“As men and women, we will need to work together in this ongoing struggle against injustice – it should be our common cause”


As an amateur stand up comedian, mosques often provide a wealth of comedy material.

In my stand up routine, “Basement Comedy”, stemming from Muslim women relegated to basements, I talk about how spaces of worship are meant to enlighten, give spiritual guidance, and reflection. Instead, I want to file human rights complaints, hire lawyers or, get into boxing matches with brothers.

The latter came very close to happening once.

It was 15 years ago. We were a young couple, moving into a modest apartment building that had a small prayer space. Accompanied my husband, I was sternly told that women were not allowed.

The immediate shock and feelings of injustice were visceral.

According to Islamic tradition, it is forbidden to stop women from entering the mosques. It is not only un-Islamic, it is anti-Islamic

I wrote an open letter to those in charge. No response.

I decided to go ahead and pray there anyway. A young brother at the door physically restrained me from entering.

I wasn’t prepared for an all out bloody nose, black eye fight just yet. One does not go there unless a good trainer has been recruited.

All joking aside, it was very hard to negotiate within these contradictory confines: one set of rules in society, another within the mosque.

Surprisingly, some women were adamant than the men that women should not enter the mosque in that building.  Surely, it was a cultural understanding of the faith.

Eventually the organizers relented. Many years later, the man who had tried to physically restrain me, apologized. He expressed his deep regrets about the incident. Fortunately, his thinking had evolved.

There are so many more examples I can recall, including one that happened on Canada day.

A large mosque in the east end of Ottawa communicated at the entrance that women would not be able to pray there that day because there was a traveling group from Montreal that had occupied the woman’s space. So much for celebrating a founding pillar of our Canadian charter: gender equality, and protection from discrimination.  I was in no mood to celebrate. Not exactly stuff to feed the soul.

Recently, another example of inequity came to my attention. A major Muslim youth conference is being organized in Ottawa. There is only one female speaker among 11 males. The woman speaker’s image is not shown, and her biography emphasizes her status as a wife and mother.  All biographies of the male speakers do not once refer to their roles as husbands or fathers.

Today, as I look back at all these incidents, I remember the advice I was given by those around me at that time: be patient, try to understand, don’t insist, this is an emotionally charged issue.

What I have learned over the past 20 years is that patience and discussion will not help evolve mentalities, concrete action will.

As the US crowd-funded film “Unmosqued” premiers tomorrow at Carleton University, bringing to the fore why more and more Muslims are feeling unwelcome at mosques, let’s hope this is a turning point for this community to lead.

As men and women, we will need to work together in this ongoing struggle against injustice – it should be our common cause.



“My expectations and the experience itself evolved from a history tour for teachers into a human rights eye-opener for me”


During the last two weeks of July 2009, six teachers from Los Angeles toured Jordan, Israel, and Palestine thanks to the last wishes of the late Dr. Maggie Grater.

Maggie Grater was a dedicated teacher, principal and administrator who devoted her energies to bringing greater understanding of the Arab world. 

In her will, Dr. Grater left a monetary gift to the Middle East Fellowship of Southern California and asked that it be used to educate teachers about the Middle East. After much consideration, the group decided to use the funds to send a group of teachers to tour the region. On Aug. 1, 2009—four years to the day after Dr. Grater’s passing—the six teachers selected returned from this extraordinary learning experience.

The teachers were accompanied on their two-week study tour of Jordan and Israel/Palestine by trip leader and coordinator Brice Harris, a retired Occidental College professor and specialist in Middle Eastern history. In keeping with the theme of Arab history, culture and circumstances, the group spent a week in Jordan touring the early proto-Arab site of Petra, the Roman-Byzantine ruins at Jarash, the old and modern souq in Amman, and religious locations on Mt. Nebo and baptismal sites in the Jordan valley. The group also met with representatives of the American Friends Service Committee and the Presbyterian Church in Amman.

In Israel/Palestine, the group continued its emphasis on background material which the teachers might find helpful in their classes or interactions with students and other faculty. The teachers met with various religious groups, toured East and West Jerusalem, and visited Palestinian refugee camps and Israel’s Yad Vashem museum, as well as many places of historical and cultural interest.

While the purpose of the trip was not to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, inevitably the struggle for land and control was everywhere apparent. This was especially significant in light of President Barack Obama’s efforts to persuade Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to halt Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Following are impressions of this trip written by five of the six participating teachers. For further information, or if you are interested in creating a similar program in your school district, contact Vicki Tamoush at (714) 368-5100 or .

Alice Lee, who teaches U.S. and world history at Eagle Rock High School. This was her first trip to the Middle East.

In mid-July, I was given the opportunity to travel to the Middle East with a group of educators through the Dr. Maggie Grater Fund. Little did I know that this great honor was going to be a life-changing experience for me.

You see, I used to think of myself as a compassionate and well-informed global citizen of the modern world; adequately armed with an “above-average” awareness of the events that shape our world today. I follow the news. I listen to public radio. I surround myself with knowledgeable people who are eager to share their insights. I had no idea that, in reality, I knew very little about the situation in Palestine. While on this trip, I witnessed things that made a profound and lasting impression on me.

Being a social studies teacher, I’ve always been fascinated with other cultures and histories. I was so excited to visit all of the historic and religious sites that were scheduled on the itinerary. Eventually, my expectations and the experience itself evolved from a history tour for teachers into a human rights eye-opener for me.

As I began packing my bags for the trip, I was anticipating the feeling of awe any history-lover might get from walking through the narrow crevasses of Petra. Or the tear-jerking, heart-thumping thrill any pilgrim might get from visiting the site of Jesus’ birth. What ended up making the greatest lasting impression on me, however, was the genuine benevolence I experienced from the locals I met on the trip. Their generosity, hospitality, knowledge, kindness and self-control in a time of oppression left me in awe, as tears welled up in my eyes and my heart began pounding for the plight of the people of Palestine.

On this trip I heard Israeli jets flying over the city of Nablus, demonstrating their might and supremacy. I witnessed a grown man groveling before an armed teenage soldier to let him through a checkpoint. I heard testimonies from courageous activists who have been shot at by Israeli soldiers. I visited homes and entire villages that have been demolished by the Israeli government. I listened intently as individuals shared their stories of affliction with eloquence, relevance and poise. I saw the injustice. I observed the apartheid. I felt the tension. My eyes were opened to the savage treatment Palestinians experience daily under Israeli occupation.

I feel that this trip has ignited an energy in me that urges me to take action and to spread peace and understanding to others. I want to share what I know about the inequality and hostility I saw in Israel, the dignity and resilience of the Palestinian people and, finally, the truth about what is happening in the Holy Land. Ben Franklin once said, “Experience is not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you.” This means so much more to me now that I’ve experienced Palestine. I am so grateful to the late Dr. Grater and the people of Palestine for this truly moving experience.

Rosa Melendez, who was born in El Salvador. A teacher and fitness enthusiast who enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures, she also loves reading, running and food.

From the moment I crossed the Allenby Bridge, I felt that I had entered a very dark place, despite the scorching sun shining in the clear skies of the Middle East. Ironic is another adjective that comes to mind. Coming from Jordan, a country ruled by a monarch, I entered the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” just to find an abundance of slender teenage soldiers with big guns and matching attitudes roaming everywhere. It’s interesting to note that in an area that the Western media claim is teeming with Palestinian terrorists, the only weapons I saw were in the hands of Israelis. There were armed soldiers, armed police officers, and, most puzzling of all, armed settlers everywhere.

Entering Israel, I witnessed the humiliating manner in which Palestinians are welcomed into their homeland. Without going into detail about the discomfort and inconvenience of the long waits, searches, and interrogations to enter the country, it was the calculated contempt and hatred I saw in the customs officers’ faces that angered me the most.

It reminded me of the dread I felt before I became an American citizen every time I had to cross the border and show my green card. INS officers were coldly professional and unfriendly, but the Israeli agents were mean-spirited and rude. INS agents had nothing on their Israeli counterparts, but I hear that Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas are eager to learn from Israel how to properly secure airports and borders.

The line of Palestinians going through customs moved at a snail’s pace. They stood patiently and somber, while the youthful Israeli agents and soldiers chatted amiably in small groups. Eventually, a female agent put on her best “go ahead, make my day” face, and began calling each person to her window. At the window, she would refuse to look at people as they stood there and very resignedly handed their passports. At this point, she would glare at them with something that my gut feeling said was disgust and hatred to verify that the passport picture matched the person standing before her. The look was not one of a human being recognizing another one. Finally, she would slam the passport back to its owner in a manner that fairly screamed, “I want you to disappear.”

Having lived in El Salvador in the 1980s and having lost my father in the civil war that raged there for years, I easily saw many parallels of oppression and injustice. I believe that my past experience allows me to use these two adjectives without fear of sounding melodramatic. The tight knot of anxiety and apprehension in my stomach also confirmed my assessment of the situation. I was surrounded by a violent military presence that made itself seen and felt everywhere. The checkpoints and the wall added to the sense of imprisonment and desolation. Palestinians went about their business with a tired but determined gait. I saw a sea of people crowded in the Old City of Jerusalem eerily part to let a black-clad, sullen-faced Orthodox Jew stroll down the alleyways as if he owned the place. No one challenged him or even looked at him, while at the end of the alley two soldiers toyed with their guns.

The contradictions were everywhere. There were modern highways that only Israelis could travel on. Statements have been made that the walls, which trap the Palestinian population within virtual jails, were built to protect Israelis, but whole sections of the wall have been left unfinished. City streets came to an abrupt end where they ran into the omnipresent apartheid wall. Israelis claim that they are merely returning to a land that was theirs a couple of millennia ago, but Palestinians lose their lands after two years of absence that in many cases are the result of forced evictions.

In Hebron, a civilian population in the tens of thousands has been victimized, robbed, and violently subdued for the benefit of a few hundred armed-to-the-teeth settlers. Children need foreign observers to be able to walk to school safely. In an area with extremely limited water resources, settlers feel entitled to have lush lawns and swimming pools, while the Palestinians make do with one-third of the water allotted to Israelis. Poverty, unemployment, unsanitary conditions, hopelessness, resentment, fear, anger, discontent, etc.—are all there temporarily contained within the walls with the might of the armed forces.

What is surprising is that so many of the people I met spoke of peaceful resolutions and hope for the future, not of bloodshed. They learn English and other foreign languages. They go to school and universities. They do odd jobs. They make do with what they have. They resist by refusing to give up and leave. The most common request I heard was, “Please, tell your family, friends, co-workers, and fellow Americans that we are not terrorists. We want to live in peace and with dignity.”

A fair compromise needs to be reached. A failure to do this will bring dire consequences. As the docent at Yad Vashem informed me that Jews had been placed in ghettoes, forced to carry identification cards, and their freedom of movements restricted, she failed to catch the irony of her own words. Tragically, she did not stop there, and went on to say that the WWII Jewish underground resistance fighters risked their lives so selflessly because when conditions are so oppressive, brutal, and unbearable, one’s life is not worth living.

Weeks after my trip, I cannot get the images I saw out of my mind. I feel the same knot in my stomach when I think about it. My memory of Palestine and Israel is one of apartheid walls, checkpoints, water tanks, soldiers, armed settlers, long queues, identification cards, cameras, Israeli flags in Palestinian neighborhoods—and determined Palestinians who refuse to give in to desolation and defeat.

Elvia Alvarado, who is a psychiatric social worker with Los Angeles Unified School.

I was in the Chicano Moratorium in the 1970s, when what appeared like hundreds of LAPD officers came down on us at an L.A. park where we were protesting the Vietnam War, and especially all the Mexican Americans who were dying unnecessarily. I am old now, and I hope that our kids will remember that we fought and protested against injustice.

So here we find another horrific injustice many miles away from us, but still the atrocities to the Palestinians are unbearable, and Mexicans can understand the injustice, and we can relate really well. There are some parallels between the two people. And now the Palestinians are fighting, too. The Palestinians are also a proud people, with a fighting spirit, who refuse to accept injustice. While the Palestinians are being kicked out of their land, the Latinos are incarcerated, put into detention centers for being “undocumented,” deported, told they are illegal—all in a land where they have deep historical roots. Years ago, my father was deported to Mexico in the period of the repatriations, even though he was born in Arizona.

This was my first trip to the Middle East, and it was wonderful. I liked the cucumbers and yogurt, and the men were cute, too. Many Arabs are multi-lingual and speak English. In the U.S., most of us are encouraged to speak only one language: English.

I saw the historical greatness, the rich traditions, the awesome landscapes, the ruins at Petra, the land where Jesus once walked, the great historical roots of these Palestinians, Arab people, these Arabs, these amazing people, who refuse to give up and are angry that the Israelis want and are grabbing their land with impunity. Anyway, as we visited these schools we were told about the tension, bombings, and the effects of the war on the kids and the families. My host family (where we stayed for two days) told me that I looked like them. I am dark-skinned like some Arabs.

I feel sorry for those young Israeli soldiers, because they are buying all that propaganda that the Israeli government is giving them, indoctrinating them into hating Arabs, or Palestinians. It’s a mess, and it’s been going on for too long. It’s time it stopped.

I am one of those who saw the many, many movies about Arabs where they are portrayed as terrorists. The media gives us very few, if any, positive portraits of Arabs. This trip helped me appreciate the diversity and complexity of the Arab world. I had only two friends or people I knew personally who were Arab. One I used to pray with in a Christian church I went to; my friend would sob when we prayed together, she a Christian and me a not-so-good Catholic. Later she told me that she was from Ramallah, where she grew up with bombings as a regular way of life. I thought that maybe she had been sobbing from her devastating experiences in Ramallah, her home city. Was there a connection? I regret that I never asked her.

My friends asked me why go to the Middle East? It’s hot, it’s dangerous. And it was hot, but it was a trip of a lifetime. The anger, the unthinkable gall of people to take over the land, and the fact that the United States continues to fund the army, the society of Israel, how could they, the gall.

Maria Isabel Elgueta, who is a licensed clinical social worker practicing in the East Los Angeles area schools. Born and raised in Chile, she attended graduate school at UCLA. She loves traveling and learning about other cultures.

The trip to Israel and occupied Palestine in July verified what I had read in preparation for this visit, my very first to the Middle East.

The checkpoint system was a total turn-off; I saw Palestinians, young and old, standing in long lines to access their own land. They waited for hours under the sun, while the Israeli staff, under air conditioning, were killing time and acting grandiose. Their clear intention was to show who is in charge. At a checkpoint in one of the villages we were asked, “Christians or Muslims?”

The biggest outrage, though, is the continuing extension of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands, usually on hilltops. The Israeli government, their settlers and their supporters, have no regard for property laws and have destroyed Palestinian homes and orchards, causing tremendous damage and suffering to countless families, including children and the elderly.

The miles and miles of walls isolating Palestinian communities are terribly offensive to the eye and the soul; it is a system of apartheid. Did they forget about the ghettos of Europe?

It was hurtful to see children in a village near Hebron going with containers in hand to pick up soup to feed their families, because the settlers and the politics of terror destroyed their local economy.

I grew tired of the noise from Israeli jet bombers cruising the Palestinian skies, and in my mind I said, “Una vez mas, aqui van los matones” [“Once again, here come the murderers”].

I feel pained by what Palestinians are enduring; as a Chilean, I know well what happens when human rights don’t count and there is abuse of power; we witnessed it all over.

The religious rhetoric and the politics of greed mixes in a very ugly way in the Middle East. Contributing millions and millions of dollars to the Israeli coffers every year makes us partners in crime.


Vicki Tamoush is an Arab-American pacifist in California who has lived and worked in the Middle East. Brice Harris was a professor of history at Occidental College from 1965-2005 and taught at the American University in Cairo from 1973-1975 and in 1986.


Bad times bring out the best in some people. Most of us remain passive, even willfully blind, in the face of great crimes that we see perpetrated on others, whether they are strangers or our next-door neighbors. But there will always be someone, probably just an ordinary decent person, to whom this rule doesn’t apply – someone who will try to do the right thing at any cost, risking his or her well-being or even, perhaps, life itself. Ezra Nawi is such a man. He’s a plumber by profession, a Jewish Jerusalemite, and he is also the unsung hero of the Israeli peace movement in the south Hebron hills. It’s largely thanks to him that the Palestinian farmers in this area are still living on their land. Unless something happens to change the current prognosis, an Israeli court will sentence Nawi to jail on July 1.

Nawi was convicted on March 19 in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court of assaulting a police officer. Since I’ve known the man for decades and seen him in action in many extreme situations, I’m certain that the charge is untrue; but let’s look at the circumstances. On February 14, 2007, the Israeli authorities sent army bulldozers to demolish several Palestinian shacks in a tiny place called Umm al-Kheir, 25 kilometers southeast of Hebron. Umm al-Kheir embodies the everyday reality of the Israeli occupation like no place else: The 100 or so impoverished Bedouin who call it their home, eking out a livelihood by grazing goats and sheep on the dry, stony hills, live in rickety structures of canvas, tin and stone. The land is theirs: Originally refugees from Tel Arad in the Negev in 1948, they bought it for good money from its Palestinian owners in the early 1950s. Israel, however, has put up a large settlement called Carmel right next to Umm al-Kheir, and like all settlements, Carmel (founded in 1981) is constantly expanding, encroaching on the lands of its Palestinian neighbors. As documented in detail in police records in Kiryat Arba, settlers also regularly attack these neighbors, whom they would like to remove altogether from this area.

House demolitions in the Palestinian territories are routine, and there have been several at Umm al-Kheir, too. The legal justification is always that the houses were built without a permit. But Palestinians living in Area C in the territories have almost no hope of getting a building permit. (To give some idea: on average, in all of Area C, only one building permit is granted to Palestinians each month, whereas some 60 demolitions orders are issued, of which 20 are carried out. Fewer than 5 percent of Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C are approved.) Quite apart from the statistics, there is something ludicrous, even shameful, about sending bulldozers to tear down these Bedouin shanties, especially with the settlers of Carmel building modern villas right next door, on the historical grazing grounds of Umm al-Kheir.


So when the bulldozers showed up, Ezra tried to stop them, in the classic mode of non-violent resistance associated with Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. He lay down in front of the bulldozers, and the soldiers removed him. And when the bulldozers headed for one of the houses, home to a large family, he rushed inside. Two policemen went in after him. All this is documented on film and can be viewed at the Web site The policemen dragged him out. What is not recorded in the video is what happened in the 20 seconds or so inside the hut. The policemen claimed Nawi raised his hand against one of them; Ezra denies this, and anyone who knows him believes him. He is a man committed, in every fiber of his being, to non-violent protest against the inequities of the occupation.

Of course Ezra was arrested, and on the video you can see the soldiers laughing at him, mocking him for his sympathy with the victims. It’s not a pretty sight. When the case came to trial, the judge had only the word of the policemen against Ezra’s, and naturally she believed the policemen. So, if nothing happens to stop it, Ezra will be going to jail for protesting, peacefully, an act of blatant injustice committed against innocent and helpless civilians. Ezra has been arrested many times for such acts of protest, and he’s not about to give up. There’s a fine film about him, “Citizen Nawi,” made in 2007 by Nissim Mossek; it gives a clear sense of the man, his dedication, his abhorrence of violence of any kind. It also shows what happened at Umm al-Kheir.

You have here the whole misery and cruelty of the occupation in a nutshell. Israel, inside the Green Line, is a modern, more or less (less and less?) democratic state, with a functioning legal system, freedom of the press, and all the other elements we regard as minimal requirements for civilized existence. But inside the occupied Palestinian territories is a shadow state where the only real law is the law of the gun, where land is being taken away from its rightful owners every day, and where the very few who stand up to protest, without violence, like Ezra Nawi, are sent to prison. Bad times generally bring out the worst in most of us.

Prof. David Shulman is an activist in Ta’ayush, an Israeli-Palestinian peace group, and the author of “Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine” (University of Chicago Press, 2007).

To support Ezra Nawi, go to


Join Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Neve Gordon and thousands of others and tell Israel not to jail Ezra Nawi, one of Israel’s most courageous human rights activists. His crime? He tried to stop a military bulldozer from destroying the homes of Palestinian Bedouins in the South Hebron region. Watch the remarkable video and send a letter now.

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I am Abousfian Abdelrazik. I am Canadian. For about the last year, I have lived inside the Canadian Embassy in Sudan. For the last six years, I have been in Sudan against my will, because the Government of Canada will not let me go home to Montreal to see my children and my friends. The Government of Canada does not let me go back home because it falsely accuses me of being a terrorist.

In 2003, I traveled to Sudan to visit my sick mother. Without telling me, agents from CSIS recommended to Sudan that I should be arrested. I was thrown into prison because Canada asked; I was imprisoned and beaten and almost died. I was tortured. The Canadian government knows that Sudan tortures its prisoners, but it did not help me. Instead the Canadian government sent CSIS agents to interrogate me in prison. My lawyers have documents to prove all this.

For six years I have tried to go back home to my children, but the Canadian government took my old passport and will not give me another one. Without a passport, I cannot travel.

So I have been in Sudan against my will for six years now. I have been imprisoned and tortured. I am safer now because I live in the Canadian Embassy. But I miss my children in Canada; they grew up, and my ex-wife died. My teenage daughter is an orphan now, and still the Harper government does not let me to go home.

All this happened to me because the Harper government says I am an “Islamic extremist”. This is a lie. I am a Muslim, and I pray to my God, but this does not make me a terrorist or a criminal. My lawyers have letters from both RCMP and CSIS that say I am not involved in any criminal activity. Why would Canada’s police say I am not involved in criminal activity if I were a terrorist? Would the Canadian government let me live and sleep inside the walls of the Canadian Embassy if I was a terrorist?

Let me tell you a story: In March 2008, Mr. Deepak Obhrai, the Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, came to Sudan to talk to me. I pleaded with him that I wanted to come home to Canada to see my children. But Mr. Obhrai and the Prime Minister did nothing. In March 2008, Mr. Obhrai personally inspected my wounds from being tortured in Sudanese prisons. I showed Mr. Obhrai the scars on my body and back from being beaten. He saw that I was tortured, but he did not help me.

I understand Mr. Obhrai and the Prime Minister refuse to discuss my case and many other cases of Canadian Muslims in trouble now. Do they think we are not “real Canadians”? I tell you, I am Canadian, and so are my children; they are born in Canada. The Prime Minister has blue eyes and white skin, and the Governor General is a black lady. Is one of them more “Canadian” than the other?

I know many Canadians of all colors and religions are trying to help me. I pray for you and I want to thank you so much. My lawyers have worked for free for over a year. Almost 200 people have given money and bought me a ticket to come home. Many people have sent me letters to the Embassy, which are full of love and hope. You have never met me, but I thank you in my prayers every day. I want to fly home on April 3 and celebrate with you, InShahAllah.

All these gentle people who are helping me come from all colors and all religions. They belong to churches and teach in schools. But the Harper government threatens to charge them for aiding terrorism just because they bought my plane ticket to return home. Shame on you! Shame on you! Why would you want to charge Canadians who just want to help, when the Canadian police say I am not a terrorist? Do not be cruel this way.

It is very lonely to live in the embassy and I am sick and suffering. I hope to fly home on April 3, but if I am denied a passport, I will wait so my case goes to Court. I know that my fellow Canadians are not to blame for my situation, and even the RCMP say I am innocent. It is only Mr. Harper and his officials who do not let me go back to Canada.

But for my fellow Canadians who understand that I just want to go home, I want to say: thank you, thank you so much for helping me. When I am finally allowed to return to Canada, I hope I can meet all of you and say thank you for the love and support that you given me with your kindness and good wishes. You are always in my prayers.

VIEW VIDEO: Heal The World

There’s a place in
Your heart
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Be much
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There are people dying
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If you want to know why
There’s a love that
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There are people dying
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And the dream we were
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Make a little space
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Heal the world
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There are people dying
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For the living
Make a better place
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Heal the world
Make it a better place
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And the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough
For the living
Make a better place
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Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough
For the living
Make a better place
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There are people dying
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You and for me
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imam_jamilIs there anything I can do for you? Do you need something?” asked the calm, serious, bespectacled Imam, who towered above me in height at about 6.5 feet.

The last time I met Imam Jamil al-Amin was when I was in Washington, DC on behalf of the Kosova Task force, USA. A Masjid was trying to raise funds for Kosova. I found Imam Jamil sitting there. That’s when he asked me this question.

When I think back to all of my meetings with Imam Jamil, I remember him asking me the same question.

It was not just me. He asked everyone he worked with. He was always looking for ways to help people. A regular speaker at almost all Islamic conferences, I shared the stage with him many times. Not anymore though. All those who used to invite him seem to have forgotten about him.

Be mindful of Allah not fearful of the FBI

If the secret evidence law, cases against Muslim leaders and organizations, and a Grand Jury investigation of The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), etc are designed to intimidate Muslims then they are working.

ISNA’s former president Dr. Ahmed Zaki Hammad’s Quran Literacy Institute’s assets are frozen, but neither ISNA nor the two largest Masjids in Chicago where he was an Imam have hardly done anything about it. Hammad has difficulty even raising funds for his legal defense.

One of the four top most leaders of Muslims in North America, Imam Jamil, has been in prison for a year now but hardly anything is being done for him by Muslims. It is as though we have declared him and others in his situation guilty and we are trying to forget about them. For Muslim workers and leaders, the message seems to be, “serve us until you are free” then you are on your own. Thank you very much.

Why is the Muslim community so willing and ready to forget the universal principle Allah has established for all humans: everyone is innocent until proven guilty?

Or is everyone listening to the kind of advice being give to me: “Br. Mujahid you don’t want to do anything about this. The FBI is going to come after you.” Whereas not all of us agree with every Muslim’s agenda and rhetoric, we must not allow the fear of human beings to stop ourselves from helping Imam Jamil and others seek justice in their time of need. It goes against the Islamic principle of fearing no one except Allah.

Imam Jamil’s efforts for Muslim unity

I first met Imam Jamil when Bosnia Task Force, USA called the historic rally of 50,000 Muslims in Washington DC in 1993. I was national coordinator of the task force, which was an alliance of ten national organizations of Muslims in America.

Here was a former leader of the Black Panthers standing up for “white” Bosnians, leading people of all color. I requested him, along with three other national leaders, to be the only speakers at the rally. He recruited the famous civil rights comedian Dick Gregory to be one of the speakers on the spot. At the time, he was vice president of the American Muslim Council (AMC) as well as the Amir of his community. I found him to be a humble, calm and silent person. That’s where I heard his question first, “is there anything I can do for you,” although he was my guest.

Imam Jamil always welcomed every move for Muslim unity. When I called the initial meeting to propose the idea of the Islamic Shura Council of North America, Imam Jamil responded wholeheartedly. Imam Jamil became the second chairman of this Shura Council.

There is one Shura Council meeting I attended with Imam Jamil which I will never forget. Dr. Syed Muhammad Sayeed, Secretary General of ISNA, Imam Plemon Al-Amin, Chairman Shura of Muslim American Society (led by Imam W. D. Mohammad), and I were present. The meeting was in Imam Jamil’s community mosque in Atlanta. That is where I saw what a Masjid of poor people in America is like.

While waiting for people to arrive he picked up a broom and cleaned the Masjid. We sat down and ate one of the most simple suppers with other members of the Shura Council. I don’t remember all the proceedings of the meeting. But I do remember one of the resolutions which he presented and all members supported was for the better treatment of Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind Egyptian scholar currently imprisoned in America. None of us probably thought at that moment that Imam Jamil would be charged with something and sent to prison.

On another occasion, I met him at his provision store where there was no proper place to sit except a hard wooden bench. I remember asking him, “were you involved in the robbery before you became a Muslim for which you went to prison?’

“No, I was not involved in that,’ he told me.

While I was in the store, not a single customer came. There were really only a few things to buy in that store. Imam Jamil is a supporter of natural, healthy products, and I could see a lot of material selected based on that criteria. While no customers came to the store, several young and old people did, asking Imam Jamil to give them some money. And a person who probably didn’t have much to give, gave them anyway. He gave me a gift of honey syrup with ginseng in it.

I kept meeting him in different programs, mostly on stage, while waiting for our turn to speak. When we could talk to each other, he would always ask the question: “Is there anything I can do for you?”

In the end, it’s about justice and personal responsibility

No, my reaction to Imam Jamil’s plight is not an emotional response. I wanted to do something for him as soon as it became clear that he was subject to the same sort of “leading while black” phenomena.

I thought there is the Shura Counciil, ISNA and ICNA. They have always invited him to be their speaker as long as I could remember. They will do something for him. I waited and waited. I did not hear anything except the complaints by Muslim civil right activists about how difficult it has been to get their issue on the agenda of these organizations. The immigrant leadership of Islam is once again failing to lead and develop alliances with other people who are suffering in society.

So where do I stand, as someone already involved in so many things, an Imam in Chicago, leading Sound Vision, and coordinating the Kosova Task force, a father of six and a husband? I waited hoping others will stand up for Imam Jamil. But no one did much.

“What can I do for you Br. Mujahid?” The Imam’s words echo in my head.

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty

In this world, there is a legal system which will decide in its own way whether Imam Jamil is guilty or not. In the Everlasting World, the One Who already knows the Truth will distribute true Justice. But on that day we will be also asked the question: did we stand up for justice or not?

And that’s the day I will be asked what I did for Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, or Imam Jamil al-Amin. That’s the Day when we’ll also have to answer if we were just standing up for Imam Jamil because he is a Muslim, or were we standing up for the principle of justice for our brother and others who have been wronged like him?

It doesn’t matter whether the victim who has been denied this right is Amadou Diallo or a white police officer. It makes no difference whether someone has a complex history or a non-existent police record. In this world justice is difficult. But we can try, with the help of the One Who already knows the Truth, Who will always judge people with Truth. We must ensure that we live just, principled lives, and that we take a stand when it is needed.

Remember: it can happen to you

If any of us think we are immune from the injustice now being faced by Imam Jamil, we are being blissfully ignorant. Tomorrow, you could be the next victim. Your crime: being Muslim. Or black. Or brown. Let me give you a personal example.

I and some friends were once driving to the funeral of a friend’s father from Chicago to St.Louis, Missouri when we were stopped. Not by one police officer, but by a group of them. These were no traffic police.

When they questioned us, they surrounded all three sides of the car, their hands close to their guns. Where are you going? they asked. A funeral, I told them. Why aren’t you dressed for the funeral, they asked. Muslims don’t dress up for funerals, I responded.

We later found out that there had been an alert out in the area asking police to look out for and stop bearded men and women in Hijab on the highway. Target: Muslims.

Another example is harassment at airports. Even before racial profiling became ‘law’, I had been subject to it at the airport a number of times. And I’m not an African-American. I can only imagine what I would have to face if I were.

Think about it: you’re calmly waiting in line, getting ready to get your luggage and just get home to see your family and relieve your jet lag. Suddenly, you’re pulled aside in front of everyone, your luggage opened up for public scrutiny. Humiliating at best, degrading at worst. Your crime: you’re the wrong color.

The cases of the Quranic Literacy Institute and Dr. Ahmad Zaki Hammad, as well as Chicago’s Imam Khalifah are just two examples of Muslims whose rights and property (in the former case) have been unjustly taken away. Few Muslims, individuals or leaders, have spoken up in their defense.

Secret evidence is another tool which is used in America that destroys the principle of innocent until proven guilty. And yes, there are Muslims in prison in America right now, in this country that considers itself a paragon of human rights because of secret evidence. They have been proclaimed guilty until proven innocent.

Muslim civil rights = rights for all

In the end, this is an issue of Muslim civil rights. But Muslim civil rights are not exclusively for Muslims: they mean justice for all, for every human being.

And by pursuing the rights of Imam Jamil al-Amin, Muslims can not only learn about the suffering of other minorities (i.e. African-Americans) in the American judicial system. We can also do our duty of standing up for justice.

We can stand up for justice for all, justice that is bias free and guarantees, not just with words on paper, but in practice, that a person is innocent until proven guilty. From there, we can help other countries develop laws for civil rights and justice.

At this moment Muslims are isolated in their struggle for civil rights. As one of the Jewish attorneys of one Muslim victim recently told me, Muslims are the new “niggers” of America. They have to pay the price and lead other Americans. Otherwise, more of this will continue to happen to Muslims.

What can I do for you Imam Jamil?

Imam Jamil, our brother, is now in need. He is a fellow human being, who needs us. He needs us to stand up for justice, not just for him, but for the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

He has asked me and others: What can I do for you? Now we must ask ourselves what we can do for him and answer him with support and action.

Abdul Malik Mujahid is president of Sound Vision and coordinator of the Kosova Task Force, USA.

Muslim Presence Ottawa

In this day and age where information moves literally at the speed of light, it is surprising to see that our collective minds still work in the same slow fashion of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’

Speaking from personal experience, I had almost forgotten all about the people of Palestine. As a child, I remember going to protests and being outraged at the Israelo-Palestinian crisis. As time moved on and as I became more and more preoccupied with my own life, I started to build what I came to call my ‘happy bubble.’ I was getting tired of listening to the news and feeling depressed, so I decided to hide away from it. I even informed my best friend about this happy bubble of mine.

One day, as we were both walking down the hall in school, a small article taped to the wall caught my eye. It was about the war in Afghanistan. I paused to read it and my friend said, “What happened to your ‘happy bubble’?” Those words were a shock to me. “Happy bubble?” I asked incredulously, “It’s because people are in their little happy bubbles that this crap is happening all around the world!” I was ashamed of myself for having thought of  such a stupid and short sighted concept, and from that moment on, my happy bubble was burst forever. From that moment , I decided to keep myself informed, no matter how gruesome the truth can be.

Then Gaza came on the news. It was hard to watch the images but I forced myself to look. I couldn’t afford to hide anymore.

That is how I came to learn about the Shministim – Israel’s young conscientious objectors. Although many people around the world hold Gaza in their hearts and do everything in their power to help, not many have heard about the people who are down there in the action and who are helping in their own way.

In Hebrew, ‘shministim’ means ‘twelfth grader’. In Israel, every high school graduate or anyone over the age of 18 are obliged to go into some kind of military service and the ones who object are tried and imprisoned.

I was able to ask Mia Tamarin a few questions. She is a 19 year old young woman from Tel-Aviv who has been tried and imprisoned three times because of her refusal to join the military. In all, she has spent 42 days behind bars. On the Jewish Voice for Peace website, you can see pictures and a video of these brave young men and women. None of them strike me as Hollywood’s idea of a hero.

They do not wear a spandex suit like Spiderman and do not posses any supernatural powers. In fact, they look like the average kid you’d cross paths with on the way to school in the morning. Everyone has their own definition of what a hero is, but Islam teaches us that a hero is someone whose actions reflect the philosophy, ‘If the price of my security is your security, then let me be insecure.’ and that is exactly what the Shministim do.

Muslim Presence: Why do you refuse to serve in the Israeli army?

Mia Tamarin: We refuse to serve the Israeli military because it has been occupying the Palestinians for 42 years. We see serving such a system as cooperating with and taking a part of the occupation. By refusing and letting the word out we manage to increase the level of awareness within Israelis.

Muslim Presence: What was the turning point in your life that made you realise that what is going on around you is wrong?

Mia Tamarin: For most refusniks, it is the point of going to the territories and seeing for oneself the horrors that take place. Going to a demonstration and being attacked by the IDF, the body that is meant to ‘protect’ us.

Muslim Presence: What is your family like? Are they also peace- oriented? Do they support your decision?

Mia Tamarin: My family is supportive of me as I am their child but is not supportive of the decision. Many of the refusniks come from not so peace-oriented families whereas others ‘received’ the morals at home.

Muslim Presence: How does the recruiting program work in Israel?

Mia Tamarin: Every Jewish and secular Israeli, when turning 18, has to arrive to the recruiting where usually different jobs are given according to social and academic progress.

Muslim Presence: What happened to you when you told the officials you did not want to be in the army?

Mia Tamarin: They tried to convince me that I was doing the wrong thing and put much pressure on me (offering different jobs, saying they will help me throughout the service, threatening they will send me to prison…etc). Eventually,  when they saw I wasn’t to change my mind,  they gave me a trial and I was sent to prison.

Muslim Presence: How do the officials justify sending you to prison? What do they charge you with?

Mia Tamarin: They charge me with disobeying the command of ‘recruiting’.

Muslim Presence: Have fellow Israelis been mean to you because of your ideals?

Mia Tamarin: Fellow Israelis take the refusal as a sort of betrayal; they themselves are serving and therefore ‘giving back’ to the country whereas to them the refusniks are not a part of the country as they do not contribute to it. Moreover, the ideals in most cases are seemed as “moving to the other side”.

Muslim Presence: Have people in Israel done anything to get you out of prison?

Mia Tamarin: No…Only the supporting circle, which is very, very limited.

Muslim Presence: Some people believe that the state of Israel should not exist and that Jews, Muslims and Christians should all live in harmony in the land of Palestine. What do you think of this opinion?

Mia Tamarin: Our group of shministim doesn’t offer a solution for the state of Israel. Some of us are anarchists, others believe in the state of Israel, some want a one state solution and some a two states solution. We are very different in these views but we keep on saying [that] the one and most important thing that we share and that is the ending of the occupation.

Muslim Presence : What is the atmosphere like in Israel recently?

Mia Tamarin: The atmosphere is pretty harsh because of the war in Gaza and the elections which proved to us all just how militaristic the society is and how much worse it is getting with the years, which makes refusing a thousand times more important.

Muslim Presence: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a conscientious objector?

Mia Tamarin: To always remind oneself that the change is happening and we shall never give up!

The Shministim are great examples of ‘bubble-busters’ for every one of us who wishes to change the world in some way or the other. These young people could very easily choose to live their own peaceful lives, to be accepted by their peers and not to be incarcerated for their values, but they do not.

While many people spend their energy demonizing every Israeli, they forget that these young Israelis have sacrificed more for the Palestinian people than many of us have. Their collective sacrifices form the biggest and sharpest needle with which they go about popping these spheres of blindness and we should support and encourage them on their revolutionary quest to free the Palestinian people.

Aicha Lasfar is a thinker, artist and youth member of the Muslim Presence network.

For more information on Israel’s conscientious objectors, click here

In the prison of Gaza

They endure

Passing time and pain

In silence and injustice

Suffering alone.

Media suddenly mute

Governments voiceless

East and West.

Must Israel be right?

What power, what force

Binds you, crushes you?

And then? 
Images too vile to bear

Fog my mind

A people stifled, humiliated,

Still erect

Friends, lovers of selective justice,

Where are you?

Do you conceal hurt with hurt?

And then? 

Tell us of Darfour;

Hide Palestine with lies

Divert us, scorn us,

Distract us

My heart burns in anger,

Revolt, horror

Is that all?

Is that “all faith can do”?

And then?

No, we will not be silent!


And then?

Ironically, it was in Palestine, 20 years ago, that I concluded that there is no God. For how could a God, who claims to love all and treat all with impartiality, allow such horrors like those in Palestine to happen?

This unbelief grew stronger with each curfew, with each strike that mourned the death of yet one more martyr, with a decapitation induced by gunfire in the main square on a sunny Ramallah afternoon so many years ago. But it was cemented the day I had to tell one of my fifth grade students that his brother had just been taken away by the Israeli army. His expression, his body going limp, the shuddering of his shoulders as he wept with his classmates…that’s what finally did it.

Nearly 20 years have passed since that day, and I have now married into a Gazan family. I am a wife and mother, the sister and aunt of so many kids living the horror of what Gaza has become. As we watch the footage of Israel’s onslaught, I hear myself, whispering as I see one more martyred child, “Run to the angels….run.” After so many years, this living nightmare is fostering a burning desire to believe once again in the afterlife.

Caged, starved, sniped, suffocated. They are slaughtered like sheep, but the leaders of the free world just cannot seem to find a moment to comment. Golfing, vacationing, Obama, Bush, even the EU, they just aren’t important enough. My mutterings have become a like a canter. I call out to these stricken and shattered little bodies, who frankly never experienced life to lose it. The only consolation to offer is the respite found in death.

A crowd gathers, shrouded in gas, smoke and dust. In the front stand eight young fathers, each holding a white swaddled bundle of what used to be a son, a daughter. For a few moments there is no screaming, no chanting or crying, but a moment of quiet and stillness that presses one to wonder just whom has been granted the greater mercy, the toddler who caught the snipers bullet, or the young father, who will have to find some way to live beyond this moment?

A young boy sits on the sidewalk beside his mother. She is propped up against the wall of a collapsed building and her life is bleeding out all over the sidewalk. It is spattered on his face and smeared on his shirt. She uses the last of her strength to lift her arm and clutch his cheek in her palm and then she is gone. He rests his head in his hands and cries. He is all alone.

The camera zooms in on the scene of a freshly detonated building, a civilian home. A little girls brown curly hair covered in dust and eyes wide open is all that can be found of her. Her mother wails and pulls her hair while her father frantically searches among the rubble for the rest of his daughter, where could she be? I whisper again, “you will be made whole again in Paradise. Run to the angels”.

What amazing faith. What strong devotion that a father loses his mother, father, wife and eight children, that this man before anything can assert, “God is Great, Thank God for Everything”. He holds his child, now still and ashen, he smothers him with kisses and then gently pulls back the sheet to expose two bullet holes in his chest. He then tenderly places the child beside his brother and again, pulls the sheet back of his youngest son to reveal a single snipers bullet to the chest. He can barely compose himself and he moans to the sympathizing camera man, “God is Great, Thank God for Everything”.

An old and wrinkled Imam so lovingly cradles a little girl’s lifeless body, as if mishandling her now could inflict more pain, he mumbles a benediction and gently lies her beside her sisters and her brothers in the mass grave. I try to comfort her, saying, “Finally, a place of safety. Rest beside your sister. Your brother. Put your fears to rest and meet your beloved Prophet and the many of your little friends who have fallen before you.”

Hospitals, schools, mosques, civilian homes, UN shelters, all worthy targets. Doctors, medicines, food and water, truckloads of relief from all corners of the world line up for miles at the Egyptian border but they are refused entry. Security is high, food is scarce, water is completely gone.

Faith seems to spring forth in the strangest of moments. For me, it seems to be coming full circle out of desperation and in agony, for the sake of the snow-white souls of the many bloodied and dismembered innocents of Gaza.

UN workers coordinate with Israelis to get civilians to safety inside a UN school. Hundreds are tucked inside the mutually agreed safe haven. Soon after, the school comes under Israeli fire. Bruised and battered refugees stare Satan in the face, clad in his fatigues. Hundreds wounded, scores dead, many lost and unaccounted for.

Governments negotiate a cease-fire. Rumors buzz of conspiracies. The US President-elect is forever silent. Parents search beneath the collapsed walls for what remains of their children. Shattered concrete, random arms and legs, broken glass, tossed together in a bloody hodge-podge. But, in my mind, I see them whole, their little bodies swiftly being swept up into Paradise and I call out to them, “Run!”

Suzanne Baroud is the Managing Editor of

Aasiya Hassan was probably beheaded in a Buffalo suburb just hours before the Malaysian Muslim women’s group Sisters in Islam brought us together this month for the launch of Musawah, a global movement for justice and equality in Muslim families.

Justice and equality were likely in short shrift for Ms. Hassan, who had filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order against her husband a week before police found her body. Muzzammil Hassan will stand trial for second-degree murder.

In 2004, the Hassans co-founded Bridges TV to improve the image of Muslims and promote cultural understanding. Ever since police found Ms. Hassan’s body in the TV station’s offices, a culture war has broken out between the anti-Muslim right wing and Muslim apologists over who can save us poor Muslim women.

The right wing, determined to see a woman beater in every Muslim man, seemed to celebrate the gruesome crime as the latest example of “honour killing,” something “they” do to “their” women.

They forget that the singer Rihanna cancelled her concert in Malaysia – coincidentally set to take place on the first day of Musawah – after she reportedly complained to police that fellow singer and boyfriend Chris Brown had beat her up. They forget that Scott Peterson murdered his pregnant wife.

Violent men who aren’t Muslim? Who knew! The only abusive man I’ve known was my ex-husband, a Floridian with German-Irish roots who converted to Islam to marry me but never practised the religion. The day when I called police to complain that he had thrown me out of our home and taken my car keys and credit card was the most humiliating in my life.

In Washington State, where we lived, my complaint had to be filed under domestic abuse. My shame was compounded when the officer who took down my report explained my rights to me as if I were a mail-order bride shipped over to America into a life of abuse.

Meantime, a host of U.S. Muslim organizations – mostly led by men, of course – swore up and down that Islam was innocent of Ms. Hassan’s murder and that it was just another case of domestic violence. Domestic violence being the more mundane crime, they determined, with a keen eye on the demonization of Muslims.

I would take them more seriously had they fought violence against women with the same vehemence they fight to preserve the image of the “community.” At Musawah, I heard horror stories from Muslim women activists from the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand whose work to help abused women was hampered by their community’s denial, which often fed on anti-Muslim bigotry in their respective countries.

That same “community” has been frighteningly silent about the way some religious leaders use a controversial verse in the Koran to justify beating women. It’s hard to fight a man who beats you. How do you take on God, too?

Just last month in Australia, a video surfaced of an imam saying there was no such thing as marital rape and advising men how to beat wives without bruising them.

Type Muslim+woman+beating into an online search engine and you get a monster’s parade of what I call “YouTube imams” explaining how to beat a woman according to “Islamic teaching.”

Exhibit A: an imam telling his congregation that, according to “Islamic teaching,” there are three types of women for whom nothing but a beating work. I’m proud to say I scored two out of three.

Muslim denial over the abysmal status of women is deeper even than the one over the use of Islam to justify radical violence. Centuries of male-dominated and misogynistic interpretations of Islam are strangling us. We’re told on the one hand that God says men can beat us and yet, when we complain and demand our God-given right to a divorce, we’re told that’s a man’s prerogative.

And when we complain publicly, as I am now, we’re told that we’ve abandoned our faith and that we’re giving ammunition to the Islam haters.

Which is why Musawah – Arabic for equality – was such a godsend to those of us who choose to remain Muslim and refuse to hand our religion over to the YouTube imams.

Muslim scholar Amina Wadud, author of Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam and long a hero of mine since she led 100 of us in the first public mixed-gender Friday prayer in New York in 2005, reminded us that the Prophet Mohammed never hit a woman.

She took apart that controversial verse used to justify violence against women and said we must confront those “YouTube imams” with photographs of battered women to make them see how their words affect women’s day-to-day lives.

“Islam can be a source of empowerment, not a source of oppression and discrimination,” Musawah project director Zainah Anwar said at the opening ceremony. “For there to be justice in the 21st century, there must be equality. … These values must be at the core of what it means to be Muslim today.”

The 9/11 terrorist attacks sensitized Muslims to what our imams said about violence in the name of Islam. Now, in honour of Aasiya Hassan, if a religious leader justifies violence against women, we must walk out, complain and push for his removal.

Wrigley’s chewing gum suspended its contract with Chris Brown. Let’s start naming and shaming the violent men among us and boycotting their businesses. Given the choice between the “community” and the sister, we must always choose the sister.

Mona Eltahawy New York-based columnist for Egypt’s Al Masry Al Youm and Qatar’s Al Arab

*This article was originally published in the Globe and Mail

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