What Muslims Can Learn From Zionists

Apologies for being MIA the last month – I was in the process of moving cross-country for the summer, and am now doing a summer language intensive. Ergo, the nooks and crannies of my brain are more crammed with grammar and new vocabulary than Deep Thoughts! That said, I still want to share items of interest from the news and academic blogosphere.

Today, Rabia Chaudry on http://time.com/2917600/muslim-american-zionists/

During a visit to an institute in Israel, I gained a new perspective on a belief that I once saw as toxic.

How probable is it to get ardent Zionists and pro-Palestinians to not just talk to one another, but love and respect one another? Not likely. That’s why the Shalom Hartman Institute launched a controversial but groundbreaking program to bring American Muslim thought and civic leaders to Jerusalem for a year-long fellowship. For many, the program was a hard sell given sensitivities and loyalties on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Continue reading


The ADL Global 100: Challenging Our Narratives of Anti-Semitism

Rabbi Brant Rosen notes parts of the ADL’s anti-Semitism survey that tend to be overlooked – like the fact that Iran is the least anti-Semitic country in the Middle East, and that asking whether Palestinians are anti-Semitic isn’t necessarily a fair question.

Shalom Rav


There’s been a great deal written about the report, “Global 100: An Index of Anti-Semitism,” released last month by the Anti-Defamation League. While the ADL has trumpeted the survey as “the most extensive such poll ever conducted,” reactions in the mainstream media have been mixed. In one widely read piece, Noah Feldman criticized the ADL’s methodology as “stacking the deck in favor of anti-Semitic answers.” Blogger/journalist Mitchell Plitnick has also written an important article that unpacks the political agenda behind the survey (writes Plitnick, “the cry of anti-Semitism is becoming the cry of the wolf-shouting boy.”)

For my part, I’ve taken by the way the ADL’s survey unwittingly (and ironically) betrays some of the mainstream Jewish community’s most deeply held narratives on anti-Semitism. One of the survey’s most striking findings, for instance, reveals that Iran is by far the least anti-Semitic country in the Middle East. To…

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Touch it! – Blue jelly and the meaning of life

I’ve pretty much finished Peter Watson’s Age of Atheists, and since then I seem to see little answers to the “secular meaning of life” everywhere. I suppose it’s in the current cultural zeitgeist. Most of them circle back to something like “the meaning of life is living,” “the meaning of life is the search for meaning.” I can’t say I’m the kind of person who naturally finds those answers satisfying, but they may also be the best – or only – answers we have.

Here is one from Anthropologist Margaret Mead, expressed in the delightfully strange language of dreams. The fact that life is at once “a mass of jelly-like stuff” – amorphous, a bit weird and disturbing! – but also the most beautiful blue is evocative. And what brings about the realization that this blue matter is life and life is enough? Touching. One has to reach out and touch the strangeness of life, engage with it, be in relation with it, in order to discover the wonder and meaning. Continue reading

“Nonwhites and Nones”

National Geographic’s “Changing Face of America”

Perhaps not surprisingly, it seems that the changing face of America ethnically and culturally is also the changing face of America religiously. It’s not only that more religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Santeria, traditional African religions, and so on – are being added to the “melting pot,” as is often noted by scholars like Diana Eck. It’s that white Americans are leaving religious institutions while people of color are staying or joining.

Is this because atheism, being a none (which, as many have pointed out is not equivalent to being an atheist) or “spiritual but not religious” is a luxury, a sign that it’s summertime and the living is easy? Statistics globally do suggest that the least religious countries are in Western Europe or have similar conditions: wealth, social stability, economic security. Is it simply that people let go of the solace or structure of religion when their lives are cushy and they no longer “need” it? Does this mean that being non-religious or “a none” is a function of privilege, that bugaboo word in current discourse? Continue reading

Thinking: a love story

If philosophy, if thinking isn’t a kind of falling in love, what’s the point?

From the script of Iris, depicting the relationship of philosopher/novelist Iris Murdoch and John Bayley:

“You love words, don’t you?” , asked John.

“Well, if one doesn’t have words, how does one think?” Iris replied.

Philosophy crush: Iris Murdoch

Reading Watson’s The Age of Atheism has proved to be an even more dangerous endeavor than I thought, since it keeps sending me on tangents of reading primary source material and introducing me to new thinkers – a pleasant and enriching danger! Right now, I’ve been on a sideways incursion into Iris Murdoch‘s work. I was familiar with some of her fiction and knew of her philosophy, though had never really dipped into it before. Like many people, I knew of Iris Murdoch mostly from the biopic Iris, but there’s much more to her than torrid intellectual Oxford affairs and Alzheimers.

How many 20th century philosophers also take religion seriously, follow in the footsteps of Plato, and are acclaimed novelists? It’s enough to make one feel a bit shabby and slacker-esque (perhaps it would have been better to be a philosopher before the internet but then, dear reader, I wouldn’t be blogging and talking to you, would I? The conundrum of too much information to take in and too many ways to communicate it – and too many ways to be distracted…). But no matter how you slice it, Murdoch is impressive and interesting by virtue of both her range of interests and her tendency to wrestle with pre-modern material and questions just as seriously as so-called modern concerns. As an article in First Things from 1995 says of her:

Recently the Divinity School at the University of Chicago sponsored a conference to investigate and celebrate the theological importance of the writings, especially the novels, of Iris Murdoch. The attitude expressed by many of the theologians involved was one of abject, almost pathetic, gratitude to Murdoch for taking religion seriously-not many noted artists do so, after all, nor, come to think of it, do all of the theologians themselves. Confronted with the spectacle of these highly trained men and women genuflecting in the direction of a novelist, however brilliant, one struggles to recall that theology was once named Queen of the Sciences.

Continue reading

Boko Haram and Apologizing for Islam

By now, most of us heard of Boko Haram and its kidnapping of more than Nigerian 300 schoolgirls. (The Mother Jones article linked comes at things from a particular perspective, but seems fairly well-informed, as far as I can tell).

As is to be expected, the coverage of the event takes on a kind of cultural symbolic valence. We have non-western/anti-western/”militant Islamists” (in “dark and chaotic” Africa) preying upon innocent girls who are trying to get a (western) education! I’m not dismissing the seriousness of the girls’ plight, or the attention the issue is getting – though as Teju Cole reminds us, the situation in Nigeria is a complex one.

Mostly, though, I’ve been musing on the responses by Muslims in the west, such as this one in Time Magazine by Jerusha Lamprey: Boko Haram: Not My Shariah. Overall such responses are thoughtful, informative and, above all, necessary in our current cultural climate. It’s the necessity of such disclaimers about Boko Haram being “not real Islam” or “not my Islam” that I’ve been contemplating. Certainly many Muslims become weary of feeling they must constantly apologize for the bad behavior of their co-religionists. Yesterday I read this quote on Haroon Moghul’s facebook: Continue reading

Jung and the Yogi

Carl Jung gets mixed or little press these days. More than his his grand theoretical works, I tend to enjoy his personal writings and reflections.

In that earlier dream I was on a hiking trip. I was walking along a little road through a hilly landscape; the sun was shining and I had a wide view in all directions. Then I came to a small wayside chapel. The door was ajar, and I went in.

To my surprise there was no image of the Virgin on the altar, and no crucifix either, but only a wonderful flower arrangement. But then I saw that on the floor in front of the altar, facing me, sat a yogi in lotus posture, in deep meditation. When I looked at him more closely, I realized that he had my face. I started in profound fright, and awoke with the thought: “Aha, so he is the one who is meditating me. He has a dream, and I am it.” I knew that when he awakened, I would no longer be.

(CG Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections)

Occupy, Police Brutality, and whither justice?

Justice. To be ever ready to admit that another person is something quite different from what we read when he is there (or when we think about him). Or rather, to read in him that he is certainly something different, perhaps something completely different from what we read in him.

Every being cries out silently to be read differently.
-Simone Weil

What weighs on my mind today:

At the Guardian, a piece on how:

Cecily McMillan’s guilty verdict reveals our mass acceptance of police violence.That hyper-selective retelling of events mirrors the popular narrative of Occupy Wall Street – and how one woman may serve seven years while the NYPD goes free

Adam Kotsko at An und für sich voices some reservations about the efficacy of non-violent resistance and the Occupy movement

Real justice must be both systemic (correcting large scale patterns and movements) and personal. Real justice is relational. On a micro-scale, it is the “reading differently” and openly of human beings which Weil speaks of.

But how do we respond to injustice when it seems utterly immovable, untouched by any human appeal, when it is bureaucratic, corporate, industrial? What can stand against a kind of mechanical, systemic, faceless injustice? How do we bring Simone Weil’s cry for a personal justice – not just an individual justice, but one with deep consideration for the fullness of human personhood against this sort of injustice.