What a Muslim wants you to know about extremist groups

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s post is by Huma T. Yasin
Matthew lives in a small town in Mississippi. About eight months ago, the manufacturing plant that supported eighty percent of the town’s jobs shut down. Matt and the rest of his friends have been diligently looking for jobs, but the market is flooded and nothing is available close by. To make matters worse, they graduated from high school several years ago and lack the education or skill set for any jobs that become available. Half of the town has turned to being either on the supply or demand side of meth, while the other half has built a solid church community to develop fellowship in this difficult time. Matt and a group of friends from church form a club called “The Gospel Brothers.” They regularly go hunting over the weekends to a large parcel of land owned by one of the boy’s grandparents. During one of the trips, the boys begin discussing how they believe God is punishing them for passively watching the moral decline of American civilization. They talk about sexual promiscuity, abortions, and the rise of homosexuality. After discussing the topics over the course of several months, the boys lay out a plan to track LGBT families in a major Mississippi town close by. They decide to abduct the children of same sex families and raise them as proper Christians. They learn of a family LGBT night at a local restaurant and hold up the restaurant and take the children back to the land where they have their hunting expeditions. Change small town, Mississippi to any place in the Muslim world and The Gospel Brothers to any terrorist organization you’ve heard of and think about how suddenly the change in color and religion of the perpetrators play a much larger role in your analysis. Why is this? What preconceived notions do you have that feed into viewing the Gospel Brothers as a sad and crazy group of individuals while viewing an organization like Boko Haram as a spokesperson for some legitimate interpretation of Islam? The unfortunate reality is that we keep looking to the Muslim world as Islam being the defining factor in these organizations, though this is far too simplistic view. Boko Haram did not spring up in a vacuum. These terrorist organizations thrive in areas that are economically underdeveloped, have been ravaged by war, or are in states that are either weak or completely failed. Imagine if the above hypothetical actually occurred in the United States, how many days until local and national government would have coordinated efforts to find these children? How long until these children were reunited with their families? It’s possible, with the current level of surveillance and security, the plot would have been foiled before it even came to fruition. Compare this to the government in Nigeria, with the Boko Haram kidnapping, or Pakistan and Afghanistan with the Taliban. These are not apple-to-apple comparisons, where only religion of the assailants is noteworthy. Lawlessness runs rampant in these areas, where there is no hope for social and economic mobility and weapons are more often easily acquired than food. Media keeps telling us that there isn’t enough of a “Muslim response” (in fact there has been a strong Muslim response, but that’s not really the issue). What do they expect Muslims to say: “Hey, we’re not all psychotic misogynists! We don’t believe that girls should be kidnapped from their homes and sold into slavery or raped!” Does that really need to be publicly stated by 1.2 billion Muslims across the globe? Did the Pope ever come out and say that Catholicism doesn’t stand for pedophilia? Do Baptists need to stand up as a group and condemn an abortion clinic that is bombed? Isn’t this an obvious human tragedy where all of us sit with our hands tied behind our backs because we can’t do a damn thing about it besides feel a gnawing sense of pain and anger? Lets not convolute the issue by identifying it as a religious issue. Lets call it what it is – it is human trafficking in a state that has no control over its population. If we are really concerned about these girls, then lets work to educate ourselves about the globe and how we may inadvertently contribute to failed states. Lets educate ourselves, so we can educate the world.

That’s what SHE said: hard truths of voluntourism, twitter parents talk the joy of youth sports, how to love, the value of quitting, Trump’s great con, equality as oppression and more…

7 REASONS WHY YOUR TWO WEEK TRIP TO HAITI DOESN’T MATTER: CALLING BULL ON “SERVICE TRIPS” | thedoctorschannel.com

Some hard truths about service trips and voluntourism…”My least favorite but most common response when asking someone about their micro-trip abroad goes something like this: ‘I was heartbroken to see how life is there. It really makes me realize just how good we have it. My life will never be the same.’ (*Rolls eyes*) If you truly want this experience — to change your world perspective, etc. — then at least call it like it is and admit you’re going on a self-fulfillment trip. Don’t call it humanitarian work when the only human benefiting from this experience is you. If you took away more than you gave, you’re doing it wrong.”


THE FUNNIEST PARENTS ON TWITTER TALK THE SPECIAL JOY OF KIDS’ SPORTS | scarrymommy.com

‘Nuf said:



HOW TO LOVE: LEGENDARY ZEN BUDDHIST TEACHER THICH NHAT HANH ON MASTERING THE ART OF “INTERBEING” | brainpickings.org

A lesson in love: “If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.” 


THE WISDOM OF SHATTERING | onbeing.org

A former gymnast recalls the day she decided to quit her passion after her coach catches her from a fall that would have most likely caused paralysis. What is the value in quitting?… “Quitting something and developing new imaginations is not a skill we often give much credit. But I wonder if, at some point, letting ourselves shatter could be our bravest act. Can a moment of giving up be that sacred turning point if we infuse it with faith? When we acknowledge that we have feelings, that we have limits, that we don’t have to be superhuman, that sometimes we experience things that do, indeed, for the time being, gut our capacity to go on — can these moments of recognizing our pain and limits be our most courageous ones?”


Found on TheyAllHateUs

WHEN YOU’RE ACCUSTOMED TO PRIVILEGE, EQUALITY FEELS LIKE OPPRESSION | huffingtonpost.com

In light of the violence at recent Trump rallies, Chris Boeskool explains the thinking behind “All Lives Matter…“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression…All this anger we see from people screaming “All Lives Matter” in response to black protesters at rallies. All this anger we see from people insisting that their “religious freedom” is being infringed because a gay couple wants to get married. All these people angry about immigrants, angry about Muslims, angry about “Happy Holidays,” angry about not being able to say bigoted things without being called a bigot…They all basically boil down to people who have grown accustomed to walking straight at other folks, and expecting them to move. So when “those people” in their path don’t move – when those people start wondering, “Why am I always moving out of this guy’s way?”; when those people start asking themselves, “What if I didn’t move? What if I just kept walking too?”; when those people start believing that they have every bit as much right to that aisle as anyone else – it can seem like their rights are being taken away. Equality can feel like oppression. But it’s not. What you’re feeling is just the discomfort of losing a little bit of your privilege – the same discomfort that an only child feels when she goes to preschool and discovers that there are other kids who want to play with the same toys as she does.”


TRUMP SLAMMED BY FOUNDER OF HUMANS OF NEW YORK | washingtonpost.com

The typically unpolitical journalist and documentarian breaks character and pens a letter to the GOP front-runner out of what he feels is a moral obligation…“I try my hardest not to be political,” Stanton wrote. “I’ve refused to interview several of your fellow candidates. I didn’t want to risk any personal goodwill by appearing to take sides in a contentious election. But I realize now that there is no correct time to oppose violence and prejudice. The time is always now. Because along with millions of Americans, I’ve come to realize that opposing you is no longer a political decision. It is a moral one.”

DONALD TRUMP IS SUCCESSFULLY CONNING THE ENTIRE COUNTRY |  huffingronpost.com

Donald Trump’s lies and avoidance of talking about any policies for this country have been documented throughout his campaign, but what hasn’t been discussed is how he is getting away with it…“As Nicole Hemmer eloquently argued in a piece for U.S. News And World Report, Trump is a classic gaslighter — and his target is all of us. She writes: Trump is a toxic blend of Barnum and bully. If you’re a good mark, he’s your best friend. But if you catch on to the con, then he starts to gaslight. Ask him a question and he’ll lie without batting an eye. Call him a liar and he’ll declare himself “truthful to a fault.” Confront him with contradictory evidence and he’ll shrug and repeat the fib. Maybe he’ll change the subject. But he’ll never change the lie.”  

Found on Quotations Quotes


THINGS TO DO & THEATRE TO SEE


LA families looking for an outdoor weekend activity, check out Descanso Gardens’ cherry blossoms. For cinema, Cinepolis USA presents their Handpicked Kids movie series  and mark your calendars for IMAX’s  new documentary A Beautiful Planet, narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, on April 29th. Theatre-seekers be sure to also check out The Witches, adapted by David Wood from Roald Dahl’s novel,  presented by South Coast Rep’s Junior Players March 12 – 20. Physical Theate Ensemble in Santa Monica presents The SuperHero and His Charming Wife  and the Echo Theatre Company presents Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel. Interested in dance? The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre will be returning to Segerstrom Center for the Arts April 6- 10 and Pennington Dance Group will celebrate its 15th anniversary with two concerts at the State Playhouse and Cal State LA the last weekend in March.  

In New York, catch some fun musicals like crowd favorite  Disaster!, iconic classic Fiddler on the Roof , or a 95 year-old musical’s triumphant return: Shuffle Along.  New York Theatre Ballet presents Cinderella Florence Gould Hall April 17th. Also check out The Secret Inside You at the American Museum of Natural History. Be sure to get your tickets now for  David Harrower’s new play Blackbird  and also go see The Humans on Broadway!

what I want you to know about the what I want you to know series

image A little over a year ago, I started the What I Want You to Know series on this blog.   I invited readers to share a part of their personal story that they wished others could better understand.  When I put the call out there, I figured I would have a handful of people interested in participating.  I was surprised on many levels: by the width and breadth of topics, by the vulnerability and bravery of the posters, and by the number of people who have submitted stories.  As of today, I currently have just over 100 stories in the queue for this series.  If I keep publishing them once a week, I have enough stories to take the series into 2013.  So, I’ve decided to take the month of December to publish a new story every day.  This will allow me to share some incredible stories that I’ve been waiting to publish, and it will always allow me to take a little blogging break leading up to the holiday season (though I’m sure I’ll be popping in from time to time).  There are some really amazing stories in the line-up, so I hope you will stick around. On that note, I wanted to make a few observations about the series, in regards to both the writers and the comments.  But first, let me go back to the original intention I had in mind for the series:

I can think of many times my views have been stretched by reading the experience of others.  I can think of times that I have been insensitive and have been called out.  There was a time two years ago that I joked about Jafta being “ready for the short bus” because of some dorky shoes he was wearing.  A mom of a special needs child told me how hurtful that was, and I never forgot it. I can also remember comments here that dismissed my own experience . . . that basically indicated, “you are the one with a different family, but why should we all have to care?”  I still feel that sting. I think that at a surface level, most of us want to be compassionate and sensitive to others.  But I do think that certain barriers (lack of exposure, tolerance, defensiveness, etc) can ruin the best of intentions.  If only we could peel back the layers to our humanity, and really see where the other is coming from. This is what I want to try, in this space, a couple times a month.  I’m starting a series called “What I Want You To Know”.  It is, quite simply, a place for you to share your story, and the sting that you want other people to be more sensitive of.  Maybe you are a single mom tired of the assumptions, or a mom of an autistic child who wants more understanding.  Maybe you are an interracial family.  Or a same-sex family.  Maybe you work.  Maybe you homeschool.  Maybe your kid is sick . . . really sick.  Maybe you are Mormon.  Or Muslim.  Or decided not to breastfeed.  Or can’t get pregnant.  Maybe you are depressed.  I want you to tell us – what do you want us to know about your particular circumstance?  What is that burning thing that  you wish people would “get”?  And then I want us to collectively reach across this little campfire of the blogosphere and hear each other.  We don’t have to agree.  We just have to listen.

This was my initial hope for the series, and by and large I think it has been a great exercise in empathy.  However, I’m wanting to put a few guidelines out, because over the past few months I’ve noticed a subtle shift . . . a little less support and a little more judgment in the comments and even in some of the essays.  Thus far, I have published (with two exceptions) every story that has been submitted, because I’ve wanted to honor the time people have taken to write out their story.   During this month, I will continue posting the stories as they have come in. However, moving forward, I’d like to offer the following guidelines: For submissions: I would like the essays to stick to your own personal story.  For example, this would be appropriate: Growing up, the divorce of my parents was very difficult for me. This would not be appropriate: People who get divorced are selfish and don’t care about their kids. This would be appropriate: I struggle with people-pleasing and worrying about what others think about me. This would not be appropriate: People who say they don’t care what others think are liars, and the worst offenders. Stick to “I-statements” and your personal story and feelings, rather than blanket statements about others. In terms of commenting guidelines, I’m going to be a bit more liberal in deleting comments that are critical within this series.  First of all, because these are GUEST POSTS.  Most submissions are not written by professional writers, or bloggers accustomed to having their words picked apart, but rather by readers who’ve taken a risk on telling a vulnerable story in a public place.  While I’m usually up for a spirited debate or a difference of opinion, I just don’t think this series is the forum for it.  The point is to listen.  I’d love to see comments that offer support or empathy, but I don’t want to see writers being accused of being overly-sensitive, histrionic, or wrong.  If you don’t like what the writer has to say, make a mental note of your dissent and move on.  Alright!  On that note, tomorrow I will be kicking off a month of What I Want You to Know posts.  There are some incredible stories to be shared; some emotional, some shocking, and all deeply personal.  I hope you will listen, and I think we will all learn. If you would like to submit your own story, you can do so here.

what I want you to know: an introduction

On occasion, I will have a little talk with myself about what I want this blog to be about.  (Beyond whining about things like crib sheets and the sizing at Forever 21, of course).  As much as I love to regale others with embarrassing tidbits of my daily life, I do want to put this space towards something meaningful from time to time.  I’ve been teaching a new class this semester . . . one on the impact of diversity on the psyche.  One of the assignments I’ve given each student is to write a personal exploration of their own diversity issues, and then read it to their classmates.  It has been amazing how much empathy and understanding has been gained from this exercise.  Perhaps more than any lecture I could prepare, the students are learning sensitivity by hearing the stories of others.

I think this is so true in blogging.  I can think of many times my views have been stretched by reading the experience of others.  I can think of times that I have been insensitive and have been called out.  There was a time two years ago that I joked about Jafta being “ready for the short bus” because of some ugly shoes.  A mom of a special needs child told me how hurtful that was, and I never forgot it.

I can also remember comments here that dismissed my own experience . . . that basically indicated, “you are the one with a different family, but why should we all have to care?”  I still feel that sting.

I think that at a surface level, most of us want to be compassionate and sensitive to others.  But I do think that certain barriers (lack of exposure, tolerance, defensiveness, etc) can ruin the best of intentions.  If only we could peel back the layers to our humanity, and really see where the other is coming from.

This is what I want to try, in this space, a couple times a month.  I’m starting a series called “What I Want You To Know”.  It is, quite simply, a place for you to share your story, and the sting that you want other people to be more sensitive of.  Maybe you are a single mom tired of the assumptions, or a mom of an autistic child who wants more understanding.  Maybe you are an interracial family.  Or a same-sex family.  Maybe you work.  Maybe you homeschool.  Maybe your kid is sick . . . really sick.  Maybe you are Mormon.  Or Muslim.  Or decided not to breastfeed.  Or can’t get pregnant.  Maybe you are depressed. 
I want you to tell us – what do you want us to know about your particular circumstance?  What is that burning thing that  you wish people would “get”? 

And then I want us to collectively reach across this little campfire of the blogosphere and hear each other.  We don’t have to agree.  We just have to listen.

I’m going to try to post someone’s story once a week.  If you have one to share, shoot me an email.

The mall camp: when refuge happens in unexpected places

Last month I had the chance to visit Iraq and Lebanon with World Vision to see the work they are doing with families living in refugee camps. I’ve seen footage of the violence and destruction that ISIS has wreaked on families in Iraq and Syria and I think that their stories desperately need to be told. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to what is happening to both the Iraqi and Syrian people because it’s happening so far away. It’s also so incredibly painful that I think it’s hard to even process it, especially for Americans who have never lived under occupation or experienced sustained violent conflict in our home country.

The first IDP (internally displaced people’s) camp we visited on my trip to Iraq did not look at all how I expected it would look. In my mind, I envisioned a dusty, remote environment with rows of temporary shelters. And many of the camps we would later visit would look just like this. But the first camp we visited looked just like a shopping mall. In fact, it sat on top of one.
The first camp we visited was in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The city of Erbil is host to many Iraqi refugees who fled cities like Mosul when they were besieged by ISIS. The number of displaced people has overwhelmed neighboring cities, which means that finding a place for them to settle takes some creativity.
In the city of Erbil, there is a large mall that has allowed the building of modest apartments on the roof. A French NGO helped to build the apartments, which are now inhabited by hundreds of Iraqi families. The apartments are small but functional, with 4-5 families living in most apartments. It has created a sort of tenement environment above all of the shops below. When you walk through, there are scenes of domestic life that feel out of place for a retail space . . . laundry hanging outside of doorways, kids riding trikes through the hall, women congregating for tea.
This particular camp is a camp for Christian displaced people. Given that it was our first stop, I had a moment of fear that perhaps World Vision was more invested in helping the small Christian minority in Iraq than the large number of Muslims. I would later find that was far from the truth. But this happened to be one of the few camps in which Christians were the majority. In a sort of self-selected segregation, no doubt fueled by distrust of other cultures after having been oppressed by one, most camps are religiously homogenous.
We had the chance to talk with one family that has lived in this camp for three years. It was never their intention to live there for so long. Everyone thought it was a temporary solution. But because they don’t yet feel safe returning to their hometown, they remain.

Nithal fled ISIS with her aging parents, her husband, and her five children. They fled on foot, and walked for several days. In the last three years while living at the camp, her husband passed away. The family believes he died from the stress of having to flee. They received reports from friends that their home had been destroyed, and all of their belongings stolen. They left with nothing, and rely on the charity of others to survive. They used to be a middle class family, selling bread to their community. Now, they are dependent on aid. It’s clear this wears on them.

Nithal desperately wants to return, as does her mother Maryam, who is 80 years old and has not left the camp in three years because the stairs are too difficult for her to traverse. Maryam’s husband has also been confined to the camp. He is battling cancer and receives treatment in his apartment.
Between Nithal, her parents, and her adult children and their spouses and children, there are 14 people living in their small apartment. They are very tight-knit. It is Nithal and Maryam’s greatest wish to return home, and I get a sense while talking to them that nothing but a homecoming will displace their grief. They are fixated on the idea of a return and have not been able to find any hope in their current circumstances. When asked what she does to occupy her time, Nithal says “I do nothing for fun. I sit here all day and wait.”

Their children feel differently, and I find this to be true with many of the families we talk to. They are younger and more resilient. Their ties to their home are not as fixed, and they are moving forward and finding things to do in Erbil. Nithal’s son works for  World Vision. Another son just got married and is looking for local work. They say that they do not want to return, but also know that it would break their mother’s heart if they did not stay with her.

This is one of the unseen losses of occupation. Families are forced to leave their home and then splinter apart. The Iraqi people are very community and family oriented, but losing their home and community means that some of the natural structure that kept their families close is no longer there. Both Nithal and Maryam talk at length about their fears of their families breaking apart.

One of the ways that World Vision has helped this family was through a series of classes meant to strengthen family bonds. It teaches coping skills and conflict resolution, and each member of the family reports that it was incredibly helpful. Nithal’s son Housam now works with the younger people in his community, hoping to impart the same values for them.
Despite feeling adrift and without a home, Nithal has managed to make her home a warm and welcoming space. She has done the best with what she has and it’s clear she has given much attention to the interior space of her house, as it’s all that she has. She has hung wallpaper and art, and has sewn pillows. She offers us tea and sofa on trays with matching glasses, and urges us to eat from plates of candy and snacks. Her hospitality peeks through her despondences. It’s a way that she copes, and while the details are certainly different, I relate to this.

Nithal has made a home in the midst of insecurity, and that home gives her solace while she waits to return.

World Vision is helping to meet the needs of these people, in ways that are both practical and hope-infusing. I was incredibly impressed with the work  World Vision is doing, and if you would like to support that work, please visit their website and become a sponsor of their refugee work.