Monday, December 27, 2010

"Build Respect for Christmas"? Respect Goes Both Ways!

Certainly there's no defense for vandalizing Xmas trees or other decorations or personal property, but I wonder what constitutes "belligerence towards the celebration of Christmas," especially now that there are people who take offense when one says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." If they are really offended that we acknowledge the diversity of religions and traditions, then I would be happy to tell them something much more offensive -- with the same initials as "Festive Yule." There are even idiots out there writing that "Xmas" is a pagan insult, not recognizing that the abbreviation is a common, long-time usage by Christians. There are truly horrendous assaults on Christians as seen recently in Iraq and Pakistan, but so much whining over the "war on Christmas" is trivial nonsense that cheapens the issue of real bigotry and sectarian violence.

Much of what vandalism there is in America is wreaked by out-of-control teenagers and thugs who simply take delight in destruction. There's no (anti-)religious or bigoted agenda there, just rampant hooliganism. Some friends were discussing how their street -- well known for their holiday decorations -- was attacked by thieves who stole their decorations. The conversation never raised the notion of a religious/hate crime aspect to it, but they seemed to think that it was just run-of-the-mill thieves and vandals.

I really don't care for the holiday, have no use for most of what surrounds it, but to each his own. I certainly don't want to ruin anyone else's celebration. Because I choose not to participate I get called "Scrooge" and "Grinch" -- characters who selfishly or maliciously tried to ruin the holidays of others. No, I wish simply to abstain, just as I would not attend a drunken frat party or a tailgate party at a football game. Not interested, thank you, but have a good time.

That doesn't seem to be enough for the Stepford elves who insist on conformity, not even to religion. All too common is the bovine cooing that if I'm not comfy with the religious aspect I should just get into the spirit of rampant commercialism and saccharine familial sentimentality, just what I dislike most about this holiday that ramps up family stresses, disappointments and violence. Suicides are very high this time of the year.

Actually I have a great respect for the religious aspect and would honor the birth of the prophet Jesus (pbuh) even if his birthday was actually March 1. We can agree to disagree on his actual birthday, his parentage and theological relationship to God. Honoring the Messiah and penultimate of God's prophets I could even see Muslims organizing to observe his life and his message on Dec. 25 by participating in efforts to feed, clothe, and house the poor, either alongside our non-Muslim friends or in our own separate efforts with a more Islamic flavor, perhaps calling it "Eid Issa Rasul Allah" or something like that. 

Anyway, I hope everybody else enjoys their holidays as I enjoy mine. If that's not enough respect for some people then maybe they need to learn to respect my space.

In any event, happy new year.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Agora"... phobic?

In the new film, “Agora,” Rachel Weiss plays Hypatia, an atheist astronomer in 4th century Alexandria who is persecuted by the Christians who are taking power. After the movie a quick check online revealed that there is more historical fact in this movie then I would have guessed. Still it is clearly more concerned with drama than history!) As an atheist and an outspoken woman – indeed, the only identifiable woman in the film – Hypatia is an easy target for the new order.

While the Christians are the real villains of the piece Jews and Pagans don’t come off very well either. This film will be quite a thrill for some of my atheist friends. My religious friends will see the story as a warning against fundamentalism and bigotry (and sloppy, simplistic writing!) Then again, my religious friends are not the fundies and tight-asses who are portrayed as the heavies here, Christians, Pagans, Jews….

But no Muslims in this story… or are there? This was 300 years before Muhammed (pbuh) so of course there couldn’t be, but this is Egypt! The architecture is Roman/Egyptian, but the clothes and arid landscapes are clearly mid-eastern. The worst of the Christians – Cyril and Ammonius – are played by Arab actors (Sami Samir and Ashraf Barhom, respectively). The more European looking actors are mostly accomodationists, “pragmatists,” and other “useful idiots” who, foolish or opportunistic, end up working for the new order.

The story is one of mid-eastern religious fundamentalists taking over and destroying a scientific, free-thinking woman – and indeed science and free-thinking. Silencing the brave, brilliant, atheist woman will set astronomy back by 1200 years. While Hypatia is teaching astronomy in the Library of Alexandria, we don’t hear from less educated voices until the religious zealots have taken over, destroyed the great library, and then spout the common ignorance of flat-earthers. See how they spread and enforce ignorance? Never mind the fact that, with few exceptions, people of all religions were in those days even more abysmally uneducated than today’s Fox News viewers.

Also never mind that the keepers of wisdom and literature at the library were also religious, and that Christians were among the students. The traditional Romans are more European in appearance and outlook, and their religion more formal than obviously heartfelt. Where they fight for their religion it seems more a defense of the existing class structure and their own privilege than of any theological precept. One religious community attacks another. Never are individuals brought up for crimes. Amenabar preaches that religion is dividing and atheism is more open and reconciling.

But even this formal Roman culture of intellect that is only formally religious is more open and accepting than the darker skinned riff-raff in their dark eastern robes and dark headscarves who are spreading their newly tolerated upstart religion and… well… darkness.

Of course, it’s 4th century Alexandria. These horrible fundamentalists threatening to destroy all wisdom, light, and freedom can’t possibly be Muslims. Or can they? And if the more intellectual and assimilated members of the new religion then ended up serving as bridge for the fundamentalists, what is the implication for the moderates of today? Is Amenabar here preaching tolerance? Or is he saying that only so much can be tolerated? He says his movies are to provide questions, not answers. The biggest question here is, what questions does he really intend to ask?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Investigate the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla!

Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara in the middle of the night guns already out and aimed at passengers.

What would you do?

On the Mavi Marmara some of the people bringing humaniatarian aid to Gaza defended themselves with “poles” and “bars” that were in fact railings and pieces of deck chairs hastily improvised – pieces of the boat they were sailing on. What knives and “weapons” the IDF found were those normally found on board a ship for necessary maintenance and work. When the ship had been boarded in Turkey Turkish officers inspected everything going on board, putting people through metal detectors and screening as complete as if they were boarding a plane. (Just as they had inspected all the supplies the relief workers were bringing them.) Turkey is a member of NATO, a long time ally of the US and – at least so far – an ally of Israel. Is their word not good enough?

Turkish aid volunteers were shot in the face. Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old Turkish-American boy was shot four times in the face at point blank range. Is that defensive? Trained commandos who are shooting in purely self-defense would aim at legs and arms. At close range the IDF shot Turkish passengers in the head, and in the chest. That’s not self-defense. That’s murder.

Wounded passengers were denied medical care or access to bathrooms. Many were forced to soil themselves while captive and bound by IDF soldiers. Even when they were bound soldiers aimed guns at them whenever they would talk. Al this from survivor testimonies at

As soon as they took control of the ships – not just the Mavi Marmara – Israeli soldiers took all telephones, computers, cameras – anything used to communicate or record what was happening. Even professional journalists’ cameras, recorders, and computers were taken from them. The aid workers and news people were stripped of any ability to document what was happening. Beyond their own testimony any proof of what was happening was immediately taken and destroyed by the IDF. That was clearly their aim anyway. Some footage was sneaked out. Some of this is visible in an interview with Iara Lee at Ms. Lee’s description of the attack is eloquent, clear, and consistent. I urge everyone to see this! Ms. Lee also has a written account at

While aid workers, sailors, and journalists were kept in captivity Israel controlled the information going to the media. Not only were they able to control information getting out, they would not release the names of the killed or wounded leaving friends and families uncertain and worried.

Israeli soldiers also took all wallets, cash, and credit cards. Returning relief workers have been finding charges on their accounts being made in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities they had never been to.

Much noise has been made accusing the Turkish relief organization, IHH of having ties to terrorists. Even the Washington Post, a firm supporter of Israel, reports that there is no substance behind these charges. ( ) Yes, there are some dealings and contacts with Hamas, but Hamas is the de facto government in Gaza. If you want to save people from starving and illness in Gaza, how do you propose not having dealings with Hamas? Previous loads of supplies confiscated by Israel, which they had promised to distribute, were kept so long that clothes were too destroyed by mildew to be passed on. Food was rotted, and building supplies were denied to the Gazans whose homes were destroyed by Israeli bombs. Not exactly building credibility there.

Having destroyed most of the documentary evidence of what actually was happening on the ships Israel now wants to prevent any outside neutral investigation. Even Israeli naval officers apparently concerned for their own integrity say that an outside investigation is absolutely necessary.

It is not at all unreasonable to demand that Israel be held to the same standards of international law that other countries are obliged to follow. The Israeli government too often complains of being held to a double standard, but they constantly invoke exceptional conditions to justify their own double standard. If their charges against the activists on the Mavi Marmara are true they certainly have nothing to fear by an outside investigation of the events in question, and should even welcome the chance to exonerate themselves.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Signs of Hatred, Signs of Progress

Whenever pro-Palestinian activists demonstrate we can always count on a bunch of Zionists to counter-demonstrate across the street. I am happy to note that whenever they show up, there are more Jews on our side of the street than they can muster up on theirs. This week, following the IDF’s murderous attack on a humanitarian flotilla bringing aid to Gaza I noticed that as our numbers were larger than ever, they were a much smaller crowd than we’ve seen. At the demonstration at Powell and Market on Monday there were 4 Zionists across the street. Among a few hundred people standing for Palestine I recognized at least several dozen Jewish friends. The next day we filled the sidewalk in front of the Israeli consulate. The Zionist group has always taken up a good section of the sidewalk opposite. This time their diminished numbers had a spacious section in their usual spot while our overflow crowd jammed spaces on either side. On “their” side of the street alone our overflow outnumbered them 4 to 1.

Among their signs insisting that Israel wants peace was one that declared “Until Gaza is Destroyed the Job Isn’t Done.” I guess that sets the terms of their “peace?” For Palestinians it’s the peace of the grave.

Another sign boasted “Israel sends 15,000 tons of aid into Gaza every week.” In centuries past astrologers were called “mathematicians”, so let’s do the math…. Let’s see for 1.5 million people that breaks down to 1 ton for every 100 people, or 20 pounds per person per week or a bit less than 3 pounds per day. At home with the computer that checks out to 2.857142857 pounds per person per day to a people under siege. I have to admit to not knowing what is in there. But for something that is very important… say… how much of it is water? Israel has destroyed the Gazan infrastructure including water filtration. Gazans don’t have access to potable water* so let’s say that if the Israelis were shipping in 2.857142857 pounds of water per person per day – a pound is a pint – so that’s less than 3 pints (1.5 liters) of water per person per day for drinking and washing. Factor any food into the equation and there’s obviously less water. Building materials to provide shelter for the people who were bombed out of their homes? Forget it. Israelis boast openly of keeping the Gazans on a “diet” and intend to starve them out. And here they tout a number that is supposed to look generous, but yeah, do the math and it is more of their boasting that they are committing genocide in slow motion.

“Rid of Islam” was another sign decorated with the Danish cartoon that shows the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) with a bomb in his turban. That image has become an icon for the Islamophobes. It just declares the person who copies it as a hateful idiot. The image isn’t worth reacting to, and really the message is no better, although it reveals a genocidal turn of mind. Trying to eliminate a religion, scapegoating it as a menace to the world has already been tried. Of course Jews should know this better than anyone.

And what are the lessons of the Holocaust? The Zionists seem to see those lessons as an instruction manual. I used to say that Israel was better than Nazi Germany, but that’s an awfully low standard; they should do better. The distinction is harder to maintain. At this point the only difference I can see is in the Wannsee decisions. We always imagine Nazi Germany with the death camps, but those were only in effect after 1942. Comparisons between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto are common and apt. With apartheid and checkpoints in the West Bank and the ghetto/open air prison conditions imposed on Gaza there is little to distinguish Israel’s treatment of Palestinians from the Nazi’s anti-Semitic policies from 1933-1942.

Again, I am happy to say that more and more Jews, realizing the horror being perpetrated in their names, are standing up against it. It is getting harder for Zionists to claim to act in the name of all Jews, and as their numbers and their support within the Jewish community are shrinking. It is clearer every day that criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic. Telling a friend or a relative that they have to live by the same rules of civilized society that others are compelled to follow is not an act of hatred. It is often the best thing you can do.

*The Middle East Children’s Alliance is focusing on building water filtration plants at schools so that children can have access to clean, fresh water. Please support this effort by contributing at