Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Good Morning

Well, wow, what a night.

Many people far more eloquent than I will express the overwhelming sentiments we share as we witness the country make history.

For example, the Onion, who tells us that the nation is "finally shitty enough to make social progress."

No seriously, today I read words written by the poet Maya Angelou, which she offered at Bill Clinton's inauguration, and which are perfect for today:

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

I was struck last night as I listened to McCain give his concession speech, that he too was moved by the moment in history. And while many people see Obama's (ahem, President Elect Obama's) election as turning point for the youth of the country, I was most moved by reflecting on how liberating today must be for those who grew up in the times before Jim Crow was repealed. As Obama spoke of the 106-year-old woman in Georgia, Ann Nixon Cooper, and as CNN cut to images of Jesse Jackson weeping, I could see and hear a collective and ever present shadow beginning to clear away. I remembered a story I read a few weeks ago about a woman here in Texas, Amanda Jones, whose father was a slave, and who also lived long enough to vote for and see a person of color, a black man, elected to the highest office in the land.

And that is why this election ending with people dancing in the streets.

I think only a hardened cynic, or someone who bought into the worst of the Rush Limbaugh / Bill O'Reilly / Ann Couter vitriol echo chamber, could be unmoved last night by the power of the symbolism of America electing a black president 44 years after we outlawed segregation.

It is indeed a good morning

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Follow Up: Colin Powell agrees that you can be Muslim and American

Colin Powell took a lot of lumps for doing his job in the Bush administration. His speech to the United Nations in advance of the war in Iraq permanently derailed his promising political career, and America is worse for that fact. He is man of tremendous bravery and restraint, who thinks and prepares diligently for his work. It was his caution during the first Gulf War that prevented the coalition from invading and ultimately destabilizing Iraq 15 years ago, and his steady leadership that diffused the Hainan Island crisis in the early days of the Bush administration when the NeoCons wanted to pick a fight with China. (Aside: Is there anyone those guys didn't want to fight with? I mean, they basically pissed on China, the whole EU, the Muslim world, and Russia. Yeah, way to go guys. I guess they played nice with Poland and Uzbekistan, so that is something.)

Anyway, aside from his major transgression at the UN, making the administration's case for war with Iraq using shoddy and now discredited intelligence (which I am sure he regrets badly and which I am equally sure he knew at the time would be his political undoing but which he did anyway out of a sense of duty to his President), Colin Powell is a Republican in the mold of my father (who wants government out of our wallets AND out of our bedrooms) and one I could whole hearted support.

So I was very pleased that he endorsed Barack Obama today. More than that though, his reasons mirror my own -- that Obama has made the judgements that show that he can reestablish America's respect in the world and that he can lead us through the diplomatic, economic, and security challenges that face us. He also decried the rightward lee of the party on social issues, which he believes has gone too far. Amen brother! More than that though, he echoed the sentiments that I expressed in my last blog post, that the attempt by the Republican party to conflate Muslim with terrorist and to use both as a slur against the next President flies in the face of the inclusion that defines America. Below is his endorsement in whole, and his defense of American Muslims is towards the end.

And in a throwback, about 2 and a half minutes in, Chris Rock discussed Colin Powell's political future back when people thought he should run for president against Clinton. He speaks so well. And if you choose to watch the from the beginnning, you get treated to Chris discussing why Muslims and Jews should eat pork. (Back before Reynolds Wrap, refrigerators, and seasoning, a pork chop could kill you.)

Here is the audio of just the Colin Powell part if you are pressed for time.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog archive: Is Obama Muslim? No, but so what?

Which is why the unbottling of our society's worst instincts recently is so troubling. Specifically, the notion that being of Arab descent or being Muslim is some kind of disqualification for being American, for being patriotic, for being President, and the casualness with which national voices and leaders weave those messages into their discourse, is deeply offensive. Yet it should be more offensive to more people than it is.

Simply put, there is a lot of hate and ignorance here today. You hear it in the crowds recently at McCain Palin rallies. It drips from the mouths of pundits like Limbaugh and O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, all nationally prominent and syndicated voices. When Hillary Clinton replies in an interview, when asked about Obama's religion, ""He is not a Muslim as far as I know," she accepts the premise that is being implied. When Giuliani says to thunderous applause, that "the only people you offend when you call it Islamic terrorism is terrorists” he is playing on hate. That is when we have gone off the rails. That is when we have bred a culture of denigration and dehumanization that says that what you can’t say about Blacks or Hispanics or Jews for fear of being labeled racist, bigoted, or anti-Semitic, you can still say about Arabs and Muslims.
“The only people you offend when you call them Black (insert attribute here) are Blacks!”
“The only people you offend when you call them Mexican (insert attribute here) are Mexicans!”
“The only people you offend when you call them Jewish (insert attribute here) are Jews!”

Can you imagine the outcry? And this was not from the lips of some blowhard radio personality. This guy ran for President!

Really, how far off is “nappy headed ho’s” (*cough*Don Imus*cough*) from “towel headed terrorist”. I meant this as a rhetorical question, but then I decided to test Google. I was surprised, and saddened to find that page hit references to Don Imus’s slur (166,000) were actually outnumbered by references "towel headed terrorist" (199,000). So sad.

And it is not a new thing. Dick Armey, when he was House Majority Leader, called for the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, which some people consider to be ethnic cleansing. Glenn Beck, of CNN, in his interview with Keith Ellison, the first Muslim Congressman, asks the Congressman, “"Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies." This guy is on CNN. Every flipping night.

And it plays it self out in the ugliest of ways. Forget profiling at the airport, which I can accept (mostly because I have convinced myself that the profile also includes people who fit the profile of the Unabomber, the Anthrax mail guy, Timothy McVeigh, and their ilk, none of whom were Muslim, Arab, or browner than a grocery bag). But when a month ago I was reading outside at Barnes and Nobles, and a car drives by and the passenger throws a sandwich at me and yells “Fuck you sand Nigger,” well, then its personal. Then we have stripped the shame away from society.

Ironically, that is exactly what happened in the Middle East over the past 30 years. First, was economic decline, and a widening gap between ultra rich and poor. The middle class was stressed, and pushed almost to extinction. People felt like their leaders had failed them and abused them. Angry voices in the mob got louder and more organized and whipped crowds into frenzies while railing upon all the outside groups "responsible" for their misery. It happened in Germany, it happened in the Middle East, and it is happening here.

We should be careful when we open Pandora’s box, when we accept bigoted overtones as jocularity.

In Islam, in the Qur’an, we are taught that (to paraphrase), God made us different so that we can learn from each other. "O mankind! We created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know and honor each other (not that you should despise one another). Indeed the most honorable of you in the sight of God is the most righteous." Chapter 49, Verse 13

Maybe we should hope for more Muslims running for President, not fewer.

Launching on the intertubes

Ok, so after closet blogging on facebook for a minute or two, I have decided it is time to go live. It is with some trepidation that I step outside the closed pale blue sand box -- after all, once these posts get published, they become part of the record forever, or for at least as long as Google (Don't be Evil TM) keeps its cache. It reminds me of one of the best scenes from one my my favorite movies, "When Harry met Sally", a film incidentally that has a lot of truth buried in it. The scene goes as follows:

Harry: What? Can't a man say a woman is attractive without it being a come-on? All right, all right. Let's just say, just for the sake of argument, that it was a come-on. What do you want me to do about it? I take it back, OK? I take it back.
Sally: You can't take it back.
Harry: Why not?
Sally: Because it's already out there.
Harry: Oh jeez. What are we supposed to do? Call the cops? It's already out there!
Sally: Just let it lie, OK?
Harry: Great! Let it lie. That's my policy. (They get into the car.) That's what I always say. Let it lie. Want to spend the night in a motel? (She glares at him.) You see what I did? I didn't let it lie.

Below is the whole scene, which should you watch it will be the best 2 minutes you spend on my blog. Ever. Really, the danger is that that scene will be the funniest and most coherent thing I publish on this blog. So I guess it is all down hill from here.

The second danger is that, one day a long time from now, some words I write here will come back to cause me grief. I have often joked with friends that one day, when I am being confirmed for my new job as, say, Secretary of State, the following exchange will happen:

Unidentified Senator: Mr. Ableside, Fox News is reporting today that you were actually born Omar Abou-Sayed, and are indeed Muslim. Are these allegations true?
Oscar Ableside: Senator, I can neither confirm nor deny those allegations as I have no recollection of thsoe events. However, it would be fair to say that if they were true, I would be deeply sorry and apologetic.

I should have prefaced that I do have an ambition to serve my country in some executive or legislative capacity, and that whenever joking about it with friends we always assumed that I would have to run as, say, Oscar Ableside or Omri Ablestein rather than Omar Abou-Sayed. It would still be funny if it were not so eerily close to the mark, as evidenced by the potential election of Barack Obama. He is both dispelling the notion that someone with a funny name and international background can get elected to high office while at the same time the far right's response to his candidacy is reinforcing that, as an American Muslim, I have about as good a chance at ending up in Guantanamo as 1600 Pennsylvania.


Anyway, my sincere hope is that, through these posts, I have a chance to make someone think (and maybe cringe or at least groan a little) while voicing a little bit of social commentary.

Barring that, I will resort to piss and fart jokes for a cheap laugh.