“Our Man in Tehran” – A Really Interesting Series from The New York Times

The New York Times is running a really interesting series on its website called Our Man in Tehran (the link will take you to episode one). Thomas Erdbrink, the paper’s bureau chief in Tehran has made seven brief videos meant to capture aspects of ordinary people’s live in Iran that we have not usually been able to see in the media here. This video is from the second episode, “The Martyr’s Daughter.” I’ve pasted in her “character dossier” below the video.

Character Dossier: Najiyeh Allahdad

Date of birth: July 26, 1976

Hometown: Tehran

Education: B.A. in graphics from Alzahra University, 1999

Employment: Freelance designer, creating logos for companies

Life experience: I got married when I was 20. I have two sons. I have been fortunate in my life to have found a circle of friends and relatives who share my deep passion for helping others. We have formed a small charity group that finds people who need help, and we use our connections to gather help for them.

How do you describe yourself? I’m an Iranian Muslim who uses any opportunity to improve her country and who protects her country’s reputation in the world. I love life, and I love peace. I feel that what people have lost in this world is spirituality. I’ve devoted my life to trying to find this spirituality for myself first and then to help others enjoy it.

Are you active on the Internet? I am on Instagram. I also have WhatsApp and Viber. I am in touch with my friends through these social networks and speak my mind. Also, I get information and news through these networks.

What do you hope for the future? I am very hopeful and I believe that religion will play a more important role in people’s lives in the future, and the world will be saved by religion.

What are your hobbies? I’m active in charity efforts. Like Superman, I jump to find people who need help.

Have you traveled outside of Iran? Where? What did you think? I have traveled to India, China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, the United States and Syria. I found some Eastern countries like India and China to be very civilized, but they have not used their civilization to improve their daily lives. On the other hand, I found the Western countries to be detached from their histories and stepping into a new world that has an unclear future. Some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. seemed too dependent on Western countries and would be nothing without help from the U.S. And a country like Iraq has always been hampered by circumstances throughout its history.

Posted in Iran, Islam | Leave a comment  

A letter from Robert. Which I received yesterday. Yesterday. I’m just sayin’.


(Or was it three days ago? Whatever.

As usual, I’ll wait a few days, and then I’ll forward comments from this thread to Robert.


March 23, 2015

Dear Barry:

Heyo. Thought I’d drop you a line using my spiffy new typewriter. America’s prisons, providing access to hundred-year old technology at only mildly criminal markup! My Facebook friends colluded to buy me this antique but valuable writing tool. It makes writing letters about a thousand times easier; wish I’d had it when I was working on the book.
Here, for the edification and updating of your readership at Alas!, is an update of my life status. (Well, it’s an update for you. By the time you get around to posting it, I presume it will be months out of date, he said, snippily.)

Dear Alas friends –

Greetings from Four Mile Correctional Center, which is soon to be no longer my home! I have been officially accepted into community corrections in Colorado Springs. Community corrections is essentially a transition program from prison to parole. I will reside in a jail-like facility (though less locked-down) but am free to leave the facility each day for work. I can also get passes from the facility so that I can (for example) go to the movies with friends or other wholesome activities.

After a few months at community corrections, I can transition to non-residential status, meaning that I still have to account for my whereabouts and activities, but can live independently and without immediate supervision. It is effectively parole, though with more rules and structure. (Which, let’s face it, I do need.)

I’m presently still at Four Mile, waiting for a bed to open up at the facility in the Springs. This could happen soon, but is more likely to be a couple of months. I am really hoping to be out before my birthday, which is in late June.

I want to thank everyone who has helped me while I’ve been in here, with financial assistance, with personal letters, and with good and worthwhile counsel. Being in prison is hardly something to be grateful for, but I am grateful for the life lessons that I’ve been forced to learn, and especially grateful for the kindness that you have all shown me. I look forward to reintegrating into society and trying in some small way to make amends for the harms I’ve caused with my selfish actions. Parole isn’t trivial but it’s a whole lot better than prison and I can’t wait.

Thank you all again.


PS – If Amp takes six weeks to post this, then tell him he’s a lazy dirty hippie. But I love him anyway.

To send Robert a letter through the mail, use this address:

Robert Luty Hayes, Jr. 165970
FMCC Unit E – Four Mile Correctional Center
P.O. Box 300
Cańon City CO, 81215-0300

If you’d rather send him an email, you can go to Jpay.com and enter Robert’s state (Colorado) and his DOC Number – 165970 – into the search fields. (Sometimes I’ve had to do this twice before it worked). Then you can use your debit card to send him an “email” (he’ll actually get it in the form of a print-out) or to send him money, or both. The cost of sending email is not expensive, it’s actually similar to the cost of postage. If you contact Robert via Jpay, be sure to give him your mailing address – he can’t use Jpay, so the only means he has for writing back to you is to send you mail through the post office.

Posted in Bob Behind Bars, Prisons and Justice and Police | 2 Comments  

#SavingChase: Judge Orders Mom Arrested For Violating Agreement To Have Her 4-Year-Old Son Circumcised


From the Florida Sun Sentinel (if that link is paywall blocked, try this indirect link).

Despite the threat of being jailed Tuesday, a West Boynton mother hid with her 4-year-old son in a domestic violence shelter, the latest twist in a widely reported court fight to stop the boy’s planned circumcision.

But Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen still signed a warrant for Heather Hironimus’ arrest, refusing requests from her lawyers to first consider a mental health exam of the boy and appointing an independent guardian to speak on the child’s behalf in court. […]

On Friday, Gillen declared the mom in contempt of court for violating an order enforcing a 2012 parenting plan, which makes the dad responsible for arranging the circumcision. The mom and dad did not marry either before or after the boy’s birth on Oct. 31, 2010.[…]

“I will allow her to avoid incarceration or get out of jail if she signs the consent to the procedure,” [Judge] Gillen said Friday.

The judge found the mom had willfully violated the plan she signed when the boy was 1. The judge also said Hironimus had committed a “direct, contemptuous violation” of court orders by continuing to team with circumcision opposition groups — called “intactivists” — that have “plastered” the child’s photos and name “all over the Internet.” […]

The father says the boy has a condition called phimosis, which prevents retraction of the foreskin, but the mother has said there is no such diagnosis.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says the benefits of newborn male circumcision are lower risks of urinary tract infections; getting penile cancer; and acquiring HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Judge Gillen mentioned these benefits in court last week, and called the procedure “very, very safe.”

My goodness – so much to unpack here.

1) In essence, what the court is doing is enforcing a shared child custody agreement. From the Judge’s perspective, ordering the mom to comply with an agreement to go along with the circumcision of her son is no different from ordering the mom to comply with an agreement to give up custody on alternate weekends. If someone continuously refuses to comply with a court-enforced agreement, being thrown in jail is a widely-accepted last-ditch method for courts to force compliance.

2) This story is news because it involves involuntary circumcision. But really, this sort of thing is bound to come up in a society in which involuntary circumcision of boys is a legal and normal thing. In other words, the problem isn’t this judge or this court case; it’s that circumcision of underage boys is considered normal parenting in our society.1

3) Nonetheless, I think Judge Gillen has made the wrong decision. A four year old is not a one year old, and forcing a four year old to have an unwanted circumcision is taking a big, and needless, chance of creating long-term trauma.2

4) Mary Elizabeth Williams, writing about this case in Salon several months ago, made a good point:

Ultimately, though, it seems pretty obvious that what we have here is a mother who feels strongly that her son should not be circumcised, and a father whose commitment to having his son undergo the procedure was so casual he put it off until the kid was almost four years old. Yes, a contract was signed. But were it a true priority the circumcision would have been done a long time ago. And at a certain point, it’s fair to reassess and understand that a preschooler is not a baby, and that compassionate parenting means erring on the side of being as minimally invasive as possible.

5) James Smith, in the comments at Reason, argues (I think persuasively, but of course I’m no lawyer) that this is technically not a matter of contract law, but of Family Court law. So if that sort of technicality interests you, go over to Reason and search for Smith’s comments.

6) The father’s argument that the circumcision is medically necessary doesn’t seem persuasive to me (there are alternative treatments for phimosis), and I suspect didn’t matter much to the Court. (That is, I think the Judge would have made the same decision, based on enforcing the parenting plan, regardless of the claim of medical necessity.)

7) I don’t like the judge ordering the parties not to speak about the case publicly, because that goes against free speech. (So good on the mother for refusing to comply with that order). There are cases where gag orders are necessary (for instance, in a case involving the identity of informants whose lives could be endangered), but I don’t see why this case is one.

8) Some parents have protested Judge Gillen’s decision by posting photos of their small kids holding up protest signs: “The irony — of people arguing that boys shouldn’t be circumcised until they can consent yet using their own toddlers to make points in social media campaigns — was not lost on some commenters.” But I agree with Ophelia Benson, who says that the equivalence doesn’t hold water.

9) I’m skeptical that it will do any good, but there’s a petition to sign here.

  1. I say “of children” because I have no objection to a grown-up choosing to have a circumcision for themselves. []
  2. Some anti-circumcision activists would argue that all circumcision is a kind of long-term trauma, but – even though I oppose child circumcision – I can’t say I find my own infant circumcision to have been lastingly traumatic. []
Posted in Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc., In the news, Sexism hurts men | 10 Comments  

Link Farm and Open Thread: Enacted Rules Edition


  1. This is why there are things we don’t say about race (even when they are true) | Joseph Harker | Comment is free | The Guardian Really excellent take-down of some very common racist arguments, such as the risible claim that the Rotherham rapes were allowed to take place because police are afraid of enforcing laws on minorities. (Via).
  2. After a few months of hiatus, A Feminist Challenging Transphobia has returned to active blogging. Huzzah!
  3. Alito Joins Court Majority to Protect Pregnant Workers From Discrimination (I think G&W posted about this case in comments.)
  4. Ex-Prosecutor Apologizes to Wrongfully Convicted Glenn Ford After 30 Years on Death Row — The Atlantic “I end with the hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford. But, I am also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it.”
  5. ‘To the man who has been taking my Wall Street Journal’ | Berkeleyside And be sure to read the followup article as well.
  6. Courageous Trans Teen Stands Up For Her Bathroom Rights And Finds Community Support.
  7. French Mailman Spends 33 Years Building Epic Palace From Pebbles Collected On His 18-Mile Mail Route | Bored Panda
  8. Call-Centring to Dispose of Sealions. This cracked me up.
  9. How to utterly ruin the game “20 Questions.” – Ozy
  10. How drug testing could actually reduce racial disparities in the workplace – Vox
  11. France Says New Roofs Must Be Covered In Plants Or Solar Panels | ThinkProgress Sounds like a potentially excellent idea, although I imagine some problems could be created by the regulations making new buildings more expensive to construct, although this could be mitigated by a tax deduction for spending on new eco-roofs.
  12. A conservative judge’s devastating take on why voter ID laws are evil – LA Times It’s Judge Posner, unsurprisingly. His entire dissent can be read here (pdf link).
  13. Unplanned pregnancies cost taxpayers $21 billion each year – The Washington Post
  14. How to save Star Trek: Make it the True Detective of science fiction – Vox This sounds like a wonderful idea, but I doubt they’d do it with Star Trek. I’d love to see a “anthology” sci-fi TV show, though, exploring a consistent science fiction universe from different perspectives each season.
  15. Closing the TV-Guest Gender Gap — The Atlantic A fascinating article about the enormous effort involved in creating a 50/50 gender split of guests on a talk show.
  16. A Note on Call-Out Culture – Briarpatch Magazine
  17. The Supreme Court is about to tackle online threats for the first time | The Verge
  18. “Continuous rules” and “Immediate rules” in role playing games. An interesting analysis of RPG rules by game designer Ben Lehman, who sometimes comments here at “Alas.” (Although I think “Enacted rules” would have been a better term than “Immediate rules.”)
  19. Sweeping ‘New Motor Voter’ bill clears Oregon Legislature on partisan vote | OregonLive.com So from now on, anyone who gets a driver’s license in Oregon will, by default, be registered to vote at the same time (or when they turn 18), unless they actively opt out. Republicans are against this, although I’m unclear on what the rationalization is this time.
  20. It’s 2050 And Feminism Has Finally Won
  21. The adult sympathies of The Breakfast Club / The Dissolve
  22. ‘The Birth of a Nation’: The racist movie everyone should watch – The Washington Post A good illustration of how racism in art is not just a moral flaw, but an artistic flaw.
  23. A $10,169 blood test is everything wrong with American health care – Vox Total market failure.
  24. Prison and White People « The Hooded Utilitarian How white people given unjustly long sentences are victims of anti-black racism.
  25. Do You Have to Be Japanese to Make Manga? (with images, tweets) · debaoki · Storify
  26. The Benevolent Stalker. An interesting slash terrifying post by a stalker explaining how what he does is benevolent and not like the thing those evil bad stalkers do. After getting a lot of horrified responses, he quit stalking the woman, got psychological help, and wrote two follow-up posts: A Re-Evaluation of Romance and Stalking Seminar. What I find most fascinating is the way he created an imaginary reality for himself to live in.
  27. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers asks on her Facebook for people to post their Obamacare horror stories, and thousands of people (including me) responded with personal stories of how Obamacare has helped them.
  28. Decades of human waste have made Mount Everest a ‘fecal time bomb’ – The Washington Post
  29. Slender Man defendants: Trying 12-year-olds as adults is illogical and barbaric.
  30. Some Speculation About the Google Truth Machine – Windypundit
  31. Woman held in psychiatric ward after (correctly) saying Obama follows her on Twitter
  32. “Organisers of a national disability conference in Melbourne have come under fire after a speaker had to be carried onto the stage because it was not wheelchair accessible.” It’s even worse than that sounds.
  33. Is it time to stop reading books by white men? Good review essay. (This and the prior two links via Skepchick.)
  34. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » “Could a Quantum Computer Have Subjective Experience?” I found this very interesting, although there were parts of it I couldn’t fully follow. When I started reading it I was confused over what the words “decoherence” and “classical” mean in this context, and I found that reading this lecture through the end of the section entitled “Story #1″ clarified those terms enormously.
  35. Fair Process, Not Criminal Process, Is the Right Way to Address Campus Sexual Assault


Posted in Link farms | 35 Comments  

Being a Survivor of Sexual Violence is a Way of Knowing The World – 2

When I started counseling to come to terms with the fact that I am a survivor of childhood sexual violence, one of the first questions my therapist asked me after I sat down in his office was, “On a scale of one to ten, how angry would you say you are?”

“Probably seven or eight,” I answered.

“Try eleven,” he said, and I knew without even thinking about it that he was right. Then he asked me if I worked out. “Yes,” I said.

“You look it,” was his matter-of-fact response, but his next question surprised me. “Do you know why I’m not scared to be alone with you in this very small room, even though you’re big enough to hurt me in a serious way?”

I looked around his office. It was very small. “No,” I answered.

“Because I don’t think you’re crazy,” he said, and I don’t know precisely why, but something in his body language, the tone of his voice, the way he looked at me when he spoke, something communicated to me that I could believe him. Not that I needed anyone to tell me I wasn’t crazy–I was already sure of that–but it mattered a lot to me that I could believe him when he said he didn’t think I was. It wasn’t simply that I felt I could trust him. It was also, and perhaps more importantly, that I understood he trusted me, and that feeling did more than just give me permission to say the things I needed to say for my therapy to begin and to be successful. It helped me see myself as authorized to do so—in the sense that I knew he took me to be, and so I could begin to see myself as, the authority on my own experience.

It took a long time before I felt like I could claim that authority publicly as a writer. Yes, I’d written and published the poems in The Silence of Men, and, yes, the promotional copy announced to the world that I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, but I never publicly connected my identity as a survivor to my identity as a writer until 2008, when I was interviewed by The Jackson Heights Poetry Festival (JHPF).

Much of what I said about being a survivor and its connection to my writing got edited out of the final video, but what they kept in does get to the core of the matter. Writing poetry was not just how I found my voice; it was how I proved to myself that I had a voice, that what I said in that voice was real and deserving of an audience, even if the only person in that audience was me. I do regret using the word cliche to describe the idea that abusers steal their victims’ voices, but I did so because in the circles where I spend most of my time–and I realize that I am very fortunate in this–the truth of that idea is taken for granted, and so it is sometimes given a kind of short-shrift as well-intentioned people move past it to address deeper and perhaps less obviously visible issues.

In reality, of course, the vast majority of survivors do not live in such circles, which makes it all the more important for those of us who are able to speak out to do so. By way of example, about a year after JHPF first posted this interview to their now-defunct YouTube channel, a former student of mine sent me an email. She’d found the video while browsing the web for poetry-related information and watching it had inspired her to share two pieces of information that she had shared with no one else: first, that someone had sodomized her a few year earlier and that she’d been dealing with it by trying to pretend it had never happened and, second, that she suspected her ex-husband of molesting their three-year-old daughter when the girl was in his house. I responded in all the ways you might expect, urging her to seek therapy for herself and to do what she needed to determine whether or not her suspicions about her ex-husband were true. I don’t remember that I ever heard from her again, however, so I have no idea what the outcome was.

What I do know is that if I hadn’t told the truth about myself in the JHPF interview, my student might never have spoken up in the first place, abandoning herself to who knows how many more years of shame and silence and, if her ex-husband was indeed molesting their daughter, surrendering her child into the hands of an abuser. Hearing my voice, in other words, helped her find hers, and there is absolutely nothing cliche about that. Simply to end there, however, would be to leave unacknowledged the fact–which you cannot know from watching the video–that none of the questions I was asked in that interview addressed the relationship between my work as a poet and who I am as a survivor. I insisted on making that connection because it has become increasingly important to me to speak out about who I am even in contexts where sexual abuse is not the agreed upon topic of conversation.

A few years after the JHPF interview, I did the same thing in the more extended interview Melissa Studdard did with me for Tiferet Talk.

I remember debating with myself about whether or not it would be “too much” to turn what was supposed to be a conversation about my work as a poet into a platform to speak about myself as a survivor, but in the end I asked myself, How could I not? Being a survivor is always already a part of my daily life. It informs who I am as a teacher, a lover, a father, a husband, a friend; it shapes the way I understand politics, the economy, my workplace, the movies I watch, the books I read, and, obviously, the poems and essays I write. Equally to the point, because I am a survivor, the daily lives of the people who are part of my life are also always already touched by the violations I experienced–or, more precisely, by the consequences and repercussions of those violations. To pretend otherwise, to behave as if I exist as a survivor, as if people only need to engage with me as a survivor, in those spaces specifically set aside to make survivors visible–such as conferences, seminars, talk show episodes, and so on–would be to accept someone else’s definition of where and when and even why my experience can and should have meaning. It would be to surrender precisely the authority to which my therapist’s question helped me lay claim.

That, I simply refuse to do.


Posted in Rape, intimate violence, & related issues | Leave a comment  

Kevin Moore On Starbucks “Race Together”

My friend Kevin Moore draws and writes:


I love the expressions Kevin drew, especially in panel 4.

This reminded me of the discussion in comments here, where a few posters were (rightly) concerned that Starbucks employees aren’t paid enough to make this part of their job.

Kevin comments:

Two hashtag campaigns launched last week on Twitter (where else?) addressing the topic of race. With #racetogether, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz thought it would be a neat idea to use coffee and his low wage workers to “start a conversation” that neither worker nor customer would ever want, regardless of their respective positions. As I write this I learn that Starbucks has abandoned the project, either recognizing it as a failure of good intentions or as a success in meme-driven marketing. “So long as they spell my name right” publicity, as it were.

The other campaign, #whitegenocide came about this weekend as almost a response to Starbucks invitation to converse about race — and thereby demonstrating exactly why no one wants to touch the subject in a commercial transaction. These trolls get enough attention on Twitter. And while I hate to give them anymore, as a source of friction in a cartoon, as a way to lampoon the kinds of absurd white victimization claims made by bigots afraid of any kind of inclusion of minorities — well, the meme was hard to resist.

Posted in In the news, Race, racism and related issues | 17 Comments  

Anti-Gay Teacher Censored by Catholic High School

Hey, we were just discussing censorship! From the Huffington Post:

Patricia Jannuzzi, a religion teacher at Somerville’s Immaculata High School, made headlines last week after she argued that gays “want to reengineer western civ (sic) into a slow extinction” as part of their “agenda” in a post on her now-deleted Facebook profile, MyCentralJersey reported.

“We need healthy families with a mother and a father for the sake of the children and humanity!!!!!” she wrote alongside a Young Conservatives article about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocate Dan Savage urging Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson to prove that homosexuality is a choice.

After Jannuzzi’s remarks sparked a media firestorm, school officials reportedly placed her on administrative leave and forced her to deactivate her Facebook page, arguing in a March 13 letter to parents that the comments had been “completely inconsistent with our policy and position as a Catholic Christian community.”

Meanwhile, an online petition arguing against Jannuzzi’s statements had drawn over 1,000 signatures at the time this story was first published.

A screencap from her now-deleted Facebook page:


From NJ.com:

In a statement provided to NJ Advance Media, the school said it took “immediate action” and “mandated that the teacher involved permanently de-active her Facebook page.”

“The opinions reflected in these posts do not in any way represent the philosophy, mission or student experience of this high school,” the statement said. “… Through our investigation, we have determined that the information posted on this social media page has not been reflected in the curriculum content of the classes she teaches.”

Januzzi’s Facebook page, which was public at one point, was removed Wednesday morning.

Actress Susan Sarandon (whose nephew went to that high school and was a student of Jannuzzi’s) posted about it on her Facebook page, as did some reality show celebrity I’ve never heard of.

A few thoughts:

1) Obviously, Jannuzzi’s thoughts are homophobic, ignorant, and suggests that she could do a lot to improve as a person.

2) Let’s not forget that the Catholic Church’s official position on gays – “objectively disordered” – is also disgusting, homophobic, and wrong. What they are objecting to is not homophobia, but crudely-stated homophobia.

3) But, according to the school, the kind of thinking she posts on her Facebook page isn’t reflected in her teaching. So it’s really shouldn’t be any of the school’s business.

4) “…the school said it took ‘immediate action’ and ‘mandated that the teacher involved permanently de-active her Facebook page.'” Now that’s censorship. “Mandated.”

5) From the left or the right, this sort of intrusive attack on employee’s freedom by bosses should scare us all to death. Apparently the people who run Immaculata High School don’t understand that just because you give someone a paycheck doesn’t give you a moral right to control what your employees think or write outside of work.

Because you’re an employee doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make you a serf. And the fact that we depend on our jobs to pay our rent (or mortgage) and eat makes a boss “mandating” what we say inherently coercive. This is disgusting. In a country that really valued free speech, there’d be an enormous wave of revulsion every time a boss acts this way/

6) That Change.org petition has a little over a thousand signatures as of Thursday evening. A little over a thousand signatures is really not many signatures at all, especially for a story that’s gotten so much coverage. That the school engaged in censorship based on a tiny Change.org petition indicates that the school administrators are either spineless cowards, or they were eager for an excuse.

7) Incidentally, the Change.org petition originally seemed to be leaning for calling for censorship – the title of the petition, shamefully, is “Stop Public Hate Speech of Teachers” – but more recent edits and updates have veered away from calling for either censorship or for firing the teacher, instead asking for sensitivity training.

8) Susan Sarandon should know better than to criticize an ordinary, non-celeb citizen by name. Talk about punching down! I really like Sarandon generally, but in this case she’s been incredibly thoughtless at best and a bully at worse.

9) Although I’m not a fan of either the petition-writer’s acts or Sarandon’s, in the end I think it is the School that deserves big heaping piles of scorn for this. They should have the guts to stand up for free speech by criticizing their employee’s statements without suspending her or making her take down the Facebook page; instead, they’ve shown they have no respect at all for free speech or for the basic human rights of their employees.

Posted in Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc. | 62 Comments  

Jay Smooth and Nancy Giles Discuss Starbucks and Talking Race

IF the embed won’t play, you can watch it on NBC’s site.

Unfortunately, I can’t find a full transcript. There’s a lot of interesting stuff there. It’s also nice to see a show in which two Black panelists talk and clearly disagree, rather than having a single panelist to represent “the” black perspective. I tend to agree with Smooth, whose analysis is more structural. Here’s a paragraph of it, via Conor at The Atlantic.

Jay Smooth: The intentions seem noble and I want to keep an open mind. But I think there’s already this strange fixation on conversation when it comes to race, which you don’t see with other issues that we want to take seriously. I think it’s telling that when Howard Schultz wanted to help veterans he didn’t just tell people to have conversations about how much they like veterans. He committed to a plan of action to help veterans. He talked about being inspired by what happened in Ferguson. But I think when you look at the DOJ report on Ferguson, it does not describe issues that can be addressed by having chats in coffee shops. You’re talking about institutional, systemic issues. The emphasis on talking about it misleads us about where the problems are. This focus on conversation comes out of our assumption that racism manifests on a personal level in our individual feelings toward each other.

There is a brief, interesting diversion touching on code-switching at 5:20, when Giles gently teased Smooth for his “co-opted” speech style on his Youtube videos, not realizing that Smooth, who is light-skinned, is Black. Giles, recovering, points out that because she is visibly black she gets criticized for “talking white.”

Posted in Race, racism and related issues | 16 Comments  

Reading Journal: Verses of Forgiveness, by Myriam Aantaki — 2

verses3.jpegI continue to be fascinated with this book—part 1 of this reading journal is here—and with the effort Ahmed (the narrator) makes, even while he is planning a suicide attack against Israel, to imagine his Jewish father’s life. The author, Myriam Antaki, sets the two men up as almost mirror images of each other: Ahmed, the disenfranchised, exiled, oppressed, orphaned Palestinian; his father, the disenfranchised, exiled, oppressed, orphaned European Jew; each one looking to reclaim for himself and his people a land he thinks of as home. But there is another parallel as well, this one involving a woman. Ahmed loves Iman, the prostitute in whose arms his mother finds him when she reveals to him who his father was. The fact that Iman is a prostitute, a woman who survives by selling her body, is important—or, to be more precise, the fact that Ahmed does not see her prostitution as a betrayal of his love, as a rejection of who he is, is important, though I don’t know enough yet about how Ahmed became radicalized, about the actual circumstances of his life, to find this importance in more than the way Ahmed’s feelings about Iman form an interesting parallel and contrast to his father’s experience with Aline.

Aline is a women—it’s not clear to me whether or not she’s Jewish—with whom his father has a brief encounter on the beach in the midst of the Nazi occupation. That encounter means a great deal to Ahmed’s father, who thinks of Aline, “her ivory skin, her face pale with pleasure” in order to “forget [his] pain…and [the pain] of others” (39). On the very next page, however, Ahmed’s father sees Aline with Von Postel, the German in charge of the occupation. His “nobleman’s hands are touching Aline, while she comes “close to him…show[ing] him her eyes, her lips, her half-open blouse” (40). Ahmed’s father experiences this as a deep, deep betrayal on Aline’s part. For him, she “is the shimmering woman, a sea angel who crumples her underwear to give [him] a thrust of that body, that heart which [he] believe[s] to be celestial,” but, when he sees her with Von Postel, his “sadness plunges deep into [his] entrails” and the night’s stars slowly burn his heart (40).

In offering herself to Von Postel, Aline—and from this perspective it doesn’t really matter whether she is Jewish or not—is arguably doing precisely the same thing that Iman does in the brothel, selling herself to survive. So it’s interesting that Ahmed does not idealize Iman in the same way that his father idealizes Aline, that he does not feel the same betrayal as his father in the knowledge that the woman he loves also sells herself to other men. (It’s not clear whether Ahmed pays Iman, though I suspect that he does.) I don’t know exactly what to make of this yet, but there seems to be a connection between Ahmed’s father’s idealization of Aline and the idealization of “the promised land” that Ahmed attributes to his father. On the other hand, Ahmed’s colder, more realistic, even more resigned stance towards Iman—who, one might say, because of her profession and the role it plays in a male dominant culture, has quite clearly been occupied—seems to mirror what the novel depicts as the more clear-sighted stance that the Palestinians have towards their occupied land.

There is more to say about this, but I want to turn my attention to an aspect of the novel that I mentioned in the very first sentence of this post: the way it captures the effort Ahmed makes to enter imaginatively into his father’s life, to understand the circumstances—as far as Ahmed can know them—that brought his father to what was then Palestine. I was struck in particular by Ahmed’s rendering of his father’s and grandmother’s experience in one of the cattle cars the Nazis used to transport Jews to the camps:

Meant for thirty men, eighty are crammed in. To perish by smothering is one way to die. It is a shorter death, happening with the same indifference as the wind falls or the star are extinguished. The people imagine the pain in their bodies. Their eyes take on a color of peril and stone.

Father, you try to help your mother, to support her as she mounts the last step into the car. You fear that frailty that is turning her lips and eyes colorless…. Piled into the cars, going off to a place where people no longer have the strength to stand up. The Germans refuse to leave a single door ajar. To survive you have to stay in a vertical position, motionless and silent. It is a sweating, shouting free-for-all. You understand that the least dangerous position is tightly in a corner of the car where the pressure of the others is less. That is where you put your mother and you form a screen to ward off any knocks against her….

The men have swallowed the last bottles of beer and wine and drink their own sweat to fight off thirst. The latrine buckets are overflowing. People relieve themselves on the floor if they can. Some are throwing up, others shout for something to drink….

People can no longer endure their skin, their sweat, their breathing. They go naked, and some feel an erotic desire in a last unhealthy sensuality. Others vomit and die. The corpses are stacked up in the back of the car. Your mother is silent, words remain glued to her suffering, to the abyss. (45-47)

What strikes me here is Ahmed’s—and, of course, Antaki’s by extension—commitment to rendering the suffering as fully as possible, a commitment which bespeaks a desire to understand, an awareness that this kind of understanding is somehow necessary, is what underlies our ability to see an Other as a fellow human being. At the same time, understanding this kind of suffering is, in some sense, easy. After all, not to see this suffering, not to apprehend it almost immediately, is at least implicitly to excuse the Nazi ideology that underwrote it, which would immediately remove pretty much any credibility from anything else Ahmed (and Antaki) had to say.

I do not mean by this that the effort Antaki makes through Ahmed to imagine the Jewish experience of the Shoah is in any way trivial or somehow of secondary importance. Indeed, I think you can measure just how important it is by how many people in the world are unwilling to undertake that same humanizing effort on behalf of the Palestinians, whose story may not include a dictator hell bent on wiping them entirely from the fact of the earth, but whose very human suffering for the sake of their land and their national identity is no less real than that of the Jews.

This imaginative act, of course, is not by itself enough to change anything about the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, or between the people around the world who have lined up on either side of that conflict; but without this act of imagination, I do not think any real change is possible.


Posted in Palestine & Israel | 6 Comments  

Why Do They Oppose Gay Marriage? Part 3 In A Very Infrequently Updated And Rather Repetitive Series

From “Public Opinion, the Courts, and Same-sex Marriage: Four Lessons Learned” by Brian Powell, Natasha Yurk Quadlin and Oren Pizmony-Levy, in Social Forces (2015) volume 2 pages 3-12. (Pdf link.)

Because I don’t believe God intended them to be that way. No. I think it’s a travesty.

I follow God’s commands. It’s beastly.

It’s like sickness, some sickness you know. Mental sickness, physical sickness or something, but it is mental sickness. So it’s not natural.

I mean, two—two girlfriends can live together as long as they’re friends. You know, if they don’t have nobody and they’re friends and they’re helping each other survive, if they’re friends, that’s fine. But when they cross that line of becoming lovers, then it’s sick, I think.

Because my religion believes that’s an abomination.

Because that, marriage, is a sacred thing between a man and a woman that is orchestrated by God, and the Bible clearly says that homosexuality is a sin, it’s perverted, and deviant. That’s all.

I don’t know what promotes that kind of garbage. Well, they’re sinners.

I think the reason why gays and lesbians want recognition of their marriage as being a valid marriage is because they want their dysfunctional sexuality viewed as normal, when I don’t think it’s normal.

The study authors go on:

These comments are not the exceptions. The overwhelmingly most common response (over 65%) among opponents to same-sex marriage is religious or moral disapproval. This animus1 toward same-sex couples is so prevalent that it crowds out any other concerns. Importantly, fewer than five percent mention children, while even fewer (not exceeding one percent) articulate a position that even loosely corresponds with the “responsible procreation” argument or the claim that children fare better with a father and mother than with same-sex parents.

This more or less accords with my experience talking to opponents of marriage equality on the streets (gathering signatures in support of marriage equality) and, briefly, on the phones (as part of a campaign attempting to persuade opponents of marriage equality). Virtually all the opponents of marriage equality I spoke to were polite, and many were very nice to me, but they almost always said that they were against same-sex marriage because of God, or because they had a moral objection to gay people.

Also, this goes along with the results of a Pew poll I’ve posted about twice before: Why do they oppose gay marriage? and Why they really oppose same-sex marriage.

  1. The study defines “animus” as follows: “Animus broadly entails moral disapproval of an excluded group or the characterization of a group as “inferior” or “of lesser worth.”” []
Posted in Religion, Same-Sex Marriage | 78 Comments