When Mother's Day was first born in 1872, breakfast in bed, Hallmark cards, store-bought bouquets and being taken out for brunch wasn't anywhere near the point. Then called Mother's Peace Day, the holiday was supposed to celebrate the values represented by motherhood -- peace, mercy, charity, and patience -- and the broader social and political implications of those values.
For Yousuf and I, the past two years have been an interesting journey, to put it mildly, wrought with the obvious hurdles of living under occupation, and nursing him has helped us both get through it. It was our moment together-our special time that, though time-consuming and difficult at time, we both equally enjoyed, that no one could interfere with-no matter the time or circumstance (save for an hour when I was interrogated by the Shin Bet in Rafah, and a then two-month-old Yousuf was howling in the other room with a female soldier because they forbid me from taking him in the interrogation with me).
The selective silence of persecuted groups is as old as history itself, and I don't claim to be original in my fury. But after Nov. 2 we have come one step closer to creating a culture that normalizes discrimination and inequity, a culture that uses the cloak of democracy to justify bigotry and political persecution. Assuming the election was conducted fairly, a majority of the population -- however slim the margin -- has endorsed the biases, fears, and prejudices of this administration, thought them good and right and prudent, and I for one fear the consequences of a country jacked up this high on patriotic propaganda even more than I fear whatever Dick Cheney might be plotting from his undisclosed location. He and his colleagues are welcome to sit in as many think tanks as they like and write position papers until their fingers fall off, but once their ideas secure popular support (or at least popular neglect), well, that's a horse of a different color. And maybe this isn't the end of the world, isn't the introduction of Stalinism, fascism, oh! oh! Handmaid's Tale, hello George Orwell, but, close election notwithstanding, it's a bit of a downer to be told that your country belongs to someone else, that you are sort of a guest, and you'll be allowed to sleep on the good sheets and use the soap in the bathroom so long as you mind your manners and don't track muddy footprints on the floor. This is the difference between life under Bush post-Florida and life under Bush post-Ohio. Righteous indignation comforted me, frankly: I wanted to believe our government had been temporarily hijacked. In the last three years the left became more organized than it had been in three decades, and yet in the end it wasn't enough. Our base swelled, but not as much as theirs did. It's true that regime change might not have brought drastic changes for the country -- a real shift has to occur at the local grassroots level -- but a presidential election is nevertheless the mother of all opinion polls. The day after the election I forced myself to confront reality: millions of Americans have more contempt for gay marriage than they have for Abu Ghraib. It doesn't matter that the candidates had similar positions on the first issue and never debated the second. It was the perception of their positions that made all the difference, and for the majority of the country the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Conventions just didn't make the "values" cut.
For those who follow the news about the American occupation of Iraq, the name Jeremy Hinzman might sound familiar. Hinzman is an American infantry soldier who went AWOL, brought his family to Canada, and is claiming refugee status because the military will not recognize his conscientious objection to performing combat duty. As a result, he has been the subject of numerous news articles in publications from around the world. The name Nga Nguyen, on the other hand, is not quite so familiar. Nga is Jeremy's wife, and the mother of their 22 month-old son, Liam.
In 1988, Soha Bechara bought some Jane Fonda workout tapes in preparation for her new job as personal aerobics instructor to the wife of Antoine Lahad, chief of militia in charge of Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon, a job Bechara took with the clandestine intention of assassinating her boss's husband. The image of this twenty-year-old Lebanese revolutionary, revolver in her purse, using a mixture of French and Arabic to talk about building the abdominal muscles while Hanoi Jane does jumping jacks in the background has to be one of the most compelling -- if bizarre -- representations of war, occupation, and the surrealism of postcolonialism to emerge in the last decade. Eventually Bechara would put two bullets in Lahad's chest. He lived, but her act earned her ten years in a Lebanese prison. Bechara's autobiography, Resistance: My Life For Lebanon (Soft Skull Press, 2003) works on many levels. It's an accessible introduction to the mess that was Lebanon during the civil war. It's an insider's guide to making revolution. It's an expose of Khiam, a prison in southern Lebanon created by the Israelis and then left to be managed by the South Lebanon Army (SLA), their proxy in the region. Mostly, though, it's an autobiography that explains how a girl born in 1967 goes from attending family weddings and watching television with her friends to becoming a would-be assassin.
We've seen what happens when people feel their choices are limited. And we'll keep seeing it if we don't change; if we hang onto those ideas that force our men into battle out of habit, whether "innate or accidental." It's time we asked ourselves why we are more threatened by a two-and-a-half year-old boy toting a Barbie than by a boy carrying a gun. It's time we stopped seeing the spilling of blood as the heroic, manly thing to do.
A report on the March 20 SF protests, International ANSWER contingent In response to the official beginning of "Gulf War 2," a large, exuberant, decentralized group of folks from all over the Bay Area and around Northern California took to the streets in protest. As luck would have it, I happened to be in SF for this amazing event, and am thankful to have been. In many years of protests, I have never seen such an effective and amazing application of decentralized action.
I believe in the principles of that war. I understand and appreciate the great struggle that preceded our declaration of independence, and the consitution that followed years later. I've read the federalist papers. I disagree with many of the choices made by our government, but I know that my right to dissent is the greatest liberty of a democratic society. Any citizen who argues otherwise - particularly members of the media - renders our entire nation a grave insult.