Dances With Ignorance

Good message.

“The best way to learn about any people is to drop your preconceived notions and approach them with an open mind and heart.”

Testimony of Hapreet Singh Saini

Bring out the tissues. This is so sad and heartbreaking and yet very touching. A strong young man, may God bless you. Losing a parent and in this fashion. There are no words one could say. I pray for this young man, his family and all affected by this tragedy. May God heal our world. Stop the hate and spread love.

before the UNITED STATES SENATE Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
Committee on the Judiciary on “Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism”

September 19, 2012

My name is Harpreet Singh Saini. I would like to thank Senator Durbin, Ranking Member Graham, and the entire subcommittee for giving me the opportunity to be here today. I am here because my mother was murdered in an act of hate 45 days ago. I am here on behalf of all the children who lost parents or grandparents during the massacre in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

A little over a month ago, I never imagined I’d be here. I never imagined that anyone outside of Oak Creek would know my name. Or my mother’s name. Paramjit Kaur Saini. Or my brother’s name, Kamaljit Singh Saini. Kamal, my brother and best friend, is here with me today.

As we all know, on Sunday, August 5, 2012, a white supremacist fueled by hatred walked into our local Gurdwara with a loaded gun. He killed my mother, Paramjit Kaur, while she was sitting for morning prayers. He shot and killed five more men – all of them were fathers, all had turbans like me.

And now people know all our names: Sita Singh. Ranjit Singh. Prakash Singh. Suvegh Singh. Satwant Singh Kaleka.

This was not supposed to be our American story. This was not my mother’s dream.

My mother and father brought Kamal and me to America in 2004. I was only 10 years-old. Like many other immigrants, they wanted us to have a better life, a better education. More options. In the land of the free. In the land of diversity.

It was a Tuesday, 2 days after our mother was killed, that my brother Kamal and I ate the leftovers of the last meal she had made for us. We ate her last rotis – which are a type of South Asian flatbread. She had made the rotis from scratch the night before she died. Along with the last bite of our food that Tuesday…came the realization that this was the last meal, made by the hands of our mother, that we will ever eat in our lifetime.

My mother was a brilliant woman, a reasonable woman. Everyone knew she was smart, but she never had the chance to get a formal education. She couldn’t. As a hard-working immigrant, she had to work long hours to feed her family, to get her sons educated, and help us achieve our American dreams. This was more important to her than anything else.

Senators, my mother was our biggest fan, our biggest supporter. She was always there for us, she always had a smile on her face.

But now she’s gone. Because of a man who hated her because she wasn’t his color? His religion?

I just had my first day of college. And my mother wasn’t there to send me off. She won’t be there for my graduation. She won’t be there on my wedding day. She won’t be there to meet her grandchildren.

I want to tell the gunman who took her from me: You may have been full of hate, but my mother was full of love.

She was an American. And this was not our American dream.

It was not the American dream of Prakash Singh, who had only been reunited with his family for a few precious weeks after 6 years apart. When he heard gunshots that morning, he told his two children to hide in the basement. He saved their lives. When it was over, his children found him lying in a pool of blood. They shook his body and cried “Papa! Get up!” But he was gone.

It was not the American dream of Suvegh Singh Khattra, a retired farmer who came here to be with his children and grandchildren. That morning, his family found him face down, a bullet in his head, his turban thrown to the side.

It was not the American dream of Satwant Singh Kaleka, president of the gurdwara who was killed while bravely fighting the gunman.

It was not the American dream of Sita Singh and Ranjit Singh, two brothers who sang prayers for our community and were separated from their families for 16 years. Their wives and children came to this country for the first time for their funerals.

It was not the American dream of Santokh Singh or Punjab Singh who were injured in the massacre. Punjab Singh’s sons are by his side day and night, but he may never fully recover from his multiple gunshot wounds.
We ache for our loved ones. We have lost so much. But I want people to know that our heads are held high.

My mother was a devout Sikh. Like all Sikhs, she was bound to live in Chardi Kala – a state of high spirits and optimism. She was also taught as a Sikh to neither have fear of anyone nor strike fear in anyone.

So despite what happened, we will not live in a state of fear, nor will be make anyone fearful.
Like my Mother, my brother and I are working every day to be in a state of high spirits and optimism.

We also know that we are not alone. Tens of thousands of people sent us letters, attended vigils, and gave us their support – Oak Creek’s Mayor and Police Chief, Wisconsin’s Governor, the President and the First Lady. All their support also gave me the strength to come here today.

Senators, I came here today to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic. The FBI does not track hate crimes against Sikhs. My mother and those shot that day will not even count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.

Senators, I also ask that the government pursue domestic terrorists with the same vigor as attackers from abroad.

The man who killed my mother was on the watch lists of public interest groups. I believe the government could have tracked him long before he went on a shooting spree.

Finally, Senators, I ask that you stand up for us. As lawmakers and leaders, you have the power to shape public opinion. Your words carry weight. When others scapegoat or demean people because of who they are, use your power to say that is wrong.

So many have asked Sikhs to simply blame Muslims for attacks against our community or just say “We are not Muslim.”
But we won’t blame anyone else. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

I also want to be a part of the solution. That’s why I want to be a law enforcement officer like Lt. Brian Murphy, who saved so many lives on August 5, 2012. I want to protect other people from what happened to my mother. I want to combat hate – not just against Sikhs but against all people. Senators, I know what happened at Oak Creek was not an isolated incident. I fear it may happen again if we don’t stand up and do something.

I don’t want anyone to suffer what we have suffered. I want to build a world where all people can live, work, and worship in America in peace.

Because you see, despite everything, I still believe in the American dream. In my mother’s memory, I ask that you stand up for it with me. Today. And in the days to come.

Thank you for considering my testimony.

source: http://www.durbin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=b1297ccf-504c-49d7-9b66-ef2b26360623

Pass the Violence Against Women Act & Safe Native Women’s Act (VAWA PSA)

I know very little of this issue and of tribal lands. The only time I’ve seen this issue covered in the mainstream media, was on NPR more than two years ago (And I am a news junkie). I can’t help but feel helpless and horrified this is happening, victims are not getting justice and very little is being done.

Aljazeera also did a segment today on AJstream. The discussion will be posted later on their website and I’ll update here.

Miss Representation of Media

I may have posted this before. I saw it again today. Although some dismiss it, I’ve always maintained the media influences, if not controls people’s souls, and thus shapes our communities. As we watch what we put into our bodies, we must be even more careful of what we put into our souls. Negative/Toxic consumption will have consequences.

Reflections on the year that changed my life

I’ve been meaning to write about the year that changed my life, but you see, a large part of my individual culture is Somali. I am not sure if I can say all of me, because so many things make up the pieces of who I am. I think it would be safe to say for most of us, if not all of us, we are made of many things. There are many parts to us.

The reason, I mention the Somali part here regarding myself is because we tend to be not very “melodramatic”. Somalis experience events, ponder and pray about it, then keep it moving. We tend to not dwell and immortalize life experiences. Like everything in life, this has its advantageous and disadvantageous.

About two years ago, I was at an interfaith event. I am a Muslim and I am easily identified as a Muslim, because I wear the hijab, also known as the “headscarf.” At that event a man came up to me and questioned very sincerely, why more Muslims don’t attend vigils honoring the victims of 9/11. It was from his experience. It may not mirror yours or mines, but it was his. I personally didn’t share that observation; however it did make me think of culture differences when the matter concerns responding to tragedy.

And when I say culture, please understand I am speaking specifically of Somali culture and not “Muslim culture.” What many people fail to understand is that Muslims are not a monolithic group, but over 20% of humanity, encompassing cultures (not to mention individuals) as diverse as the human race. (ie American Muslims share the same culture fabric present in America, this will be different than Muslims in Pakistan, which will be different from Muslims in Nigeria.)

The man’s question made me think of Somalis. I am speaking from my experience and it was hard for me to imagine Somalis (perhaps not so much the younger generation) attending or initiating vigils to honor victims of a tragedy, especially year after year. And when it comes to (National) tragedies, Somalis have had more than their fair share.

Never have I seen the Somali community as a whole hold any event similar to the events which are held throughout the US to remember the victims of 9/11. Recently there was a tragedy suffered by a Somali family. Those from the Somali community prayed and attended to the family. It was the American neighbors, who took it one step further and set up a memorial to remember the victims in this family. It would be unfair to say one didn’t care, because they didn’t attend the memorial or set up a memorial to remember victims. So because I come from this culture, I understood not participating in vigils or days of remembrance doesn’t translate to apathy or worse malice. People do grieve differently.

People also experience historic events differently. Goodness. I related all of that just to make this one point. If you plan on reading this, then I advise you to sit back and relax, because knowing myself, it may turn out to be long read. I have an extreme difficulty to keep the written word short, it’s a miracle I am able to use twitter.

September 11, 2001, changed the direction my life would take and perhaps that would ring true for most Americans and even for folks beyond our borders. I don’t believe my experiences are of any distinction to mention; and this played a large role on why for a long time I didn’t find it necessary to write about my reflections even on my own blog. I guess it was easier to blame the Somali part of me, but the greater truth perhaps is the question of what makes my experience “special” to write about. Then again, I also wonder what is the point of writing, but to write. It’s not so much about having an effect as much as sharing some reflections, which I have gained along the way. I will attempt to do that in this post and I hope if you are still reading at this point, that you may benefit in some way or in the least see reflections which may be new to you.

If I were to describe my life up to this point, I would put it in three major phases. These phases are typical: childhood, adolescence, and now adulthood. But perhaps what is not typical is the paradigm shift that I underwent in each of those phases.

I was born into a Muslim Somali family. I think labels, like religious, conservative, liberal or the like are very subjective and for that reason I tend to shy away from labeling. In my home, my parents followed Islam and faith was very important to them. They prayed five times a day, never missed Ramadan and zakat, always gave to charity, and were very ethical in their dealings. Throughout my childhood there was always someone living with us, until they got back on their feet. Upholding justice and kindness were very sensitive issues in my household. You were to do good for the sake of God Alone, and not for praise, or recognition from people, to do so was considered a great sin.

I never attended any religious schools and my parents never made that a requirement for me. For many Muslim kids, memorizing the Quran is compulsory in their household. I don’t remember that ever being the case in my household. Today I regret my parents didn’t take a more forceful approach to make me learn the Quran. I may have been a Hafid (one who memorizes the Quran) now, then again that would mean I would have greater responsibilities as in the saying he who is given much, much is expected from him. I also wish I was forced into many other things, like learning foreign languages. Today I may have been fluent in many languages. But hey, I did love my childhood too.

I always attended public school, in which I was usually the only Muslim girl. From an very early age (six), I wore the hijab. I must have been told the reason for the hijab, but there are no distinct moments, which stand out to me. I never questioned it, until very later during my adolescence. The best way I can describe the concept the hijab held for me back then is perhaps like skin color. It’s part of you. It’s something that has always been there. My mother wore it and so did all other Muslim women I knew. It’s what I knew, a large part of my identity, so it was never an issue to me. However, I don’t think I ever understood it’s purpose until much later.

I don’t remember ever being told you’re a girl, you can’t do this or be this way. I was raised with no limitations regarding my faith, race, or gender. I was never shamed or lived in fear. I was free to choose my friends and hang out with whom I pleased (perhaps it was a coincidence that I bonded with kids, who never made my parents worry, but from experience, I know religious and race differences alone are enough to put fear in children). My parents never made distinctions concerning my friends. I was never told so and so is of that race or of that faith so be cautious of them. I was never told be friends just with those who share my faith or background. Because of this, my friends were as diverse as the world and came from families of various religious backgrounds. We never realize how we are shaped until much later, but those roots have greatly impacted my relationships throughout my journey. I feel very comfortable with diversity and always approach people as individuals. I never feel uncomfortable in the presence of those who are different than me. As long as there is respect, I can find comfort and feel at home in a church, synagogue, or a temple. It is with hearts I have always bonded with, not with my “own kind.”

I played various sports and hanged out with my buddies till after dark. I was allowed to listen to all kinds of music and go to the movies with my friends. The most scandalous thing I have ever done was shoplift with my buddies, which we were caught and the manger was kind enough to let us go with a warning. We never returned to it afterwards. I have no idea how we, a large group of us reasoned it was okay to shoplift as stealing was considered one of the worst things we could do. It is beyond me and as an adult I find it fascinating the reasoning of kids, but we did steal for fun and we didn’t turn out to be criminals. My friends and I also found a porno tape on the street and watched it at a friend’s house. By this point, I already knew what sex was. Kids are smarter than grown folks give them credit for. However the sex on the video was so disgusting and terrifying. It didn’t look human to me. I could only stomach a few minutes of it, but I don’t remember protesting the watching of it. It was not sexual to us, but something strange and funny. Kids are like a mob, often you go with your crew where they lead you. I also used to read a lot as a young kid and was happy to learn from those stories, sex was not so violent. I am so thankful to the softer side of love making, otherwise I may have developed a sex phobia from the trauma of the porno I watched as a kid.

Many years later, as a college sophomore I would take a Human Sexuality course. It was a fascinating course in which I learned a lot and on curriculum was a showing of a porno video, dubbed “educational video.” Leading up to the day the video would be showed, I was very nervous and feeling extremely weird. I, the girl who had seen a porno before the sixth grade and who was very well read was unsure if I could attend class that day. I convinced myself it was educational, but following the introduction in which the actors were fully clothed, as soon as the actor went to fondle himself to demonstrate the art of masturbation, I couldn’t handle it emotionally. I turned right away and never felt so embarrassed in my life. So I walked out the classroom. It was the right decision for me. I believe in being comfortable, rather being afraid of embarrassment. Perhaps it was the setting, being in a room full of students who were not my buddies, but a large part of it in my opinion was due to the shift I had undergone in my adolescence, which I will relate in Phase 2 of this reflection post.

The funny thing is, I know some folks who would say when they look at that girl, the only Muslim girl friends with a bunch of kids, who were not Muslims, both boys and girls, playing sports, shoplifting for fun, and watching a dirty video was headed for trouble in her future and may bring “shame to her family.” Perphaps, I may even have been among those folks at one point in my life when I was on the outside looking in at someone else, but along the way I learned the complexity of the human condition and things are not what they always seem to be. So I learned to be merciful or remind myself to be merciful instead of being judgemental.

Despite these freedoms in my childhood, I must have picked up what was proper or improper behavior for a Muslim girl. It may not have been preaching as much as it was leading by example. As a kid, I believe I learned lessons best from examples/stories and actions, rather than preaching or logic, because it is examples I still remember and not so much the lectures that I am certain I was given. And those examples may have even been subtle, and were unnoticed by me during those times, but subconsciously I was like a sponge and soaking in those principles of right and wrong. Subtle examples like from my older cousin. She would take us out to do fun kid things and let us bring along our friends. We would play sports together. She listened to music and watched movies. She had no problem being friends with all kinds of people regardless of faith or race or gender. She was comfortable being around guys yet had strong principles in her religious teachings. She was never harsh or condemning to us as kids, who made mistakes. She wore hijab with a long loose shirt and jeans. She was proud of who she was and very comfortable in being a Muslim woman. She was just very comfortable in her own skin. And she always stopped to pray her salah wherever she was. I never realized it back then. I couldn’t. Most kids don’t stop and ponder. It was many years later as an adult in which I would understand how those subtle examples shaped my ideals. She was a good role model for little ol me. I never told her. Thank you Sahra.

The paradigm shift from the childhood stage to adolescence will come in the year I was to enter high school. The event which took place the day before the start of school, I would say is the day that I become an adult. It was the beginning of the shift, which would take place only weeks later.

I was a young and outgoing teen, and of course had a certain world view, in other words living in my own little bubble. I don’t know where the idea came from exactly, but I intended to finally take off the hijab. I don’t think it was a decision that was made just in one day, but one that many moments and experiences led to. I can’t really tell you what was going through my mind. I feel so removed from that young perhaps lost girl I once was. As I said before, I never really had an issue with the hijab in principle. I never hated it or despised that I wore it. I was never ashamed, even though on many occasions I was questioned what the heck I was doing wearing “that” and sometimes even insulted, and once physically assaulted in which one kid yanked off my hijab while in school. Despite some of these challenges, I don’t remember ever being overwhelmed. It helped the good days always outweighed any challenges, but what helped most I believe is that any insults or challenges I may have encountered because of my dress, it never reached my spirit. I think that is where danger lies, when the spirit is wounded. Never was my spirit ever wounded. Perhaps I was a tough kid or perhaps I was just lucky. Alhamdullah in any case.

When I try my best to remember why I came to the decision to take off my hijab, I think it was the start of high school that was the biggest influencer. I saw it as a new beginning and therefore a new me. A large part of it was also the little girl in me, who wanted to be beautiful and have her hair styled beautifully. Oh the things we worry about as kids. It’s not easy trying to remember what was going through my teenage mind, but the ultimate conclusion was that no more hijab and I was going to get my hair done at the salon for the first day of school, have my new outfit on and look the bomb (is that saying still in? hehe).

As fate would have it, my father drove me to the salon. I think if it was my mother, there may have been a different outcome. God it’s hard being a parent, now that I think of it. I am not a parent, but now that I am older I can wear their shoes and I can’t but find it difficult to raise a child in a contradicting world. May God bless our parents.

Before dropping me off, my father asked how long it will take. I went to the lady in charge, told her I wanted my hair to look like Alicia Keys (she had just come out with Fallen in 2001, I loved the look. I thought I would rock it). The lady told me the process would take like 4 hours. It was my first time getting my hair done on my own so I didn’t think anything of it. I was just excited and imagining my new beginning for the following day. I ran back outside to tell my father how long it would take and went back inside to get my hair done. I took off my hijab, sat on the chair to have my hair inspected by the lady, when my dad with this sulking expression walked into the salon. I was very surprised. I thought he had left. And the look on his face, it still makes me emotional today. I had never seen my father look so sad and I was taken aback immediately. He had realized my intentions. But I hadn’t realized I would be making one of the most important decisions of my life.

I can’t remember the exact words, but in a soft voice and holding that same wounded expression, he asked me to confirm what he had realized. I told him it was true and I no longer wanted to wear the hijab. I am still seated in the chair and the woman has started to comb my hair. My father is in front of me, looking like the breath was knocked out of him. I don’t know what was going through his mind. Perhaps he felt like he had failed his job of being a parent to teach his child, because here was his daughter abandoning a part of their religious tradition.

The moment to decide came, when he asked me to not pursue my decision. It was not an ultimatum. He didn’t yell or condemn me. He didn’t make any religious arguments against what I intended to do. He only advised me that I not do it. What I am most certain of is that it was not what was said and I am so glad he didn’t yell at me, because I may have rebelled, but I couldn’t rebel against the expression on my father’s face. It was what made me get up from my seat, kindly tell the lady I no longer was interested, and put my hijab back on to walk out with my father.

That day, I didn’t realize how heavy that decision was to be for my future and my journey. I became an adult that day. I made an important decision all on my own and in my heart it felt like it was the right decision immediately. The best way I could describe that feeling is that it felt like you grew up with a best friend and somewhere down the line you got too big for your friend. You became popular and you joined a popular crew, leaving your friend behind. Then one day a moment of truth comes. Your new crew is picking on your friend for no reason other than thinking they are better than him. In that moment there is a choice to be made. In your heart you realize how wrong your new crew is and you take a stand for what you deep down believe is right. So you join your friend and stop pretending of being something you’re not and chasing fake glitter. That is what it felt like that day. I didn’t belong to what I was seeking. It was never for me.

That was in August. I did attend the first day of school with my hijab and although I made an important life decision, I was not finished in being settled. Although I was a Muslim and grew up with certain values, I was still floating around and not yet anchored. A few weeks later, 9/11 would occur. Fearing for my safety, my parents pull me out of school and I would be homeschooled for a year. Another and more powerful paradigm shift would take place in my world view and shape who I was to become. I would never be the same again. For the first time in my life, I would become anchored and the solitude would allow me the opportunity to really get to know myself.

Phase 2: coming soon.

Weird dreams and life reflections

Last night I had a very strange dream. I usually don’t dream, because my mind tends to be awake and too busy thinking. I can’t remember the last time I had a dream and by dream I mean a full story or at least a clip of a story. When I do dream there seems to be certain themes that I dream about. The most dominate themes are that I am either being frightened or I am playing a hero saving someone from trouble. Although I am no dream interpreter, I do believe both of these themes are telling about my “being”, whatever that is.

Ever since I can remember I had a deep sense to take care of others, especially those who are less fortunate. I am emotionally moved easily by the experiences of others and I have always loved people who fought for the weak and the vulnerable so it is no surprise I get to play those roles in my dreams.

As for being frightened, I crave safety and comfort. I am no risk taker, especially when the matter concerns my heart. I guard myself safely. I am afraid of all the things, which could go wrong even amidst the sea of happiness in which I swim daily, because there is that voice which whispers my time to drown shall come. I imagine pain and suffering that isn’t even there, because I know it will come. It must come. It always does, doesn’t it? Isn’t that the nature of the universe? To strip away our happiness? I mean, who in this world goes through life unscarred? Whose heart has never been broken? Isn’t it, a matter of sooner or later?

But so what, if it is? So what, if you get your heart broken and you suffer losses? Haven’t you also felt love, joy and won many battles? And if not, isn’t it within you to feel love, to feel joy and to win the important battles in which you fight?

It is all possible and it is all a part of life. The ups and downs are part of our journey. The older I have become, the more I begin to realize to truly live, to truly grow and to truly feel magic, I must be willing to step outside my comfort zone and have the courage to follow my heart. And to not be so overwhelmed with what the future holds and forget the moment in which I have been given. It is easier said than done of course, but it must be done otherwise we live only halfway. We will be too afraid to experience. Too afraid of all the things that could go wrong. We have no control on what the future will bring. All we have is this moment and over this moment we do exercise a great deal of power. It may sound like a cliché, but it was right all along. It is all within you.

As Imam Ali RA is quoted to have said:

“Your sickness is from you – but you do not perceive it
You remedy is within you – but you do not sense it
You presume that you are a small entity – whereas within in you is enfolded the entire universe
You are indeed the evident book, by whose alphabet the hidden becomes manifest,
Therefore you have no need to look beyond yourself; what you seek is within you, if only you reflect.”

And back to my strange dream, which brought forth all these mixed feelings. I was at home and in a room when three peculiar beautiful looking birds visited me. The birds were yellow and green, and of big size for their species. And of course this being a dream, these birds could talk. After smiling and admiring the beauty of these birds, I opened the window to set them free. I told them to fly away and be free. Two of the birds followed my call and flew away. The third stood on the window and looked back me. It said, “I’m not flying away. It is youm al qiyamah.” I laughed and looked at the bird, thinking there is no way this is youm al qiyamah. It’s far too soon and it isn’t supposed to happen in my lifetime. Those were my instant thoughts. Then the bird looked back at the sky and I went closer to the window to also take a look. That is when my heart fell. And I mean really fell. Imagine utter terror.

The hour had come so my first instinct was to make my salah. I was too frightened to meet God without one last prayer and last plea for mercy. My second instinct was to get my parents. Chaos ensued and I am feeling all the emotions of dread. That is where the dream ended.

Youm al qiyamah is the Arabic phrase for the Day of Judgment. The bird in my dream did use those exact words and I relate here the exact dream I had last night. In my opinion dreams are not meant to be taken literally. Of course everyone has their interpretations, but I don’t believe the dream was about youm al qiyamah per se. Currently, I am going through a life changing phase, in which I feel all the emotions one feels in a time of uncertainty and great change so I believe that is where my dream came from. And because I am very connected spiritually to my faith, in times of panic and fear I turn to my two sources of strength, God and my parents, may God always protect them for me.

I also took from the dream, life is short. Even if one is uncertain or simply doesn’t believe in an afterlife, there is no dispute about death and none of us know when our time is coming. We may think we have a long time to go, but we don’t know for sure. Therefore I took it as a reminder to live each day with a sense of urgency. To not be afraid of what I have no control over and to have the courage to make for myself the life I wish to have. That requires risk taking and letting my heart go.

Peace & Love.

The Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting and the role of the Media.

I was horrified and saddened to learn of yesterday’s shooting targeting worshippers at a Sikh Temple. When an attack specifically targets a group of people rather than it being a random shooting by a psychopath, it feels very personal and hits closer to home. I pray for the families directly affected by this tragedy and those who lost their life for no reason other than being different.

As a community I commend them on how they have responded. So gracious and very honorable. Because of this tragedy I have learned aspects of the Sikh faith, which I didn’t know before and have now come to appreciate. I hope our Nation is spared from seeing any rise of hateful attacks on religious minorities (or any other group). Just minutes ago I read about of a mosque burning down from an arson attack in Joplin, Mo.

Although the ultimate accountability is upon the individual who commits the act, I do believe some of that responsibility for crimes such as this is shared by the media and organizations like FoxNews and those with similar agendas. They incite hate and thus make crimes like this occur. I see little to no difference between these organizations that are mouth pieces for far right ideologies and those whose ideology encourages “death to the west”. FoxNews and other far right commentators may not right out say “death to Arabs/or Muslims”, but they do so in subtle language. The radio world of right wing ideologists is even more vocal in their hatred for Muslims (which in my opinion is a cover-up for hate against anyone who isn’t their race).

Although I do believe in freedom of speech, I do think there is a dangerous line when the speech involves minority groups. The majority of the Nation has little contact with Muslim people and what they do know of Muslims is from the media. This almost always involves historical violent political conflicts in the Muslim world.
So what do have? We have a narrative that is being fed to the Nation, in which Muslims are not the tellers of their own stories. Since there is a lack of power to reach millions of Americans, those who do have this power, the major media, I believe do have responsibility in how they approach minority groups. But often times what do we see when the matter concerns Muslims?

We see violent conflicts, terrorism, and hateful Mullahs bent on destroying Western civilization and oppressed women who are in need of being saved from them. So when a “patriotic” isolated American views these images over and over again on FoxNews, who does he view as his enemy? Them, who look like the images he sees on TV. It’s classic propaganda that has been used throughout history to demonize the “other” and as consequence it leads to killings like we saw yesterday in Wisconsin. It’s no surprise Hitler used the media as did the Hutu militia just to name two infamous examples. And we all know the tragic consequences.

The quote by Malcolm X comes to mind:

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

You may be wondering what does all of this have to do with the tragedy that occurred yesterday at the Sikh Temple. I have followed the news coverage and the sentiment seems to be Sikhs were mistaken for Muslims. The implicit suggestion here from the media seems to be it is understandable to hate and attack Muslims. The gunmen and the ideology he follows may very well be most outspoken about their hatred of Muslims, but make no mistake their hatred is of the Other. The attack on the Temple was not just an attack on Sikhs, or Sikhs “mistaken” for Muslims, but an attack on anyone who was not his race. I say race and not religion, because right wing “Christians” hate black people as much as they hate people of other religions. In my opinion I think their hatred of black folk is even greater than that of religious differences, it just that in the years following 9/11 the media focus has shifted to those folk overseas.

“I take thee for who you are or not”

There is a Somali saying that goes something like this, please note those of you who are more versed in the writing of the language will certainly shake their heads at my very poor attempt in writing this saying, which is:

“Qofna biyo kurkiisa ka ma dhoroo”

Wheew, that was my best attempt without any assistance and I concede I need much work in the area of writing my mother tongue. But for the purposes of this post, what matters is not the writing, but the message, which I shall translate in the context of an example. First the literal translation, which never captures the meaning from one language to another, but nonetheless it states: “No-one denies himself/or herself water for their body.” In essence the meaning is if you have the capability to help yourself or others then you shall, because it is a “power within you”, but when you don’t this is telling of a problem/issue which has a great hold over you. This “power within you”, can be shaped/or may have been shaped by nature or nurture, or both.

This still may not make much sense if one is unfamiliar with this saying, therefore I will relate the example, which had made me think back to this saying. I read the story of Jamie Rohrs, who according to reports during the Aurora shootings left his children and girlfriend at the scene to save himself. Thankfully a young man, 19 year old Jarell Brooks guided the young mother and her children to safety.

What caught my attention was the overwhelming condemnation of Mr. Rohrs for not just abandoning his girlfriend, but his very children to save his own life. Coward was the major honor, which was bestowed upon him.

I can only judge what was on the reports. Nothing more. I am not a fan of passing judgment on someone’s character in which I have no intimate connection; therefore I am just going off the reports that he fled the scene to save himself. I remember a similar story of a couple, If I am not mistaken, I believe it was on 20/20 Abc, in which the husband left his wife in a burning plane to save himself. The wife survived, but suffered severe burns.
Or another example, fiction this time, the popular novel “Kite Runner”, which the main character watches his friend brutally attacked, yet didn’t do anything to help his fallen comrade. He wanted to, but he just couldn’t.

This lack of action to do the right thing or what is called often called cowardliness for not standing up in a moment of peril is offensive to many of us on the outside looking in, but as the saying goes none denies himself/or herself water. Thus if it was within Mr. Rohrs to save his family he would have, but a greater power within him made that outcome impossible whereas for someone else like Mr. Brooks could fulfill those duties, because it was within him. Sometimes people can fall victim to their own inherent faculties. I don’t necessarily think it is out of selfishness or worse lack of love. And thus, one can only say I take thee for who you are or walk away.

Are we a paranoid society?

Usually I take one main road from home to school, and from school back home. About half way during the trip on several occasions, I have noticed this woman, who was carrying grocery bags and walking home. Our state has no transit system at all. There are buses, but even so one would walk a long distance.

So I see this woman perhaps several times on my en rought and each time that little voice tells me give her a ride, but there is also that other voice that says maybe she doesn’t want your ride, after-all I am a stranger. I wouldn’t take a ride from a stranger.

Yesterday, I saw her again on my en rought and she was struggling big time. I couldn’t take it, so I stopped my car, pulled down my window and asked her if she needed a ride. I expected a polite no thank you, but she seemed relieved. I helped her with the groceries and asked her for directions to her home. Turns out she lives in a neighborhood close to our business and that is why I usually see her when I am driving down that road. We talked for a bit. She seemed like a nice lady, who fell on hard times. Since I can be very sensitive, I was trying hard not to be overly emotional while talking to her, because people don’t like pity, but it’s hard to see someone alone and struggling on their own.

I gave her my number and told her to call me if she needed to do grocery. I thought I did the right thing, until I narrated the story to my family and our friends, who were at the business where I stopped before going home. Let’s just say they managed to scare the shit out of me. They seemed to have an example after example of a person, who was being a good Samaritan only to be taken advantage of, robbed, or even killed. One story, involved a guy, who used to give rides to one of his co-workers. One day he told the co-worker he was unable to give him a ride and had business to take care of. The co-worker got so angry that he shot him dead. This story, in which I don’t even know if true was to designed to scare me and encourage me to not get involved after this point, because eventually this lady would expect rides from me and if I don’t deliver then I’m going to be hit. And I don’t mean Bruce Lee hit.

I know it may sound silly to some of us, but you should’ve heard them tell those stories. I do think their opinions are reflective of our society. We are paranoid. We think people will rob us, stab us, rape us, or do some other horrible thing to us. We are so paranoid that we even withhold our kindness to our fellow human beings, because we are afraid it may backfire on us. We view kindness/friendliness from strangers towards us as some kind of a cover-up for their evil intentions. We are paranoid of what strangers may do to us. We are paranoid if we get involved, we may suffer the consequences. I don’t agree with this outlook, but I can’t say I am not affected. I’ve been conditioned to be paranoid. What’s the cure? There is a thin line between caution and paranoia perhaps.

Jason Alexander’s Response to the Aurora Shootings

This piece really captured my thoughts on the Aurora Killings. Well done Mr. Alexander. Thank you for a well thought out response. I can only hope folks will read and think about this.

I’d like to preface this long tweet by saying that my passion comes from my deepest sympathy and shared sorrow with yesterday’s victims and with the utmost respect for the people and the police/fire/medical/political forces of Aurora and all who seek to comfort and aid these victims.

This morning, I made a comment about how I do not understand people who support public ownership of assault style weapons like the AR-15 used in the Colorado massacre. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AR-15

That comment, has of course, inspired a lot of feedback. There have been many tweets of agreement and sympathy but many, many more that have been challenging at the least, hostile and vitriolic at the worst.

Clearly, the angry, threatened and threatening, hostile comments are coming from gun owners and gun advocates. Despite these massacres recurring and despite the 100,000 Americans that die every year due to domestic gun violence – these people see no value to even considering some kind of control as to what kinds of weapons are put in civilian hands.

Many of them cite patriotism as their reason – true patriots support the Constitution adamantly and wholly. Constitution says citizens have the right to bear arms in order to maintain organized militias. I’m no constitutional scholar so here it is from the document itself:

As passed by the Congress:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

So the patriots are correct, gun ownership is in the constitution – if you’re in a well-regulated militia. Let’s see what no less a statesman than Alexander Hamilton had to say about a militia:

“A tolerable expertness in military movements is a business that requires time and practice. It is not a day, or even a week, that will suffice for the attainment of it. To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss.”

Or from Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Definition of MILITIA
1
a : a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency
b : a body of citizens organized for military service
2
: the whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to call to military service

The advocates of guns who claim patriotism and the rights of the 2nd Amendment – are they in well-regulated militias? For the vast majority – the answer is no.

Then I get messages from seemingly decent and intelligent people who offer things like: @BrooklynAvi: Guns should only be banned if violent crimes committed with tomatoes means we should ban tomatoes. OR @nysportsguys1: Drunk drivers kill, should we ban fast cars?

I’m hoping that right after they hit send, they take a deep breath and realize that those arguments are completely specious. I believe tomatoes and cars have purposes other than killing. What purpose does an AR-15 serve to a sportsman that a more standard hunting rifle does not serve? Let’s see – does it fire more rounds without reload? Yes. Does it fire farther and more accurately? Yes. Does it accommodate a more lethal payload? Yes. So basically, the purpose of an assault style weapon is to kill more stuff, more fully, faster and from further away. To achieve maximum lethality. Hardly the primary purpose of tomatoes and sports cars.

Then there are the tweets from the extreme right – these are the folk who believe our government has been corrupted and stolen and that the forces of evil are at play, planning to take over this nation and these folk are going to fight back and take a stand. And any moron like me who doesn’t see it should…
a. be labeled a moron
b. shut the fuck up
c. be removed

And amazingly, I have some minor agreement with these folks. I believe there are evil forces at play in our government. But I call them corporatists. I call them absolutists. I call them the kind of ideologues from both sides, but mostly from the far right who swear allegiance to unelected officials that regardless of national need or global conditions, are never to levy a tax. That they are never to compromise or seek solutions with the other side. That are to obstruct every possible act of governance, even the ones they support or initiate. Whose political and social goal is to marginalize the other side, vilify and isolate them with the hope that they will surrender, go away or die out.

These people believe that the US government is eventually going to go street by street and enslave our citizens. Now as long as that is only happening to liberals, homosexuals and democrats – no problem. But if they try it with anyone else – it’s going to be arms-ageddon and these committed, God-fearing, brave souls will then use their military-esque arsenal to show the forces of our corrupt government whats-what. These people think they meet the definition of a “militia”. They don’t. At least not the constitutional one. And, if it should actually come to such an unthinkable reality, these people believe they would win. That’s why they have to “take our country back”. From who? From anyone who doesn’t think like them or see the world like them. They hold the only truth, everyone else is dangerous. Ever meet a terrorist that doesn’t believe that? Just asking.

Then there are the folks who write that if everyone in Colorado had a weapon, this maniac would have been stopped. Perhaps. But I do believe that the element of surprise, tear gas and head to toe kevlar protection might have given him a distinct edge. Not only that, but a crowd of people firing away in a chaotic arena without training or planning – I tend to think that scenario could produce even more victims.

Lastly, there are these well-intended realists that say that people like this evil animal would get these weapons even if we regulated them. And they may be right. But he wouldn’t have strolled down the road to Kmart and picked them up. Regulated, he would have had to go to illegal sources – sources that could possibly be traced, watched, overseen. Or he would have to go deeper online and those transactions could be monitored. “Hm, some guy in Aurora is buying guns, tons of ammo and kevlar – plus bomb-making ingredients and tear gas. Maybe we should check that out.”

But that won’t happen as long as all that activity is legal and unrestricted.

I have been reading on and off as advocates for these weapons make their excuses all day long. Guns don’t kill – people do. Well if that’s correct, I go with @BrooklynAvi, let them kill with tomatoes. Let them bring baseball bats, knives, even machetes — a mob can deal with that.

There is no excuse for the propagation of these weapons. They are not guaranteed or protected by our constitution. If they were, then we could all run out and purchase a tank, a grenade launcher, a bazooka, a SCUD missile and a nuclear warhead. We could stockpile napalm and chemical weapons and bomb-making materials in our cellars under our guise of being a militia.

These weapons are military weapons. They belong in accountable hands, controlled hands and trained hands. They should not be in the hands of private citizens to be used against police, neighborhood intruders or people who don’t agree with you. These are the weapons that maniacs acquire to wreak murder and mayhem on innocents. They are not the same as handguns to help homeowners protect themselves from intruders. They are not the same as hunting rifles or sporting rifles. These weapons are designed for harm and death on big scales.

SO WHY DO YOU CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THEM? WHY DO YOU NOT, AT LEAST, AGREE TO SIT WITH REASONABLE PEOPLE FROM BOTH SIDES AND ASK HARD QUESTIONS AND LOOK AT HARD STATISTICS AND POSSIBLY MAKE SOME COMPROMISES FOR THE GREATER GOOD? SO THAT MOTHERS AND FATHERS AND CHILDREN ARE NOT SLAUGHTERED QUITE SO EASILY BY THESE MONSTERS? HOW CAN IT HURT TO STOP DEFENDING THESE THINGS AND AT LEAST CONSIDER HOW WE CAN ALL WORK TO TRY TO PREVENT ANOTHER DAY LIKE YESTERDAY?

We will not prevent every tragedy. We cannot stop every maniac. But we certainly have done ourselves no good by allowing these particular weapons to be acquired freely by just about anyone.

I’ll say it plainly – if someone wants these weapons, they intend to use them. And if they are willing to force others to “pry it from my cold, dead hand”, then they are probably planning on using them on people.

So, sorry those of you who tell me I’m an actor, or a has-been or an idiot or a commie or a liberal and that I should shut up. You can not watch my stuff, you can unfollow and you can call me all the names you like. I may even share some of them with my global audience so everyone can get a little taste of who you are.

But this is not the time for reasonable people, on both sides of this issue, to be silent. We owe it to the people whose lives were ended and ruined yesterday to insist on a real discussion and hopefully on some real action.

In conclusion, whoever you are and wherever you stand on this issue, I hope you have the joy of family with you today. Hold onto them and love them as best you can. Tell them what they mean to you. Yesterday, a whole bunch of them went to the movies and tonight their families are without them. Every day is precious. Every life is precious. Take care. Be well. Be safe. God bless.

http://www.salon.com/2012/07/22/jason_alexanders_amazing_gun_rant/