Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Month: April, 2016

Ancient Wisdom Council

Weam

Photo by Zanna Pillars

One thing I learned in Lynn Andrews’ shamanic school is that if you feel something is missing in your life, become that something. In October 2014, I was at one of our gatherings with Lynn in L.A., and I asked whether there’s a council in Michigan that I can join. There are numerous councils in the United States and abroad that come together every month and pass on the teachings of Lynn and the Sisterhood of the Shields.

I was told there is not one in Michigan, and someone easily suggested, “Why don’t you start a council?”

So I returned home and started the Ancient Wisdom Council in early 2015. Each of our gatherings have had a unique, magical, and learning experience. Last week, during our April gathering, my council had the honor of receiving the Rainbow Bridge Altar Cloth, which was weaved together in 1990 at one of Lynn’s gathering at Joshua Tree. Since the time the cloth has been made, it has traveled the four directions, to the councils and certain individuals all over the country. This year it is also traveling in Europe. June Milich, the woman who weaved it wrote, “A journal travels with the cloth each year, carrying many of the magical stories which have been weaving themselves into the cloth.”

She adds, “In my heart I know this rainbow colored cloth is meant to be an inspiration – a bridge from what is now to what can be, a bridge from feeling separate and alone to feeling whole and all one.”

This, in my opinion, is a definition that also applies to the teachings of the Sisterhood of the Shields. And this is what the women experienced at the Ancient Wisdom Council gathering as they wrapped the rainbow cloth around them and, those who brought them, around their children.

 

To learn more about the councils around the world, visit http://lynnandrews.com/councils/

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Miss Iraq – American Style: 14 Compete in Pageant

This article was first publishedIMG_6286 by The Chaldean News http://www.chaldeannews.com/miss-iraq-american-style-14-compete-in-pageant/

Fourteen young women from across the United States representing different regional ethnicities of Iraq competed for the title of Miss Iraq USA on March 12. More than 700 people attended the event at Bellagio Banquet Hall in Sterling Heights.

The goals of the event were to promote culture and heritage, create a positive image of Iraqi women to the world, and inspire Iraqi women to compete internationally. To qualify, girls had to be single and living in the United States for at least a year, never been married or have children, between the ages of 18 and 27, and have at least one parent born in Iraq. The winner received nearly $10,000 in gold jewelry, gift cards and other prizes.

“This has been an amazing and humbling experience,” said Melinda Toma, 22, former Miss Iraq USA and currently a pharmacy student. Toma, who was born and raised in the U.S., said being crowned Miss Iraq USA gave her many opportunities and helped her gain much more confidence in herself. “I used to be very shy and timid, but not anymore,” said Toma, who in May will visit an orphanage in Costa Rica to do volunteer work.

Ebtissam Khanafer, CEO of Yallafan Productions and Miss Iraq USA, trained the contestants and hosted the show. For one week, she not only taught the women poise and etiquette, but also the history of their ancestral land, even though she herself is Lebanese.

“We all come from the same part of the world,” she said. “We are all one.”

Lebanon is mentioned more than 70 times in the Old Testament. The New Testament has many passages that talk about Jesus and his disciples traveling quite a bit in Lebanon, which was then called Phoenecia.

“I taught the girls historical facts about Mesopotamia that their parents did not teach them,” Khanafer said, listing the names of Sumerian queens, geographical references about the Fertile Crescent, and the fact that Babylonians made more than 150 different types of bread.

Khanafer said that Miss Iraq is not all about beauty, makeup or body size.

“It’s not about the crown,” she said. “It’s about your personality, what’s in your mind and the legend you will leave behind.”

Lilian Farook, 20, has only been in the United States for one year but she left Iraq 15 years ago, traveling through Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt to come to America. She participated in the pageant because, she said, “I want to do anything positive for my birth country.”

In the beginning of the show, the girls came out wearing similar dresses (first all in white, later all in red) that were provided by Betsy’s Bridal. Later they wore traditional dresses that represented their ethnic backgrounds and at the end, they wore evening dresses. They were questioned by the judges on women’s issues and, in the second round, each was asked, “If you had something to say to the Iraqi government, what would you tell them?”

“I would tell them not to forget where they came from, the Cradle of Civilization,” said Sarah Idan, 26, who went on to be crowned the winner. “We came from the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Jewish. We came from diversity and Iraq is diverse. I would tell them that this is a country for all Assyrians, Arab Muslims and Jews. We must respect each other and live in peace.”

While some Assyrians in the crowd were excited that she mentioned them — and some Chaldeans did not like that she did not mention them — Idan said she did not mean to exclude or emphasize any particular group and had no clue of the rift between the two communities. She is a Muslim who was born in Baghdad, came to the United States in 2009, and now lives in Los Angeles.  No one knew of her background until after she won the title because she labels herself a “Babylonian.”

Idan currently has an administrative positive at a real estate company and is studying business, but plans to switch to media. Her many interests and talents include playing the guitar, piano and harmonica. She writes her own music and also sings in Arabic.

“I was not at all expecting to win,” she said. “I figured since no one knew me in Michigan, why would they pick me?”

She participated in the pageant, she said, because she hoped that by doing so she could achieve her goal to start a nonprofit organization to help people in Iraq suffering from mental illness.

“Having gone through what they went through, many are stressed, angry, sad and depressed,” Idan said. “Nobody wants to talk about this because in Iraq, depression is viewed as shameful, but it’s a serious health issue that needs treatment. Many young girls are joining militias as a result of mental instability.”

A strong believer in equal rights, freedom and education, Idan believes that Iraq would be great if it could achieve those three characteristics.

“It’s not just the government’s fault but it’s also the fault of the people,” she said. “They have to become independent thinkers.”

‘Stop This Horror’ Says Visiting Congressman

This article was originally published by The Chaldean News  http://www.chaldeannews.com/stop-this-horror-says-visiting-congressman/

UWith Congressman Jeffrey Fortenberry.S. Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska), a strong proponent of using the term “genocide” for what ISIS is doing to religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, visited with leaders of the Chaldean community on March 3 at the Sterling Heights’ Chaldean Community Foundation office.

Fortenberry said he is committed to getting the Obama administration to label what ISIS is doing in Syria and Iraq genocide. (Editor’s Note: A week after this meeting, the Obama Administration did in fact declare the situation a genocide.)

“What will happen if the term ‘genocide’ is passed?” asked Anmar Sarafa, president and CIO of Capital Management. “Will the U.S. ultimately provide protection?”

“This will bring awareness and raise consciousness on an international scale,” replied Fortenberry. “When you have the label of genocide, at least you have a gateway to possible policies that would provide protection and integration back into the society.”

In recent testimony on Capitol Hill, Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch and a research professor at George Mason University, explained that “genocide” actually means the destruction of people, which thus therefore improvises the entire human race. “Our conclusion as genocide scholars is that when lesser terms, weaker terms are used, it is a sure indicator of an unwillingness to act,” he said.

“As a result of this label, people will be able to potentially return to their rightful land,” said Fortenberry, adding, “I feel that the Nineveh Plains ought to be a safe haven so that Christians will be close in proximity and can easily return.”

Fortenberry has had a long interest in the Middle East. At age 18, he went to the Sinai Peninsula, where in 1973 Egypt, along with Syria, launched the October War, a surprise attack to regain part of the Sinai territory that Israel had captured six years earlier. His interest in that region, he said, along with the hype of the Iraq War, made him feel responsible to immerse himself into Middle Eastern affairs.

“The rise of ISIS – the eighth-century barbarity with 21st-century weaponry – has jarred our world and our country,” he said. “What we have to do is join our thoughts collectively to stop this horror, which is undermining our civilization and which is also tied to our national security. The way America works is that you have to engage and you have to engage in numbers.”

Joseph Cella, senior advisor at In Defense of Christians, applauded the congressman for concentrating on an issue that “shamefully has not been given its deserved attention.”

“The world is full of problems,” noted Frank Jonna, CEO of Jonna Companies, “What will distinguish this issue from other issues? What will give it the attention it needs?”

Fortenberry replied, “I was in the room when Pope Francis was given a small cross worn by a Christian man who was killed by a jihadist who told him to convert or die. The man chose Christ, his ancestor’s faith, and he was beheaded. His mother was able to obtain his body and she later fled the country. The horrors of what’s happening to the people have caused us, as an international people, to find ways to help them.”

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce and a Chaldean News co-publisher, noted that of the more than 2,100 Syrian refugees who entered the United States since Syria’s civil war began in 2011, only 53 are Christians. The rest are Muslim.

“There definitely seems to be partisan favoritism here, discriminatory practices against minorities,” said Manna.

“I have raised this issue with the State Department,” said Fortenberry. “But normally Christians don’t flee to refugee camps because it’s too dangerous for them. They usually go to churches and other safer places.”

“Do you believe that it’s our failed policies that put our brothers and sisters in the hands of these butchers?” asked George Brikho, a former Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Our foreign policy is exhausted and needs to be reset,” said Fortenberry. “There was a noble belief that Iraq would turn out different. Then we pulled out our troops, which I did not agree with, and created a vacuum. We have to think big, collectively and creatively, and this is starting to work. The problem is that our brothers and sisters are suffering in a faraway land.”

“If we topple [Syrian President Bashar] Asaad, not that he’s an angel, isn’t that going to be a lot worse for the people in that area?” asked Brikho.

“Congress rejected the president wanting to bomb Asaad for this reason,” said the congressman. “Asaad is barbarous toward his people, but if he’s gone, could that area be potentially worse? Do we want him to stay in power? No! Do we want him to successfully transition out of power where jihadists won’t be able to run wild? Yes.”

“Why hasn’t the evangelical community gotten involved in this?” asked Manna. “You don’t see them having that same passion for Christians as they show for issues concerning Israelis.”

Fortenberry advised the community leaders to visit evangelical sites and ask them this question, to see how they can come on board for this cause.

“Why aren’t the Muslim leaders, if they’re offended by how the world views them, rise up against ISIS?” asked Sarafa.

“There are people that try to do that but I’m in those circles a lot more frequently and have the opportunity to hear them,” said the congressman.

Fortenberry reminded attendees that the very source of our culture and faith is under threat so people have to work hard to restore it.

“All of you have a foot into two worlds,” he said. “You have a connection to your birthplace and you don’t like America to be beat up. The reality is that the world depends on America, but America will not tolerate you spreading political hatred behind our back and then saying, ‘We need you.’ Gratitude must be shown for what we’ve made and are willing to make for you.”

 

Obama Appointee Talks About the Genocide

This article was originally published by The Chaldean News  http://www.chaldeannews.com/obama-appointee-talks-about-the-genocide/

Chaldean FoundationOn Monday, March 14, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution labeling the ISIS atrocities against Christian groups in Syria and Iraq “genocide.” Just a few days later, Congressman Dave Trott of Michigan and Knox Thames, appointed by President Obama as the first special adviser for religious minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia, flew in from Washington to meet with members of the Chaldean Community Foundation.

The next steps for Iraqi Christians were addressed at the March 18 meeting in Sterling Heights.

“Chaldeans are like the Native American people of Iraq and Syria,” said Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce. “ISIS is not their biggest enemy. The Iraqi government is no better than ISIS and factors like property confiscation and intimidation have made us come to the reality that our people can’t live a peaceful existence with their Arab neighbors.”

Manna listed the many problems that Christians face inside and outside of Iraq, and asked, “What is the long-term solution?”

“There is a crisis for religious minorities in the Middle East, even for Muslims who want to challenge the status quo,” said Thames. “The U.S. has done a lot, is doing more than anyone else, but we need to do more. We can’t do it alone and we shouldn’t do it alone.”

Thames noted that the United States has been providing humanitarian assistance to Syrians and Iraqis, including to refugees and displaced populations, since the start of the crisis. The U.S. is also supporting resettlement as an important tool of protection for those who cannot return home or locally integrate, he said. Many of the refugees who have been resettled, or who are currently under consideration, are Christians, Yazidis and other minorities.

“But the policies have not worked so far,” said Manna. “We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in 2016 with the number of Christians coming here.”

Ismat Karmo, chairman of Nineveh Council of America, and Eman Jajonie-Daman, magistrate at the 46th District Court, said many refugees have complained that during their interviews, Muslim UN employees wrote incorrect answers that conflicted with their statements, or interpreters from Somalia or Sudan twisted or misinterpreted their words. As a result, they were denied refugee status based on misrepresentation. Many want to appeal, but in Muslim countries, how can Christians who claim that they’re discriminated against by Muslims win?

“People say, ‘Well, Iraq is a sovereign country,’” said Manna. “But we helped destroy it so we have to help fix it. Either help the Christians stay in Iraq or please help them get out.”

“We’re working on both,” said Thames and explained the ways the U.S. is doing so:

By pressuring governments to reform, so that restrictive law and policies are changed and members of religious minorities are able to practice their faith freely and peacefully.
By working to create and sustain the conditions under which religious minorities can remain in their ancestral homeland. For example, through coordinated airstrikes by the Counter-ISIL Coalition, the United States has acted to protect minority groups in imminent danger in Iraq and Syria.

By protecting everything from old manuscripts to churches.

“When cultural and religious heritages are removed to erase any history that they were there, people don’t want to stay in that land anymore,” he said. “In October, I visited with refugees in Lebanon and asked them, ‘Why did you come here?’ They told me that they have given up on Iraq.”

Salam, a 33-year-old man who has been in the U.S. for a year, was brought into the meeting to share his story of being detained for seven days by the mujahedeen and held for $15,000 ransom. As he waited for his family to raise the money, he, along with other hostages, was tortured until his wife and brother came up with $10,000. Because it was not the full amount requested, he had to endure further punishment. He sat on a chair while a religious man with a machete came next to him, prayed, read a verse from the Quran, and said that by Sharia Law, they had the right to cut off his left ear. He then cut his ear.

Salam lost consciousness and later woke up in the hospital. The mujahedeen had thrown him in the garbage and called his family to pick him up from there.

“This is heart wrenching,” said Thames. “I’m happy we’ve given him refuge here.”

“This is not a unique story,” said Jajonie-Daman. “It’s the norm. I once represented a kid whose face and body is so cut up, he looks like a map.”

“Under UN convention, these cases are hearsay until the person journeys to another country and registers his refugee status with the field office,” said Wendy Acho, director of Strategic Initiatives at the CCF. “But you should be able to get into the system from credible fear. The person shouldn’t have to illegally transport themselves to another country and endure all sorts of hardships.”

A suggestion was made to create a UN office in Iraq so that, at the least, people would not have to leave the country to come to the U.S., but could come directly from Iraq. Another idea was to hold a conference in Washington, where all political party representatives and religious leaders from Iraq could come to the table and discuss these issues.

“Seeing the U.S. government is serious about helping them would boost their morale,” said Karmo.

Thames took notes of all the recommendations and said he was looking forward to working with his new colleagues to address these challenges. But he reminded everyone that there’s no magic or silver bullet.

“Changes happen through small steps,” he said, “and through the works of such organizations as CCF and others.”