Recollection and Reflection

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Fourteen years ago today I woke to the clock radio tuned in to NPR. I could hear the shower running in the next room and rolled over to watch the morning sun rise on Granite Mountain, near Prescott, Arizona. I could not make real sense of what I was hearing-my first sleepy thoughts were that I had come into the programming somewhere in the middle of a story and that it was a recreation or spoof of “War of the Worlds”. I sat up in bed and let my feet rest on the floor and listened more closely. As the story unfolded it began to seem less a farce;the tone and tenor of the reporters voices indicated something much more serious and dark. I put my robe on and went out to turn on the television and found coverage of an unfolding horror in New York City. What I had been hearing on the radio now became visual; it was the story of planes, passenger jets, that had struck one of the World Trade Center towers at 8:46:30 and a second that had impacted at 9:03:02. The towers were on fire and emergency crews were rushing to the scene. It was chaotic. It was surreal. The coverage suggested that as a nation we may be under attack. All I could think at the time was, what the hell? It was soon reported that at 9:37:46 a third jet had crashed into the Pentagon and I felt my stomach drop, a sickening feeling washed over me and I could not believe what my eyes and ears were telling me. I watched transfixed as footage of the impacts played over and over. At 9:58:59 the first tower disappeared in a cloud of smoke and dust and at 10:28:22 I watched in utter disbelief as the second tower vanished from the skyline. It wasn’t until nearly 10:45 that we were told that a fourth plane, United Flight 93, had crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03:11.

Two thousand seven hundred fifty three souls perished in the north and south towers. Of those three hundred forty three were New York City firefighters, twenty three were New York City Police and thirty severn were Port Authority officers. Their ages were from 2 to 85.

The toll at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. was one hundred eighty four souls lost.

The toll at the field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania was forty souls lost.

All air traffic was grounded nationwide that morning; an eerie silence was enforced over the skies where we lived. Our apartment complex was about 200 yards from the entrance of the local airport where aeronautical students from Embry-Riddle University practiced their flight training day and night. The crystalline blue skies over the mile-high mountain town of Prescott, which were normally criss-crossed with the contrails of jets, became an unsettlingly clear void. Commercial flights resumed after a couple of days but the hum and drone of the small trainer planes would not resume for ten days. Now at night we would listen to the yip and call of roaming packs of coyotes as they made their nightly rounds.

I remember driving into downtown Prescott the day after September 11, 2001 and seeing a beaten-up pick-up truck flying two enormous 4 foot by 6 foot flags-one the Stars and Stripes, the other the Stars and Bars, I went home resolved not to fly my own flag, not wanting to affiliate with that ilk. Just four days after the events in New York, a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona was gunned downed by an individual who was heard to say he was “going to go out and shoot some towel-heads” the day of the attacks. Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered for wearing a turban, mistaken for a Muslim. The initial patriotic feeling of goodwill that we all felt when we thought we were under seige has disappeared. The nature of policing changed. Open displays of hatred and bigotry are on free and open display against anyone who is of a different race or religion.

So many things about our world changed that day. A sense of security vanished along with the collapsed towers. National feelings of invincibility were replaced with vulnerability and fear which have been used as bludgeons to manipulate our society to the will of calculating politicians. Strange, un-American, authoritarian, blood and soil sounding expressions crept into our lexicon-“Homeland” Security and enhanced interrogation, which is a direct translation of “Verschärfte Vernehmung”- a phrase originally used by the Nazis. A security state has silently developed around us and fourteen years following September 11, 2001 we do not question removing our shoes and belts, emptying our pockets, surrendering our tubes of toothpaste and perfume bottles, having our person and luggage x-rayed at airports. Carrying “our papers” has become the expected norm. We hardly shrug at the thought that our e-mails are read and our phone conversations are listened in on. The prevailing attitude is something like “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you haven’t anything to hide”. Traveling into California from Arizona it was routine to be stopped by the Border Partol and questioned as to the nature of your visit.

We soon became involved in two unending, costly, wars of choice which we have asked only a very small fraction of our population-less than 1%-to fight. We have lost a total of 4,493 of our American military(4,347 since Mission Accomplished) in Iraq. 2283 Contractors, Journalists, and Academics have also lost their lives in Iraq. 2358 American military have lost their lives in Afghanistan. 32,021 have returned wounded; 320,000 have suffered brain injuries; and 22 veterans per day die at their own hand. Estimates for the total cost of the war run has high as 6 trillion dollars when legacy figures are included. None of these numbers include the dead and wounded of our allies, or the toll on the Afghan and Iraqi populations. The power shift in Iraq has given the world ISIS, causing a torrent of refugees to attempt escape,by any means, from their own terror. Although the tyrant Saddam is gone, the political rift with Iran has been closed and the Shite alliance has flourished; this new alliance has created tensions with both Israel and Sunni Saudi Arabia-whose propagation of Wahabism gave us 15 of the 19 hijackers.

One beautiful, carefree, sunny, crisp, fall morning in September has given way to a nightmare of awful proportions that never seems to stop unfurling. Today I will remember the terror, horror, and sacrifice of the victims in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville but I will also mourn the separate and no less important loss of innocence, freedoms, and lives that was given momentum on that day.

Imagine

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John Lennon, in 1971, released what Rolling Stone called “22 lines of graceful, plain-spoken faith in the power of a world, united in purpose, to repair and change itself.” It was the song Imagine. In it he asks the world to

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

In a column appearing in Truthdig, writer Sonali Kolhatkar, makes a similar cry of the heart. I don’t know if in writing her piece Lennon’s song lyrics came to her, she may be too young, but I wondered why,in nearly 45 years, we seem to be no closer to abolishing the divisions which cause humanity so much heartache, poverty, and pain. John Lennon said his lyric could be interpreted as Communist, not the bad, oppressive kind practiced in the Soviet Union or China-rather a benevolent, democratic-socialist kind of the sort that we find in Great Britain or Sweden. Wouldn’t we all be better off without the divisions that avarice, greed, and the accumulation of power and prestige cause? Even that found in organized religions which have a distinct hierarchy in which there are varying degrees of power, wealth, and eminence among its mostly male clergy? If religious orders of monks and nuns exist around the world, founded on the principle of shared labor, shared property, and shared sacrifice, I can find nothing not to recommend its practice for us all.

So many of the problems in the Middle East today have at their root, artificial boundary lines drawn by the victors of the conflict to secure resources for themselves. The collapse of the Soviet Union saw boundary lines redrawn when former satellite states asserted their independence. That independence is now threatened by a former KGB agent who wants to redraw those lines and claim new territory through brute force. Religion divided Sudan into two separate countries but the violence did not stop once a new boundary line was drawn. Nigeria faces the same problem with Boko Haram. And the people flee. In a world where sea levels are rising, crop lands are drying up, water resources are becoming scarce, economic, ethnic and religious tensions are increasing, and a state of seemingly perpetual, low level war exists, the migration of people around the Earth will only intensify.

Many people believe it naive, idealistic, or foolish to think that we could ever solve the problems of religious divisions, economic disparity, or nationalistic superiority. John Lennon, in his paean to peace, dared to dream otherwise. I have sent a son to war, twice, and although I did not lose him I know the pain and fear of it were with me in every anxious moment he was gone. Aylan and Galip Kurdi’s father has lost his sons, and his wife, forever because Canada refused their entry. Because boundaries. Because sovereignty. Because. I cannot imagine his pain, his loss, his anguish. Maybe we need to examine our need for boundaries. Maybe we need to examine our need to hoard resources that we all need to sustain life. Maybe we need to examine our need for nationalistic superiority. Perhaps it is time reclaim the freedom of movement across the face of Earth our ancestors enjoyed. Perhaps it is time to imagine nothing to kill or die for, if not for us, then for our children.

Today’s Samaritan

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Juan Cole, in a recent post, comments that Syrian refugees are modern day Samaritans.

“People forget when discussing the story of the Good Samaritan as told by Jesus that Samaritans belonged to a separate but related religion from Judaism (Samaritanism), so the help the Samaritan offered was being given to a Jewish outsider, not a coreligionist”.

We are all-Jew, Christian, Muslim-members of the Abrahamic tradition. Instead of religion causing division its power should be used to unite us. The conflict and blood shed over differences in doctrine-and political leaders willing to exploit these divisions for their own personal gain-seems to be insanity at its finest. I cannot fathom why, as human beings, we accept our role as pawns in this tragic farce.

Most people on the planet believe in one God, called by many different names, but still, one God. More than four thousand years have passed since Judaism’s foundation, more than two thousand since Christianity’s foundation, and somewhat more than one thousand since the foundation of Islam, yet we are still engaging in demonization, terrorism, warfare, and general incivility towards each other. The sad thing is that we all bleed red and, for the vast majority, our aim in life is to live in peace.

I cannot understand how one man, be it a Hitler, a Stalin, a Pol Pot, a Kim, an Asaad, or any of a number of perpetrators of African genocide, can find a following. Is it in our own human inadequacy that we achieve some kind of wholeness when we affiliate with those who practice terror, torture, and brutalization? Does it make one seem more a man? I can only wonder that God in his heaven is looking down and wondering when we will finally come to our senses. What will it take for hatred to dissipate? For the fever to break? When does humanity say enough to all of this needless suffering and death; enough of the egos of a very small number of men who determine for billions of the rest of us how we will live; enough of living in fear. Remember, we do outnumber them. There is power in our resolution to say a loud resounding, NO, we will not submit.

I am heartened somewhat by the individual response to the refugees plight by the citizens of Germany, Iceland, Sweden and others who seem to be ahead of their leaders in responding to this crisis. They seem to make the human connection to the suffering of their fellow man and opened their doors to the stranger. I believe that the kindness shown to them will never be forgotten. Gratitude is the sign of noble souls. The Syrian refugees of today, and their generations to come, will never forget the kindness shown to them. This is a moment in history when humanity has the opportunity to demonstrate our capacity to love and serve one another-to bind up the wounds of the stranger, feed him, shelter him, and care for him-no matter the cost.

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La Barque Est Pleine?

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Horrific scenes of displacement and despair from Northern Africa and the Middle East have been in our media over the past several months. We have seen the desperation of people fleeing drought, unemployment, oppression, violence, and war around the world. Some risk everything, including their lives to find refuge from these modern plagues. The heart rending picture of a small boy washed up on a Turkish shore shocks the conscience yet it does not elicit any haste to find a remedy to the problem. Germany has offered to take in eight hundred thousand of these refugees and they are held hostage by Hungary’s athiest Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, in a one-man attempt to protect all of “Christian Europe” from the “Muslim threat”. I don’t know what it means to be Christian if it isn’t to love and care for our fellow man regardless of his color, creed, or national origin.

There has been a rise in the number of leaders who have used fear of the other as a tool of manipulation to consolidate power and control since 9/11. The U.S. has granted the safety of our shores to only 1,554 Syrian refugees for fear that terrorists may be among those requesting a way out of that war torn country. Britain’s Cameron has announced plans to accept “thousands” which is a drop in the bucket when there are a staggering 6.5 million displaced Syrian people alone. Our two countries bear enormous responsibility for the rise of ISIS and we should whatever we can to assist the victims of the horror they inflict. I remember Colin Powell’s prescient words, “you break it, you own it”, well, this is what it means to own it.

Sometimes it may be worth taking a risk to accept a few potential terrorists in order that little boys like Aylan, 3, his brother, Galip, 5, and their mother, Rehan, and the millions of others like them do not perish seeking safety. Our boat is not full and we should do more to remedy a crisis not seen since the middle of the last century.

If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you . . .

Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace. He has no power.
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.

Merton (1965).
The Way of Chuang Tzu.
New York: New Directions.

Less is More

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Tanya Basu, in an article entitled Why Fashion Magazines Matter for The Atlantic, argues that bringing the ever changing fashion trends to the masses in the form of glossy, ad-laden magazines like, Vogue, Elle, and Marie Claire is a good thing. She cites the history, originating in France, of illustrated fashion plates, coming out two times a year-hiver en d’ete (winter and summer)-summoning customers to purchase the very latest in haute couture. Louis XIV was responsible for elevating France’s position in the fashion world by banning any products not made in France, encouraging production of the finest fabrics, creating guilds of skilled artisans,and securing good wages for those skills. This program and the revenues it supplied enriched the coffers of the Sun King and allowed the expansive, sumptuous renovations of Versaille, but also funded a series of expensive wars throughout Europe.

Spain had been the epicenter of fashion prior to its usurpation by France. Spain was famous for its high quality fabrics, rich dyes obtained from the New World, and for its sumptuary laws limiting certain fashions to certain classes. The staid Catholic-Hapsburgh influence on Spanish fashion was continuity; in many ways like early Ford automobiles-available in any color as long as it was black and never too much change in the models year to year.

Today’s fashion world takes many pages from the French. Every season brings a new trend, a new color palette, a new heel height, a new hem length. Our consumer driven economy demands that whatever we already have hanging in our closet must be replaced lest we be scorned, or pitied, or ridiculed for not keeping up. Ms. Besu nods to the fact that fashion magazines do cover street fashion, normcore and basic styles, however each of them is a spoke in the wheel of revolving change in the fashion world.

While there is much to be admired in the creativity and beauty of haute couture-the design, fabrication, and craftsmanship-the other side of the coin is the rapid, insatiable quest for change that fuels the consumption maw. Fashion magazines serve to perpetuate this attitude.

There are several blogs that advocate a minimal approach to one’s wardrobe and in my quest to simplify my life I have taken notes. There is no reason to spend a large portion of your budget to dress season after season. Choose classic shapes and colors that will never go out of style. Purchase the best articles of clothing you can afford to ensure they can stand up to repeated washings and wearings over the years. Take care of your clothing, keeping shoes polished and in good repair. If you feel the need to look on trend, make small purchases like a belt, scarf, or accessory. Be happy that when you open your closet it is refreshingly spare and organized. Celebrate that you have one less thing to worry about when dressing for the day.

Another aspect of less-is-more dressing is the social impact you make when you no longer participate in the exploitation of poor people around the world who often work in oppressive conditions at extremely low paying jobs to keep up with the ever changing low-cost fashion world. Every “fast fashion” merchant who takes their profits over the health and welfare of its workers should be shamed.

We live in a throw-away culture, it has been ingrained in us to buy, buy, buy-never be satisfied. If we were to get off of the fashion treadmill we would probably have less debt, more peace of mind and more freedom.

On Palestine

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The question of peace in the Middle East, and more particularly Israel, has been the subject of countless books, magazine and newspaper articles, and talk radio for decades. On the periphery of my memory are images of brief, lightning-like wars that played out on our black and white television screen. Israel, that small scrappy little country was once again victorious and figures like Moshe Dyan and Ariel Sharon swaggered into the camera. As with most Americans born after World War II, I had little knowledge of the atrocities perpetrated against the Jews in Europe and knew even less about the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. I was vaguely aware of Golda Mier’s leadership role but not much else.

Year and year out there was continuing coverage of conflict, truces, peace negotiations, broken truces, more conflict. The cycle never seemed to end and nagging thoughts about why there couldn’t be peace there entered my adult consciousness. The European Jewish population had suffered horrendous atrocities and in my mind they deserved a refuge, a sanctuary, and the newly created state of Israel was that place. I was unaware at the time of how it was created and at whose expense.

As with so much of the strife in the Middle East, the conflicts have their roots in the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. To the victors go the spoils is the old adage and Britain, being the victor, drew up new boundries which created so much of the blowback we see today. After World War I Britain assumed control over the Palestine territory. Then in 1917, the British government issued the the Balfour Declaration with the intention of establishing a national home for Jewish people. This was followed, in 1922, by a mandate issued by the League of Nations, to establish a Jewish homeland, the facilitation of Jewish immigration and encouragement of Jewish settlement, which the Arabs opposed. There followed an escalation of attacks against the Jewish settlers and in 1936 the Peel Commission recommended partition which the Arabs rejected.

At the end of World War II, Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were forcefully turned away from Palestine yet they continued to be smuggled in.
These Jewish communities formed political, social, and economic institutions and the Zionist, David Ben-Gurion, served as their leader. The original Zionist strategy had been to purchase land until the original inhabitants had emigrated or failing that a violent seizure of the land.

The conflict between the Arabs and the Jews proved to be too much for the British in 1948 they ended their mandate, turning the question over to the United Nations. In May of 1948 Ben-Gurion proclaimed the creation of the state of Israel and the United States recognized it as a state. The buy-out option proved too slow a process and soon the option of violence was utilized. Future Prime Minister Menachim Begin was a participant in the terrorism that followed.

Before the creation of the state of Israel the population had been 95% non-Jewish however with the immigration and buyout project the Jewish population had increased to 30%. The United Nations was presented with a General Assembly resolution of partition giving 55% of the land to the Zionists. The United States strongly opposed this plan, deeming it against American principles and interests.

A CIA report from 1947 stated that Zionist leadership was pursuing objectives that would endanger both Jews and “the strategic interests of the Western powers in the Near and Middle East.”

Although Harry Truman is admired today for putting and end to World War II, political expediency played a role in his decision to support the resolution for partition. He acted against the advice from respected figures of the day; among those his Secretary of State, George Marshall, Henry Grady, Secretary of Defense, James Forrestall, former Undersecretary of State, Dean Acheson, the State Department’s Director of Policy Planning, George Kennen and intelligence agent, Kermit Roosevelt among a lenghty list of others.

From an internal State Department memo of the day:

“…the Jews will be the actual aggressors against the Arabs. However, the Jews will claim that they are merely defending the boundaries of a state which were traced by the UN…In the event of such Arab outside aid the Jews will come running to the Security Council with the claim that their state is the object of armed aggression and will use every means to obscure the fact that it is their own armed aggression against the Arabs inside which is the cause of Arab counter-attack.”

Eventually the non-binding resolution for partition was passed but it only served to escalate violence which is with us to this day.

This is clearly a too brief synopsis of a long and complicated struggle to find common ground and peace between these two peoples. However when one reads this history it is hard not to feel deep empathy and sadness for the Palestinian people who have been dispossessed and marginalized. There was a time when European Jews were rounded up and placed into ghettos, deprived of food, water, freedom of movement, and basic human dignity. Today the tables are turned and it is the Palestinian people who suffer these indignities. Are Israelis so far removed from their own history that they have forgotten what we are reminded to never forget? Or rather has the memory disappeared because the immigrants to Israel today have their roots not as refugees from war-torn Europe, but rather in ever increasing numbers from these United States.

The unending creation of settlements, further dispossessing the Palestinians, for American citizens, seems too incredible to fathom. It seems immoral to me to support the continuation of this unending program. I abhor violence of any kind and regret the injury or death of any individual in the conflict between Palestinians and Jews. However I think it is time for Israelis to reevaluate their aggressive settlement and their use of asymetric military superiority over a people can only resort to throwing stones.

Perhaps there can never be peace there, perhaps both peoples are too stiff-necked, too bent on revenge, too proud, too angry, or too ignorant of history to seek a peaceful solution. Every human heart has the capacity to love and it is this potential that gives me hope. It just takes courage.

Following is an article by Juan Cole, from his blog, informed Comment.
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