Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: Iraqis

Before Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha Became Famous

interview-2

It was December 1, 2012, and I was covering a story about a family reunion at Taza Restaurant in Sterling Heights. While doing a family tree, Dr. David Hanna, PhD, stumbled upon 500-year-old manuscripts that were found in a monastery in one of the villages. The manuscripts were written by Nestorian priests between 1550 and 1800 in Sureth, the various dialects of the Neo-Aramaic language that is still spoken today.

There were over 200 manuscripts worth $400 million and housed in different parts of the world, including the Russian Academy of Sciences. He corresponded with six professors from around the world who taught Aramaic and tried to attain photocopies of these manuscripts from Russia. Through this process, Dr. Hanna discovered that two families from different neighboring Christian villages, Telkaif and Alqosh, in northern Iraq were separated 300 years ago and then reunited here in Detroit.

I sat beside Dr. Hanna’s his wife as I took notes. She and I had a lovely conversation and then her daughter, Mona Hanna-Attisha, came to our table. She knelt beside me and offered her views about the reunion. I’ll never forget how, as I asked her questions, she was also asking me questions, sincerely wanting to learn more about me. When I learned she was a doctor, I was a little surprised because she had a youthful way about her that made her look much younger than her age and she had an unusual humbleness for someone so successful.

Years later, I watched her father continue to do great work and then, one day, I saw her name all over the news. She was the doctor who fought to expose Flint’s water crisis. I was impressed and proud that a woman from our community used her talents and courage to do good in the world, that she would serve not only the people affected by the Flint water, but be an inspiration for others and a great example for our children.

Today I came upon one of the pictures taken that one December night of me, Dr. Hanna-Attisha and her mother. I remembered the doctor’s humble ways and I this quote by Oscar Levant came to mind, “What the world needs is more geniuses with humility; there are so few of us left.”

 

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Freedom of Religion

tina-2

“The recent controversy over Article 26 in Iraq has exposed an important problem in the Middle East,” said Tina Ramirez, president and founder of Hardwired, an organization that goes to some of the darkest places in the world in countries like Nepal, Sudan, and Iraq, and provide people on the frontline of religious oppression an understanding of what their rights are so that they can stand up and defend them, for themselves and for others.

“In the Middle East, individuals are not identified by their humanity but by their religion,” she said. “And consequently, they are also divided by their religion.”

Ramirez, who lives in Virginia, flew into Michigan on Thursday, September 29 to visit members of the Chaldean community at the Chaldean Community Foundation (CCF) in Sterling Heights. Along with myself, present at the meeting were Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, and Wendy Acho, director of strategic initiatives at the CCF.

Ramirez is an award-winning humanitarian whose passion for religious freedom began in college while studying at the International Institute for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, decided in 2013 to start an organization to end religious oppression. Around the world today, 5.3 billion people are living under religious oppression and that number is growing.

“For many refugees from the region who have resettled in the U.S., it will take a while to fully understand that most Americans do not know what religion they are by reading their name or looking at them,” she said. “And they likely will not care.”

She explained that Americans have been heavily influenced by a Protestant worldview that views religion as something that can be changed, challenged, and reformed.  Religion may influence their lives, but it is not an immutable characteristic like race and ethnicity so it would never be placed on a government driver’s license or identity card like it is in the Middle East.

“Its absence does not mean it is not valued,” she said. “But it is valued as an individual choice and not as a means to classify and stratify people.”

Hardwired focuses on specific leaders in the community, which range from advocates and lawyers to media personnel and religious leaders, to make a ripple effect and influence others to embrace the idea of freedom of religion.

“One of the challenges for individuals we work with around the world who identify others by their religion is that they often fail to see the common humanity they share,” she said. “The commonalities are what ensure that each person has the basic rights and freedoms to live according to a particular religion or belief in peace with others, even those with whom they may disagree.”

Earlier this year, Hardwired brought together ten teachers from around the world representing seven different religious communities in the Middle East so they can teach their students in that region about freedom of religion and belief.

“A couple of teachers who joined us were Yezidis from northern Iraq, who themselves had experienced persecution for their beliefs,” said Ramirez.

The two men development an activity where they took a group of displaced students to choose flowers. They told them to pick whichever flowers they wanted but to keep a few yellow flowers. After the students did that, the teachers expressed how the same situation happened to their country when ISIS came and destroyed everyone except the people who believed and looked like them.

This activity enabled the teachers and students to discuss issues about their countries and what vision they had for it. The students had the opportunity to then plant their own garden and to go around and learn as much as possible about one another. Throughout the process, one of the young Yezidi boys, who didn’t like Muslims, shared something with the teacher as they went back to the garden that was replanted with colorful flowers.

He told his teacher, “I didn’t know that other Muslims had suffered the same way we have.”

He had done a project with a Muslim boy learned that they had both been attacked by ISIS.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work to plant the seeds of freedom in that society,” she said, “but it’s worth it and it would make them feel safer in the future.”

There are several ways one can become involved in this program by signing a petition, joining the Hardwired team and becoming an ambassador for freedom, hosting a screening, or investing to the program. To learn more, visit http://www.hardwiredglobal.org/

 

A Poetic Visit

 

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As he tours different parts of the country, poet and publisher Michael Czarnecki of Wheeler, New York graced our home yesterday by his lovely visit. He arrived shortly after I brought my children home from school, we had a nice lunch together, and then over cardamom tea, he spent quite some time conversing with my flamboyant children and my husband.

At night, we made a bonfire and had barbecued hamburgers. We shared childhood stories and information about our neighborhoods. We live in an Iraqi American community. He lives in an Amish community. Hours passed and before we knew it, it was too late to make S’mores. It was time for bed.

Michael is the author of nearly a dozen books and his publishing company, FootHills Publishing, has published over 500 chapbooks. I met him about 5 years ago through a wonderful instructor/friend at Oakland Community College. I followed his work ever since and was always inspired by his poetry, his interesting and authentic lifestyle, and his breathtaking photography which you can read and view by visiting his website: http://foothillspublishing.com/poetguy/

This morning Michael left after breakfast, heading to Richmond Library where he’s doing a workshop called “Palm of the Hand Memoir Writing.” In the evening, he will be doing a reading at the same library, then he’ll be driving back home to Wheeler, New York.

Michael left us with a wonderful memory – my children announced to the school that we were having an author stay at our house. He also left us with a jar of homemade maple syrup, 8 of his books to read over the summer, and this touching poem, #588 of his “daily spontaneous” poems.

Daily Spontaneous Poem #588
6/14

conversation
meaningful
literary life
spiritual life
life in Iraq
life in America
stories told
from here
from there
three generations
under one roof
night barbecue
whiskey on rocks
one more
vibrant experience
on poetic road

FootHills Publishing is currently seeking poems for an anthology to celebrate birds: their natural history, their place in nature and in the environment they share with poems. Deadline is June 30, 2016 and for more information you can visit http://www.foothillspublishing.com/birds

 

 

 

My Kurdish Shia Friend

Artwork by:  Luis Rosenfeld

Artwork by: Luis Rosenfeld

Yesterday, two of my poems were published by Section8Magazine http://www.section8magazine.com/my-kurdish-shia-friend/

  1. My Kurdish Shia Friend
  2. Redder and Redder

My Kurdish Shia Friend

I had no inkling that she was Muslim,
that she was not Christian like me.
I had no knowledge of her Kurdish heritage,
and that Kurds were a branch of the Iranian tree.
I knew not that she was a Shiite,
nor did I understand what that word meant.
What I did perceive, and still do,
was that her name, Niran, meant fire.
In Baghdad, she lived across from me
in a house with a blue door.
Her mother was a beautiful woman
who treated me like a daughter.
We both wore our hairs in ribbons and braids
and were the best of friends
until our lives dramatically altered
because we had to abandon our homes
due to other peoples’ addictive interpretations
of politics, ideals and religions.

Redder and Redder 
I turn redder and redder
each time they slaughter a human being
in a manner that resembles the slaughter
of a sheep for a fancy feast honoring a big celebration.

I turn redder and redder
each time they command a woman to remain a prisoner
in her body and home, giving her a punishment and a sentencing order merely because God chose her to be a certain gender.

I turn redder and redder
each time they train impressionable children how to execute acts in the name of Allah, acts that are insane with void and aggression, acts that are frowned upon even by the animal kingdom.

I turn redder and reader
each time they spread their wings, possess more land,
swim into the hearts of the innocent and conquer peace
rather than overcome their own terrifying addictions.

Another Arabian Wedding in America

I love weddings, but as my responsibilities at home and work increase – as do the weddings invitations that arrive to our doorsteps – I have found myself often complaining about the beautification process required to attend these events. Then I get to the banquet hall and I am grateful to be a part of such beautiful celebration.

Yesterday, my husband’s nephew got married and I enjoyed the wedding so very much that I wanted to share one moment of it with the rest of the world.  So enjoy!IMG_4067 - Copy

Wise Words from a Republican

George Brikho

“We created ISIS, and we need to destroy ISIS,” said George Brikho. “ISIS is funded by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, our supposed allies.”

These words by a Republican running for Congress in 2014 caught my interest in an event I recently covered. Unlike most Republicans, what Brikho said was honest, bold and heartfelt, not staged. He is obviously not afraid to look at the root of ISIS’ formation, which he blames on our foreign policy as well as the current and past administrations.

“Today’s Republicans are not behaving like Republicans,” he said. “Today it’s all about the money changers. Wars are being made for profit. Corporations are directing politicians. It’s no longer about liberation for the people.”

His solution is simple – stop getting involved with other countries and going to war, because the more war we get into, the more debt we have.

“Saddam and Kaddafi wanted to sell their oil their way through OPEC,” he said. “It’s like you have a store or any another business. You have the right to set the prices and do business the way you want.”

Saudi Arabia is the leader of OPEC. It is also the only member of the OPEC cartel that does not have an allotted production quota. Oil can be bought from OPEC only if you have dollars. In November 2000, Iraq began selling its oil in euros. When OPEC oil could be sold in other currencies, like the euro, that’s not too good for the U.S. economic dominance.

“Leaders of other countries were not happy about what Saddam and Kaddafi were doing and wanted things to be done the way they wanted them to be done,” said Brikho. “So they went in and polarized that nation into submission. Then the federal banking comes in, and the new leaders are given money to rebuild, and in order to be able to give this money back, those countries, who never taxed their citizens before, start taxing their people the way we do.”

I wondered why this Republican was not talking like most Republicans. What was so different about him?

“I’m a statesman, not a politician,” he said. “I’m a concerned American, and I work for the people. I am willing to expose anyone whose allegiance is to money and not the people.”

On his website, it says:

The Constitution of the United States of America is the most intelligently crafted governing document in the history of mankind. The US Constitution protects personal liberty by limiting the power of our government. Unfortunately, our government violates its boundaries on a daily basis. Our federal government must be restrained.

One wonders why the people have given their powers away.

“We have become too comfortable, to where unconsciously we’re allowing for things that don’t benefit us to happen,” he said. “For instance, a third of our paycheck goes to our government. This is modern day enslavement. You don’t need a cage to be a slave.”

I researched the difference between a statesman and a politician and found an interesting quote by James Freeman Clarke, who said, “The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation.”

I also found an interesting article by Mike North who wrote that the founders of this nation were not politicians, but were statesmen, adding, “We are suffering from a drought of statesmen and a flood of politicians. It’s like a diet full of calories with almost no nutrition. Statesmen are like vegetables. Many people don’t like them, but they’re good for you. Politicians are like too much ice cream. Yummy, I’ll worry about the stomach ache later.”

I feel we should be grateful that George Brikho is helping our country fill this drought, and do, what I think is so crucial for our nation to do, which is to become politically fit.

You can read Mike North’s full article here: http://mike_north.tripod.com/id20.htm

No-Touch Torture

I attended a presentation today pertaining to a landmark lawsuit case against CACI, a private U.S. contractor which systematically tortured Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. The lawsuit was filed by four Iraqis who say they suffered abusive and degrading treatment at the Abu Ghraib prison. The men were all released – one after four years – without ever being charged. These men were professionals, like a math teacher, a live stock trader, a construction worker and a journalist.

The military was largely protected from the suit, but not so with CACI. Earlier in the year, a $5-million settlement involving 71 detainees were reported. In March, Arlington-based CACI wanted a federal judge to toss out the case because they said CACI employees never even came in contact with the plaintiffs, much less abused them. The judge didn’t buy that, so someone – no one knows who – came up with a brilliant idea. Stop the Iraqi men suing CACI from coming to the United States.

Three of the four men (one is already in the United States) had their boarding passes on hand when they were pulled out of the line boarding the plane. Their passports were taken away from them and they have not been able to travel to the U.S. since. Whether or not they will be able to attend the trial determined to be in June is still to be seen. CACI has argued against a video deposition and request that their cases be dismissed because of their inability to come.

There are over 3,000 additional photos of the Abu Ghraib torture which Congress will not release because they are so graphic and for fear of what will happen to US soldiers overseas. Some of these photos include a father and son lying naked on top of each other and various rapes of detainees, including young boys.

The point is this – the selfish, careless and heartless decisions of our leaders will continue to haunt us for decades to come, whether we like it or not. It’s not as evident in American television. Just subscribe to Al Jazeera and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Rock Climbing –Get me out of Here!

My mom went into the hospital exactly one week ago today. The doctors didn’t find anything wrong with her and she was released three days later. However, the drama associated with her hospitalization lasted a few days longer. What kind of drama? Well, picture one of the Real Housewives episodes. No wonder I love those shows. I can so relate.

I guess the situation was so stressful that everyone began to play the blame game. We pointed fingers, with each sibling accusing the other of doing more/less than her/himself (it was unanimous, in my opinion, that the girls did a hundred times more than the boys). At one point, the conversation got so heated – right there in the hospital room – I thought the Beaumont staff was going to politely kick us out. They didn’t. Probably they’re used to Chaldean Americans yelling when trying to have a diplomatic conversation.

Well, the action did my mom some good. She’s always happy to have her children gather all around, worry and fret over her. Once she’s done with us, she clobbers us with guilt and more guilt. And she’s not even Jewish! Well, technically she is Jewish since her ancestors are from the land of the Chaldeas, the birthplace and home of Prophet Abraham.

Yes, to please my mom is like trying to climb a mountain and never getting to the top. Some days you end up feeling as my daughter did in the video, when she couldn’t get to the top! You feel like screaming, “Get me out of here!”

Chicken Blaster, A Birthday Wish

I thought I was a deprived little child who never got to celebrate her birthday or attend any of her friends’ birthdays because my parents wanted to save on a few bucks. Or given that I was the 11th of 12 children, they were sick and tired of celebrating birthdays. Turns out that people don’t normally celebrate birthdays in the Arab and Muslim world – though they do it a lot in the movies. Many Muslim scholars and clerics consider the celebration of birthdays a sin, as it is an innovation of the faith. While others have issued statements saying that it is permissible, mostly Muslims (and Arabian Christians) adopted the custom after they migrated to the United States.

Even many modern rabbis do not endorse the celebration of birthdays. Origen in his commentary “On Levites” writes that Christians should not only refrain from celebrating their birthdays but should look on them with disgust. Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Sacred Name groups also refrain from celebrating birthdays, believing birthday celebrations are portrayed in a negative light in the Bible and have historical connections with magic, superstitions, and Paganism.

Wow, I had no idea! Good thing I did not research this information as I prepared for my daughter’s seventh birthday – although maybe it would have been a good thing if I had. I’ve been consumed the whole week planning a Chuck-E-Cheese birthday party. When I asked my daughter why she chose Chuck-E-Cheese, she said, “Because I want to go inside the Chicken Blaster and the only way you can do that is by having a celebration there.”

“What is a chicken blaster?” I asked. She repeated, so again I asked, “What is a chicken blaster?”

She laughed and repeated it one more time, only louder. “A ticket blaster.”

“Oh.” My daughter’s front tooth has recently fallen out so her pronunciation is not that clear and given I’m getting older, neither is my hearing. Still, I’ve continued since then to call it a chicken blaster.

Birthday celebrations began as a form of protection, to keep the evil spirits away. The Germans are given history for starting celebrations of children’s birthdays. The song “Happy Birthday to You” was composed by two sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill, in 1893.

Whatever their history, for all those who never got to celebrate a birthday, it’s not personal – it’s just religious.

IMG_0383

From Paris to Sterling Heights

Last Tuesday, I was visited by three people who were so French, they caused my mind to wander to and linger in Paris. This Tuesday, my mind has returned home, so I will write about my hometown of 20 years, Sterling Heights, the fourth largest city in Michigan.

A little over sixty years ago Sterling Heights was a rural Michigan township with a population of 4,000. It was organized in 1835, two years before Michigan became a state, and it was originally called JeffersonTownship. The name was changed to Sterling in 1838. Some say the community was named for Azariah W. Sterling, a settler; others say it was named for Sterling, New York. By the 1880s, the township had become thirty-six square miles of well-developed and prosperous farms, with a mere 1,000 residents. Today the population is nearly 130,000.

Prior to 1784 there is little written history about the area that is now Sterling Heights because the Indian tribes who lived in villages along the ClintonRiver or came through here on hunting expeditions did not keep written records. The first white settlers along the Clinton were captives of the Chippewas who had been freed or escaped after years of wandering with the tribes.

Sterling Heights was ranked the sixth safest city in the U.S. in 2006 and currently boasts more movie screens than any other Michigan City.The August 2006 issue of Money magazine listed Sterling Heights as No. 19 on its list of the 90 “Best Small Cities” to live in.

Another attraction? Eminem lived here briefly between 2000 and 2001. And a phenomenon? After twenty years of living in this city and over ten years of living in nearby neighborhoods, I can still screw up directions to get to certain places.