Do you believe we can change the world by shifting our own consciousness? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Thumbnail credit: Mosa’ab Elshamy / Flickr: mosaaberising

Occupy Gezi: Turkish Police Turn Violent on Peaceful Interfaith Protest (Inspiring Photos!)

v0sKEzcLast week, an interfaith, multicultural group in Istanbul, Turkey convened to protest Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to demolish Gezi Park and convert it into a shopping mall. What began as a festive summer sit-in quickly turned violent when police forces arrived with guns, tear gas, and barricades. According to The New Yorker, at least twelve people have been hospitalized with head injuries, and according to one participant’s account, two people were killed in the scuffle.

The events in Gezi Park are startling and unnerving, especially given that this was a non-political, non-violent demonstration. Since when do police start handing out head injuries at picnics? Sure, this “picnic” had a specific purpose that went against what government authorities had in mind, but as one blogger wrote: “People went to the park with their blankets, books and children. They put their tents down and spent the night under the trees.” The #occupygezi and #occupyturkey hashtags that have sprung up on social media in last few days describe police setting fire to demonstrators’ tents and arresting hundreds of peaceful protesters. This conjures memories of violent confrontations during the US’s own Occupy demonstrations in 2011 and 2012, all of which speaks to the fundamental frailty of civil rights in these places.

Our spirits are with Occupy Gezi demonstrators around the world as they stand strong for civil and community rights:


Images sourced imgur.com and Occupy Gezi’s Facebook page.

How About an “American Spring”?

Anyone who has admired President Obama’s idealism all along should come away inspired by the high-mindedness of his "Arab spring" speech. It served to reassure his liberal base that he wasn’t solely continuing the Bush policy in the Middle East (i.e., kill every terrorist, ignore human rights, let Israel drift, keep the oil flowing). It put the conservative Israeli regime on notice, along with some minor allies like Yemen and Bahrain. Those were the points that might cause the powers that be to feel nervous for five minutes. The rest of the speech, a lofty high five for reform in the Middle East, was more problematic.

Obama referred to his 2009 Cairo speech that extended an olive branch to the Muslim world, reversing Bush’s belligerent "clash of civilizations" stance. Lofty as those declarations were two years ago, the intervening time has been one of inertia. Guantanamo remains a thorn in our side; Iraq continually totters; Afghanistan remains chaotic; Pakistan is a client state bought off with bribes basically because they have the atom bomb. In the face of such inertia, what can ideals do? If asked whether they would support freedom movements in Saudi Arabia, for example, in exchange for gasoline at $6 a gallon, the average American would jump ship on lofty ideals.

As in so many areas, such as health care, immigration, and energy policy, Obama combined visionary- in-chief with professor-in-chief. He’s good in those roles, but a global President needs a global nation to follow him. I’m not sure that we are really there yet. Reactionary politics held sway in the 2010 election; the economy teeters precariously; people feel like drawing in their horns. Even in good times it would be hard for any visionary to reverse the right-wing trends that have dominated American politics since the Reagan era. In other word, without an American spring, the Arab spring is still on its own. This country will keep supporting despots and royal families in the Middle East; we will demand the free flow of oil, which is the same as capitulating totally to the oil oligarchs that hold the world ransom; and we won’t stop being the world’s largest arms dealers.

It’s not idealism that is at fault here; it’s self-contradiction. You can’t be at peace and war simultaneously, reactionary and visionary, friendly to reform and despots. Obama needs to thread his way through these contradictions. Given his character, I believe that he’s trying. His idealism rings true. But countless idealists have broken their heads against hard realities. The best hope I can take away now is India, a place that is thriving even though the government is corrupt, bribes are a way of life, vast millions are illiterate, religious intolerance simmers beneath the surface, elites jealously guard their privilege, and gender inequality is shockingly rampant. Obama mentioned all those things in his speech, and it’s heartening to realize that the dispossessed people of the world, starting with so little, facing such heartbreaking obstacles, can still rise. The silent power of idealism may be able to accomplish more than hardened realists realize. Let’s hope so, especially at this uncertain moment.


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PHOTO (cc): Flickr / bitzcelt

Is Egypt a Tipping Point or a “Now what?”

When history decides to shift, people are always looking in the wrong direction. That’s what makes so-called tipping points so unsettling — the experts miss them so often. In the case of Egypt, nobody expected peaceful popular uprisings to topple Mubarak. The Arab world was focused on the dangers of Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda or Israel. It was taken for granted that the repressive regimes of the Arab world were here to stay, backed by the military, secret police, and powerful friends on the side like the United States.

History apparently had different ideas, and so we stand at a moment like the fall of the Berlin Wall, where a society collectively says, "Enough is enough." The way in which collective consciousness makes such decisions is mysterious. The day before change occurs, there’s every reason to think it won’t. Hosni Mubarak had been in place for thirty years, Soviet Communism for seventy. What we will see now is a great deal of backing and filling as the experts tell us all the factors that made this a predictable upheaval, and the pro-Mubarak West eats a little crow for not supporting the protest movement quickly or strongly enough. One of the protesters had appealed to an American reporter, "Why can’t you see that we are just like you?" A good question.

The day after a tipping point is always full of danger. Post-Soviet Russia lost an empire, witnessed the rise of mobsters and oligarchs, spun into widespread corruption, and eventually defaulted on the ruble. Freedom came at the price of unleashing forces that an authoritarian system had kept under control, or at least under wraps. Egypt has reached its "Now what?" moment, and if the experts are right, the real issue isn’t the departure of a dictator who outstayed his welcome but of democracy being stifled by the military powers that hold sway almost totally. Much the same structure is in place throughout the Muslim world, with its blend of royal families, oil oligarchs, anti-Israel demagogues, inflammatory clerics, and a booming birth rate.

In other words, "Now what?" doesn’t seem to have any good answers. Egypt, like the rest of the Arab world, waited too long to educate its poor, illiterate population, stripped its wealth to favor the privileged few, obstructed the rise of the next generation, and fell far behind the curve in technology and modern industry. Those factors remain a huge stumbling block. And yet this moment had to come, and we can look upon India, which had exactly the same problems twenty years ago but managed to turn the corner in spectacular fashion. The secret is to reverse course and change hidebound policies.

Clearly such a reversal isn’t in the interests of the military or the ruling elites in the Middle East, because their greatest fear is the rise of the populations they suppress in order to remain in power. The status quo benefits the few, but it’s the few who hold the reins of every institution except the mosque. India prided itself, as it still does, on being the world’s largest (and messiest) democracy. So it would seem that before history can truly move ahead in the Arab world, the rise of the dispossessed must be allowed to occur, and that cannot happen without democracy. Despite their huge problems, Arab countries need to exist for the people. "Now what?" doesn’t have a simple answer, but the immediate need couldn’t be more clear.


PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Al Jazeera English


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Do Words Cause Wars?

 Anti-Muslim speech has been curtailed in the U.S. since 9/11 so far as official channels go. Popular sentiment and right-wing radio are another matter. The Bush administration has been chastised for using terms like “war on terror” and ’clash of civilizations” as code for an attack on Islam itself. The Obama administration has tried to erase those phrases. But words don’t cause wars, not directly. They reflect the consciousness of the speaker, which is a much more potent cause of conflict.  By his relative silence, Feisal Abdul Rauf is following his long-avowed policy of not getting his hands dirtied with nasty politics. Yet many moderate Muslims have tried this tactic, only to find that they are leaving a vacuum that is quickly filled by extremist voices.

Like attracts like, and in the Muslim world the most powerful magnets are extreme. You are known by the company you keep — so the adage goes — but also by the words you share. When Sarah Palin twitters about stopping the “mosque at Ground Zero,” she knows who will take the bait. Most obviously, it will be her base, but she is also rousing the opposition, people who know that there is no mosque being planned and that the location of Rauf’s Islamic center isn’t at ground Zero. Palin knows this too, but demagogues don’t bother with fact-checking. They want the war of words to continue.  Their aberrations are deliberate and crude, mirroring the attitudes of xenophobia and intolerance that are part of their consciousness.

What is difficult here comes down to two things. The first seems hard enough: how to get moderate Muslims to begin to pull their weight against the jihadis. Al Qaeda stands for nothing that would build a future in any Arab country, but circumstances favor the irrational right now. Burgeoning birth rates, a surplus of unemployed young males, and a history of oppressive governments who ignore educational reform — these are familiar obstacles throughout the Arab world. As long as they exist, consciousness cannot rise. When the only book you know is the Koran and it is being interpreted by firebrands in the guise of holy clerics, your future is spelled out in ignorance and hatred of Islam’s enemies.

If the first obstacle seems daunting, the second is worse.  Everyone is convinced by their own level of consciousness.  How could it be different? You can’t look beyond your own mind, and for all of us, the most powerful beliefs that guide us are hidden; we inherited a vast amount of conditioning from the past that remains unexamined.  To overcome the unconscious requires self-awareness. That’s the ultimate solution to the whole Mideast mess. Only if people become self-aware will they look at obvious facts in a new light. It’s obvious that Israel and Palestine must come to an accord that suits both sides. It’s obvious that oil-rich Arab countries could resolve the poverty on the West bank with a fraction of their yearly income. It’s obvious that Iraq and Iran are going to form a Shia alliance one day, that the Iranian bomb is a foregone conclusion, that despotic regimes in the Mideast cannot last forever — and on and on it goes.

Published in the Washington Post/On Faith


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Pakistan Should Ban Extremism, Not Facebook

For a country that has produced five military dictators in 60 years, mourned the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and struggles continually against its own militant extremists who have killed thousands in their own nation, Pakistan has absolutely picked the wrong fight by banning Facebook and YouTube because of an idiotic virtual campaign called "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day."

According to a story on CNN.com, Pakistan blocked access to YouTube — a day after it shut down the social networking site Facebook — after an online group called on people to draw the Prophet Mohammed. In response, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority ordered its operators to shut down YouTube "in view of growing sacrilegious content on it." Instead of knee-jerk political reactions and impassioned threats of violence, as proud millennial Muslims we should reflect and ponder how our Prophet Mohammed would have responded to such silly faux controversies.

In a recent piece I wrote for The Washington Post, I highlighted a well-known Islamic parable that tells the story of the Prophet Mohammed and his interactions with an unruly female neighbor, who would curse him violently and then dump garbage on him from her top window each time he walked by her house.
One day, the prophet noticed that the woman was not there. In the spirit of true kindness, he went out of his way to inquire about her well-being. He then went on to visit his unfriendly neighbor at her bedside when he found that she had fallen seriously ill.

This genteel act of prophetic kindness toward unfriendly or overtly hostile neighbors is the Muslim "Ubuntu" standard that we should all aspire to, not irrational threats of violence aimed at the silliness of some sophomoric cartoons aimed at inciting a provocative response around the world.

If we ask ourselves the simple question "What would Mohammed do?" about this, the even simpler answer would be two words: "Absolutely nothing."


Amen, Mr. President

(CNN) — Opening the Muslim-world leg of the "Audacity of Hope" world tour with the universal Islamic greeting "Assalamu alaikum" (May peace be with you) to thunderous applause, President Obama began his long-awaited major address by going straight to many of our pressing geopolitical issues.

He spoke from the hallowed halls of Cairo University in the heart of one of the largest Islamic capitals in the world.

From beginning to end, President Obama’s speech was a concert of enlightenment compared to President George W. Bush’s famous farewell news conference in the Muslim world (which resulted in two Iraqi size-10 shoes being boomeranged toward his head).

From the issues of violent Muslim extremism to the growth of the neo-racism known worldwide as Islamophobia; from Israel-Palestine to his overall Iraq and "Af-Pak" (Afghanistan-Pakistan) strategy, President Obama successfully used his Cairo speech to lay out his framework for several key foreign policy issues.

Additionally, with major sections of his address covering women’s rights, democratic reforms and nuclear weapons, President Obama devoted much of his 40-plus-minute speech to offering concrete and tangible policy initiatives that he plans to implement in the near future.

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He talked about his plan "to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses" to help the countless number of internally displaced persons caught in the fighting in Pakistan. Similarly, for Afghanistan, he outlined that we will be "providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon."

Aside from his concrete foreign policy proposals and tangible development initiatives, President Obama spent much of his Cairo address highlighting the "common aspirations" of the United States and the Muslim world.

He surprisingly cited the Holy Quran at least four times in his speech and noted that the first American Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, "took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Quran that one of our Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson — kept in his personal library."

Wow, that is quite a change from your past political interactions with Muslims, Mr. President. As most Muslim-Americans vividly remember, during the 2008 presidential election, when certain nasty and xenophobic right-wing elements in America tried to paint Obama as some kind of "crypto-Muslim" Manchurian candidate, we did not see then-candidate Obama go, even once, within 12 feet of an American mosque entrance or Muslim political campaign event.

During the 2008 presidential election, the "Muslim" insinuation against Obama became so radioactive that two American Muslim women in Michigan were asked to sit out of camera range at an Obama campaign event in Detroit by campaign volunteers in June 2008 simply because the two women wore hijab, the traditional headscarf.

But I guess when in Cairo addressing the greater Muslim world, an American president has to be wise enough to talk, and walk, like an Egyptian.

On the essential need for a diplomatic, peaceful and final resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli situation, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to a two-state solution on the condition that "Hamas must put an end to violence" and that "the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."

By successfully addressing the major foreign policy issues affecting much of the Islamic world today, President Obama has succeeded in positioning the United States closer to a rapprochement or political détente with the Muslim world.

The Obama administration can bring some further resonance to the president’s eloquent words by making sure that key administration players like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell — Obama’s special envoys for the Af-Pak and Israeli-Palestinian portfolios, respectively — further carry out the president’s foreign policy agenda..

Finally, in the spirit of his event, President Obama concluded his remarkable Cairo address by highlighting the individual mandates for peace in each of the major Abrahamic religions.

He said that, "The Holy Quran tells us, ‘O mankind! We have … made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.’ … The Talmud tells us: ‘The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace. ….’"

"The Holy Bible tells us, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ … The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth."

Amen, Mr. President.

Editor’s Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com, and contributing editor for Islamica magazine in Washington. This column also appered on CNN.com

American Journalist Stands Trial in Iran

Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen, is awaiting trial, in Iran.  Here’s the link, to the full story:


Let us pray for her and for peace.




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