Category Archives: Islamaphobia

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.

The End of America

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

Before I move on to Spain, I’m inserting a few real-time updates.

It’s weird to be writing about the November election almost three months later. I recall my sense of unreality.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed. I can’t believe we are now using the words “President” and “Trump” together.  I am still in a state of denial, maybe because I haven’t figured out what to do, or how to live, in this new world.

I went on the women’s march in St. Paul with 100,000 other like-minded men, women, and children to protest the new administration’s policies and tone.  It was the first day in months I felt optimistic, but also, sadly, the last.

Conservatives think that liberals hate America.  That’s unfair.  We criticize our country when it acts wrongly.  That doesn’t mean we hate America.  It means we hold it to high standards.  For instance, one thing that has always made me proud of America is all the refugees we take in.  It’s not as many as 100 years ago.  It’s not as many as Germany.  Still, we were on track to accept 110,000 refugees in 2017, with about 10,000 slots designated for Syrians.  That’s one of the things that makes America great.  Oops, made.

All that is on hold for four months.  If and when it restarts, the number of refugees will be cut in half.  Syrians will be banned, along with people from other Muslim-majority countries except the ones Trump want to make deals with, like Saudi Arabia, the main producers of terrorists, including 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers.

Why is Trump fixated on Syrians?  I don’t believe there have been any terrorist attacks perpetrated, anywhere, by Syrians.  In my opinion, Syrians are victims of war and terrorism.  But there are a lot of Syrian refugees, and they are in the news frequently, so maybe they’re just an easy target.  Most Americans haven’t heard of Tunisia, which actually produces a lot of terrorists.

The mood where I work, the Center for Victims of Torture, is dark.  Our clients in the US are afraid they’ll be deported, or that their families will never be allowed to join them.  We wonder if we will lose our government funding, and thus our jobs.  We worry this administration will return to the use of torture, which is illegal under US and international law.

There’s so much going down.  One final item: Donald Trump managed to talk about Holocaust Remembrance Day without mentioning Jews or antisemitism.  Was it intentional?  Ignorance?  As a Jew, I think it’s ominous. The Holocaust didn’t start with gas chambers, it started with nationalist words and laws against certain groups and bullying of the media and control of the messaging coming out of government agencies.

Thanks for reading this.  You probably already knew most of it.  Now you know why I write about travel and not politics most of the time.

My son and I went on a small adventure recently.  He had asked if I wanted to see John Cleese in person on a certain date, and I said, “sure!”  John Cleese is an English comedian and actor best known for the Monty Python movies and Fawlty Towers TV series.

What I didn’t realize until after Vince bought the tickets was that the show was on a Monday night, five hours away in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  So I took two days off work, got a room at EconoLodge, and we went on a road trip.

It was really fun.  We joked about the cheap hotel and the terrible steak dinner we had at Texas Roadhouse.  We visited Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers football team, which fits nicely into the neighborhood unlike our own new US Bank Stadium that looks like the Death Star.

We watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail, then listened to John Cleese tell stories for an hour.  Did you know Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin financed the making of the Holy Grail, and that George Harrison paid for the Life of Brian, which he considers the troupe’s best film?  Cleese is almost 80, and still full of piss and vinegar. It was good to Just Laugh.

cleese

Crazy Eyes, Evil Eyes

The massacre in San Bernardino is really weighing on me.

Right after it happened, I wrote a post in which I suggested that mental illness could have been a factor, just as it is in many other cases.  Why do we assume that white guys are deranged, but Muslims are evil?  In this case, there was an additional question mark for me about possible post-partum depression, since the wife had given birth six months earlier.

But then we learned that both of the shooters in San Bernardino had been radicalized and had been planning some kind of attack for years.  I’ve spent more time than is probably healthy staring at photos of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik.

They don’t look like these guys:

imagesimages (4)images (3)download (1)

They don’t look crazy.  They look dead.  Cold.

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What kind of woman leaves her six-month-old infant behind, knowing she’ll never see her again—knowing her baby will be removed from the family, that her life will be tainted by a legacy of death?

What kind of son leaves his mother behind, knowing she’ll be interrogated by law enforcement?  Maybe the mother was involved, too.  In which case, what kind of son would leave his mother to face life in prison?  But these are silly questions.  This couple murdered 14 people and injured many more.  Why would they care about an old woman and a baby?

If they weren’t mentally ill, were they evil?  And what does that mean?  We can sometimes catch mental illness early and intervene.  But how would we spot evil?  Who would we call to report it?

There have been so many mass shootings in the U.S.  Until now I have reacted the same as anyone else—shaking my head, feeling bad for the victims, wondering when we will finally enact some reasonable gun reforms.  Then I’m over it.  Until now.

Where I work, at the Center for Victims of Torture, many of our clients come to us after suffering unimaginable torture during ethnic or religious conflicts in their home countries.  There is always the possibility that someone from the enemy side could enter the U.S. and come looking for them, just when they thought they were safe.  If someone would shoot up a center for developmentally disabled people, like the one in San Bernardino, why wouldn’t they shoot up a torture rehabilitation center?  There have been so many mass shootings, but this was the first one I could really imagine myself being involved in.  I imagine myself hiding in a bathroom stall or coat closet.  Of course I always—miraculously—am one of the survivors.

A father whose six-year old daughter was killed in the Newtown shooting was interviewed on public radio last week.   He and his wife are both scientists and they have started a research foundation to look into the connections between mental illness and violence.

The father said, “We have to recognize that, of course, all of our behavior comes from our brain. So just like any organ can be healthy or unhealthy, when there’s risk factors that lead to malfunction of certain circuits or regions of the brain, that’ll lead to bad behavior.  And yes, it is preventable. It’s a matter of chemistry and not character.”

I hope he’s right.  I hope someday we’ll discover that evil is a biochemical imbalance that can be fixed with a pill.  Maybe some day we’ll routinely test kids’ DNA and put them on medication if they’ve got the gene that could turn them into the next mass shooter.

A Crazy Idea?

I woke up in the dark at 5:40 am and wished I still believed in God.  Fourteen people dead at a center for developmentally disabled people in California.  I wished there was a higher power to whom I could appeal for help.  Help for us all.  For a moment, I thought I could feel something, then … nah … wishful thinking.

It’s up to us, people.  What “it” involves is a matter of dispute.

Someone asked on Facebook, “will this turn out to be a mentally-ill person?  Someone with extreme ideology?  A workplace grudge?”

There’s still a lot unknown, but it looks like it could be all three.  And I’m curious to learn if post-partum depression played a role in this latest incident, where a young mother dropped off her baby then went on a shooting rampage which she knew would result in her death or life in prison.

Here’s the liberal argument I hear: “Why do we label the white attackers mentally ill but the Muslim ones terrorists?”  I think what is really being expressed, by the conservative “side”, is that white attackers are deranged while Muslims are evil.

I’d like to flip that around and suggest that instead of considering every horrendous act an act of murder terrorism, we consider it an act of mental illness.  Hear me out.

I’m not a mental health clinician, but I have worked at two mental health clinics, where I have observed that mentally ill people often have religious fixations.  They think they are Jesus, they hallucinate angels, they hear demons telling them to do bad things.

A number of members of my family have suffered from Bipolar Disorder.  One was convinced that the Catholic Church had a conspiracy that had something to do with the numbers on the clock.

Anne, haven’t you noticed?  The numbers on the clock—there are 12 of them!  It’s so obvious that the Catholic Church is behind it.”

“Behind what?” I would ask.

He could never explain to my satisfaction what the numbers on the clock had to do with the Pope and the Catholic Church, but I would hear him out, hoping he wouldn’t call his parents next and burden them with his ranting.

If mentally ill people can have wacko Catholic theories, why wouldn’t they have wacko Muslim theories?

I was in the Middle East for work in February.  We were in Bethlehem on a long lunch break between meetings.  My two Palestinian colleagues and I were smoking shishas while my colleague from Minnesota gagged.

I had arrived in Amman the day ISIS released a video of them burning to death the Jordanian pilot they had captured.  The streets were packed with people waving the Jordanian flag and shouting.  They were angry, and I didn’t blame them.  I wish Americans got angry about wrong doing and demonstrated more often.

Omar turned to me.  “Tell us, what do you think about ISIS—these people who do such things?  We really want to know what Americans think.”

I had been thinking about this a lot.  “I think there’s an element of mental illness involved.  Who is it that most often gets schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses?  Young men.  Who is it that is almost always behind violence?  I’m sorry, but it’s men.  And then you get them in a group—call it group think or herd mentality or whatever—and fire them up with ideological rhetoric, and put an AK47 in their hands…”

My Minnesota colleague disagreed.  She asserted that poverty and hopelessness were to blame.

Of course those are factors.  But I’ve been poor and hopeless, and I’ve never even shoplifted.  Millions of people around the world are desperately poor and they don’t kill people.  Many members of ISIS and Al Queda are not poor—they’ve got engineering degrees and come from middle class families.

If we do assume that mental illness is behind sadistic killings by ISIS or mass shootings in California and Connecticut, this does not mean the murderers are not responsible for their actions.  It does mean we can have hope, at least in the US, because there are effective means to identify and manage mental illness.