Saturday, June 29, 2013

If you question its...


Unreliable, maps from East Jerusalem, imaginary sketches, drawn, redrawn,
deny our first cartographer. Our search for His original copy continues,
takes time, thousands more years perhaps, countless generations
aided by map prayers offered by yet unborn grandchildren.

Time, a Roman’s scratch on a block wall against which Jesus leaned. So did we, 
careful to leave our mark, impressions, their hint of transcendence, blood
from wounds that haven’t healed. Today, Jerusalem bags memories
in headlines; kisses pass through, slough like rain. Fleet love

attaches to psalms’ embrace, borrows meaning from David’s silhouette; we
rejoice in fecundity even as history unrobes angels of death at battles
for Golan or Sinai where stark beauty rivals taupe red rock of
Eilat, sculpts into contours too sensuous not to be fought for.

                                                B.Koplen 6/28/13

Friday, June 28, 2013

Who do you believe?

Detective story?          Hunting for facts, always a necessary chore, often means verifying sources and corroborating information. Using WIKIPEDIA for such work, I’m often told, should be avoided. If that’s the case, I wonder, what sources should I trust? The New York Times?

That question bothers me less and less. Consider this: according to WIKIPEDIA, the island of Goree in Senegal is only as long as ten football fields, wide as less than four.
Given those dimensions, I wasn’t surprised to read that:

Gorée was relatively unimportant in the slave trade. The claim that the "house of slaves" was a slave-shipping point was refuted in 1959 by Raymond Mauny, who shortly afterward was appointed the first professor of African history at the Sorbonne.[2]

Confirmation took little time; WIKIPEDIA got it right.

Sadly, the New York Times (a more trustworthy resource?) may not have fared as well. Here’s what I saw pictured from that speck of an island:

Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Obama, on Thursday on Senegal’s Gorée Island, stood in the “door of no return,” where Africans were led as slaves onto ships bound for America.

Even by WIKIPEDIA standards, the Times stooped to infomercial journalism. How can I make such a seemingly slanderous statement? I started with this:   Cached
The work of many minds, the U. S. Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.

Quickly perusing that site, I noted that our American Constitution breathed its first breaths in the (very) late 18th century. At that very same time, this is what had happened in Goree:

In March 1815, during his political comeback known as the Hundred Days, Napoleon definitively abolished the slave trade to build relations with Great Britain…As the trade in slaves declined in the late eighteenth century, Gorée converted to legitimate commerce. [my emphasis] The tiny city and port were ill situated for the shipment of industrial quantities of peanuts, which began arriving in bulk from the mainland…

But that’s not all. Slaves that were sent from Goree weren’t, as the caption hype under President Obama’s photo claims, headed “for America.” Even WIKIPEDIA knew better:

Probably no more than a few hundred slaves per year departed from here for transportation to the Americas. [my emphasis] They were more often transported as incidental passengers on ships carrying other cargoes rather than as the chief cargo on slave ships. After the decline of the slave trade from Senegal in the 1770s and 1780s, the town became an important port for the shipment of peanuts, peanut oil, gum arabic, ivory, and other products of the "legitimate" trade. It was probably in relation to this trade that the so-called Maison des Esclaves was built.[1]

All of us know that “the Americas” were a long way (then) from (the United States of) America.

Disinformation like this serves as photo op propaganda, sterile as tears in a bottle. Slavery was terrible, a monumental disgrace to be sure. But why aren’t we told who captured the ‘slaves’ and who sold them? Why isn’t it made clear that long after slavery was abolished in the Americas and America as well as Europe, African slavery continued to supply Muslim markets? And how were slaves treated there?

            African Slaves In The Arab World   While the European involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade to the Americas lasted for ... most of the male slaves destined for the Middle East were castrated, ...

BBC - Religions - Islam: Slavery in   CachedSlavery in Islam ... Slaves were owned in all Islamic societies, both sedentary and nomadic, ranging from Arabia in the centre to North Africa in the west and to what ...

If this were a classroom, I would offer the following advice:
1)   always check sources
2)   accurately state what your research reveals
3)   congratulate yourself for uncovering hidden agendas
4)   report your findings to me

                                    B.Koplen 6/27/13

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

you're invited to...

A classroom full of surprises    After reading the headline below, I fumed.

Orlando Sentinel

Islamic group says UCF professor promotes anti-Muslim hate
By Denise-Marie Ordway, Orlando Sentinel
7:07 pm, June 20, 2013
The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is accusing a UCF professor of teaching anti-Muslim bigotry. Officials with the group sent a complaint to the University of Central Florida asking it to review the content of professor Jonathan Matusitz's courses.
My concern? Why does CAIR have the right to ask for a review of Dr. Matusitz’s class? What if CAIR wanted to monitor mine? Since I encourage political incorrectness derived from well-researched opinion, I staunchly defend my students’ right to address almost any side of any issue. Mine too.
If the UCF professor does the same, does he have to look over his shoulder while delivering each lecture? I hope not.
“In this room, we are free and safe to discuss anything,” I told my class yesterday. I explained to them that intimidation is unacceptable. “One of you has told me that a friend of yours is angered by my recommendation of a book by Robert Spencer, The Truth About Mohammad. If they want to discuss that text reasonably, they can. This is the place for that. Is that clear? Do you have any questions?”
Only one did. “I’ll write my question,” he said, concerned that it was inappropriate. As he handed it to me, I told the class about a song from Bob Dylan’s album, Infidels, “Neighborhood Bully” and started playing the song. After the first stanza, I stopped the recording.
“It’s about Israel,” I said, “and it refers to Holocaust survivors like Solly Ganor.” Its first three stanzas are telling:
Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man,
His enemies say he's on their land.
They got him outnumbered about a million to one,
He got no place to escape to, no place to run.
He's the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully he just lives to survive,
He's criticized and condemned for being alive.
Not supposed to fight back, and have thick skin,
Supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,
He's wandered the earth an exiled man.
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,
He's always on trial for just being born.
He's the neighborhood bully.
“Why would Dylan record an album titled Infidels?” I asked. I looked directly at one of my students in the front row, a young veteran who’d served in Iraq.
“Were you ever called an infidel?” I asked.
“That’s what they called all of us,” he said, as if it had no real significance.
“Did your officers explain what it meant, why they referred to you that way?”
“No,” he said. Suddenly he looked more puzzled than unconcerned.
I glanced at my Muslim student. “On Wednesday, we’ll find out. In fact, we’ll begin to explore Islamic ideology. And we’ll have a guest, a Colonel who was largely responsible for extricating our troops and materiel from Iraq. It should be fascinating.”
I picked up the question that the other student on the front row had handed me earlier. He’d asked why we had to study something that had happened during World War II when there were so many pressing issues in today’s world. I read it to the class. “This is an important question,” I said. “Who can help with the answer?”
One of my older students, late forties, unemployed, spoke up. “It’s about man’s inhumanity to man,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said. “That didn’t stop with the Holocaust. Think about what happened in Rwanda, what’s happening in Sudan, the deadly civil war in Syria.”
With that, I started a documentary, Sugihara, about the Japanese Ambassador to Lithuania in Kaunas. Thanks to a chance meeting with eight or nine year old Solly Ganor, the Ambassador was eventually led to sign visas that allowed thousands of Jews to escape certain death at the hands of their non-Jewish neighbors and the Nazis.
“You’ll get to meet Solly today,” I told the class. In the documentary, Solly explained how his innocent invitation to Sugihara had led the Ambassador to Solly’s family’s Hannukah party. That’s where Sugihara heard, first hand, about the persecution of Jews in Poland from other guests in Solly’s home.
My students appeared to absorb every word Solly spoke. His eyes sparkled; his smile reflected what must have been among the few happy memories of his danger-filled childhood. Although he was speaking in English, Solly’s third or fourth or fifth language, his message was absolutely clear: Ambassador Sugihara was a hero.
Silence reigned until I abruptly ended the documentary. “It’s time for our debate,” I announced.
Minutes later, the captains of each team made opening statements. One spoke in behalf of the virtues of theocracy; the other, democracy. Brisk arguments followed until the class ended.
Speaking to the panel of judges, I told the class that we’d hear the judges’ verdict on Wednesday. Everyone packed up and headed for the door.
As I prepared to leave, I noticed my Muslim student approach my desk. Quietly respectful, with a slight smile, she indicated she wanted to ask me a question. Before she could, I told her that I wanted her to sit next to me on Wednesday when we began our discussion of Islam. “Or you can sit nearby,” I suggested, not wanting to make her uncomfortable.
Her response was a smile, pleasantly appreciative.
“I want to read your book,” she told me. “Can I get a copy at the bookstore?”
I tried to hide my surprise. Deeply touched by the sincerity of her request, I told her I’d bring a copy to class on Wednesday. In a way I never expected, I felt I was being honored by a young woman who had earned my admiration.
Indeed, she helped make my classroom a very special place.

                                                B.Koplen 6/25/13

Monday, June 24, 2013

Teaching both sides of the truth

Heating up: a confrontation in the making            During the early cool on Sunday morning, I walked the hill to Main Street. To my surprise, men were replacing the old concrete sidewalk with brick. As I scanned their four-man team; I recognized Fred, the boss.

“Beautiful,” I said, noting the near perfect pattern of red brick, its tedious installation.

“Want you to meet my brother,” he said, pointing to a tall, lanky man in a t-shirt and camo pants at the other end of the block. From a distance, he reminded me of the television character known as Grasshopper (David Carridine in Kung Fu, an American western action series; please see: "Kung Fu": TV Series Episode Guide   Cached Quotations from & information on the classic TV series from the 1970s, Kung Fu. Television show with David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine...). He walked to meet us.

Moments later we chatted. I learned he’d been a Colonel who served in Iraq, was about to retire. Prior to that, he was spending leave time (he didn’t call it that) helping his brother and his ailing mother. When I mentioned my Humanities class, he told me he’d like to speak to my students about his experiences. Now was a good time for that; he might be sent for a final assignment to Afghanistan in less than a month.

Although I wanted to trade e-mail addresses, I didn’t have time to return to my apartment to grab a pencil and paper; I had to take my sister to the RDU airport.

In a very real sense, meeting the Colonel was a godsend. As I was about to teach the cultural aspects of Islam, so closely tied to its religious ideology, having him speak would serve as a perfect introduction. I’d found him to be articulate and intelligent, a quietly confident people person.

Hours later, on my drive back from RDU, I thought of the challenge I faced regarding maintaining a balance between explaining the behavior of violent jihadists while being sensitive to the pacifism of my Muslim student. Disinterested in violence, she still had to confront the reality of sudden jihad syndrome such as that at the Fort Hood massacre.

Tossing around scenarios continued until I reached home, went to my computer, and typed my e-mail address and phone number for the Colonel. With that in hand, I walked back to Main Street in hopes of seeing him.

Fortunately, he was still at work. Despite the 90-degree heat, he didn’t seem bothered.

“Nothing compared to where you were,” I said, pointing to the summer sun.

With a slight smile, he answered, “You’re right. Over there, it’s 140 degrees.”

I handed him my information. “Send me a bio if you can,” I requested.

“Sure,” he said. “I thought of a story you might want to hear,” he began. For the next few minutes he recalled having met a sheikh in Kuwait. “His home, a fenced-in compound, was the size of this entire block. There was a swimming pool and a soccer field. His daughters played there.”

The Colonel described their attire, the same shorts and t-shirts our kids wear. “But the sheikh was upset,” the Colonel told me, “because men had climbed the eight foot fence and saw that they were not wearing traditional Muslim dress. To keep them out, he would have to build his fence four feet higher.”

Hearing that made me think about my Muslim student, and how covered up she is despite the summer heat. Fortunately, my classroom’s temperature is set to very low. She’s never complained.

When they meet, my guess is that the Colonel also won’t mind the coolness.

                                    B.Koplen 6/24/13