Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sit-in for breast-feeding mother, but what about one for racial profiling?

So, I was going through the Metro paper this morning, and was puzzled when I read the following quote.

"I was horrified that a mother could be humiliated like that."


It reminded me of a similar situation that happened to some folks of Arab/Muslim descent just a few months ago regarding racial profiling and wearing t-shirts with messages. I am fairly certain I blogged about this earlier, but if not, Naeem Mohaiemen certainly has, and you can read a comprehensive overview of the issue here, at his blog, Shobak.

I wish people came out to support the cause of freedom of expression for other things as well, like civil liberties, human rights and social justice. But alas, those things are too touchy and sensitive. Who wants to go to jail over those things? Breast-feeding is symbolic of other things, and you get free media attention. Woohoo!

Honestly though, arent we horrified when our fellow human beings are humiliated as well? We should really take a stand on so many other things too. It's for our own good.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Article: Israel Destroyed 766-year-old Mosque in Beit Hanun

These sorts of news items depress me unlike any other events in the world. Architectural landmarks, like sacred manuscripts or clothing or jewelry, are reminders to us of a world different from ours, that we can learn from. With their destruction, a piece of my soul also tears away because in my heart of hearts, I know I could've been made better off having seen the grandeur of the mosque, it's beauty, it's captivating effect on me never ending.

Now, in 2006, houses of worship are nothing but fancy buildings that can be rebuilt, replaced by luxury condos or office buildings. The same happened in Iraq. When Iraq's museum was destroyed, I couldnt help but think what must have ensued after the first looter broke in. How much must he have made off that sale? Where might that item be today? In a museum in London? Paris? In a rich aristocrat's home? Does that looter beam with pride? Does the owner of the piece beam with pride?

Who cares! It's but a piece of yesterday; of history. A place we will never know, and one we have surely never seen. What a terrible tragedy. With the destruction of the mosque comes a loss to our collective heritage. Now visitors will go to the place where this ancient mosque once stood and think: "what if"....

Some excerpts below:

Israel’s military strikes on the town of Beit Hanun in Gaza, which left 19 Palestinians including women and children dead, have also destroyed a 766-year-old mosque.

In a statement to the U.N. Observer website, the imam of the An-Nasr Mosque in Beit Hanun, Sheikh Sihda Abu Zreyk said that the mosque, which was established in 1240, was completely destroyed during the Israeli operation.

The targeting of places of worship during military operations is considered to be a war crime according to the 16th article of the Geneva Convention. Israel’s destruction of the mosque has revealed another aspect of the Israeli occupation in Palestinian territories.

My years in a habit taught me the paradox of veiling: Article by Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong is, in my humble opinion, a legendary scholar. There are few Christians - or non-Muslims in general - who can break down complex Islamic religious concepts so that they not only become understandable, but worthy of appreciation.

She has done just that in this article published in The Guardian (a British newspaper), on veiling. Before you roll your eyes on the topic she writes on, keep in mind that she was once a nun in England and has no link with that past. The article is especially interesting because of the debate going on in Europe on the whole notion of veiling, the type of veil that should be taken and where and when it should be taken.

Thanks God for American religious freedom!

Some excerpts pasted below:

I spent seven years of my girlhood heavily veiled - not in a Muslim niqab but in a nun's habit. We wore voluminous black robes, large rosaries and crucifixes, and an elaborate headdress: you could see a small slice of my face from the front, but from the side I was entirely shielded from view. We must have looked very odd indeed, walking dourly through the colourful carnival of London during the swinging 60s, but nobody ever asked us to exchange our habits for more conventional attire.

When my order was founded in the 1840s, not long after Catholic emancipation, people were so enraged to see nuns brazenly wearing their habits in the streets that they pelted them with rotten fruit and horse dung. Nuns had been banned from Britain since the Reformation; their return seemed to herald the resurgence of barbarism. Two hundred and fifty years after the gunpowder plot, Catholicism was still feared as unassimilable, irredeemably alien to the British ethos, fanatically opposed to democracy and freedom, and a fifth column allied to dangerous enemies abroad.

Today the veiled Muslim woman appears to symbolise the perceived Islamic threat, as nuns once epitomised the evils of popery. She seems a barbaric affront to hard-won values that are essential to our cultural identity: gender equality, freedom, transparency and openness. But in the Muslim world the veil has also acquired a new symbolism. If government ministers really want to debate the issue fruitfully, they must become familiar with the bitterly ironic history of veiling during the last hundred years.

In the patriarchal society of Victorian Britain, nuns offended by tacitly proclaiming that they had no need of men. I found my habit liberating: for seven years I never had to give a thought to my clothes, makeup and hair - all the rubbish that clutters the minds of the most liberated women. In the same way, Muslim women feel that the veil frees them from the constraints of some uncongenial aspects of western modernity.

They argue that you do not have to look western to be modern. The veiled woman defies the sexual mores of the west, with its strange compulsion to "reveal all". Where western men and women display their expensive clothes and flaunt their finely honed bodies as a mark of privilege, the uniformity of traditional Muslim dress stresses the egalitarian and communal ethos of Islam.

Muslims feel embattled at present, and at such times the bodies of women often symbolise the beleaguered community. Because of its complex history, Jack Straw and his supporters must realise that many Muslims now suspect such western interventions about the veil as having a hidden agenda. Instead of improving relations, they usually make matters worse. Lord Cromer made the originally marginal practice of veiling problematic in the first place. When women are forbidden to wear the veil, they hasten in ever greater numbers to put it on.

In Victorian Britain, nuns believed that until they could appear in public fully veiled, Catholics would never be accepted in this country. But Britain got over its visceral dread of popery. In the late 1960s, shortly before I left my order, we decided to give up the full habit. This decision expressed, among other things, our new confidence, but had it been forced upon us, our deeply ingrained fears of persecution would have revived.

But Muslims today do not feel similarly empowered. The unfolding tragedy of the Middle East has convinced some that the west is bent on the destruction of Islam. The demand that they abandon the veil will exacerbate these fears, and make some women cling more fiercely to the garment that now symbolises their resistance to oppression.

· Karen Armstrong is the author of Muhammad: Prophet for Our Time


The Institute of International Education (IIE) does some amazing work when it comes to raising awareness of other cultures and educating Americans abroad. This news could be seen as a harbinger of hope for the many thousands that still want to make their way over to the States. Afterall, this is the original land of opportunity; Australia, England and Canada are just copy-cats :)


Overall Foreign Student Numbers Stabilize, Ending Two-Year Decline

India's student total in U.S. drops but remains #1; Korea's student total up 10%

USC remains top host university; California remains top host state; New York sees large increase

In 2005/06, the number of international students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions remained steady at 564,766, within a fraction of a percent of the previous year's totals, according to Open Doors 2006, the annual report on international academic mobility published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with support from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This marks the seventh year in a row that America has hosted more than half a million foreign students, with a peak of 586,323 three years ago followed by declines of 2.4% and 1.3% in the past two years. The new Open Doors report shows total international student enrollments that are virtually flat compared to the previous year, along with a rise in new international enrollments for 2005/06, suggesting that international enrollments have stabilized and are poised to rebound.

A new analysis included in Open Doors for the first time shows colleges and universities reporting an 8% increase in new enrollments for 2005/06, with 142,923 newly enrolled students in Fall 2005, compared to 131,945 the previous Fall. A more recent on-line survey which IIE conducted jointly last month with seven other national higher education associations to provide an early snapshot of Fall 2006 enrollments shows 52% of U.S. campuses reporting increases in new enrollments for Fall 2006, and only 20% reporting declines (28% reported no change). (See for details.) These findings, together with a report from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs showing a strong rise in the number of student visas issued in the year ending September 2006, indicate that foreign student numbers are increasing in the current academic year.

For the fifth consecutive year, the University of Southern California remains the U.S. campus with the largest international student enrollment, with 6,881 international students. Columbia University moved up from fourth to second place with 5,575 international students. The 2005/06 top five host institutions - all perennially popular destinations for international students -- are rounded out by Purdue University (moving up to third place from sixth), New York University (up one place to #4), and the University of Texas at Austin. Each of these top five host campuses reported an increase in the total number of international students this year. Open Doors reports that 142 U.S. campuses each hosted more than 1,000 students. (For the lists of top host institutions by Carnegie type, see