Monday, April 9, 2018

Post 71--Unjust Power Relations


The author of the main body of this post goes by the name Ingrid Mattson.  Now that sounds pretty common, so common that I would not even begin to guess from what Western European country she might hail. "Ingrid" sounds Scandinavian to my ears, but "Mattson?"  No clue. Actually, as with so much in life, things are seldom as they seem and, when it comes to names, things often don't sound the way they are.

Actually, Mattson is a highly respected female Muslim scholar. Yes, all of that. Female. Highly respected. Muslim. Scholar. She "is London and Windsor Chair of Islamic Studies at Huron Univeristy College at the University of Western  Ontario. She is a recognized Islamic religious and interfaith leader. She has published numerous articles on Islam, she travels and lectures widely, and is past President of the Islamic Society of North America."

One topic touched upon in this short article is the standing of Aboriginal peoples, most of whom are animists by tradition.  My research in Islam has brought to light deep-seated contempt for Animists. At least, Christians and Jews can be accepted as second class citizens as long as they tow the Muslim line about their status, but Animists have to rights at all in the traditional Muslim system. Mattson is more kind and wants to accord them recognition and a place to stand.

(For my research, go to my Studies in Christian-Muslim Relations, vols. 1-8. See www.SocialTheology.com/Islamica.htm.)

                                                      ======================

Blindspot!Unjust Power Relations
A number of decades ago, the "Abrahamic" identity was created to expand Christian-Jewish dialogue to include Muslims. This was a positive development that has since established a shared platform for dialogue and engagement. At the same time, it is a constructed identity that does not fully encompass the theological ethics and identity of each of us or all of us. Anything we build will necessarily be limited in space and perspective, and we must be mindful that enclosures, as much as they unite people in a space, also restrict that space. I am particularly concerned that the "Abrahamic" appellation reinforces a patriarchal lineage that I believe Islam came to reform. The elder men of the community have no preferential claim on religious leadership and authority in Islam, as much as that might be the cultural preference and social reality of many Muslims. As we work together to build a more peaceful world, we must embrace language and appellations that do not replicate or reinstate unjust power relations.

Islam also recognizes that God's guidance is not limited to the scriptural traditions. The Quran states that "messengers" have been sent by God to every community. While it could be argued that communities without a written scripture have a tendency to drift further from prophetic teachings over time, they still can preserve some authentic teachings. This means that teachings of Islam in the literal sense of "submission to God" can be found among the non-scripturalists. In the Americas, New Zealand, Australia, Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, there are Aboriginal people, some of whom belong to our scriptural faiths and others who try to follow a traditional path left by their ancestors. In most of our countries, there is a terrible history of injustice towards the original people of the land. Our interfaith engagement should not only address these injustices, but also open a spiritual appreciation for those who might retain some of the wisdom received from the Messengers.

Compiled From:
"Of Fences and Neighbors: An Islamic Perspective on Interfaith Engagement for Peace" - Ingrid Mattson. The compilation is found on Friday Nasiha, Issue 993, April 6, 2018 / Rajab 20, 1439. www.fridaynasiha.com  So, now you know where all this comes from and even have access to the book that discusses all the above in much greater detail. 

Post 70--Is this "enlightened" Vancouver or Meccah?


I know, Ezra Levant is considered worse than a rogue in "main stream" journalism.  Of course, anyone who attacks that tradition is bound to "earn" such a reputation. But to me that epithet can be a badge of honour such rogues will pass on information our main streamers will not touch or twist the story to suit their ideology.  Perhaps Levant could be a little more gentle in conveying the same news, but that does not appear to be his character. But I understand, for I am somewhat the same way--and have burned a few bridges along the way.  It took me 80 years to come to that realization. I don't know Levant's age, but I do hope it won't take him that long to discover that in main stream journalism, it may be wise to act like a wolf in sheep's clothes!

Anyhow, read this Levant story. You can hardly believe that this is happening in my "enlightened"--read "liberal"--Vancouver and someone is getting away with it. Ah, that Islamophobe accusation is always just around the corner like a hidden sword. Few there are like Levant who dare to ignore it and say what they see or hear. It could lead to getting fired or being hauled before a human rights "tribunal," I am told, the accused pays for the expenses whether found guilty or not. To be honest, I cannot quite believe that, not in our democratic Canada.  Right?  You answer that question yourself.

Okay, here's Levant in person:

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You wouldn't believe what happened in this Vancouver mosque

Friday, March 23, 2018

Post 69--Ugly Beauty--Whims of the Dictator


Our world and our individual lives are full of contradictions as this post will remind you if you did not already know.  It is a story of ugly beauty, of oppressive beauty, but also kind of fascinating. I could not put it away because of these contradictions.  But it also made me disgusted with the way a stupid dictator can waste the wealth of a people on his own selfish whim. I use a strong word--"stupid," for that is what it is. He runs a good chance of being pulled down from his perch in total ignominy and shame. Even if he dies on his throne, his reputation in history will be worse than mud, let alone his eternal destiny.  Jesus strongly condemns oppressors.

Apart from his own fate, the totally unnecessary suffering such a dictator inflicts on his people  amounts to a crime to humanity. 

I am referring to Fjola Helgadottir's story of her journey through Turkmenistan that I pass on to you below.  It is a fascinating country and journey, with unusually beautiful and expensive buildings that cannot help but impress you.  However, when you think about the oppressive part of the story, the selfish use of power, then it all becomes downright ugly.  

Now when you pick up a world atlas to find out about the state of the country's people, it looks pretty good. My atlas tells me that the country has a literacy rate of 99%, the same as Canada, my adopted country; the USA, my neighbouring country; and the Netherlands, my birth country. The same atlas claims a calory consumption of 2754 kilocalories, an average intake, judging from the 24 countries listed on the two adjacent pages in the atlas. That's surprisingly high and would seem to indicate that, in spite of the totally arbitrary personalized dictatorship under which the people live, they are doing fairly well. The thing is, of course, can you trust such stats?  I, for one, doubt them. You can't trust anything that comes out of a dictator's sleeve.

But the situation described in Helgadottir's story below reminds me of the Olympic saga.  That's a strictly elite sports event for which people spend years of energy and, yes, tons of other people's money, for their own glory. Whether they win or lose makes no difference to the course of world history, even though the media reports keep proclaiming that history is being made. Except for the participants and their organizers, no one's life is improved by it. In fact, poor people are often chased out of their neighbourhoods and the latter demolished to be replaced by glitter and gold. Vancouver and its province British Columbia, the scene of the 2010 Winter Olympics where I live, was and is becoming a city and even province impossible to live in because of the obscenely high prices of property and houses, and all this while there is said to be no or hardly any money for or solution to the housing shortage. I could wander around in the city during the event and taste the Olympic ambiance, but I could not afford a ticket to the events. Was it an event of beauty?  Really?  I leave it to you along with the dictators of this world.  

I place this post on this Christian-Muslim blog, because Turkmenistan is a Muslim-majority country. Muslim theologians claim that Islam pushes justice and compassion. Their dictator is probably a Muslim, but he seems to know little about Islam and seems hardly motivated by it. When Muslims makes these grandiose claims for their religion, they need to explain how such situations arise. Does Islam have no defense against this or protection of the poor?  I realize, of course, that "Christians" have similar situations to account for. 

Here's Helgadottir. Enjoy--if you can.....

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Fjola Helgadottir:
Vancouver Sun, February 24, 2018
          "At the whim of a dictator in fascinating Turkmenistan."
The Province of February 28, 2018
          "Turkmenistan has an eccentric and narcissistic president and it shows."

Most people have never heard of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and cannot point it out on a map. People often say it is like a mix of Las Vegas and Pyongyang. The city looks like a cartoon fairyland, with huge structures of marble and gold everywhere you look, and each skyscraper is more luxurious than the last.
We visited Turkmenistan as part of our honeymoon trip from Sydney (Australia) to Oxford (England). We had not heard of many of the countries before our departure, and spent time trying to remember the names of all the different “stans”. We entered Turkmenistan’s border town, Konye-Urgench, after travelling across Uzbekistan. To get around in Central Asia is tricky. One of the main methods of transport is going to a hub, finding a car that is going your direction, and waiting 1-5 hours until it fills with people. Add a few chickens, a couple babies and at least 2 people on laps and then it leaves for your destination.
After travelling in this area of the world for about a month we got good at making local friends without any language in common. Most people speak their native language with Russian as their second language. While driving across Uzbekistan the young man next to us showed us an seemingly endless album of pictures of himself posing in different military outfits with guns. The car overheated several times and we had to stop and wait for it to cool down. At one point a cushy air-conditioned tourist bus drove by, and we questioned our decision to travel independently.

We met our guide Oleg in Konye-Urgench. He was Russian, a no nonsense guy, and we had full confidence that he would be able to handle whatever Turkmenistan would throw at us. First, he drove us to a market so we could buy the local currency, the Manat. Exchanging money in banks in Turkmenistan is too costly so everyone goes to markets for money exchange. Then we drove south through sandy dunes for hours, with camels dotting the landscape. Finally, we reached the gas crater in the middle of the Karakum desert.
Standing next to the crater was one of the most bizarre sights in our lives, with nothing around in the middle of the grey desert and the bright flames lighting up a massive orange hole in the ground. I woke up with a strong headache after a night camping next to the crater for the night. I claimed it was the gas. My husband suspected it had more to do with the shots of vodka we had the night before. Regardless, we had a great night with Irish Rudi, Italian Alessandro, and our guide telling us scary stories of people disappearing into the flames. On our drive to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital city, Oleg said, here used to be a village. The Turkmenbashi didn’t like the looks of it, so he decided to tear it down. After making it to Asghabat in one piece we wandered around the city.

I’m sure many dictators in the world would love to build a city like Ashgabat, but Turkmenistan is unique in that it has (a) a spectacularly eccentric and narcissistic president, and (b) enormous oil revenues that allow him (and his predecessor) to indulge in all these ridiculous vanity projects. For example, many of the buildings in the city house useless ministries for this and that. There is the Ministry of Horses (horse features are cut into its marble), the Ministry of Carpets (with carpet pattern decoration on the front), the Ministry of Communication (looks like a big phone), the Ministry of Knowledge (shaped like a book).
The city is full of gold statues of the former president (Turkmenbashi which means leader of Turkmen). These are being slowly removed by the new president in exchange for things more relevant to himself. Turkmenbashi was pretty crazy. He changed the names of some months and days to names of his family members. If that wasn’t enough, he even changed the Turkmen word for bread to the name of his mother! Another quick one – he was trying to quit smoking, so he banned smoking in any place where he might accidentally see another person smoking – even outside in the entire country! You can’t even smoke in the middle of the desert! Basically, Turkmenbashi banned things on a whim, and when he died in 2006 the new president (his former dentist!) reversed some of the more outlandish laws, the new president doesn’t seem to be much better. He is continuing the endless building spree, while spending little money on things like education.

On every street corner there are a few young men in uniforms whose only job is to make sure nobody walks in front of public buildings or palaces, because this looks shabby (there are underpasses provided). Also, tourists have been arrested for taking pictures of the president’s palace. All traffic stops in the morning when the president wants to use the roads to get to work, and people are supposed to hide behind parked cars if the presidential convoy passes by.
We accidentally visited Asghabat’s latest hotel, when we were looking for a toilet. The hotel had only been open for a few weeks, so they had plenty of staff ready and eager to serve. In fact, they had just returned from France, where they learned the art of hospitality. They call the hotel Seven Stars. It featured showers that emulated rain, and the most luxurious toilets we’ve ever seen. The only problem was the complete lack of guests. Turkmenistan is sometimes called the world’s second most isolated country (after North Korea), so we wondered how they plan to fill up all 299 rooms (actually less because the president has reserved a whole floor for himself).
We had been warned to not speak about our tour guide in our hotel room as this could get him in trouble. It is common knowledge that hotel rooms are bugged. This was a slightly chilling feeling. We flew out of Ashgabat to Azerbaijan, in a completely empty Lufthansa plane, with mixed emotions. One the one hand we felt a sense of relief that we were no longer under observation, but absolutely fascinated by what we had just experienced.

What you need to know:
-Turkmenistan is located north of Iran and south of Uzbekistan.
– Getting there is the biggest challenge; start applying for a tourist visa now! We used this service:http://www.stantours.com/tm_mn_vis.html
– The second challenge is staying away from the secret police.
-Independent travelling is not allowed. So for excursions outside of Ashgabat, you need a guide. However, travel agencies are able to set you up with other travellers to share the cost.






http://theprovince.com/travel/international-travel/turkmenistan-has-a-eccentric-and-narcissistic-president-and-it-shows


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Post 68--Turkey and Militants vs Christians in Syria


Turkey is member of NATO. I've never been at ease about that, because it is a Muslim country. Muslim countries generally are suspicious of Western countries--and for good reason. But for the West to figure they can count on Turkey to defend Western interests is downright silly. Now I realize, of course, that the reason for this alliance was the Cold War. The West tried to use Turkey in its ring around the Soviet Union. 

Fast forward. The Cold War is history, but now we have a vastly more complicated situation in the Middle East with Islam largely in chaos and threatening the West.  And while this was developing--or deteriorating!--the EU seriously considered allowing Turkey to join it.  I cannot imagine Western foolishness to even consider it.  But, then, Western nations have long been dumb and stupid when it comes to the Muslim world. So, I guess it's no surprise. By now, however, this issue has fizzled out and Turkey is now showing that it is, after all is said and done, a Muslim nation and cannot be counted on to support Western alliances like NATO and EU.  It has its own interests, Muslim interests, nationalist interests. 

With that as background, I invited you to read the sad report by Elizabeth Kendal. If you've been following this blog, you've met her before. She is a good and reliable reporter who tells it as it is. Well, as it is, this report is pretty sad for Christians in the Syrian chaos, what with Turkey now playing footsie with Islamic terrorists and even using them. The leopard is showing its true colour--and so are the USA and the UN!

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Turkey in Syria: Afrin Falls; Christians Imperilled 
 
Yesterday, 11:04 PM

Friday, March 9, 2018

Post 67--An Islamic MishMash






Once in a while it's fun to just read a mishmash of things, of a random number of subjects that may not even have any connection with each other. Something like reading a bunch of short little articles in a newspaper.  Well, that's what you're getting today--a random Friday Nasiha of March 9, 2018, issue no. 989.  All random Muslim articles. Interesting. Informative.  Just read them. Ponder them. Enjoy them even.  And move on. 


 March 9, 2018 - Jumada al-Thani 21, 1439
Friday Nasiha: Issue 989
www.fridaynasiha.com
 
Living The Quran
Rejected Repentance
Al-e-Imran (The House of Imran) Sura 3: Verse 216
"But those who disbelieve after having believed, and then increase in their unbelief - their repentance shall not be accepted. They are the ones utterly astray. As to those who disbelieve, and die while they are disbelievers, there shall not be accepted from any of them even the earth full of gold, though they should offer it in ransom. For them, there shall be a painful punishment, and they shall have no helpers."
These verses refer to the people whose repentance shall not be accepted. They are the ones who were guilty of all the above-mentioned crimes: they believed and then went back and disbelieved, and then went on adding layers upon layers of disbelief. When their final moment came, they professed repentance verbally, without making amends for their crimes, nor openly confessing their concealment of the truth before the Prophet and the believers. Also, they did not spend in the cause of Allah and in support of the Prophet in order to wipe off their sins. They died, in the words of the Quran, falsely hoping that "Allah shall forgive us - sa-yughfiru lana". The Quran clearly warns all such people who thus delude themselves that their verbal repentance is no real repentance, nor will Allah accept it from them.
Similar is the case of those people who recognised the truth and believed in it and then reverted to kufr or unbelief and died in this state. Such people, even if they were to offer the earth full of gold in ransom to save themselves from the chastisement, it shall not be accepted from them. The style used here is meant to emphasise the impossibility of their salvation in the hereafter, for surely no one will possess anything in the hereafter to be able to offer it to anyone else, nor is the life hereafter a place for wheeling and dealing. The conclusion - Wa ma la-hum min nasirin - and they shall have no helpers - lays bare the false hopes of those who expected to be saved by the intercession of their forefathers on their behalf.
Compiled From:
"Pondering Over The Qur'an: Surah Ali Imran" - Amin Ahsan Islahi
go to the top ^
Understanding the Prophet's Life (peace be upon him)
God's Power
The cause of covetousness, according to Sidi Ahmad al-Zarruq, is heedlessness (ghafla). A person permits himself to forget that blessings are from God alone. No good or harm can come to one except by God's leave. This level of heedlessness is not a casual lapse of memory. People can become so terribly preoccupied with seeking things from other people, they become heedless of God's power and ownership. When this happens, a person opens his or her heart to all kinds of spiritual diseases. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Know that if an entire nation were to gather together to benefit you with anything, it would benefit you only with something that God had already prescribed for you. And if [an entire nation] were to gather together to harm you, it would harm you only with something that God had already prescribed for you." [Tirmidhi]
When the topic of God's power is discussed, questions often arise about those who hold rancor in their hearts to the degree that they wish harm to come to others. There is real concern about the affliction these people can cause. It is necessary to remember that when a person is straight with God—observant of His commands, avoiding what He has prohibited, and going beyond the mere obligations and remembering Him often through litanies, voluntary acts of worship, and generosity in charity—the evil prayers of others will not prevail.
Compiled From:
"Purification of the Heart" - Hamza Yusuf
go to the top ^
Blindspot!Spurious Hadiths
Scholars who spent a great deal of their lives with the hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) developed a sense which they could use instantly in detecting error. Their example was like that of a man who lived with a beloved friend for scores of years, knew him very well in every situation and so could easily say which statement belonged to him and which not. Similarly, a literary critic who studies a poet for a long time and becomes fully acquainted with his style can, on the basis of his perception and personal experience, easily detect a poem which does not belong to the poet. However, Muhaddithin (hadith scholars) did not depend solely on personal experience as it may be counted a form subjective criticism. In short, if a hadith was not transmitted by any trustworthy scholar, and there was a liar or a person accused of lying in the chain of transmission it was said to have been fabricated by that person.
However, scholars laid down certain rules according to which one could reach conclusions about the spuriousness or genuineness of hadith even without going into detailed study of isnad (chain of narration). Here is a summary of the method described by Ibn al-Qayyim.
Ibn al-Qayyim's description of general rules about rejections of hadith are as follows:
1. If the hadith contains an exaggerated statement that the Prophet could not have made. For example, a false hadith attributed to the Prophet that when one pronounces 'La ilaha ill Allah' God creates from this sentence a bird with seventy thousand tongues.
2. Experiment rejects it.
3. Ridiculous kind of attribution.
4. Contradicts a well known Sunna.
5. Attributes a statement to the Prophet which was supposed to have been made in the presence of a thousand Companions but all of them supposedly concealed it.
6. The statement has no resemblance to other statements of the Prophet.
7. Sounds like the saying of mystics or medical practitioners.
8. Contradicts the clear and obvious meanings of the Quran.
9. Inadequate in its style.
Besides these rules, the entire system of isnad was applied to detect fabrication.
Compiled From:
"Studies in Early Hadith Literatures" - Mustafa al-Azami, pp. 71, 72
go to the top ^
Maintainer's Message
Parenting in the Digital World
Please visit the website for quick tips, extended interviews and links to online resources on using digital devices effectively.
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Islam A Closer Look
Break the cycle of Islamophobia! Share IslamACloserLook.com with friends and colleagues. The site contains 12 carefully produced short videos and 24 related articles addressing key topics on Islam and Muslims.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Post 66--SAS Seasonal Affective Disorder


I feel a little lethargic today and wonder why. Perhaps because I had a rough day yesterday, but it could also be SAS--Seasonal Affective Disorder. That's a fancy term for a not uncommon condition that sort of takes the life out of you. Wintertime is especially the time for it, the time when there is little sun and light in general. I don't usually think of myself as having it, but our oldest son in California is definitely afflicted by it.  That's a major reason he lives in that state of for-ever-sunlight.  

I am forwarding an article explaining this condition that is published by the Muslim ministry called "Sound Vision: Helping Tomorrow's Muslims Today." The website is found down below. Give it a read if you think you might be affected.  

And thanks to author Meha Ahmad.  You've done us all a favour with this article. It is clear and to the point.

How to fight Seasonal Affective Disorder

During the winter, we are slaves to the cold. The days are shorter, the nights are longer, and most likely you may not get as much out of your days as you did during the summer months.
As winter rolls on, millions of people experience some range of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood condition that is otherwise known as “the winter blues.” A person will have normal mental health throughout the year, but experience slight or moderate symptoms of depression. Luckily, you can change your situation.

The Cause

While the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is yet to be determined, SAD is believed to be related to light. And in winter, the daylight is significantly reduced, disrupting your body’s internal clock (which can lead to depression).
SAD can also be caused by the pineal gland—a gland that depends on sunrises and sunsets and helps us develop a daily rhythm—secreting too much melatonin, a hormone that affects sleep patterns and mood.
Serotonin levels also change during the winter, often dropping when exposure to sunlight is reduced. A reduced amount of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, can also lead to depression and contribute to SAD.

Symptoms

The symptoms of SAD may vary. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Depression
  • Listlessness, lack of energy
  • Morning sickness
  • Cravings for junk food, sugars, carbohydrates; weight gain
  • Consistently oversleeping and difficulty waking up
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities; social withdrawal
  • Difficulty maintaining focus

How To Fight SAD: Six Winter Blues Busters

1. Resist hitting the snooze button.

We get it, it’s cold and gloomy outside. Your blanket is warm, and the floor is cold, so you think the logical answer is to stay in bed and sleep in. But we’re telling you: RESIST. Starting your day at your normal schedule is the first step to fighting SAD.

2. Exercise.

You’ve heard that working out gets endorphins—that hormone that gives you a rush, like a “runner’s high”—right? Well, this is especially helpful when fighting off the winter blues. Cardio and strength training will get your blood flowing, help you be more alert and feel more productive throughout your days.

3. Eat healthy.

This tip works year-round, but you don’t want to forget it during the winter. Winter may cause your serotonin levels to drop, causing your body to crave junk food, high in carbohydrates and sugars (desserts, junk food, soda) because they raise serotonin levels. But what you should really be eating instead are foods higher in protein and fiber. Know the cravings for what they are and opt for healthy choices instead. It will help you fight off lethargy.

4. Take your vitamins.

Have you considered taking multivitamins? Every day, take one that contains Vitamin D—a  bone-strengthening vitamin that your body usually makes when exposed to sunlight. But with less daylight available in the winter, turn to a multivitamin for your energy.

5. Embrace the season.

Many of us do not look forward to the winter season; it’s cold, damp, and dark outside, leading many to dread it. But embrace it instead! Take up a winter-related activity—skiing, sledding, winter hiking, ice skating, snowball fights, making snowmen, etc.—that will help you look forward to the season rather than shrink away from it and go into hibernation.

6. Get more sun.

Light therapy is doctor recommended for fighting SAD. The change in light exposure will stimulate a change in the levels of chemicals and hormones, particularly serotonin, that affect your mood. Exposure to bright artificial light improves SAD symptoms, but nothing beats the real thing. In fact, did you know that an hour of aerobic exercise outside has the same therapeutic effects as 2 ½ hours of artificial light exposure indoors?
Going outside first thing in the morning, or even just pulling back the curtains and letting the sunlight stream in will greatly combat seasonal affective disorder. Taking a brisk early morning walk is a triple hit: you’ll get exercise, expose yourself to the sunlight (lightening your mood) and help your body manufacture Vitamin D.
https://www.soundvision.com/article/how-to-fight-seasonal-affective-disorder

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Post 65--Palestine/Israel: Dispelling the Myths


The following article comes from a Christian Reformed pastor, James Dekker.  It is a report on a short conference in which the two main speakers were a staff member of my favourite Canadian Christian monthly and a Jewish Rabbi.  Many readers, having their minds poisoned about Christians by mainline media, will expect an anti-Palestinian harangue. What else can one expect from a Christian monthly and a Jewish rabbi?  

Well, taste and see. I am no expert on the subject, but I'm all for reconciliation and peace, provided it is realistic.  There are those who will consider the report idealistic, not realistic. However, with the God of peace behind it, I see nothing unrealistic about it. I have experienced a national impasse like this in Nigeria many years ago. God just waded in and took the people responsible for the impasse on both sides out of it within the space of a week--and everything settled down. So, why not?

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On February 3, Brock University hosted its tenth annual Social Justice Forum in the Marilyn Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts in St. Catharines, Ont. Once producing train seats, that repurposed factory now showcases the humanities. A conference dealing with environment, human and labour rights found the renovated venue a fitting place for the 12 workshops.
The session “Palestine/Israel: From Zionism to ‘Boycott, Divest and Sanction:’ Challenging the Rhetoric; Dispelling the Myths” drew some 50 attendees packed into a classroom for 30. Leading the popular conversation were Rabbi David Mivasair and Christian Courier’s own Ineke Medcalf.
Rabbi Mivasair’s credentials build on four years’ residency in Israel, where he both attended university and taught school. These days he travels there as an activist for Palestinian rights. Currently two adult children live in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Ms. Medcalf goes to Israel/Palestine often. From October, 2014 to January, 2015 she participated in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine/Israel, a World Council of Churches’ effort. During a recent trip, Medcalf suffered in an unprovoked tear gas attack by IDF soldiers on the Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem.
Framing the issue
After brief personal introductions, Medcalf began the 75-minute workshop reciting important basic facts of Israeli and Palestinian history since Israel’s 1948 founding. Though almost all attendees were clearly “members of the choir,” the brief slide presentation set the stage for personal anecdotes by the rabbi and her, ending with 25 minutes of questions and responses.
Starting in Gaza on the Mediterranean Sea, Medcalf showed images from lives of the 1.8 million Palestinians crammed in the tiny “strip” measuring 10 by 51 kilometres – among the planet’s densest populations. Gaza, a place with virtually no green spaces, receives electricity about four hours a day.
On the other side of Israel lies the West Bank. There high walls separate Palestinian families from relatives in villages sometimes located just across the wall. Yet travel to time-consuming security checkpoints in the walls adds hours to visits. Walls also split farmers from fields. When they are not permitted to cross, they return home without working. In Hebron and elsewhere, children must pass checkpoints to attend school.
Describing a Catch 22, Medcalf showed West Bank Palestinians whose homes have been destroyed time and again; they were built without permits. When people apply, though, they can’t get permits, often pitching tents, which too are frequently demolished. Ancient olive groves are regularly ripped out to expand settlements in the West Bank.  No matter the reasons, it is jarring to see pictures of Palestinians, officially called “Arabs” by the Israeli government, living in shacks or tents without power or water. Israeli settlers occupy solid masonry homes metres away.
Looking for action
After Medcalf’s introduction, Rabbi Mivasair switched gears.
“We don’t need more information. People who come here know enough. What are 10 things you’d like to talk about to do something to improve Canada’s policies in Palestine?”
The audience didn’t immediately bite on that ripe question, asking instead, “How much of the Palestinian-Israel issue is driven by religion?”
Mivasair’s response: “A lot. As a child I learned that all Jews had the right to live where Abraham and Sarah went, where David strummed his harp. Yet remember, our faith also commands justice: Don’t cut down fruit trees; don’t remove boundary markers from your neighbour’s property. But that’s precisely what the Israeli government keeps doing.”
Moving toward the action question, several people asked about the history and effectiveness of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement (BDS).
Mivasair’s clear answer: “About 10 years ago Palestinian civil society organizations in Palestine organized BDS to pressure Israel to give freedom, justice and equality to Palestinians. To calls it BDS was really a PR mistake. They should have called it the movement for freedom, justice and equality.  Still, BDS is patterned after anti-Apartheid tactics in South Africa. The United Church of Canada supports BDS.”
What about BDS’s effectiveness? The rabbi continued, “It has some impact on Israel’s economy, but the economy’s strong. Not buying an Israeli hummus or halvah won’t make Israel leave Bethlehem. Still, it is an effective way to engage people, but the impact is like a flea in an elephant’s ear. The elephant will notice the flea, will be bothered, but not hurt. Still, some corporate pension plans [not named] have withdrawn investments from Israel, so there is some impact.”
Audience participation
At that point Rami, who grew up in Palestine, spoke: “BDS draws attention to injustice, one example of which is the Israeli practice of giving biblical names to settlements that aren’t historical, but settled after 1948. In 1990 we could visit Israeli friends. After checkpoints were set up, friends lost contact; many haven’t entered Jerusalem since. A generation of Palestinian kids knows Israelis only as occupying soldiers.”
Another attendee asked, “What about Canada’s $30,000,000 aid to Palestinians?”
Mivasair answered, “Those funds support the Palestinian Authority’s Security Police. Their officers quell demonstration, thus oppressing their own people.” He suggested that people lobby MPs to support programs to meet real human needs instead.
Medcalf added that, “Since the Liberals took office, Canada has provided $20,000,000 to support education, health and social services for vulnerable Palestinian refugees, as well as urgent humanitarian assistance.”
What does the Ecumenical Accompaniment project accomplish? Here Medcalf spoke from experience: “Participants do basic, grounded work assisting Palestinians. We take kids to medical appointments or school. We run errands for families who need assistance.”
Finally, one person asked about Canadian support of a two-state solution. Mivasair replied, “A two-state solution is a delusion; Israel will never permit it. The idea simply maintains the current oppression. God doesn’t want us to be separate. Let’s aspire to one nation state with different people, different languages. Canada continues to build a nation with many ethnicities, two official and many unofficial languages. Why couldn’t that happen in Israel-Palestine?” Why indeed. 

(Christian Courier, Feb. 26, 2018).
JAMES DEKKER
Jim Dekker is a semi-retired Christian Reformed pastor living in St. Catharines and chair of the Citizens for Public Justice board.