Monday, March 30, 2015

Matanov Pleads Guilty

On Tuesday, March 24, 2015, a terribly sad and terrified looking 24 year old Khairullozhon Matanov entered a “guilty” plea to accusations that he had lied to the FBI about the extent of his friendship with Tamerlan and Jahar Tsarnaev. He had also deleted his search history from his computer, knowing that the FBI would soon be visiting. Because his lies and deletions were irrelevant to the Boston bombing investigation - he had lied about things like whether or not he ran into the brothers at a local halal restaurant, or if he drove them there, and everything he deleted was public information - he had long maintained his innocence of any criminal action. He had lied out of nervousness, not out of a desire to impede the bombing investigation; in fact he was the first person to go to the police to identify the brothers when their photos came on TV.

“I know who they are, but I don’t think they did it,” he told the police.

The tragedy of this case is that hundreds of people knew who those brothers were, but they did not say anything. And none of them are being prosecuted. This should tell us that it is always a bad idea to cooperate with any FBI request, even if you sincerely want to be helpful.

At the first hearing I attended for the young Matanov last year, the government had made many insinuations about his many generous wire transfers overseas to his family, “wondering” if he was funding terrorists. But since then all these transfers have apparently been accounted for, so the government was left with nothing but the obstruction of justice charges, which the judge himself noted were immaterial. The slimy government prosecutor made up for this by threatening “terrorism enhancements,” which could bring his maximum sentence from 20 years to 37!

Judge Young took a lot of time speaking directly to Matanov, making sure he understood the charges, that he understood that he is considered innocent until proven guilty, that he has a right to a trial, that he understood what he was agreeing to and what he was giving up by pleading guilty. It sounded like the judge was trying to talk him out of it. Matanov hesitated many times, consulting with his lawyer, before he went through with it, while wiping tears from his eyes.

He told the judge he felt he was innocent but he didn't want to go to trial and risk spending decades in prison, so he was accepting the deal. He really didn't want to plead guilty. He had written me in many letters how much pressure he was under. The government wanted him to work as an informant and told him they would let him go free today if he would agree. He refused. Then they said they would reduce his sentence to 7 years if he pled guilty. He refused. He wrote to me that his father was an honorable man and his grandfather was an honorable man and he would never plead guilty. However, during a prison visit he sadly told me that there are “very powerful people” putting a lot of pressure on his lawyer and he felt he had no other choice. It is still up in the air whether or not he will be deported after serving his 30 months prison time and 3 years probation.

Matanov is quite nervous about where they are going to send him. He had been beaten by guards playing the National Anthem, while being held at Plymouth County Correctional Facility. Activism from supporters resulted in him getting transferred to the much quieter pre-trial Donald Wyatt Detention Center in Rhode Island. He is no longer being beaten, but is being kept permanently in “the hole.” He is being treated differently than all the other prisoners. No one else gets put in “the hole” unless they cause trouble. He is being kept in isolation and even during the one hour of rec time per day, he is separated from the other prisoners by a fence. He said most of them are Latino. They are all allowed to talk to their families through glass, but he is forced to talk on a video monitor, which is very low quality and the sound crackles so bad you can’t hear. What is strange is that Stephen Silva, the Tsarnaev friend who was caught dealing heroin and admitted that he gave them a gun, is being kept in general population at the same prison, but Matanov, who is only guilty of paying for dinner, is being treated like a terrorist, maybe because he is Muslim. Matanov said the prison says they are isolating him for his own protection.

After he is sentenced, he will be moved to another prison. He was visibly nervous about this unknown, when I visited him earlier this month.

The judge has until the next hearing, June 18, to decide if he will accept the plea deal or reject it. If he rejects it, the case will go to trial and Matanov will again be presumed innocent, Judge Young said. Young told Matanov that if found guilty, he could sentence him to even less than 30 months. However, he could also choose to accept the government’s terrorism enhanced sentencing guidelines. What a totally confusing and horrible choice to have to make.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Overcoming neglect: true life precedes true love

Photo credit:  Photodune
In nature, animal offspring is occasionally rejected by the mother. This leads to almost certain death. The reasons could vary from the mother’s lack of resources – for example a starving dog might only be willing to nurse the strongest two puppies and let the other ten die – to the rejection of one particular baby for being “different” from the group. The rejected one might need extra care, which would drain the resources of the group. Or the “different” one might attract danger. For example, white baby lions are often abandoned and left to die by their mothers, for fear that the brightness of their color would attract predators and endanger the entire tribe.
In most human societies, abandoning one’s baby to die is a serious crime, so it is not often done, but parents quite frequently emotionally reject their children, abuse or neglect them. This could be due to a lack of the parent’s ability or willingness to care about the child’s needs, or from a desire to punish the child for being “different” from the group expectations. The parents might provide the child with three meals a day and even pay for their college expenses, but there is limited guidance and emotional support. The parent either does not invest much effort to connect emotionally with the child, or else outright crushes the child’s self-esteem in various ways.
Unless the child has another adult caretaker in his life, who compensates for the lack of parental empathy, who helps the child develop trust in an emotionally safe relationship, the child will grow up to be an adult with an underdeveloped sense of self and a handicapped ability to fulfill his or her adult intimacy needs with another adult. Children without an extended family are especially vulnerable, because there is no one to run to when home becomes a hostile environment.
Children will only flourish if the following types of needs are consistently met: 1. Physical needs for affection and protection; 2. Emotional needs for caring, regard and interest; 3. Spiritual needs for recognition of their worth and basic goodness; 4. Verbal needs for welcoming inquiry, positive feedback, and multidimensional conversation.
Relational Therapist Pete Walker MA, MFT writes in “Emotional Neglect and Complex PTSD,” that people neglected as children “never learn that a relationship with a healthy person can become an irreplaceable source of comfort and enrichment…  Love coming their way reverberates threateningly on a subliminal level. If, from their perspective, they momentarily ‘trick’ someone into seeing them as loveable, they fear that this forbidden prize will surely be taken away the minute their social perfectionism fails and unmasks some normal flaw or foible.”
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by childhood abuse or neglect is usually characterized by emotional flashbacks that invade the present and overlap one’s perception of reality. Various personality types will respond in different ways to these flashbacks. Safety is the ultimate goal of each type of reaction.
Walker groups flashback reactions into four categories: Fight, flight, freeze or fawn. Fight reactions generally involve displaced anger. Obsessive compulsions are viewed as a form of flight, or distancing oneself from the traumatic emotions; freezing could include oversleeping or TV watching; and fawning involves pleasing behaviors intended to prevent rejection:
“Servitude, ingratiation, and forfeiture of any needs that might inconvenience and ire the parent become the most important survival strategies available.”
The good news is that healing from C-PTSD is possible. The first step is learning to recognize that an emotional flashback is occurring and to train the mind to stop the thought and redirect focus. Types of emotional flashbacks are feelings of toxic shame, powerlessness, and rejection. These feelings can creep into our day or even into our sleep, disrupting normal functioning. Repetitive refocusing eventually establishes new neural pathways around our habitual pain.
The second step is to learn to recognize and value your “inner child,” and to be the kind of adult that your younger self required. This means learning self-empathy and self-care skills. This requires validating to the inner child that the attacking negative emotion is truly horrible and bad. When an emotional flashback is happening, our adult self needs to step up and defend our child self, creating healthy boundaries by angrily saying “No!”
“How DARE you tell my inner child that no one could ever love her!” we must learn to tell our inner critic when such deeply-ingrained destructive thoughts arise.
Then we need to take our inner child by the hand and make her feel worthy of love by stomping off together to the gym, or the park, making and eating a healthy meal, getting our hair done, improving our home, or whatever makes us feel like we are getting ready for true life.
The third step of healing is learning to develop authentic human relationships. It is often recommended to hire a therapist when first experimenting with raw honesty. The establishment of trust in a “safe enough” relationship is when you can be your whole self with another person, who is not going to leave, even though you exposed yourself. This requires another person to be safe and caring. While an ideal partner is not always readily available, learning to recognize what is NOT an authentic relationship comes first – and with it the ability to free oneself from people who trigger emotional vigilance and other psychic defense mechanisms. We also have to recognize that not everyone can be our best friend. We have to protect our inner child from public rejection by using our adult sense of self to choose wisely about whom we reveal our secrets to, while being open to experiencing many emotions with one who has earned our trust.

The endless possibilities of spring

Surely God Who gives the dead earth life will raise the dead also to life. Indeed, He has power over all things. (Quran 41:39)
SpringAs I scrape the ice off my car, I find it hard to believe that Spring is almost here. The world around me has been cold and grey and uninviting for quite some time. Yet the time has come to start thinking about planting seeds. It is also time to start thinking about what I want to do to expand and improve my life, using my resources, with my love, now that the period of constriction is passing. Sometimes this might mean spreading out and trying new things. Other times it means staying where you are but growing taller by digging your roots in deeper. If you had lost hope in the past, maybe now it will be your turn to shine. It can’t hurt to hope.
My children have been pressuring me to get a house. They feel cramped sharing a tiny apartment and they want their own rooms! At first glance it seemed to me that, given the rent I am paying, I should consider buying a home. But then I did the math and realized that even if we shared the expense with another family, it would be much too much of a responsibility to maintain and heat a large house. Plus, with two of my children in high school and possibly going off to college soon, and dreaming of senior year trips to Europe, it makes no sense to go into debt. If my son wants a house, he can start working and saving for his own future home. That’s his dream, not mine. So after exploring my options I am now content with my decision not to make any immediate changes. You can’t always know if something is good or bad except down the road. Best thing is to keep an open mind and don’t rush to a decision.
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.
“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.
“How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
While remaining open-minded, it is still wise to dream fully and completely irrationally. If money were no object, what would you want to do in the next year, in the next ten years?
It’s good to say, “inshallah” while making plans, but when we pray, we are supposed to just ask God for what we want without any inhibitions. We should conjure up a pure vision of what we truly want, what would make us truly happy, and ask God to let it happen. God loves for people to ask for what they want. If the prayer is not answered in this life, your beautiful vision still serves your benefit in the hereafter. There is purity in the honest wish for a true desire.
We should dream and make plans for what to do in the coming months, by ourselves if necessary! For too many years I have waited for someone who wants to do things with me and stayed home for no reason. Our children will only be young once. Are we going to spend every day working and sleeping and sitting on the computer? Or are we going to get some sand in our shoes? Even if we don’t have any money we can take a walk in the park.
Spring fever is when you just can’t sit still in class anymore. Spring is all about going outside and shedding extra outer layers, both literally and figuratively. We will probably visit more places, and see more people. We will go on picnics and day trips to the beach. The possibilities are endless! It is a good time for marriage, when all the fruits are ripe. Are there any actual priorities left undone? Passports expired? Start there, with some spring cleaning and some basic projects.
This morning I heard a bird sing for the first time in a long time. It was more like a loud angry squawk. Another very important essence of spring is rage. The seed is so frustrated that it bursts. Without a certain level of passionate discontent, there is no growth, no life. So do whatever makes you happy and alive. Envision what you imagined that you would be doing when you are older, now that you are. Whatever is constricting you from your full potential, rebel against it! Be whole! Be free! Take total responsibility for your life and seize what you want out of this day.
Starting small, my spring resolution is to fill yogurt cups with organic potting soil and plant herbs on my windowsill. Maybe some sewing projects, bake some bread. Maybe I will learn to harvest alfalfa sprouts or make yogurt. Soon the flowers will be blooming, and so should we. It will be time to fly a kite, to go fishing. Have a great day everyone! The sun is shining!

Editor’s note: Karin Friedemann is a contributing writer for The Muslim Observer. Her views are her own.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

FBI Ensnares Facebook User

Judge Puts Defendant in Mental Institution for Rant

In another heartbreaking story coming out of Raleigh, North Carolina, a young Muslim man with no criminal record, Abdul Basit Sheikh,  is being prosecuted by the same US attorney as Ziyad Yaghi faced, Jason Kellhoffer. Sheikh is accused of providing material support for a Foreign Terrorist Organization because he attempted to travel to Lebanon with the intention of training to join Al-Nusra Front. His parents described the 29-year-old Pakistani immigrant to the US as “depressed” and said he spent most of his time in front of the internet. Sheikh had contributed many religious and political comments to discussions on Facebook. He posted a number of gory videos of things like pro-Assad soldiers being executed, Mullah Omar of the Taliban and other famous Islamic preachers calling for the destruction of America, and had praised the Islamic fighters against Assad and the Islamic Caliphate.

In 2013, the FBI created a page in support of Islamic militants. Sheikh joined and thus began an online friendship with an FBI agent, who encouraged him to go to Syria and join al-Nusra and facilitated his travel arrangements. Sheikh booked a one-way ticket to Turkey for 9/5/13 but had second thoughts and failed to show up at the airport. He then informed the FBI agent that in November 2012, he already traveled to Turkey in order to join the Free Syrian Army but had become disillusioned with them because all they wanted was money, thus he became more interested in supporting the Caliphate. Via Facebook private message, the FBI agent offered to put Sheikh in touch with “a trusted brother with JAN (Jabhat al-Nusra),” who was in actuality an Online Covert Employee.

Sheikh then began to correspond via Skype with this FBI employee, saying, “I want to help the mujahideen, in any way I can.” He stated his belief that al-Nusra was the most disciplined group fighting Assad. The employee asked him if he would be willing to fight, and encouraged him to travel to Northern Lebanon for training before going to Syria.

On November 1, 2013, Sheikh bought a ticket to Beirut via Canada and Turkey. On November 2, upon his arrival at the airport gate, after being allowed to check in his bag and go through security, he was arrested by law enforcement. On November 12, the US government charged him with “Material support for a Foreign Terrorist Organization.”

What the indictment fails to mention was that the FBI agent who communicated with him on Facebook was posing as a Syrian nurse, and that their messages contained romantic content. A large part of his motivation for traveling was marriage.

“The Sheikh case points out the hypocrisy of prosecuting people who support an anti-Assad group the government judged as terrorists while the Obama administration favors other fighters in the same bloody conflict,” said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio.

On March 5, 2014, Sheikh told Federal Judge Terrence Boyle that he wanted to replace his government-appointed lawyer Joseph Gilbert with an attorney hired by his family, and stated that he was being “physically and morally abused” in prison.

"I am concerned about his competence," Gilbert said.

Prosecutor Jason Kellhoffer told Boyle that he saw no need for a psychiatric exam at this time, and Boyle did not order one. In June 2014, Sheikh was declared mentally competent to stand trial.

However, nearly a year later, on January 7, 2015 Judge Boyle suddenly ordered him to be involuntarily committed to a mental institution about seven minutes into the competancy hearing, when Sheikh interrupted the proceedings, telling the judge he was ready to tell a jury his story that day and it was a story a US jury should hear.

He was not only concerned about his arrest at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport in 2013 when he was attempting to leave the country. Sheikh also argued that the United States should pay reparations for war deaths in Pakistan, his native country, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East – “100 camels worth of monetary compensation,” reported Anne Blythe in the News Observer.

“In a series of run-on sentences, he talked about cluster bombs, the pain he felt for Pakistanis killed in the conflict, President Barack Obama, the US attorney general, his family, the government and his desire to be released from custody.”

“If you’re trying to make a record that you’re not competent, you’re doing an excellent job,” said Judge Boyle.

“No, I’m competent,” Sheikh exclaimed. “I have a right to travel the world!”

Boyle ordered Sheikh to be involuntarily committed in a hospital for 120 days for psychiatric treatment. He told Sheikh he faced the possibility of the involuntary administration of psychiatric drugs so that he might better understand the seriousness of the charges against him.

“No thanks, no thanks,” said Sheikh. “I am perfectly all right. My belongings should be returned to me and I should be allowed to leave this country.”

In August of 2013, Thomas Walker the US Attorney for North Carolina’s Eastern District said he “made changes in his staff” after a federal appeals said it was concerned with the conduct of prosecutors. Judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals have publicly complained the offices did not turn over evidence to defense attorneys.

While the heads of government departments were “transferred out,” lower rung prosecutors such as Kellhoffer continue to engage in overzealous prosecution of idealistic Muslims who pose no threat to the United States.

This should serve as a warning to be very careful about anyone you meet online that seems to agree with all your opinions.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Kazi Toure: A warrior retires

Non-Muslim Political Prisoners Suffered Much before Muslims Became the Targets
African-American, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans Suffered US "Justice"

On Friday March 13, 2015 former Black Panther and political prisoner Kazi Toure celebrated his 65th birthday in a cozy gathering at First Church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. He looked very sharp wearing a silky black jacket with a red Chinese dragon on the back and a leather top hat over his long dreadlocks. Many young children of activists were in attendance at the event, as well as some old timers related to the struggle for liberation including Jimmy Barrett. The walls were covered with posters of liberation icons like Ramona Africa. 

The gathering began with an African celebration called a “libation.” A young woman poured water from a glass into a dish below, while mentioning the names of ancestors and role models whose spiritual energy they wanted to invite into this gathering. People around the room also invoked names such as Harriet Tubman and Leonard Peltier. This set the mood for a very meaningful evening.

The first speaker was Eddie Cortez, a Puerto Rican former political prisoner who spent many years in the penitentiary for “seditious conspiracy.” He spoke about Oscar Lopez Rivera, the longest serving Puerto Rican political prisoner, who has served 35 years. Obama freed the Cuban 5. Why won’t he free Oscar Lopez Rivera? On December 14, 2014, for the first time, the Puerto Rican governor came to visit Rivera in Terre Haute. But nothing further has happened. No US Congress has ever addressed the issue of Puerto Rico as a Commonwealth vs. as a free country, even though every Puerto Rican church and political party supports freedom.

He mentioned Leonard Peltier, who has served 36 years, Sundiata Acoli, who has been in prison for 40 years, and Jaan Laaman, Kazi Toure’s co-defendant. In 1979 he and Kazi Toure helped to organize the Amandla Festival of Unity to support an end to apartheid in Southern Africa, which featured musician Bob Marley. Laaman was sentenced to 53 years in 1984 for bombing government buildings.

“How much punishment is enough?” Cortez asked. He then told a cute story about how prisoners managed to smuggle in birthday cakes by organizing a group to distract the guards.

“We need to change the face of America,” he said. “We need our own system, not socialism or communism. What we need is creativity in the face of oppression.”

Next, Palestinian activist Dr. Lana Habash spoke about the need for clarity against Zionist hasbara within current political activist movements. “It’s not complicated, it’s just wrong.”

She spoke about Amer Jibran, who was very active locally in Boston against Zionism against US wars of aggression. He led a high profile confrontation against the yearly Israeli Independence Day celebration, which used to draw 10,000 people. He was deported in 2004 but remained politically active in Jordan. In 2014 the Mukhabarat, Jordanian intelligence, used ropes to enter his home and kidnap him. He was held for two months without charge. Then in August 2014 the Jordanian State Security Court charged him with a list of terror offenses related to Hezbollah, which basically amounted to speech and were based on forced confessions.

“Amer’s writings were never against Jordan but against Israel and US wars,” Lana said. “We must reject definitions of terrorism. The political prisoner is our oxygen. They represent who we are, who we must be, and the task ahead. We must carry on the struggles they went to prison for.”

Next spoke Ray Levasseure, another of Kazi’s co-defendants. He said he met Kazi when our country was at war with South America and there was the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Both of them were “packing,” he said. They meant serious business. He said he was surprised to be here today, especially looking at 65 in the rear view mirror. He was underground sometime already when Kazi started getting his feet wet. He spent 20 years in ADX prison for activities related to the United Freedom Front (UFF). 13 of those years were spent in solitary.

Governor Deval Patrick denounced UMass for letting Ray give a talk. The police lobbied against him and prevented his speech about Black Panther Party related political prisoners in America.

Born of French-Canadian immigrants, Ray was imprisoned for an anti-apartheid bombing of a South African office in New York City. Nobody was hurt because that was not the intention. He noted that the government is more concerned about property destruction against military installations than they are about bloodshed.

Ray mentioned Tom Manning, another of their co-defendants, who is still in prison for bombing US military installations for UFF. He also knew Oscar Lopez Riveras from prison. Tom is having a lot of medical problems and as a result cannot walk. Medical problems are devastating to anyone, but when experienced in the Supermax segregation unit, the suffering is incomparable. Tom has had many surgeries. He needs to use a walker but could not do so because of problems with his shoulders. Dr. Lana Habash led a campaign for him to get shoulder replacement surgery, which happened 2 months ago. He is now in the early steps of rehab. If all heals well, he will be out of his wheelchair and onto crutches for the first time in six years. Tom suffered many brutal beatings in prison. Ray talked about how important it is to send a letter, make a phone call, especially for professionals like Dr. Habash to step in and do something. 

He mentioned a long-time prisoner, who has been forgotten. He just needed a couple magazine subscriptions. He is now serving time with Imam Jamil al-Amin. Ray met him during his pre-trial detention decades ago. They were given one hour a day out of their cages to walk up and down the tier. The prisoners began to befriend each other. It was an amazing time because so many revolutionary movements were going on. During these tier walks, Ray met members of the Irish Republican Army, Palestinian and Mexican groups, Puerto Rican, Black Panthers, etc. Kazi has told me similar prison friendship stories.

There are so many disparate groups, each with their own little defense committee. Everybody knows about Mumia but they don’t know about Kojo Bomani or Grayling Brown. Inside of the prison, these political prisoners bonded and watched each others’ back, but on the street supporters can’t get along because of too many different agendas. Filiberto, who was murdered by the FBI in his home in Puerto Rico, issued a call for a conference for all political prisoners but Freedom Now collapsed and the Jericho Movement has not achieved what Filiberto had in mind. We need to work for a larger sense of unity, Ray concluded.

Musical entertainment from a rapper called Optimist then ensued, with a band called Foundation Movement.

Yusuf Islam Wows Huge Crowd in Chile

Musician Yusuf Islam, also known as Cat Stevens, performs during the International Song Festival in Vina del Mar city, northwest of Santiago, Chile, February 27, 2015. Photo credit: Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters
In 1971, Cat Stevens’ rendition of the Christian hymn, “Morning Has Broken” reached #6 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 in the US Easy Listening Chart in 1972. My family’s church sang this hymn every Sunday of my childhood. Also in 1971, he provided nine songs to the soundtrack of the black comedy Harold and Maude, a film which was very important in my impressionable youth. But by 1977 the pop singer Cat Stevens had already embraced Islam and taken on the name of Yusuf Islam.
“To some people, it may have seemed like an enormous jump, but for me, it was a gradual move to this,” he stated regarding his conversion.
Yusuf Islam stopped performing music for almost 30 years and used his wealth to busy himself with humanitarian service.
“A lot of people would have loved me to keep singing,” he said. “You come to a point where you have sung, more or less … your whole repertoire and you want to get down to the job of living. You know, up until that point, I hadn’t had a life. I’d been searching, been on the road.”
He finally found and married the ‘hard-headed woman’ he had prayed for in his song, Fauzia Mubarak Ali, on 7 September 1979 in London, and had five children with her. He became re-interested in music when his son brought a guitar back into the home.
I was very impressed with Sister Fauzia’s performance in 1987, when she and her husband came to Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan campus to promote the cause of Islam. Yusuf’s speech was interrupted by hecklers including a stripper who shouted out that she was a liberated woman, to the point where he left the stage and on stepped his wife, who calmed everybody down and explained Islam from the point of view of a woman. It made a long lasting impression on my 16 year old self, though it took a lot more travel before I made a decision to embrace Islam.
I visited an innocent Muslim prisoner yesterday who began to sing the old Cat Stevens song that I hadn’t heard in years, “Trouble, oh trouble set me free…” I was so surprised that he knew the song, being 20 years my junior and from a foreign country. It was an amazing moment.
This inspired me to learn the chords on my ukelele. Which I did, thank you very much. Learning a song once in a while is so important for keeping one’s youth.
While I was searching for the song online, I found out that just last week, February 2015, Yusuf ‘Cat Stevens’ Islam gave a deeply moving, almost two hour superstar performance at Festival de Viña del Mar 2015, Somos el Canal Histórico in Chile. I cried when I watched it!
While his songs on cassette tape formed my youth and guided me towards Truth even beyond where my parents could lead me, I had never actually watched the man perform. The man is a superstar, but with the most humble mannerisms, even in front of a crowd of thousands.
Except for the white sneakers, the adorable grey bearded man on stage could be assumed to be any grandfather from the Arab or Pakistani community anywhere in the west. Except that he is surrounded by an amazing sound system, magnificent stage display, light show, and multi screens… old ladies crying, lovers holding each other, so much love, the entire audience knew all the words, despite English not being their native language.
“We’re in the mood for children!” is one of the only comments he made between songs. At another point, after a rocking number he spoke, “You can see why I used to dance.”
Honestly my heart broke at that moment. At the pinnacle of success as an artist, he is still dealing with this conflict of religion in his old age. His period of introversion was so very important, to gain knowledge, but it was righteous that he decided to use the power of his music for the common good. His songs were the soundtrack to my young adulthood. Without Cat Stevens or Yusuf Islam, there would be no me as I know me.
Although I could not interest my teenager in the Cat Stevens songs from the 70s, he still remembers Yusuf Islam’s English-Arabic rendition of Tala’ al Badru ‘Alayna from the Bosnia album, which used to play in the family car when he was a toddler, back when I used to have a working CD player.
In September 2004, Yusuf Islam appeared on the US No-Fly List and was prevented from meeting with Dolly Parton, who is the biggest Christian songwriter in America. Homeland Security claimed there were “concerns of ties he may have to potential terrorist-related activities.” The two recorded a version of his song “Peace Train” on her album, anyway.
One of the coolest things he has done with his power in this life was suing media companies for slandering him. Every dollar that he won, he donated to charity.
In a very emotional moment near the end of the show, the female host reappeared all covered up in respect, wearing a black shawl. The love and deep gratitude, the crowd’s adoration was so thick and sincere.
Editor’s note: Karin Friedemann is a contributing writer for The Muslim Observer. Her views are her own.

Mysterious Boston Trial Begins: Defense Not Defending the Accused

The trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev began Wednesday, March 4. If anyone still held out any hope that we were going to get some answers, that the government would now be asked to prove their convoluted story related to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, or that Jahar’s lawyers were going to put up a fight, they were brutally disappointed like a slap in the face. I attended opening statements as well as court proceedings the following day and I am as baffled as anyone, for this is the most bizarre criminal trial anyone in history has ever seen.

The prosecution’s opening statement was as expected. It echoed what has already been leaked to the mainstream media, with a few embellishments that sound preposterous. Suddenly now they are saying Jahar’s UMass ID was found on the floor of his Honda Civic, covered in the blood of Officer Collier, the MIT cop who was killed while sitting in his car, as well as his blood covered gloves. Why would any murderer take off the victim’s gloves and then put them in his car? There was so much about the government testimony that begged to be ripped to shreds. Attorney William Weinreb drew upon public prejudice against Islam, calling the defendant  a “holy warrior” whose actions were motivated by a desire to die as a martyr and reach “paradise.”

Defense attorney Judy Clarke then shocked everybody by beginning her opening statement by conceding responsibility for “a series of senseless, horribly misguided acts carried out by two brothers: 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother, 19-year-old Jahar.”

Isn’t a defense attorney’s job to cast doubt on the government’s accusations? We all expected her top priority to be defending her client’s life but saying, “He did it” in the opening statements went above and beyond most people’s expectations. Seems to be a strategy to make the trial go by as fast as possible so they can focus on the sentencing phase, with the presumption that he is assured of a conviction no matter what arguments are presented. The defense did not cross-examine a single government witness.

I searched Jahar’s face for some sign of guilt or innocence but could find no information except that he is resigned to his situation and trying to stay positive. I watched his long, bony white fingers play with a pencil, standing it up on end, holding it upright awhile with one finger at its tip. His eyes remained downcast most of the time, though he occasionally glanced at a speaker. There was one particular cop that he glared at. Chatting with his legal team, he seemed almost too content with their decision, given that neither death nor life in prison seem like particularly good options. The second day, he looked pale and subdued. There is nothing about his demeanor that seems tense, angry, or fearful. One observer described him “like a lost puppy.” Similarly, a schoolteacher and potential juror that didn’t end up getting selected, blogged:

“There was no cloud of evil that floated around him, nothing that marked him as being different from one of my doofy sophomores.” []

I turn to his family for some kind of insight. Jahar’s Aunt Maret posted on weebly:

“That team of defense was forced on Dzhokhar. Dzhokhar, I know that from my brother Anzor, apparently was REFUSING those lawyers back in May-June of 2013, he told them to go away, that he did not want them (obviously, he did that since he detected that they were not there for his benefit). When the parents raised the issue before Judy Clarke and William Fick for the first time in June 2013, in Makhachkala, during their first visit, that they (the parents) would want to get a private lawyer to defend Dzhokhar, because they knew that public lawyers are government paid lawyers. Fick's (mostly, it was him pressuring this issue through) and Judy's response to that intention of the parents was "there is no way" you can do that and you will be allowed to do that. Fick said if one of the attorneys go, then the whole team goes. So, Judy Clarke and William Fick also were pushed down Dzhokhar's throat by the government. And, this team got Zubeidat somehow under their influence and that is how they worked out their defense strategy, according to which, they are painting Tamerlan as "self-radicalised" mastermind of the crimes and Dzhokhar is a follower. And there, you should see why Dzhokhar would be seeming indifferent during the court proceeding to those, who report from the courthouse. It was mentioned the other day that Dzhokhar felt nauseous on Thursday, would that be side effect, he was having as a result of drugs he was pumped in before that day's court hearing? Because I cannot image Dzhokhar feeling ok and sitting quietly, while Judy Clarke was given that murderous speech, knowing that that kid is totally innocent.”

It appears to me that both defense and prosecution agreed to steer clear of any mention of FBI involvement in the brother’s lives, in exchange for sparing Jahar’s life. Nevertheless, the judge is acting outrageously, constantly interrupting the defense and even at one point inserting his opinion that “there isn’t much evidence” that the accusations against Jahar are not true! How can that be legal? Whose job is it to censure a Federal judge?

Someone in touch with Jahar’s family shared with me several audiotapes of Jahar’s loving mother, which make clear that he comes from an intensely affectionate and deeply religious family. Whatever he did or did not do, he is not the victim of poor upbringing. “I wish you would have known how full of love we all were… how happy we all were…” Tamerlan used to kiss all of his mother’s toes, saying, “This is my paradise!” Jahar would become possessive and demand to massage her other foot insisting that he should be allowed to share in paradise!

According to his mother’s descriptions of her weekly phone calls with her son, Jahar seems to be in a highly elevated state of iman:

“Allah is with us, Allah watches us always… Everything is by Allah’s will. This is another test for us and we are thanking Allah, we never complain and we know that everything Allah does is for our benefit if not in this dunya then in the Hereafter... inshallah we all will rejoin in Paradise… Tell her (his sister Ailina who cannot visit him due to false accusations) to be patient and not to cry... whatever Allah’s decision is, that is what we are happy with.”

Interpret it how you will, this the mental state of the surviving brother. His sister Ailina gets up late at night to pray for all the Believers.

“We need to love each other like one body,” Jahar’s mother Zubeida implores us. 

“Alllah azza wa jal. He knows how his brother loved him and his brother will be waiting for us inshallah by Allah’s will in Hereafter and we will be all together inshallah.”

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Regular kindness, the best of deeds

Photo credit:  Photodune
Photo credit: Photodune

“The best loved deeds to Allah are the ones that are continuous even if they are not very many.”

The importance of continuous good deeds was demonstrated to me by a cat named Golden, who ended up living in my home at my children’s insistence. Originally a stray kitten taken in by a mentally ill person, the cat’s demeanor was very nervous and somewhat crazed. He had been seriously neglected by his previous owner and had survived by catching mice and getting into the garbage. When Golden came to live with us, he was so tense that I was somewhat scared of him. He would flinch anytime we tried to pat him on the head, as if he had been beaten in the past. He would scratch my youngest child whenever she tried to play with him; and even when there was food in his bowl, he would get into the cabinets and tear open garbage bags. One time I even found him on top of the refrigerator looking for food!
Golden’s transformation from a terrified stray into an adorable, docile family pet worthy of a cute meme was gradual but astonishing. After living a year at my house he no longer flinches, he no longer scratches, and he eats his food out of his bowl. Why? I suppose because he’s not living in a constant state of anxiety anymore. Because of our repetitive good deeds – filling his bowls with water and food, removing his waste from the litterbox, and affectionately spending time with him – he started feeling secure about his emotional and physical needs. Every muscle in his body including his face relaxed. He became a new person, a new cat.
However, he still exhibited some neurotic behavior, begging from my son who fed him small snacks throughout the day whenever the cat begged. As a result, Golden was getting chubby. So I told my son to start giving him exactly two half-cup scoops of food a day, once in the morning and once in the night. Once this routine had been established, and the cat understood exactly how much food he had to eat per time period, he started rationing his own cat food so that it would last throughout the day. He even sometimes leaves two pieces of cat food in his bowl just in case he gets hungry later. Such a total transformation from a kitty that behaved like a robber to a kitty that acts as his own accountant!
Compulsive habits and other destructive behaviors in humans are also often caused by a subconscious fear of scarcity. One person might hoard things while another might overeat, and another person might act in a manipulative way to try and safeguard supplies of security, whether material or emotional. A ninth-grade girl once admitted to me that she started smoking cigarettes, knowing she would become addicted, because she wanted there to be one thing in life that she could want, and have. This is why it is so important to think about engaging in continuous good deeds that provide some security to another person, no matter how little.
If you were a father who wanted to establish good self esteem in your children, you might think that a camping trip would be the best way to create a great relationship. However, in truth, after some years the memory of such a special event will become blurred or even wiped out. My own parents don’t remember our trip to New England when I was eleven! What we do remember clearly though, was that there was a donut shop across the street from the post office. When I was a small child I loved to go with my dad to the post office because it always meant that afterwards, I got to devour a delicious chocolate covered, cream filled delight! A small kindness given regularly – a donut – has more lasting value than an expensive vacation!
In an effort to get some ideas for writing, I posed the question on Facebook, “What have you learned this week about yourself, others or the universe?” The most “liked” response was: “I have learned, over the last year, how much good individuals can do for one another, under the most horrible circumstances… The BIGGEST example is the way so many people came to my support during [his wife] Toni’s final illness and since her passing!”
The support that this man was so thankful for was the online company of his Facebook friends. All we did was “like” his old photographs and read his inspiring messages, giving us hope that true love is possible. He married his wife when he was 25 and she was 40. He adored her like a queen with such humility; he remained truly astonished that someone as ordinary as himself could be at the receiving end of love from a woman so noble and beautiful, even after her death. So not only did he receive benefit from our consistent small deeds but we also gained much.
Sometimes, our well-meaning attempts at good deeds are rejected by others. This could be because we are assuming falsely that whatever we would want is what they should want. Other times, the person is in a defensive or closed-minded state because they are spiritually lost.
Arguing with a lost soul is always a waste of time, because they are actively engaged in denying inner guidance.
“A lost soul has severed ties with the love of the universe, therefore they do not understand how to make choices based on self-love,” Andrea Schulman writes in, advising us not to get sucked into drama. “Loving from afar counts.”
Small but regular kindnesses, even a daily smile from the mailman or a wave from a fellow driver letting you go first, can make the difference between a bad day and a good day, between hypertension and calm.
This could mean the difference between a bad decision and a good one.