Archive for October, 2008

Powell Takes a Stand Against Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Posted on October 19, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Media, Religion.

Colin Powell devoted almost two minutes of his seven-minute explanation for why he has endorsed Barack Obama to denouncing leaders in the Republican party and others who have spewed anti-Muslim hate speech throughout this campaign.

It’s a shame that it has taken this long for such a prominent Republican politician to weigh in on this issue. For about two years now, we have been hearing the word Muslim used as if it were a slur or accusation. Obama has been labeled a Muslim by his critics, who operate on the assumption that Muslim Americans have no right to run for the presidency of the United States. I blogged about this issue last Saturday, and all week other commentators have discussed the issue. And now a man in power (well, a man who used to be in power) has spoken up. As Mr. Powell made clear, the line has been drawn in the sand: Enough!

Good work, Mr. Powell. That was one large step toward redeeming yourself.

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Is Muslim The New Queer?

Posted on October 11, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Politics, Religion.

The U.S. presidential election has led to fairly significant debate on black-white race issues as well as gender politics. This campaign has triggered passionate hatred for Muslims and Arabs in this country, and yet that form of racism and prejudice has barely been discussed.

Just yesterday an elderly woman at a campaign event with John McCain rambled into the microphone about how she doesn’t trust Barack Obama and then said, as if it were her kicker, “HE’S ARAB.”

McCain took the microphone back, shook his head, and acting like he is suddenly better than gutter politics, said something along the lines of, “No, no, Mam. He’s a decent, family man.”

What?! That old lady did not say Obama is a terrorist. She did not say he is a murderer or a rapist or a drug dealer to little children. She said he is “Arab.” And yet, McCain automatically understood her point and equated “Arab” with “bad man.”

Similar things have been happening on a regular basis throughout this campaign. Every time people spread emails and rumors that Obama is Muslim, they are not trying to inform voters of the man’s religion. They are saying, Don’t vote for him because he is Muslim. Every time some religious-right radio talkshow host uses Obama’s middle name of Hussein, he is saying, Don’t vote for Obama because he is Muslim.

Obama has on occasion said that it shouldn’t matter if he were Muslim or not. But he has not done that enough. Usually, he just denies it, as if being called Muslim were an accusation. Wouldn’t someone who wants to run on a mantle of hope and bring this country forward on race relations say over and over again, “There is nothing wrong with being Muslim. Muslims have the right to run for office. Muslims are not all terrorists.”

When people accuse Obama of being Arab, he should similarly say, “There is nothing wrong with being Arab. We have many allies in the Arab world.”

Step back a moment and think again about that old lady at the McCain event yesterday. Imagine her instead saying that she doesn’t trust Obama and…. “HE”S JEWISH.” Or she doesn’t trust Obama and … “HE’S CHRISTIAN.” Or she doesn’t trust Obama and …. “HE’S POLISH.”

And then, imagine the man running on the Republican Party ticket to be president of the United States say, “No, no, no, he’s not Jewish. He’s a decent, family man.”

Yes, of course, there is still plenty of hatred against Jews out there in the world. But a Republican presidential candidate would never say that because there would be a backlash from the Jewish community, and probably (hopefully) from many other communities.

So where’s the backlash now? We hear a lot about this election getting “uglier” and politics getting “dirtier.” We discuss those voters in the South or rural PA who say they’d never vote for a black man. So why don’t we hear about the ongoing racism against Muslims and Arabs that has been coming out in this campaign?

I am Jewish and grew up learning about the Holocaust and the apocryphal story of the Danish king who wore the Star of David when the Nazis tried to round up the Jews. As the story goes, all the Danes then wore the Star of David, thereby protecting the real Jews from being sent to concentration camps. I grew up hearing stories about the German families who risked everything to hide Jews in their basement. And, of course, about the families who stood by and did nothing. To them, we said Never Again.

Now, in post-9/11 America, it is the Muslims and Arabs who are the object of racism. While there are so many Americans who are quick to correct the facts and make sure the public knows that Obama is not Arab or Muslim, where are the people speaking up and saying that the Arabs and Muslims are not evil, bad people? How come now almost nobody is saying it’s not OK to hate?

Rather than correcting these lies by proving that Obama is Christian, we should be denouncing them. And, like the story of the Danish king, we should all be willing to say, I am Arab, I am Muslim.

This was cross-posted on the Huffington Post.

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A Makeshift Synagogue and Me

Posted on October 8, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, Religion.

I am not sure what my family or my synagogue did to me while I was growing up, but I have such a soft spot in my heart for my religion. I don’t think I believe in God, and I can never keep the stories of Jacob and Isaac and that coat of many colors straight. And yet, put me in shul with a congregation singing Hebrew prayers to the tunes I recognize from my years at Temple Beth Shalom or my summers at Camp Eisner, and I melt. I want to do nothing more than smile and enjoy the music with my friend or family member sitting next me. Yes, I admit it, I become one big ball of cheese.

As of sundown tonight, it is Yom Kippur, the most important time of the year. Between last week’s Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, God writes the book for the upcoming year. He decides who is going to have good things happen to them, and who is going to have bad things happen. And so during the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Jews say sorry to all who they have wronged over the past year. They think about what they did, and who they hurt, and how they sinned, and they ask for forgiveness. (Or at least that’s how I remember my dad explaining it. Feel free to visit factcheck.org.)

And then, on Yom Kippur, when it’s the final hours before God seals the deal, Jews pray and pray and pray, asking God’s forgiveness for their sins. Jews fast both to atone for their sins and, according to the rabbi tonight, because they have no time to eat since they are so busy praying.

Since Yom Kippur seems all about one’s relationship with God, and since I don’t think I believe in God, it would seem logical that I need not celebrate this holiday. I could skip it. And I almost did, for many good reasons. I just started a new job and didn’t want to upset my boss by taking off a day of work. I like to eat and am a really bad faster. I went home for Rosh Hashana last week and didn’t want to schlep another two hours home this week.

But then there’s that whole God-deciding-the-year part. Yeah, just in case, I should probably make sure I’m on his good side.

I hurried home from work, did the candles prayer (are you supposed to light candles on Yom Kippur? Why not – always a nice touch), filled up on two plates of stir-fry and rice with my Buddhist Burmese husband as I pretended not to notice that the sun had already gone down, and hurried off to meet a friend at the synagogue.

Well, “synagogue” is stretching it. My friend and I went to a service for Jews in their 20s and 30s who live in New York City and don’t belong to their own congregation. It’s a brilliant idea – a way of giving people a chance to celebrate the High Holidays even if they don’t belong to a temple or can’t afford the high High Holidays ticket costs.

Given the non-profit nature of the idea, the chosen location for our services was not exactly high class. It was a big empty space in a building on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. Construction ladders leaned against the walls. The windows were all boarded up; some had black sheets hanging on them by a thread. At one point in the service we heard a loud thud as if a piece of construction had just fallen down. The congregation chuckled.

And yet, despite the lack of proper heating or comfortable chairs, despite the absence of a congregation of families who grew up with one another, despite the loudspeaker near my seat that kept having technical problems and buzzing at inopportune moments, it was one of the more beautiful Yom Kippur services I’ve been to.

The rabbi made dorky jokes that were totally endearing. And then he went into short sermons about what Yom Kippur represents, and how you can make it meaningful in your life. He talked about the need not to develop new values but instead to reevaluate your life so you are living out the values you already have.

A young woman with a beautiful voice served as a cantor. One of my closest friends, who also has a beautiful voice, sat next to me singing along to the prayers.  We sang in Hebrew, and read in English.

Listening to the prayers, I remembered my years in Hebrew School reciting those lines. I thought about my family, and the countless holidays I have spent with them. I thought about sneaking out of services at the Concord to run around with my younger cousins. I envisioned my mom and sister chatting during a service in our local temple, and me being embarrassed and repeatedly trying to hush them up.

Now that I am older, and my family members live in different cities, I know that I have to make my own congregation and will likely spend many more services without my parents and big sister. And yet, even though it’s sad to know that we can’t be together as much, nothing brings me emotionally closer to my family and my childhood than praying in a – makeshift – synagogue on a High Holiday. I know that my mom is doing the same in Monroe, my dad in Westchester, and my sister in DC.

When people find out that I strongly identify as Jewish, they often assume I believe in God. To them, that’s what being religious is about. To me, it’s much more than that. What about all the God stuff in the text of the prayers? I usually just gloss over that. I focus on the music and the memories and the lessons about how to live life. And most important, about my family. I think about the role Judaism has played in shaping who I am, about how it has taught me to value learning and helping others. I think about how even sitting with a congregation full of faces I don’t recognize, I feel like I belong. To me, that is religion at it’s best.

And just in case there is a God, I will try my hardest not to eat until sundown tomorrow. I want to make sure only good things are in my Book of Life profile.

This has been cross-posted on the Huffington Post.

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OffTheBus — Palin Did Not Implode

Posted on October 4, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Media, Politics.

I have been working at the Huffington Post’s OffTheBus section for the past month. We cover the U.S. presidential campaign by enlisting citizen journalists, professional journalists, students, professors, doctors, teachers, and just about everyone else to write ground-level reports on the campaign.

Yesterday, OffTheBus writers from across the country (and a couple in Canada) went to VP Debate Watch Parties and contributed stories on how the audience reacted to the candidates. Check out the stories featured on our page today. OffTheBus members also contributed reports on how their local media covered the debate.

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