12.2.17

Islam means submission to God, not death or fear or kill



By now everyone knows about the travel restrictions or "ban" imposed by President Trump's executive order, restricting travel from a handful of Muslim majority countries. And now courts have ruled against this executive order. I'll leave the legal experts to discuss this (check the link). But I want to discuss the greater fear of Islam. Part of the reason, I think, that Barack Obama refused to put "Radical Islam" in front of terror acts committed by people who call themselves Muslim is the fear of a stereotype being attached to all followers of the faith. It doesn't take more than a quick perusal of social media to find out that many people actually believe that all Muslims (or at least most) are indeed dangerous terrorists. Not going to link it here, but twitter and facebook searches will show you people that you follow, have friended and maybe even relatives believe that all Muslims are inherently bad people and that their religion is one that seeks to kill "infidels" (infidel becomes a complex word, much as their are different sects of Christianity, the same complexities are true in Islam).

I wonder how many people who make these stereotypical claims actually know Muslim people. A great podcast I've listened to is the story of Daryl Davis, a traveling African-American jazz musician who has befriended members of white-supremacist  groups like the KKK. I've shared this story and I advise checking it out. Perhaps there is a way to talk to people who are different and there's something to be learned from Davis's approach. And in the case of Islam, it's worth taking the time to learn the basics of the religion, submission to Allah, pillars of faith, but also knowing, just like Christianity, that people practice Islam in different ways.

In my typical "snarky" way, I want to make a statement like "you probably shouldn't comment on Muslim as a group if you don't personally know as many as you have fingers on your hand". I highly doubt anyone who personally knows this many Muslim people would have the same stereotypical beliefs. So I'm going to list some Muslims I know personally who are not just "non-terrorists" but good, productive members of society.

  • I worked with "S." at NASDAQ in my first real job out of college. He was a practicing Muslim who would pray in the break room in accordance to Islam tradition. I sat the cubical across from him when the planes flew into the towers on 9/11. As we heard of all the operational failures resulting from this horrible act, the stockmarket was quickly closed and from our suburban Connecticut operation center we were all excused for the day for safety reasons. "S", just like all of us, was devastated by the terrorism of 9/11. We discussed it among co-workers the next few days. He mentioned that those who committed the acts were not real believers in what he believes in. We stayed in touch a bit through the years. I'm pretty sure he voted for Romney and McCain, for that matter, if that defeats another stereotype.
  • "John" Hussaini has been the owner of the Subway in Clinton for over 20 years. When I was in high school, Subway was a 3-4 time weekly destination and I befriended John. He was excited to hear I was dating a half-Pakistani as he is from Afghanistan and we had many talks about this. John has been very active in the community in Clinton involved in many fundraisers. If you've met the man, I don't need to explain his kind and warm personality any further. 
  • In my previous blog I've discussed a Syrian family which goes to school with my children.
  • "A" was a coworker of mine at another job. "A" was from Indian, like many of the people in his group, however he was a Muslim, unlike the others who were Hindi or Christian. I did not know he was a Muslim until months after having met him and having "lunch" with him during his fast. None of the other people in his group from India seemed to treat him any differently than the others and his work was always solid. He was on a work visa and dreamed of becoming a US citizen.
  • "Dr. K." is an endodontist who worked with my mother. Her family fled Iran during the turbulence in Iran in 1980. She and her husband practiced "loose Islam" (her words). I remember helping her family move to a new condo in town and them gifting us with what have been a year's supply of saffron. "Dr. K"'s boss was Jewish and all the people in the office jokingly referred to the "Iranian working for the Jew". It was just that, a joke in an office full of ball-busters. I remember her being kind and softspoken and being known as a good endodontist. I've befriended two other Muslims in the medical profession, one a young woman at a party who I didn't find out was Muslim (nothing in her dress or behavior would have pointed it out) until we'd already talked in a group for an hour and another from Egypt who practices dentistry in the South.
I've met other Muslim people in passing and I have to say that I've never met one who filled the hateful stereotypes I've read on social media or fear-mongering "news sources". So, I advise you take the time to learn the people before making blanket statements. With the people I've pointed out above, all of them are from different parts of the world, some from countries where the "ban" was enacted, some not. We should not let "Christians" who commit acts of terror or violence stereotype all Christians anymore than we let radical terrorists who are Muslim create our view of all of Islam.




31.1.17

Who is safe?

"America, you great unfinished symphony,you sent for meYou let me make a differenceA place where even orphan immigrantsCan leave their fingerprints and rise up,"
-  The World Was Wide Enough, Hamilton 


The day of Donald Trump's election was the night of the annual potluck dinner at my children's school. The kids attend a Hartford, Connecticut-area STEM Elementary Magnet School with an ethnically diverse student population. My wife and I grew up in the suburbs, 90-95% white, non-immigrant populations, so a potluck dinner would not be a celebration of unique heritages as it is for our children. Families not only come from urban parts of Hartford and rural and suburban surroundings, but also from South America, India, the Middle East, Russia, Europe and China. Not only are our children the only two kids from our town at the school, but they are not part of any sort of "majority" at their school. The "comfort zone" that some people in the suburbs, even in our town, have will probably be a completely alien concept to them growing up.

I've enjoyed the potluck dinner every year at the school and unfortunately missed last year while in Canada for business; but this year had an even different significance. Barack Obama was out of Washington and his replacement, whether he lead it or not, had motivated a very ugly side of America, a side of America that thinks "us" and "them". A side of America that wants to build walls, label evil by religion. A side, which I believe is fully motivated by fear. Fear is control. A lot of what Trump's first actions have been as president are about safety, a wall, a travel ban from some Muslim countries - yet I'd argue that these were illogical, motivated by fear and not representative of an immigrant country. Were these actions motivated by safety?

But who is safe? You see, the problem with fear, like any sort of strong emotion, is that it is contagious. It is a group thought. But it also leads to irrational actions, without concern for logic and without concern for others. In a school with Muslim children, Latino children, children with same sex-parents, I wondered what the next four years would be like for them?



Flashback before Donald's Trump immigration policy changes and "ban" and back to the days following the election. Something happened. Something unbelievably surprising. It's quiet obvious now that not even Donald Trump thought he'd be elected president; but he was. Protests. Allegations of hate crimes. Awful videos of white students chanting at latinos went up on the internet and were quickly pulled down due to the ages of the perpetrators. Over the last few years as video technology has gotten cheaper, I suspect, racially-motivated crimes (victims of all races, including mine) that were always happening were caught on video.

It's Connecticut, I'm in a Blue State. Most of my friends and family were not Donald Trump supporters and there was really no doubt who would win here. The small group of locals I know who supported Trump - I think there was a lot of surprise. Votes have consequences. Some celebrated like a football team winning on Sunday. Some just didn't want to talk about it, as if an election is just that and it's done, not such a big deal "let's move on." One even regretted her vote, finding out a little more about how Trump was completely against the issue most important to her. One friend who was fairly outspoken spent more than a few days trying to defend her vote. Eventually she disappeared from social media. Turned off her phone. She didn't feel safe. She even called out of her office job a couple of days. I understood what she was going through; but to people directly affected by the election, I understood their continued anger.


We happened to spend a lot of time with a Syrian family at the potluck dinner. My daughter had been a classmate of a boy from the family. They dressed in traditional clothing from their home. I didn't ask anything about the family, when they had immigrated or if they had been refugees. They seemed well-educated and their English was spoken as if they'd learned it many years prior. They were observant Muslims, however, as the mother was unable to shake my hand since I am a man. She apologized as she said this after shaking my wife's hand, not knowing if I would understand or not. I took no offense to this and watched our children play together, looking at the displays setup by different families. Even my son had setup a display of our immigrant ancestors (all immigrating before 1920, nearly all on my wife's side of the family). I look at the Syrian family's display and started to think of what was going on in their country.

A week after the potluck dinner came the immigration ban. I'll call it that, regardless of what the president did or did not call it. Children and naturalized citizens behind held because of the country of their residence in an airport. I would suspect some waiting to meet families, to go to skilled labor jobs, some here for medical treatment. All these peoples' lives on hold. A Syrian family. If they had a relative who was sick, even outside of Syria, could they leave the country and come back to the United States and be welcomed back? If they had relatives still in Syria and they were displaced due to the continued conflict, would they be able to take their relatives to their home in the United States?

Will this family face discrimination? Will they be safe in our country?


Whether my children go to a "diverse school" or make friends of other races or historical backgrounds, it doesn't change the fact that we are still a white, upper-middle class family in a very safe suburban home. I stated above that my children will never have that feeling of being a majority in their school; but they still are part of the majority in the eyes of others. The consequence of the election is actually fairly small to me. We'll be fine. As much as I am angry and concerned about the path of the country that President Trump is taking, at the end of the day I'll probably get a slight tax decrease and some of my clients will lose some federal funding. But to a Muslim family in this country, especially one from one of the travel ban countries, or a Latino family dealing with the constant scrutiny of their citizenship, or to a woman who wants women's health services she can't afford - there's a lot of consequence. There is less security and less safety.

Votes have consequence. I've been saying this since the election. But I must add, that they have consequence to others. If a member of your family has a disability and the ACA is repealed without a replacement that covers pre-existing conditions, you'll suffer. When you voted, you voted against the surety that pre-existing conditions are covered. But you also voted in a way that could harm the safety of Muslims or Latinos or immigrants in this country. And unless you've been in those shoes, you have no idea what that is like. No one immigrates to the United States for the betterment of themselves. They do it for their future generations. Trust me. I've done the genealogy research. The immigrants live difficult lives, many died young and poor; even ones from England or other parts of Europe that have fewer barriers to overcome like language or skin color. It's their children and grandchildren that thrive.

At the end of the day, we all want to be safe. Regardless of who you are, where you are from or how you voted, keep that in mind. We'll all be better off. I think we all just want peace.




“Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree

And no one shall make them afraid.”
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made,"



-One Last Time, Hamilton

23.1.17

Should we be concerned?

Should we be concerned?

I've heard a lot of people saying to just "get over the election"... "give him a chance"... and I've also heard people say "this is dangerous"...

So I will present very straight forward facts and let you decide:



  • The President of the United States has never held a public service job before.
  • He is the only president in the past 50 years not to release their tax information.
  • After having a daily radio spot about politics, his next political theme was to attack the legitimacy of the birth place of the sitting president.
  • He called for Americans to revolt via twitter after the results of the 2012 election.
  • His Secretary of State has never held a public office and his primary qualification was being the CEO of an oil company. 
  • One political party controls the presidency, house, senate, Supreme Court, majority of State Governor positions and state legislature.
  • State houses have the ability to draw their own federal election districts. 
  • One party controls enough state legislatures to create Constitutional amendments without any votes from other parties required. 
  • There have been investigations by US intelligence into Russian interference to help Trump win the election. The Sectretary of State has worked extensively in Russia in the past
  • The Sectretary of Education nominee never held public office, attended public schools nor had a college loan.
  • His first press conference featured blatant lies by his spokesman about the size of the crowd attending his inauguration. 
  • After his victory he continued attacking celebrities on Twitter. 
  • The only publicly held company he ever created went bankrupt. 
  • He bragged on tape about sexually assaulting women and the appearance of his daughter. 
  • He attacked his opponent's foundation, which he also donated to. 
  • He was fined for not providing equal housing to minorities. 
  • He settled a 25 million dollar fraud case the week of his election victory. 
  • He was fined for using money from his charity to back a state attorney general who was working on a case against him. He later hired her to work for him. 
  • He attacked his opponents' ties to Goldman Sachs, then hired a Goldman Sachs executive to work on his economic team. 
  • He removed the LGBT and Climate Change pages from the White House website the day he was sworn in.
  • His Sectretary of Energy once advocated eliminating the position of the Sectrtary of Energy in his presidential campaign. 
  • His first official act as president was to override a law that would have prohibited a member of his team from serving for him. 
  • He lost the popular vote in the election by over 3 million votes.
  • Despite claims of voter fraud, no election officiant or state election chief filed cases of mass voting fraud. 
  • Wisconsin and North Carolina had radical changes in voting laws and went to Trump.
  • Claimed he would jail his opponent if he won the election. When he won the election he backed down from this claim. 
  • He has not sold his businesses. 
  • FEC filing states Trump has financial investment in pipeline which he wrote an executive order to resume building. 
  • Has blocked EPA employees from discussing environmental policy on social media. 
  • His nominee for director of the EPA was currently a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the EPA. 
  • He is in direct violation of a building's lease in Washington DC which says no elected official should lease the property.
  • Criticized a former POW member of the Senate for being captured despite the fact Trump avoided military service with medical deferments. 
  • Trump has moved to repeal the ACA but has not made his replacement plan public. 
  • He has moved to end funding to Planned Parenthood. 
  • He has left the Trans Pacific Partnership. 
  • A Hoise bill has been drafted for the United States to leave the United Nations. 

9.1.17

The word for the year 2017: Present

I will be "present" in 2017. Let me explain where this came from and what I mean.

As a huge fan of the Godfather, I enjoyed Francis Ford Coppola's appearance on Terry Gross's Fresh Air. I expected (and received) many wonderful tidbits about the production of the movie and remembrances of my favorite author, Mario Puzo. The main thing I took away from the interview was unexpected: Francis Ford Coppola mentioned that whenever he was working on a project, he always had a theme word. When he came to a decision as a director or screenwriter and it wasn't obvious, he'd go back to that word and apply it to the script. For the movie Godfather it was "Succession".

"Succession"

I love this concept. I almost want to go back and re-watch the entire Godfather saga just to look for these moments. I think of Michael guarding the hospital or being in the bathroom and nervously looking for the gun behind the toilet. "Succession"... how did it lead to "Succession". Michael told Kay never to ask about business, but just this once he'd talk about it - that he did not kill his brother in law. And he delivers the line in honesty, despite the fact it's a total lie.

The end of last year was rough, far from just the results of the election or the lack of sunshine in the shorter days.There were a lot of punches, more jabs than uppercuts to me, but many gut-shots to those I know. I've been in a haze, much like another famous fictional Mafioso, Tony Soprano, toward the end of the first season of the show which made his character famous when he started medicating (some prescribed, some self-prescribed) and went through his days as if they were living him rather than him living them. Until the carjacking scene (which in my opinion cemented this as an all-time great show.) From there on, Tony takes over the crime family and the rest is television history.

Awakened

It took a week, but the word "present" came to me in a similar way. The city next to my home town has a stop light for pedestrians to cross in its busy downtown area. As my wife and kids and I were crossing well after the light had turned green for pedestrians, a car approached going too fast to make a safe stop at the light. My son was leading our family as we walked across and had just handed me my cellphone to make it brighter resolution and my head was down, scrambling with the phone. I saw the car out of the corner of my eye and instinctively grabbed at my son's jacket to pull him back. I felt the fabric of my jacket slip through the fingers as my son kept walking directly into the path of the car. Screeching tires. My son froze. God was there was the car came to a stop. It might not have even been that close. He may have missed hitting my son by a couple of feet or 10 feet. After I missed at my pass to grab him I froze. I was not there. I was an observer until the car stopped. I was in no danger myself as I was by a car in another lane that was at complete stop (probably the only reason that driver stopped). I wasn't mad at the driver. I didn't even look back at him or her. But I was awake. I became "present". Later on I asked my son about the incident and he did not want to talk about it. I had trouble sleeping that night, which is rare for me, thinking of what I'd be doing at the time if those few feet had not been enough to spare him.

Now I will not observe. I will be present. I will give full attention. I will act. I will speak. I will be here. Life is filled with distractions, multi-tasking and some of this is unavoidable. But the next time I need to make a decision, to force myself to do something against my desire that is for my betterment, I will think of that word "present", much like a script writer in my own life. Yes, there are some bad things going on now in the world. I'll never explain them. There are some people who are lost, either by their own choice or out of fear - they are gone. I let them go.

I feel that the fact I've used two fictional "gangsters" as an example may prove the wrong point- not that I am going to be a "tough guy"; I plan to be tough when necessary but not as a default or trademark or definition. I plan to be "there" when needed. I am present now for my family and those close to me. I am present for myself too. I too often observe my own life, afraid to interject or speak up, which is surprising for an extrovert like me. I will not be quiet anymore. If being present means speaking out, making others uncomfortable, I will do it.

There is so much to be alive for now, most importantly myself and those around me. My job. My interests. My voice. In 2017, I will be present.