Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Month: January, 2015

Saddam vs. King of Saudi Arabia

My trip to Iraq in 2000 where I celebrated Easter with my relatives

My trip to Iraq in 2000 where I celebrated Easter with my relatives. Here we are having a nice picnic in Mosul

A week ago an Iranian student emailed me. He was angry that I had written something negative about Saddam. He called Saddam a hero. I was surprised, not because he likes Saddam (there are many people who do). I was surprised because he’s Iranian. His country was at war with Iraq for nearly ten years.

I thought about the trip I took to Iraq in 2000, how safe Iraq was during that time. I thought about the honor that the Saudi King’s death is receiving, and the discrepancies and double standards in politics. I thought about the following facts:

Saddam

  • Protected Christians and encouraged women to wear western clothing (women were not veiled in Baghdad and those few who were only covered their hair)
  • Received the keys to the city of Detroit in 1980 after donating substantial amounts of money to a church in the city.helping build Chaldean churches
  • Credited with creating one of the strongest school systems in the Middle East.
  • Iraq won a UNESCO prize for eradicating illiteracy in 1982. Literacy rates for women were among the highest of all Islamic nations, and unlike most Middle East school systems, Iraqi education was largely secular.
  • Hated Osama Bin Laden
  • There were no terrorist groups inside Iraq while he was in power
  • He did not gas his own people (CIA officer Stephen C. Pelletiere, the agency’s senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, wrote in a New York Times article that Saddam Hussein has much to answer for in the area of human rights abuses. ”But accusing him of gassing his own people at Halabja as an act of genocide is not correct, because as far as the information we have goes, all of the cases where gas was used involved battles. These were tragedies of war.” He also wrote that these facts have “long been in the public domain but, extraordinarily, as often as the Halabja affair is cited, they are rarely mentioned.”

Saudi King

  • Permitted over 400 terrorist groups to exist in his country
  • Locked up four of his daughters into dark and suffocating rooms since 2002
  • Allowed beheading of citizens for crimes like apostasy and adultery
  • Prohibited movie theaters, social mixing, music schools, gyms for girls and Valentine’s Day
  • Prohibits women from traveling without permission or driving a car
  • Bans other religions: twelve Filipino Christians and a priest were arrested while attending a service in a private home, in October 2010. They were verbally charged with ‘blaspheming against Islam” and cordially banned for life from Saudi Arabia (quiet deportations are a new tactic of the religious police – it avoids the media scrutiny that heavy-handed arrests generate).
  • Allows anti-American hate speeches in their mosques
Advertisements

John of God

John of God

I had an interesting and wise visitor come over for lunch. As we sat over a meal of zucchini stew and red rice, Reverend Barbara told me stories of her several trips to Brazil where she went to see John of God at work.

John of God, a Catholic, is an unconscious medium and healer who sees over 1000 people a day, free of charge. It is estimated that he has treated, either directly or indirectly, up to 15 million people during the past 40 years. He has cured malignant tumors, made a blind person see, and the lame suddenly walk. Yet he always says, “I do not cure anybody. God heals, and in his infinite goodness permits the Entities to heal and console my brothers.”

Reverend Barbara recounted the story of John of God’s childhood and young adulthood. In the past, he was persecuted by the church and government authorities as a result of this gift. That did not stop him from his mission and he continued to help anyone who asked him for help. In the end, he gained the respect and acceptance of high-profile politicians such as the president of Peru and the mayors of assorted Brazilian towns who protected him and allowed him to continue to use his gifts to heal people.

I asked why she thought the church saw him as a threat.

“They think it goes against the Bible’s teachings,” she said. “But the Bible had books that talked about incarnation and women having leadership roles. Those books were ultimately not included in the Bible.”

Not included. You see, there was an editing process to the bible that today continues – with mainstream media and publishing outlets. Gary J. McDonald describes it best in his article Why Christianity Rejected Reincarnation:

Who created the New Testament? Was it Jesus? Was it His apostles? Was it God? The answer is none of the above. The first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine the Great (285-337 AD), in the year 325 AD called together the First Ecumenical Council (a religious council) which consisted of the five main churches at the time to determine which opposing viewpoints concerning Jesus’ teachings would constitute religious doctrine. Hundreds of writings by a wide range of authors were considered and voted on. Yes, voted on! A number of writings received a majority vote while many other books, some with opposing viewpoints, were subsequently excluded. A few of the more noteworthy texts that did not make the cut include The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Thomas, and The Acts of Paul.

As additional ecumenical councils met over the centuries, certain words or sentences contained within the Bible were altered or deleted; in some instances, whole sections were removed. Many of the translations from Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek (the original languages of the Bible) to other languages were incorrectly translated and as a consequence, the wrong meanings were applied to them. Those that believed in ideas or texts that contradicted the decisions made by the councils were called heretics and faced excommunication from the church. Ecumenical Councils over time determined what was to be considered religious doctrine and what wasn’t. Many scholars believe that the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553 AD) deleted most verses addressing reincarnation from the Bible. But why? The reasons are simple. The church elders wanted the general populace to believe that it was only through the church and its elders could anyone communicate with God or ever hope to reach heaven. This kept all power within the church versus within the people themselves. And since the elders were men, this kept women at a subordinate level as well.

As we finished our lunch and were enjoying tea with clotted cream and date syrup, Reverend Barbara casually brought up a powerful point. “Jesus said whatever I do you can do the same and better, which means we’re capable of healing as well. If Jesus is telling the truth, if he was not lying, then why aren’t we doing what he says?”

ISIS Blows up Ancient Nineveh Wall

Nineveh2

I just received an email from one of my friends, Nahren.  She wrote:

“I am in tears again as I write this update. I am devastated to report and confirm that the walls of Nineveh, one of the greatest Assyrian archaeological sites in the world, is being detonated and a large portion of the walls have been leveled with explosives conducted by ISIS terrorists. This day is a grieving day for all people especially the ones who have respect for ancient and priceless history. The landmarks of the Cradle of Civilization are being detonated as the world stands still and the people who created them are being sacrificed.”

Located in northern Iraq near the modern city of Mosul, Nineveh served as the capital of the Assyrian Empire from 705 to 612 BC and was described in the Book of Jonah as an “exceedingly great city.” In 612, after it was attacked and reduced to rubble by a combination of Medes, Babylonians, and Susianians, Nineveh was left lost and buried until its rediscovery by archaeologists in the mid-19th century.

“These are the types of destructions that will occur when the international community is sleeping at the wheel,” continued Nahren in her email. “What are you waiting for? Innocent people are being slaughtered and priceless history is being detonated that have lasted for almost 7,000 years!”

I suppose the international community is busy honoring the death of the Saudi King, the man who funded radical terrorist groups. Here at home, many people are busy hating on Michael Moore and other celebrities who are using their First Amendment rights to express their opinions. Others are caught up with the women who suddenly popped up, over 40 years after the fact, to accuse Bill Cosby of date rape.

One wonders where our priorities are and how much of our power we have given away that we are forced to deal with petty matters which in the long run will have no real significance for us. Yet serious matters like ISIS, which might one day come knocking on our door, we give over to our government and our military in the hopes that they take care of it while we continue to enjoy an easy life. Unfortunately, it does not work that way.

If we don’t become politically fit, the problem is not going to go away.

Iraq’s Good Old Days

My Sisters During the 70's

My Sisters During the 70’s in Iraq

When my sisters tell me old stories of when they lived in Iraq, and as I flip through black and white family pictures taken in Iraq during the 60s and 70s, I am saddened that Iraqi women have fallen into the stone age. I am even more saddened that people wish to bury this devastating fact.

Throughout much of recent history, Iraq was one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East for women, with Iraqi women historically enjoying more freedoms than the women of neighboring countries. My sisters, for instance, had a membership to a neighborhood Swim Club. They went there regularly with their female friends, most of who were Muslim. They swam in unisex pools wearing modern day bathing suits. After a nice swim, they returned home unscathed.

Prior to 1920, Iraq was ruled under the Ottoman Empire for four centuries. During this time, Iraqi women had little or no rights. Under the British occupation from 1920-1958, the situation for women did not change much. It was not until 1958 that Iraq became a Republic and for the first time ever, women’s rights began to improve. That’s when the government of General Abdul-Kareem Kasim, supported by the Iraqi Communist Party, amended Personal Status Law to grant equal inheritance and divorce rights. This personal Status Law also relegated divorce, inheritance and marriage to civil, instead of religious, courts, and provided for child support.

The Iraqi Provisional Constitution (drafted in 1970the Baath Party) formally guaranteed equal rights to women and other laws specifically ensured their right to vote, attend school, run for political office, and own property. Enrollment of women and girls in rural areas in literacy centers under the illiteracy eradication legislation of 1979 transferred women in Iraq into a new level of education, labor, and employment. With other employment laws, the opportunities in the civil service sector, maternity benefits, and stringent laws against harassment in the work place allowed Iraqi women larger involvement in building their careers. Women attained the right to vote and run for office in 1980. In 1986 Iraq became one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Deterioration of women’s rights in Iraq began during the US-UN comprehensive economical sanctions imposed on Iraqis during the 1990s. The financial crippling of families resulted in an increase of female illiteracy as many families could not afford to send their children to school. In 2003, the US led invasion resulted in the most vulgar descent of the rights of women. It led them to the oppression their ancestors experienced when they were ruled by the Ottoman Empire.

Operation Iraqi Freedom has truly enslaved Iraqi women but most people don’t want to own responsibility for having created this story.

Family Constellations

Family Constellations

A friend invited me to join her to a lecture series by the Metropolitan Detroit A.R.E. (Association of Research and Enlightenment) Community, a non-profit organization which was founded in 1931 by Edgar Cayce. The subject was Family Constellations and the presenters were Vince Anthony Pitre and Robert Auerbach.

These men described how unconscious limits to success often stem initially from the unresolved and many times unspoken traumas, tragedies and transgressions that weave themselves into the energy, “fabric” and conversations of our family.

“We hold many of our histories in our bodies, in our flesh,” said Auerbach. “Family Constellations is a different way to heal resistant, stubborn patterns that might not be ours, or it might be an issue that goes back into past family generation trauma or transgressions that was never healed or resolved. This energy sticks from generation to generation because it’s an unconscious process.”

So they offer workshops to help detox from family pain and/or drama.

“It’s done without making anyone wrong, or putting blame on anyone,” said Pitre. “It’s about seeing where issues came from so we can find a resolution. You don’t heal by chasing light all day. You have to face the dark side as well.”

Through movement and unspoken words, people in the room get psychologically reconfigured. Not only is the person with the problem being healed but so are their family members, even if they are not in the room.

“In this process, new images come up that counters what the person thought of themselves growing up,” said Pitre. “The person leaves behind their old story. This allows their brain to rewire to this new image which they step into and move on with their life.”

Bert Hellinger founded this therapeutic method, which draws on elements of family systems therapy, existential phenomenology and Zulu attitudes to family. Hellinger was a priest whose travels to Africa led him to gain fascination of how the natives honored their ancestors, and the way in which they helped each other heal.

Although I am familiar with similar teachings, being myself an apprentice of Lynn Andrew’s shamanic school, I loved that this type of healing was evidently growing to where you can find them in local cities. For years, I have believed that holistic health is going to be as popular as yoga classes and I see it happening now. Such workshops, teachings and healings are especially beneficial for those who grew up in very old tribal mentalities that limit them from their full potential.

For more information, contact the Center for Healing Arts and Massage http://www.center4thehealingarts.com/index.html

Wahhabism vs. Islam

Dr. AlSaedi

This morning I read that Saudi Arabia has postponed Friday’s public flogging of activist and blogger Raif Badawi on medical grounds. Badawi, who set up the “Free Saudi Liberals” website, was arrested in June 2012 for offences which also included cybercrime and disobeying his father – a crime in Saudi Arabia. The prosecution had demanded he be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, but a judge dismissed that charge. He was sentenced last year to 10 years in jail, a fine of 1 million riyals ($267,000) and 1,000 lashes after prosecutors challenged an earlier sentence of seven years and 600 lashes as too lenient.

I remembered a talk I had two days ago with my colleague Dr. Kamal Alsaedi, an Iraqi-American. Dr. Alsaedi and a group of activists started protesting against the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC in 2011. This group has been active through lectures and meetings with political officials in trying to bring awareness on the Wahhabi religion movement’s influence on our country and the rest of the world.

“The Wahhabis, not Islam, are responsible for the terrorism acts happening today,” he said. “Wahhabis consider themselves ‘the chosen people’ and so anyone outside of their religion is a sinner and ought to be killed – that includes me, even though I am Muslim.”

Because he is a Shia Muslim, Dr. Alsaedi is viewed as much a sinner as Christians and Jews. Non-Wahhabi Sunnis are also considered sinners, but they are given an opportunity to convert.

“Wahhabis look at all religions, all people as sinners,” he said.

The Wahhabi religious movement is a fundamentalist Islamic order that advocates a strict interpretation of the teachings in the Quran. It was founded in the 16th century in what is now Saudi Arabia as a reaction against the influences of Sufism and the Shia interpretation of Islam. The early Wahhabi leaders believed that Islam had become rife with superstition and what they believed to be deviant practices. These practices included invoking the names of prophets or saints for veneration, practicing magic and sorcery, and changing the accepted methods of worship.

“The religion for terrorists is Wahhabism,” he said, noting that between 1970 and today, there have been 250,000 individual Saudis involved in terrorism acts around the world. Before the Iraq war there were 459 nonprofit organizations inside of Saudi Arabia that collected money for terrorists. Right before the September 11th attack, the United States shut down 250 of them. And the obvious – 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

The 9/11 Commission Report ultimately went on to explain why so many Saudis were involved in the hijackings to begin with. According to Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the mastermind of the September 11 plot, as he toured Al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan in the years leading up to the attacks, he found that the vast majority of the recruits being trained there (by his count 70%) were from Saudi Arabia (p.232). This assessment has been further corroborated by two other prominent Al Qaeda operatives who estimated that a full 80% of Al Qaeda’s members were from Saudi nationals in an interview with the PBS news program Frontline.

“Politics is above humanitarian issues,” he said. “It’s not about consciousness, it’s about money. The Saudis pay ISIS money to take down countries. The other problem is the media. Nothing negative is ever said in the news about Saudis. Never. Why? Because they pay the American news channels $12 billion a year.”

Dr. Alsaedi has started a petition urging that Saudi Arabia be listed as a country that represents, supports and sponsors terrorism. To learn more, visit: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/UN_united_nations_we_want_Saudi_arabia_to_be_listed_as_a_terrorist_country/?copy

The Great American Family

In 2010, a family approached me to write a story about their daughter, Dawn Hanna, who was locked up in a federal prison for breaking the Iraqi embargo. She and her brother were accused of conspiring with Emad, a man of Iraqi origin with U.K. citizenship, to send telecommunication equipment to Iraq. The Hannas always maintained that they thought the equipment was going to Turkey. In the end, while Dawn’s brother was found innocent, Dawn received a 72-month sentence and $1.1 million fine, one of the harshest sentences in history for an export violation.

Emad, the so-called “co-conspirator” turned out to be a CIA operative, and the telecom project was funded by the U.S. government, to help eavesdrop on Saddam and his men. In an attempt to correct this injustice and free Dawn, Emad and another CIA operative blew their own covers. They were astonished when, in response, the court simply said that this new evidence would not have made a difference in the jury’s verdict.

The last thing I wanted to do was take on a political story. But the Dawn Hanna case continued to follow my conscience as I wondered, what happens if we can’t stop our government from breaking the laws? I was a child when my family and I fled Iraq over 30 years ago because of Iraq’s totalitarian government. We came here for America’s freedoms. As an immigrant, I saw through the Dawn Hanna case how we are losing the very things we came here for. I felt it was my responsibility to write this story, because among other things, I did not want my children to have to endure in the United States the same political climate my parents endured in Iraq. So I wrote a book and made a documentary about this case, which is currently in post-production.

The justice system prosecutes over 60,000 people a year. While courts discovered thousands of cases in which prosecutors had engaged in “outrageous” or “flagrant” misconduct, an examination of state bar records in USA Today revealed that few received any discipline, and the disciplines were petty, like being ordered to attend a one-day ethics workshop.

An article by the Huffington Post, The Untouchables: America’s Misbehaving Prosecutors and the System that Protects Them, mentions that critics have long claimed that people are up against a prosecutorial climate that value convictions over all else, one that saw a death sentence as the profession’s brass ring. The New York Times reported in 2003 that prosecutors in Louisiana often threw parties after winning death sentences. Assistant District Attorney James Williams told the Los Angeles Times in 2007, “There was no thrill for me unless there was a chance for the death penalty.”

“Over-incarceration in America destabilizes families and communities,” writes Piper Kerman, in Orange is the New Black. “We have a racially biased justice system that over punishes, fails to rehabilitate and does not make us safer.” Books like Uncompromised, Fair Game, The Spy who Tried to Stop a War, Blowing My Cover, Actual Innocence and The Central Park Five, remind us of the importance of honoring the fact that the power of the government comes from the people, and not the other way around.

For more information, visit http://www.TheGreatAmericanFamilyDocumentary.com

Dawn Hanna

Iraqi Children Receive Christmas Gifts

This morning I received an email from Shlama Foundation telling me what my and others’ contributions were spent on. With a combined $680 donation, the foundation was able to deliver 550 Christmas gifts to displaced children on December 29th.

On one hand, that brought a smile to my face. On the other hand, I thought, “I should have donated more than a hundred dollars.” My children received a number of unnecessary gifts for Christmas, many of which they used for only a day or two.  We should have used that money to give to the Iraqi children. Such an act would have been more rewarding and my children would have learned a valuable lesson about the job of giving.

Shlama Foundation was founded in August 2014, after tens of thousands of Christian Iraqis fled ISIS and were forced to live in refugee camps in the Kurdistan region. One of the founders, Noor Matti, lives in Iraq. He had come to Michigan when he was six years old. As an adult, he applied to pharmacy school and was accepted, but decided instead to return to Iraq.

Shlama means “peace” and the foundation has established a secure system that not only shows where the money went, but creates a relationship between donor and recipient. On their website, a spreadsheet shows the name of the donor, the amount given, and a link to a YouTube video that portrays how and for whom the money was used, with photos of the receipts. In each video, the recipients express their situation, thank the donor by name and address how the money has touched them.

I interviewed the members of this organization last year, during which time Matti told me his feelings about the situation in Iraq. “Better days are ahead,” he said. “As a nation, we hit rock bottom. So, there’s nowhere to go but up.”

Learn more at Shlama.org

Shlama Foundation

Iraqi Americans (Not) Acclimating

Photo by: Suman Bhattachary

             Photo by: Suman Bhattachary

Today I attended a school meeting with the educators and parents where we discussed, once again, how to encourage Iraqi American parents to get involved in their students’ work and in the school itself. My community has the largest growing Iraqi immigrants. It has even been nicknamed “Little Baghdad” because on each corner there is an Iraqi produce market, butchery, bakery, restaurants, etc. This is great on one hand. The culture resonates very strongly here. However, when the newcomers stay within these boundaries, adding Satellite TVs in order to watch Arab channels all day long, they don’t give themselves the chance to acclimate.

One of the teachers said that she really embraces this ethnic community, especially given that she resides amongst them. “However,” she added, “it feels like this community is like a volleyball game. This team is on this side, and that team is on that side, and often they split apart. They don’t really come together.”

I remembered something my elderly neighbor once said as we chatted over our back fence. Her parents were first generation immigrants from Italy. She said that all immigrants had difficulty acclimating but that she noticed this was more prominent with Iraqis. They really resisted change.

I thought about that and wondered whether this was due to them having immigrated from a country of a different religion. They also had endured much oppression and persecution and for over 30 years war. Their wounds are so deep, it’s not easy to tap into them. They will take decades, maybe even generations, to heal. But isolation is not the answer. And it’s their children who will suffer for it.

As the principal said, “If people don’t know the truth, don’t worry. They will make it up.”

His point was to spread the good news about the school. My point is let’s spread the good news about our culture, our history, our pains and joys. Let’s share ourselves. Because if people don’t know the truth about us, they will make it up.

The Tradition of New Year Resolutions

Goose

Ancient Babylonians started the tradition of making New Year Resolutions some 4,000 years ago. They made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—heralded the start of a new year. They marked the occasion with a massive religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of its 11 days.

According to www.adoptionworld.com, late March is actually a logical choice for the beginning of a new year. It is the time of year that spring begins and new crops are planted. January 1st, on the other hand, has no astronomical nor agricultural significance. It is purely arbitrary. The Romans continued to observe the new year on March 25, but their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became out of synchronization with the sun.

The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. If there’s one thing to learn from it is that we should stop tampering with nature and ancient wisdom. Perhaps then more people than the current 8 percent will achieve their New Year’s Resolutions.