Saturday, May 29, 2010

Guns n Roses

This twitter headline stopped me: Sufis succeeding in taking on al-Shabab, extremist group with al-Qaeda ties in Somalia.

Um...Sufis? As in these guys?

Who's their leader - Frau Farbissina? Let's just recap. Sufis are those who practice the mystical tradition of Islam by spinning in circles for hours and entering a trance state. Warring Somali factions are...

Those who commit genocide.
Those who drag the bodies of American soldiers through the streets and use unarmed women and children as defensive shields in a fire fight.

Sufis are the om crowd. They haven't become involved in Somalia's conflict for 20 years but now they're sick of it. When the Islamists murdered their leaders and burned down their mosques, the Sufis picked up their guns (decorated with roses) and declared their own jihad against much bigger militias. And they're WINNING.

Impassioned by righteous fervor, they're like the 500-odd Knights Templar who defeated 25,000 of Saladin's men during the battle of Montgisard. And that is sooooooo not politically correct but let's just hope the Somali Sufis don't go down that old road to corruption, hoarding, and centuries of military-mystical secrecy.

"Reason is the illusion of reality." - Sufi master Inayat Khan.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Happier Sheikh

Sheikh Mohammed, his wife Princess Haya, and Truly Royal

Sometimes I hear an inner voice, and yesterday it said “Maktoum.”

The Maktoums are the royal family of Dubai, and apparently they have transformed horse racing in the past 40 years – for better or worse is a subject of debate. So despite being really busy, I found an hour to sit at the Keeneland library and browse through their considerable collection of articles about the Maktoums.

One thing jumped out. A quote by Sheikh Mohammed, current ruler of Dubai and owner of Godolphin Farms: 

Best movie EVER
“Don’t forget that horses have been bred for centuries by Arabic tribes. They were used for hunting and fighting and they symbolize our history. Horse riding is more than merely sitting on a horse’s back. It is nobility and chivalry.” 

I like that. Except... it looks like 300 years of Europeans and Americans breeding thoroughbreds is kind of a blip on the Arabian radar. The Sheikh comes to Lexington every year, spends millions on the best horses, then ships a lot of them back to Dubai. There's even a billboard in Dubai that says: Godolphin, Bringing the Racehorse Home. Just wondering at what point a horse becomes a Kentuckian...?

Nobility, chivalry, cultural preeminence. Then you have the regular folks, like this guy and his horse. I mean, poodle. (Is that a baseball base?) The footage is beautiful, although it makes me kinda nervous. Maybe it's the whole romping-with-a-thousand-pound-animal thing. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bull Sheikh

Dear Anwar,

I read the recent NY Times article about you - well, the "you" who inspired the 9/11 hijackers and who is the only American on the government’s “go ahead and kill the guy” terrorism list.

Don’t think I forgot you were born in New Mexico, you grew up in Nebraska and Minnesota, and went to college in Denver. Let’s face it, you’re a corn-fed American boy who happens to have weird cousins. Everybody knows when you put the words “Yemeni” and “tribal” together you have some serious fringe.

Your whole life you’ve had one foot in both worlds. Which might explain that whole phase you went through being imam of the San Diego mosque. You were so devout you wouldn’t shake women’s hands, but you got arrested twice for soliciting prostitutes. Couldn’t make up your mind.

Well it sounds like you finally did. Mr. Peaceful Muslim Cleric (“We came here to build, not to destroy” – remember saying that?) and now you’re pretty much al-Qaeda’s number 2.

The big question the NY Times article didn’t quite answer is: What made up your mind?

That’s a rhetorical question. I see straight through you. It’s maddening to live with a split identity. Maddening. You may think you know who you are, but years and years of trying to conform to two different value systems will wear you down.

In your own words, “I could not be ‘Mohammed’ in the morning and ‘Mo’ in the evening.”

Then comes the break. Maybe old friend psychosis, maybe depression, rage. And there you lie on a desert floor, on a starless night of the black moon, terrified of what will become of you. When you reach that point you have only one option: you have to wait. IF you act in the darkness, it will only be compensation. You’re acting out of panic, not because you see the light.

Your dark moon happened in a prison in Yemen. So you panicked. Whenever you do that, you seize the thing that’s most comforting. You decided to radicalize. Why is that easy? Because now you have answers. It can be overwhelming to make decisions all the time. Fat or low fat? Blow up the Twin Towers or coach the soccer team? Virgin or whore? Ahhh, but think how comforting it is to spill into that pillowed realm of RULES. Where everyone agrees that this is wrong and that is right. No fat. Blow it up. 70 Virgins. End of story. Now all of your actions come with blessings from a high, holy place and you can rest assured

Things get dark for me, too. And when they do, I always do the same damn thing: I run away. Facing down the abyss? Watch how fast I can get my ass to Memphis. You can romanticize it and call me a gypsy, but when I’m running, I’m a coward.

I recognize the panic in your running. But Anwar, it’s not the answer. I say this to you as someone who has recently realized the truth and is determined not to run away anymore. (She says.) I know it’s hard. Okay, it’s impossible. But you have to try. Me? I’m just some writer. But YOU have the power to influence millions. What you’re doing now is only compensation. To find the right answer, you have to lie still and wait out the darkness until you really see the light. 


Friday, May 7, 2010

The Universal Symbol for...

This just cracks me up. Muslim country signage, what are you saying? The best I can figure, going clockwise from 0700 is:

No smoking
No men in capes
No couples holding hands
No pacemakers (Or perhaps: no t-shirts with big red circles and a slash on them? Oh, all t-shirts.)
No cleavage
No touching women's asses
and in the center: no beer!!

If we had a sign like this on a street in America, I'm thinking it wouldn't be that different. It would say: No smoking. No nudity. No dogs. No dog shit. No parking. No touching women's asses. And no alcohol in open containers. And of course:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Old School Fairuz

Fairuz is the Middle Eastern equivalent of -- well, no one. Roll up Madonna with Celine and Britney Spears, triple their discographies, and add a little bit of Cher. That's Fairuz. She’s been singing since the 40s.
This song is super old school, but it's one of the most beautiful songs in the Arabic language. And sadly, this video is the best YouTube has to offer. It's called “Ishar”. According to my brother-in-law, that doesn't just mean "stay", it means "stay the night", and Hans Wehr concurs. I love that Arabic has a specific word for that. Sahira. It also means to watch over something. An evening vigil.
Following I've added my own very rough translation.


Stay the night
And again, stay
It will help you find your way
The neighbors are here
They'll leave in a while
And we'll have all the sweetness
Of the moon in our house
And the flowers and poet's tales
So just stay, stay
The night won't let you go back
Your house is too far
And we are the most worthy
Of your company
I open the doors
And call to my friends
I say the moon is here
And the world will snow
News of your return
Just stay, stay the night
And sleep,
who wants it but the children?
Their holidays are sleep
As long as you are here
A dream that fills the universe
What does it matter if the night flies away
And you lose just one day?
Just stay, stay. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Derby Day and Secretariat

Yesterday was Derby day. At one point, a man in a mud suit stood in front of me and said: Would you look at this? One man in mud, one woman in white. You and me are polar opposites of the Derby experience right here! There was so much mud on his body that even the pouring rain didn’t wash it off. He begged me to take a poncho.

Weirdly, it was the mud folks who were standing around drinking juleps and smoking cigars (in between rolling on the ground in a very amy winehouse kind of way). All the well-dressed folks were hiding out under giant plastic bags and trying not to spill their nacho cheese. :)

But somebody REALLY enjoyed the mud:

a nice story here

A horse named Super Saver won the Derby. In case you’re wondering, the rule about horse naming is no repeats

Diane Lane was there, probably to plug the new Disney movie about Secretariat, based on an “impossible true story” (love it!) You can watch the trailer here, but I like the unofficial one better. The end of the Belmont just kills me. I really hope Disney manages to capture the magic of this video:

Habeas Torpor

In an earlier blog post I mentioned the plight of K, the son of a Saudi friend of mine who was stopped at the airport on his arrival in San Francisco because his laptop was carrying images of the wars in Chechnya and Palestine. K was arrested that day, and for the past three and a half years has been held in a California prison on the charges of “being likely to commit a terrorist act.” Their main evidence? About a decade ago, he donated the equivalent of $1.90 to a mosque in Palestine, which was later taken over by Hamas. So he has “officially” admitted to sponsoring terrorism.

After years of wrestling in the bureaucratic mud pit, K’s father, Mr. E, finally threw up his hands and said: okay, fine, just send my poor boy back to the Middle East. PLEASE! Just send him back. Get him out of that prison. The government agreed, although it took them a few months to discover that they could not arrange a visa for him. Now that K has been held in an American prison on terrorism charges, no country will take him, thank you very much. You keep your terrorists.

The last option? Habeas corpus. I had to look it up in Wiki because Latin words befuddle me:

“a summons with the force of a court order, addressed to the custodian (e.g. a prison official) demanding that a prisoner be taken before the court, and with proof of authority allowing the court to determine if that custodian has lawful authority to detain the person; if not, the person shall be released from custody.”

Okay, so in other words, put your cards on the table, hoss! Let’s see what you've got! In order to do this, Mr. E has had to go to the 9th Circuit court (which, because of a slight accent, he pronounces “9th Circus court”) and yes, it has taken them 2 months now to “open” the case officially, because the government had to “approve” it first. 

Sounds Guantanamo. Over the past few years, the Supreme Court, circuit and federal appeals courts, and Potus have all asserted the right of habeas corpus for enemy combatants. So can we take K out of his orange jumpsuit now, pull his Quran out of the toilet and let him go? Because they’ve investigated him all over the Middle East and found nothing.

NUH-THING. No summer camps in Pakistan. No unexplained flying lessons. No briefcase with blueprints of Candlestick Park. That’s old school terror. Everyone who knows about this case thinks that K must be much scarier than some Mohammed Atta knock-off: K is a computer geek. Maybe he came here to finish his Masters so he could, I don’t know…disable the federal government with the click of a button?

Guantanamo is a schande but look at some of the nasties they’re holding – like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Mr. Honk if You Like War Crimes Against Civilians. Um, tell us again why you need 50 aliases? Actually, his record is so long you have to wonder if he’s not Sheikh Walter Mitty. Meanwhile, K remains in prison on American soil and they can’t come up with more than $1.90?