I don't want to see stores looted or buildings burned; but African- Americans have been living in burning buildings for years, choking on smoke as flames burn closer and closer.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

That’s not a chip on my shoulder. That’s your foot on my neck.  – Malcolm X

"We must never, ever give up. We must be brave. We must be courageous." John Lewis, activist, congressman. 1940-2020 

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. ~ Dalai Lama

"Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public."  Professor Cornel West.

"Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat."  Audre Lorde

"The serious function of racism is distraction". 1995, Toni Morrison; Portland lecture, Playing in The Dark

“If I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.” Nora Ephron

"Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another." author Toni Morrison (1931- 2019)

“If I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me”; Nora Ephron, author/comedian

"Make your story count". Michelle Obama

"Social pain is understood through the lens of racial animus". Researcher/author Sean McElwee writing in Salon, 2016

"We are citizens, not subjects. We have the right to criticize government without fear."  Chelsea Manning; activist/whisleblower

“My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I’m going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you, And no fascist minded people, like you, will drive me from it. Is that clear?” Paul Robeson; activist/singer

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent”. from civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?” Frederick Douglass, WHAT TO THE SLAVE IS 4TH JULY? 07.05.1852 (full text in blog)

Senator Elizabeth Warren "We're a country that is built on our differences; that is our strength, not our weakness"

"We are more alike than we are different" ~ Maya Angelou

As a Black writer, I was expected to accept the role of victim. That made it difficult in the beginning to be a writer.      James Baldwin

I often feel that there must have been something that I should’ve done that I didn’t do. But I can’t identify what it is that I didn’t do. That’s the first difficulty. And the second is, what makes you think you’re it?   

         Harry Belafonte, activist and singe


It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble; It's what you know for sure that just ainst so.

Mark Twain


You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.

Mary Tyler Moore


 You can’t defend Christianity by being against refugees and other religions

Pope Francis:


"I don't have to be what you want me to be". Muhammad Ali

"The Secret of Living Well and Longer: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure"  attributed to Tibetan sources

Recent audio posts include interviews with Rumi interpreter Shahram Shiva, London-based author Aamer Hussein, South African Muslim scholar, professor Farid Esack, and Iraqi journalist Nermeen Al-Mufti's brief account of Kirkuk City history. Your comments on our blogs are always welcome.


“Lost in Damascus—at year’s end”


by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Mass arrests, fuel shortages, power cuts; and now: suicide bombings! Has Damascus reached a point of no return?

It took a long time coming, for a place renowned as the world’s oldest continually inhabited city. But by 2010  Damascus was once again an international crossroads. On my visit barely a year ago, foreigners moved through every corner of the city—the cobbled quarters of Bab Touma, the open avenue of Mezza, the clustered neighborhood stretching up Muhajirin onto Damascus mountain.

Thousands of young idealists crowded classes at the city’s renowned language institutes and Islamic academies, and huddled with Qur’anic teachers. As young as 16, joining others into their 60s, they came from Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Turkey, Italy and Russia, from across Europe in fact. Even an occasional American and Australian too.

Syrian Arabic had become the preferred form of Arabic language instruction and Damascus boasted the best institutes that by now had more students than they could handle.

Besides the students, hopeful travel agents foresaw a soaring future in tourism; expatiates were moving into the capital’s burgeoning private sector; there were now good schools for their Brazilian, Canadian and French-born children. Women and men who had married Syrians abroad were settling here. Syrian children from California and Sussex were with grandparents in Syria for the summer. Amended laws regarding banking and military service attracted those it had once send away cursing the country. Opportunities in Syria seemed unlimited… if you had a foreign bank account, parents with a spacious apartment, a viable business partner, or a study grant.

Those thousands of young people here last year reminded me of Kathmandu in the 1970s. Huddling in street cafes, they offer advice on visa extensions, on cheap rooms in quaint stone houses, ice cream specialties, cheap authentic eateries, and bus schedules to enchanting ancient Christian monasteries in the hills and roman ruins across the desert.

On weekends, many of these students fled the capital to spend a night in Aleppo, or the desert city of Tadmoor. A Danish lad grabbed his knapsack and joined his girlfriend from Moscow for a weekend in Beirut. (They could be back for their university classes by Sunday.) Bruce, from Virginia, never hid his history as a U.S. marine in Iraq before he began language studies here; he was a hard worker in class, his pleasures confined to weekend cruising bars and discos they were open until two a.m. in the old city.

Local youths mingled freely with foreign students and tourists -- in the universities, in cafes and discos. Fear of shared secrets seemed absent. Indeed Syrian lads in particular roamed the campus and cafes in search of work as language tutors, an occasional lucky one finding a European girlfriend among them, even a fiancé. 

The pleasures of restaurants and discos were not limited to foreigners, for by this time, the children of an expanding middleclass could afford an occasional night out. Thursday evenings, thousands crowded into the old city.

Not to forget the tourists. Jumbo buses carried them from city to city, and maneuvered the narrow lanes of the old town. They filled charming hotels—European alongside Arabs from Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Kuwait whose favorite summer vacation spot was Syria, with its open, tolerant atmosphere.

Damascus’ many centers of art, music and theater were supplemented by the foreign embassies. From Pakistani to Spanish, Russian, British and American, they ran language classes for Syrians, and schools for the children of expatriates and wealthy locals. Most notably the embassies sponsored cultural events. A Spanish theater group this week, a film festival at the Dutch cultural center, a jazz band, an art exhibition. They featured Syrians as well as their own artists. There was plenty to enrich one’s creative life in the city every evening and in the daytime too.

That’s all in the past. Many embassies have closed. Hardly a foreign-sponsored event can be found now; language classes at culture centers have halted. Graduate students and unemployed actors who depended on part-time work tutoring foreign students are miserable; they miss these stipends and their foreign peers who made their lives bearable and hopeful.

On the surface, Damascus may appear normal. But say the young, and their parents: “We just don’t feel like going out now”; “We stay at home”; “We watch news, share rumors about roundups and checkpoints, search for gaz tanks and diesel fuel for winter”; “We phone relatives in besieged cities”;  “We escape into the glamorous Turkish TV dramas.”

Damascus has become a city of endless rallies, widely distributed by state TV. One resident says, “We show the world we are one, that we are strong”; another admits “We go to the rallies not only to defend our nation, but to burn off nervous energy”, and others who became protestors “because I was pulled from a bus and jailed for 40 days… for doing nothing”.

Everyone is nervous nowadays, seeing the news, watching friends depart, hearing nothing from detained relatives. Damascus is today a weary city..waiting for no one is sure what… and when.


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