Big hospital or small unit, bad care is bad care

Indigo Jo Blogs - 2 March, 2017 - 21:41

Matthew Garrett with his parents either side of him; his mother is holding a dogOn Wednesday night, Channel 4 aired a Dispatches special, Under Lock and Key, which exposed the abuse and neglect of patients at St Andrew’s hospital in Northampton, an enormous campus which started out as a Victorian asylum and now functions as a charity, though drawing most of its income from NHS contracts. The programme interviewed the families of three people who had spent time in St Andrew’s along with two young former patients, now happily in supported living; the third had died of untreated complications of an anti-psychotic drug he had been prescribed, one of four people to die of similar causes within seven months in that ward. The programme did not have access to the hospital itself, which has only issued a bland statement (Google cachéd version, as they have since made it private) denying but not addressing the accusations made, and relied on the word of the families, some recordings of family visits and video calls, an MP who had helped one of the families, and a few words from the former patients themselves, Matthew (right) and Fauzia. (You can see the programme, if you are in the UK, at the link above for the next month or so.)

St Andrew’s, whose grand façade, as Mark Neary observes, closely resembles that of a Victorian workhouse (and whose vast new extension, with its tiny, high-walled courtyard gardens, looks no less institutional), has had a bad reputation in the world of learning disability and autism care for a long time. This has much to do with its practice of accepting patients from hundreds of miles away, supposedly because no suitable inpatient care is available anywhere nearer; this includes the entire south of England, including London (a legacy of decades of closures and sell-offs of hospitals). When Claire Dyer was first sectioned in 2013, the first place the management of the unit she was living in at the time tried to move her to was this, which was 185 miles away from her home in Swansea (they eventually moved her to a smaller unit in Sussex, which was even further away, although that unit discharged her three months later). I know relatives of other former patients and they tell me the same as Matthew’s and Fauzia’s did: that their relatives’ needs were not addressed, but rather they were sedated, and on occasions when they saw them, they were often filthy and smelly, could not talk coherently when they previously could, and were half asleep. The hospital (or at least the wards they were on) were not attuned to the needs of autistic people, despite the claims; they relied on punishment, segregation and sedation to force compliance. Patients’ views as expressed online include tales of short staffing and personal property that had got damaged.

The family of Bill Johnson said that when their son, who suffered from schizophrenia and who had a brain injury from birth, was admitted, the care was excellent, but the attitude of the staff had changed; families were treated as a burden and told to be grateful for the ‘privilege’ of being able to visit their relative, and ceased to be allowed onto wards to visit. This has been reported by families of many other people who have been held on mental health wards, including adolescents and those with learning disabilities. As many such institutions refuse to allow any recording equipment, this policy makes abuse much more difficult to detect. In Bill’s case, the side effects of his medication were making him so ill he felt he would die, bidding farewell to his father as if he would never see him again, which proved to be correct. The hospital broke the news on the phone without any display of sympathy, the woman saying simply “Bill is dead”.

The programme followed the family of Matthew Garnett, a teenager with learning disabilities and autism, who had been admitted to another secure hospital in Woking, Surrey, after his behaviour became more violent as he entered his teens. They had then fought to get him admitted to St Andrew’s, believing it to be a hospital that could offer specialist care. When he was admitted, however, the family quickly became very concerned that he was regressing, and in contrast to his becoming obese in the previous hospital, he became underweight at St Andrew’s. When trying to talk to him using Skype, they heard screaming in the background and Matthew could not talk coherently. His mother, Isabelle, complained that staff would not even talk of planning discharge, let alone setting a date, but when a care provider was found, the responsible clinician’s tone changed, saying something like “well, have him then”. Matthew had signed the minutes, despite not having been there and probably not being able to understand them anyway.

Fauzia Hussain, a young south Asian woman wearing sunglasses. Her arms (mostly out of shot) are raised into the air.Matthew and Fauzia are currently in homes run by the same organisation, Alderwood, which is based in Northamptonshire and specialises in autism care. Fauzia had spent 22 months in St Andrew’s and spent much of that time secluded, having contact with other patients only when they were also secluded. She was almost never allowed out in the grounds, let alone off them, yet within 24 hours of release, was in the park with her new carers, and began to take oral medication without difficulty; she had been receiving injections during her time in St Andrew’s. Talking about her time in St Andrew’s obviously upset her; she said that since being released, her “steps had got bigger”. Both demonstrated that they were capable of living in the community with the right support and had not needed to be restrained or isolated since leaving.

It has been observed that all the stereotypes of autistic behaviour (lack of empathy, rigidity of thinking, fixation on rules and routines, etc) are displayed by the school system. The same is even more true of these hospitals, which are also noisy and busy places unsuitable for someone who needs calm and quiet. It was observed that St Andrew’s had undergone a huge expansion at a time when hospitals should be contracting to allow for people with learning disabilities who cannot live with their families to be supported to live in the community. St Andrew’s uses this as an excuse in their public statement, accusing the programme of distorting material or taking it out of context, but it is a wealthy charity (it paid its chief executive nearly £500K last year, including a £99K bonus) yet does not use its wealth to pay for bespoke or small-group homes for the people they institutionalise hundreds of miles from their homes.

It’s been more than five and a half years since the abuse at Winterbourne View was exposed in a BBC Panorama programme, which went undercover and filmed the violent abuse of two young people with learning disabilities. One of them, Simone Blake, had to be moved to a unit in Norfolk after Winterbourne closed and was only returned to her home area this year. Winterbourne was not a big, impersonal hospital but a small unit (albeit one run by a large private company that had units and ‘homes’ all over the country). Besides the fact that, as Sally Gimson notes in the latest New Statesman (not online yet), hospitals just are not the place to care for anyone in the long term, whether they be people with learning disabilities, dementia, chronic physical illness or anything else, the size of an institution is not what makes it good or bad; good care can be provided a long way from home, although good care nearby is infinitely better.

The problem — much as with the abuse of children in care which went unacknowledged for so many years, until the victims were old and the abusers dead — is lack of care; the fact that some people’s lives are deemed to be worth less than others’, and the fact that learning disability care lacks the glamour and media-friendliness of, say, cancer treatment, making it a lesser priority for funding. We need inpatient mental health care available in every area, so that nobody has to go to the other end of the country if they fall ill or enter a crisis, and as mental health staff are the ones who look after autistic people in crisis, they must all have understanding of the condition, and of what works and what does not, and what is harmful. Some of these things were promised after the Winterbourne exposé, but thousands of men and women remain stuck in hospital units. The money is there; we need to stop it being diverted into rotten institutions like St Andrew’s.

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The Reason Why Sebastian Gorka Won’t Answer A Simple Question About Islam

Loon Watch - 2 March, 2017 - 21:19

Sebastian Gorka, assistant to Trumpelstilskin, and self-styled “counterterrorism” expert is slated to have a ridiculously privileged role in influencing what Trump thinks about national security.  He he swims in the same swamp as the other Islamophobes who are a part of the administration.

Recently, Gorka was unwilling to answer a basic question: “Does the president believe Islam is a religion?” Gorka’s non-answer:

Gorka spurned the question, telling Inskeep, “This is not a theological seminary. This is the White House. And we’re not going to get into theological debates.”

“If the president has a certain attitude to a certain religion, that’s something you can ask him,” Gorka said on the radio show. “But we’re talking about national security and the totalitarian ideologies that drive the groups that threaten America.”

The reason that Gorka cannot answer the question is because the Islamophobes surrounding Trump, such as Bannon, Miller, and himself are ideological allies to the folks at hate blogs such as JihadWatch, FrontPage, etc. where the canard that “Islam is not a religion but a totalitarian political ideology” has been regularly propagated for years. Spencer, Frank Gaffney and the likes have advocated that the Sedition Act be used to charge Muslim Americans if they believe or proclaim to follow Shariah law. That is the totalitarian intent behind the Islamophobic narratives they have pursued with such vigor over the years.

A Guide To Protecting Muslim Institutions In The Trump Era

Muslim Matters - 2 March, 2017 - 02:44

Everyone in the United States with some basics civics knowledge knows that the Constitution of the United States has a bill of rights with 10 Amendments in it. The first words of this bill of rights are as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;


We also have a President of the United States who promised to shut down Muslim religious institutions during the 2016 Presidential campaign.  His administration is staffed by many formerly “fringe“ Islamophobes. None of this is news. Islamic institutions are worried about what to do.

The Constitution Does Not Absolutely Protect Religious Freedom

Constitutional law is a vast and rapidly changing field. The fact that the Constitution says something does not mean it will be so. This has been true many times in American history. The social and political landscape of the United States has always been more important than the text of the Constitution. If enough people dislike a small minority group enough, the courts will give way on what were previously core principles. We had the exact same Bill of Rights when the government of the United States rounded up Japanese American citizens and placed them in concentration camps.  Relying on “well the courts have said X or Y” and someone doing analysis on the current state of the law risks missing the mark.  Now I am not saying at all that every unconstitutional or unlawful measure should not be resisted aggressively in courts. They should be. We should support the ACLU, CAIR, Muslim Advocates and every other organization that is looking to lead constitutional law litigation. However, we should allow for the possibility these efforts may fail.

Nationally and in several states, contempt for the Muslim community has never been greater than the conditions of the 2016 elections. This has subsided some, but 2017 is not an election year. This animosity has been reflected at the state and federal levels. Yes, many Muslims were heartened by the crowds at airports. That speaks to the fact that there are decent people in the United States, or at least in the large cities. It does not change the fact that we have a hostile political environment and that with the right mix of circumstances, places of worship, Islamic schools and large institutions can be shut down. We should act as though this threat is real.

The risk to Muslim institutions does not come from the law. The law is only a tool. This tool can be used to serve the interests of Islamophobes and it may also be used to help protect Muslim institutions.

The goal in writing this is not to provide a complete defense. No asset protection plan is absolute. I can certainly envision scenarios where nothing I am suggesting would work, particularly if there is a break down in civil society as we know it. However, it may be effective short of federally imposed martial law. A disclaimer, this is not legal advice. If you are part of an institution, rely on a qualified lawyer to advise you and implement it.

This is NOT about protecting Organizations Per Se

The other thing about the strategy is that the goal is not to protect an individual organization. So, for example, if an organization runs an Islamic Center in buildings that includes a Mosque and a school, the organization that runs the center is not necessarily protected, however the property and buildings are protected to be used for a stated purpose, for Muslims to worship and for an Islamic School.

In my role as a fiduciary for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), my duty is less to ISNA the institution, than it is to the donors of ISNA, who have given their money to an organization with the understanding that it will be used for the purposes ISNA has repeatedly said it will use the funds for. So, if we have a scholarship fund, I want to make sure it continues to be used for scholarships. If we have land and a building for a masjid, I want to make sure it is used as a place of worship for Muslims. If ISNA goes away some day because of the social and political environment, it is important that I and other ISNA fiduciaries do what we can to make sure the organization’s mission continues with the assets it has accumulated over five decades.

But What About NAIT?

The North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) is often mentioned by Islamophobes and appears to be a giant target for those who would want to shut down mosques, since it owns so many of them, including much of what is thought to be ISNA’s assets. This organization started as a “National Waqf.” They have a stabilizing influence on local and even national Islamic institutions. Founders of Islamic centers had a mechanism to make sure future board members won’t do things that will be harmful to the interests of the waqf.  However, the founders of NAIT would have likely not envisioned the kind of threat the American Muslim community is facing now.

NAIT “owns” property in two different ways. The first is that NAIT owns property directly in the name of its organization. As I will describe below, this is the wrong way to do it for anyone, and NAIT does not follow this model with newer and likely most acquisitions. In other instances, they have contracts with institutions when they hold land and liquid investments.  NAIT holds much of its real property with something called a “Declaration of Trust.” This document is best understood to be a contract. Like any Trust, it is a contract between a Grantor and Beneficiary, who creates the contract, and a Trustee, who would be NAIT. The organization that signed over it’s deed to NAIT.  This is the right idea. However, there is room for significant improvement. Incorporating NAIT in a protective role continues to be useful in the same way it was useful in the 1970s, when the model started. However, I would structure it differently given our environment. NAIT’s board is aware of the issues I have raised and their process is ongoing. Even so, individual organizations that have their assets entrusted with NAIT should review their status.

Separate Assets

The first thing to do is to separate assets. One way of looking at an Islamic Institution is a ship sailing along a path. The institution is sailing on its assets.

Now if the ship takes a hit along the way, a collision, a torpedo or anything significant enough, the ship, and here I mean the Islamic institution, will sink.

Now a method of allowing the ship to absorb damage is to compartmentalize the hull to improve the vessel’s floodability.” It can absorb hits better.  You have probably seen old nautical war movies where ships could use different compartments in their hull to keep a ship from sinking.

In an Islamic Institution context, large or small, assets can be separated and separate nonprofits (separate 501(c)(3) organizations), can be created to manage them. Larger institutions will have a school, a Masjid, an endowment, land for a future project and so forth. When there is just a small Islamic Center, there is just the property itself and the organization that runs it, and you have two different organizations. When the organization grows an endowment, rather than merely functioning month to month, it now has a new asset it must compartmentalize. When the organization gets a school, it gets a new compartment.

Create Charitable Trusts for the assets

Most non-profits in the United States are structured as corporations. They offer significant flexibility for those charged with managing them and won’t restrict future boards. The thing is though; you want to restrict the freedom of future boards if you are creating a waqf. This is the reason NAIT exists, to future-proof a local institution, so that a future board of a Masjid does not adopt a secular mission. There are certain things you don’t want future boards (or Presidential Administrations) messing with: for example, if someone donated to a masjid as sadqa jaaria to a Masjid, it stays a Masjid in perpetuity.  A trust is how you do this.

What NAIT does not do though, is create a charitable trust that is a separate nonprofit organization. It is merely a relationship between two vulnerable organizations. A new organization that is a different nonprofit is a needed component. A major principle of Asset Protection is that if X wins a lawsuit against Y, and Y has an asset needed to pay the judgement, X can likely get it. However, if X wins a lawsuit against Y and Z has the assets needed to fulfill the judgement, X cannot get assets from Z.  It is a different entity.

This concept should sound familiar to you. For-profit corporations create subsidiary corporations regularly. The failure of a subsidiary or parent does not affect the survival of all the parts of the operation. The Trump organization for example is composed of about 515 different business entities. Several have failed over the years. The IRS in its website uses the parent-subsidiary model for what are referred to as “Type-1 supporting organizations.” This is a separate charity, the supporting organization, that has a relationship with the supported organization. This relationship may not last forever. If the supported organization no longer exists or if it changes its mission, at least when it comes to the role the supporting organization’s support is based on, the supporting organization can go ahead and start supporting a different organization with the same or similar purpose.  Most the board of the supporting organization is appointed by the supported organization. However, there is a degree of independence in the arrangement, and it can be particularly useful in the event of an event that would cause a separation between the two entities. For example, in the event the supported organization is seized by the federal government.

I am going to address some obvious questions about this arrangement. However, I should point out that the supported/supporting organization model is not the only way to set up this protective arrangement and in many cases, it won’t be the most desirable. Don’t assume because I provide an example of a solution that it is the only possible way to do it. However, to establish the charitable purpose of an endowment or real property, it is best to organize the purpose-built charity as a trust. That will always be true.

Create Solid Trust Provisions

In American jurisprudence, Trust property is generally more “sacred” than corporation-owned property. The charitable purpose cannot be changed unless it becomes illegal, impractical or impossible to do so. This is what is known as the cy pres doctrine. Once someone establishes an irrevocable charitable trust for a Masjid, it can only stop being a masjid if a designated prayer space for Muslims becomes illegal, or the location becomes impossible to use for that purpose. So, the first thing a trust requires is a valid Trust purpose. The description must be evergreen in the sense that it should allow for enough flexibility to withstand the test of time but at the same time, it should never give enough leeway to future generations to ignore the fundamental purpose for which the entity was set up. For example, it would not be a good idea to create a multi-million-dollar trust for resettlement of Syrian refugees, since Syrian refugees is not a concern that is likely to exist for decades on end, at least one would hope not. Waqf that are Masajid have endured since the time of Muhammad (sws), so there is no need to be vague about their purpose.

This goes with our desire to make sure the use of donation funds is true to the donor’s purposes.

In going with the nautical analogy, create separate trusts for separate functions. It may seem cautious, but for larger endowments it may make sense to split them up. This would be particularly useful if the endowments had different purposes. For example, a scholarship fund for college tuition would be separate from a scholarship fund for summer camps.

Step Go West, or maybe East

Situs, the state where the Trust is located, is a vital part of the process.  The Attorney General of a state has jurisdiction over charities. In many states, the power over religious corporations is restricted. However, this is typically not the case with trusts.  Charities don’t have shareholders that can get upset at management. If a scholarship exists for youth camps, it may be of interest to a state Attorney General if instead of scholarships, the money went to the federal government to punish the Muslim community.  Misuse of charitable funds is something an Attorney General should be interested in under normal circumstances. Folks taking money away from charitable purposes violate public policy. This part is well established. The Federal government, namely the IRS, regulates Charities in its role as a tax collector, however this is a different kind of authority.

What is not especially well established, is how a State Attorney General would respond if the Federal government is takes punitive actions against a specific religious community. The weight to the State Attorney General’s jurisdiction in protecting charities could be a powerful bulwark against the Islamophobes who are driving policy in Washington D.C.

Of course, it is possible Attorneys General and state governments may not be interested, or they are in states where the political and social environment does not permit their sticking up for religious freedom and they just can’t without risking their jobs. This may be particularly the case if punitive actions against Muslim community institutions take place after some sort of a national emergency, a war, or a domestic bomb or shooting.

A Trust or a Corporation can be sited in any state. So, if you are in Oklahoma, you can easily start a Delaware Corporation. Indeed, most publicly traded corporations are organized under the laws of Delaware. This is also true for Asset Protection Trusts for families, which are set up only in certain “asset protection states,” usually Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming and Nevada.

Charities do not consider the same kinds of things individuals and families do for LLCs and Asset Protection Trusts. We are not as concerned about individual state laws, except that we do want to make sure the state Attorney General has a strong protective jurisdiction for charitable assets. What we care about is the social and political environment of the state. Not every state is the same when it comes to Islamophobia.

Muslims who live in the 30 states where Trump won should move all charitable assets to trusts that have a situs in another state as quickly as they can. I would say this is also true for any state where politicians can conceivably win elections by attacking any minority group. States with politically polarized electorates when it comes to how minorities are treated should not be where Muslim charities hold Waqf assets.

I am from California, the largest and perhaps the least dependent of the United States. It has environmental and anti-discrimination laws, including religious discrimination, that are better than the rest of the United States. Not only is it a place where the overwhelming majority of the state is hostile to the Trump agenda, the state government has committed to pushing back aggressively to protect the rights of minorities. While every state has challenges, and California has many, it is unlikely that any statewide election can be won on the strength of hatred against a minority. However, if in future years the politics of a state changes, a Trust can be designed to switch its situs to another, friendlier jurisdiction.

There are several states other than California where Trump lost by large margins. However, this should not be the only standard by which we decide if we will subject our charities to the law of that state and register the charity with the Attorney General (in states that have this procedure). We should consider the Attorney General’s willingness to fight to protect charitable assets when religious freedom is at stake. It would be helpful for Muslims in all potentially good states to reach out to the Attorney General’s office and find out if they will take a stand in favor of religious freedom and to use their jurisdiction to protect Muslim charitable assets from any assault by the Federal Government, no matter if we are at war, there is an act of terrorism or some other national emergency or if there is a claim of guilt by association. The real question for Attorneys General is about policy, not law, and if they are willing to go to court against the might of the federal government.

What to do now

Part of the work I do, Estate Planning, is to consider things that are likely to happen as well as things most people may not imagine would happen to them, but regularly happen to other people. Here we are planning for things that are not normal. We have a bill of rights, courts, federalism, state law and the immense but not unlimited power of the Presidency and federal government, which is committed to working against religious freedom.    Your community can take some meaningful steps to protect its institutions.
Here are a few:

  1. Educate your community and your community leaders about how to protect Islamic institutions.
  2. Get a lawyer with expertise in charitable trusts to review the ownership of the organization’s assets and get some recommended solutions.
  3. Start moving assets that are appropriate for an endowment to one or more charitable trusts in the best jurisdiction you can find, which is likely California.


NoBan NoWall NoRaids Is My Muslim Issue

Muslim Matters - 2 March, 2017 - 00:41

“…then he (Moses) went back to the shade and said, “My Lord, indeed I am, for whatever good You would send down to me, in need.” [28:24]

My name is Hazel Gomez.

I am a Mexican and Puerto Rican woman born and raised in Chicago.
I am the mother to two young boys.
I am the wife to a Black and Native American Muslim man whose safety I pray for every time he steps foot out of our home.
I am the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants who woke up at 3:30 every morning to work in low-paying jobs in order to provide food and a roof over our heads.
I am a Muslim woman who has been harassed and yelled at to “go back to my country.” I come from two immigrant families who met in America. For better or worse, America made me.
I am not going anywhere. We are not going anywhere.

Eight years ago, my family was torn apart. My father got deported to Mexico, a land that he and my grandparents left when he was only a year old. My dad had spent 41 years of his life here. 41.

When I walked across the stage at my college graduation, and I looked over at my proud family screaming and hollering with excitement, the only one missing was Pa. When I had to walk down the aisle at the mosque on my wedding day, my two grandfathers walked by my side; my own father could not be there.

In the past weeks, I have seen the mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters being taken away like cargo, and I have seen the overwhelming fear and sadness on the faces of young children. We should do everything we can to have them graduate with their parents’ smiling faces present; we should refuse to have them spend joyous occasions looking longingly over at that empty seat.

When news of the Muslim ban swept across social media and news outlets, I feared for my safety as a visible Muslim woman, an easy target for hate because of the way many of us choose to dress. Who knew trying to look like the Blessed Virgin Mary would be so difficult? I feared for the safety of our mosques, our sanctuaries in this world. I feared for the well-being of our sisters and brothers from the Somali, Libyan, Sudanese, Yemeni, Iraqi, Syrian, and Irani communities.

Deportation is not only a Latino issue. Immigration is not only a Latino issue. This is the story they feed us to divide us, keep us preoccupied with our own backyards. In reality, we are stronger together. We share the same family values. We all want what is best for our families, our neighbors, and our communities. We are the majority, and we must remain united, we must fight together. Fear will not drive us away, fear will not make us hide; we will resist.

We will continue to build relationships with one another, many of us want the same thing in this country.

As a Muslim, I want to practice my religion without the fear of being hurt or killed because of how I choose to represent my faith.
As a Latina, I want the ability to speak my language around law enforcement without fear.
As a mother, I want my Brown and Black sons to walk freely down the street and have no fear of being stopped-and-frisked and, God forbid, become another hashtag.

Everything that is happening now is not new. Let’s learn the history, especially of Black Americans and Native Americans in this country. Let’s protect and defend each other, let’s come together with what unites us.

We must ask ourselves, “How much are we willing to have one another’s back?” We all want freedom. We must fight and not give up!

Hazel Gómez is a community organizer, convert mentor, and avid reader of all things Muslims in America. Hailing from Chicago, she currently lives in Detroit, and is interested in the research and creation of an authentic Latino Muslim experience. 

To learn more about the raids, deportations, and the Muslim ban happening in the U.S., be sure to read these articles. Immigration, Raids, Deportations: Muslim Ban:

Short memories

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 March, 2017 - 16:49

A black-and-white image of a soldier loading or readying to fire a cannon, with another soldier behind him, against red curtains, with Bush 'singing' underneath at a lectern with the presidential seal on it.One of the signs that you’re getting older is that you start to become aware that there are adults who weren’t even born when you became an adult, or at least don’t remember the things you remember strongly from your formative years; adults who don’t remember the music which defined your coming of age, for example. I knew I was leaving young adulthood behind when I realised that some of my young adult friends weren’t born when albums like Parklife, Automatic for the People or the less-well-known (but memorable to me) Mirror Blue or Swamp Ophelia came out (both 1994). I’ve already mentioned on here that today’s young voters, and even more so those who will be first-time voters in 2020, do not remember when Tony Blair came to power and John Major was defeated, which felt like a huge turning point in not only British politics but the national atmosphere. However, it’s more disturbing that people seem to have forgotten the politics of just 10-15 years ago, which should surely be fresher in people’s memory. I’m talking about the new fashion for praising George W Bush, who apparently is starting to look noble and statesmanlike compared to the current president. And he wasn’t.

Just before the 2015 election, when John Major, who is currently being admired for his speech against “hard Brexit” at the British Chambers of Commerce this week, intervened to scare everyone into voting Tory just in case Labour ends up in a coalition with the SNP, I made a post here to remind everyone what Major’s second term in office was like. It was miserable, characterised by corruption scandals, shambolic morality campaigns, hospital closures and bitter disputes over Europe but, worst of all, the government’s joining the rest of Europe in sitting on their hands while a genocide raged on in Bosnia. Nick Cohen wrote in one of his books that Major, Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind and the other pro-Europe Tories of that era might be thought of as “kindly liberal Tories” but for their behaviour both in regard to intervention but also towards Bosnian refugees (who were not allowed to come here, explicitly to add pressure to the besieged Bosnian government to agree to a settlement), but it was actually very consistent with the sheer mean-spiritedness of his government. I presume John Major either thought Brexit was a price worth paying or couldn’t imagine the vote not going his way.

In the last couple of weeks (and to a lesser extent since Trump won the Republican nomination), it has become fashionable to compare George W Bush favourably with Trump. Even Bernie Sanders, the left-wing candidate for the Democratic nomination, said in a tweet:

This past week Bush jr has been praised for making a remark defending the mainstream media, which Trump has denounced repeatedly as a source of “fake news”, a term he seems to have got hooked on using as it it just meant lies; Bush has said that the media was needed to keep people like him on their toes. Fair enough. Others have observed (such as in this Twitter thread; the link is to the end) that he did not directly encourage hate attacks and praised Islam as a “religion of peace” after 9/11, clearly distinguishing ordinary Muslims from terrorists, while Trump has made no such distinction (and used similar broad smears against Mexicans).

The problem is that the hate against Muslims always bubbled under the surface during his time in office. The first four years I had this blog, I was using it a lot to rebut hate stories emanating from the American blogosphere, which exploded in the couple of years after 9/11 as “citizen journalism” was touted as the Next Big Thing, attacking the old mainstream media in league with the new, openly-biased right-wing networks, notably Fox News. Islamophobic neo-conservative columnists peddling scare stories about Muslims or the scariest angle they could find on any story involving Muslims, often light on facts, got airtime on both Fox and the mainstream networks very regularly. Ideas such as that Islam was a political ideology rather than a religion and that Muslims were encouraged by their religion to lie if it benefits them or Islam (taqiyya) were a staple of right-wing discourse and the ‘taqiyya’ trope was even used as evidence in court. Attempts by Muslims to assert their rights were condemned as threats; any concession to Muslim demands, even when the Muslims were paying customers, were denounced as losses for “civilisation” or examples of “dhimmitude” both on blogs and in right-wing news outlets.

I subscribed to the CAIR mailing list at that time and saw regular stories not only of hate crimes against people who looked like Muslims (some of whom, as is the case today, were not) but also of official and job discrimination, such as Muslim truck drivers being refused hazardous materials licences on the basis of groundless suspicion. There were widespread legal injustices and official harassment; Muslims arrested on flimsy grounds (such as for taking a picture of a scene that included a ‘sensitive’ public building), Muslims deported who had lived in the country for decades and whose children were American, Muslims prosecuted (and jailed) for paintball competitions that were interpreted as jihad training, Muslims subjected to wire-tapping, mosques infiltrated by spies and Muslims jailed on the basis of entrapment. All this had Bush’s sanction. Bush also introduced the “registration” scheme, by which immigrants from a number of mostly Muslim countries were required to register with the state; this is the structure Trump’s team have spoken of using for their “Muslim register”.

And, of course, there were two destructive wars that were waged with no thought to how to carry them through; only anger at 9/11 and a desire on the part of the American public to kill Muslims or Arabs. The long-term upshot of one of those wars is ISIS; true, its territory may be shrinking in Iraq itself, but its presence remains in Libya, the Sinai and Syria and its affiliates have waged terrorist campaigns in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Like Trump, he and Dick Cheney surrounded themselves with extremists, in their case men like Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld who had been referred to as “the crazies” in previous administrations. So, yes, Bush was a politician (which Trump was not, before this year) and had an air of professionalism and ‘class’ about him which Trump does not. But let’s make no mistake: the signs of hostile populism, or fascism, began to show during Bush’s time in office and the attitudes and rhetoric of that era laid the ground for Trump and Trumpism.

Image: A still from the animation Doctor Bushlove by Eric Blumrich. The archive of his website Bushflash, closed in 2008 after Obama’s inauguration, can be found here.

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The Guardian view on Trump’s Congress speech: different tone, same threat | Editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 March, 2017 - 15:13

The contrast between the presidential inaugural and the address to Congress was striking. But there are still two Donald Trumps and neither of them is good

By his own standards, President Trump’s address to Congress was something of a welcome relief. Five weeks ago Mr Trump delivered the most rebarbative inaugural address in modern US history. Since then he has abused the American press as enemies of the people, picked fights on social media, gone to war with a department store chain about his daughter’s clothing brand, got into stupid arguments about crowd numbers at his inauguration and continued to insist, in defiance of all fact, that he did not lose the popular vote in November. Only last weekend his chief strategist Steve Bannon told a conservative audience that the Trump administration intended to have a daily fight with its enemies as it pursues its agenda of economic nationalism and the deconstruction – Mr Bannon’s word for destruction – of the entire regulatory state.

Judged against that backdrop, Tuesday’s address to Congress – a new president’s equivalent of the state of the union address – was more conciliatory. Superficially at least, this was a different President Trump from the one who has so dramatically divided America and so understandably alarmed the world. True, he structured his speech around many of the policy goals that have become his campaign hallmark: protectionism, infrastructure investment, tougher immigration controls, the wall with Mexico, scrapping Obamacare, a lobbying crackdown and increased military spending. But he clothed it in language that was more placatory. He reached out to black and Jewish Americans whom he has previously antagonised. He spoke more warmly of Muslims than he did on the campaign trail. There was no lashing out at China and other foreign nations and, in a week when Tinseltown is a sitting target, there was no snarling at Hollywood liberals either.

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To Lower Crime Rates, U.S.A. Should INCREASE Immigration

Loon Watch - 1 March, 2017 - 14:25

President Trump has ordered Homeland Security to create an office called VOICE: Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement. Apparently he believes that there is more criminality among immigrants than born Americans. That is not the case, it is the opposite.

Somehow Trump believes that immigrant criminality is such a big problem that he needs to blame all immigrants for the crimes. But a look at criminal statistics show that it is much more complicated. If you look at facts, immigrants to the USA have lower rates of crime than people born in the USA.

Many have reported on this fact which is scientifically and statistically confirmed. The New York Times wrote last year;

“In America, as in Europe, anti-immigrant backlashes have often followed episodes in which foreigners are blamed for crimes and other problems. But statistical studies show that in the United States, at least, immigrants are far more law-abiding than natives, regardless of race, class or education.”

Reason magazine wrote;

“This new study bolsters my reporting on the topic back in 2014 which also found lower rates of criminality among immigrants. As I then noted: University of California sociologist Ruben Rumbaut finds, among other things, that the incarceration rate of American-born males between 18 and 39 years of age was five times the rate of foreign-born males, and finds similar conclusions in a survey of other studies on the topic.

Rumbaut and his colleagues have updated their data. From the executive summary of their study:

‘For more than a century, innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorized, regardless of their country of origin or level of education. In other words, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are not “criminals” by any commonly accepted definition of the term. For this reason, harsh immigration policies are not effective in fighting crime.'”

Lets look at the statistics. I looked at this some years ago and found these excellent charts from one of the studies by Rumbaut. It is statistics that show that 3% of the US population between 18 and 39 was incarcerated in 2000. 3.5% of the U.S. born population and 0.86% of the foreign born population was incarcerated.

Thus: to decrease the crime rates in the U.S.A: increase immigration (and end racist laws and policing practices targeting Black and Brown communities)!

PEW research wrote about it in 2013.

If Donald Trump wants to decrease the rates of criminality in the USA, he should open the borders and bring in more immigrants. 

Tariq Ramadan: ‘Muslims need to reform their minds’

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 February, 2017 - 16:25

The academic believes Islam and the west shouldn’t be at odds, but was banned from the US and slated in the Sun. Isis hates him, too – so why is he still dogged by controversy?

Tariq Ramadan knows all about travel bans. After all, he was never meant to end up here, in a pebbledash semi in north-west London. In 2004, he was on his way to the US, having been offered the role of professor of Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana. Suddenly, nine days before his flight, a house already rented, kids enrolled in school, his visa was revoked.

The reasons given were vague at first, but eventually came down to the fact he supported a charity the Bush administration labelled a fundraiser for Hamas. Ramadan should have known about the links, they argued. How could he, he said, when the donations were made before the blacklisting – in other words, before the US government itself knew? He believes, instead, that he was singled out for his opposition to the war in Iraq.

Related: The politics of fear: how Britain’s anti-extremism strategy has failed | Tariq Ramadan

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Zaid Karim, Private Investigator, Part 4 – Be Somebody

Muslim Matters - 28 February, 2017 - 15:38

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

Previous chapters of this story: Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3


February 5, 2010
Merced, California

“Wow.” Dalya stared at me, seemingly at a loss for words. I saw a turbulent concoction of emotions in her gaze: attraction, fear, and maybe a wish that I would turn around and walk away. “It’s been a long time,” she finally managed. “What are you doing here? Do you need dental care?”

“Can we speak privately?”

I saw her eyes travel quickly up and down my body, taking in my worn jeans, surplus army boots, button-up shirt that came off the rack at Walmart, and last of all the fedora. She frowned, deepening the lines in her forehead. She hesitated, gazing around the lobby of her office as if she’d find the answer in the potted plants or the flat screen TV that was showing an animated movie.

“It’s important,” I said.

She flashed a practiced, artificial smile, displaying pearly white teeth. “Sure. Come to my office.” She led me down a corridor to a small office across from a treatment room. There was little in it aside from a lovely wooden desk, a computer and framed diplomas on the wall.

“So,” she said when we were seated. “Prison, huh? You were in there what, ten years?”

“Only six.”

“What was that about? What happened to you, Zaid? You were one of the smartest kids in school. I thought you would, you know, be somebody.”

I gazed at her, expressionless, though I felt the muscles of my jaw tighten. “I am somebody. I’m me, and I’m okay with who I am.”

“Yes, of course.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I didn’t mean anything, I just… they said you robbed banks. Is that true?”

“It was a long time ago.”

“Yes, of course.” The fake smile again. “What can I do for you?”

I explained the situation.

“Wow,” Dalya said again when I was done. “My parents hired you? That’s unbelievable.”

“Yeah, right?” I knew she wasn’t trying to be unkind. She was baffled by everything that had happened to me, by the choices I’d made, as were many in the community. But I wasn’t here to explain my past or justify my present. “The thing is,” I went on, “I need to talk to Tarek, but I can’t get ahold of him. Your father says he doesn’t have a phone.”

“Yes, they confiscated it for the duration. Standard practice.”

“Oh, you mean the people at, uhh…” I removed a small notebook from my pocket and pretended to study it. In reality I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Valley Rehab in Visalia,” Dalya prompted. “It’s standard practice in drug rehab to remove the patient’s connections to the outside world.”

“Right,” I said. “Rehab. So he’s not in Palm Springs?” Visalia was a small city less than an hour south of Fresno.

She laughed. “Palm Springs?”

“Never mind. How long does Tarek have left in the program?”

“I have no idea. Didn’t my parents tell you?”

“They were less than forthcoming.”

She waved a hand. “They’re embarrassed. It’s supposed to be a big secret. They babied that boy, you know?” Bitterness crept into her voice. “Me and Mina had to study, work, behave ourselves, but Tarek could do anything and they’d say, ‘boys will be boys.’ And now look. His life is a disaster. You know, I still can’t get over the fact that they hired you. My mother detests you. Sorry.” She gave a nervous chuckle.

“Your father told me they wanted someone who cares.”

“And do you?”

“Yes, I do. I care about Anna… about Tarek. I even care about you, Dalya.”

“That’s generous of you, considering. I uhh…” She pursed her lips. “I’m sorry I never wrote to you. None of us did.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. Mom forbade it. But I’m sorry. I heard you married Safaa Al-Yasiri.”

I smiled, thinking of my beautiful wife. “Yes. She’s a good woman. I’m crazy about her. We have a daughter, Hajar. And you? How’s your family?”

She glanced at her wedding ring, then looked away, blushing. “I’m divorced actually. No kids. I don’t know why I still wear this thing.” She twisted the ring back and forth on her finger.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Dalya. Look at you, ma-sha-Allah. You have a successful business, you look amazing… Alhamdulillah, right? You still have your whole life ahead of you.”

She gave me a grateful smile. “Thanks. Umm… I think Safaa made a good choice.”

There was a lot that wasn’t being said. When Safaa and I married, Dalya and her husband were invited to the wedding. Not only did they not attend, they didn’t have the courtesy to RSVP. More than that, the same community that had ostracized me had punished Safaa for marrying me. She wasn’t invited to parties, weddings or even Islamic halaqas. Dalya was a part of all of that. As a result, aside from Safaa’s relatives, most of her friends were non-Muslims.

Though Dalya and I had once been close, I felt nothing for her now. I didn’t hate her, but… it wasn’t that I didn’t respect her. I just didn’t care. I wasn’t impressed by her success or the size of her diamond ring.

Safaa was worth a thousand Dalyas, a million even. I thanked Allah for making her my wife. I believed in my heart that she and I were written on the face of the sea and in the mist of the highest mountains. We were chosen for each other before we could even think to choose. There was no one for me but her.

I didn’t know what to say to Dalya’s comment, so I brought the subject back to the case. “I understand Angie has a sister?”

Dalya nodded. “Alejandra Rodriguez. She’s a doctor. Lives in San Francisco.”

“Do you know where she works?”

“No. I was never close with Angie or her family. We weren’t supposed to -” She looked away, embarrassed. “We weren’t supposed to be nice to her. Mom wouldn’t stand for it.”

There was little else to say. I stood, thanked Dalya for her help, and left.


Dr. Ehab had lied to me. Tarek didn’t have any job in Palm Springs. I shook my head in disgust as I drove away. Was it more important to them to protect themselves from shame than to find their granddaughter? What else had they lied to me about?

It didn’t matter. When I stopped at a red light I took the photo of Anna from my pocket and gazed at it. She was not smiling, but there was a twinkle in her eyes, as if she were thinking of a joke she’d heard, or a secret she knew.

Angie was Anna’s mother and had a right to go where she wanted and do as she pleased. Dr. Ehab was right, however. There was no telling what a drug addict might do, or what danger Anna might be in. I’d promised to find Anna, and that was exactly what I would do.

Now that I knew how to find Angie’s sister, maybe she could provide useful information.

Taking out my phone, I googled Alejandra Rodriguez but found no listing in San Francisco. In the past I would have used LexisNexis, a private, subscription-based information service that provided complete reports on anyone in America. The last time my subscription came up for renewal, however, I’d been too broke to afford it. I could have renewed it right then if I’d deposited some of this cash in my bank account, but the entire ten grand was still bulging in my pocket.

I tried a few other search engines, including Bing and even Yahoo – a desperate measure, that – and finally got a hit on an old news story about a doctor Alejandra Rodriguez who had spent a year in Kenya, working for Doctors Without Borders. The article mentioned that she was a neurosurgeon with the Sequoia Surgical Center. I looked that up and found an address in San Francisco’s expensive Pacific Heights neighborhood.

Almond orchard

The almond trees were in bloom…

I drove west, leaving Merced behind. The weak afternoon sun broke through the clouds and shone palely on the almond orchards and tomato farms. The almond trees were in bloom, each tree bursting with hundreds of white blossoms.

Some farmers, unable to pay the rising costs of water, were abandoning their crops. If I came back here in a few months, I might find acres of unharvested almonds rotting on the ground.

I passed fields of dessicated grasslands grazed by sprawling herds of sheep. Lambs trailed after their mothers and gamboled about. In places the farmers had laid out lines of feed to supplement the dry grass. The Eastside Bypass was a wide, dry gulch, and the San Joaquin and Fresno Rivers were thoroughfares of parched sand. I had not seen water flowing in those channels since I was a teenager. It was – once again – a dry winter in California, and all living things were struggling to survive.

I thought of the last ayah of Surat al-Mulk: “Say, ‘Have you considered: if your water was to become sunken [into the earth], then who could bring you flowing water?’”

SubhanAllah. Here I was in the richest state of the richest country on earth. Yet if Allah chose to withhold his blessing, who could speak a word in protest? The American government, with all its power, all its aircraft carriers and nuclear missiles, could not produce the water to irrigate one tomato plant. We were all dependent on Allah’s mercy in the end.

As a Palestinian, I had to believe the reverse was true as well. My people, the Palestinian nation and diaspora, were a defeated, oppressed and demonized tribe. Our nation was stolen, our very homes occupied by strangers. We were prisoners in our own land and refugees in the lands of others. But if Allah chose to help us, if He sided with us and marked our path to victory, then who could stand in our way?

I would pray Dhuhr and ‘Asr by the side of the road somewhere, and would arrive in San Francisco by sunset, Insha’Allah.

I missed my wife and child. I missed having a home to return to. I missed the presence of someone – anyone – in my life who genuinely cared about me. Someone I could talk to, someone I could love.

All of a sudden I wanted my family. The desire to be with them, to see them and hold them, expanded in my chest so hard and fast that I had to choke back a sob. I needed my wife: the clean scent of her black hair, her lean and dusky arms, her warmth, her ready laugh… It had been a long time since I’d heard her laugh, and a long time since I’d held her in my embrace.

Hajar too I needed. She was three years old going on four, and was my darling, my sweetheart. Big, looping brown curls, and light brown eyes like the sands of the Sahara. She liked to make up jokes and stories, could create her own dolls and doll furniture out of anything handy – from popped balloons to twigs from the yard – and loved to run toward me and throw herself at me like a roller derby queen. I needed the way she wrapped her arms around my neck and squeezed so tightly I could hardly breathe. The way she’d lie on the floor, idly kicking her bedroom door so that the stopper bounced off the wall, no matter how many times I told her not to.

Her love, her stubbornness and even her tears – they were all precious to me.

I glanced at the clock: 2:30 pm. Safaa would be at work teaching the second grade class at Fresno Islamic Academy. Hajar was at preschool.

I took my cell phone out of my pocket, plugged in my ear piece so I could drive and talk at the same time, and hit 2 to speed-dial Safaa. I knew she didn’t want to talk to me. Her instructions were to call only in case of emergencies. Anyway she’d be busy in class and her phone would probably be off. I just wanted to hear her voice on the voicemail, and leave her a message.

To my surprise, she answered after three rings. “What? Is something wrong?”

Her voice was like a clear mountain spring. It was sweet to me, and pleasant. I smiled.

“As-salamu alaykum sweetie. There’s nothing wrong. I just miss you, that’s all. I have some good news, too. I’m on a job. I received -”

She cut me off with an exasperated sigh. “I’m in the middle of class. You can’t just call me whenever you feel like it. And don’t call me sweetie. Phone one of your other women, why don’t you?”

“Honey, there are no – “ Dead air. She was gone.


Safaa and I met through an act of kindness on her part, when I was seventeen years old and she was fifteen. My mother was in Qatar, teaching at the University School of Agriculture, while my father, an engineer, was a part of the team building the new international airport in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. They were still a couple – it was only work that kept them apart.

Doha, Qatar

“A year later my family went to Qatar…”

I was born in the California beach city of Santa Cruz, then moved to Fresno at the age of six. In elementary school I tended to be far ahead of my class. The school administrators jumped me past 6th grade and directly into middle school. A year later my family went to Qatar. The private Islamic academy that I attended there tested me and decided to place me yet another year ahead, in 9th grade. So I effectively skipped two years of school.

I graduated high school a month before my sixteenth birthday. I had applied to several U.S. universities and received letters of admission from five, including two Ivy League schools. My true desire was to study at the International Islamic University in Malaysia, but my parents were adamantly opposed. My father in particular felt that the pursuit of Islamic studies at a university level was a waste of intellect. I think they also feared that without supervision I might run off to Bosnia to join the fight against the Serbs. They were right, I might have.

In the end, my parents – who remained in the Middle East themselves – pressured me to attend university in Fresno, the city where I’d lived from ages 6 to 14. They had friends there who could watch over me, and of course I had friends there as well, particularly the other four of the five musketeers – Aziz, Amiri, Titus and Tarek. I entered Fresno State University to study pre-medicine. I had little interest in becoming a doctor, but my father insisted that I would do what I was told or be disowned.

The summer after my first year of college, I attended a Muslim youth camp that was held in the mountains every year. I was invited as a counselor and given a cabin of boys to guide, ages nine to thirteen. They came from all over the western U.S. Some were dedicated Muslims, while others knew nothing, not even the shahadah.

For one month I tried to teach them about Islam and prevent them from getting lost in the woods, getting hurt or missing home too badly. I woke them for Fajr and took them on morning hikes. One of the kids taught me “Mighty Mighty Muslims,” so we’d climb gray boulders the size of buildings, wade through shallow, icy streams and march through the tall trees chanting, We are the Muslims / mighty mighty Muslims / Everywhere we go / people want to know / who we are / so we tell them / We are the Muslims – and repeat.

I named them the Salman Squad – after the sahabi Salman Al-Farisi – and taught them about Salman’s lifelong search for truth. I taught them why we worship Allah rather than how. During the day they attended the group prayers and classes. After Maghreb the entire camp – boys, girls, counselors and staff – attended a campfire. With the flames warming the night and sparks rushing up like laughter, the kids told jokes and stories and performed plays or comedy skits. By the end of the week I genuinely cared for those kids, and – I like to think – they cared for me.

To this day, I’ll be at a masjid or Islamic function, and some professional-looking young man will approach me and say, “As-salamu alaykum Zaid, remember me? I was one of your Salman Squad.”

One evening at camp I was approached by a boy named Jihad. He was a ten year old with bright eyes, sturdy shoulders and big black curls on his head. He was captain of the cabin baseball team. He’d give the other kids pep talks, urging them to show that Salman Squad was the best. It made me laugh, how seriously he took it.

He confided that his father owned a liquor store in the little valley town of Parlier, and that Jihad was forced to work in the store every afternoon after school. Jihad had two younger sisters, but he was his father’s only son. His mother worked at a convenience store to supplement the family income.

Jihad knew that alcohol was prohibited in Islam. He wanted to be a good Muslim. He’d been telling his father that he didn’t want to work in the store. But his father, who was diabetic, insisted that he could not manage alone.

The kid had tears in his eyes, but I didn’t know what to tell him. The store was the family’s primary source of income. Though Islam considered selling alcohol a sin, how could I advise a boy to abandon his struggling father? I told him I’d think about it.

Meanwhile, I was shut out by the other counselors. They’d been attending the camp since they were kids. They formed a tight clique. I was a stranger. None of the other five musketeers had wanted to attend, and I knew no one there.

During classes, when the counselors had free time, they’d have group discussions, go for hikes, or drive to the nearby mountain town of Shaver Lake for burgers or pizza.

Lightning-scarred oak tree

“I’d sit with my back against a lightning-scarred oak tree…”

Alone with nothing to do, I’d sit with my back against a lightning-scarred oak tree at the camp’s high point, with a sweeping view down the mountain – and memorize Quran from a small, zippered mushaf with a green leather cover. Jihad’s problem was weighing on me.

One afternoon as I sat on the stump, I was surprised to see a teenage boy and girl climbing the hill toward me. I recognized the boy as Ishaq, one of the other counselors. We’d spoken a few times, but never about anything of substance.

They greeted me, and Ishaq introduced his younger sister, Safaa. They were from Fresno, but their parents were Iraqi and I didn’t know them personally, though their faces were vaguely familiar. I might have seen them at some Islamic events. Safaa was slender and dark eyed, reserved but somehow still warm, like a fireplace burning low, but ready to blaze up if one only added wood.

They sat on a fallen log, and the three of us spent the next hour talking about camp, the kids, and our lives in general. I had little experience talking to girls, so I was shy, but Safaa was articulate, smart, and interesting. I found myself blurting out my worry about Jihad’s situation (I didn’t mention him by name) and asking their advice.

Ishaq said I should counsel the boy to refuse to work at the store. Safaa disagreed, saying that it would create conflict in the family. She suggested that I speak to the boy’s father in person and advise him to look for another line of work. Maybe they could open a gas station or a restaurant.

I thought that was a smart suggestion. At the end of the month, when Jihad’s parents came to pick him up, I spoke to the father discreetly. He was a short man with florid cheeks, rough skin and a heavy accent. Perhaps he once had the same curly hair as his son, but it was now shaved almost to the skin. He seemed like a man perpetually on the verge of either hugging or hitting someone.

I told him of Jihad’s anxiety. He, in response, grew red-faced and accused me of being an extremist. He said that the people he sold the alcohol to were not Muslims, so it didn’t matter. Lastly, he told me to stay out of his family’s business, and that he would not bring Jihad back to the camp.

He was right about that last point, but not for the reason he thought. Later that winter I heard from Ishaq that two men had come into Jihad’s father’s store to rob it. Jihad’s father reached behind the counter for a weapon; the robbers shot him, then shot Jihad as well. The father survived; Jihad did not.

The news struck me like a blow to the gut. I sobbed that day like I was breaking in half.

Even now, fifteen years later, tears well in my eyes when I think of Jihad. I think of the life I’ve lived, and all the experiences I’ve had that Jihad never had and will never have. Then I remind myself that his death was a part of his Qadar. There are aspects of Allah’s knowledge that I can never comprehend. Allah knows better than us, and does as He wills. Part of being a believer is accepting that. What else can one say or do in the face of tragedy, after all?


I think I started falling in love with Safaa even back then, though I didn’t recognize it until later. Between the two of us she was always wiser, and still is. I later learned that it had been her idea to talk to me that day at camp. She’d seen me sitting alone and felt sorry for me.

Safaa’s kindness was one of the things that I later came to love about her, though it exasperated me at times. She never passed a homeless person without emptying her pocket change; she never held a grudge against a friend; and never tolerated cruelty in her presence. She taught me to talk about my problems rather than shut people out. She taught me that family never stayed angry with each other.

Why could she forgive everyone else, but not me? Why had the well of her kindness run dry? What could I do to reach past the thicket of thorns that surrounded her heart?

It’s said that we always hurt the people we love, and that such wounds are the hardest to forgive. Driving west beneath the gray winter sky of the Central Valley, I had hope that Safaa would disprove that aphorism by taking me back into her life and her arms.


Yellow farm dog

“The yellow farm dog watched me quizzically.”

I prayed Dhuhr and ‘Asr in the soil of an almond grove after making wudu’ with water from the irrigation sump. I completed salat, brushed the dirt and leaves from my forehead, put my hat back on, and found a large yellow farm dog sitting on its haunches several paces away, watching me quizzically.

“As-salamu alaykum doggie,” I greeted it.

“Whoof!” Its single bark was loud but not unfriendly. It turned its head and looked at me sideways as I brushed the dirt off my knees, as if considering what manner of creature I might be. As I drove away I looked in the rear view mirror to see the dog still sitting there like a sentinel, guarding its owners’ almonds.

The road was straight as a ruler, passing through mile after mile of farms growing corn, cotton, tomatoes, almonds and grapes. I took out my phone and called San Francisco directory assistance. The automated system gave me the number for the Sequoia Surgical Center.

I didn’t want to talk to Dr. Rodriguez on the phone or meet her at her office. I wanted to meet in her home. People in offices maintained professional, reserved demeanors. They were on their guard. In their homes, however, people tended to relax. They were more open to sharing personal information. It was as if, just by virtue of being in their home, you were given the status of a friend.

Also, people’s residences could be revealing. Were they ordered or messy? Modern or old fashioned? What pictures did they have on the walls, what artwork, furniture, technology, pets, decor? Put these together and you could learn almost everything about a person.

I called the surgical center.

“Ma’am,” I said to the hospital operator when she answered, “This is Ben Bova with the SFFD.” I’ve found that posing as a fire department official creates a sense of urgency that fosters compliance and gets me through bureaucratic barriers quickly. “Put me through to Dr. Rodriguez’s personal secretary immediately please.”

I knew that many hospital doctors did not have personal secretaries, but considering this was a private surgical center, I was betting that Rodriguez did. As for Ben Bova, I chose that name at random from among the roster of science fiction authors whose work I enjoyed.

“Oh! Yes sir,” she replied. “Transferring you now.”

I’ve been told by some Muslims that my occupation is haram because it involves lying and spying, two activities that are forbidden in Islam. I’ve wrestled with the morality of this myself. Yes, my job requires a certain amount of deception. Whether I’m trying to find a missing person, catch an insurance fraudster, or even find out who committed a murder – and yes, I’ve done all the above – the job requires me to obtain information that people will not give out willingly. That’ s why law enforcement agencies everywhere consider deception to be an acceptable investigative technique.

Maybe this is all just rationalization. Maybe I’m a bad Muslim. I don’t know. What I know is that when a child is missing and possibly in danger, if I have to tell a few harmless lies to find her, then I will. Allah knows my intention and my heart, and I can only ask for His compassion.

“Dr. Rodriguez’s office, Katherine speaking.” The secretary’s tone was clipped. She had no time to waste.

“Hello Katherine.” I tried to sound authoritative and solemn at the same time. “I’m afraid there’s been a fire at Dr. Rodriguez’s residence. We managed to save the building, but the residence has been badly damaged by smoke and water.”

“Oh my gosh! That’s terrible. Did anyone die?” All trace of professionalism was gone from Katherine’s voice. She sounded more fascinated than horrified, in my opinion.

“No ma’am. Though the building manager – who apparently lives next door at 2525 Union – was taken to the hospital with chest pains.”

“Wait a minute. Did you say 2525 Union?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“That’s not Dr. Rodriguez’s address. She doesn’t live on Union Street at all.”

“Ma’am, I’m calling all the residents of the building, and it clearly says here on my paperwork-” I rustled a newspaper that sat on the passenger seat beside me – ”Dr. Rodriguez, 2500 Union Street, apartment 5C.”

“You must have the wrong Dr. Rodriguez. Dr. Alejandra Rodriguez lives at 1310 Jones Street.”

I rustled the paper again. “Dr. Alejandro Rodriguez is what I have. Chiropractor.” I drawled the “o” in Alejandro so that she couldn’t miss it.

“Mr. Bova, you’ve made a mistake.” Katherine had reverted to her clipped tone, with a hint of annoyance mixed in. “This is the office of Dr. Alejandra Rodriguez, not Alejandro. And she is a neurosurgeon, not a chiropractor. Please check your facts more carefully next time.” She hung up.

A little bit of social engineering there, as the hackers say. If it seems strange that a secretary would simply give away her boss’s home address, keep in mind that she believed me to be a person of authority, carrying out municipal business. She trusted me, and therefore thought nothing of telling me whatever I needed to know. I looked up 1310 Jones on my phone, and found that it was an apartment building called the Crest Royal, right up on swanky Nob Hill.

A few hours later I was heading over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco when my phone rang. The timing was awful, since driving on the Bay Bridge scared me enough. It was windy up there, there were no shoulders, and some drivers sped by like their seats were on fire. A few minutes ago a red Porsche had come roaring through traffic, changing lanes faster than a pediatric nurse changes diapers.

I’m not a great driver anyway. I only drove for a few years before I went to prison, and when I was locked up I got used to life moving extremely slowly. Speed makes me jittery.

So I let the phone ring and heard it go to voicemail. As I descended from the bridge onto Ninth Street, however, it rang again. I shot a glance at the screen. It was my friend Saleem, the young Pakistan-American brother who ran the homeless shelter.

San Francisco driving – with all those one-way streets – is tricky, but Saleem was a good friend. He wasn’t one of the Five Musketeers – he was several years younger than the rest of us – but he and I just seemed to sync.

I greeted him with the salam and he started up right away, pitching yet another of his get-rich-quick schemes. I could see him in my mind, a short, chubby brother with a curly black beard like a Pakistani leprechaun, waving his hands animatedly in the air.

“Listen to this. Prison insurance! Have you ever heard of that?”

“You mean insuring prisons? Like, the buildings?”

“Naw, man. Insuring people against prison. If you go to prison, we pay the settlement to your family, so they can support themselves.”

I laughed. “You’ll have burglars and gangsters signing up.”

“No way. They’re high risk. No pre-existing convictions allowed.”

“That’s a problem. Ordinary citizens don’t see themselves going to prison. They wouldn’t want your product.”

“You’re missing the point, bro. I want to sell it to Muslims. You know they’ve got us all running scared. Every Muslim in America is terrified of ending up in Guantanamo. The FBI is setting us up right and left, running false flag operations and whatnot. Tell me you haven’t imagined yourself kneeling on the floor, wearing an orange jumpsuit.”

I craned my neck, reading the street signs as I took Larkin Street through Civic Center Plaza, flanked by the massive stone edifices of City Hall on one side and the Asian Art Museum on the other. I was pretty sure that this street would lead me right up to Nob Hill, but I wasn’t sure where to turn from there. I was familiar with the broad outlines of San Francisco’s geography, but actually getting around this city was like navigating a maze.

I’d made good time coming here, and the sun was just beginning to set. San Francisco was a city of working class immigrants and wealthy entertainment and technology types side by side, topped off with an endless stream of tourists from all over the world. Pedestrians bustled on the sidewalks, waited in line in front of restaurants, and passed by the invisible panhandlers that manned the corners like silent members of a jury, holding up the handwritten signs that pronounced sentence on us all.

This particular neighborhood seemed run down. I saw street people sitting in the doorways of shuttered buildings and calling out to each other on the sidewalks. In some places they clustered in groups where they talked, shouted and – presumably – bought drugs.

“You with me?” Saleem demanded.

“Yes. I don’t have to imagine being locked up and wearing a jumpsuit,” I reminded him.

“Oh, right.”

“It’s like life insurance,” I observed, “except you’re covering people against life sentences. Anti-life insurance, you could call it.”

“Yeah man. The Guantanamo plan is the most expensive. If you can’t afford that, you could opt for the maximum security plan, or just start with the Club Fed. You wanna invest?”

“What makes you think I have any money to invest?”

“‘Cause I know you, bro. If you don’t have money now, you will soon. You’re sharp. You could have a mountain blocking your way and you’d chop right through it with one of your Kali moves. Kaboom! Then you’d moonwalk through the debris and tip your hat. You’re the man. You’ll always come out on top, ma-sha-Allah.”

I smiled, then saw something that made my eyes open wide. I swerved into the right lane, eliciting loud honks from other cars, and parked in a loading zone. I hadn’t reached my destination yet, but I’d seen something unbelievable. “Thank you, akhi,” I said quickly. “I have to go. I’m on a job.”

“See! What did I tell you. Think about my idea. Prison insura-”

I hung up the phone and stepped out of the car. I didn’t mean to be rude with Saleem, but I was staring at something so unexpected that if my family tree had contained any history of mental illness, I’d have thought I was hallucinating.

An old stuffed chair sat in the middle of the sidewalk just past Geary. A young woman relaxed in it, looking bedraggled but utterly confident, as if she were the queen of Larkin Street holding court over her domain. Pedestrians flowed around her as she ignored them, unperturbed.

The young woman was my cousin Jamilah.

Next Tuesday: Zaid Karim, Private Investigator, Part 5: The Chair

(Your comments and constructive criticism are a big part of why I publish here, so please do comment, thank you!)

Milo is just a professional jerk

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 February, 2017 - 10:00

Milo Yiannopoulos, a young white man with unnaturally white hair, with a sleeveless T-shirt showing a gun in rainbow colours with the slogan 'We shoot back', standing in front of a lectern with the slogan "Trump/Pence: Make America Great Again" on it.Last week Milo Yiannopoulos (AKA Milo Andreas Wagner), once the darling of the “alt-right” and of a sizeable chunk of the American Right, suddenly fell from grace as a result of someone drawing attention to things he said in a podcast a year ago which appeared to defend sexual activity between ‘boys’ and men. This has resulted in a book deal with Simon & Schuster being cancelled, his invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) along with Donald Trump and his vice-president Mike Pence being rescinded and a number of senior staff at Breitbart, the far-right propaganda/hate/’news’ site he is associated with, threatening to resign unless he is sacked. The developments have, some say, exposed the hypocrisy of the American Right who are willing to tolerate men abusing women and even young girls, but draw the line when the target, even theoretically, is boys.

I didn’t listen to the podcast, but in the specific detail that paedophilia as such refers to adults’ sexual activity with, or attraction to, pre-pubescent children and not those who have reached puberty, he is correct (some legal systems define it as including anyone below the age of consent). However, his comments about older men helping young men (potentially including those below the age of consent, as he indicated) find themselves is a standard trope of predator-apologism: young boys really have homosexual tendencies and enjoy the advances of older men. This attitude is precisely why, when the age of consent for gay males was reduced to 16 in the UK in 2001, the age was raised to 18 where one party was in a position of trust, whether they were the same or other sex. Conservatives objected because all men know that they really don’t like the advances of other men, and they know that they didn’t as small boys either — especially if they were unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of it. (This was the subject of a BBC Storyville documentary in 2009, as the scientist Carleton Gajdusek and his friends used it in regard to his molestation of small boys from the Pacific islands where he carried out research; I wrote about that here.)

Yiannopoulos and his supporters habitually use the defence of “free speech” when his speaking engagements at major universities are objected to or disrupted, scorning the objectors as “snowflakes” who demand a “safe space”, meaning safe from opinions they disagree with or the sense that their lifestyles are disapproved of. As has been pointed out amply elsewhere, the right to free speech does not mean that anyone has the right to provide you with a platform; it just means that the state cannot punish you for what you say, and even then, there are restrictions, such as that your speech does not incite violence. But nobody seems to be asking why he is being invited to speak at universities anyway.

Yiannopoulos is not an academic. He is not an expert in anything. It’s possible to be an expert or an authority in something and have repugnant views on something else (besides Gajdusek and his defenders, James Watson being a recent high-profile example); that is not the case with Yiannopoulos who had two tries at getting a degree, at two major British universities (Manchester and Cambridge), spending two years at each before dropping out. He is not a major contributor to an important technological project; lots of those have bizarre or extreme views. He did not manage to run a tech website successfully — The Kernel closed in 2013 after just 16 months owing thousands of pounds to a former contributor. He is simply an entertainer who goes around causing controversy for whatever his personal reasons are; according to Laurie Penny who, controversially, spent time with Yiannopoulos and his entourage:

Before this week, Yiannopoulos was a bratty, vicious court jester of the new right who made a name for himself by saying grotesque and shocking things that he may or may not have ever believed. He does this compulsively, with no respect for the repercussions, or for the fact that a lot of people do believe what he says and act accordingly.

He can do this sort of thing on his own time, with his own resources if he wants. He should not be able to expect that a respectable academic institution with responsibilities to the welfare of its students as well as to its intellectual legacy should indulge or accommodate him or his rabble of followers. He has a history of harassment, of gratuitous outings of private individuals, of grudges, of spiteful behaviour. His right to free speech is not in question, but in times like these, political extremism cannot be treated as mere entertainment. It should not be left to protestors to deny him a platform: universities should do it themselves, for the sake of their own good names.

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Australia Post CEO says he feels sorry for Pauline Hanson over pay controversy

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 February, 2017 - 05:16

Ahmed Fahour says One Nation leader’s comments about his religion during uproar over his $5.6m remuneration package were ‘ill-informed’ and ‘hurtful’

The Australia Post chief executive, Ahmed Fahour, has labelled Pauline Hanson’s comments about his religion “sad” and said he “feels sorry” for her for making them during the national furore about his $5.6m remuneration package.

In evidence to Senate estimates on Tuesday, Fahour denied resigning due to external pressure but acknowledged he was prepared to do “anything it takes” to protect the company in the face of an onslaught of criticism.

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Halal certifier's defamation case against Kirralie Smith and Q Society settled out of court

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 February, 2017 - 00:25

Anti-Islam group and Halal Choices campaigner apologise to settle case with Halal Certification Authority director

The anti-Islam Q Society and the high-profile anti-halal campaigner Kirralie Smith have publicly apologised to a halal certifier to settle a defamation action in the supreme court.

On Monday, following a marathon meeting, the Q Society and Smith – who founded the website Halal Choices along with the director of the Halal Certification Authority, Mohamed El-Mouelhy, issued a joint statement saying the defamation action would be withdrawn.

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On Malcolm X, Blackness and Muslim-ness Through the Lens of Ta-Nehisi Coates

altmuslim - 27 February, 2017 - 21:22
How, are we to understand Malcolm X's legacy at a time when a prominent face of American Islam has spoken out against the movement for Black Lives even as calls for solidarity between Muslims and communities of color in the age of Trump are invoking his name anew? Viewing Malcolm X through the Ta-Nehisi Coates' book, "Between the World and Me" is a good place to start.


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