Tuesday, August 27, 2013

CHECK YOUR SOURCES, PEOPLE!


One of my most favorite websites is currently www.loonwatch.com, which I already mentioned in Dreams of Trespass. The purpose of this website is “to monitor and expose the web’s plethora of anti-Muslim loons, wackos, and conspiracy theorists,” and the reason why it’s one of my most favorites is that not only it serves as a valuable source of information, but it’s also highly entertaining. It’s was on this site where I first learned the theory about President Obama being a secret Muslim and conspiring with Islamic terrorist groups  to destroy the U.S.

I remember feeling shocked and relieved at the same time. Shocked because it seemed unbelievable what some people were capable of coming up with, and relieved because I figured that at least nobody could ever take this stuff seriously.

Imagine my surprise when one of my Facebook “friends” started to share similarly bizarre articles on his wall. In fact, when I read the first one, I started to giggle, because I thought it was a satire – something like www.theonion.com. But when I realized that not only he was being serious, but that he also wasn’t beyond adding comments that could be summarized as “another Sunni Muslim dead – how awesome!”, I got worried (and realized that my FB friends list needed some serious cleaning). In the end I couldn’t stand it anymore and posted a comment under one of the articles suggesting to at least check his sources before he engaged in spreading hateful and racist propaganda. Because trust me, the source he was using was NOT a reliable source!

It’s not that I can’t deal with people around me having a different opinion – I can. But there is “opinion” and there is “bullshit,” and the stuff that comes from articles written by Walid Shoebat and his followers belongs definitely to the second category.

So, let’s go over the reasons why:

Walid Shoebat is a self-proclaimed ex-terrorist, who supposedly saw the light in the early 90’s and converted to Christianity. It’s been his calling in life ever since to educate the world about the dangers of Islamic terrorism.  He has been making shitload of money from writing books and giving lectures, and in some states even convinced the Homeland of Security to pay him for his expertise.

You have to give it to him, he is very hard-working! The discoveries he made in order to protect America are truly remarkable! Obviously, he is one of the heroes who found out all about President Obama and his true identity (i.e. secret Muslim working for the Muslim Brotherhood), having actually said publicly that “Obama is in bed with terrorists.” But he also keeps track of less-influential, yet still dangerous elements like the wife of the former senator Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin. Her crime? Well, she did marry a non-Muslim, which clearly indicates that she is up to no good!

Apart from pieces about Christians being repeatedly persecuted by Muslims from all around the world (some of which are even true, just a bit embellished, but some of which, strangely, no one else ever heard of) we can also obtain valuable information about Islamic cannibalism (no, I’m not kidding), the Pope being a heretic, and the striking parallel between Islam and Nazism (Islam actually being considered the WORSE evil from the two). Just read his blog.

It’s clear that Walid Shoebat deserves every penny from American taxpayers for all his contributions to the society. Especially considered that he is trying very hard to stay well-rounded and watch out for other threats than Islam; for example homosexuality (“homo tyranny is coming, if we don’t stop it!”) and Democrats. If you are a Christian, and you are not sure about what’s right and what’s wrong, all you need to do is consult Walid Shoebat and he will set you straight in no time!

There is, of course, one little problem with his expertise and that is his credentials being, well, fake. CNN did an  extensive research on Shoebat a couple of years ago with the help of Israeli authorities (which is sort of ironic because Shoebat is a fierce defender of Israel and its policies in the Middle East) and found out that neither of Shoebat’s stories about his past checked. The administration of the prison in Israel, where Shoebat was supposedly held for his terrorist activities, found no records of him. His relatives testified that to their knowledge Shoebat was never involved in any kind of shady activities. The authorities in Tel Aviv didn’t find one single record of the bombings Shoebat claims being a part of.

So what the hell!?

What I found most surprising (and hilarious), is the testimony of Debbie Schlussel on her own blog. Why hilarious? Well, because Debbie Schlussel is a female, blond, blue-eyed version of Shoebat when it comes to Islam. She has made her business to fight it in all forms, and based on their agenda, one might conclude that Shoebat + Schlussel are a match made in heaven. Yet even Schlussel exposes him as a fraud and provides evidence of Shoebat plagiarizing her work and harassing her from a false e-mail address.

I don’t know how you, but even if I was willing to believe that CNN, together with other investigative journalists, simply tried to frame Shoebat, and that they somewhat managed to convince the Israeli authorities to play along, I have a difficulty to believe that Shoebat might be genuine when even activists from his own camp tell the public that he is a quack who cannot be trusted!

As you can probably imagine, I can’t take the agenda of a born-again Christian, who said publicly at a conference that the only way how to deal with Muslims is to “kill them all, including their children,” very seriously. Shoebat is taking advantage of the post-9/11 fear of Islam and manipulates people who are too dumb to employ critical thinking when reading his stuff. Because it’s one thing to oppose Islamic extremism and to express concern about recent events in Egypt (trust me, I do too!), but it’s entirely different story to twist such events around to perpetuate the anti-Islamic hysteria that threatens well-being of all the peaceful Muslims in the world who are guilty of only one thing – being Muslim.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

MENTALLY ILL OR SPIRITUALLY ENLIGHTENED? THAT IS THE QUESTION!



A little while ago we watched several videos in my Diagnosis of Mental Health Issues in Counseling class. One video was about Dorothy, a woman with a severe bipolar disorder, who was convinced that she was chosen to work as a secret agent for Jesus Christ. It was  fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time.

It also made me think.

The mental health field has been increasingly focusing on the role of spirituality in counseling and on the importance of being open to different beliefs and spiritual practices than one’s own. Which is fantastic! But historically, weren’t people holding less common beliefs often accused of being insane? And could such a thing happen nowadays, even to a multiculturally competent counselor?

Consider an example from my own life: 

Once upon the time I had to break up with my boyfriend of five years because he experienced a “spiritual awakening”, whatever it was, and got to the conclusion that he was a prophet. His true purpose in life, he claimed, was to teach people to find the true path to God. As a result, he was no longer willing to have a job (couldn’t be bothered working for our rotten, capitalistic society) and you can guess who ended up paying the all the bills!

Soon it became impossible to even have a conversation with him. Because he was bitter that I refused to become his first disciple, he took his anger on me by trying to convince me that I was a miserable and dysfunctional person, “full of darkness”, who contributed greatly to the suffering in the world by refusing to change (and refusing to accept that he was equal to Jesus Christ and Buddha).

As you can probably imagine, the relationship didn’t last very long after that

What was interesting though was that as much as I was angry with him because of the way he treated me, it never occurred to me that he was mentally ill. I knew that he has been interested in religion and spirituality for quite a while and did a lot of reading and meditating; and I had no doubt that he did have some kind of spiritual experience. But clearly I was the only one. because everyone else freaked out and started talking about schizophrenia.

I didn’t believe that he had schizophrenia. He became so extremist in his views that we were no longer compatible as a couple (leave alone the fact that I couldn’t afford to support both of us), but medically, there was nothing wrong with his brain. As far as I was concerned, every religion had prophets, spiritual teachers, and/or holy men, and I saw no reason why a few couldn’t hang around in our modern world.

 Of course, whether I actually wanted to live with one was an entirely different story :-)

The truth is that people believe in all sorts of things, and the perception of what is normal and what not varies with every individual. Ask Dr. Kenneth Pargament, whose book Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy: Understanding and Addressing the Sacred I recently finished. In one chapter he talks about one of his clients, a woman who lost her child and consequently developed a belief that her child stayed close by as a spirit. She found a great comfort in talking to her child, singing to him, and sharing with him her joys and concerns. It WORKED for her! But her parents freaked out, accused her of being delusional, and dragged her to therapy, demanding of Dr. Pargament to “fix” her.

It’s important to realize, however, that there is a fundamental difference between this woman and Dorothy in the video. Dorothy had to be hospitalized and undergo treatment, because she was no longer able to function in the society and became a danger to herself and to others. Even the most open-minded counselor couldn’t let her run around trying to hurt people. But Dr. Pargament’s client had her life under control. Yes, she was talking to her dead child, but she was also capable of going to work every day and taking care of her remaining kids. Her belief in the presence of her child’s spirit didn’t interfere with her functioning in any way – in fact, just the opposite - yet was unacceptable to her parents, who as atheists weren’t able to share it. She was lucky to be referred to a therapist, who didn’t see her behavior as delusional, but rather as a powerful coping mechanism.

And that’s exactly why I believe it’s so important for mental health professionals to educate themselves in all things spiritual, no matter what their personal beliefs might be, and to become open to the idea that just because somebody does believe something we don’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she is batshit crazy. That’s what all those Multicultural Counseling classes are – or should be – about...

But then again, where is the line? I also don’t want to be the kind of counselor who is so comfortable with talking about angels that she overlooks severe psychotic symptoms!

Oh, well. I never said that my blog had all the answers! I will just have to do my best and hope that the Universe knows what it’s doing... Because very few things in life have a black-and white answer :-)

 P.S. When I typed “batshit” into my search engine to verify whether I got the spelling right, the first thing that popped at me was a photo of Sarah Palin. I love you, Yahoo, you made my day!!!!







Tuesday, August 20, 2013

THE DREAMS OF TRESPASS



When I decided to check out Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi from the public library, I didn’t expect to like it very much. In fact, I was positive I wouldn’t. The title of the book promised yet another story of a woman chained by her religion, culture, place of birth – because what good could come up from a word like harem? I won’t lie to you, I wasn’t looking forward to it very much! The only reason why I picked it off the shelf was that I was on a mission. 

The mission was to increase my self-education about Islam, because I was sick and tired of crap in the media after Boston bombing. Yes, I understand that people are scared and angry after a tragedy like that. But what I don’t understand is why, when a mass shooting happens in Connecticut or California, it goes without saying that the shooter is a troubled individual, NOT a living proof that all people of California and Connecticut are screwed up; while when an equally troubled individual (okay, in this case two, but the point stands) happens to be a Muslim, it’s automatically assumed that he represents ALL Muslims in the whole world.

I have met way too many Muslims here in the United States to have any patience for the diarrhea of hate that has been oozing from the media ever since Boston. If you think that I’m exaggerating, I strongly suggest visiting http://www.loonwatch.com/, which is a website that serves as a watchdog of the anti-Muslim movement in the U.S. (and is absolutely hilarious while doing so). And I because I’m still naïve enough to believe that education is the key and that most folks out there are not mean, just ignorant, I decided that it was time to start educating myself more, so I knew what I was talking about when explaining to people why Islam was NOT evil. 

And that’s how Fatima Mernissi entered my home. Her book happened to be on the top of the pile that I brought from the library that day and I reached for it at night when I wanted to read a couple of pages before going to sleep. Except that I didn’t get to go to sleep that night – or at least not at the time I was planning to. 

Dreams of Trespass is a charming, delightful story of seeing the world through the eyes of a little girl born in 1940 in Morocco. And yes, she is born into a "harem", which in this context means a communal household, where members of the extended family live all together (i.e. NOT a prison for one thousand concubines).

Fatima’s father had, in fact, only one wife. Fatima’s parents enjoyed a loving, romantic relationship, at least for the most part, and Fatima’s father doted on his little girl, not once making her feel inadequate for not being born a boy.

Of course, that’s not to say that life in Morocco was all roses – the title of the book clearly indicates the desire of women to trespass, to escape through the iron gate that confided them inside the house. Fatima’s father might have been progressive in many ways, but he was still a product of a fiercely patriarchal society and there was a line he wasn’t willing to cross. And that’s why the women had to ask permission to leave the house, which was rarely granted; why only the men controlled the finances and made all the major decisions; why women had to create their own world within the harem’s walls.

Sad? In a way, yes. However, it’s very important to notice that the women in little Fatima’s life, who by the way never fully embraced their confinement and who spoke up fiercely against the inequality of sexes (founding a thousand little ways to rebel in the process) were never fighting against Islam itself. They were, in fact, convinced that the men of their culture acted AGAINST the Qu’ran when they insisted on keeping them isolated, illiterate, and dependent. It was male chauvinism, not Allah, treating them as unequal. And there was hope rising on the horizon: The Nationalists, Muslims fighting for their country’s independence from the French, promised to upheld women’s rights in the new, free Morocco (a promise that was clearly fulfilled in the future - at least to some point).

Fatima’s grandmother summarized her own dreams in assuring her granddaughter:

“Of course you will be happy! You will be a modern, educated lady. You will realize the nationalists’ dream. You will learn foreigner languages, have a passport, devour books, and speaks like a religious authority. At the very least, you will certainly be better off than your mother. Remember that even I, as illiterate and bound by tradition as I am, have managed to squeeze some happiness out of this damned life. That it why I don’t want you to focus on the frontiers and the barriers all the time. I want you to concentrate on fun and laughter and happiness. That is a good project for an ambitious young lady.”

Judged by the information I found on Internet about Dr. Fatima Mernissi, a noted Muslim feminist and a sociologist, Grandmother Yasmina’s prophecy seems to have come true. And we now have the privilege to enjoy the magical story of her childhood, which is written so engagingly that one cannot put it down. The tone of the book changes from chapter to chapter: Some parts are melancholic, some will make you giggle (my favorite is the chapter “The Harem Goes to the Movies”), and in the end, if you are anything like me, you are going to be disappointed that there are no more chapters to read. And maybe, just maybe, this book will serve as a step in understanding other culture – even the one that on the first sight seems so scary and different from ours.