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Colin Powell endorses more than Democratic candidate Obama

October 20, 2008

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Late in the game, the assumption that Muslim is a stain on one’s character has been challenged. Finally.

The challenge came not from the candidate who should have rebutted the personal attacks, not from the progressive press who allowed the innuendoes to mount, not from the Muslim leadership in the US, not from the only Muslim member of the US Congress, not from Muslims members of the Democratic Party, loyal to the young inspiring candidate, Obama, despite his proudly stated devotion to Israel and its Zionist aims.

The challenge and lesson came from a leading military figure, a former Secretary of State, a Republican Party luminary: Colin Powell.

In an October 19 TV interview, the former secretary of state announced his endorsement for the Democratic Party candidate. There Powell made a point to speak at length about the unmentionable, being Muslim. Why do we treat Muslim identity here as something negative, as un-American, he asked? Powell read the references and retorts to Obama’s possible Muslim background as I and other Muslims did: it was wrong to deny it, and objectionable to suggest it was not something fine. What if an aspirant to the White House were Muslim? So what? That should be as acceptable as any religious identity.

This is an excerpt from Powell’s interview on Sunday’s “Meet the Press”. In reference to questions regarding Obama’s religion, he said: “Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not American. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? ….. "Yet", Powell went on, “ I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, 'He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.' This is not the way we should be doing it in America"

The good general then recounts a photo of an American mother at the Arlington cemetery graveside of her soldier son, who died at the age of 20. His name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. "The symbol on his tombstone is the Islamic star and crescent", he takes the time in the interview to point out.

Powell is making more than a political point here. Powell expresses his dismay and objections to the many negative references coming from the McCain camp regarding Muslim identity in the country. But it appears that he is not unaware that the Democratic and so-called liberal community are as guilty of the anti-Muslim bias that disturbs him. Powell is directing his remarks to the entire country, including its leaders. And I cannot help feeling that he is also defining a possible new path for the young Obama. Because by endorsing the Democratic candidate in this context, Colin Powell is surely also endorsing the goodness of being Muslim in America. He is breaking a taboo for the soon-to-be occupant of the White House who, although during his election campaign he may be obliged to bend to Christian and Jewish pressures, as a president, he has to embrace the Muslim is a more mature way.

For those of us who look to the Democratic Party as the beacon of higher social values, of religious inclusiveness and expressed concern for human rights and equal treatment, we have been dismayed at times, feeling no party or leader represents our values. It seemed the party platform was being managed by select interest groups. Muslim and Arab Americans were being shunted aside. Where does one turn at such a critical time, when we have must hope it is possible to restore democratic and universal ideals and to mend broken trust around the world? It is sobering that a voice of maturity, reason and healing emerges from the ranks of the Republican Party, in the person of Colin Powell, a Black American leader, a military man.

[ Colin Powell endorses more than Democratic candidate Obama ]

Remember the Prisoners in Your Prayers

September 01, 2008

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

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Ramadan Kareem.

For those of us who are students, or working in education, journalism, the tourism business, travel, today marks a change of routine. For Muslims, it is a welcome day that begins the month of spiritual contemplation, study, and communion with the ummah, the community of Islam.

In my prayers, I remember first and foremost the prisoners.

Prisoners everywhere, whatever their religion, whatever their past transgressions, their innocence, their claims, they are denied the brotherhood and sisterhood and family essential to human life and growth and hope. It is an especially difficult hardship at this time. Among those captives, I remember those fellow Muslims held illegally by US authorities. As an American citizen, I must accept some responsibility. And shame.

No one is unaware of the inhumanity carried out on these men and women, treatment that disgusts us, baffles us, shames us, in its obscenity and venality. The news, images and testimonies have exposed for all the world to witness, the ugly underbelly of America, the hypocrisy, and the deeply entrenched racism, now directed overwhelmingly towards Muslims. Hundreds have been summarily deported from their US homes.

Human rights organizations and foreign governments have come forward in the defense of caged men like those in the Guantanamo Bay prison. Some of those released like Sami Al-Hajj, Mozaaem Beg and former Muslim Chaplain James Yee provide testimonies about the injustices. In the US itself, the treatment of political prisoner Sami Al-Arian undermines confidence in the US justice system.

So many others need our attention. Tens of thousands. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, the US federal prisons, and secret facilities across the world. Almost every Palestinian man has experienced Israeli inflicted imprisonment.

I have no doubt, many of these souls are really subjects of mind-experiments, a fact that will eventually be revealed. They are not tormented for their confessions. They are hostages in a secret study of Islamic belief. What makes these believers so strong, so able to resist all of our brutality, to hold their dignity intact? Given what we hear about the many psychological problems and suicides of US combatants, yes, some would want to compare. That is not their aim however. No these confinements are likely a deranged kind of experiment. The authorities seek to develop ways they can further attack and undermine the faith. Think about it: seven years of torture! Guantanamo, in other words, is nothing less than an experimental laboratory. Am I too cynical?

Not at all. Because faith fundamentally is about Allah, God, not the human vessel of divinity.

[ Remember the Prisoners in Your Prayers ]

Distancing Himself from Muslims; No Leader

July 20, 2008

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

[ Distancing Himself from Muslims; No Leader ]

Sami Al-Haj: ex-prisoner 345

May 11, 2008

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Free. At last.

Even as journalist Sami Al-Haj displayed his joy to be home, at last, in his native land, Sudan, he remembered the unnamed and unfreed American torture victims yet imprisoned in  Guantanamo US naval base.

He declared “Torture does not end terrorism; torture is terrorism”.

How I admire this man, this journalist, this patriot.

I doubt if I could have withstood a fraction of what he did, even for a year. Could you? Al-Haj somehow survived that American hell 6 years and 5 months!

I wonder if others feel as I do:--shame over American behavior, its leadership, its collaborating psychologists, it lackey media, its stone-hearted jailers, its ignorant citizens, its spineless intellectuals.

At the same time, do you not feel esteem for this young man? Do you not feel renewed hope that public outrage by however few may still be effective to force a government to change? Is this not surely affirmation of how Islam empowers humans with immense inner strength?

How auspicious for me that somehow, last Thursday and Friday, I had access to Al-Jazeera TV. I waited up late in the night to see footage direct from Khartoum. With millions of others, even vicariously, I wanted to welcome that plane carrying the once-young journalist and two of his compatriots when it touched African land at Sudan’s airport.

Gratification; then, momentarily, anger eclipsed this wave of victory. I was forced not to forget from where he had come. I watched Al-Haj manhandled by his captors--uniformed American servicemen carrying their prisoner out of the US Air Force plane and down the steps. Three Americans, each twice Sami’s bulk, gripped him clumsily before passing him to a waiting stretcher. If this is how they treat a human being as they release him, my god, begin to imagine the prison! I glared at the image in shame. Al-Haj’s hands remained bound by his notorious captors, boney legs dangled lifelessly from their clumsy criminal arms. Finally Al-Haj was handed to comrades and laid on a nearby stretcher. There, I witnessed his wrists still bound together at his waist. Only now, firmly on African soil, his own people cut away the bonds.

The Americans had refused. (US authorities arrogantly, reprehensibly maintained they were not releasing Al-Haj as a free man, but rather handing over their prisoner to Sudanese authorities. Forever righteous, our American department of defense. We later learned Al-Haj and his companions were bound and shackled to chairs throughout the long journey.)

Humdulillah, he is home. But the freed man appeared so frail that I thought, “My God, he is sick; he is dying.” The crowd of attendants whisking him into the hospital, cameras rolling all the while, saw something else.

Hardly 20 minutes later, Sami Al-Haj managed to sit up in the hospital bed and he was speaking to the cameras. Grasping a phone, with cameras rolling above him, he was giving an interview condemning his captors, Guantanamo prison itself, the torture methods, the brutality of the Americans. His voice was unwavering and unequivocal. How readily and energetically he reentered his journalist’s voice.

Even though Sami Al-Haj was yet to meet his family, he had to send a message to the world—an urgent testimony-- denunciation of the hypocrisy of the US administration, above all else, to testify to their brutalities.

Al-Haj's firm voice and clear words, his eyes focused as his spoke, affirmed the ignorance and folly of the Americans, the beautiful energy of Islam, the integrity of Al-Jazeera TV network.

Of course one needs to recognize the hard work of many western attorneys in particular. The obstacles they faced seemed insurmountable in the early years when the US Department of Defense was stonewalling any claims of these prisoners rights.  If only shame motivates American civil rights lawyers to challenge the American will, so be it.

[ Sami Al-Haj: ex-prisoner 345 ]

To remember our Iraq: more soldiers' testimonies? No!!

March 19, 2008

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

 I do not know how Iraqis around the world are marking the fifth year of the US invasion, destruction, occupation of their land. I doubt that many even note the date. Surely we can hardly think beyond this morning-- will we return home alive from school, work, shopping, the hospital? Can we think beyond when a visa or travel document will arrive, or a phone rings with unpredictable news? Year "Zero +5" has nevertheless been a chance to remind Americans themselves of what kind of catastrophe this has been for their  country. Anti-war friends have been working for years, not without some success. With the US public, now weary of the war and expressing sentiments that it should somehow end, we need to continue the education, and support this movement. But oh, look at what tactics arouse their consciousness! Confessions of atrocities by war veterans.They are frantic to act, as with their desperate, meager, blighted support for the Palestinian struggle. For brothers and sisters in those occupied lands, all they can do is circulate reports about hunger, disease, and unschooled youngsters there. Yet. I have to object to the latest anti-war endeavor--a display. The movement has found a new tool to pry the American people out of their sofas and off their ski-lifts. The arrival of the fifth year of the US invasion of Iraq finds us watching organized confessions by traumatized paid murderers --our Iraq war veterans. One after another, they describe personal carnage they committed as soldiers against fellow human beings-- detainees and other citizens-- in Iraqi homes, cars, workplaces, checkpoints, neighborhoods. We've seen the photos of marauding American hordes moving through Iraq. Thanks to embedded journalists we've been with them on their patrols, witnessing their obscenities and war cries, their gung-ho raids, their assaults into bedrooms, their barked orders to terrified families, their brutish, ugliness in combat. We saw their uncovered faces smiling over naked prisoners and corpses of their victims. I myself need no reminders. We are now so accustomed to images of that brutality; we can hardly distinguish between TV games and news images. Our minds are numb to violence. We need fresh stimuli. I can hear the brainstorming at anti-war strategy meetings. "We've got to have something new for the 5th anniversary. What can we do?" So someone came up with a new spin: American confessions from war, not just their dirty deeds in combat action but from their torture duty too. Likable, soft-spoken (traumatized?) good American boys spill out details of deeds committed against fellow human beings over there. At some level, it may be moving. But it's not really new. Don't you remember the torturers from Abu Ghraib prison, some having served their months' punishment or discharged, spoke on TV, calmly sitting in the living rooms recalling what they were convicted of? Have we forgotten the Vietnam atrocities?     How do you really feel about these confessions? A day, a week, a month of displays? Who do you feel for? And will any American ensure that such a war is never, ever repeated, that your brother or son never, ever does this? [ To remember our Iraq: more soldiers' testimonies? No!! ]

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“Scatter your good deeds all around,

not caring whether they fall on those near or far away,

Just as the rain never cares where the clouds pour it out,

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Ibn Siraj (Cordoba, d. 1114 CE)

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