Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Category: History

My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School

Front Cover (large)“The school helps you to be heard not just by others listening to you, but by you listening to yourself,” said Lynn Andrews during the second year of her four-year shamanic school. “You have to do that in order to create a mirror for yourself, for your act of power. We’re peeling away the clouds of ignorance that cloud your vision. Then you begin to see that you really do have something important and wonderful to say, and more and more you’re appreciating yourself. Patience and diligence are important in this.”

In the second year of the shamanic school, we focused on understanding how to bring form into the world; to experience holding energy and moving it out into the universe; to develop the ability to move energy into objects for healing and sacred work; to learn how to use sacred tools in a powerful way without manipulating ourselves or others; and to prepare for the building of dream bodies and develop the skills for lucid dreaming.

Lynn said to me, “You need to stay focused on one project and just get it done. You need to have faith in it and see it being strong and wonderful. I think you have a fabulous project. I wouldn’t blur it with other projects. And if you can, stop worrying about it. Just do it. If God wants to help you, He wouldn’t know what to do. You’re kind of all over the place.”

Her preciseness and honesty tasted like sugar cookies. They were sweet and light and yet extremely important. They helped me see why I kept hitting a slump.

“Stick with that, with the book,” she said. “Do it! Live it! You’re really onto something wonderful. If you were speaking to God, what would you tell him you want? Tell God what you want!”

I did.

 

Book 2 of my memoir series about this school was released today. It’s my 10th book to date and it’s available in paperback and eBook.

Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School (Book 2)

https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Wisdom-Wounded-World-Life-Changing/dp/1945371994/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1469275283&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=Healing+wisdom+for+a+wounded+world

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Provoking Americans to Think and Become One Team

 

rainbow-flowerI was scheduled for a 20 minute interview at 2:30 pm by award winning talk show host Ed Tyll on Starcom Radio Network. Within a minute of our interview, I realized this was not the typical interview. It was a political rumble (one of my listeners called it egotistical bullying). I held my ground, threw my own political punches and 80 minutes later, he said, “You’re the most provocative person I’ve interviewed. You’re intelligent and brilliant and you never lost your femininity. I haven’t gone this much over an interview in 3 or 4 years.” He has been in this business for over 40 years. Oh, and he also invited me out to dinner.

Overall, the interview was fun, engaging and I saw, once again, how the lessons I’d learned from Lynn Andrews’ 4-year school about feminine power could be used as a tool to create harmony between people and in the world.

Today, I shared a recording of this through social media. Soon I discovered that, as so happened yesterday, people were having difficulty listening to it because of the aggressive way Ed Tyll started the interview. But keep this in mind: it’s important to listen to the other side in order to create the change. And in this 80 minutes, a big transformation occurs in our conversation.

Ed Tyll said that he does this to provoke Americans to think. Caring about this country, the earth, and world affairs, means that we have to do some independent thinking and open up our hearts. My teacher, Lynn Andrews, often says, “We’re all responsible for the wars in the world. How are you responsible? Because there is a war inside each and every one of us.”

If we don’t heal that war within ourselves, within our own country, it’ll always be us vs. them and we’ll never resolve our differences.

Ed asked me in the end who I believed would win the elections in November. I had difficulty answering, and he said, “What does your gut tell you?”

“My gut tells me that if the democrats don’t resolve their differences and become a team, then Trump will win.”

Link to Interview: http://theedtyllshow.podomatic.com/entry/2016-06-22T23_41_35-07_00

A Nostalgic Walk through the Arabic American National Museum

Museum

I visited the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn last week with some friends and colleagues. Although I had been to the museum many times since it opened in 2005, to attend conferences, watch movies and concerts, and to participate in forums, this was the first time I took a tour of this three-level, 40,000 square-foot building. The experience was quite nostalgic for me, especially after walking through the second floor, called Living in America.

Our tour guide, Petra Al Soofy, said that every person who took this tour, regardless of their background, at the end of the tour said, “That’s the same story my family told me.”

The land people came from is different but the story of immigration is basically the same.

“This community is a very vibrant, successful immigrant experience,” said Hassan Jaber, chief executive officer of ACCESS, a nonprofit organization which started the museum project. “Before 9/11, Arab Americans were individually successful. After 9/11, that shifted completely and a debate arose of why is this happening to us in our name and how do we correct this, how do we care for each other and deal with issues that affect us on a daily basis. It became more urgent to find our place in society and to tell our story.”

Many organizations, such as the Jewish Federation, were very supportive of the museum and helped it come to fruition. This type of support and the staff’s hard work and optimism has led the museum to recently be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, which is truly impressive since only 6 percent of the America’s 21,000 museums are accredited.

“The Japanese American museum was one of our strongest supporters,” said Petra. “They helped make this museum happen because, given what they had gone through, they saw that history was repeating itself.”

One exhibit on the second floor had various size luggage, or trunks, from different eras and personal items that people brought along like a pair of beaded shoes from 1923. Photos of people’s journey and pictures of their naturalization papers were framed on the wall. Rana Abbas, director of communications and marketing at ACCESS, pointed out a long list of names of the Arab Americans who died on the Titanic, two of whom were her relations.

We learned about the first Arabic speaking slave, captured probably in 1511 when Portugal invaded his city in Morocco. He was brought to the U.S., where he eventually became a famous healer, interpreter and explorer.

There were endless fascinating stories about this community, including on how Arabs ended up being classified as “white” but they are too many for me to recount in this post. My friends and I agreed that we needed to have a second tour to fully digest the stories available at the museum. We then took a nice stroll to Sheba restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious Yemeni cuisine.

Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program

Iraqi Boy

Program Description

The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) is a four-week summer exchange program in the United States, which brings English-speaking high school students from Iraq to explore the themes of leadership development, civic rights and responsibilities, respect for diversity, and community engagement. On the exchange funded by the U.S. Department of State, competitively selected American students join Iraqi participants in some of the U.S. based activities.

Participants are between the ages of 15 and 17 and are recruited from all provinces in Iraq. Iraqi adult chaperones/mentors will accompany the students, and are educators or community leaders who work with youth and have demonstrated an interest in promoting youth leadership and social development.

The program continues after the U.S. based exchange with follow-on activities in the participants’ home communities, including through alumni activities focused on leadership development.

Program Cycle

Students travel to the United States in July/August to spend the initial two weeks at World Learning’s Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont; followed by two-week homestays in cities across the United States (including Ann Arbor, Michigan); and conclude their program in Washington, DC.

Alumni conferences following the exchange may be held in Erbil, Iraq.

Program Goals & Objectives, as defined by the Department of State

The goals of the program are to:

  • Promote mutual understanding between youth in the United States and Iraq;
  • Enable the Iraqi participants to understand civic participation and rights and responsibilities in a democracy;
  • Promote community engagement among Iraqi youth;
  • Develop leadership skills among Iraqi and American youth; and
  • Foster understanding and relationships between people of different ethnic and religious groups.

Opportunities for American High School Students and their Families

Iraqi high school students will spend two weeks in Ann Arbor, Michigan, from July 9-23, 2016.  The Iraqi students must stay with local families in a “home-stays” for the two-week period.  Programming for the Iraqi and American students will involve leadership development training, team building, volunteering, participation in sport, music and/or arts programming and day camps, and facilitated discussions on current issues and select topics chosen by the students.  There will also be optional sightseeing, shopping, museum visits, sporting events and other cultural/social outings on evenings and weekends. The American students who participate will receive certificates of completion for the leadership development and teambuilding workshops, and written acknowledgement of their 80 hours of volunteer service.

For more information about this opportunity, please refer to the following websites:

http://www.worldlearning.org/what-we-do/global-youth-programs/

http://www.isr.umich.edu/cps/M-ABLE/

http://eca.state.gov/programs-initiatives/youth-programs

Or, contact the following people:

Barbara Peitsch, Program Director, bpeitsch@umich.edu, 734/239-3513 or

Surry Scheerer, Co-Director, sscheer@umich.edu, 734/646-2885

Becoming Politically Fit

Political Disenchantment FRONT Cover 1600 X 2400 px

Yesterday Robert W. DeKelaita, an attorney who was born in Iraq, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit immigration and naturalization fraud for his Christian clients. This is the message he wrote on his Facebook page to the people: I am asking something of you. Don’t ever be afraid. When you fight, fight with courage.  Did you see what they did to our ancestral lands in Assyria (Iraq)? They kicked us out and brought us here and look at what they’ve done to us here. Have faith in yourselves and have faith in me as an attorney who has fought until the last minute.

Mr. DeKelaita is an activist for Christian Iraqis and ironically his verdict came just as a book which I spent six years writing comes out. The Great American Family: A Story of Political Disenchantment was released this week. It is about a case that had all the political elements that Mr. DeKelaita’s had, which made me realize this: Although we came here for America’s freedoms, as an immigrant, I’m seeing how we are losing the very things we came here for.

This realization is the result of six years of research, which began the day a family approached me to write a story about their daughter, who was then serving a 6-year prison term. She was accused of conspiring to broker telecommunication equipment to Iraq during the sanctions. Unbeknownst to Dawn and the jury which tried her, her co-conspirator was actually a CIA operative. The project was sponsored by the United States to listen in on Saddam and his men.

I was drawn to this story and decided to write about it as a cautionary tale. Through the lens of a single case, I touch on a number of important issues that are robbing American families from living the American dream: a criminal justice system that is based on greed and profit; big lies that lead to wars, sanctions, terrorism and other costly consequences; a democracy that is based on double standards.

 

 

To purchase a copy of The Great American Family: A Story of Political Disenchantment, visit http://www.amazon.com/Great-American-Family-Political-Disenchantment/dp/0977679055/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1462991178&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Great+American+Family%3A+A+Story+of+Political

To learn more about the documentary that accompanies this book, which will be released later this year, visit www.TheGreatAmericanFamilyDocumentary.com

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.”

Black Filmmakers have it Made – Compared to Us!

First Day of Filmming

First day of filming The Great American Family, a documentary which is currently in post-production.

Most people know me as an author and journalist, but I’m also a filmmaker, one who has to almost work underground, using my own flashlight, like a miner. It’s difficult enough being a women filmmaker let alone one with Middle Eastern background. So when Chris Rock talked at the Oscars about the lack of blacks in Hollywood (in films, receiving awards, etc.) I thought, “They Have it Made – Compared to us!”

Over ten years ago I was at the Surrey Writer’s Conference in Vancouver and I met with three producers, one who’d produced Father of the Bride II, one who produced Pay it Forward, and the third, I forgot what he produced. Anyhow, I pitched to them and their reactions to my stories were quite unique. Even though the U.S. had been politically involved with Iraq for decades, even though my stories were of modern day Iraqis and Iraqi-Americans, these producers didn’t see how they could possibly adapt them into film.

“It would be difficult to cast an Arabic movie,” one said. “Who would we cast for the leading role? Tom Hanks?”

As if Tom Hanks is the only actor in Hollywood! It was not a problem to cast him in The Terminal, a sweet and delicate comedy, similar to my type of work – where Tom plays a man from the fictional country of Krakozhia who is stuck at John F. Kennedy International Airport.  It was possible to cast Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta as women (Tootsie and Hairspray), but it is impossible to get a good actor to play a normal Arab?

Plus, the roles of “bad” Arabs have been easily played by other western actors, starting with Rudolph Valentino. In the 1920’s he starred in The Sheik and Son of the Sheik, two films which set the stage for the exploration and negative portrayal of Arabs in Hollywood films. They both represented Arab characters as thieves, murderers, and brutes.

Jack Shaheen, in his book Reel Bad Arabs, surveyed more than 900 film appearances of Arab characters. Of those, only a dozen were positive and 50 were balanced. Shaheen writes that “Arab stereotypes are deeply ingrained in American cinema. From 1896 until today, filmmakers have collectively indicted all Arabs as Public Enemy #1 – brutal, heartless, uncivilized religious fanatics and money-mad cultural “others” bent on terrorizing civilized Westerners

I didn’t make such remarks to that particular producer, who smiled at me as though I was a naive little girl. In the middle of our conversation, he had actually winked to his colleague, as if to say, “Isn’t she a darling creature to have such profound visions?”

I walked away, uninfluenced by their discouragement, but over the years, I saw how negative images keep certain communities in the dark and without a voice. When I watched the Oscars the other day and listened to the emphasis on the lack of black peoples receiving roles and awards, I thought, they have it made – compared to filmmakers of Middle Eastern and Arab backgrounds. For us, we can’t even get our stories in the industry let alone be given roles and win awards.

Stereotypical representations of Arabs and Muslims are often manifested in a society’s media, literature, theater and other creative expressions, and often have real repercussions for people in daily interactions and in current events. Though not legally prohibited, stereotyping could put innocent people in danger.

I’m glad that black people are at least bringing this subject to light, because for humans to survive, diversity must have a home. With millions of Middle Easterners living in the US, making them the fastest growing group of immigrants, and with so many social, political and religious issues regarding that region – Iraq in particular – happening on a daily basis, it is becoming absolutely essential for Hollywood to provide film audiences everywhere true stories of the lifestyle and culture of the modern Middle Easterner. In this way, cultures will develop a better understanding of each other, and thus, the world will be pushed into another, a more diverse reality.

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Moore Honors Our Dark Side

  • Where to Invade Next.gif

If you’ve visited Europe and lived with the locals like I have, you would have already realized that, in comparison to other countries, here there’s a big imbalance between the US Government and its people. You would watch Michael Moore’s Where To Invade Next and understand that, yes, Europeans have a much healthier lifestyle than we do, thanks to their government. True they pay a little more taxes than we do, but they get the lifestyle fit for a human being not a working machine.

Americans work harder than people in most other countries, sometimes juggling two to three jobs, in order to meet their financial obligations. Europeans, on the other hand, get eight weeks paid vacations, two-hour lunch breaks, and countless other perks. Women get months of paid maternity leave.

When I visited Germany, my cousin’s wife told me that her baby would get a monthly allowance until she turned eighteen years old. For several months, this new mom even had a woman come into her home twice to three times a week to help with household chores, laundry and cooking.

As Moore points out in his documentary, we’re paying these higher taxes anyway – healthcare, college tuition, etc. He says, “We don’t call them taxes, but that’s what they are.”

Carrying the American flag, he “invades” various countries in order to bring back their ideas into our territories. These ideas include the Europeans’ view on work, education, healthcare, sex, equality, and food! It was difficult to watch French school children served gourmet food on china while our children, in the most powerful country in the world, get served— well, I don’t want to even think of it!

One Tunisian woman pointed out that Americans are lucky because they live in the most powerful nation in the world. She says, “But being the strongest stops them from being curious.”

I used to notice, after my trips abroad, how difficult, even insulting, it was for Americans who never set foot outside the United States, to consider incorporating what Moore is trying to do in his film – adopt positive ideas (rather than stealing resources) that would greatly improve our country.

Other things that were uncomfortable to watch because they were simply embarrassing:

  • Finland’s educational system is at #1 while the US is at #29
  • Portuguese prison guards who treat their prisoners with dignity and decency reminding us of what our forefathers wrote in the US Constitution, that we’re not to have “cruel and unusual punishment.”
  • Germans advising us that taking a little care of our neighbor benefits everyone, is “common sense” and in the long run, is cheaper on us
  • When stressed, a German can go stay at a spa for 3 weeks (paid by their insurance)
  • Norway prison guards using words, not weapons (they don’t carry any) to break up conflicts inside the prisons
  • American students going to Slovenia to attend colleges and universities for free
  • Germans advising us that taking a little care of our neighbor benefits everyone, is “common sense.”
  • Germans educating their youth about the sins of their forefathers in order that something like the Holocaust never happens again.

“In Germany, they don’t white wash what happened, or pretend it never happened,” said Moore. “Why do we hide from our sins when it’s the first step to recovery… We have to honor our dark side and make amends for it so we can be a better world.”

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first female president both in Iceland and Europe believes that it will be women who will end up saving the world. “Women will do that, not with war, with words.”

Other Icelander women believe the same, because, they say, “Women think, What’s good for the whole? Men think, What’s in it for me?”

They feel that when men join women in embracing this peaceful concept to resolving conflict, then yes, we will be able to save the world.

The movie ended and the audience applauded (haven’t experienced that in years).