Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mildred or whatever her name was

Christian crusaders throwing heads of Muslims over ramparts

I told myself last night that my last post for 2009 must be positive. No more Debbie Downer. But then I didn't expect to turn on the radio and listen to The Current on cbc, like I often do, only to hear a racist rant. I listen to The Current, one of the few shows in Canada that actually addresses racism, not expecting to hear racism. The commentator, Kevin Sylvester, who was filling in for Anna Maria Tremonti, was highlighting some of the listener responses to an earlier show on racial profiling. Supposedly this removes him from commenting on the comments?

An old white woman from Calgary had phoned in. Her name may have been Myrtle or Mildred. Her voice was shrill. Her message was to bring racial profiling on. In fact, she repeated it a few times in a loud voice, Bring it on! Bring it on! Bring it on! Bring racial profiling on! Old white women or old men with white hair don't threaten to blow up planes, she reasoned, so why should we be racially profiled? Profile those with brown faces.

The guist of her message was that it is ok to racially profile brown skinned people and those with Muslim sounding names. Her rant came on right after another commenter, Muslim Canadian Tarek Fatah, one of the most conflicted Muslim Canadians who always gets put into the spotlight as spokesman yet who, as Wahida Valiante, vice-chair and national vice-president of the Canadian Islamic Congress (which Fatah founded), told the Globe and Mail, "Tarek Fatah's views are diametrically opposed to most Muslims." So, what did Fatah have to say about racial profiling? He commented favorably on yes! racial profiling of Muslims and brown skinned people. I'm all for it.

How pathetic. The authentic Other speaks the neocolonial message. What could be better than that? What could be better for bolstering racism than the brown skinned supporting it themselves?

On the last day of the year, on the last day of the decade, this is what I had to hear? Support for racial profiling? Blatant ignorant racism on so-called progressive Canadian radio? The depths of racism and ignorance that Canadians have sunk into shows no end in sight; indeed, racism is increasing and ignorance is getting louder and more confident. Well, why not?

Why not the average Canadian spout racism when government representatives and media lead the way? We have government officials who out-and-out support racial profiling of groups -- the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Kenney, leading the pack, no less, as well as a Prime Minister who favors the exclusive racism of Israel, war on poor brown-skinned people in Afghanistan, denies the there was ever colonialism in Canada (hence wiping out the historical state oppression and dispossession of Indigenous peoples and its continuance) among other human rights injustices.

Mildred or Myrtle, you should be reminded that while it is true that old white ladies and old white men with white hair are not threatening to blow up planes, it is old white men with white hair and white ladies who went into the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, India, North America, South America, Central America, Australia and on and on to exploit, steal, rape, plunder, kill, pillage, maim, and destroy communities, peoples, animals, and habitats in the name of God and imperialism and civilization.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

violence and non-violence

Palestinian Woman. artist Shepard Fairey.

"On Saturday, Israeli forces entered Nablus for the first time in several months for one of the bloodiest operations in the city in over a year. The homes of three Fatah members - allegedly involved in the death of a settler the previous Wednesday - were broken into. Relatives in the homes said Israeli soldiers shot the three men at close range. One man was shot in bed with his seven-month pregnant wife, a second was shot standing beside his 16-year-old cousin, and a third was taken into the yard of his home and executed."

Ma'an image. Back to mud in Gaza.

"The UN relief agency UNRWA said on Tuesday that Gaza had been “bombed back, not to the Stone Age, but to the mud age,” because the agency was reduced to building houses out of mud due to Israel’s ban on construction materials entering the Strip."

Children of the Intifada. Pen and Ink Drawing by Abdel Rahman al-Mozayen, 1988

When will it be our time? asks Mustafa Barghouthi:

"A new generation of Palestinian leaders is attempting to speak to the world in the language of a nonviolent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions, precisely as Martin Luther King Jr and thousands of African-Americans did with the Montgomery bus boycott in the mid-1950s. We are equally right to use the tactic to advance our rights. The same world that rejects all use of Palestinian violence, even clear self-defense, surely ought not begrudge us the nonviolence employed by men such as King and Gandhi."

male burqa

Cartoon by Michael Leunig that I found on Peoples Geography.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

We are them, they are us

Jews are Palestinians, too. 85 yr old Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, peace activist for Palestine, has begun a hunger strike in front of the World Trade Center in Cairo as part of the non-violent action to help stop the blockade of Gaza. Others have joined her in solidarity. She is one of 900 delegates from 43 countries who are in Egypt trying to cross into Gaza through the Rafah border. The Egyptian government and police are preventing them from entering Gaza. The Gaza Supporters plan to join Palestinians in Gaza in a non-violent action by walking to the northern border and demanding of Israel an end to the illegal seige.
There are a few Canadian delegates who are part of this international non-violent action, Gaza Freedom March. Here is the latest report from the national union representative of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, David Bleakney, who is writing from Cairo:

Subject: blog -Cairo from Dave Bleakney, CUPW Dec. 28


The Gaza Freedom March has not made it to Gaza. Some might say this is a failure. But Gaza is in the hearts and other lessons will be learned here.

There is no question that Egypt faces intense pressure from other powers and forces, including Israel and the European Union. To a lesser extent, Canada whose government is now seen as an international climate change pariah, plays an apologist role for crimes against humanity while deserting, even aiding and abetting, the removal of the rights of Canadians while abroad. As always, the grand player here is the United States, always lurking in the background or appearing in the forefront when needed. The large truck of "human rights abuser for profit "Haliburton" parked in the desert west of Cairo two days ago is a fitting symbol of profit, power, and crimes against people and their lands.

All of these forces, plus prisoner exchanges, and other hidden factors, place intense pressure on this government to do the right thing. Freedom marchers understand they are guests in a country of rich history and a vibrant and welcoming people. But geopolitical, cultural, economic and systemic forces combine to provide unpleasant and lethal outcomes.

A Gaza freedom marcher was just thrown against a wall and punched in the face outside our hotel a few hours ago. A second woman was punched in the face today at a demonstration at UNESCO. Nothing unusual for a Palestinian, who faces far worse, but a revealing look at the desperate and shallow forces that like to think they own the planet and everything is a market playground. Yet, Cairo right now is alive with new spaces of hope, defiance, and vision. People from all over the world have joined together in a determined pilgrimage to support the blockaded people of Gaza.

This is the humanity of a determined people who refuse no longer to be victims in this sport of repression we have come to know all too well in varying degrees depending on who or where you are. This is a system and a way of being that strangles our creativity and freedom every day. Everywhere people rise to say no more will we be silent accomplices to an order that auctions our dignity to power and patriarchy. New voices are shouting worldwide that we choose not to absorb, internalize, or amplify this game of oppression delivered to us by those that pretend to speak in our name and are provided their pulpit by a compliant media.

They are the same ones that tell us lies about ourselves, that we can do nothing, that private for profit is better than that which is held and shared in common, or that we are all can be winners in this sport where almost everyone loses. Whether in Palestine or around the world the masters are losing their grip. That is why women are punched in the face calling for peace and people are refused entrance to Gaza trying to bear witness and stand with those who have faced the worst humanity - if it can be called that - has to offer. These systems that function around us are not humane and so the script is already written and the actors fall into place. We are trained to accept compliantly our destruction at varying speeds, in one form or another, as we struggle to eat, have shelter, and even to live. How beautiful that new scripts are being written outside, inside and around the old ones.

In these times people are standing for Palestine, Oaxaca, the Philippines, Colombia and other places and names we do not know. But we know the spirits of the dead and suffering rage and demand of us all something new. We remember over and over with increasing ferocity those sacrificed to the alta of the markets. Everywhere, they spread war and chemicals in our name that are produced in northern factories and thrust on the vulnerable, whether on traditional lands of small farmers in the global south or as poisonous white phosphorus released liberally across neighbourhoods in the name of peace and democracy. Profits soar and tiny men sip champagne in their palaces. But the servants are getting restless and we are listening and learning.

Let Palestine awaken us all to what our world has become and why these wars and the destruction of life for profit and power must cease. With every step taken and every breath drawn this is a world worth reclaiming.

We are them, they are us. We will not forget. And we will learn to shed the skin of compliance every day. We are done saying yes. That is what Gaza teaches us should we choose to listen.

Dave Bleakney is a national union representative for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers currently writing from Cairo. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Monday, December 28, 2009

O qadeeshto Mariam

On our way to Baalbek we stopped in Ehden, "the bride of summer", a village populated only in spring and summer.
You can see the Virgin, our Lady Mariam, who overlooks the Qadisha Valley from quite a distance, as she's on the highest point of land, some 1500 m. above sea level, on the southwestern slope of Mount Makmal.
you can walk up these stairs to see her
or take these much older steps
You may have traveled to Ehden by winding up this road in your car
Tripoli and the Mediterranean Sea are beyond the clouds
Yellow splashes of sweet smelling Scottish broom dab the countryside with colour and scent.
The Virgin in Ehden is called Saydet el Hosn, our Lady of the Fortress (roughly) there is a small old chapel underneath the large newer church, on the hillside
across the valley you can see the tower that the Israelis bombed in 2006. It still lies in ruin.

At your feet, flowers. At night, hundreds of bats swoop and dive in an aerial cliffside ballet with moths fluttering to escape their mouths

Ava Maria in Syriac

Shlom lekh bthoolto Mariam.
Maliath taibootho
moran a'amekh
mbarakhto at bneshey
wambarakhoo feero dabkharsekh yeshue
O qadeeshto Mariam
yoldath aloho
saloy hlofain hatoyeh
hosho wabsho'ath mawtan.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


I count my blessings each time I go for a walk. The gifts I receive are simple but awesome. I give thanks for the silence, for the freedom to walk where I wish, alone.
When I lived in Toronto while taking classes for my Phd, I was warned never to walk alone on a trail in the day time. Sexual assaults on or near the campus of York University are a constant threat to women, especially in the morning. So, my morning walks in Thunder Bay are a blessing. I am blessed with the simple pleasure of walking alone on a path by a river in silence. A woman walking alone, a blessing.
I count the blessings of snow and cold. Some curse them; I love them. Winter reminds you of the cycle of life. Of death. Of the anticipation of spring, of rebirth. I bless my mitts and my hat. My boots and my coat and my scarf. I give blessings with all my arms

Saturday, December 26, 2009

decade of shame

Now it seems those yester dreams

Were just a cruel

And foolish game we had to play
~ Stevie Wonder 1969

I'm not a believer in an illusory golden past, but I do think that as this decade comes to a close, that it has been a dark one. I agree with Thomas Walkom that the West has taken a leap backwards:

"Historians will remember the first decade of the 21st century as the time when torture became acceptable again in Western democracies and when – in these same countries – people who happened to be Muslim could be arrested and jailed on the flimsiest of excuses.

Future generations will look back on this period as a decade of shame, a time when civil rights painstakingly earned over centuries were summarily rolled back. Britain, with its ubiquitous closed-circuit television cameras, has become a surveillance state. America, whose constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties were once the envy of the world, has thrown them aside in the name of national security.

In Canada, the decade that began on Jan. 1, 2001 encompassed three federal governments. But it will be remembered as the Stephen Harper era, a mean-spirited time characterized by mandatory jail terms (even though crime rates are down) and Ottawa's grudging reluctance to stand up for Canadians in trouble abroad."

Stevie Wonder 1966

You know when times are bad

And you're feeling sad

I want you to always remember

Yes, there's a place in the sun

Where there's hope for ev'ryone

Where my poor restless heart's gotta run

There's a place in the sun

Where there's hope for ev'ryone

Where my poor restless heart's gotta run

There's a place in the sun

Where there's hope for ev'ryone...

Friday, December 25, 2009

minarets and steeples in the living room

Al-Fateh Mosque, or Grand Mosque, in Manama, Bahrain. One of the largest mosques in the world.

Today, while I was jumping on the rebounder in front of the tv screen, after watching the biography of Lady Diana as told through her jewels (it was not an expose of how some of the jewels of the Royal family are colonial booty), Christmas messages from Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan came on. As one of the soldiers addressed her young children via the tv screen, saying she has sent them their Christmas package, I wondered about what sort of gifts we have been giving the Afghan people? I wondered how much Canada's contemporary military presence in the Middle East is a neo-con version of the Crusades?

Editorial from the Daily Star of Lebanon, Dec. 22, 2009.

Why Minarets Shouldn't Matter

"A key event on the “clash of civilizations” front this year was Switzerland’s referendum on building minarets, which was voted down in November. People here have complained about European discrimination, and in today’s issue, The Daily Star is publishing a Western reply, in the form of a complaint about our behavior, namely our intolerance.

Tolerance and discrimination are important issues, but we shouldn’t focus on the building of a mosque, or the raising of a church steeple.
And moving the debate further back in history diverts us from the immediate context, and why mosques and minarets are being built in Switzerland. Over the past 50 years or so (or even longer), Muslim communities have been growing and coalescing in Western countries.

During this period, Western countries exploited the resources of countries in the Middle East and wider Islamic world. The decades-long stranglehold on the oil industry has led to a fairer order, but the massive profits of oil companies haven’t receded. There’s the Western-generated arms trade, which affects countries of the south in general. Presumably, some of the money generated by these practices ended up in countries like Switzerland.
In return, what have Switzerland and the West done in return? There’s development assistance, but also massive defects, such as the billions of dollars wasted in Iraq, money that was supposed to help the country rebuild.

For the most part, Western countries have been in cahoots with the regimes of our region, and resentment builds up, compounded by our inefficient states, which end up exporting their people to the West. Getting into controversies such as “minaret versus steeple” is a dangerous course, due to the asymmetric nature of the struggle. It’s not played out with ICBM, tanks and F-15s; all you need are a few angry young men, both at local regimes and the West.

Whether people are complaining about Sykes-Picot, or the IMF, the West has had a spotty record in robustly promoting development in this part of the world, and the more aggressive aspects – like blind support for Israel, the arms trade, and bombing of civilian areas – convince people here that they’re the ones being threatened.
When Westerners feel threatened by Islam and its minarets, they should remember two things.

One is the comment a few years ago by the dean of European foreign policy, Javier Solana, who said it was no longer a case of Muslims being in the building, or the stairwell – they were now in the living room [of Europe].
Thus, how we actually interact with each other, in what is becoming our global living room, is of paramount importance, and not who is building a mosque or a church down the street. When the geopolitical relationship is healthy, no one will raise a fuss when such events take place."

a convent I visited in Lebanon, just outside the city of Tripoli, on top of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean. There are a lot of villages and towns just outside the city of Tripoli and a person would need a lifetime to visit their unique glory.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christian compassion

snowflake Wilson Bentley image

Palestinian Christian leaders are asking their Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world to join them in non-violent action, especially the boycott of Israel, to stop the oppression and end the occupation of Palestinian people and land:

"Palestinian Christian leaders, representing churches and church-related organisations, have launched a "landmark campaign" aimed at enlisting Christians worldwide in proactive efforts to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, reports Khaled Amayreh in Bethlehem. The unprecedented initiative, called "Kairos Palestine-2009: A moment of truth", appeals to churches worldwide to treat Israel in the same way they had treated the erstwhile South African apartheid regime.

The authors of the 13-page document include such religious leaders as Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan, Archbishop of Sebastia Atallah Hanna from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, as well as the heads of various denominations in occupied Palestine.

"We, Palestinian Christians, declare in this historic document that the military occupation of our land is a sin against God and humanity and that any theology that legitimises the occupation is far from Christian teachings because true Christian theology is a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed and a call to justice and equality among peoples," reads the document.

The authors said they hoped that the document would raise the conscience of Christians worldwide on the enduring Palestinian plight. "We hope, as Palestinian Christians, that this document will be the leverage for the efforts of all peace-loving peoples in the world, especially our Christian sisters and brothers. We hope that it will be welcomed positively and will receive strong support, as was the case with the South Africa Kairos document launched."

In Christian theological terminology, the word "kairos" means "moment of truth" or "time for action".

In Canada, KAIROS, an ecumenical group, has joined the call to boycott Israel and for that the Harper goverment has told them Merry Christmas by cutting funding to their programs:

"Ottawa's decision to axe funding to a group apparently because it criticized Israel has enraged many Canadians and fully exposed the zealotry of Stephen Harper's government in supporting Israel and attacking those who don't.

"KAIROS, an ecumenical group, promotes social and economic justice in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Its $7 million contract to set up a rape clinic in the Congo, among other projects, was killed by Harper because the group was said to have backed a boycott of Israel for oppressing Palestinians. As Jason Kenney admitted: 'We've de-funded organizations, most recently like KAIROS, who are taking a leadership role in the boycott.'"

Meanwhile, over in England, Stuart Littlewood wonders why the contemporary Christian narrative of the Holy Land wipes out any mention of the Israeli oppression of Palestinians, and asks some hard questions about the lack of vocal support for the Palestinians by powerful Christians, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury:

"Relax, Holy Father... Viva Palestina and George Galloway are on the case. They are doing your job for you and breaking the evil siege. You could have done it in the name of God. They are doing it in the name of human decency.

It seems that the salt of the earth from our city back-streets - assorted Christians, Muslims, atheists and even Jews - who organized, joined or supported the convoy, have more understanding of compassion and the teachings of Christ than all the learned navel-gazers in the Vatican.

I can find no specific reference to the human tragedy of the Holy Land on the Vatican’s website. The Pope “refrains” from mentioning it even in his New Year’s Message celebrating the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2010.

Nor do I see Christmas greetings to Gazans on the Lambeth Palace website.

When Archbishop Rowan gets home from his historic visit, what will he do? He and 25 of his colleagues sit in the British parliament's House of Lords. They have clout. But in a quick search through I could find no recent record of these ’super-clerics’ raising questions about Israel's murderous onslaught, the unending persecution of the Christian and Muslim communities and the unlawful restrictions imposed on the Holy Land generally. No criticism of the British government’s inaction either."

When its leader has seen and heard the awful truth at source, and reported it, what will the Anglican church as a whole then do to begin the process of improving the human condition in the Holy Land and safeguarding its spiritual legacy?

a warning on my window

A winter storm watch warning was issued this morning. Snow has been falling steadily since early this morning and is predicted to fall until Sunday. The weather is mild as the winds are from the East. A stained glass hummingbird, butterfly and starfish hang in my dining room window to warn birds of the glass. I've had to bury a few bird bodies and everytime I do I add another stained glass warning on my window.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

on the road to Baalbek

Towards our last few weeks in Lebanon, I told my husband at least every other day, "I'm not leaving Lebanon without going to Baalbek." Visiting relatives in Lebanon makes setting firm plans difficult as there is no such thing as a plan, only a possible plan as who knows what or who would materialize? Every day plans to go to Baalbek were discussed. Everyone had some comment to contribute. But then another day would pass.
Finally the day came. My brother-in-law, 2 sisters-in-law, my nephew, my husband and I left Bishmezzine. We had decided to first spend the night in Ehden at my brother and sister-in-law's summer home, then set off in the morning over the Lebanese Mountains to Baalbek. Shortly after leaving Bishmezzine, the road starts to climb. Before the road bends sharply to Ehden and starts its steep winding climb up the mountains there is a spring. We stopped to fill our water containers and to drink cold mountain spring water under the watchful eye of the Virgin Mary. This area of northern Lebanon is known for its fresh, clear mountain springs.
Niches with the Virgin and Jesus and other saints had been carved into the cliff, for Christian communities have lived in this region of mountains and spectacular valleys for hundreds of centuries. Water is a gift; the place is Holy, in Aramaic, Qadesha.The Virgin at the top looks over
the Qadisha Valley.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

two women, two Spells

Nina Simone. Her songs are beautiful; this is her 1968 cover of I Put a Spell on You, 2.34. In some of the old photos of Simone put together in this youtube video, she's made herself up to look like Nefertiti, who, hopefully, makes her way back to Egypt where she belongs.

another Spell, another translation. An 18 minute Spell. Natacha Atlas (of mixed European, Egyptian, Jewish, Muslim heritage), live at Union Chapel, in a longer version of the Spell found on her cd. Thanks to Gerry for sending me her cd a few years back!

Friday, December 18, 2009

reindeer kop kop kop

These photos were taken by Philip Burgess this December. He posted photos of his work with reindeer husbandry in Siberia on his Facebook page. This photo really mesmerized me. I thought it was a painting. Young reindeer in Yamal Peninsula, Siberia. Somewhere close to the Ob River in Panaevsk. You can find out where that is on the interactive map on the Reindeer Portal site.
I don't know much about reindeer but I'm guessing that the ones in the first photo are juveniles. Their fur seems soft like that of Ruby's, my friend Michele's new white german shepherd puppy. Also, their antlers are small twigs compared to the massive racks on the bigger reindeer. Philip, an Irishman, is currently working with EALAT Outreach workshops in the Yamal Peninsula.
I read on the Reindeer Portal that Philip linked to of the predicament of reindeer taken (displaced) to Britain for Santa performances, parades, to be rented out, and to be used for Christmas festivities to get people in the spirit. To stir up their feel-good nostalgia. The reindeer are suffering, however. I guess so. Who would think to bring reindeer, a creature of the far north, to England to perform for humans' entertainment? Among the many sufferings, a reindeer that had been (mis)named Mr. Frosty (like a caricature of a snowman) had to be put to death. Yesteryear it was captive bears trained to perform for humans, now it is reindeer. When will we learn to stop exploiting creatures for our fun and entertainment?
"Reindeer imported to Britain for Santa’s grottoes and festive parades are dying prematurely after exposure to diseases from British farm animals, a senior government vet has warned.
An official investigation has revealed a sharp increase in deaths in young reindeer, also linked to bad diet, poor welfare and the stress of being uprooted from their natural habitat."
The doctor who is conducting research explains that
Reindeer are highly specialised Arctic deer. The recent fashion of keeping them in captive situations many degrees south of their normal range is fraught with health and welfare issues.”
The warning comes amid greater commercial exploitation of the animals, which are now a common festive feature. Today, reindeer parades are planned in Birmingham and Middlesbrough, and others in cities across Britain."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

an orange cake for a winter day

Today, I am making my version of sfouf, or semolina cake to take to my friend, Debbie's. It's baking in the oven; I hope I don't forget about it. There are as many versions of sfouf as there are orange cakes. The other day, I made an orange cake, a Moroccan style orange cake, as we had too many clementines. The clementines we get here in Thunder Bay have small black diamond stickers stamped "Muroc."

Moroccan Orange Cake doesn't use flour, only ground almonds. I ground the almonds in my coffee mill as it makes a nice fine and fluffy powder. I added a small amount of semolina, too. I also added orange blossom water for flavoring. Although I was supposed to use the rind of whole oranges, I wasn't sure if the thin clementine skin would boil and soften in the same way, so I peeled them before I threw them in the saucepan. Despite the changes I made, the cake was still delicious. Rasha confessed to eating half of it. I thought to save a piece or two for my friend, Amal, who, being of Tunisian descent, would've loved to bite into an orange cake (although the Tunisian Orange Cake is different). However, the cake didn't last. Next time. Mind you, she probably would've told me how I might have improved it... But then again there are as many versions of orange cake as there are sfouf as there are bakers baking and adjusting according to their own desire.

By chance, I was sent this Moroccan music video that I've posted above. The song is hauntingly beautiful. So, too, the photos. Beautiful black and white photos of arches, alleyways, doorways, walkways, and filtered light. It struck me that I don't think there is an orange tree or any other plant to be seen, although the shadows of tall date palms appear in one of the first images.

Last post, I told you about the destruction of beautiful old arches and stone walls in Jerusalem as the Israeli government bulldozes Palestinian homes and dispossesses Palestinian residents to build illegal Israeli settlements, utilitarian style. I guess the Israelis don't find old stone arches and alleyways worth preserving.

Personally, my eye finds arches beautiful. Some of the small old houses built in the 30s and 40s in our city had arched doorways, but that has fallen by the wayside. Maybe it has to do with sheetrock replacing plaster. Or maybe those old houses were built by Italian immigrants who brought and adapted their Mediterranean styling to the north shore of Lake Superior.

To me, arches are portals that evoke other passageways and places and spaces beyond. Their circular sweep compels us to enter, draws us towards that which we know not, into a maze, a spiral. I read recently that Islamic architecture inspired the Gothic architecture of Europe, as well as medieval architecture. I wonder if the lucky horseshoe symbol came from the East, too?

Islamic horseshoe arch

I wonder if the keyholes of old Victorian doors were inspired by the Islamic horseshoe arch? The keyhole of the front door of my old Victorian style house mirrors this image of an Islamic arch.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

not a Christmas story

the way to the manger today. Bethlehem.

Our good friends, Enam and Mohammed, spend time in Bethlehem with their family. As you can see it is not easy getting in or out of Bethlehem.

The other day I read that some people are serious about a white Christmas, that is, literally keeping it white. White skinned. Not just snow. Some Italians from Verona got really irate to see a dark skinned Jesus in a manger. Hadn't they realized that Jesus was not born in Stockholm? And why are all the angels I see on Christmas cards white skinned, too?

Meanwhile, just outside of Bethlehem, Ellen Cantarow explains that apricot trees have been pulled out to make way for a sewage dump for illegal Israeli settlers. She also reports that the beautiful old Palestinian architecture of arches and vaulted ceilings is disappearing, replaced by block housing for Israeli settlers, and because of increasing land dispossession, Palestinians can only built up, adding to the cinder block look of homes:

In a field near the village Artas, south of Bethlehem, stands a mammoth rectangle of cement surrounding two giant circles of piping. This was to be an Israeli sewage dump, part of a waste project servicing the Israeli colony Efrat and neighbor-colonies to Bethlehem’s south and west. Stop the Wall and Artas villagers are litigating against the sewer in Israel’s Supreme Court. The case is still pending.

60 apricot trees once grew where the cement and pipe sections now rise. They were on a trajectory leading straight through Artas’s 182-dunam green belt (a dunam is a little over a quarter-acre). Over twenty kinds of vegetables flourish in this rich agricultural matrix. Abu Swayk said it would all be destroyed by the sewage dump, the run-off cascading down and permeating the fertile land. As it stands, the sewage housing seems just a nibble into a small plot of land. But think: Israel wants to dump the colonists’ excrement where people once raised crops for their living. Moreover, since 1967 such “small” confiscations have been a motor force driving the Greater Israel – the Jewish state’s continuous expansion beyond its borders.

I remember the West Bank in the 80s when I reported here regularly. The landscape was Mediterranean, rippling with dry-wall terracing; olive trees’ silvery leaves billowed in the wind; fruit and nut trees and grape arbors etched darker greens against the grey of stones and taupe colors of earth. You could still see old Arab architecture in West Bank villages – beautiful pale stone with rounded arches over doors and windows; vaulted ceilings within homes. There were scattered colonies, but none of the sprawling suburbs and whole cities that slice and dice the region now.

Returning here in 2002 after a fourteen-year absence was like waking up in another country. The hills were freighted with bland, California-style urban sprawl buttressed by a vast prison network for containing the natives whose presence so annoys the Greater Israel -- the wall in its early forms, huge holding-pens called “checkpoints,” mazes of other barriers, and Jewish-only super-highways that made me feel I was somewhere in New Jersey. The state of the villages was also a shock: Israel almost never lets Palestinians build beyond their urban limits, so Palestinian expansion can only be vertical. New, Palestinian multi-storey buildings, so different from the traditional one-to-two-storey village architecture, are as faceless – ugly, even - as the colonies.

Q: How many Palestinians lost the right to live in East Jerusalem/Al Quds last year?

A: Some 4,577 Palestinians had their residency rights revoked in 2008, according to the Israeli Interior Ministry.

Q: What percentage of people in Gaza suffer food insecurity?
A: progressive deterioration in food security for up to 70 per cent of Gaza's population.

Q: how many Palestinians in Israeli jails?
A: More than 11,500 Palestinians, including women and children, are currently imprisoned in Israeli detention facilities under harsh and life-threatening circumstances.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

the practice of yes

Alexsi, Anna and Eero's 15 month old son, practicing "yes" in a pool somewhere in Helsinki.

For those of us without Alexsi's "yes", I read this thoughtful comment today:

Practice generosity. Generosity is an antidote to fear. Real generosity (the kind that is not self-centered or self-serving) requires that we open our hearts and allow ourselves to be curious, vulnerable and accepting. This means saying yes to all facets of life, even the difficult ones. The generosity of acceptance feels like doing less, but it brings us more. It is amazingly regenerative. Experiment with the practice of generosity. Give your attention, your caring and your curiosity to those you live with and work with, without expecting anything in return. Say yes to yourself and to others. Notice and write about your acts of generosity as well as the generosity of others. You will find your fear diminishing. by Marc Lesser

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite
which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any--lifted from the no

of all nothing--human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

~ e.e. cummings

Sunday, December 13, 2009

a purple parka day

It was -35c with windchill when I left for my walk with Musti and Tassu this morning at 8:30 a.m. Midnight last night was a balmy -7c. About 3 a.m. the temperature started dropping rapidly. The creek has frozen over completely now, except for a rare small opening where you still can hear the water gurgling. This spot is under the Algoma St. bridge.
Past the breakwall, the lake is open, not frozen. A laker sat shrouded in the mist over Lake Superior. For the last two weeks the air has been colder than the water so we see the heat leaving. The heavy cloud running along the horizon just below the morning sun, is not a cloud; it's pollution from the mill. When it gets this cold, the pollution hangs down low, rolling toxins right over the Sleeping Giant.

The dogs are much friskier the colder it gets. Their fur is dense and their paws are like boots, so they don't feel the chill at all. The three of us ran up the overpass. I had dragged my purple parka out of the basement; it was a purple parka day. I put small gloves on under big mitts and light socks under wool ones; it was a double mittens and socks day. I wore my winter niqab look, that is, with my scarf wrapped way high up my cheeks and my hat pulled way low downb my forehead, there is only a thin sliver where my eyes peek out. In fact, coming back up the overpass straight into the North wind, I had only one eye exposed. Unless you know that I wear a purple parka on freezing cold days, you might not know it was me. But whatever I wear, the dogs always do.It's actually enjoyable walking in the cold. But you have to learn to dress for it.