Religious Dialogue Needed During Political Bombast, International Bloodshed

This weekend the world’s major faiths observed sacred and meaningful holidays. Passover, Easter, and Ramadan are all underway and there are many faithful people worldwide who undertake certain rites and services to meet their spiritual needs. That is all to be much applauded.

At the same time as the world seemingly slows a bit and many people are more contemplative and inner-seeking the chaos and carnage continues, either in violent outbursts or verbal bombast.

Israeli forces carried out a widespread campaign of raids into towns and cities across the West Bank, in a response to a wave of recent Palestinian attacks inside Israel that have killed 14 people. The Israeli authorities then also imposed temporary economic sanctions.

A mass shooting Saturday at a busy shopping mall in South Carolina’s capital on Saturday left 14 people injured. The mall was filled with kids and others on this holiday weekend.

In Ukraine, bombs fell, families continue to flee, and bodies are buried wherever the ground space can be found nearby to lower a loved one down into the earth.

In Ohio, Republican senate candidate Josh Mandel continued his primary campaign with an agenda of division against those who aren’t white, patriarchal, and Christian.

I bring this all to the fore as it is Easter Sunday in our home, a day of hope. For many years Sunday was also the day when Tim Russert would hold forth on Meet The Press. Many an Easter weekend I recall Russert having a special look at faith in the nation and how it intersected with all the headlines of the day.

I looked up one of those transcripts online and wish to take you back to Sunday, March 27, 2005.

(Videotape, January 20, 1961, inaugural address):

PRES. JOHN F. KENNEDY:  Let us go forth to lead the land that we love, asking his blessing and his help, but knowing that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  “Here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own,” Father. That’s politics and religion together in a very clearly stated way.

REV. DRINAN:  And I think that it–we all agree with that.  The problem is when some religions say that you have to impose in the law our particular beliefs.  Certain fundamentalists think that gays should be discriminated against, and that’s not in the common tradition.  There’s a common core of moral and religious beliefs, and frankly, we are in total violation of that. We are supposed to be good to the poor; we have more poor children in America than in any other industrialized nation.  We’re supposed to love prisoners and help them; we have 2.1 million people in prison, the largest of any country of the Earth.  We also allow eleven children to be killed by guns every day.  All of the religions are opposed to that.  That’s violence.  Why don’t we organize on that?

MR. RUSSERT:  What’s the answer?

REV. DRINAN:  The answer is that there is a core, as President Kennedy said, and that we had that core when we finally abolished abolition and segregation. We had that core when finally we entered the war in Vietnam.  We had that core when we passed the Americans With Disabilities Act, the best law for the disabled in the whole world.  That core is there, and you have to look back and say that President Roosevelt orchestrated it and LBJ was fantastic getting through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  That’s the type of religious unity that exists if we can pull it together.

Many people will observe the surface traditions and customs around the world for the holidays of which they are a part, but the larger conversations, of the type Russert engaged in and we need to hear, are far less a part of our dialogue. That lack of connection around the world between what we profess to be, and what we do, or what governments do in our name, remains a great gulf.

And so it goes.

Common Sense Vs. Politics

An advertisement in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal promoting sound public health caught my attention. I applaud the effort to continue to press forward with getting more people vaccinated to stem COVID-19. While the ad correctly urged an easy way to receive the shots it also presented what is wrong with our politics.

The fact that in Wisconsin there remains a need to clarify that these vaccine shots do not include a microchip or alter DNA made me put the newspaper down, and if anyone saw me, I surely just shook my head. When it comes to marketing to the anti-vaxxers no one can deny the effectiveness of partisans who used a pandemic to score points.

Meanwhile, The New York Times ran an article Sunday about the presidential election in France. The issue of Algeria, colonialism, and religion has been created by some partisans as a wedge issue in the upcoming balloting.

The legacy of Algeria has perhaps been most evident in the phrase “great replacement,” a racist conspiracy theory claiming that white Christians were being replaced by nonwhite immigrants.

Cleary the lack of critical thinking is not a local problem, as it spans the globe and presents itself in the most dreadful of ways. But wasn’t the emergence of the world wide web and countless ways to access information and gain knowledge to have lifted us all up as a global society?

So what happened where people now entertain the idea of microchips in vaccines and ‘replacement theories?

While history is replete with inaccurate information about health issues and it was only 62 years ago that our nation was actually discussing if a Catholic could be elected leader of the free world, should we not now be smarter and wiser with modern technology?

I grew up as a child hearing prognosticators speak of gadgetry akin to the world of The Jetsons, the space-age cartoon, being very possible within the coming decades. Life was going to be more advanced, the work world changed to make workers toil less, and the underlying assumption was we would be happier.

Computer chips revolutionized the world and advances, up and down the line, have allowed for everything from classrooms to space travel to speed forward with modernity. I marvel at those achievements as some of them mirror what we were told might happen as children.

But are we smarter and more able to think, reason, and use logic to not only navigate our personal lives but the larger community around us? In many aspects of our lives, such technology has been a clear asset. But how then, at the same time, do we account for what seems to be a growing segment of the world population insisting on rejecting facts and common sense, as noted in my two examples from today’s papers?

It is assumed, and I would argue correctly so, that using politics to steer our nation towards civil rights, and greater freedoms such as lowering the voting age and broadening the definition of marriage moved our nation closer to our ideals about democracy. But we have also seen the utter contempt for facts and logic used by some for partisan reasons actually grow; most recently by the willful undermining of life-saving vaccines.

The internet and the myriad ways to gain access to information and knowledge about every imaginable topic were to have lifted up humanity. In many ways, it has done that very thing. But we have also seen political forces misuse social media to create conspiracies and stir doubt as they score victories by how many they can deceive and delude.

I remain an optimist, seeing the glass half-full. But we need to be mindful that it can also be argued to be half-empty.

And so it goes.

Haneen Zreika, Muslim Soccer Player, Failed Modernity Test

It is not difficult to be critical of those who break barriers, due to being aided by the larger society, to only then turn around and deny rights and justice to another group.

For instance, I have taken to task some Black and Latino churches in our nation who have not embraced the gay civil rights measures that we either enacted or others yet needed to be attained. After having received support over the decades from diverse multitudes for civil rights it would only make sense that those who knew discrimination would fight for those facing it. The lack of full-throated support for gay marriage from these churches when every voice counted still rankles at this blogger’s desk.

Now consider the current news story concerning Haneen Zreika. While listening to the BBC this sports story caught my attention.

She is the first Muslim to play in the Australian Football League Women’s Competition. It is to be applauded and she deserves credit for following a dream and using her skills for a team effort. There was strong support and encouragement for her to take the field and be proud of her accomplishment.

But when it came to playing a Gay Pride match and wearing a rainbow-themed jumper she took a path that does not place her in a good light. Because she claimed the wearing of the jumper did not align with her religious beliefs, Zreika chose to sit out of the game.

This is the first year that her team had a specially designed jumper for the Pride game which supports inclusion and diversity in sports–which is still regrettably–a persisting problem. While Zreika played in the Pride game last year she refused to wear the jumper this week.

Some may see all this as small potatoes–as it might have been termed back home as a child. Some will argue that true diversity exists when even stances, such as that taken by Zreika, are accepted. I do not align with such views. Making accommodations for only a certain level of bigotry is not progress or something we can find agreeable.

This story also relates to a larger theme made on this blog when it comes to the Muslim faith. There is a tremendous need for modernity by its followers, and until it is allowed oxygen current stress points remain. A tortured education system that spawns new converts to the harshest interpretation of the Koran, religious views that stunt and deprive upward mobility, and a culture that is male-dominated all require talented voices to make a difference.

Haneen Zreika could have been such a voice. One step at a time is not a trite phrase. History continually demonstrates the power of one voice added to another and then another…

Therefore, it was not a pretty picture to see Zreika sitting on the sidelines for the Pride match. It was hurtful to some of her teammates and coaching staff, and instead of serving as a role model to her larger community, it underscored what is so lacking in the Muslim world.

And so it goes.

Boris Johnson Has Muslim Racial Problem Added To Mountain Of Self-Created Mess


If the issues inflicting damage were small they could be termed death by a thousand cuts. But when Prime Minister Boris Johnson creates a fiasco he goes all out. Each of the gigantic and seemingly never-ending creations is mounting so to further force the door for his exit from 10 Downing Street.

This weekend a Conservative Cabinet minister called for an investigation into allegations that a Muslim Conservative MP was told she had lost her job because of her faith.

Nusrat Ghani, who was sacked as a transport minister in early 2020, claimed in the Sunday Times that a party whip, appointed by Johnson to organize MPs and keep discipline in parliament, told her that her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable.”

She said she was told “there were concerns ‘that I wasn’t loyal to the party as I didn’t do enough to defend the party against Islamophobia allegations.’ 

“It was very clear to me that the whips and No. 10 (Downing St.) were holding me to a higher threshold of loyalty than others because of my background and faith,” Ghani said.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi called for the allegations to be “investigated properly” and “racism routed [sic] out”. He wrote on Twitter with a hashtag #standwithNus, “there is no place for Islamophobia or any form of racism in our Conservatives party”.

Oh, but there is and long has been a stain of racism with Britain’s Conservative Party. One can not just hashtag their way from their own story. The gravity of this latest episode, timed as it is with the drinking party during the pandemic at the PM’s residence, does now make it a political necessity for Conservatives to act. And act publically.

It was less than a year ago Johnson was roundly condemned, and correctly so, for his refusal to speak out concerning the crowds who booed England’s national soccer team for kneeling to protest racial injustice. Then when several of the teams Black players were targets of racist language following a team defeat Johnson could not find his tongue. Nor could he find that allusive barber and comb. Some of the Conservative MPs also provided racist remarks at that time, also not worthy of Johnson’s rebuke.

Johnson has long been aligned with racism. As has the Conservative Party.

Let us not forget Winston Churchill stated his support for the slogan “Keep England White” with regard to immigration from the West Indies.

Writing in the Telegraph in 2002, Johnson referred to a visit to Africa by the then prime minister Tony Blair.

“What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies,” he wrote, referring to African people as having “watermelon smiles.”

The issue now for the Conservative Party is how to pull away from Johnson and not have his toxic mess further damage their national aims.

The door at 10 Downing is going to open and Boris Johnson will leave permanently. Days or weeks?

But the hour is nearing.

And so it goes.

Dad, Taxi Drivers, And The Fourth of July

At this time I wish to recall a most uplifting series of conversations with taxi drivers while spending a 10-day vacation in Washington DC. Throughout my life, I saw dad (Royce Humphrey) always strike up a conversation with those he met whether it was at a mall, restaurant, or service station. Like him, I too have much the same attitude when it comes to talking with others as it provides insight into the world around me and seems like a polite way to proceed through life.

So, while in our nation’s Capital I did my own small survey of the roughly dozen taxicab drivers who took us to places around the city.  I always started by asking how their day or night was going and then proceeded to ask how long they had been living in the D.C. area.  From there I asked where they grew up.

I was heartened that each of the men driving cabs was chatty and open about their life and experiences in this nation.   From Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Morocco, Sudan, and Sierra Leone each had strong feelings and all, but one, had language skills that made it easy to convey them.  The vast majority were of the Islamic faith and, were as proud to talk about it as anyone would be about their religion.  One soft-spoken man from Ethiopia seemed so humble and sincere about his life and outlook that upon leaving the cab I turned and offered the Islamic greeting of “peace be upon you”.

All the men had come to this country to make a better way in life.  Most had been here for about 15 years, a couple arrived only about 7 years ago.  Some had traveled with family and others came alone.  A man who came from India to get an education started his own restaurant.  An Ethiopian driver was surprised we knew of some foods from his native land such as Injera and Doro Wat.   We told him that in Madison we live close to a restaurant that makes these foods.  He smiled and told us that in his land Dor Wat is reserved for special days as it takes lots of ingredients and time to make.

Each of the drivers had made a bold choice of leaving the place of their birth to seek a better life.  It required in each case learning a new language, culture, currency, and adapting to the weather.  It meant at times, as with the driver from India, leaving every member of his family behind and seeking something different.  It is a phenomenal undertaking to make such a journey.

And they work hard.  They are not slackers.  Most lived in Maryland where rental properties were more affordable.   One driver spoke of the rent increases over the past decade where his two-bedroom apartment now costs over $2,000 per month.   Other drivers told of their small children.  In one case a driver wanted his son to learn his native language at home while also speaking English at school.   My husband, James, as a professor of languages, heartily agreed and offered some tips on how to make that process work.

I saw America at its best during the rides past the city sites I so love while conversing with truly inspiring and uplifting reasons why this nation is special.

As dad well knew a person can learn a lot when you take the time to talk to others.

Girls Education, Globally, Is Important As “A Book Is A Greater Threat To Extremism”

There was no way to not look, again and again, at the photo in the newspaper. It begged to be seen, and not forgotten.

Schoolgirls sit inside a classroom with bouquets of flowers on empty desks as a tribute to those killed in the brutal May 8 bombing of the Syed Al-Shahda girls school, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

It is a moment caught by a photojournalist we should ponder.

We have read about Afghanistan as a national headline maker since the dreadful attacks on 9/11, and the behavior of the Taliban with international news since they established themselves with such behavior as the explosion of the Bamiyan Buddhas. With the coming withdrawal of the American forces from that central Asian nation the concern deepens about what follows for the people who call it home. More to the point of this post, what about the girls who are trapped in a nation that defines the need for modernity?

The desire of parents and locals to have security is, of course, logical. I am not suggesting we stay with a military presence for a longer period, but the girls must not be forgotten, as they are the ones who too often carry the brunt of the madness.

On Sunday in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, parents of scores of young girls killed in a brutal May 8 bombing demonstrated to demand the government provide them with greater security. They said 90 people were killed, most of them students of Syed Al-Shahda girls school, in the bombings outside the school. No one took responsibility but the IS affiliate has declared war on the country’s minority Shiites.

This week in one of those must-reads Nicholas Kristof wrote about the powerful lesson these girls show the world.

In some hideous way, perhaps it was rational for fundamentalists to blow up the school, because girls’ education poses an existential threat to extremism. That’s why the Pakistani Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. It’s why the Afghan Taliban threw acid in girls’ faces.

In the long run, a girl with a book is a greater threat to extremism than a drone overhead.

“The way to long-term change is education,” said Sakena Yacoobi, a hero of mine who has devoted her life to educating her fellow Afghans. “A nation is not built on temporary jobs and mining rights, contractors and political favors. A nation is built on culture and shared history, shared reality and community well-being. We pass these down with education.”

Since 9/11, we Americans have sought to defeat terrorism and extremism with the military toolbox. As we pull our forces out of Kabul and Kandahar, this is a moment to reflect on the limits of military power and the reasons to invest in more cost-effective tools to change the world, like schooling.

Though Kristof has a belief the Taliban can be lulled into allowing for educating girls my reading of the Taliban, with the past decades as a map, shows that if there is that hope it remains mostly elusive. And that is a sad statement to make as history also shows that there is no reason whatsoever that religion and modernization must always be at loggerheads.

Today The New York Times mined down deeper into this issue and the article should register with us.

Taliban control notwithstanding, every month the districts’ teachers trudge to Sheberghan, the provincial capital, to collect their salaries, one of many anomalies in a country that is already under de facto control of two governments. Better to have to pay the teachers than close the schools. The city, dusty but bustling, is still in the hands of the central government, but like other provincial capitals it is an isolated island; the Taliban rule the roads, coming and going.

The provincial government still employs school chiefs for the captured districts. But local education officials must watch, helplessly, as Islamist insurgents front-load a heavy dose of religion into the curriculum, slash history instruction and keep the girls out.

The Taliban’s policy on education for girls can vary, slightly. Local commanders make the decisions, reflecting the decentralization of a movement scholars like Antonio Giustozzi have described as a “network of networks.” Human Rights Watch noted in a report last year that though the Taliban commanders often permit schooling for girls up to age 12, it is unusual for them to allow it for older girls. Though in some areas, “pressure from communities has persuaded commanders to allow greater access to education for girls,” the report said.

But not many. 

Where does this leave the world community as we watch regression toward the dark days of the Taliban regime as our forces deploy back home? What happens to female education when the Taliban, again, will likely ban any kind of education for girls and young women?

I offer the clue to the future from Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the head of the Taliban office in Qatar. “We are not against female education or work. But we have Islamic norms. This is still not the West.”

That sums up where we are. And it needs to concern the world community.

The Hajj In Time Of Pandemic

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Credit…Saudi Ministry Of Media, via Reuters

I have always been drawn to better understand the hajj.  Over my lifetime of watching the event occur, talking with people who have undertaken the mission and spoken about the completeness they feel as a result leaves me awed.  I find the history of Islam intriguing, and especially how it impacts the Middle East and nearby regions politically.  The more I learn has deepened my respect for the faith as it is practiced by the majority.

This year there are changes for the pilgrims due to the pandemic.

In any other year, Muslims undertaking the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca that observant Muslims are obligated to perform at least once, would drink from a holy well. They would kiss the Kaaba’s sacred black stone as they thronged the Grand Mosque. Before they left Mecca, they would collect pebbles to ritually stone the devil.

During the virus edition of the hajj that begins on Wednesday, the black stone is off limits. Authorities in Saudi Arabia are issuing bottled water from the Zamzam well instead of letting pilgrims drink from cups at the source. Also in the pilgrim packages: sterilized pebbles to hurl at the devil, personal prayer rugs and other items intended to prevent an outbreak from marring the hajj.

But the chief public health measure the Saudi government has taken is to limit attendance, shrinking one of the world’s most famous crowds to a select few. About 2.5 million Muslims from around the world performed the hajj last year; this year, Saudi Arabia said it would allow just 1,000 pilgrims, all of them from within the kingdom, though it has not released the final number.

Across the Middle East, celebrations for Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice that marks the end of the hajj this weekend, will likewise be paler this year.

In Oman and Bahrain, where the unchecked spread of the virus among low-paid foreign laborers living in crowded conditions has contributed to two of the world’s worst outbreaks, officials have urged residents to forgo the large celebrations that usually mark Eid, and Oman has reinstituted a domestic travel ban and curfew. In Egypt, new cases have fallen as the country resumes normal life, but a live broadcast will replace communal Eid prayers.

In the United Arab Emirates, where it is common for residents to buy sheep or other livestock to sacrifice and donate during Eid, the authorities were encouraging people to use apps to reduce crowding at slaughterhouses and markets.

Anti-Muslim Bigotry Again To Make Headlines From Trump White House

There is no end to the use of anti-Muslim bigotry by the Trump White House.  The latest attempt to play to the angry white men in America is underway with the administration’s intention to dramatically expand its much-litigated travel ban to additional countries.  And would anyone be shocked that the expansion would be aimed at Muslim nations?

This week a person I was in high school with posted on Facebook a most racist screed about a Somalian woman who was elected to a local office in Lewiston, Maine.   That he was ranting from central Wisconsin about a topic he knew nothing about, and in the foulest way, is proof that there are many weak-minded Trump supporters who eat up anything that is anti-Muslim.

It needs to be noted that Safiya Khalid, won her race with 70% of the vote.  Clearly, those closer to the facts, than a racist many states away, knew they should not allow for the internet trolls to sway an election.

But that post is important to consider as news breaks about the renewed efforts at the White House to again attack those of the Muslim faith.  News reports have alerted the nation that the White House document being circulated has the countries that would be affected blacked out.  It is being reported through sources that seven nations–the majority of them Muslim–are on the list.

This takes me back to the base of the Trump supporters for which this wretchedness is created.  Such as the FB post I mentioned.

It was, after all the angry under-educated white male who elected Trump.  They refuse to better themselves or take classes or make their lives richer.  Instead, they are bitter that folks from places around the globe can come here, learn a new language, take classes and start new businesses and create new jobs and become successful.  I can name many who have succeeded that way in the 30-plus years I have lived in Madison.

Meanwhile, Trump voters continue to whine about public restrooms and why coal is not King anymore and they then wonder why the rest of the nation laughs.

That Trump’s White House caters to the most low-brow in our nation, with racist and xenophobic policy ideas, is not only unconscionable but also one of the leading reasons we will kick the current occupant of the White House out in 2020.