Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: women

The Loss of Chivalry


An American man who worked as a warden at the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain once told me how when he got to the airport in Bahrain, he learned that contrary to what he had grown up thinking, women in the Arab world do have rights, not as many rights as they need to have, but they do have rights.

He was standing in line at customs when a woman just zoomed in front of all the men in line. He called out on her inappropriateness with a “Hey, hey, back of the line!”

All of the sudden, he was surrounded by police and angry civilian men. He knew he’d done something wrong, but given the language barriers, he couldn’t figure out what it was. Seeing what’d happened, a British man intervened, explaining to the police that this American did not know the customs of this country, which was that women are allowed to cut in line whenever or however they pleased and no one could say a word about it.

“You don’t do that here with women,” said the British to the American.

For the remainder of his stay in Bahrain, the American man didn’t dare open his mouth when he begrudgingly watched women cut in line at supermarkets, even when he and other men would have one or two items and the women had ten.

This right may seem like no big deal, but it is a big deal given how far we’ve distanced ourselves from chivalry and respect toward women. Yesterday, a Muslim woman was kicked out of Donald Trump’s rally, with a crowd of men harassing her exit along the way. It was an inappropriate behavior for our great nation that’s supposed to set an example for the rest of the world. It’s also a behavior that puts our nation at risk. When these types of footage go viral, they attract the attention of those who already hate us and makes it easier for them to recruit more members.

As I often say, it’s not a woman’s dress that threatens our society, whether she dresses modestly or in a bikini, it’s the politics of leaders who place their best interest before that of their nation, as so happened at this rally.

Run Warren Run

Elizabeth Warren

It’s time for the United States to have a woman president. Actually, the time is way overdue. Dozens of countries around the world have had female political leaders for decades now. Eight Muslim countries have already chosen female leaders.

Obviously, not any woman leader will do. She has to be strong, honest, and intelligent. She also must really care about the majority of American people and not only the elite. When I received an invitation from to attend a “Run Warren Run” house party in Rochester, which is intended to convince Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for presidency, I decided to go and learn whether or not Warren had the qualities to be a great leader.

I watched videos of Warren talk about the fact that average Americans are being left behind because Washington has failed them. How? She gave her story as an example.

When she was twelve, her father, a janitor, had a heart attack – which led to many medical bills, as well as a pay cut because he could not do his previous work. Eventually, this led to the loss of their car because they couldn’t make the loan payments. To support their home of four children, her mother found work in the catalog-order department at Sears.

“That minimum-wage job saved our home,” said Warren.

Imagine that! In the early sixties, a minimum-wage job saved a home of six family members. I remembered a recent interview I did at the Chaldean Community Foundation, where the director of this nonprofit organization told me how some of the difficulties that Iraqi refugees face is the inability to provide for their families despite their hard-working efforts.

Their complaints are similar to this: “Back home, a father worked and was able to feed all seven of us. Here, all seven of us are working and we’re barely making it.”

“A lot of people feel discouraged and it’s because the government is not working for them,” said Warren. “It’s time that Washington starts working for them.”

I recalled a report I read in 2014 in the Huffington Post, entitled “The Top 25 Best Countries to be a Woman.” The United States scored number 23, with areas in Africa scoring higher than us. How is it that our rating was so low? Well, countries that fared much better in living conditions, for less money, shared their wealth and opportunities more equally between the genders.

Those numbers say a great deal about our need to balance the give and take between the people and the government. Given her passionate advocacy for working families, it looks like Elizabeth Warren could help bump the U.S.’s position on that poll quite a few notches.

Unique Relationships Serving Communities

As I watched Laila and Georgia, the 6th episode of the Intersection of Faith and Culture short documentary video series, I thought, “I know these people!” Laila has been quite supportive of my work and Georgia is the wife of Stephen Coats, a filmmaker I met at a journalism conference. We sat on the same panel and since we have followed each other’s work. But, I had no idea Laila and Stephen’s wife are such close friends.

Laila is a Syrian-American journalist who works incredibly hard, acting as an powerful and influential mouthpiece for her Arab Muslim community within the broader American culture. Laila’s friend, Georgia, is Greek-American, and has been a longtime companion of Laila.

“When I came to this country I had no one,” said Laila with teary eyes. “Georgia and her husband Stephen took me in like I was family.”

Over time, the two women have become like sisters to each other.

“I believe that life is deeper and richer and more spiritual when I know and love people who are different than me,” said Georgia, who moved to Dearborn just before the 9/11 attacks. The next day, on September 12th, she was teaching a class, English as a second language, to primarily Arabic-speaking women.

Before moving here, people warned Georgia not to go to Dearborn, which has a large Muslim population, because it’s considered dangerous. But she put her trust in God and figured, she just came from Colorado where in the 1999 the Columbine High School shooting occurred.

“How is this place safe to be, and Dearborn isn’t?” she said. “We don’t know where the dangerous people are.”

When the controversial Pastor Terry Jones wanted to have a protest in front of the Islamic Center of America, the community of Dearborn came together in opposition to his agenda.

“There’s a verse in the Bible that says in the end, there will be people worshiping God from every town, every tribe, every nation and every language,” said Georgia. “That’s what I believe.”

Laila and Georgia are of completely different backgrounds, but they have more similarities than differences – they are both mothers, both spiritual, and they serve their communities in wonderful ways.

Having survived cancer, Georgia shares her journey as a cancer survivor, a wife and mother through her blog Laila Al-Husseini is one of the most famous Arab anchors in the United States and is known for her popular show US Arab Radio. The program broadcasts Tuesday mornings, live on WNZK 690 AM to audiences in Michigan, Toledo, Ohio, and Windsor and for audiences in Washington, Virginia, and Maryland, the program broadcasts on WDMV 700 AM.

It makes you wonder why Pastor Terry Jones’ desire to burn Korans and not Laila and Georgia’s example of peaceful relationships get the media’s attention. And what role, do we the audience, play in that?


Give Americans Some Slack, Not Jail Time

Chained Slave

On Monday, an L.A. Judge announced that a 74-year-old grandmother would be released from prison after serving 32 years for a murder she did not commit. In 1981, Jones’ abusive boyfriend kidnapped two drug dealers and then forced Jones at gunpoint to drive them into an alley, where the boyfriend shot one of the men. Jones ran from the scene, expecting to be killed too. Instead, the teacher’s aide and churchgoer with no criminal record was charged with and convicted for two counts of murder and other crimes.

Also on Monday, the Real Housewives of New Jersey Teresa Guidice, a mother of 4 children, was sentenced for 15 months of jail time for fraud charges. Her husband was sentenced to 4 years.

The majority of Americans are hardworking people who try to give back to the community. They want to do the right thing, they try to help, they pretty much follow the rules, which is not so easy given the number of rules they have to follow. They are good people, and yet they get slapped pretty hard for being human and making mistakes or in Jones’ case, being caught in the wrong situation.

“Over-incarceration in America destabilizes families and communities,” writes Piper Kerman, in Orange is the New Black. “We have a racially biased justice system that over punishes, fails to rehabilitate and does not make us safer.”

Read Amanda Scherker’s article in the Huffington Post and you will see how easily a person can be locked up as a “criminal” for a non-violent offense, which not only ruins his or her life but that of his family, and in return affects us greatly as a community while making corporations quite rich.

It’s pretty scary! According to the article, the total prison population has grown by 500 percent over the last 30 years. Currently, one-third of the world’s entire imprisoned female population is awaiting trial or serving sentences in the U.S., mostly for nonviolent crimes. Many are mothers. And we lock up more juveniles than any other developed country.

Americans do not deserve this type of harsh treatment – especially not while the real criminals are out there, happily sauntering around, living rich off of others’ destruction.

Is Woman a Bar of Soap or a Piece of Dough?


I received a chain email that read in Arabic:
A woman is like a bar of soap. Her touch is soft. Her smell is pretty. But if you press on her, she bolts out of your hands. And if you step on her, you’ll slip and break your bones. My advice? Treat your bar of soap nicely. Long live my country’s bars of soap!

The brother of the sender responded, also in Arabic:
A woman is like dough. The more you knead her, the tastier she comes out. So my advice is to knead your wife, put the dough in a warm place, and trust in God!

I always found it interesting that men, the gender that for thousands of years has been the cause of most of society’s pitfalls are the ones who try to define women, the gender who gave birth to them and raised them. And don’t give me the story of Eve and the apple she ate. Let’s look at the atrocious wars, holocaust, massacres!

Many societies have thrived as a result of powerful women. Enheduanna of ancient Iraq was the daughter of Sargon of Akkad. She is the world’s first recorded writer. She was a high priestess in Ur of the Chaldees until after her father’s death, the new ruler of Ur removed her from power. Kubaba, a Sumerian Queen in ancient Iraq, is the world’s first recorded woman ruler in history. She was said to have reigned peacefully for one hundred years.

Matriarchal communities existed in the past, and there are a number of them surviving today. The biggest difference between them and patriarchal communities is that where women rule, there was and is no need for violence. When men are able to master how to run the show without killing each other, then they can begin to describe what a woman is really about.

A Proud Aunt

The Nieces

My nieces have grown up to be wonderful women, wives and mothers – most of whom also juggle work. The other day one of them invited us over her house and she proved, once again, to be a great hostess. Watching them do what they do, I am proud to be their aunt, and to have played a role in their lives. I’m a godmother to a few of them, have at one point or another babysat all of them, as well as tutored some, put others to work, gave them quite a bit of advice, and of course, engaged in arguments with them.

Stepping back and observing their lives, I’m once again reminded how sacred family life really is. In the end, the work we put towards our loved ones does pay off.

French Food Tasting

French Food

This evening I entered my friend Elisabeth Khan’s house and truly unwound from the family drama that had consumed much of my afternoon. My husband was supposed to join me, but when he saw the absence of other men, he quickly excused himself and said, “I’ll pick you up in an hour.”

I was left in the company of five wonderful women, sitting around a kitchen table filled with French salads, bread, and Paris à Vous food products. Paris à Vous is a new company that wraps up the romance, indulgence and tradition of France, and delivers it to U.S. consumers by way of authentic French packaged goods like cookies, mustards, oils and vinegars, and chocolate.

With French music in the background, we drank natural fruit syrups such as lemonade, mint, and grapefruit. We talked and laughed and tasted French bread with butter spread and cocoa sprinkles. For dessert, we were served a bowl of fresh strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries with a choice of yogurt or ice cream topping. Then various types of chocolate bars – my favorite being white chocolate with raspberry – were passed around.

In the end, we moved to the cozy living room and were served red wine and coffee, with solid chocolate to dip in the coffee, if one so desired. Given what we ate, I wondered if it is true that French women don’t get fat and hoped that I had somehow adopted those genes if even temporarily while sitting in a French woman’s home.

By the time my husband picked me up, my mind, heart and spirit were rejuvenated. Having been served so well, I was able to come home and serve my own family well.

Wax On, Wax Off

When two of my nieces were only nine years old, I began taking them to work, a family owned video store. Their job was to fill the buckets with soap and water, and walk between the aisles, putting the movies down one shelf, washing the shelves, drying them with a towel and then putting the movies back up. There was a very specific system to it, and whenever they would complain, I reminded them to “Wax on, wax off” – for those of you who remember Karate Kid – and that one day they would thank me for it. Their reward was a free lunch which consisted of a sandwich, drink and a snack, and as they got older, they received an additional five dollars.

This was some twenty years ago. Needless to say, they turned out to be a smart and successful bunch. One became a lawyer, the other a chiropractic.

These days my cousin, a manicurist, and I use the same techniques on our daughters that the women in our family have used for centuries – working hard and loving every bit of it. It never hurts to have children get a taste of responsibility very early on!


The Way to a Man’s Heart…

When she first met him, my cousin’s husband was a top chef at a Coney Island. Over the years he changed his direction to car mechanic and body shop. He has been great at both jobs, but he has never lost his love for good food and participating every now and then in the kitchen. Actually, he taught my cousin quite a few delicious recipes – guess to make sure he is dined properly for the rest of his life.

I think that no matter what your ethnicity may be, there is a possibility to get to a man’s heart through his belly. But to keep his heart, you definitely have to do a lot more than that, one of which is to continue serving good food and not resort to frozen dinners and fast food once the guy falls head over heels with you. Furthermore, food as a bait to gain one’s love is not reserved for men only – it’s a great way to get through the hearts of your children, relatives, and business acquaintances.

“Cooking is like love — it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” Harriet Van Horne

The Beauty of Women

The Beauty of Women

One of my poems was published a few days ago. I wrote it in honor of a woman who played a big role in my life last year. When I saw it published, I realized the number of women who have played mentors over the years, beginning with my mom, sisters, relatives, friends and teachers.

Today I was at the library with my children. I and the woman sitting beside me watched our sons play together at the train table and making small conversation like, how old are you? What’s your name? Her son said to my son, “My name is Crocodile.” My son started calling him “Croc” for short.

She and I laughed. We began talking and I discovered at forty years old, she had five children that ranged between the ages of 22 and 5. She has been taking care of people since she was eleven years old, when her parents separated and she, the oldest of seven siblings, had to take on the role of a second parent. A year ago, this woman twisted her foot stepping down only one step. Her ankle broke, and she had to have surgery and screws put in. Soon, she’ll have to have another surgery to remove the screws.

“A few days after the surgery,” she said, “I sat in my office chair and rolled from one room to the other in the house, cleaning.”

She was the typical mom that gives, gives, gives. One positive outcome of the accident is that since she can’t go, go, go all the time anymore, she has turned to reading and she love sit.

“I haven’t read so much since I was a kid,” she said. As for the housework, she has learned to say, “Fuck it!”

Link to recently published poem: