Archive for December, 2013

CRYSTAL BALL 2014

What’s ahead in 2014? I polished my Swarovski crystal ball, and here’s what I saw…

— President Obama hands over healthcare.gov to Amazon. The revised website also offers medical supplies, vitamins and supplements, books and periodicals, hairpieces for men and women, and a button for making donations for site maintenance.

— Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann propose a real-American conservative think tank to oppose and eliminate Obamacare once and for all. Following six months of study, they release the organization’s name. It is to be known by the acronym ARACTTTOAEOOAFA—A Real-American Conservative Think Tank to Oppose and Eliminate Obamacare Once and For All.

— Dennis Rodman and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un proclaim their engagement. This coincides with news that Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, met an untimely death while trying on a new evening gown purloined from Seoul’s top designer. Rodman and Kim, modeling matching wedding dresses, reveal that their ceremony will be held in a state-of-the-art basketball arena hand-built by 18,000 laborers volunteering to forego wages because of their devotion to the Great Leader.

— The National Basketball Association signs an agreement with North Korean manufacturers of jerseys and other merchandise thanks to 18,000 workers volunteering to forego wages because of their devotion to the Great Leader.

— Texas becomes the lone holdout against same-sex marriage after Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi throw in the (figurative) towel. Lame-duck governor Rick Perry promotes legislation that forbids men, including relatives, from making any form of physical contact with each other except while playing football. Still, the law bans fanny patting after big plays, post-game hugs and championship dog piles. The latter is punishable by a prison  term of not less than six months or more than fifty-seven years.

— In response to traffic congestion created by special buses taking legions of San Francisco tech workers to companies out of town, the Board of Supervisors proposes a subway running from Second and Mission Streets to Silicon Valley. The $250 billion project will be funded by a special tax on caffeinated espresso drinks and a twenty-five-cent per flush charge on residential toilets.

— In Teheran, 18,000 Iranians set a Guinness record by chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” nonstop for eleven days, seventeen hours, forty-two minutes and twenty-seven seconds. They protest the availability of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” on satellite TV. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei makes a speech lasting seventeen hours, forty-two minutes and twenty-seven seconds blaming the U.S. and “the Zionist entity” for the deaths of 4,332 of the patriotic demonstrators and the hospitalization of the remainder.

— Dennis Rodman splits “amicably” with Kim Jong Un and becomes the United States’ first ambassador to Iran since the 1979 revolution. He simultaneously stars in “Real Housewives of Teheran.”

— Rick Perry becomes U.S. ambassador to North Korea. At a Christmas news conference, he takes credit for influencing Kim Jong Un to establish North Korea’s first minimum wage. Based on Texas’ proven economic model, it provides workers 18 cents an hour in 2015 skyrocketing to 22 cents in 2024.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Purchase my new novel The Boy Walker in soft cover or e-book format at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review.

MUSLIM IN AMERICA: PART TWO

Nine-Eleven shocked America. I remember my own disbelief and anger viewing images of smoke bellowing from the Twin Towers then the Towers collapsing, the damaged Pentagon and United Flight 93, headed for the White House, having crashed in Western Pennsylvania. The disaster proved equally eventful for Ameena Jandali.

A Colorado native and resident of the East Bay, Ameena, is an American-born Muslim. She recently co-led a course on Islam and Judaism: One God, Two Paths at San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel. “Nine-Eleven was a shock,” she says. For the first few days she was afraid to leave her house. “I thought our life was over. Then I got tired of that. I went out. The East Bay is pretty tolerant. Nothing really bad happened to me although I heard of discrimination and hate across the country.”

The Muslim community rose to address Islamophobia. Americans knew Muslims as overseas terrorists, not next-door neighbors. Islamic Networks Group in San Jose, for whom Ameena directs content development, got busy. Still, the situation remained dicey.

In some ways, things are worse now,” Ameena says. “There have been more terror attacks. Hate has ratcheted up. People demonize Muslims.” Still many people now know more about Islam and can distinguish between terrorists and regular Muslims. Interfaith activities have helped.

Bright spots exist. Keith Ellison a Democrat from Minnesota, serves in the U.S. House of Representatives. So does André Carson, (Dem.-Indiana). M. Saud Anwar, a Yale-educated physician, is mayor of South Windsor, Connecticut.

Ameena’s children experienced some discrimination at school. Her oldest daughter, now an adult, wore a headscarf in middle school and was often subjected to negative comments and teasing. Her middle son is blond and not generally noticed as a Muslim. But in high school, Ameena found a piece of paper his friends had written—the timeline of a suicide bomber. Her youngest daughter did not have the same negative experiences that her sister had. In fact, she was often told how beautiful her scarves were. Her youngest son was recently called a terrorist in middle school. He was upset but said the kids were joking. Ameena asked if she should speak to the principal. Her son told her, “Everyone jokes about everyone else.” Ameena wasn’t amused but didn’t pursue it.

As to the future, Ameena notes that people are getting used to others who are different. But, she, notes there’s a fine line to be walked. As minorities grow, they often transform from colorful to threatening. She believes that things are looking up barring another major incident. “More American Muslims are being born. There’s an authentic American-Muslim identity being created.” This presents the same challenges all ethnic Americans face—distractions like the Internet and video games taking young people away from their parents’ ways. Still, Ameena believes, “The new generation can combine the best of both worlds—traditional values and American know-how and efficiency.”

Ameena’s challenges are those of all Americans. If our core values really mean anything, we will embrace all our citizens whatever their faith beliefs—or lack of them. Turning the words of the fabled cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Pogo around a bit, we have met our friends, and they are us.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review. Look for my new novel, The Boy Walker, in January—available at Amazo.com, Barnesandnoble.com and iUniverse.com.

MUSLIM IN AMERICA: PART ONE

Showtime’s Homeland offers something unusual this season. The CIA employs a young woman savvy in technology and banking to entrap a senior member of Iran’s intelligence service. The character Fara Sherazi (Nazanin Boniadi, born in Tehran, raised in London) is a Persian-American Muslim who wears a hijab—a headscarf. This Hollywood tale about Muslim bad guys in which F. Murray Abraham plays the CIA’s Dar Adal—Muslim by suggestion—reveals that Muslims are also good guys.

Muslims constitute part of the fabric of American life. Ask Ameena Jandali. In October and November, she co-led a course on Islam and Judaism, One God, Two Paths, at San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel. Ameena serves as director of content development for the Islamic Networks Group in San Jose. A non-profit, ING counters prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims by teaching about their traditions and contributions in the context of America’s history and cultural diversity. It also builds relations between American Muslims and other groups.

Ameena was born in a small university town in Colorado. Her father came to the U.S. from Pakistan to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of North Carolina. There he met her mother, a practicing Episcopalian before moving away from religion as an adult. Ameena’s mother converted to Islam several years after marrying. “Due to the scarcity of American Muslims at the time, it took her a while after conversion to figure out what Islam was really about,” says Ameena.

Growing up Muslim in Colorado presented challenges. “I was a brown-skinned kid in a town of mostly white people.” She also had a strange name. Difference caused embarrassment. Ameena couldn’t decide whom she wanted to keep from school more—her mother, who wore a headscarf, or her brown-skinned father.

Her Muslim identity grew as she encountered other Muslim youth. Still, one of her best friends was a devoted Baptist; there were only one or two other Muslim kids in her grade. Inspired by a younger friend, in high school she began wearing a less obvious version of the Islamic hijab—a bandana over her hair. That seemed strange to other kids, some who didn’t know she was Muslim and others who did. Further, her Muslim faith came with prohibitions. “I couldn’t have a boyfriend or go to school dances.”

College—Ameena earned a BA in history at the University of Illinois Chicago Circle— provided a better experience. She started wearing her headscarf in the more traditional manner. Shortly after graduation, she and her husband moved to the San Francisco area. This required adjustment. Chicago had a bigger Muslim community. There was no mosque where they lived. But the East Bay, multicultural and progressive, quickly became home. Ameena took advantage of world-class UC Berkeley and earned an MA in Near Eastern Studies.

In 1993, nearly two years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ameena joined a new organization, ING, focused on dispelling stereotypes about Muslims. “There was a sense that Islam was a new enemy replacing communism,” she says. Following the Gulf War, she felt a growing prejudice. Over the next few years, Ameena worked with ING to educate Americans about Muslims and their faith in a variety of venues and institutions.

In 2001, Nine-Eleven confronted Ameena and American Muslims with serious new challenges.

Part two will appear next Friday.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Give great reading for the non-Chanukah portion of the Holidays—the novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK!, the latter named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012. See for yourself. Read the opening chapters at davidperlstein.com. Order at Amazon.com, bn.com or iUniverse.com. 

CHANUKAH, CHRISTMAS AND SANITY

The holiday is over. The Holidays are in full swing. Yesterday marked the eighth and last day of Chanukah (the last candle-lighting was Wednesday night). The vast majority of Americans didn’t notice. They’re focused on Christmas. I feel for them.

I’m not much of a Chanukah gift giver. While Chanukah comes around the time of Christmas (it was way early this year), it’s not the Jewish equivalent. Theologically, Jews don’t recognize any offspring of God. In terms of significance, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover represent the major Jewish holidays. Sukkot, Simchat Torah and Purim, among others, form an important second tier.

Chanukah is meaningful, of course. It celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following a rebellion against the Assyrian Greeks—the overlords of Judea. In truth, the war against King Antiochus IV was in great part a war among Jews. Many found Hellenism attractive, although they remained Jews. Others, including the priest Mattathias and his son Judah Maccabee (Judah the Hammer), thought Hellenism repugnant—a threat to proper Jewish worship and continuity.

Moreover, every culture at some distance from the equator seeks to brighten winter’s darkness. The Chanukiah (a menorah has seven lights, not eight plus one for Chanukah) brightens our homes, streets—we display the lights publically—and spirits.

This year, the first day of Chanukah occurred on Thanksgiving (again, candle-lighting the night before). Such timing won’t repeat for tens of thousands of years. But whatever Chanukah’s dates, there’s a lesson to be shared with those celebrating Christmas. Repeating the British government’s advice during World War Two: Keep calm and carry on.

Chanukah lasts eight days. You get into it and out of it without too much commotion. Christmas is a single day, but it encompasses about two months of activity—slow build, frenzied anticipation, big night before, big day, post-Holiday sales. Christmas shopping gets a nudge the day after Halloween. The big push comes on Black Friday. Or so it used to be. Shopping now gets serious on Thanksgiving itself. Many Americans, who often guiltily view the Christmas season with a sense of dread—expectations tend to rise above achievable levels—wonder if they’re giving thanks for freedom and opportunity or for bargains.

For marketing purposes, the special days following Thanksgiving receive names. Black Friday we know. That leads to Small Business Saturday. Sunday suggests rest, but it’s America’s day to worship in the cathedrals of the National Football League. So let’s call it what it is—Football Sunday. Cyber Monday comes next. Then Giving Tuesday. Only the Wednesday that follows lacks a name—until now.

All hail Whipped Wednesday. I call on an exhausted America to sleep late and skip work, see a therapist to sort out Thanksgiving issues and prepare for what’s next, fast between brunch and dinner, pray for strength and get to bed early to conserve strength for the Christmas parties crowding calendars for the next several weeks.

Yes, some people overdo Chanukah. But most of us manage to keep things in perspective. This thought, along with Carolyn and my five Chanukiahs, lights up my soul.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com.