Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Month: May, 2015

Never Forget Those Who Spent Their Lives Protecting, Empowering and Informing Us

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Last week investigative journalist and author of twelve books Gerald Posner visited the Troy Public Library. I arrived early to the event and sat in the front row. A beautiful woman with exquisite jewelry sat nearby. The man behind me was asking her questions and I soon discovered her name is Trisha, and she was the author’s wife.

With a British accent, she talked about how she and her husband met thirty five years ago. She’s from England, he’s from San Francisco, and they met on a blind date in New York. He started out as an attorney, she was in fashion, he’s Catholic, she’s Jewish, but they work as a team. She helps do research for her husband’s books.

Posner’s work has received much controversy, and at one point, even death threats.

“Once someone sent us a dead fish and another time, a rat’s tail in the mail,” said Trisha. “I was very surprised. I never realized that at this day and age, this type of mentality exists.”

She adds that this has never, and never will, stop them from writing what intrigues them.

Posner’s first book, co-written with British journalist John Ware and published in 1986, was the biography of Mengele: The Complete Story. Mengele was a German Schutzstaffel (SS) officer and physician in Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. From May 1943 through January 1945, Mengele selected who would be gassed immediately, who would be worked to death, and who would serve as involuntary guinea pigs for his spurious and ghastly human experiments (twins were Mengele’s particular obsession). After the war, he fled to South America, where he evaded capture for the rest of his life. Posner and Ware obtained exclusive access to 5,000 pages of Joseph Mengele’s diaries and personal papers for their book.

Another one of Posner’s books is Hitler’s Children: Sons and Daughters of Leaders of the Third Reich Talk about Themselves and Their Fathers, which includes in-depth interviews with a dozen children of top Nazi officials.

Why America Slept exposes the frequent mistakes made by law enforcement and government agencies, and demonstrates how the failures to prevent 9/11 were tragically not an exception but typical.

In Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Secret Saudi-U.S. Connection, Posner provides an account of the “close” business and personal relationship between the House of Saud and the U.S. government, including discussions of “dirty bomb” technology and the financial and political maneuvering surrounding 9/11. Posner also asserts that the Saudis have built an elaborate doomsday scenario around their oil fields. The Saudis have denied this, and according to Posner, he and his wife, Trisha, have been banned from entering Saudi Arabia as a result of this book.

Posner’s most recent book is God’s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican is a 200 year history of Vatican finances and the Vatican Bank.

“For 1800 years, these were Pope Kings who had their own empire and lived a lavish lifestyle,” said Posner. “They lost it in the late 1800s and they got it back by Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, who gave them sovereignty in 1929. This changed everything.”

By World War II, the church created the Vatican Bank that operated “in the dark, in total secrecy.”

Posner explained how during this time, the Nazis collected a tax for the Vatican that amounted to 100 million dollars a year.

“Part of the silence from the Pope in World War II was financial,” he said.

In a review written in the Washington Post by Beth Kingsley, she states:

“Church leaders’ priorities were often questionable. Reluctant to publicly address the Holocaust, they did not hesitate to protest reports of nudism being practiced by the Germans. Prostitution worried them more than did death camps.”

This reminded me of the same-sex marriage laws that the world is focusing and refocusing on right now as hundreds of thousands of peoples are destroyed by the war in the Middle East that we have the power to put an end to.

Some people have called God’s Bankers anti-Catholic, but Posner says, “Now wait a minute, I’m Catholic. If you’re a devout Catholic it should not mean you cannot look at all sides of that topic. You can’t leave out the bad news with the good news. I can’t write about Germany and leave the Holocaust out. I can’t write about Henry VIII without writing about him having chopped his wife’s head off.”

It seems that anyone who is smart enough to want to question and research a topic, which we’re all encouraged to do since a very young age, is automatically called “anti this” and “anti that”.

“This book is not about God and it’s not about religion,” he said. “You can learn from it so it can be avoided in the future.”

That’s exactly what truth is all about, and why men and women risk their lives to defend the United States or immigrate to this country. The practice of free speech is a gift from God, and in realizing its importance, this country made it a First Amendment. Incredible amount of information is easily and readily available to us, yet most people will not bother investing their time in such matters, even though that’s one of the greatest ways to pay tribute to our veterans.

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I Authenticate Myself

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The moment we arrived to the Schoolhouse Cottage in Suttons Bay, I told everyone I was going for a walk. I wanted to see the little town that Melissa, the house owner, described over the phone. She talked about the little café’s and art galleries, the wine tasting tours, the hikes and the nearby beaches. We had driven for five hours and I was ready to explore. My niece said she would accompany me. We got to the main street, which resembled a picturesque street that belonged to a small European town with no fast food restaurants or chain stores.

One particular corner caught my eyes. The outside had several metal welded art pieces on its walls and the center of its courtyard:  a bike, butterfly and the body of a women sleeping on her side. I took pictures of the area before I entered a store called Casey-Daniels. It had colorful handmade handbags and matching hats as well as handmade jewelry.

A man greeted us and when I told him we had just arrived for a weekend vacation, he immediately we dove into a long conversation about the town of Suttons Bay. His name was Will and he had been living in this area for 50 years. He made his own jewelry and pointed to a table where he sat all day to do the work. He told us about his neighborhood, the dozens of artists and writers who lived and worked there and the diners that served good food. I asked if I could write about him in my blog and he said, “You can do whatever you want. You’re a writer?”

“Yes.”

“What do you write?”

I told him about my books, including the poetry book coming out in May. He went to a corner and returned with two magazines, handed me one and my niece the other. It was called Exposures 2014, a Leelanau County Student Journal and it had been around for 26 years. He said he was the publisher. I flipped through it and saw poems written by school students along with pictures, paintings and other art work.

“There are no ads in here,” I said. “How are you able to publish this?”

“It’s funded by the schools.”

I frowned and closely observed it. “How did you manage that?”

He opened his eye glasses from the center of the frame and removed them. “We submitted a proposal to the school and they accepted.”

I was impressed. Before we left, he emphasized that we return to his store if we needed anything. The next morning I woke up before everyone else. I made myself a cup of coffee and walked to Will’s store. He and I sat on a bench outside his store, under the sun.

He told me about traveling with his friend every year to countries like Egypt and Ecuador, regions where their wives were not interested to go. He asked me about my work, and after I explained that I write about the Iraqi American experience, he said, “There’s an attitude in this country about the Middle East that is very stereotyped and we refuse to acknowledge that region’s historical literature. We want to group it in simplistic mindset in what constitutes the Middle East.”

He pointed to a green building across from us. “This building is green, right? But I tell you it’s blue. That’s the audience you’re confronting it.”

We continued to talk about the business of unconventional writing, and in the end, he said, “It’s important to get your foot through the door. Is it relevant which door you get your foot into it? I make weird things. I’m not going to stick myself in art shows. You know why? Because I’m not looking for the approval of others. No, I’m going to authenticate me.  You’re going to authenticate yourself. If I want to put them at a gallery, then I’m placing what I do at the throne of someone else. They stand and say, ‘Oh, that’s this and that.’ And I lose myself.”

With that, I returned home with a whole new perspective.  

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The Free Artist

An artist is truly free and creative when he or she is able to perform anywhere, at any time, with or without an audience, with or without monetary gain, utilizing the gifts God has given him, if only for God’s pleasure, the air, the trees, the birds around him. The sharing of his soul is his gift to the world. This describes the man we came across on Mother’s Day, as we walked towards our favorite restaurant in Greek Town.

On Giving

Khalil Gibran

You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?

There are those who give little of the much which they have–and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.

You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

And you receivers… and you are all receivers… assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.
Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;
For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the freehearted earth for mother, and God for father.

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Love and Power and War

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This morning I read a passage about war in Lynn Andrew’s book, Love and Power (pg.76), which I felt is important to share.

War comes from the idea and the belief that I am here and you are there, and we are separate. There is a great weakness in this concept. In blindly accepting the concept of duality, you will always lose, because you become lost in a deadly game of social power. The game of social power is very different from the game of personal power. In personal power, you honor a worthy opponent, which I’ll explain later. In the game of social power, you are trying to win over someone else. That immediately puts you in a one-down position, which is an aggressive, confrontational position of separation. If you are trying to live in true power, this one-down position will defeat you at every turn. You are caught before a vast chasm of duality where you are forever distanced from others whom you wish to dominate.

The first step toward bridging the chasm of duality is accepting life as it is.

 

I Am a Mute Iraqi With a Voice

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I studied poetry through the University of New Orleans summer program in Prague. Over the years I wrote over a hundred poems, many which were published in various national and international publications. This year, 90 of these poems will be published in my first poetry book, I Am a Mute Iraqi with a Voice. The book will be released later this month.

I dedicated this book to my ancestors, particularly Enheduanna, the world’s first recorded writer. She was the daughter of the great Mesopotamian king Sargon of Akkad and the high priestess of the temple of Nanna, the Akkadian moon god, in the center of her father’s empire, the city state of Ur. She had a considerable political and religious role in Ur. She wrote during the rise of the agricultural civilization when gathering territory and wealth, warfare, and patriarchy were making their marks. She offers a first-person perspective on the last times women in western society held religious and civil power. After her father’s death, the new ruler of Ur removed her from her position as high priestess. She turned to the goddess Inanna to regain her position, through a poem that mentions her carrying the ritual basket:

“It was in your service that I first entered the holy temple,
I, Enheduanna, the highest priestess. I carried the ritual basket,
I chanted your praise.
Now I have been cast out to the place of lepers.
Day comes and the brightness is hidden around me.
Shadows cover the light, drape it in sandstorms.
My beautiful mouth knows only confusion.
Even my sex is dust.”

Al Mutanabbi Street

Iraqi poet Ahmed Abdel Sara recites a po

My friend Emily Porter is an artist, author and human rights activist who during the Baath regime worked for over a decade at the Iraq Museum. She recently returned to her home in England from a two week trip to Iraq. She told me that what most impressed her about Iraq was Al Mutanabi Street.

“I loved it there,” she said. “I would call it the free republic of Iraq. It’s a republic of its own.”

She was incredibly touched by the lovely and warm hearted people who kissed and hugged her when she arrived there, although they had never met her before. She described the beautiful coffee shops along with the loads of cultural respect, free expressions, and poetry recitals that filled the street.

“It was like Hyde Park of London,” she said. “I wish all of Baghdad would be like Al Mutanabbi Street. Maybe that virus will soon spread throughout Iraq.”

Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street is the historic center of the city’s intellectual and literary community where books have been sold for centuries. When a car bomb exploded there in 2007, printers and artists around the world responded. For years, letterpress printers created broadsides to share their grief of this event.

In honor of Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn is having an exhibition from March 6-July 12, 2015 to showcase a selection of broadsides and artist-made books that make up the Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here collection, founded by San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil.

Last night at the museum, there was a special event which included several short films produced during poetry translation workshops in Iraq by the U.K. arts organization Highlight Arts. As I watched the powerful poets highlighted in the short films, I remembered more of Emily’s words.

“There’s an old building in Al Mutannabi Street that was built in the early 1920s,” she told me. “Now it stands with no roof, no doors, walls or windows and the presence of smoke and fire still lingers. People placed cloth on the floor and used it for plays or to recite poetry.  They turned a skeleton of a building into a positive thing.”