Category Archives: Islamaphobia

Despair Down Under

I can’t stop thinking about the mass shootings in New Zealand.  I won’t use the real name of the shooter; I’ll just call him the Little Man.

The professors and pundits on the News Hour had this to say about it: This is just the latest and it won’t be the last terrorist attack that is part of an international “White Power Movement.”

This is the issue of our age.  There are 25 million refugees in the world right now—more than at any time since the end of World War II.  That doesn’t include displaced people (40 million), who are those who are still in their own country but who have fled their homes due to war or natural disaster.  It doesn’t count economic migrants (untold millions) who have left their countries to seek work elsewhere.

All this movement brings people into contact with others who are different from themselves.  Or it just creates the impression of it; we all see caravans and individual refugees, immigrants, and migrants in our newsfeeds.

People like Little Man aren’t crazy.  They don’t spring up at random.  They don’t have any original ideas or philosophies.  They may not know one another personally, but they connect online and read each other’s “manifestos,” as LM called his.  They’re just plain racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic men.

And there’s the demographic commonality—they’re all men.

I think about the little boys I tend at the YMCA child care center.  There’s the three-year-old who waits by the front door, wearing his Superman cape, saying, “Mommy come back?” over and over in his plaintive, squeaky voice.  When mommy does come to pick him up, he exclaims, “Mommy here!” as though she is even more exciting to see than Superman.  There are baby boys and toddlers who want to be picked up and held, and rocked, and hugged.  Until they get to be about five, they play with girls as easily as boys, seemingly unaware of any differences.

Eighteen years from now, will they be punching their girlfriends, slapping their kids, kicking their dogs, and charging into houses of worship or college campuses or government buildings with assault rifles?

One night another three-year-old boy came to me, pointed to another boy, and whined, “That brown kid took my ball!”  I told him to go get another ball.  I didn’t try to lecture him about his use of the word “brown” because I knew he was being literal and descriptive, not racist.  And he was only three.  In 20 years, will he be marching in White Power parade with a torch, yelling hateful slogans?

What happens between four and 20?  There must be experts who know how we could interrupt the transformation of innocent children into hate mongers.

A faster intervention would be changed gun laws.  Little Man is Australian.  I’m guessing he moved to New Zealand because guns are easier to be had there.  There are three guns for every human in New Zealand. After a mentally-ill gunman killed 35 people in Tasmania in 1996, Australia restricted ownership of semi-automatic rifles and  shotguns and pump-action shotguns and reformed licensing.  The government held a mandatory gun buy-back in which Aussies handed in 643,000 firearms.

I have many friends and relatives who are a lot more liberal than I am.  I have never heard any of them propose that we rescind the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which says, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This is the “slippery slope” smokescreen used by the NRA and its members to block even the smallest, most sensible gun law change.

I idealized Australia. I thought it was kinder and gentler than the US.  But out of 25 million people there are bound to be those who believe being white makes them superior.

It’s easy to despair and feel powerless.  This is when I remind myself of the words from the Talmud: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”  In other words, no one expects you, personally, to change gun laws or teach all boys empathy, but you can and should do something.

Not Welcome

In my last post I wrote about Australia’s Welcome Wall, on which the names of everyone who has ever immigrated to Australia are inscribed.

There’s also a very mean side to Australia’s immigration policies, historical and present.  In the Maritime Museum there was a section about the White Australia program that handed out money to people—white people—from Britain to incentivize them to “settle” and “civilize” Australia.  It was specifically meant to exclude “hoards” of invading Asians, many of whom had been brought in as indentured laborers and then had the nerve to move to cities once their servitude in the outback was complete.

This program only ended in 1973.

Nowadays, Australia, like most countries, has a points-based system for immigration.  If you speak English and are a mining engineer or some other valued professional, you’re in!

If you’re a refugee, you are detained on Pacific islands like Nauru, an island so remote it obviously negates the need to build a wall.

One of my favorite news stories of late is of a Kurdish-Iranian journalist, Behrouz Boochani, who won the top prize at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for his book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison.  Boochani has been detained on Manus, another Pacific island, since 2013.  He wrote the book on his cell phone and sent it in snippets to a translator via Whatsapp.

I’ve been thinking a lot about immigrants and refugees.  The issues are in the news a lot because of Donald Trump’s push to build a wall between the US and Mexico.  But I’ve also been hearing first-hand stories from immigrants that make me lose sleep at night.  I’ll relate three of them here.

One: A fellow employee and I were eating lunch in the break room at the YMCA.  I said his name—Vicente—and told him my son’s name was Vincent.  He stared at me incredulously and replied, “I’ve been in this country 18 years and no one has ever pronounced my name right.” Vicente told me he lived 45 minutes away from work. He left his apartment at 5:15am to get to his job as a custodian.  He was worried whether his car would start when he went outside after his shift because it was so cold and he thought he needed a new battery but he couldn’t afford it right now.

I asked if he liked his job and working at the Y.  He said yes, that in eight years there he had only had one bad experience.  He had been mopping the floor in the men’s locker room when a member screamed at him, “You got my socks wet!  I paid $60 for these socks—they’re high tech!

What an asshole. Vicente had responded that he was just doing his job.  Sort of to his credit, the man returned later and apologized.

Two: Vince works at a country club and his Mexican coworker, Angel, holds the same position as he does but has been there 10 years, as opposed to Vince’s two.  Vince noticed right away that when managers came in every morning, they greeted him (Vince) enthusiastically and made small talk but ignored Angel. Vince has brought it to the attention of HR several times but nothing has changed.

“The saddest part is,” said Vince, “I don’t think they’re dissing Angel.  I think they literally don’t see him—as a human being—he’s invisible.”

Three: At the Y again, one of my young coworkers showed a video on her phone of her car going up in flames.

“Someone doused it with gasoline, threw the gas can underneath, and set it on fire,” she explained. The fireball soared 25 feet into the air.

“But why!?” my other coworker and I were horrified.

“We don’t know,” she said carefully.  “There was this neighbor who was giving us dirty looks … my husband is white ….”

She is of Vietnamese ancestry. Could that be it—the neighbor wasn’t happy with a mixed-race couple?

“The police were useless.  We’d just had the baby, and we were so scared, so we moved out of our new house and we’re living with Matt’s parents.”

My.  God.

What are people so afraid of?

Power Trippin’

I am a morning person, but 3am?  I sprang out of bed, threw on my clothes, grabbed my bag, said a silent farewell to the Reef Retreat, and met the airport shuttle.

As I wrote at the time, if I hadn’t lost my passport and had to fly back early to Sydney, I wouldn’t have seen the World Wide Wallaby convention on the side of the road.  Those little hoppers made it all worth it.

At the airport I ate banana and a protein bar while waiting for to board.  It was me and about 50 retirement-age Chinese couples who were wide awake and yammering at full volume.  Thankfully the plane was half empty so I was able to lie down in the fetal position across three seats but it was so cold I kept waking up.  I flagged a passing flight attendant and said, “It’s freezing in this plane.”  She gave me a look that said, “You’re crazy,” and when I very politely asked if the heat could be turned up she replied with barely concealed rage, “Ma’am, it’s a plane,” as if that explained it.

She did bring me a cup of very hot coffee a few minutes later, so maybe she felt bad about being a bitch.

Off the plane, and it was a good thing I had done this routine with Heidi a few weeks previous. I knew where to find the train station, which train to take, and where to get off.

On the street, I consulted the paper map I’d marked with red circles.  I found the photo shop and smiled for the camera.  “Don’t smile,” said the photog, so I didn’t, and I walked out with two passport-sized photos of me looking like I’d just been booked at the county jail after a night on the town.

On to the consulate, which was in the MCL Building.  Hooray, I spotted a tower with MCL in giant letters at the top.  But at ground level, there were no unlocked doors.  I walked around the building, dragging my suitcase behind me.  Finally I spotted a delivery man and asked him.

“Oh, you want the new MCL Building,” he said. He was super friendly and helpful, pointing out not only the new MCL Building but which entrance I should use.

I rode to the 10th floor, where a cheery Australian guard informed me I would have to check my laptop.  “There’s a photo shop just down that hall, with rental lockers.”

A photo shop.  I paid $10 to check my laptop, then got in the “American Citizens Services” line outside the consulate.  I was the only American.  The “All Others” line lived up to its name.

There was another elevator ride to the consulate’s floor, with an armed guard. I would have to go through security, fair enough.  As I entered the security hall, the Aussie guard at the baggage scanner was barking at a couple in front of me who were flustered and had lost whatever English they had had.

“Who speaks English here!?” he yelled jeeringly.  They appeared to originally be from India or Sri Lanka.  “Do you speak English?  Speak English!”

My blood boiled, and I also felt panic. I knew exactly what was happening.  I was being “triggered”—to use an overused word—by this bully. All the feelings associated with being bullied, leered at, and jerked around by prison guards while my son was inside came to the fore.

I was next.

“You can’t bring that suitcase in here!?” he screamed, as though it was the first time anyone had brought a suitcase to an embassy.

“You’re going to have to go leave that somewhere and come back,” he said.

“But I have a 10 o’clock appointment,” I said.

“Well it might fit through the scanner, but if it doesn’t, you can’t enter.”

I knew from eyeballing it that it would fit.  He probably did too, but he had to make his point—that he was in charge.

A second Aussie guard, who was manning the scanner yelled, “She’s got electronics in here!” as though he was seeing the outline of a bundle of TNT and a lighted fuse.

Long Days

Yesterday 11 people were shot to death at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Many people are saying that Trump is responsible because he has incited violence with his fear- and hate-mongering rhetoric.  Sure, it’s true he has encouraged it, but it may have also happened if Hillary had become President, because anti-Semitism is the sickness that never heals.

There are all sorts of “anti-isms,” from homophobia to Islamophobia to misogyny.  I may be wrong, but I believe Anti-Semitism and misogyny have been around the longest, and women aren’t killed in mass numbers because we are needed alive to work, to be used for sexual gratification, and to reproduce.

Man, that sentence was a downer.

I’ve experienced anti-Semitism firsthand, mostly the mild variety that stems from ignorance.  But I once moved out of a neighborhood six months after moving in because my son was hearing anti-Semitic comments at school and a neighbor was threatening us—waving his arms and yelling, “The only thing wrong with Hitler was he didn’t kill all you Jews!”

When I moved a year ago, I didn’t put up a mezuzah, which is a small case containing Torah verses. One is typically posted at each door to remind ourselves we are in a Jewish home.

I can’t put my finger on why; I just had a feel about the neighborhood.  And then my neighbor across the street unfurled a flag that says, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

This phrase is associated with people who believe the government is planning to take away their guns, but I think it’s all part and parcel of hatred and fear.

The fact that anti-Semitism has been around as long as Judaism doesn’t mean Trump isn’t a problem.  Some will say he can’t be anti-Semitic because his son-in-law and daughter are Jewish.  I think people have an incredible ability to bend their beliefs so that people close to them are “the good kind” of Jews while all others are “the bad kind.”  And when Trump incites violence against journalists, immigrants, his opponents, women, gays, and Muslims, all the violent nut cases out there hear is “others.” As they say, “haters gonna hate.”

Should we start posting armed guards in synagogues, as Trump has suggested?  Guess what—synagogues have been doing that for decades, but there is an opening this shooter exploited.  At the synagogue I don’t go to (that’s a joke), we have off-duty police officers on the doors during the High Holidays.  Most other days, the doors are locked and you have to identify yourself and be buzzed in.  But on days when there is a celebration such as a wedding, bar mitzvah, or baby naming (as was the case in Pittsburgh), the doors are unlocked and there’s no guard.

I keep thinking of that poor baby and his parents, whose day of celebration will always be marred by this memory.

In Sydney, I walked past the Great Synagogue a couple times hoping to get a look inside, but it was locked up tight and there was no information about when it might be open.  I knew I could go on a Saturday morning during Shabbat services, but my schedule didn’t align with this so I had to make due with a look at the outside, which was impressive.

Back to my first day in Sydney. I wish everyone could travel like I do—I think exposure to different places and people would reduce the hate and fear in our world.

Heidi and I took the ferry, which is part of Sydney’s public transportation system, past Milson’s Point, home to Luna amusement park.

Then on to Circular Quay, the main stop close to the Opera House.

You just can’t resist taking photos of it.

Then we headed for Manly Beach, which afforded a view of sprawling Sydney.

Manly was cold and windy, but beautiful, and offered my first sights of the magnificent trees one sees everywhere in Australia.

We lunched very late at the Skiff Club; this was my introduction to how great the food would be in the coming month.

Then back to the flat, as night fell.

Where I slept for 12 hours …

… then jumped out of bed ready to explore.

Deserving Immigrants

The next day I would go to Oxford for some meetings with Oxfam people and to hang out with Lynn and Possum.

I had to leave the house early but first I let in the cleaners into the flat.

People in the States have asked me what Brits thought about Donald Trump.  Typically, I would meet a new person and he or she would make small talk while looking down at the ground, then after 10 minutes broach The Topic.

“Sooo … what do you think of your new president?” They weren’t sure where I stood, so they posed an open-ended question.

When I expressed my opinion, they invariably let out a sigh of relief that I wasn’t one of “those Americans” who think he’s Terrific, and they would launch into a screed about him, usually looping in the themes of Brexit and nationalism.

“We think he’s a complete tosser!” was a typical comment.  Tosser, wanker, arsehole, mad as a bag of ferrets.  Just a few of the British endearments I heard about our president, not to mention the universal terms racist, sexist, nationalist, moron, jerk, sociopath, and narcissist.

Granted, I tend to hang out with very liberal people, but I went to a few parties where I wasn’t sure what was coming.  It was always the same.

So when the Polish couple who cleaned the flat once a month stated that they love America, I expected the same.  They were immigrants, after all.  Fortunately they didn’t ask my opinion first.

“And we love your President Donald Trump!” the husband exclaimed as the wife nodded heartily.  The husband waxed enthusiastic.  “He is strong man!  In Europe, we understand about the Muslims.  You Americans need a strong man to keep them out!”

There was a lot going through my head at that moment.  Normally I’m a fighter and I would have challenged them.  But here I was, alone in Eton.  No one knew I was here aside from Sam and my people back home. This guy was about 6’ 2” and burly, with blonde hair and blue eyes—an ideal Aryan.  He was yelling—not angrily but animatedly—and waving the five-foot-long wand of the Hoover around in the air.  This was not the time to mention I was a Jew, and how I empathized with Muslims and hated all of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.

The wife stepped forward, excited to share her opinions.  “We live in UK 11 years.  We go home to Poland every year, town near German border, and see what the Muslims do.  They change the country.  They make crimes, they are dirty.  They rape German women!  No, no, we stay here.  We have two kids; the boy he 13, the girl she 11.  They English!  We want keep refugees out of England.”

Wow.  I couldn’t even begin to know how to tango with the illogic of her statement.  During the election, I had heard a Vietnamese immigrant to the US on National Public Radio lauding Donald Trump and stating she would vote for him.  I had figured she was an outlier.

But now I wondered.  Is it a thing?  “I made it to safety/prosperity so screw all of you in line behind me.”  Or did a Vietnamese immigrant really see herself as completely virtuous and deserving of being taken in, while no Muslim was?  It boggled the mind.

I couldn’t resist asking, “What will happen to you with Brexit?”

They beamed.  “We love Brexit!  Brexit will keep new immigrants out.  There are enough immigrants here now.”

I really wanted to ask if they were aware that many Brits think Poles are pond scum.  Google “British views of Poles” and 18 million results come up.  I thought one chat room comment summed it up well:

“Poles are the second-largest overseas-born community in the UK after Indians. This isn’t new (Polish Jews came in 19th century) but much of it has to do with Poland joining the EU in 2004 making migration easier.  So I’d imagine anti-Polish sentiment being the British equivalent of American dislike for Mexicans.”

But instead of diving into this conversation, I grabbed my bag, waved good-bye, and exited to catch the train to Oxford.

Napping and Knapping

I set my alarm to ensure I would wake up in time to catch my 9am bus.  I’m such an early bird; there was no way I was going to oversleep, but just in case.  I collapsed into bed at 10:30 and woke with the alarm at 8am.  I guess the previous day had been a long one—starting out in London with a couple tube rides, finding and catching the coach, sitting for three hours on the coach with nothing to do but look at the beautiful landscape, hiking four miles across open fields in the hot sun, “doing” Stonehenge, “doing” Amesbury, and capping off the day with a “meal” at Little Chef.

I flipped on the TV while I got ready.  There was a long news segment about how to survive a terrorist attack whilst on holiday.  When they got to the end and quizzed the viewers, I yelled my answers from the bathroom.

“What should you do if you see terrorists invading your hotel from your balcony?” droned the guy in the suit who was an ex-marine-cum-highly-paid terrorism expert.

“Hurl your Margaritas at them!” I yelled.

I got that one wrong. “What should you do if you if terrorists invade your hotel room?”

“Cover your head with both hands so they can see you are unarmed!” I yelled.

I got it right!  I wondered why the woman was wearing nurses’ scrubs if she was on holiday.

To my surprise, I got most of them right.  Watching that security webinar for work had really paid off.

I was soon out the door of the Travelodge and on my 10-minute walk to the bus stop.

Does this ever happen to you?  You’ve visited an amazing place like Stonehenge and as you leave you think, I’ve seen Stonehenge, now I’m one World Heritage Site closer to death. 

No, I didn’t think so.

Or even just leaving an unremarkable place like the Travelodge, do you ever feel like you have to break some sort of surface tension in order to leave?  I will probably never be here again.  Why do I care?  Why do I have to exert myself to leave?  It’s a cheap motel!

Of course I did leave, and after I crossed under the motorway I saw on my left a place called The Lord’s Walk.  I had passed this five times now.  It looked so inviting.  To walk through cool woods along a stream would be refreshing after the hike of the previous day.  It looked like my kind of paradise.

I read the placard.  It was the Lord as in “Lord of the Manor,” not as in “the Lord God.”  The local lord had gifted some of his land to the local populace and they had done a beautiful job of making it available to all for walking, fishing, picnicking, smoking pot, and so on.  I imagine few tourists go there because they are all focused on Stonehenge—or anxious about catching their bus.

I could have taken a short walk with the lord.  I had 45 minutes before the bus was due.  But I walked on.

Amesbury, and the southwest of England in general, are full of walls and buildings covered in what Lynn had informed me was flint knapping. Here are more images if you’re a rock hound.

We joke about artisanal products made by bearded millennials these days.  There is a guy in Minneapolis who is dead earnest about his artisanal flour, which costs $20 for a five-pound bag (that’s a lot).  I’m sure it’s very fine flour.  I don’t know much about flint knapping, but I met a guy once who was a dry-stone wall expert.  I would call both of these trades artisanal; it must take years to develop the eye and the skills to maintain these old structures.

At the bus stop, I felt anxious I was at the wrong stop, even though the taxi driver had shown me this stop and there were people with suitcases milling around, obviously London bound.

On the bus, I felt grungy, but content.  My phone connected to wifi immediately and there was a message from Heidi, “Let’s go to the continent!”

The Mosque of Christ the Light

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

After hours of taking in sumptuous art and dazzling jewels at the Santa Cruz Museum, Lynn and I attempted to find the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz—Mosque of Christ the Light.

We consulted the map at the end of every block and still managed to get turned around.  It was raining and the sidewalks were slick as we skidded down a narrow alley only to discover we had gone in the wrong direction and had to slip and slide back up.

But we found it. I’m sorry to say there wasn’t much to see.  It was tiny, and the interior was empty.  It would be great if the city would make a museum of it, like the Sephardic Museum.

Next, off we went to the Monastery of San Juan de Los Reyes, just steps from our hotel, which turned out to be one of my favorite places.

There were manacles strung up along the perimeter of the exterior; this is not why I liked it so much, I’m just reporting it as one of the “highlights” of the building.  Apparently they were there to scare people into obedience, and I’m sure it worked.

The interior was the usual: An ornate dome here, a bishops’ tomb there.

The sanctuary featured eagles—dozens of rows of them—symbolizing Spain’s power.

 

“You certainly couldn’t miss the point,” Lynn remarked, “sitting here in the pews with nothing else to look at.

There was a memorial to 30 priests who were executed during the Spanish Civil War.  An old French man had glommed onto us and was talking up a storm.  I couldn’t concentrate on reading the plaques, so I apologize for not knowing more.

The French guy veered into talking about Muslim terrorists.  My weirdo radar switched on and I drifted away.  I didn’t want to open my mouth, have him find out I was American, and risk he would start rhapsodizing about what a great man Donald Trump was.

I abandoned Lynn, who smiled and nodded noncommittally as he talked.

I wanted to find the courtyard.  I had read in a guidebook that it had a special monkey carved into a pillar.  What a magnificent courtyard it was:

It reminded me of the colleges at Oxford, which I had spent all my free time exploring when I lived there.  I’m sure they look alike because they are built in the same architectural style, but I can’t tell you what that is, only that I love its airiness.

Every pillar had small images carved into it.  There were hundreds of babies, griffins, fish, dragons, and unicorns—all difficult to photograph.

I found the monkey.  It was sitting on a chamberpot and reading a bible upside down, supposedly a reference to the true impiety of priests carved by a workman.

Pepe had to leave his mark as well.

Lynn found the courtyard and we hung out there admiring the garden, sculptures, and towering spires.  Then we grabbed a late lunch somewhere I can’t remember, and went in search of our last museum which, on the map, looked very close to our hotel.

It was called the Royal Toledo Foundation.  Or maybe it was the Victorio Macho Musem.  It turned out to be both.  Whatever that meant, it was lost on us.

It was more than close to the hotel; it abutted our breakfast room and that explained the statures we could see through the windows.

The museum was only open odd hours, so we rang a bell and a startled-looking woman came and let us in.  For a few Euros, we wandered the lovely gardens with our umbrellas.  Victorio Macho was the third wonderful artist we discovered on this trip that we had never heard of.  The museum was set in his home.  The gardens overlooked the river and were populated with his statues.

In the tiny museum there were more sculptures, including a life-sized one of his mother which he lugged around South America for a year because he was so attached to it.  Thank god for iPhones, which is where I have an image of my mom.