Friday, August 24, 2007

WashPost article: In New York, a Word Starts a Fire

A lot has been written on the topic of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, but not much in the two bigwig newspapers - the New York Times and the Washington Post - but that changed when they finally started covering the school and its Principal-who-was-to-be, Debbie Almontaser.

This article in the Washington Post is pretty informative and balanced and gives good perspective on the issue with a wide variety of quotes from diverse stakeholders in the matter.

The "word" being referred to in the title of the article is intifada. I will not say anything further but I hope you read the article!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

NPR article: Acid Attacks on Women in India Prompt Protests

The article/news below has shocked and disgusted me beyond belief. I had hitherto only heard of these attacks against women during conflict and/or warfare, but to see it used as a weapon in domestic violence scares and shocks me. Interestingly, the article focuses on India, but I always thought these attacks occurred more frequently in Pakistan. Perhaps more research is warranted!

How long will we tolerate this?

Acid Attacks on Women in India Prompt Protests

Listen to this story... by

Haseena Hussain holds microphone, wearing dark glasses and covered by shawl
Scott Carney

Haseena Hussain was attacked by her former boss when she did not accept his marriage proposal.

Woman with acid burns, close-up
Scott Carney

Women from CSAAAW, including this acid-attack survivor named Jayalakshmi, gathered on the steps of city hall in Bangalore, India, Aug. 12, to call for better prevention and prosecution of acid violence.

Day to Day, August 22, 2007 · Haseena Hussain was an attractive, upwardly mobile woman in Bangalore, India, with everything going for her. But it all changed in 1999, when she turned down her former boss' marriage proposal and he sought revenge by pouring two liters of concentrated hydrochloric acid over her body.

Hussain now works with the Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW) to fight the surge of acid violence against women. Since 1999, the group has documented 61 such attacks. In the most recent case, a 22-year-old mother of four children was doused with acid and forced to drink a deadly concoction of a corrosive chemical and alcohol by her abusive husband in the city of Mysore.

CSAAAW has had some success in persuading the courts and police to take acid attacks more seriously. In a recent ruling, the sentence of Hussain's attacker was increased from five years to 14. But even that measure of justice rings hollow to Hussain, who had burns over most of her body and lost her nose and eyesight.

In that ruling, the judge also demanded that the government set up a fund of about $250,000 to cover the costs of reconstructive surgery that many of these women need. Survivors of the attacks say that the fund is only enough to care for two women — far short of the needs of the more than 60 survivors.

Even with excellent medical care, the best that most of these women can hope for is survival. If not treated immediately, they can lose their eyesight and spiral into depression. Many commit suicide.

Acid violence seems to be almost unique to South Asia, with most incidents occurring in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Part of the reason is that acid is cheap and widely available. Many Indians use concentrated acid to sterilize their kitchens and bathrooms, as Americans would use bleach.

But the problem affects more than just the women represented by the campaign. A number of politicians, including the wife of the former prime minister of India, have had acid thrown at them. It is also commonplace in mob violence. Popular televised serials and films reinforce the idea by repeatedly portraying acid attacks.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing about acid attacks is the fear that they create. With just a few rupees, anyone can buy a weapon that can ruin another person's life in just a few seconds. For this reason, activists from CSAAAW will raise their voices until the government does something to regulate acid.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Christian Science Monitor article - Islamic Spain: History's refrain

I just love the Christian Science Monitor. I'd even go so far as to say that it should be patronized more than the Washington Post or The New York Times.

As testimony to its greatness, I bring to my blog visitors' notice a well-written, thoughtful piece on Islamic Spain and what we today can learn from that glorious period in Islamic history.

Happy reading! - The Christian Science Monitor Online
from the August 22, 2007 edition -

Islamic Spain: History's refrain

It's a model for interfaith ties, and a warning about religious division.

The past sometimes provides examples of glory and success that serve as models. Other times, as the philosopher George Santayana said, it warns of impending calamity for those who do not learn from it.

For the past several years, I've been immersed in a history that does both. As one of the producers for an upcoming PBS documentary on the rise and fall of Islamic Spain, I've witnessed its amazing ascent and tragic fall countless times in the editing room, only to go home and watch some of the same themes playing out on the nightly news.

Islamic Spain lasted longer than the Roman Empire. It marked a period and a place where for hundreds of years a relative religious tolerance prevailed in medieval Europe.

A model for religious tolerance

At its peak, it lit the Dark Ages with science and philosophy, poetry, art, and architecture. It was the period remembered as a golden age for European Jews. Breakthroughs in medicine, the introduction of the number zero, the lost philosophy of Aristotle, even the prototype for the guitar all came to Europe through Islamic Spain.

Not until the Renaissance was so much culture produced in the West. And not until relatively recent times has there been the level of pluralism and religious tolerance that existed in Islamic Spain at its peak. Just as the vibrancy and creativity of America is rooted in the acceptance of diversity, so was it then.

Because Islam's prophet Muhammad founded his mission as a continuation of the Abrahamic tradition, Islamic theology gave special consideration to Jews and Christians. To be sure, there were limits to these accommodations, such as special taxes levied on religious minorities. But in the early Middle Ages, official tolerance of one religion by another was an amazingly liberal point of view. This acceptance became the basis for Islamic Spain's genius. Indeed, it was an important reason Islam took hold there in the first place.

When the first Muslims crossed the straits of Gibraltar into Spain, the large Jewish population there was enduring a period of oppression by the Roman Catholic Visigoths. The Jewish minorities rallied to aid the Arab Muslims as liberators, and the divided Visigoths fell.

The conquering Arab Muslims remained a minority for many years, but they were able to govern their Catholic and Jewish citizens by a policy of inclusiveness. Even as Islam slowly grew over the centuries to be the majority religion in Spain, this spirit was largely, if not always perfectly, maintained.

Pluralistic though it was, Islamic Spain was no democracy. After years of enlightened leadership, a succession of bad leaders caused the unified Muslim kingdom to fragment among many smaller petty kingdoms and fiefdoms.

Though they competed and fought, the spirit of pluralism continued. Indeed, it thrived as rival kings sought the best minds in the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish worlds for their courts. This was just as true in the Christian petty kingdoms, as the Muslim ones. Christian and Muslim armies even fought alongside each other against mutual rivals of both faiths.

It is at this point that the darker parallels to our time begin. Into the competition for land, resources, and power, some leaders on both sides began to appeal to religion to rally support for their cause. Wars became increasingly religious in nature. Into this tinderbox a match was thrown: the Crusades – the same term that many Arabs use today when referring to America's adventure in Iraq.

The Crusades deepened Spain's religious divide. Minorities in both Christian and Muslim kingdoms become increasingly suspect. Persecutions, expulsions, and further warfare ensued. Nothing could stop it, not even the black plague.

Ultimately, Christian kingdoms gained the upper hand as the Muslim kingdoms of Islamic Spain fell. Spain's Muslims and Jews were forced to either leave or convert. This led to the rise of the Inquisition, whose purpose was to verify the loyalty of suspect converts. The expulsions and inquisitions racked Spain economically, culturally, and morally. Its power was severely compromised. The fall of pluralism in Spain was the fall of Spain itself.

Dark parallels with today

This fall directly links to events today and raises many of the same stakes. Though few Americans note it, one of Osama bin Laden's justifications for the 9/11 attacks was to avenge the "tragedy" of Islamic Spain.

So far, the post-9/11 world and the policies it has spawned seem to be heading in the same dangerous direction as witnessed before. The religious intolerance that engulfed and overwhelmed medieval Spain threatens the increasingly beleaguered pluralism of our own time.

At its best, the history of Islamic Spain is a model for interfaith cooperation that inspires those who seek an easier relationship among the three Abrahamic faiths. At its worst, it's a warning of what can occur when political and religious leaders divide the world. It reminds us what really happens when civilizations clash.

Alexander Kronemer is a writer, lecturer, and documentary producer focusing on religious diversity, Islam, and cross-cultural understanding. His film "Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain" premieres on PBS Aug. 22.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Khalil Gibran event a success!

The Khalil Gibran school event turned out to be amazing! I was there primarily in solidarity, and was upset to have arrived so late, but clearly our community has its act together - finally! Everything was done by 7:15, and the sidewalk was cleared shortly thereafter with lots of media and a surprisingly diverse crowd.

Copied below are links to articles on the coverage - take your pick! - all courtesy of Erica Waples.

Thanks, Erica!


ASSOCIATED PRESS: Supporters of NYC Arabic school want founding leader
reinstated (multiple news outlets using AP story)
> AM New York:,0,7617290.story
> International Herald Tribune:
> Staten Island Advance:

ASSOCIATED PRESS: U.S. rabbi defends N.Y. Arab school despite charges
it will be anti-Israel
> Ha'aretz:


FOX TV CHANNEL (Channel 9, different from Fox News Channel on cable)






** Pre-Event Articles **
> The Arab American News:
> Daily News:
> New York Times:
> NY Sun: