Healing the Tiger…in Egypt and in Each of Us

30 01 2011

COMPELLING. CAPTIVATING. We CONNECT with the drama unfolding in Eqypt. Why? In the U.S., we sit in our cozy homes and have the freedom to make a living (although many of us are admittedly struggling with that right now), the freedom to make decisions about our lives, and the freedom to speak our minds. We complain that the government is too big or not doing enough and yet our government has checks and balances with the three branches of government; no one person can dictate entirely what happens in the country and no one person can rob the country and the people in it of funds and assets. We are blessed and we so often take it for granted.

We are riveted to the stories of those who don’t have the freedoms we have…people like those protesting in the streets of Eqypt. Perhaps we are trying to imagine what it must be like to have lived 30 years under an oppressive regime. Perhaps we are stunned to see the police so powerless and the army for the most part just standing by, supporting the people, and allowing them to protest. Perhaps we are also stunned that a few people who take to the streets to protest would be gunned down and that the Internet and cell phone service would be shut down for an entire country. This would not happen here. No one person has that much power.

The country and people of Egypt seem to be suffering from societal trauma. Dr. Peter A. Levine, author of “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma,” says that:

Citizens in our inner cities randomly destroy property and life as the effects of years of accumulated stress, trauma, hostility, and economic oppression combust.

Credit: Dominic Harness

Dr. Levine talks of how an animal in the wild handles being attacked by another animal. It can fight back, flee, or freeze (play dead) until the attacking animal loses interest and then run away. The last option of freezing is what happens to people when their options are taken from them.

Unfortunately, human beings…unlike a tiger in the wild…don’t know how to shake off the trauma physically after freezing and we wind up internalizing the trauma sometimes for decades. Perhaps the traumatized part in each of us (for whatever reason…child abuse, a surgery, an accident, a divorce, a job loss, losing our home, the loss of a child, returning from war, etc.) connects with the people of Eqypt. They are acting out the effects of decades of trauma and woundedness and we get it.

Dr. Levine says that:

Trauma cannot be ignored. It is an inherent part of the primitive biology that brought us here. The only way we will be able to release ourselves, individually and collectively, from re-enacting our traumatic legacies is by transforming them through renegotiation.

He goes on to say that:

Transformation requires a willingness to challenge your basic beliefs about who you are. Through transformation, the nervous system regains its capacity for self-regulation. Our emotions begin to lift us up rather than bring us down. They propel us into the exhilarating ability to soar and fly, giving us a more complete view of our place in nature. Our perceptions broaden to encompass a receptivity and acceptance of what is, without judgment. We are able to learn from our life experiences. Without trying to forgive, we understand that there is no blame. We often obtain a surer sense of self while become more resilient and spontaneous. This new self-assuredness allows us to relax, enjoy, and live life more fully. We become more in tune with the passion and ecstatic dimensions of life.

Perhaps this is happening with the people in Egypt; they seem to be feeling more confident and more hopeful and are transforming as a people. We are watching history in the making, unfolding before our eyes. We see the possibility of what happens when people unite in a common cause to help lift each other and a nation up. It gives us hope as individuals that we can lift ourselves up out of our own personal traumas and transform our own personal and collective lives.





The Power of a Mother’s Kangaroo Love

3 09 2010

Twenty minutes after twin Jamie Ogg was born prematurely at 27 weeks into his mom Kate’s pregnancy, he was pronounced dead when doctors could not get him to breathe. He was placed across Kate’s bare chest and she held him to her skin while she and husband David spoke to him about his sister Emily and the hopes and dreams they had for him.

David and Kate Ogg with their twins on the Today Show - Credit Today Show website

Kate (who is from Australia along with her husband) continued practicing kangaroo love, where the holding of an infant with their skin next to the mother’s or father’s generates heat and bonding for the baby like he received in the womb…or like a baby kangaroo receives in its mother’s pouch.

After five minutes, they began to notice Jamie move, but the doctor said it was just a bodily reflex. This continued for two hours of the parents holding the baby next to their bare chests and talking gently and lovingly to him. They kept trying to get the doctor to come back in the room and see the baby moving, but the doctor kept insisting the baby was dead. Finally, the doctor consented and was shocked to see the baby alive.

The Today Show featured this family and their story today and I burst into tears upon hearing this story. The babies are now five months old and both are healthy and doing well.

The Today Show’s website quoted Dr. Lisa Eiland of the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, who said this seeming miracle may be well grounded in science:

What’s important is the warmth that the mother provides and the stimulation that the baby may have received from hearing the mother’s heartbeat. So those are all things that may have helped the baby in terms of going down the path to living as opposed to the path of death.

My own daughter used this practice with her one-day-old son when he was taken to the ICU after a difficult start. This story and that of my own daughter and grandson are powerful reminders that love…especially that of a mother…can be so powerful to even save a life and how important love, nurturing, and human touch are for our very survival.





Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani: Falsely Accused, Flogged, Sentenced to Death by Stoning

7 07 2010

Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, 42-year-old Iranian mother of two, has exasperated all legal steps to avoid being stoned any day now. She was convicted in May 2006 of having an “illicit relationship outside marriage” and received 99 lashes for that “crime,” which her son Sajjad, 22, and daughter Farideh, 17, say she did not do. Her son, who was 17 at the time, was present at her flogging and says “They lashed her just in front my eyes, this has been carved in my mind since then.”

Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani - Credit: Huffington Post

Why is she now to be stoned?  The Guardian reports that:

Sakineh already endured a sentence of 99 lashes, but her case was re-opened when a court in Tabriz suspected her of murdering her husband. She was acquitted, but the adultery charge was reviewed and a death penalty handed down on the basis of “judge’s knowledge” – a loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present.

The Guardian goes on to report that:

Mohammed Mostafaei, an acclaimed Iranian lawyer volunteered to represent her when her sentence was announced a few months ago. He wrote a public letter about her conviction shortly after. “This is an absolutely illegal sentence,” he said. “Two of five judges who investigated Sakineh’s case in Tabriz prison concluded that there’s no forensic evidence of adultery.

Men who commit adultery often do not receive the same punishment as women do in Islamic countries. CNN.com reports that:

Human rights activists have been pushing the Islamic government to abolish stoning, arguing that women are not treated equally before the law in Iran and are especially vulnerable in the judicial system. A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man, they say.

Article 74 of the Iranian penal code requires at least four witnesses — four men or three men and two women — for an adulterer to receive a stoning sentence, said Ahadi, of the International Committee Against Stoning. But there were no witnesses in Ashtiani’s case. Often, said Ahadi, husbands turn wives in to get out of a marriage.

Sakineh is to be stoned to death because the judge has supposed “knowledge” of her having had sex with someone who was not her husband…something she says she did not do and for which she has already been punished. Around 40 to 50 other women are awaiting the same fate in Iran right now.

Her children…helped by Mina Ahadi, head of the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty…are waging an international battle to get support to hopefully reverse the judge’s decision, which is their only hope to spare their mother’s life. They have written the following letter:

Today we stretch out our hands to the people of the whole world. It is now five years that we have lived in fear and in horror, deprived of motherly love. Is the world so cruel that it can watch this catastrophe and do nothing about it?

We are Sakine Mohammadi e Ashtiani’s children, Farideh and Sajjad Mohamamadi e Ashtiani. Since our childhood we have been acquainted with the pain of knowing that our mother is imprisoned and awaiting a catastrophe. To tell the truth, the term “stoning” is so horrific that we try never to use it. We instead say our mother is in danger, she might be killed, and she deserves everyone’s help.

Today, when nearly all options have reached dead-ends, and our mother’s lawyer says that she is in a dangerous situation, we resort to you. We resort to the people of the world, no matter who you are and where in the world you live. We resort to you, people of Iran, all of you who have experienced the pain and anguish of the horror of losing a loved one.

Please help our mother return home!

We especially stretch our hand out to the Iranians living abroad. Help to prevent this nightmare from becoming reality. Save our mother. We are unable to explain the anguish of every moment, every second of our lives. Words are unable to articulate our fear…

Help to save our mother. Write to and ask officials to free her. Tell them that she doesn’t have a civil complainant and has not done any wrong. Our mother should not be killed. Is there any one hearing this and rushing to our assistance?

Farideh and Sajjad Mohammadi e Ashtiani

What happens if Sakineh is stoned? She will be buried in the ground up to her chest. Carefully chosen stones…not too big to make death come too soon and not too small to prolong the process…will be thrown at her head and face until she dies. The public is not going to be allowed to witness this for fear of a backlash. In Somalia, 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, met a similar fate. She was accused of adultery and stoned to death after she reported having been gang raped. I wrote about this horrific case in an 11/13/08 blog post. I wrote another post about someone being stoned for having married sex and you can read it here.

This is not justice. This is a case of a government misusing supposed religious laws to instill fear in the people in order to control them. Imagine being stoned to death for being falsely accused of having sex with someone who was not your husband. We should all be outraged.

If you are and want to get involved, here are two ways you can:

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Sakineh-Mohammadi-Ashtiani-from-being-Stoned-to-Death-in-Iran/123908540984923?ref=ts&v=wall

Sign a petition: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-sakineh-mohammadi.html

Update 7/9/10 from The Guardian:

Iran has imposed a media blackout over the case of a 43-year-old mother of two who was sentenced to be stoned to death and whose fate is still unclear despite an apparent “reprieve.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is still facing execution by hanging after being convicted of adultery, her son told the Guardian today.

Newspapers, agencies and TV channels in Iran have been banned from reporting Mohammadi Ashtiani’s death sentence, despite an international campaign launched by her children, which has been joined by politicians and celebrities from all over the world.

The campaign, first highlighted by the Guardian last week, has failed to stop the Iranian authorities from pressing ahead.

Last night the Iranian embassy in London issued an opaque statement saying that Mohammadi Ashtiani would not be stoned to death. “According to information from the relevant judicial authorities in Iran, she will not be executed by stoning punishment,” it said.

The statement was not reported inside Iran and neither was the news of stoning death sentences for 15 other Iranians.

UPDATE 7/21/10: The Iranian Supreme Court was to have issued a statement today about Ms. Ashtiani’s case. I read on today’s blog of Maryam Namazie, who is a spokesperson for Iran Solidarity amongst other groups, that Iran’s Supreme Court decision has been postponed for 20 days. There is incredible international pressure for her not to be executed. July 24, 2010 has been proclaimed an international day in support of Ms. Ashtiani and rallies are being held all over the world.

The Guardian reports in its 7/22 issue that:

Last week, Iran imposed a media blackout over Mohammadi Ashtiani’s death sentence, banning newspapers, agencies and TV Channels in Iran from reporting any news about her case.

It also reports that her children are being told to stay silent or face arrest and mentions the http://freesakineh.org website, where signatures for her release are being collected.

UPDATE 8/5/10: This from CNN.com blog is very sad news indeed:

A second attorney representing an Iranian woman whose death by stoning sentence was under review told a human rights activist Thursday that Iranian authorities have decided she will be executed.

Mina Ahadi, spokeswoman for the International Committee against Stoning, said she had spoken to Hotan Kian, an attorney who attended a court session in Tehran Wednesday. He was informed that there would be no more appeals for his client, Sakineh Mohammedie Ashtiani, and that Iran’s high court will decide within a week whether she will be stoned or be executed in another way.

UPDATE 8/11/10: This was posted today on the Facebook page in support of Ms. Ashtiani:

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, was FORCED by the Regime in Iran to speak against herself, Mostafaei (her lawyer) and the Campaign on Iran state TV. Her lawyer said that she was tortured before interview recorded in Tabriz prison, and fears imminent execution. (Guardian)

UPDATE 8/15/10: This is from CNN’s website:

(CNN) — An Iranian court has delayed the final verdict of a 43-year-old woman sentenced to death by stoning, a human rights group said Sunday, two days after the country announced she will not be executed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The International Committee Against Stoning did not say how it got its information on the postponement of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s final verdict, which had previously been scheduled to come down last Thursday. The group said in a statement that the final verdict in Ashtiani’s case is now expected on August 21, the date of her lawyer’s next court appearance.

UPDATE 8/30/10: This is a press release issued on 8/29 by the International Committee Against Stoning and the International Committee Against Execution:

On the 28th of August, in connection with the global protests against stoning and the death penalty that took place in at least 111 cities around the world, the authorities of Tabriz prison informed Sakineh that she would be executed on the 29th of August at dawn. She was told that she could write her will if she wished to do so. Sakineh started to cry and wrote her will. She waited for her execution the whole night. She waited for the guards to take her to the place of execution. Sakineh’s friends in prison showed her their deep grief and tried to comfort and calm her. However, until this hour, noon on August 29th, there has been no news concerning the completion of this death sentence. It seems that the Islamic Republic, while under immense international pressure, wanted to give the impression that it would not bow to world public opinion.

The International Committee against Stoning and the International Committee against Execution strongly condemn such heinous and criminal behavior of the Islamic regime towards prisoners sentenced to death. This [mock preparation for execution] is an indicator of the lack of detainees’ human rights. Over the years, the regime has threatened prisoners with execution sentences in order to intimidate and torture them mentally. Azar Bagheri is a young girl who has been in jail for four years, awaiting execution by stoning. She was 15 years old when she was convicted of adultery. She has been subjected to mock stonings twice [wrapped in a shroud and buried in preparation to be stoned, then released]. The dimensions of this regime’s atrocities have no limits. Opposition by Iranian people and people worldwide is the only way to push back this regime and finally free the Iranian people and all of humanity from this Islamic regime.

The International Committee against Stoning and the International Committee against Execution will continue the campaign to save Sakineh and other prisoners sentenced to execution and stoning. From here, we encourage the world to participate actively in this struggle.

UPDATE 9/3/10: An incredibly moving interview was conducted by Bernard-Henry Levy, a French philosopher and writer with Sakineh’s 22-year-old son Sajjad, who is leading the efforts to save his mother. His mother is accused of complicity in murdering his father and he says it is a “blatant lie.” The interview is posted on Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bernardhenri-levy/interview-with-sajjad_b_704311.html. Also, Sakineh has been sentenced to another 99 lashes for (and I see two causes quoted) “spreading corruption and indecency” or allowing her cause to be taken to the press.

UPDATE 9/8/10: CNN reports that Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told state-run Press TV on Wednesday:

The sentencing of Ms. Ashtiani for adultery has been stopped and (her case) is being reviewed again, and her sentencing for complicity in murder is in process.

UPDATE 11/2/10: Sakineh’s son has been arrested, detained, and tortured. The go-ahead has been given to execute Sakineh on 11/3. Heartbreaking. Read about it here.

UPDATE 12/9/10: It was reported that Sakineh was released today. Iranian TV showed clips of her at home with her son. There is some question whether this was done by Iran just for appearances to try and quell the international human rights outcry over Sakineh’s case. Supporters are cautiously optimistic that she truly has been released. You can read about it in the online version of the UK’s Guardian here. The latest is that Iran is now denying that she was released.

UPDATE 1/17/11: This is from Reuters. You can read the full article here.

Iran has suspended a sentence to hang a woman [Sakineh] at the center of a global outcry about a separate stoning sentence, a member of parliament was quoted Monday as saying, but another official suggested the comments were false.





Stoned to Death for Having Unmarried Sex in Somalia

8 11 2009

33-year-old Abas Hussein Abdirahman, who confessed to adultery in an Islamic court, was stoned to death on 11/7/09 in Somalia for having sex with his girlfriend. She will be stoned to death after she gives birth to their baby. The BBC reports that an eyewitness…one of 300 to the stoning…said that Abas Somali Al-Shabaab - Credit BBC“…was screaming and blood was pouring from his head during the stoning. After seven minutes he stopped moving.”

The BBC reports that this is the third time this year that Al-Shabab, an Islamist insurgency group in Somalia, has stoned a person to death for adultery. Two men were stoned to death last month after being accused of being spies.

According to the BBC, Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed “has accused al-Shabab of spoiling the image of Islam by killing people and harassing women.” Ahmed also had this to say about the Al-Shabab:

Their actions have nothing to do with Islam. They are forcing women to wear very heavy clothes, saying they want them to properly cover their bodies but we know they have economic interests behind – they sell these kinds of clothes and want to force people to buy them.

Somalia has not had a functioning national government in 18 years. Ahmed was sworn in as president in January after UN-brokered peace talks. Ahmed has said he wants to implement the Islamic Sharia law, but the Al-Shabab say he will be too lenient.

One of my most-read posts is Remembering 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow from Somalia. She reported being gang-raped as she walked to her grandmother’s and was stoned to death, accused of being an adulterer.

Surely God would not condone killing a soon-to-be father and mother who physically expressed love for one another and a child who was gang raped. Stoning them are not acts of honor and love for God. These are acts of terrorism under the guise of religion. They are about instilling fear in people in order to control them. They are senseless acts by people who use God’s name to harm others in order to assert their own power.

I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia years ago and I understand that in Muslim countries, religion and law are combined in a way we don’t experience in the U.S.  We must be respectful of the laws and traditions of people different from us. Still, I wonder how long Muslims will stand by and allow this to happen in their religion’s name. How long will the world stand by and quietly condemn these acts while they continue?





A Would-Be Robber and The Power of Love to Overcome Fear and Desperation

24 10 2009

It was October 19, 2009. 23-year-old Greg Smith was out of work, desperate, and needed money. He held Angela Montez at gun point, fully intending to rob a cash advance store, but something miraculous happened. Angela, a mother and grandmother, started crying and began talking to Greg. She told him “‘No, you don’t have to do this. Nothing can be bad enough for you to lower yourself to something so bad.” Even though the cash register was open and Greg could have taken the money and ran, he didn’t. His heart softened and he got down on his knees and prayed with Angela for ten minutes. The two even hugged. He left without taking the money.

Oprah had Greg, who is now in Marion County Jail in Indiana, and Angela, who was in the Harpo Studios with Oprah, on her show on Friday. What Greg Smith - From Oprah websiteunfolded there…and what had unfolded during the planned robbery…was a testimony to what can happen when people let go of fear and see the good in each other.

Out of work for a year, Greg said that he felt like “less than a man” because he couldn’t provide for his family. His driver’s license had been suspended so he lost his job, which required him to drive. Feeling like he had no options, he robbed someone the week before and has since apologized to the woman he robbed.

Something really changed in him when he tried to rob the store where Angela worked. Greg said:

Honestly, it was a feeling when she started talking to me, like I told her, no disrespect to my mother or anyone in my family, but noone has ever talked to me the way that she did. She talked to me like a mother would to her child or a grandmother would to her grandchild. She made me feel comfortable and something just made me open up to her. I don’t know what it was. And I felt honestly something that I had never felt before. Honestly, I don’t even think it was Miss Angela talking to me; I actually think it was the man upstairs talking to me through her.

Upon hearing that, Angela said she wanted to give him a big hug, she forgave him, and that she understood. She told him to take the punishment for what he’s done and “…don’t let the past stop you from being great in the future.” Greg teared up and said “I”m sorry, Miss Angela.” He said he never meant to hurt her. During the encounter in the store, he even gave her the bullet in his gun.

Angela was touched and said “See that is remorse. He has a good heart and good love. You know he has served in the service. You have give four years of your life to our country; we love that. Thank you.” Greg’s mouth was trembling; he too, was touched at the power of forgiveness and love from Angela.

Oprah also had Donna, Greg’s mother, and Sherrie, Greg’s long-time girlfriend and mother of their two-year-old daughter, on the show. Donna saw the video of Greg walking out of the store after the attempted armed robbery on the eleven p.m. news and urged him to turn himself in.

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Donna knew Greg was depressed and was suicidal at one point because he had no work. Yesterday was Greg’s daughter’s birthday and he was distraught that he had no money to buy her a present.

Sherrie works, goes to school, and pays all the bills. She and Greg are both 23 years old and have been together since they were 15. She said she never thought he would do this and partially blamed herself, saying she felt she pushed him over the edge with nagging him to get work.

Donna told her son she loved him and said that she knew he has a big heart. She was sorry she was so wrapped up in her own problems that she didn’t help him. Greg told her he was not mad at her, didn’t blame her, and loved her. He apologized to Sherrie for putting her through this. Their daughter Mya was there…on her 2nd birthday…so precious. She saw Greg on the monitor and gleefully exclaimed “Daddy! Daddy!” Greg said:

I’ve always been a firm believer in God and Christ, but I’ve never walked that walk. I’ve felt like for the longest time I was in control of everything and everything was supposed to go my way. I feel like a lot of the things that I did have before the situation I’m in now I took for granted and I lost it.

Oprah wrapped up the story and told Greg:

We’re hoping the best will come to you really. You seem to have a good heart and you didn’t harm Angela in that circumstance and allowed yourself to have your heart open enough that you could put the gun down and walk away. I know Angela is grateful and we all are grateful too that it worked out this way.

Greg, Sherrie, Mya, Donna, and even Angela have all had their lives impacted because of the economy and the desperation that people can feel from being out of work and not having money. It doesn’t help that Greg is a young black man without a college education and without the creativity and resources to get the help he needs. He is in jail now and is charged with six felony counts and two misdemeanors. On October 22 a judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf; he does not have an attorney.

By letting go of fear, opening her heart, and seeing Greg as a human being who needed understanding rather than as a criminal, Angela forevermore changed her life, Greg’s life, and the lives of his mother, girlfriend, and daughter. Most likely, Angela’s love and forgiveness have impacted thousands or millions of others who have heard this story, which has been repeated on other shows in addition to Oprah’s. Angela and Greg are each testaments to us that love is a much more powerful force than fear and that what appears bad can be transformative for good in our lives.





Does Barack Obama Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

9 10 2009

I was really excited to hear who the Norwegian Nobel Committee would choose today to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Would it be Three Cups of Tea author and Afghanistan and Pakistan builder of schools for girls Greg Mortenson (see my post on Greg here)? Or Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Congolese gynecologist who has repaired the damage done to 21,000 gang raped women and given them hope? Both were incredibly deserving and could certainly put the $1.4 million prize money to good use helping women and girls.

President Obama at UN Security Council Mtg (Doug Mills, NY Times)

President Obama at UN Security Council Meeting in September 2009 (Doug Mills, NY Times)

I was as stunned as anyone to learn upon waking today that President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee received 205 nominations and created a short list of between 5 and 20 nominees. A group of academics who are permanent advisers to the Nobel Institute examined these candidates, gave their input, and the committee made the final decision. They had this to say about why they awarded President Obama the prize:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had this to say about President Obama’s win:

We are entering an era of renewed multilateralism, a new era where the challenges facing humankind demand global common cause and uncommon global effort. President Obama embodies the new spirit of dialogue and engagement on the world’s biggest problems: climate change, nuclear disarmament and a wide range of peace and security challenges.

There are many naysayers, though…mostly in the U.S….who ask what has he done to deserve this prestigious prize? After all, he’s only been president for 9 months. Go back even to the over two-year election period and you can see him already at work as a peacemaker. Some examples?

  • John McCain called him “that one” in an election debate and Obama turned the other cheek and did not react. He has been very gracious toward McCain and included him in many high-value decisions since he’s been president.
  • Hillary Clinton was snide and mocked Obama repeatedly during the election and Obama never responded in kind toward her. After her vitriol (and Bill’s) toward him, he had the grace to ask her to be his secretary of state.
  • Throughout all the Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, and Acorn debaucles and Palin hate mongering rallies, Obama said repeatedly that he trusted the American people to see what was really important and not to get sidetracked or misled.

Not once did he let all of the ugliness directed at him cause him to act ugly in return. Many people saw him as weak and thought he surely would not win the election because he didn’t go on the attack, but the American people decided they wanted someone who was peaceful, positive, and projected a quiet calm.

Besides how he conducted himself during the campaign, President Obama, in just a few short months has already done a lot to promote peace. A few of his efforts include:

  • A commitment to nuclear disarmament even in the face of North Korea’s threats and launching missiles
  • Meeting with President Dmitri Medvedev to begin repairing relations with Russia
  • Meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan to improve relations between their countries
  • Giving a major speech aimed at the Muslim world in Cairo where he spoke of a fresh start and a new relationship based on mutual respect and understanding
  • Working to restart peace talks by meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine

Obama responding to Nobel Peace Prize win - Stephen Crowley - NYTimesPresident Obama’s spoke this morning about this honor; here are some of his remarks:

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

That is why I’ve said that I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century. These challenges won’t all be met during my presidency, or even my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it’s recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award — and the call to action that comes with it — does not belong simply to me or my administration; it belongs to all people around the world who have fought for justice and for peace. And most of all, it belongs to you, the men and women of America, who have dared to hope and have worked so hard to make our world a little better.

President Obama will go to Oslo, Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10. He has announced that he will donate the prize money to charity.

Kenyan Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said:

Many people are waiting for miracles, when miracles have already happened. The getting of the senator into the Senate, the way he conducted his campaign, the way he won… In America it may not look as big a thing as it was to the rest of the world, the hope and the aspiration it provides for the rest of the world.

Think back to election night and inauguration day. Barack Obama…even before he became president…lifted not only the American people, but people all over the world. He gave them hope, he made them believe again in decency, respectfulness, dignity, honor, honesty, openness, civility, inclusiveness, and the power of trusting and communicating with people all over the world. To me, these are the hallmarks of what creating peace is all about.

Alfred Nobel stated in his will that he wanted the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to…

the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

Does Barack Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? For me…and the committee upholding Alfred Nobel’s wishes…the answer is YES, he does. I cannot think of a single other person who is more the active embodiment of what Alfred Nobel sought in a peacemaker worthy of this award. Congratulations, President Obama and thank you for your example and your peaceful tone as a man and as our president.

Here’s Geir Lundestad, Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, speaking to senior editor Simon Frantz about why President Obama was chosen for this high honor.





Using the Lost 2016 Olympics Bid to Sow Hatred in America

3 10 2009

Ha ha ha! We didn’t get the bid for the 2016 Olympics. What a loser that President Obama is. That’s what we’re hearing from many conservatives today. Here are some actual statements made today with derisive gleefulness:

  • Rush Limbaugh – “Our president, Barack Hussein Obama, has been running around the world for nine months telling everybody how much our country sucks…. Why would anybody award the Olympics to such a crappy place?…Obama demeaned the office of the presidency, going on this sales pitch….He doesn’t understand how delighted the world is to make him look foolish in order to take a swipe at our country. We’ve got a two-year-old manchild with a Mars-sized ego, which today crashed and burned.”
  • The Drudge Report - “THE EGO HAS LANDED. WORLD REJECTS OBAMA: CHICAGO OUT IN FIRST ROUND”
  • The National Review Online – “Wow, what an embarrassment for Obama. If he can’t work his personal magic with the Olympians, why does he expect it to work with the Iranians?”
  • Michelle Malkin – “Goodbye, ‘Yes We Can.’ Hello, ‘No, You Can’t.’ Like Icarus, President Obama’s giddy ego flight has ended with melted wax and fallen wings.”

This is downright disturbing to see Americans gloating because the U.S. lost the bid for the 2016 Olympics and laughing out loud at President Obama because of it. Lately there have been a lot of outrageous, mean-spirited, derogatory, and frankly anti-American statements made that indicate the speakers of those words hope our country and President Obama fail; Limbaugh even outright said so.

If you are one of the people laughing at our president and hoping our country fails, do you call yourself religious? Do you claim moral authority? Are you a member of the party whose election campaign motto was “Country First”?  If so, I ask where is your decency, your Christ-like spirit, and your caring for and loving fellow Americans including BLACK ones like our president? When you ask the question What would Jesus do? do you seriously think he would behave this way?

Instead of gleeful derision, why not celebrate with Rio de Janeiro on their win today? Why not be grateful for a president who made a huge personal effort and sees this as an opportunity to reestablish relations with people all over the world after they were so damaged by the previous president? Why not be thankful to all the people who spent countless hours putting together the bid for Chicago to host the Olympics? Wouldn’t all that be more Christian, more decent, more American?

I’m really tired of certain factions…incited and egged on by certain media personalities…doing everything they can to tear down our country. Consider the source of your information….it is from opportunists who don’t care about our country and the people in it. These opportunists make a lot of money being outrageous and hateful. They worship the almighty dollar.

Instead of what we saw today, I’d like to see glee being shown when people extend kindness, lift each other up, care for one another, and contribute to the good in the world. 13th century Persian poet Rumi says it so well:

Tender words we spoke to one another are sealed in the secret vaults of heaven. One day like rain, they will fall to earth and grow green all over the world.

What words are you saying? Are they kind? Encouraging? Caring? Loving? Will they fall to the earth and grow green all over the world or scorch the earth with dissension and hatred?

UPDATE 10/5/09: Paul Krugman has an excellent New York Times Op-Ed on this entitled “The Politics of Spite,” which was published 10/4.





Roman Polanski: Brilliant Director and PEDOPHILE

2 10 2009

In 1977, 44-year-old Roman Polanski drugged and vaginally and anally raped 13-year-old Samantha Geimer even while she repeatedly pleaded with him to stop. He fled the country in 1978 before his sentencing and has never returned to the U.S., not even when he won the Academy Award for Best Director for his movie The Pianist in 2002.

Besides that amazing movie, he has directed other noted movies such as Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown. Polanski hasn’t just led a charmed life, though; he has experienced tragedy in his life. He escaped the Krakow ghetto in 1943 at age 10. His mother was executed in a concentration camp. His 8 1/2-month pregnant wife, the beautiful actress Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by followers of Charles Manson.

But all of that doesn’t excuse a man…any man…of raping a child. Polanski was arrested on 9/26/09 at the Zurich, Switzerland airport; he was to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Zurich Film Festival. Lots of famous Hollywood types (many directors themselves) like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Michael Mann, and Whoopi Goldberg (who had the audacity to say “It wasn’t rape rape”) are DEFENDING Roman Polanski and THEY are acting outraged that he is being detained in a Swiss jail.

The man is a pedophile. Around two years before he raped Geimer, he had a “romantic relationship” (that’s how it’s reported on Wikipedia…folks, he’s a PEDOPHILE) with 15-year-old actress Nastassja Kinski.

This reminds me of the case of R&B singer R. Kelly. He’s probably most known for the song “I Think I Can Fly” and has a beautiful voice, but R. Kelly is also a pedophile. He has escaped being sent to jail several times even though he’s been found in possession of child pornography including a tape he made of him “having sex” with an underage girl. He also married his protege, the 15-year-old singer Aaliyah (who had to lie about her age to get married)…who he had worked with since she was 12 years old… in 1994.

The response in these two cases is outrageous. In both cases people have closed ranks and supported the guy who was one of them. The Hollywood types are supporting Polanski and African-Americans supported R. Kelly. I checked a forum where African-Americans post and the people speaking out on Polanski almost uniformly believe he should go to jail. People on that same forum stood up for R. Kelly (and also the batterer hip-hop singer Chris Brown) and thought he was being racially targeted when he was being tried for being a pedophile.

When will we stop defending child molesters? I don’t care if you’re rich or poor, famous or not famous, black or white, from the U.S. or from Saudi Arabia, Christian or Muslim, it is NEVER OKAY to molest children. And I am sick of the press saying that an adult “had sex with” a child or that it was “consensual.” It is NEVER consensual and it is not “having sex” when a child is involved. It is RAPE. Children are never responsible and they cannot freely consent to sex with an adult. It is always about adults using their power (and in the Polanski case also drugs) over children.

Bottom line? No matter how wonderful Roman Polanski’s movies have been, he is a fugitive from the law and a child rapist. He belongs in prison. PERIOD.





AARP Wants All You Cool Hip Peeps (and You Don’t Have to Be 50)

23 09 2009

At the cool, hip age of 50, no one thinks they are old enough to be invited to be part of an organization that was formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons. But it is a rite of passage…AARP finds you, offers you some cool benefits, articles, and information and for a few measly bucks, you cast your pride aside and join. Now AARP is doing soEthel Percy Andrus - AARP Foundermething else really cool.

Their new venture is inspired by AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus (1884-1967). The first woman high school principal in California, Dr. Andrus founded the National Retired Teachers Association in 1947 and AARP in 1958. Her motto, which is still the motto of AARP, is “To serve, not to be served.” Her life of service inspires the new Create the Good program:

Her belief in collective voice and action is at the heart of Create The Good. She believed that anyone, anywhere, anytime could make a difference.

When you visit www.CreateTheGood.org, you can:

  1. Find Good Things to Do by entering in your zipcode
  2. Use DIY (Do-It-Yourself) toolkits or your own ideas to do something good
  3. Post an Opportunity to do good

Some examples of the 629 opportunities in Austin are:

  • Be a tax-aide volunteer
  • Offer clerical assistance to a hospice
  • Help out with programs to empower girls in math, science, engineering, and technology
  • Help clean up a park

Check it out! You can be a part of the AARP program and contribute to creating good where you live…even if you’re way too young in years (or at heart) to join AARP!





NBA Star Tracy McGrady Creates a Darfur Dream Team

7 09 2009
Tracy McGrady Houston Mansion

Tracy McGrady's Houston Mansion

30-year-old NBA Houston Rockets star Tracy McGrady, who makes an estimated $21.1 million a year, is an unlikely advocate for refugees in Darfur. He could just live a cushy life in his 35,000 square foot mansion with his four children and wife. Instead, he heard about the plight of Chad and Sudan refugees in Darfur, wanted to see for himself, thought that surely there was something he could do, and traveled there with John Prendergast and Omer Ismail from the Enough project, which bills itself as “the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Tracy grew up in a rough neighborhood in Auburndale, Florida where he witnessed shooting, robbing, and dealing drugs. He said that when he got aTracy McGrady - Credit NBA website well-paying job, he wanted to have nice things, but said that “…those things don’t really mean anything to me anymore.” Before he went to Darfur, in the western region of Sudan and bordering Chad, in the summer of 2007, he said he had no idea what genocide was and was nervous about what he would see…and he saw a lot.

His trip resulted in the documentary 3 Points, which has just been released and can be seen on Hulu. Tracy is so passionate about the film and his work that he has changed his jersey number to 3 to remind people of the three goals for the Darfuris: peace, protection, and punishment (of those who have harmed them).

Tracy goes there with a big heart and a lot to learn. He…like most of us…has no idea what the life of the refugees…all 2.2 million of them…is like…that the women are being raped, the men are being killed, and their villages have been burned down. He sees children running and wants to build them a soccer field (which would cost just $1,000) and an indoor swimming pool (which would be considered extravagant), but learns that these children have more basic needs such as clean water, food, safety, and schools and supplies. There are no secondary schools (high schools). The people tell them that they have nothing…NOTHING.

He sleeps in a tent for the first time and displays a lot of naivete, but a willingness to learn about the Darfuris. He learns that children and families walked 200 miles to be in the camps, that the women choose to go out to get firewood because they will only be raped; if their husbands go out, they will be killed. Refugees are bombed by planes that look like United Nations planes, are surrounded by land mines, and eat once a day if they are lucky. People are attacked, killed execution-style, and even buried alive by Sudan’s military and Janjaweed, the government-backed militia. Children watch their parents being killed and are instantly orphaned and traumatized. Even small babies being carried on their mothers’ backs are shot.

Tracy asks questions that reveal a lot about the refugees:

  • “Who is protecting you?” No one
  • “What did you [young children] do when your village was attacked?” We ran, hid in the bush for a month, and walked for 10 days to get to a refugee camp.
  • “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 3 boys: I want to be a teacher. A girl:” I want to run my country.
  • “What kind of help do you need?” We have nothing. Everything was burned.

These are brave people, courageous people, strong people, survivors. They have seen unspeakable atrocities and injustice…the worst from their own government. Tracy reflects…

Tracy McGrady with Darfuri Children - Credit Darfur Dream Team

Just imagine that this could be us. What if the roles were reversed? What if the dice were rolled another way? This is not a joke…it’s not a game…this is real. This is our people we’re talking about. I guess that I am beginning to feel that I was put on this earth to really like help people. There’s more to me than just playing basketball, doing Adidas commercials. This is who I am and who I’m going to be. This is the beginning stages that we’re in. There’s definitely a lot more that needs to be done.

After returning from Darfur, Tracy visited with the State Department with his teammate Dikembe Mutombo and got input about how he can make a difference in Darfur. He recruited several other NBA stars to help in this effort as well as other non-profit organizations. He started a Darfur Dream Team Sister School program, which connects middle schools, high schools, and universities with students in the refugee camps of Darfur.

Tracy also visited his alma mater high school in that rough neighborhood of Auburndale, Florida with his Enough project allies who told the students that by being passive and nothing, they help evil triumph. Omer Ismail, the human rights activist from Darfur who joined Tracy on his travels there, said this to the students:

One day somebody is going to look you in the eyes and ask you “When Darfur was declared genocide, what have you done? I want you to look them in the eyes and say “I knew about it then and I’m proud to tell you that I’ve done something about it.”

Here’s a trailer about the 3 Points movie. Watch it. It will touch you. If it moves you, consider donating to the Darfur Dream Team’s Sister School program. Refugees in Darfur need all the heroes…like Tracy McGrady and you and me…they can get to help lift them up and into a better life.





Muslim Model to be Caned for Drinking a Beer

21 08 2009

For the Muslim crime of drinking a beer, 32-year-old  Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who lives in Singapore with her husband, has been sentenced to pay a fine worth $1,400 and to six lashes by a rattan cane. The sentence for a Muslim being caught in public drinking can be as strict as a three-year prison term and caning, but typically offenders are only fined. Here’s a short article being published 8/22/09 from The Independent about this:

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno with children Muhammad and Kaitlynn - Source: The Independent

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno with children Muhammad and Kaitlynn - Source: The Independent

‘If you’re going to cane me, then do it in public’

Model’s stand after conviction for drinking alcohol exposes brutality of Malaysian law

by Andrew Buncombe, Asia editor

She says it was only the second time she had drunk alcohol in her life, and even then it was just a few of glasses of beer. But it was enough for a Muslim court in Malaysia to order Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a part-time model and mother-of-two, to be caned. The corporal punishment case has divided the Asian nation and led human rights campaigners to urge the authorities to show restraint.

Now, in her first interview, Ms Kartika has urged the authorities to carry out the punishment in public. “I never cried when I was sentenced by the judge,” she told Reuters at her father’s house in a village 200 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. “I told myself, all right then, let’s get on with it.”

Ms Kartika, who would be the first woman to be caned in the Muslim-majority country, is actually a citizen of neighbouring Singapore, and does not even live in Malaysia. But last year she was caught drinking at a hotel in Kuantan in the eastern Malaysian state of Pahang during a police raid. Under Malaysian law, while it is legal for non-Muslims to drink alcohol, Muslims – even foreigners – may not. [end of article]

I’ve been to Singapore, where this woman is from, and it is strict about a lot of things, but I easily saw women drinking in bars. I don’t know if they were Muslim or not. This incident took place in neighboring Malaysia, but still…I wonder how one of these raids takes place. Do the authorities walk in and demand proof whether you are Muslim or not? And how does one prove that?

I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia years ago and drinking was forbidden beerdue to the strict enforcement of Muslim Sharia law. There were no bars to go to and drink, but people still drank alcohol in their homes. Most expats (people from other countries working and living there) made their own wine and beer. Name-brand liquor was smuggled in the country and could be purchased.

As soon as an airplane lifted off and was no longer on Saudi Arabian soil, Saudis ordered and drank alcohol. While I’m sure there are many Muslims who follow the law and do not drink, there are many…like Mormons who also are required to not drink alcohol or religious zealots who are required by their faith to follow other strict codes…who often do what they want when they think no one who could judge them is watching or they are in a place where no could judge (and prosecute) them.

This was a simple case of a young woman sitting in a bar having a beer. If she was non-Muslim no one would care. If the religious police hadn’t shown up, no one would care. But this woman got caught. I can’t imagine a Mormon in our country being sentenced to pay such a hefty fine and being lashed even though their beliefs strictly forbid alcohol also.

The difference is that in our country…at least in theory and in most places…church and state are separate. This is a cautionary tale, though, that we must never allow religious zealots to take over the leadership of our country (as they are training people to do) or else we, too, might see religious “laws” and our judicial system laws become one and the same.

UPDATE: Kartika was on her way to a prison for the caning today, but was taken back home after she received a Ramadan (which began on 8/22) reprieve. The caning will still take place, but after Ramadan (the Islamic holy month) is over.

UPDATE 9/28/09: A judge in Malaysia has upheld the caning sentence and it will still be carried out.

UPDATE 4/1/10: One day before she was to surrender to authorities for the caning, Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang state overturned the Islamic court ruling and commuted Kartika’s sentence to three weeks of community service at a children’s home.





Phoenix Family Shuns Gang Raped 8-Year-Old Girl

24 07 2009

In Phoenix, four boys from Liberia aged 9, 10, 13, and 14 lured an 8-year-old Liberian girl to a shed on pretense of getting some gum. There they held her down and took turns brutally gang raping her. Police responded to reports of her hysterical screams and saw the four boys running away from the shed.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, according to an Associated Press report today, police Sgt. Andy Hill said the father of the raped girl:

…told the case worker and an officer in her presence that he didn’t want her back. He said “Take her, I don’t want her.”

Liberia has been emerging from 14 years of civil war and a culture of rape, and is one of the few African countries that has outlawed rape (in 2006). Although this is beginning to change, for many years in the Liberian culture, the crime was not as important as the shame to the family of a daughter being raped. The girl is now in state custody to protect her from her own family.

This is truly a tragic story. A little girl’s innocence and trust in people…and these were other children from her own culture…are now broken. Her own father has said he doesn’t want her and has said she has brought shame to the family. She did nothing wrong and yet was victimized by the rapists and her own family.

These young boys possibly saw this as a way to have some fun and yet their selfishness and cruelty has forever impacted this little girl’s life and the life of her family. The 14-year-old who was the ringleader will be tried as an adult with two counts of sexual assault and kidnapping. The other three boys were charged as juveniles with rape and two also with kidnapping…serious charges.

Senseless. Tragic. Horrendous. Life altering. Physically damaging. Emotionally damaging. Shameful. A lifetime of pain. The sexual assault on a child or an adult has real consequences that last a lifetime. And there’s nothing honorable about a family that shuns an 8-year-old little innocent girl who was gang raped. She needs all the love and support she can get after such an horrific experience. When will the African and Muslim families who consider “honor” more important than the welfare and well-being of their own children stop hiding behind that as a so-called religious precept and start standing up for what’s really important…love, kindness, acceptance, and understanding.





Land Me on the Moon

19 07 2009

July 20, 2009 is the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing and walk. Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words “One small step for man, one giant

Buzz Aldrin on Moon 7/20/69 - NASA Photo by Neil Armstrong

Buzz Aldrin on Moon 7/20/69 - NASA Photo by Neil Armstrong

leap for mankind” as he became the first person ever to set foot on the moon. Buzz Aldrin was right behind him…the second man to walk on the moon. I was out with friends and we rushed home to see what was one of the most exciting things that happened during my childhood.

I cried this morning as I remembered that day. As a nation we had lost our innocence and had been shaken by several traumas: the Vietnam War and the assassinations of President Kennedy in 1963 and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King in 1968. We needed hope and something to rally around and feel good about.

At 15, I was out on the streets of Knoxville, Tennessee shopping with my mother when we heard about Dr. King’s murder. Even though we were a 7-hour drive from Memphis, we went home immediately because she feared there could be rioting on the streets. I wept profusely as I watched Robert Kennedy’s funeral just about two months after Dr. King’s murder.

Even though I had experienced the collective pain of the nation, my life was relatively untouched personally by trauma at that age. I still had a youthful innocence and boundless energy and the whole world lay before me. In a way, the moon landing restored that kind of unjaded faith and energy to our country.

And now…40 years later…I find myself in personal need of that kind of restoration. Just as at that time our country had gone through many traumas, I…now 40 years later…have gone through many traumas. I long to be that 16-year-old girl again… to have boys chasing me, to be young and beautiful, to have so many opportunities, and to have utter confidence in myself. I…like our country in 1969… want to erase the stories from the past that have caused pain and sadness and heartbreak.

President Kennedy declared on May 25, 1961:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

When will I make such a radical declaration of an ambitious goal? What will that goal be? What steps do I need to take to engineer it? How can I rally others to support me to reach a seemingly unreachable goal? When will I experience a personal moon landing that will restore my enthusiasm and belief that anything is possible? Can you relate?

Happy 40th anniversary in remembrance of a remarkable achievement that lifted a country. As we raise a champagne glass to celebrate, here’s to us each discovering what will personally land us on the moon and lift us up individually and collectively.

Here’s that first moon landing:





GHOST: Counterterrorism Agent Fred Burton

16 07 2009

A 12 year stint as a special agent (and later deputy chief) of the Diplomatic Security Service of the Department of State’s counterterrorism division began for Fred Burton on February 10, 1986. A former Maryland police officer, he Fred Burtonhad some experience working in the shadows and with the dark strands of society. His life totally changed on that cold Bethesda day and became consumed in finding and disarming those all over the world whose purpose is to cause harm and destruction and to strike fear in the hearts of innocent people.

I heard Fred Burton speak at the Texas Book Festival right before the election last year. I found his talk intriguing and bought and read his riveting book Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent. In it, he tells stories of how the initial office of himself, his boss Steve, and another agent (and later additional agents) investigated many international incidents to determine if they were terrorist attacks. These incidents included the following:

  1. A bomb on TWA Flight 840 from Athens to Rome
  2. A bomb at a German disco in West Berlin
  3. The Beirut hostage crisis
  4. The airplane crash that killed Pakistani President Zia
  5. The first World Trade Center bombing

Mr. Burton is a true American patriot. He kept a suitcase packed and was ready to go anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice. He often was gone for weeks and his wife would have no idea where he was; he couldn’t tell her for security reasons. He rarely got a full night’s sleep as he would either be awakened with an emergency call that necessitated him going into the office or would lay awake anticipating such a call. He rarely even had a weekend morning to himself. He was always on call, always on the ready, always working to keep Americans and people all over the world safe.

Since 1998, Fred has worked for Strategic Forecasting (STRATFOR) in Austin, Texas, a company that does “geopolitical intelligence and economic, political, and military strategic forecasting.” He is currently VP of Counterterrorism and Corporate Security. There he and his counterterrorism team “watch overseas threats, analyze them, and report our findings to our clients.”

Mr. Burton was kind enough to send me a note when he saw that I listed on my blog that I was reading his book. I said I’d love to read another book by him and he replied that “My next book is MANHUNT and centers on my 25 year quest to capture a Palestinian terrorist who gunned down an Israeli secret agent in the DC area.” That sounds like another riveting book and I look forward to reading it when it is released in April 2010.

When you go to bed tonight, your thoughts may be on an argument with your spouse or a slight from your boss, but most of us won’t have to worry about whether we are safe or not. Eight years into his stint in counterterrorism, Fred Burton made these observations:

Do the people around me have any idea of the ruthless depths of the world they live in? Do they have any clue what lurks around them? I certainly didn’t eight years ago. Perhaps that ignorance is a good thing. Living life in perpetual fear is not a life at all. In truth, there are moments where I miss that blissful ignorance. Knowledge and a top secret clearance do not equal happiness. I’ve found that out the hard way.

We can be grateful for people like Fred Burton who are willing to give so much so that we can live blissfully and ignorantly safe lives. Here’s Mr. Burton in February discussing his book:





Ishmael Beah: Former Sierra Leone Child Soldier

5 07 2009

At the age of 13, Ishmael Beah was forced to become a child soldier in a horrific civil war that started in 1991 in Sierra Leone. Rebels had ishmael_beah burned many villages and killed everyone in them, including his family. He and a group of boys roamed from village to village looking for food and shelter, just trying to stay alive. They had many close calls when they were mistaken for rebels and were almost executed. They saw things that children shouldn’t see…mutilated dead bodies (including those of other children) in piles and blood soaking the ground…and they cheered each other with boyish games to avoid feeling the pervasive fear and despair that drenched this war-ridden country.

They thought they had finally found safety at a military encampment in Yele. Ishmael was given food and stayed in a cement brick house with over 30 other orphaned boys between the ages of 7 and 16. For a while, it seemed idyllic as he helped prepare food and played his beloved soccer. One day everything changed. Lieutenant Jabati announced that the boys were needed to fight the rebels and told them “This is your time to revenge the deaths of your families and to make sure more children do not lose their families.”

Sierra Leone Child Soldier - Credit: Foreign Policy Assn

Sierra Leone Child Soldier - FR: Foreign Policy Assn

And so it began. Ishmael and his friends…upon threat of death if they tried to escape…became child soldiers. They were given AK-47 assault rifles, trained in how to attack and kill, and given marajuana, amphetamines, cocaine, and brown-brown (a mixture of cocaine and gun powder) to dull the horror of killing. They believed their commanders had juju…magical skills…and they did what they were told, which included execution style killings, slitting throats, and many other horrendous acts to prove their loyalty and soldiering ability.

Ishmael survived many harrowing scenes in which less clever and determined men and boys perished. He was rescued after almost three years by UNICEF and sent through an 8-month rehabilitation program, which required his caretakers…especially the very caring Esther who became like a mother figure to him…to be willing to see him and other former child soldiers as children and not as willing killers. He had a really difficult time withdrawing from all the drugs and facing what he had done. He suffered flashbacks and nightmares and had to relearn to trust adults.

He was repatriated by going to live with a long-lost uncle and his family in the city of Freetown. He was one of two children chosen to represent Sierra Leone at the United Nations First International Children’s Parliament in New York City. There he told his story of being a child soldier and the effects it had on him and other children.

Ishmael returned to Sierra Leone, attended school, and continued living with his uncle. On May 25, 1997, soldiers entered Freetown and raped, killed, threw tear gas, and plundered. Ishmael’s uncle suddenly became ill and died. With war raging around him, Ishmael knew that he needed to escape or he would be killed if he refused to become a child soldier again.

He made the decision to never go back to that soul-killing way of life and called Laura Simms…one of the NGOs (non-governmental officials) he’d met at the New York conference…and asked if he could come live with her. She said yes. With a few clothes and some money she sent him, he started the very dangerous path out of the country and escaped (barely) to Conakry, Guinea. From there he was able to get to New York and Laura became his foster mother.

Ishmael finished his last two years of high school at the United Nations International School in New York and went on to get a degree in political science in 2004 at Oberlin College. The book he eloquently wrote about his experiences…A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier…was published in 2007. I just finished reading that book and found it moving, disturbing, and in the end, hopeful.

There are hundreds of thousands of children worldwide who are forced to be soldiers. Since Ishmael was liberated from soldiering, positive changes have been happening in Sierra Leone. Child Soldiers: Global Report 2008 states that “A landmark in international justice was forged by the conviction in 2007 by the Special Court for Sierra Leone of four people on charges that included the recruitment and use of children during the civil war.” It goes on to laud Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, and Liberia for establishing truth commissions to address the issue of child soldiers.

The report names these countries as having used child soldiers in armed conflict between April 2004 and October 2007: Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan and Southern Sudan, Uganda, Yemen, and the UK (which sent under 18-year-olds to fight in Iraq). Under pressure from the United Nations and human rights organizations, some countries have ceased deploying child soldiers, but these victories have been limited. There is much work to be done.

To learn more about Ishmael Beah, you can visit the website http://www.alongwaygone.com. He has established the Ishmael Beah Foundation, which is “dedicated to helping former child soldiers reintegrate into society and improve their lives.” He was a long way gone, but now he’s a long way positively influencing the lives of others through his work with the Human Rights Watch Children’s Division Advisory Committee, speaking before the United Nations, serving as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and doing other work to bring to light the effects of war on children. Here’s Ishmael speaking on CBS News on June 4, 2007.





Michael Jackson: The Sad Legacy of Child Abuse

27 06 2009

No doubt the music was superb, the dancing mesmerizing, the videos innovativeMichael_Jackson_1984, the costumes eye-popping, the energy unbelievable. After his death this week, Michael Jackson, the proclaimed King of Pop, leaves a legacy of 13 Grammy awards, 13 number one singles, the best selling record of all time (Thriller), 750 million records sold, and many other accolades and awards. He also leaves behind three children, $500 million in debt, a tangled legal mess, and the sad legacy of child abuse.

Michael Jackson was an abused child and he was (allegedly) an abuser. It’s easy to forget all this because we are so stunned at the death so young of someone who has made such an impact on music. We must remember, though, that his life story is a cautionary tale.

When Michael was a child, his father Joseph did things like:

  • Held Michael upside down with one leg and “pummeled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks,” per brother Marlon.
  • Sat in a chair with a belt in his hand while the Jackson brothers rehearsed and that “if you didn’t do it the right way, he would tear you up, really get you,” per Michael.
  • Tripped and pushed the boys into walls and called them names.

[NOTE 6/30: The Wall Street Journal reports that it appears that Michael’s father Joseph was cut out of what is purported to be his latest will, written in 2002.]

The abuse took a toll. Michael often cried from loneliness and even vomited upon seeing the father he so feared. He went from an adorable and impossibly talented little boy to a bizarre-looking and irrevocably scarred middle-aged man. And still lonely. Very lonely.

Perhaps to ease his loneliness and to try and create the childhood he never had, he often invited children over to his fairytale and theme park-like Neverland Ranch. He admitted to the stunned British journalist Martin Bashir, in a 2003 documentary entitled Living with Michael Jackson, that he often had children sleep in his bed.

Just this sort of thing is what got Michael in trouble in 1993 and 2005 when both times he was accused of sexual abuse of a child. In 1993 he suffered deteriorated health from being addicted to three painkillers as a result of the stress he felt from dealing with the accusations and settled out of court. In 2005 the boy who was seen holding hands with Michael and discussing sleeping arrangements with him in the documentary accused him of sexual abuse. The People v. Jackson trial ended with Michael being found not guilty, but left a shroud of suspicion around him that never ended. Mental health professional Dr. Stan Katz, who evaluated Michael and the accuser for the trial, declared Michael a “regressed 10-year-old” and not a pedophile.

Perhaps that’s so. Perhaps Michael was 10 in his thoughts and actions and doing the normal exploratory stuff that 10-year-olds do. Maybe he was innocent and taken advantage of by greedy fortune-seekers. At the very least, Michael was naively inappropriate to allow children in his bed. He was an adult and a public figure. He should have known better.

But this is what severe child abuse does. It can delay or thwart emotional development and contribute to a 50-year-old man regressing to being 10 years old. It can lead to life-long problems.

Michael Jackson is both a talented and tragic figure. It leaves us wondering if he would’ve been less troubled and if he would have left a less sullied legacy if he had been treated with kindness and love as a child and not ridicule, threats, and harm.

This brings to my mind the 1954 poem by Dorothy Law Nolte that has hung in my home since my now-grown children were small. I looked at that poem several times a day and tried to live by its tenets as I raised my daughters. Here is the poem, entitled “Children Learn What They Live”:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

Thanks for the music, Michael. Like so many creative giants, your flame extinguished way too soon. The torture you felt in life is now silenced, but the music lives on. Here’s one of my favorites of his. Enjoy.






Rage Against the Machine: Protests in Iran

21 06 2009

This is a POWERFUL video of Iranian protests. It is posted on Huffington Post with the accompanying description:

Rage against the machine. An Iranian-American writes: “In my spare time, I make short documentaries and music videos, and my 22 year old cousin in Iran asked that I make a video for him with his favorite song. I just spoke with him and he told me that his friends and him are watching it before they go out to protest. He was stepping out the door to protest when I spoke with him just a few minutes ago. A lot of Iranians from Iran rely on huffingtonpost.com for their information. If you could somehow post this on your website and get this out to the youth in Iran, it would mean a lot.”





Celebrating World Refugee Day by Becoming a U.S. Citizen

20 06 2009

June 20 is World Refugee Day. 42 million people worldwide are refugees. Angelina Jolie serves as UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) Goodwill Ambassador. She and Brad Pitt have donated $1 million to help Pakistani refugees displaced because of war. Angelina says that the number of Pakistani refugees is jumping at a really high rate…as much as 100,000 people a day…and 2 million Pakistanis are now refugees.

Austin, Texas (where I live) takes in about 500 – 600 refugees per month; the most challenging thing is helping them find work. Here’s an article that is currently online and will appear in Sunday’s Austin American-Statesman newspaper about 21 refugees who became U.S. citizens today in Austin.

Refugees who fled horrors of war, famine now call Austin home.

Jeremy Schwartz
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, June 21, 2009

They’ve fled war, famine, genocide and concentration camps. But in an intimate ceremony Saturday at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, 21 refugees from 11 countries took an important step on their roads to a new life: They became U.S. citizens.

The naturalization ceremony took place on World Refugee Day and marked the second consecutive year that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has commemorated the day in Austin with a citizenship ceremony for refugees.

“They’ve gone through so much,” said Mario Ortiz, the San Antonio district director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. “So it’s only right that as an agency and as a country we recognize the contributions they will make to this country.”

For Amir Causevic, a 34-year-old who left his hometown in Bosnia-Herzegovina when war broke out in the early 1990s, Saturday’s ceremony was the culmination of nearly two decades of struggle.

“This is the biggest day in my life so far,” said Causevic, who lives in Hutto with his wife and son and works as an installer for Time Warner Cable. “You have so many bad memories of your country that you want to start your life over again.”

John Mohinga and Wife (with family) become Citizens in Austin 6/20/09 - Credit: KUT's Erika Aguilar

John Mohinga and Wife (with family) become Citizens in Austin 6/20/09 - Credit: KUT's Erika Aguilar

John Mohinga, a 52-year-old from Congo, urged his fellow newly anointed citizens to take advantage of their second chance.

“Here you can live in peace and see your children go to school and get degrees and so on,” he told the crowd during the ceremony. “Here, you can be whatever you want to be.”

Mohinga, who works as a security guard and is the assistant pastor at North Austin Christian Church, fled Congo during a civil war that killed about 5 million of his countrymen more than a decade ago. He and his wife were forced to leave, he said, because she was an ethnic Tutsi originally from Rwanda, putting her on the wrong side of local militias.

The couple and their children were rescued by Red Cross workers who delivered them to United Nations forces and ultimately to a refugee camp in Cameroon. They came to the United States in 2000.

“I want to thank the great people of Texas for this peaceful welcome,” Mohinga said.

After the 21 refugees — all of them Austin-area residents originally from places such as Sudan, Afghanistan, El Salvador and Cambodia — took their oath of citizenship, immigration officials handed out certificates. The new Americans held them as if they might break or fly away and posed for pictures with smiling family members.

“Thank you for inspiring us,” Ortiz told them. “Thank you for humbling us.”





The Audacity of Having a Voice

17 06 2009

We have so villified the Iranians. Made them to be the enemy. Bush called them part of the “axis of evil.” We have feared them, mistrusted them, hated them, wanted to harm them.

Credit: Huffington Post

Credit: Huffington Post

I am in awe of the Iranian people. These are people standing up for freedom and for having a voice. Would you have such courage to protest as they are doing now?

Why, when Bush stole the election in 2000, did people in the United States not stand up and protest? Why, when Bush tortured people and we knew about it, did we not cast him and Cheney out of office? Why, when we knew that the Bush Administration was monitoring ordinary citizens, clamping down our human rights, and creating legal documents to make themselves a monarchy with absolute authority did we do nothing?

Where is our moral courage and passion to march, protest, and demand an end to child trafficking or sexual abuse or violence against women? What about children going hungry even in our own country or people living in tents or elderly people who can’t afford their prescriptions? Do we stand up and say ENOUGH!? Do we write our lawmakers who make light of these situations and spend more money on weapons than feeding people and helping the afflicted? Do we do ANYTHING? 

Would you march silently to give voice and to stand up for something you strongly believe in? Is there anything so important to you that you would risk arrest, injury, or even death as the Iranians are doing? 

Consider spending 10 minutes each day in meditation for healing in our world. It’s the least we can do.

Here is a video of people in Tehran peacefully protesting the election results today. This brings tears to my eyes. This is courage and conviction in action. I hope that we can all begin to see the Iranians…and so many other people speaking out all over the world for freedom from violence and freedom for a voice…as our brothers and sisters who are to be loved and applauded and not enemies to be feared and hated.

 





The 1979 Iranian Revolution: A Personal Story

13 06 2009

We were all set to move to Tehran, Iran in 1978. My (then) husband was a software engineer with Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and we had the opportunity of a lifetime to move there (and him to work there) with our one-year-old baby girl.

Shah Pahlavi and Queen Farah 1977

Shah Pahlavi and Queen Farah 1977

Iran seemed stable then.  Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was the leader and had been since he came to power in 1941. He had put in place a lot of positive reforms, called the White Revolution, in Iran such as giving women the right to vote, advancing the country technologically and economically, guaranteeing children the right to go to school, allowing share croppers to own land, etc.

There was no Internet then, but I researched Iran the best I could. EDS gave us a packet of information on what to expect about living there and I learned more at the library. I knew it would be really different from living in the U.S. Things like celery and iceburg lettuce and other foods were hard to get and expensive when you could find them. I wouldn’t be driving there, but would have some freedom of movement. There was no email so contact with my family would be mostly through letters and the rare (and expensive) phone call. Still, I was ready for the adventure.

Ayatollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Khomeini

Things happened to change all that. Previously the Shah had Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was critical of his regime, imprisoned for 18 months and then deported in 1964 after Khomeini’s release and criticism of the U.S. government. Khomeini continued to speak out against the Pahlavi regime from exile. The Iranian (also called the Islamic) Revolution began in January 1978. A few months later, EDS asked if we would consider going to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia instead of Tehran. We didn’t really understand why, but they explained it would be safer. We changed course and agreed…and my research began anew. I became pregnant with our second child and had to hold back on going to Jeddah. Their father went around the beginning of November 1978. I, and our two children, didn’t go over until July 1979.

Amidst the backdrop of our changing personal saga, chaos had broken out in Iran and the Shah and his family had to flee the country in January 1979. His regime collapsed two weeks later. EDS employees fled the U.S.-friendly regime with the clothes on their back. Many of them came later to Jeddah and we were regaled with harrowing and heroic stories.

Khomeini returned from 15 years of exile and on 4/1/79, the people of Iran voted to become an Islamic Republic. In December of 1979, the people approved a theocratic (where God is considered the supreme civil ruler) constitution and Khomeini became the Supreme Leader, the highest ranking political and religious figure in the country. He has authority even over the president of Iran. Tens of thousands of loyalists to the previous regime were executed after Khomeini took office.

At this point, the U.S./Iran relationship deteriorated. On 11/4/79 Iranian students seized U.S. embassy personnel, accusing them of being CIA agents plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.  Khomeini supported them. Most of the women and African-American hostages were released after a few months, but the remaining 52 hostages were held captive for 444 days. They were set free in January 1981 in exchange for promises that included the U.S. removing a freeze on Iranian assets and not interfering with Iranian affairs.

While my family and I were spared the drama, tension, and danger in Iran, we were living in Jeddah when the Grand Mosque was seized and held for two weeks by Islamic terrorists on 11/20/79.  I wrote about this in a post entitled “Pilgrims to a Deadly Hajj.” I witnessed on the streets what an area under siege in a Middle Eastern country looks like.

Once again we seemed to escape potential danger unwittingly. We returned to the United States around mid-September of 1980. On 9/22/80 Saddam Hussein and Iraq invaded a weakend (from the revolution) Iran and thus began the Iran-Iraq War. It lasted until 1988 when Khomeini begrudgingly accepted a truce negotiated by the United Nations. 500,000 – 1 million Iranians died in this war; 100,000 of them from Iraqi chemical weapons.

Ali KhameneiKhomeini reigned as Supreme Leader until he died on 6/3/89. Ali Khamenei became Supreme Leader in 1989 and remains so in 2009. Iran had two additional presidents before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005.

I was a 25-year-old, wide-eyed, ready-for-anything young woman when my family was going to move to Iran. Things were pretty peaceful then. It seemed really exciting.

Today, in the aftermath of what looks like a rigged election, there is rioting in the streets of Iran. The people are crying out for freedom and representation and being heard. It’s a dangerous place to be. I could’ve walked amongst these people 30 years ago, but it would’ve been a different Iran, an Iran that was making progress and restoring rights to women and children and peasants.

Today, and the last 30 years, seem to have been a setback for the Iranians. I wonder when their country will be restored to peace and to being a place where another wide-eyed, brave young U.S. mother would dare to go undaunted with her family to have the adventure of a lifetime.








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