Monday, December 12

[quote of the day]

Today we struggle for the soul of our country.
-Charles Perkins

Wednesday, November 23

solidarity: now and always, here and everywhere

Bil'in Village, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Great things are happening all over the world. Oakland, Bil'in and Springfield are excellent examples.

What does solidarity mean? Solidarity means resistance. It means acting together. It means drawing inspiration from one another. Sharing ideas and being creative. Making change. Never forgetting that we belong to one another. And that another world is on her way, and if we're quiet enough, we can definitely hear her breathing (Arundhati Roy).

Solidarity can be dangerous.

From the 1999 Seattle WTO riots.

The shape, texture, and purpose of resistant is different for every community. But resistance to unjust systems and laws is always necessary, and always requires great courage.

This video, of friends and colleagues in Massachusetts, inspires me to take more direct, nonviolent action against the illegal and undignified occupation of Palestine.

What are you working on?

What inspires you?

What does solidarity mean to you?

Tuesday, October 25

[palestine: ahlan wa sahlan]

Life in Palestine goes one. People go to work, children go to school, and the occupation continues. If you stay in one place, you don't directly encounter the occupation. But the effects are clear.

Poster, Old City, Nablus, Palestine.

'Made in USA', Separation Wall, Bethlehem, Palestine.

Separation Wall, Bethlehem, Palestine.

Handala, Separation Wall, Bethlehem, Palestine.

Separation Wall, Bethlehem, Palestine.

Sunday, October 2

[sumud: resistance]

I have been in Occupied Palestine for a week and a half now. And it's glorious. People are friendly, the landscape is positively incredible, the food is delicious, the Arabic gorgeous and nuanced, and my work is challenging and fulfilling. I am teaching music (voice and piano) to kids in individual lessons at a music center in Nablus, and we begin group music classes at a local primary school tomorrow.

I have passed by many checkpoints, but only gone through two of them. One was unmanned and I walked through the maze of turnstiles, and other was manned by a barely legal Israeli girl who giggled and flirted over the loudspeaker with the male volunteer with whom I was traveling. There was also a gruff 30-something man who simply waved me past when I flashed my U.S. passport.

I spent hours walking along the separation wall in Bethlehem and trying not to tear up at the graffiti (pictures to come). I also picked up a fabulous book called 'Challenging the Wall: Towards a Pedagogy of Hope' which contains case studies, academic analysis, interviews, etc., about the separation wall and it's role on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I crossed into "East Jerusalem" from "West Jerusalem" and the discrepancy was shocking. One crosses the street near Damascus Gate (Bab el-Aamoud) and immediately the signs are in Arabic and the voices speak Arabic.

So far I've managed to figure out how to take a serveece (like a cross between a taxi and a bus), order my daily felafel sandwich, and talk to my kids to see how their days have been. I also know my way around the Old City, how to cook in a gas-lit oven (my cake turned out fabulously), and how to ignore the 'how are yous' and the 'what's your name' and the 'i love yous' shouted at me from all directions whenever I walk down the street.

Crazy adventures:
-hiking Wadi Qelt near Areha (Jericho) at sunrise
-making friends with the owners/10-month old daughter of the restaurant in Areha
-being invited for tea by the neighbor kids, which turned into dinner, which turned into shisha on the roof
-baking/inventing a delicious cake in our gas-lit stove
-stumbling upon the PLO Negotiations headquarters, eating lunch there, and then forcing the guards to take my cake
-being in the main square of Nablus during the rally when Abbas was speaking to the UN
-observing the Via Dolorosa walk in the Old City of Jerusalem
-sharing a seat with an older woman and her granddaughter on a serveece to Ramallah
-leaving the Bethlehem Couchsurfer host's place at 3 AM and wandering around the city
-befriending four policemen in Bethlehem and being invited to cook lunch with them in their bachelor pad across from the Church of the Nativity
-leaving my mark on the separation wall

And three more months to come!

Palestine is a beautiful country. It is NOT scary. It is NOT dangerous. It is NOT full of Muslim terrorists.'s full of Jewish terrorists. Not that all Jews are terrorists, and not that all Israelis are terrorists. But the people in Palestine who are terrorizing Palestinians are Jewish Israelis.

It's full of Israeli teenagers toting guns, as well as armed Jewish settlers who assault regular Palestinians on a daily basis. It is also full of American-financed systematic oppression and intimidation of an entire people. It is full of brave, persistent, courageous, normal families whose every breath constitutes an act of resistance. Many people have made a choice to stay here in Palestine, or to immigrate here, to an occupied territory where their very lives and the lives of their loved ones are threatened and where their existence is denied by major players in the international community.

Palestine is a peaceful place. People are tired of violence, but they are actively demanding their right to self-determination regardless of what international leaders, Palestinian leaders, and Israeli leaders are doing behind the scenes.

One can understand nothing about a place until it is experienced for oneself, and that understanding will change every minute as the situation itself changes. Palestine is not static. Palestine is dynamic, in constant change and adaptation with the requirements of daily life and the whims of the State of Israel as well as the ignorance and cowardice of the international community.

Visit Palestine! Or at the very least educate yourself. There's so much to love here.

Thursday, September 1

[the sound of silence: no copyright infringement intended]

(Note: This is a great post that includes a simpler explanation of the practical benefits of Vipassana and how to adapt Vipassana to fit your life.)

First thing you need to know is that Vipassana camp is like a road trip: always pee when you have the chance.

I just returned from a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat. Why on earth would someone participate in something like this? Well, I like my alone time. And I'm moving to the Middle East in two weeks, and wanted the chance to spend some time alone reflecting and developing deeper self-discipline before I go. And, I thought, hey, child monks are sooooo cute! And Buddha is a pretty cool guy. Sounds awesome.

Anyhow, the teaching of this particular technique requires students to commit to Noble Silence for all 10 days - this includes no speech, no gestures, no physical contact, and no eye contact. Students are free to ask the management or the meditation teachers for help if they need it, but no communication with fellow meditators is allowed. They're also asked to commit to several precepts, like no killing, lying, stealing, etc. Here's the schedule:

4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher's instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room--Lights out

Altogether, that's 10+ hours of meditation per day. There is no dinner, only a piece of fruit and some tea. No talking about your feelings with your co-meditators, no asking your roommate to please change her behavior because it's irritating you, and no exercising (including situps, yoga, jogging, etc.) except walking on the pathways throughout the grounds on the sex-segregated areas. No reading or writing materials allowed, no contact with the outside world, and no phone or laptop.

The course is narrated by S.N. Goenka, a man of Indian origin but born in raised in Burma. The technique asks students to objectively observe their respiration and physical sensations in order to truly understand reality (it's more complicated than that, obviously -- here's a longer explanation). All group meditations began and ended with Goenka's voice on a CD, and every evening at 7:00 PM, all students (new and returning) sit in the meditation hall for his hour-long video evening discourse. Here's a Youtube clip of the hilariousness and oddity of the man.

So. Here follows my own personal account of my 10 day retreat at the Northwest Vipassana Center in Onalaska, WA. Background: all staff and teachers are volunteers, old students who have already completed at least one course (some more than 20!). The teachings are free. No fee is charged from students for the teachings, the lodging, or the food - it's run entirely on
donations. And let me tell you, the food was FANTASTIC. We had chili, Thai curry, mashed potatoes, and all sorts of delicious things.

I encourage everyone - anyone - who wants more peace and mental self-discipline in their life to look into these courses. Go to, and feel free to email me at

Day 1. Full of energy and commitment! I can do this! A little fidgety in meditation sittings, but loving all the quietness my brain and ears are getting. Nap during breaks. Afternoon: SO BORED. Did my hair in multiple coiled braids Swedish-style. Drop into bed exhausted around 9:15 after observing my breath for 10+ hours.

Day 2. Roommate talks in her sleep. Ironic. Afternoon break is spent splitting leaves of grass and looking for four-leaf clovers.

Day 3. Couldn't get Goenka's accent out of my mind. Wonder absently for several hours why he says "aware" with a 'v' sound and "very" with a 'w' sound. Can't stop replaying Russell Peters routines in my head.

Day 4. Rearranged furniture in my imaginary apartment in my mind. Refolded all my clothes. Today's the day we learn Vipassana meditation (we have been practicing Anapana for the last three days to prepare our minds for Vipassana.

First Vipassana sitting of adhitthana, or determination. We're asked to sit for an hour without changing out posture (opening our eyes, hands, or legs). 10 minutes in, I realize that if my mind is calm enough I can stop a sneeze with a single thought! Nifty trick. 20 minutes in, the woman next to me starts shaking and sobbing. Oh god, oh, oh, god. Half an hour in, I decide my first meal post-retreat will be waffle fries and an oreo/peanut butter milkshake. 45 minutes in: may have experienced nirvana! ...Or my limbs may have just fallen asleep.

Done! I made it through my first adhitthana sitting and didn't move for an hour. Go back to my room and jot notes on my tissue box, where it occurs to me how ridiculous it is that I keep a secret pen and take notes on the underside of a tissue box, like a POW.

Day 5. Sleep through entire morning meditation session. In bed. So this is what stir-crazy feels like. Later in the day, I wonder if the tingling sensation I feel in my arm is akin to the feeling of having the Dark Mark activated. The meditation mat of the girl behind me is gone! Food brainstorm: thin pesto hashbrowns with a soft-boiled egg. Maybe I'll get a tattoo of Buddha's eyes, like my favorite stupa in Nepal. Yeah. Maybe "work out your own salvation with diligence." I feel like Cipher from The Matrix, wanting chocolate cake even though I KNOW it's not real.

Day 6. No, this is what stir-crazy feels like. My awesome roommate Alisha and I have done our hair the exact same way for the last two days. I guess we were each so bored that we came up with the exact same, equally complex hairdos. Had dreams about chilling with Fergie, watching an alternate end to the Titanic (tidal wave!), flying like an astronaut over zero-oxygen islands that look like a desert/bubbling/Madagascar-like, sci-fi world. Are they slipping something into my food?? 6-7 PM meditation: felt like a superhero! Observed all sensations equanimously.

Day 7. Wake up with "Party in the U.S.A." by Miley Cyrus stuck in my head. I take it as a bad omen. Later: YOU GUYS. I felt like Yu-Gi-Oh when he transforms. Or the Little Mermaid. Or, sparkly, like Edward Cullen in direct sunlight. I can feel all my limbs tingling at once! I did it! Felt a free flow of subtle vibrations throughout the body!

Between meditation sessions, still getting bored. Drum out a rhythm on my tummy. Fold and unfold travel alarm clock. Attempt to balance said clock on one finger. Evening meditation sessions: woman dashes out of hall five minutes before adhittana is finished. I can hear the sounds gravel flying as she races down the path toward what I presume is the bathroom. Learned that lesson early, grasshopper.

Day 8. HATE the sound of Goenka's voice. Intensely. Remotely aware that this is not conducive to Vipassana or world peace and is probably a manifestation of some craving or aversion which my brain is attempting to face. 2 more days. 2 more days.

Day 9. Had dreams about being chased by a deviant psycho-killer who looked like Katy Perry. What is it with the pop stars? And this comes after the dream about the entirely nuclear-dependent world where I'm trying desperately to convince everyone to snap out of it.

At breakfast (where Noble Silence is also maintained - it's 24/7), my roommate and I arrive at the toaster at the same time and drop our slices of bread in and push the lever down. Once. Twice. ...Three times. Something's not working. We both reallllly want toast. She goes under the table to tug the cord over to another outlet and I silently assist by sliding the toaster over the counter. Still not there -- she peeks out from under the table. I slide a little more. She peeks out again. This repeats several times until we finally look each other in the eye and burst into a fit of silent, quaking giggles. SHOCKED by how good it feels to laugh!

Cat nap after breakfast: dream that a freak electro-magnetic pulse has turned on all my electronic devices and everyone knows it was I who broke the Noble Silence.

Later: I DID IT! I felt my entire body at the same time. Even the insides! Neat. Can I go home now?

Rest period before "dinner": tap out a jazz version of "Frosty the Snowman" on my tissue box. Do some Kegel exercises. Watch the numbers change on my alarm clock. 16 minutes til dinner.

Day 10. I made it! 10 days. Do I get a badge or something? There was a gorgeous, crescent moon out this morning, one of my favorite...wait, the ONLY good part about waking up at 4:00 AM. Three more hours til Noble Silence is broken.

Vow of silence is over! People are talking and laughing joyously, and it all sounds so foreign. Like hearing the deepness of a man's voice outside your dorm room, Smithies. I wonder if this is a tiny reflection of what liberation from Nazi concentration camps felt like (note: please ignore the obvious dissimilarities between meditation camp and the Holocaust).

We get a real dinner today! And our last dinner is hummus, falafel, and tabouleh -- a good omen for my upcoming trip. I make it a ritual to, on my last night in any one place, eat the food of the place I am going to next. An excellent omen indeed.

Day 11: day of departure. Wake up with "Baby" by JBiebs stuck in my head. Take it as an
excellent omen. 20 minutes of morning meditation, final video discourse, cleaning, and breakfast, and DONE! Wheeeeeee! Get a ride from two nice Bangladeshi guys back to civilization and enjoy the glow of enlightenment.

Overall, the course satisfied my goals of sharpening my self-discipline and self-awareness, and I also gained many other benefits, like alternative actions I could have used in certain situations in my past, deeper compassion for those I feel have wronged me, and a stronger ability to observe my thoughts and sensations neutrally.

Buddha once asked, "What happens to a gift which you refuse to accept?" The answer is that it does not become yours. If someone in your life presents you with a gift of abuse, or anger, or control, even if it's based on love, you don't have to accept it, and it remains with the giver. I used to hate all that "it's all about your attitude" crap, but this, this I can understand. At a deeper level, Vipassana is about understanding truth and reality as it is, and not as we would like it be. And we begin with ourselves. Compassion for all, and especially ourselves.

I'll admit that it was also really nice to be without phone or internet obligations for 11 days. My mind slowed down, and I became conscious of every step, every bite, every thought and every breath. And living off of the donations, goodwill, and service of others in a free course such as this one is a humbling experience. People of all backgrounds and means come to Vipassana courses, and there are Vipassana centers all over the world. Anyone, regardless of life experience,
profession, age, race, class, gender, religion -- anyone -- can and will benefit in some way from this sort of course, even if you're not big into meditation.

The courses and free of charge, and they're free of dogma. I enjoyed the quiet time and the chance to gain deeper insight into the workings of my own mind. And Goenka's nightly comedic antics during the discourses are more than enough reason to go take a course.

Buddha says that to become a monk or nun, to renounce worldly responsibilities and
devote oneself fully to Vipassana and to living with morality, mindfulness and wisdom, is the fastest way to reach liberation.

This course has solidified my belief that I can create more meaning, generate more goodwill and compassion, and do more good in this world and for more people as a layperson. I can clothe and feed more people when I am not required to beg for these items myself, as a monk does. I may take longer to reach 'liberation' or 'nirvana', but I will remain committed, as I was before participating in the Vipassana course, to a life of mindfulness, compassion, and honesty

Friday, July 15

[quote of the day]

Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.
- Albus Dumbledore

Wednesday, July 13

[khaled jarrar and the palestinian passport stamp]

News has spread quickly about artist Khaled Jarrar and his unofficial Palestinian passport stamp.

The Christian Science Monitor, NPR, CNN, and innumerable blogs and Facebook groups (including "Live and Work in Palestine") have covered the story of the stamp.

Jarrar has also taken his stamp on the road, including Corfu and Amman. On July 18th, the artist will also make an appearance at the historic Checkpoint Charlie in Germany to offer the stamp in a symbolic acknowledgment of Palestine's place among the occupied and oppressed nations of history.

What effect, if any, will this courageous act of nonviolent resistance from the Palestinians have on their upcoming bid for statehood at the United Nations in September? Will we see more acts designed to raise visibility and awareness of the Palestinian cause in the coming months?

Regardless, Jarrar's stamp merits recognition as not only a beautiful piece of artwork, but a growing symbol of the beauty, courage, and sophistication of the Palestinian people.

Sunday, July 10

[global voices]

I wanted to make everyone aware of a phenomenal platform called Global Voices.

Global Voices is a media platform that tries to shine a light on the voices and opinions that are traditionally excluded from mainstream media. They have teams of folks who peruse the blogosphere and local news networks around the world in order to present readers with important news. They also have an Advocacy section and a Projects section.

Check it out here!

Global Voices - The world is talking, are you listening?

Sunday, July 3

[quote of the day]

Up to a point a man's life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him. Then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of things he wishes to be. Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate. Everyone has it within his power to say, "This I am today; that I will be tomorrow.
- Louis L'Amour

Friday, July 1

[the queen and education]

Queen Rania of Jordan on education (2009 interview):

"Whether it's in the Arab world, in the West, all over the world, you have people trying to pass on their prejudices and stereotypes onto the younger generation. For me, that is a terrible thing that's almost equivalent to the abuse of children."
  • "education is an investment that doesn't de-value"
  • "6 million children out of school in Arab world, and two-thirds of them are girls"
  • "obstacles for gender parity are ... traditions, mindsets, cultural attitudes, and those unfortunately take a long time to change"
  • "we focus too much on rote learning and memorization -- we teach children what to think, not how to think"
  • "you cannot generalize about the Arab world as a whole, because the situation differs in many different countries"
  • "I don't want madrassas to always be associated with something negative, because the translation is actually 'my school'"
  • "education should be agenda-free, certainly free from any political or religious agendas"
  • "there's nothing worse that anyone can do than to feed stereotypes and prejudice in young people's minds and try to shape the way they think and they view the world"

Watch the interview here:

[the problems in the parable]

How is identity created, and how is cultural meaning produced? Do certain groups of people, certain genders, certain religions, have a greater affinity toward violence or nonviolence?

I believe the answer to that question is no -- at least not innately. However, circumstances, cultural training and indoctrination are creating generations of children who identify more with their particular community than as international human beings. And all over the world, children who don't have healthy adult role models are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors -- obese parents, relatives who smoke, teachers who shout and belittle, or family members who are violent or misogynistic.

Adult role models are not the only ways that children learn how to think. What about the Power Rangers? Snow White? Winnie the Pooh coloring books? Tomorrow's Pioneers? MTV shows? Stories, books, and images also play a highly formative role in creating the identities and attitudes of children.

If a child is exposed to mainstream gender norms and narratives, in stories and in real life (i.e. Disney fairytales where the prince rescues the princess, where girls always wear pink and are told how 'pretty' they look, and boys never wear dresses but always play with trucks and roughhouse in a 'boys will be boys' fashion), these are the attitudes and behaviors they will replicate in their own lives.

Of course, children's books and shows are meant to teach a community's values to the next generation. But what if those values are barriers to an equal, just and peaceful world?

The "Sammy Spider" series of children's books target English-speaking Jewish children as its main audience. One book is called "Sammy Spider's Israel Fun Book," and it follows Sammy Spider's trip to Israel with his human friend, Josh.

Firstly, the right to inculcate your children with your own cultural heritage is important, true. But some of the images and words in this series are teaching Jewish children official Israeli state rhetoric, and painting an inaccurate picture of Israel's position in the Middle East. Not to mention preparing Jewish children for the adult role of continuing to support the status quo of Israeli superiority in the region.

Let children be children, you say? Children deserve honesty from the adults in their lives, and they also have a right to truthful, peaceful education about their background and their heritage.

One page says, "Sammy happily enjoys Tel Aviv with all its noise," with the following picture:

This picture is missing a few things. Aren't there some people who wear head scarves in Tel Aviv? Isn't there anyone, Israeli or Palestinian or otherwise, who doesn't look like a European caricature? Note the woman and child pair at the upper left, close to the two umbrellas -- they are gazing at a sleeveless summer dress in the storefront window.

Kids' books should be educational and accurate. There are some Muslims and some Arabs in Israel -- including the Arab Israeli citizens that the State of Israel so proudly claims as proof that apartheid is not occurring in Israel. "Israel" itself is a claim, and a disputed claim at that. It is disputed by most Palestinians and by many the international community.

The book mentions a kibbutz dining hall, and also describes Jerusalem as follows: "Jerusalem is a City of Gold/ Filled with treasures new and old." Young readers are subtly being taught that not only is Jerusalem a thrilling and historical place, but that it belongs to Israel -- no other perspective is presented.

The most troubling portion of this book, in my opinion, was the two-page full spread map.

To be fair, young children will probably not pay much attention to the particular borders and names on this map. However, this book was published in 2004, when the Road Map for Peace was being debated. There is a 'Gaza' on the above map, but there is no clear West Bank. Perhaps that curve in the road connecting the 'Dead Sea' to the 'Sea of Galilee' is meant to represent the West Bank. But this map makes it appear that all of the land depicted belongs to the State of Israel.

What are other ways in which identity is instilled in young people?

Jewish day camps and summer camps typically teach children Hebrew and read the Torah (in a similar way to Islam, where madrassas teach Arabic in order to recite the Qur'an). Jewish schools, however, usually display the Israeli flag and celebrate Israeli holidays and cultural attitudes.

I aim to create a world where identity is inclusive. For example, children are taught that the words "I am Jewish" can have a variety of meanings, and that none of them are exclusive. Identity is hierarchical, with 'human being' at the top as the most important identity a person holds.

"I am Jewish" can mean born to a Jewish parent or with Jewish roots; culturally Jewish; religiously Jewish; socially and ethically responsible; a supporter of human rights; or dedicated to peace and justice. Jewish identity is individual - just like all other identity categories. Not all Jews support Israeli apartheid. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are terrorists. In my opinion, identity is a spectrum, not composed of discrete categories.

It should also mean, I am one among many. It should mean that identities are layered. Instead of separating, exclusive labels, like Jewish or French or Baha'i or young or female, we need uniting identities.

The only identity that we have the right and responsibility to instill in our children is 'I am a human being', with responsibilities towards all other living things.

In times of need, when children (and later, adults) need to make decisions, they will return to their fundamental identity as a human being. They will not feel a particular need to protect their own community and attack other communities, even if this behavior does exist in the subtle nuances of their lower-level identity. Nationality, nationalism and patriotism are potent sources of energy in today's world -- we must be careful what we teach our children.

If a middle ground between absolute commitment to the homeland (or the church, or add your 'ism' here) and a simple affinity for our origins and heritage can be found, then the past can be the past and the future can be the future, where we are all simply human beings.

Yes, it's idealistic. And yes, it's being done today, in communities around the world like Costa Rica's peace education system and Sweden's gender-neutral preschool.

Think about your teachers, parents, babysitters, and other adult role models.

What have they taught you about 'your community', about 'belonging', and about 'identity'?

[quote of the day]

Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.
- Horace Mann

Thursday, June 30

[quote of the day]

I not only use all the brains I have, but all that I can borrow.
- Woodrow Wilson

Wednesday, June 29

[quote of the day]

I like to write when I feel spiteful. It is like having a good sneeze.
- D.H. Lawrence

Monday, June 27

[music and identity: south sudan]

South Sudan is preparing to become the newest nation in the world. What does mainstream thought tell us that a state needs? Boundaries on a map, a flag, a political and economic infrastructure, the creation of cultural meaning specific to this new nation, etc. In summary, an identity must be created.

This is a great article on one aspect of that process in South Sudan: the creation of a national anthem.

Democratically selected as the result of a talent show, here are the lyrics of the national anthem of South Sudan, courtesy of the aforementioned article:

Oh God, We praise and glorify you for your grace on South Sudan, Land of great abundance. Uphold us united in peace and harmony. Oh motherland, We rise, raising flag with the guiding star And sing songs of freedom with joy For justice, liberty and prosperity shall for ever more, reign.

Oh great patriots, Let us stand up in silence and respect Saluting our martyrs Whose blood cemented our national foundation. We vow to protect our nation. Oh God, bless South Sudan.

[quote of the day]

(not my image)

Peace appeals to the hearts; studies to the brain. Both are needed, indeed indispensable. But equally indispensable is a valid link between brain and heart. And that, in a nutshell, is what peace studies and peace practice are all about.
- Johan Galtung

Saturday, June 25

[quote of the day]

Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
- Arundhati Roy

Friday, June 24

[quote of the day]

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make sense.
- Rumi

Thursday, June 23

[quote of the day]

If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather reach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Wednesday, June 22

[quote of the day]

The real war will never get in the books.
- Walt Whitman

Tuesday, June 21

[quote of the day]

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, who pull forward like water buffalo, with massive patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done, again and again.
- Marge Piercy

Monday, June 20

[quote of the day]

When someone stands up to violence in such a courageous way, a force for change is released. Every action for peace requires someone to exhibit the courage to challenge the violence and inspire love. Love and sacrifice always set up a chain reaction of love and sacrifice.
- Thich Nhat Hanh on Thich Quang Duc

Sunday, June 19

[quote of the day]

Where the map shows a vast green emptiness, the land is alive.
- Barbara Kingsolver

Saturday, June 18

[quote of the day]

Those who love peace must learn to organize as well as those who love war.
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, June 17

[quote of the day]

If you can't answer a man's argument, all is not lost; you can still call him vile names.
- Elbert Hubbard

Thursday, June 16

[quote of the day]

There are nothing but gifts on this poor, poor earth.

- Czeslaw Milosz

Wednesday, June 15

[quote of the day]

(Derrel Myers, via)

"Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people's brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead"

- Arundhati Roy

Tuesday, June 14

[arrested jewish-american lucas koerner talks to electronic intifada]

Lucas Koerner's (mentioned in previous post) interview with Electronic Intifada was released today.

Read it here

(from the Facebook page, We are all Lucas Koerner)

Here are some highlights:

"I was taken to a police station right afterwards, where I was held for about four hours before I saw a lawyer. I was threatened numerous times with being tased and being put to sleep by various weapons they had."

"What struck me most about my time in prison is that it is a reflection of the rest of Israeli society in that it's completely segregated. I was placed against my will in the Jewish cell. I asked to be put in the Arab cell. The Jewish cell conditions weren't bad at all; it was still jail, but it was bearable. I did see the Arab cell or at least one of the Arab cells and the conditions there were absolutely abominable."

"I received no support from the US consulate. My friends and family had contacted them and, from what I heard, they basically said that this happens a lot and there's nothing [they] can do. They didn't even come to my trials."

"The Israeli judicial system is very strange in that you can't have a lawyer while being questioned. ...there are no laws within Israel that prevent you from being almost indefinitely detained before being charged. I was never formally charged but I was detained for two days."

[quote of the day]

There has been no other period in my life when picking up a morning newspaper seemed like such an invitation to begin your day in a state of crippling rage. The wish to know the worst has to fight it out daily with the desire to get through the day, to work, to spend time with your loved ones, to experience pleasure."

-Charles Taylor

Monday, June 13

[Egypt: the essence of the enterprise]

On January 25, 2011, on the heels of the Tunisian demonstrations, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians flooded the streets in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, and Nile Delta cities in an astonishing show of solidarity against President Hosni Mubarak.

Within weeks, a large portion of the Middle East was in the midst of an anti-status quo, pro-democracy upheaval. Protesters in Egypt united across ideological lines in opposition to President Mubarak’s authoritarian regime and the stagnant Egyptian economy that has left millions of their ranks jobless.

Utilizing the power of social media and building on previously organized communities, youth and other revolutionaries organized weeks of almost entirely nonviolent protests without the overt support of established parties or clear leadership. In the time leading up to Mubarak’s departure, coalition-building was a efficient tool for powerful parties and vulnerable groups alike to unite under their common opposition to the regime.

But what comes next for Egyptians in a post-Mubarak Egypt has yet to be made clear. Perhaps the best place to start is by exploring the first few months of 2011.

The protesters in Tahrir Square and in other locations around Egypt in January 2011, though diverse and cross-sectarian, were composed primarily of urban, politically independent people with access to social media and connections with the urban labor rights movement. Impressively organized in terms of protest tactics and coordination, this heterogeneous population has been striving to form an entity capable of articulating its political and economic demands.

Should that entity be a political party? Several political parties? A non-governmental organization tasked with monitoring politics in a post-Mubarak Egypt? A business-oriented faction with union leanings? How will marginal populations, such as women and Coptic Christians, fit into this picture, and through which mechanisms will they articulate their needs as a community or simply as Egyptians?

Results indicated that 77% of voters favored the package, in accordance with mainstream Muslim Brotherhood opinion, and 23% stood with the revolutionaries and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei in opposing the reforms contained therein. These reforms included term-limits for the president and a commission to draft a new constitution following the parliamentary election, among others.

Some voters who were opposed to the reform package voted no because they believe that “early elections would give extraordinary advantage to Mubarak’s old political party and the Muslim Brotherhood, which have strong organizational structures and would move to centralize power.” U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates echoed this concern and recommended that elections be delayed in order to give up-and-coming parties a chance to organize.

With parliamentary and presidential elections anticipated before the end of 2011, communities that were once more easily categorized but are now undergoing a shift in identity and aspiration (such as revolutionary, laborer, Muslim Brother, businessman) are being courted by both existing and developing parties.

Who participated in the demonstrations?

Shortly after the protests began, many of these dissident parties came together under the umbrella of the Revolution Youth Coalition, with representatives "from the April 6 Youth movement, ElBaradei supporters..., two Muslim Brother[s], [two] from the Democratic Front Party and [two] from the Youth for Justice and Freedom."

The Coalition is not entirely representative of the plethora of opposition groups. Despite that, one coalition member, Ahmed Ezzat, expressed the hope that “it expands to include all the other young activists, including young members from the Karama party, Labor party, Kifaya and all others, including independent bloggers and Internet activists.”

Forming a single coalition like the Revolution Youth Coalition can reduce friction among parties with similar agendas and constituents and help diminish the chances of potential ‘cannibalization’. Forming an organized coalition can create credibility and legitimacy for the parties within the coalition by proving to Egyptians (and the world) that the youth are not only organized enough to revolt, but also organized enough to govern. A coalition of like-minded parties that fronts only a few main candidates is more likely to ensure that they are represented in government. Otherwise, constituent voters may split their votes, possibly denying these emerging parties a seat at the table. Emerging groups will need to establish a clear platform along well-defined ideological lines in order to clarify their position for voters and to differentiate themselves from other major parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

The coalition’s chief purpose has been to serve as a forum for opposition groups in order to “provide representation for the young who have played a role in political life in Egypt and have contributed to the current revolt” and to “articulate its demands and keep them at the forefront of public consciousness as Egypt prepares for change.” Those elementary demands have been the uniting factor for the heterogeneous groups belonging to the Coalition, including free and fair elections, the removal of President Mubarak, and the elimination of emergency law, although now that the President has stepped down, the Coalition had to reexamine its mandate. These groups will need to revise their strategies in a way that takes into account the absence of Mubarak but also the presence of the institutions and structures that he has left behind.

It is possible that the parties’ experiences within the Coalition have primed them for a nonviolent transition to democracy. Even if the parties within a coalition do not all agree on a common for-agenda besides an against-agenda, a coalition creates a space where these diverse factions interact regularly and are forced to discuss their ideas. Diversity and pluralism become the norm, and extreme ideas and tactics are subject to examination and become less acceptable. As anthropologist Talal Asad stated in a 2008 lecture on the Kifaya coalition,

"It is not that there is now a happy union of all these elements, but that an irreducible plurality persists as a foundation of political sensibility…However, this situation is not merely negative [oppositional]; it also provides a space of daily interaction and negotiation."

The Revolution Youth Coalition boasted representatives from a multiplicity of opposition groups, but it lacked well-defined leadership roles and figureheads. In the process of the demonstrations in January and February, this lack of clear leadership was an advantage that made it more difficult for the regime to negotiate with or target the opposition movement. In the post-Mubarak era, however, the parties’ transition into politics demands clear leadership. This could be an advantage for the recently formed groups in that the calcified leadership of the older ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood display a rigidity and structure that may not appeal to Egyptian voters in an upcoming election. In addition, the revolutionaries’ demonstrated ability to reach out to frustrated Egyptians in the course of the protests bodes well for their capacity to form a political entity that can connect with these supporters.

Substantial use of social media and virtual political activism aided the success of the January revolution, and built on a growing trend of youth engagement in digital political activism.

The expansion in usage of social media networks in concert with an enlarged (though not complete) freedom of the press within Egypt created a space for young Egyptians to carve out a political niche for themselves, outside of the confines of traditional identity lines and protected from the repercussions of declaring such an identity in the ‘real world’.

After Kifaya was founded in 2004 with immense support from the blogosphere, “the number of blogs [in 2005] had jumped from a handful to the hundreds and are now estimated in the thousands.” As a greater diversity of bloggers and Facebook users entered the scene, cross-community interaction allowed activists to find common ground in their opposition to President Mubarak despite their other ideological differences. "The blog and Facebook format, with its personal profile page, allows for individual bloggers to fashion a political persona that transcends the Islamist-versus-secular divide, allowing young women and men to write critically about hot political issues."

Regional and international powers have been consistently supportive of democracy in theory, but will find it necessary to readjust to a new democracy that takes Egypt and the Middle East away from the status quo of carefully negotiated treaties and economic structures that do not benefit the average citizen. The United States is providing more aid to Egypt, but the implicitly (and explicitly) attached strings are not a harbinger of genuine U.S. support for the Egyptian people.

Economic interests are also a significant aspect of the upcoming pre-election period. The established political and economic structures of Mubarak’s decades in power mutually reinforce each other. Professor Bassam Haddad explores this nexus between political and economic elites, coming to the conclusion that, “initially, it is the public sector, which explains the initial informal relations and networks that develop between state officials and businesspeople using the public sector as the cash cow or the golden goose.” Haddad continues,

“the more business actors can accomplish without state patronage, protection, facilitation, the more they can be independent and, depending on how political economies develop, this can lead to even more mutual interests between power and capital—because capital becomes power.”

Egyptian scholar Emad Shahin recommended that, at the very least, these revolutionary groups should “organize into pressure groups and operate at the grassroots level to monitor the government, participate in development-related projects and engage the population.” In fact, on 7 April 2011, the April 6 Movement announced its decision to, “instead, become a non-governmental organization advocating for civil liberties, democracy and human rights.” As an NGO, the April 6 Movement can certainly endorse particular candidates in the upcoming elections, but the organization’s wide-reaching networks and ‘revolutionary legitimacy’ may be better put to use as a monitoring and advocacy organization.

What's next?

A 41% turnout on the recent constitutional referendum may have broken records, but that number does not represent society-wide consensus among all classes of Egyptians. A get-out-the-vote campaign, undertaken by emerging parties and established parties alike, can educate the masses on new political platforms and ideologies before elections occur. Coalitions are perfectly situated for this endeavor, with wide-reaching social media networks, connections within the labor rights scene, and tried-and-true organizing techniques that have given them a degree of transparency and legitimacy not common among contemporary Egyptian parties.

Perhaps a Yalla Vote campaign is next? More demonstrations? Economic and political restructuring? One thing is for certain: the revolution is not complete.

Here are some great pics of some of the younger Egyptian demonstrators:

(the child's forehead says 'Egypt' in Arabic)

Do you think that the demonstrators used appropriate tactics of resistance? What should they do next to ensure their interests are represented in the upcoming elections?