Category Archives: America

What’s your jihad?

Back in October, Conservative American blogger, activist and executive director of the American Freedom Defence Initiative, Pamela Geller courted controversy by announcing plans to expand a pro-Israeli, ‘anti-jihad’ advertising campaign from its initial position on three subway platforms to include all of the buses in Manhattan.

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In response, the public education campaign MyJihad has brought its campaign (to share the proper meaning of jihad as believed and practiced by the majority of Muslims) to the buses of New York as well.

Jihad means “struggling in the way of God”. The way of God being goodness, justice, passion, compassion, etc. It is ‘putting up the good fight’ as it were, against whatever odds or barriers one faces in life.

Jihad is a central tenet of the Islamic creed that has been widely misrepresented due, first and foremost, to the actions of Muslim extremists, with the knock-on effect that Islamophobes use these actions to further convince the public that such actions are the true face of Islam. Finally, a selective media understandably focuses on the sensational.

The campaign’s focus is on reclaiming Islam for the majority of Muslims, especially in relation to the public’s wider perception of what this means.

I enjoyed the campaign for its ability to combat such a negative attack so airily.

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Filed under Ad Campaigns, America, Politics, Religion

Armistice Day

The shirtless young anti-war protester in this photo is Frank C. Plada. He later died in Vietnam.

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Filed under America, Current Affairs, History, Life, Photography, Politics, War

Speeches from America’s university commencement season

At this time of year, across the northern hemisphere, graduands are preparing to leave their alma maters and go out into the world as my friends and I did less than a year ago. As tradition dictates, there will be, at nearly all of these ceremonies, a guest who will speak to the graduates and impart advice on what best to do with the lives they are about to embark on. These guests tend to be politicians, notable citizens or community leaders. My favourite ever speech of this kind is the one given by author J.K Rowling to Harvard’s Class of 2008 about the fringe benefits of failure. The remarks given by these speakers, many of which are now filmed and appear in newspapers and on blogs around the world, are an almost endless source of good life advice, not just for young people standing on the brink of adult life but for all people.

This year, in the US, several notable people were invited to speak at various commencement (as they are known in America) events. Here are a few which I thought were worthy of of my readers’ attention.

Aaron Sorkin, one of my favourite media figures, who wrote The West Wing, A Few Good Men and The Social Network spoke to his alma mater, Syracuse University in New York, telling the graduates:

“You’re too good for schadenfreude, you’re too good for gossip and snark, you’re too good for intolerance—and since you’re walking into the middle of a presidential election, it’s worth mentioning that you’re too good to think people who disagree with you are your enemy”.

Barack Obama spoke to the graduating class at Barnard College, a private liberal arts women’s college and member of the prestigious Seven Sisters. There, he told the women:

“Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

A commencement speech was also given by First Lady Michelle Obama to the graduating class at Virginia Tech, site of the 2007 massacre – the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in US history. She spoke of the school’s tradition of service to others being the key factor in their healing process and beseeched the audience to continue to defy those who tried to define them. It was simple and beautiful and carried the best advice of all.

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Myths About Crime In Black America – Debunked

Just as the after-effects from the arrest of George Zimmerman for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida began to die down, America has once again been hit with an uncomfortable reminder of the delicate state of its relationship with its dark-skinned communities.

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On Sunday morning, a policeman in Oakland chased 18 year-old high school senior Alan Blueford and shot him three times (also managing to shoot himself in the foot once) as Blueford ran away from him. Blueford died as a result of his injuries. Blueford and two friends were standing outside waiting for some young lady friends to come and pick them up. According to Oakland police, two of their officers “believed one of them were carrying a hidden gun.” How they managed to deduce this from looks alone was not clarified, nor was it explained why this might be an issue in a country which thinks that carrying killing machines is a fundamental civil right.

Police say the young men ran. In light of what happened next, nobody could blame them. An officer followed Blueford for two block before recklessly firing at him. This is, by the way, against the law on a federal level in the US: in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), the Supreme Court specifically outlawed police shooting at fleeing suspects without probable cause. Nonetheless, the officer has been given a free holiday (“paid administrative leave”) for his troubles.

It is clear that Blueford was in possession of a gun at the time. Police claim he pointed it at them. However, it’s not clear when he might have had time to do this if he ran away from them immediately. The weapon found by his body was never fired.

Police detained his innocent friends for 6 hours and ignored protocol by neglecting to contact Blueford’s parents informing them of the death of their son, even though they had identified him. Instead, one of Blueford’s friends had to call them after he was released.

A summary execution such as this one shows just why a black American might have trouble trusting any police force. All of the officers involved were white. Their identities are being kept secret.

This case, along with Trayvon Martin’s killing, indicates the extent to which racial profiling has a detrimental effect on American citizens’ abilities to live harmoniously with one another. It also shows that the problem is not about to go away and illustrates just how disenfranchised black and coloured communities are within the States and how unfairly they are treated by the media, by law enforcement agencies and (as a result) by society in general.

This would not be as important an issue if so many white Americans weren’t convinced that racial discrimination is a thing of the past now that they have appointed a black president.

As Shani Hilton writes:

In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, we’ve seen a lot of discussion of the larger societal issues that play into how and when people are perceived as criminals. There were hoodies, there were marches, and there were frank talks from parent to child about how to minimize the danger of being a young person of color. On the other side, there were justifications of George Zimmerman’s actions: a smear campaign against Martin’s character, and plenty of writers explaining that statistically, blacks are simply more dangerous to be around.

That framing ignores the realities behind the numbers.

Below is an infographic explaining how five popular presumptions regarding the relationship between race and crime are, in fact, not only false but very false.

It is relevant because, much though Europeans like to think of themselves as better, more equal and more liberal than America, our racial situation is only slightly less horrendous.

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Dan Savage’s struggles with the Catholic faith reflect those of the Irish youth

This week, the Catholic Church once again made headlines for its antediluvian rhetoric when it publicly reprimanded America’s largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns for promoting what it called: “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Putting aside the eyebrow-raising assertion here that the Church sees itself as incompatible with the equality of women, let us take a look at what exactly the group (the Leadership Conference of Women Religious) was promoting. This from Reuters: “the Vatican reprimanded [the LCWR] for spending too much time on poverty and social justice concerns and not enough on abortion and gay marriage.”  Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters, said that she was stunned. “I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.” To remind any readers who are a little rusty on their Gospel, Jesus spent his life talking about poverty, social justice and our duty to the poor, as exemplified in this passage:

“21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.” – Mark 10:21-22.

Meanwhile, regarding the issues of abortion and gay marriage, so much more fascinating to the Vatican than boring old poor people, Jesus said: nothing.

The Church has announced that it is appointing Archbishop J. Peter Sartain as delegate to ‘oversee reform initiatives’ in the LCWR. In other words, a man is being sent to rein the crazy women in.

This incident, on the greater scheme of things, is unimportant. There have and will continue to be many like it and nobody is too surprised that the Catholic Church appears to be out of touch. However, it is an exemplary portrayal of a Church which most Irish people (especially younger generations) feel no longer represents their beliefs. Indeed, a Church which, they feel, has abandoned them completely.

Concurrently, statistics are telling us that Irish people are moving further and further towards a secular consensus. More than eight in every ten Irish people want the church and state to be totally separate, 65% strongly agree that this should happen, and less than three in ten have quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in religious groups.

Nevertheless, this is not to say that Irish Christians have stopped believing. The results of Ireland’s 2011 census showed that 90.5% percent of people still identify as Christian, the vast majority being Catholic. While observers and pundits in other parts of the Western World proclaim a kind of Great Atheist Arrival, where atheism has become almost completely ordinary in the mainstream, I do not believe this is the case in Ireland. I think many young Irish people want to be Christian, they want to believe in God, in a higher power and in system of life based on faith in a divine creator.

Whether this desire is instinctive or socialised, it is nonetheless there. I know very few Irish people of my generation, or any other generation, who describe themselves as atheist. In some cases, they will call themselves agnostic. The vast majority will describe themselves jokingly as ‘lapsed Catholics’ or as ‘dirty Prods’. That is still an identification with a system of belief. My contemporaries still believe in God.

The long-running weekly hour-long radio program This American Life, produced by WBEZ in Chicago and hosted by Ira Glass, is broadcast across America by Public Radio International.  Primarily a journalistic non-fiction program, it has also featured essays, memoirs, field recordings, short fiction, and found footage. Basically, for an hour every week, it gives America a compressed version of BBC Radio 4.

Last year, it invited the author and columnist Dan Savage (founder of the It Gets Better campaign) to speak about his relationship with Catholicism, one which had lain dormant for years until it was resurrected by the death of his mother from cancer. It is both hilarious and upsetting. It is as close a description of my generation’s feelings towards religion as I could think of. A deep, strong desire to be part of a greater, familiar community of belief. An inability to reconcile that desire with a Church that says condoms spread AIDS and protects rapist priests.

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Filed under America, Current Affairs, Ireland, Laughs, Life, Religion

Thought-provoking images and videos regarding the murder of Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin was a black teenager who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a white man (Jewish father, Peruvian mother) in Florida on the 26th of February. Martin, who was unarmed, had been walking to his father’s girlfriend’s home from a convenience store when Zimmerman called 911 and followed Martin after witnessing what he described as “suspicious” behaviour. Soon afterward, he fatally shot Martin during an altercation between the two. Zimmerman had called 911 over forty times in the previous 12 months. Martin, it transpired, was carrying nothing on him other than a bag of Skittles and a bottle of Ice Tea. Zimmerman told police he shot in self-defence (legal in Florida, even if your attacker is an unarmed seventeen year-old) and was not arrested. The public backlash has been immense.

Here is some of the rhetoric swirling around the blogosphere regarding an incident which has brought home the dangers of being black in a largely self-segregated society ruled by a culture of racial fear. And really, does anyone know a seventeen year-old who doesn’t own a hoodie?

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March 24, 2012 · 7:00 pm

Boies & Olson – future hypothetical Oscar material

This week, America’s west coast experienced two major developments in the ongoing fight for same-sex marriage. In Olympia yesterday, lawmakers voted to make Washington the seventh state to allow gay marriage, with the governor likely to sign the bill into law at some stage next week.

In California on Tuesday, a federal court ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional thus effectively paving the way for the gay marriage case to move to the Supreme Court.

Ted Olson and David Boies are the two plaintiffs attorneys who fought in the case Perry v Schwarzenegger. Although now firm friends, the ultra-conservative Olson and the liberal Boies were once famous opponents in the legal battle to decide whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would become the next President of the United States in 2000. The two became friends after Olson’s wife Barbara was killed on Flight 77 which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11.

When they teamed up to defend the right for homosexuals to marry in 2009, they set tongues wagging on both sides of the political spectrum. Since then, they have both been named in the Time’s 100 Greatest Thinkers list for their work on the landmark case and in 2011, they were awarded the American Bar Association’s highest honour: the ABA Medal.

All said and done, the story is surefire Hollywood material, courage of conviction in the face of adversity mixed with setting aside political differences for the greater good. As well as this, it is a fantastic study in exactly why there’s little better than good law.

In this extract from a Fox News interview, Olsen calmly and thoughtfully takes apart all arguments thrown at him by a partisan conservative anchor who himself concludes at the end of the interview that he doesn’t see how Olsen could ever lose a case.

Coming soon to a cinema near you? I know I’d watch it.

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