“Are you Muslim?” “Does it matter?”

This past weekend I was at the 2015 Hunger Walk benefiting the Atlanta Community Food Bank. I’m there through my internship, a non-profit that works with the Hizmet Movement (AKA the Gulen movement)–a peaceful civic interpretation of Islam that fosters understanding and dialogue between all faiths, based on the ideas of Turkish scholar Fetullah Gulen.

In such an environment I wasn’t expecting to have the conversation that I did. Before the walk begins, I was speaking with a middle aged woman who, upon learning I’m at the walk through my internship, asked: “Are you Muslim?”

I told her, “No.” I’m not Muslim. I din’t tell her I’m Jewish because I distrusted her.

She attempted to backtrack but didn’t apologize because she didn’t realize she had done something wrong. She then told me, “I know not all Muslim girls wear a headscarf.”

This is true, but it doesn’t justify her question. If she had to ask if I was Muslim it meant she would view me differently based on my answer. She needed to know to satisfy her own curiosity and prove her own goodness and accepting diversity. It’s the same way that by telling me she knew not all Muslim women wear hijabs, she was really telling me was: I’m a good liberal woman, I swear. I’d accept you even if you were Muslim.

And I’m sure she’s a good person, but she didn’t need to prove how liberal she was to me. I talked with her throughout the walk and found out she routinely does walks for Breast Cancer, that she supports gay marriage and that she’s aware of issues of race. These conversations came up naturally and we were having a discussion. I felt more at ease because she wasn’t trying to prove anything.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with one my friends lately about the “good liberal on the street” who thinks that listening to NPR, voting for the democrats and supporting gay marriage or having a gay friend makes them radical and leftist and somehow helping the world. But if this is all a person is doing, if this is all a person sees as making a difference, and if a person is willing to stop there and congratulate themselves on their good liberal lifestyle they’re still part of the problem.

NPR is tame. Gay marriage is the tip of the iceberg.

As long as liberal people feel the need to prove how liberal they are with questions like “Are you Muslim?” then we’re stuck in an unfortunate definition of liberality. We’re stuck with liberals but not activists.  I’m not saying these “good liberals on the street” are bad people, or that being radical somehow makes someone more moral, but we need more than surface level change. We need to arrive at a day where the answer to the question “Are you Muslim?” is “Does it matter?”

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Gun Culture and the NRA

I’m from Connecticut, but was out of state in college when the Newtown shooting happened. When I thought about starting this post, I was concerned that the moment had somehow passed and that there was a taboo on bringing up the shooting months later because it is officially a thing “of the past.” Really, I was just afraid to comment on the gun culture of America.

I never paid attention to the NRA. I knew the organization was a lobbyist, but I knew it in the vague sense of knowing, the way you know you’d get arrested if you yelled”fire!” in a movie theatre. You don’t want to test out the theory precisely because you believe it’s true.

But even knowing the NRA is a major lobbyist, I never made the connection between the NRA, racism and gun control. I don’t claim to be an expert on any of the recent shootings, but I do see a pattern. The media focus after the attacks are never directly addressing the issue of gun violence. Everything else is blamed and questioned, but not the reason for why the American people are so adamant about owning guns.

The media blames video game violence, bad parenting, moral degeneracy (as a by-product of the previous two causes), and anything as crazy as Marilyn Manson. But what interests me the most is the analysis of mental illness as a factor. Mental illness only comes up when the shooter is white. There is a push to somehow justify the shooter’s actions, to bolster the white race and show “white America” that the shooter is an outlier. It is a defense mechanism to protect the idea of a peaceful America made up entirely of white suburbs. In addition to the racism this projects, there is no thought about the ableism it harbors either and how this theory further serves to elevate the ideal of a white and perfect race.

When the shooter is a person of color, it is expected that the person of color is morally degenerate already. There is no image to save, but a racial stereotype to reinforce. Why would the media waste time talking about mental illness as a cause of the violence, when people are ready to believe the violence is a natural by-product of race?

The NRA comes into play because they love the racial stereotyping and the media’s back and forth over useless “causes” of the shootings. The NRA knows that everyone will ask “How does someone with a mental disability get a hold of a gun?” No one will bother to uncover the deeper question: “Why is anyone, mentally handicapped or otherwise, able to purchase assault weapons?” And if the shooter is a person of color, there won’t be as many questions asked at all. Instead, white suburban Americans will go out and buy more guns to protect themselves against an imagined racial threat.

And while people argue over Republican and Democrat ideas of gun control, the NRA controls both parties. Liberal and conservative, both parties are bought and sold so the NRA and other lobbyists can feed off America’s fear and paranoia over racial strife. The greater the racial tension, the more guns fearful Americans buy and the more guns there are, the chances increase for another Columbine, another Aurora or another Newtown.

The time has not passed to discuss gun control. If anything, the time is now because we need to speak out before Newtown becomes a thing of the past.  It is too easy to relegate the shooting to a half-hearted discussion where no one has a solution and no believes it is relevant. It is relevant. Not just to discuss, but to discuss all aspects: the NRA, the racism, and the overall question:

“Why are Americans adamant about owning guns?”

 

Invalidate me if I’m wrong not because of my sex

It’s nearly impossible to have a conversation about politics in my house. My brother is a Republican who believes feminism is ruining the world. Feminism is the cause of higher divorce rates and teenage pregnancies and abortions. Women are spending their time in higher education instead of looking for husbands. Men are being emasculated. Men are naturally better leaders and more logical than their female counterparts. It only spirals down from there.

My mother, on the other hand, is a Democrat. If she was old enough in the ’60s she would have been a hippie, but present  she’s a yoga teacher and a liberal activist who has no adequate words for her continuing frustration against Romney and the War Against Women. Unfortunately, her passion causes my brother to tell her she’s being over emotional.

This almost ran a collision course the other night when my mother brought up how she would leave the country if Mitt Romney was elected because of his and his party’s misogyny. As far as I know my mother’s claim to move to Canada is a hyperbole, but my brother flat out told her she did not know what she was talking about.

No explanation. Just, “You don’t know what you’re talking about and I don’t want to have this discussion right now.” It was as if he was being the bigger person by calming my mom down and walking away from an ensuing argument. I defended my mother, telling him we did know and we were knowledgeable, but he just continued to explain he did not want to get upset about politics over dinner.

I asked to say one thing and he almost didn’t let me. When I finally convinced him to let me speak I told him “Please do not invalidate our opinions.”

He said okay and the remainder of dinner was served with a heaping portion of awkward.

I write this and I’m afraid I’m vilifying my brother. I love him. He loves me. He loves my mom. But what he did was wrong. It did not make him the bigger person; it made him less.

He reads men’s rights blogs, goes online and argues against feminism (his definition) whenever he can, and this makes him feel politically involved and up to date on current events. He must know more than us. From the biased source material that he reads he, by default, must have more knowledge than the group of people whose rights are being discussed and who are directly affected by the issue. As women, we not only cannot know more, but we are automatically wrong.

I would not mind a chance to debate if he chose to invalidate me and then continue the discussion. I was not given this chance and so it is not about the merit of arguments I could have made or any counter points I might have had in regards to his argument. It is about my sex. As a woman I cannot be involved in politics. It is not even should not be involved because he did not give my mother or I the chance to argue and defend ourselves at all.

The chance to speak out, like our rights to decide how and when we give birth, is being taken from us. In our own home we could not speak out as he would not listen.

Feminism is needed more than ever; speak out for those who are silenced.

Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and August 1st 2012

As of Wednesday August 1st legislation has been implemented that requires health insurance companies to cover women who wish to buy contraception.  This is a compromise drawn up in lieu of the original so that Catholic organizations would not be required to offer insurance plans that involved contraception, just cover women who needed it.

But even the compromise has too much infringement on religious freedom for some Republicans. At a press Conference on Capitol Hill, Pennsylvania Representative Mike Kelly (R) said:

“I know in your mind you can think of times when America was attacked. One is December 7th, that’s Pearl Harbor day.  The other is September 11th, and that’s the day of the terrorist attack. I want you to remember August the 1st, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom. That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates.”

Mike Kelly is not the only Republican speaking out and it is not just men who fear the liberation of women’s sexuality. New York Representative Ann Marie Buerkle (R) is quoted in saying:

“This is a right that every American should be outraged, outraged about what this administration and Secretary Sibelius has set forth here on August the 1st.And as Mike said, August the 1st is a day that we as American will look at as the largest assault on our First Amendment rights.”

So what are we to make of this? My grandfather does not believe there is a war against women. He said he had never heard the term and therefore it must not exist. But what else can this controversy be? When women’s health care is described as a national catastrophe and linked with infringements on religious freedoms it raises the question of what the real issue is. The argument is that women should not have control over their own bodies because religion says so and that the government should keep its hands out of the liberation of half the population because it violates religious freedom. But this conclusion if flawed: to protect religious rights which are not infringed upon other rights are denied based on religion. How is this centrality of religion not medieval?

Treating women and their sexuality with respect and decency is not an attack against the country. Contraception is not a bomb. Contraception is not a foreign power’s attack against the nation. Women’s health care is a right and half the population cannot continue to be marginalized on such a gross and inappropriate scale.

Source: http://firstread.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/01/13070876-republican-likens-contraceptive-mandate-to-pearl-harbor-911#.UBlhtwzWnJQ.twitter