death, grief, Uncategorized, war

Let us, at least, love

Shanah Tovah to my cousins!
Blessed Michaelmas to my cousins on the other side!
Happy Navaratri to my Hindu friends!
Belated Eid Mubarak to my family.160919-tulsa-police-shooting-mbe-428p_fd438b9ca583c9222a71a509b19684a4.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000.jpg
Peace to neighbors across the border in India!
Peace to my family in Pakistan!
Peace and plenty to my beloveds in Kashmir, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, Myanmar, Chad, CAR, all the spaces and the spaces in between that no one even cares about, or knows how to pronounce._85346532_85346529.jpg
Freedom from fear to my beloveds in war-zones, abroad and at home, and in supposed peace-zones where the voices of the bullet-ridden, blinded, abused, raped, trapped, mutilated, starved, thirsty, sick, are drowned in the sounds of music and celebration.
Peace, plenty, justice, equality, love, dialogue, productive conversations when we all listen, this year and for all in the future.
Five-year-old-Omran-Daqneesh-REUTERS-Mahmoud-Rslan-3.jpgFor the sake of our children.
For the sake of our own souls and hearts.
For the sake of those we have lost.
For the sake of those we are still losing, everyday, every moment, in the rubble, in the bombs, in the ocean, in the camps, in the streets, in the schools, in the hospitals, in famine.
In Aleppo, Chicago, Srinagar … we cannot give up on each other.
We cannot let our ghosts and ghouls feast upon our babies.
Our hearts ache, break, and spill open all over our prayer-rugs, rosaries, garlands, pews, in our temples, mosques,
churches, monasteries, homes, schools, at our doorsteps, by our windows, by the bundles of belongings that we snatched and fled from fear, right into the rotting arms of terror.
We are alone. We are alone. We are alone. We are full of grief.


In this grief, if it must continue, let us at least hold each other and sob until our hearts break, and break

again, and again, but together.

After all this loss, all this grief, all this horror.
Let us at least love, if we are denied peace.
In these streets, where we reach out to embrace, and ghosts of the past cast a chill over us, holding us apart, and we weep to the desolate walls, alone.
Let us love and weep and reach out and hold each other to comfort broken hearts and sit together to mourn ravaged hearths and tiny graves.
At least love.
At least, let us love.

Tagouri and “Playboy” made you look

From “Citizen Khan”, BBC Publicity photo

I had promised myself that I would not, absolutely not opine on the issue of Noor Tagouri and her hijab in Playboy.

I’m keeping my promise. This post isn’t about Tagouri at all. It’s about something bigger, something systemic.
So I agree that Playboy is rubbish. I am nauseated by the existence of a magazine that flourishes because it pimps, consumes, objectifies, and sells the female body. Over and over and over. I’m not going to repeat what others have said far more effectively: Playboy is trash; objectification is exploitative; hijab and modesty do not match such a forum; shaming Tagouri for her choice is unacceptable; critiquing her choice of forum is possible; Playboy does some useful pieces; the whole idea is to go where no hijabi has gone before, etc.
It’s all been said.
Oh, by the way, I know a well-known Muslim community leader who sexually preyed upon other women while married to another woman, using his community leadership role. That guy is now still being invited to speak to community events. I’m guessing Tagouri, on the other hand, has been slashed off a whole stack of lists. I know I stopped getting invited to MSA events as soon as I quit hijab, and I didn’t even pose for Playboy.  
A prominent Islamic teacher who sexually abused young women at his Islamic school was defended by many community members because oh well, he’s just an old man, they said; let him live his days out in peace, they said, with happy memories of ejaculating on the dress of some traumatized young woman.
Ah, the joys of having a penis rather than breasts. So much impunity, so much win.
Playboy has made billions selling the female body. Playboy is a cog in the patriarchy machine. That doesn’t mean Playboy gets to hide. It is a monstrous part of the capitalist patriarchy. Its thing is treating women as objects. My friend Samar Kaukab has engaged with the misogyny and sexism of this spectacle.
The movie and fashion industry we patronize are also part of the capitalist patriarchy.
What makes me prick (no pun intended) up my ears is the high level of social media activity by religious Muslims around Tagouri-in-Playboyas compared to, for instance, global human trafficking, sex slavery by ISIS, Muslim nations’ penal codes that infantilize and trap women in guardianship, sexual abuse, rape, etc.
As in the Muslim world, so in the US, sex remains the problem. Violence and exploitation, not so much. Let’s look at American movie culture: the moral police in the US are focused by and large on sex and nudity on screen, while violence continues to rise.
What makes sex and sex-related issues the greater danger to public morality, compared to violence, murder, and state terrorism? What causes a community to rise up in arms against a single young woman’s presence – in a headscarf – in hijab?
Some might say it is precisely the horrifying mismatch between hijab and Playboy that causes a massive community-wide coronary.
A hijabi or a bearded Muslim could join the CIA’s drone program, and kill civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, and she or he would probably receive congratulations and requests for professional introductions. But sex? The female body? Playboy? 
A Muslim woman still carries the honor of the community.
Do all Muslim women alike carry that honor? Not really. A hijab wearer, one might say, dons the uniform of the United Ummah Representative. Khimars, hijabs, turbans, scarves, abayas, they all serve as your personal stripes. As my research respondent “Teresa” said, as a hijabi, she could no longer smoke in public (so she’d smoke in private). “Elizabeth” said that she could not start wearing hijab unless she was really pious and really well-informed about Islam (Muslim American Women on Campus). Once you put on the uniform, it seems, you are no longer a free agent. I’m not saying this is how it should be. I’m saying this is how it is. I’m saying, also, maybe, this is why I quit hijab. Because the whole bloody burden of the whole bloody ummah was way too much, and it’s not like I even like the whole ummah enough to represent all of it.
Some say, Tagouri ought to know she’s donned a cultural symbol and is therefore by extension a cultural symbol, and cannot mix wine with Zamzam water. She’s sullying the purity of the uniform, the symbol, by doing what she did.
Would it be better if Tagouri doffed her hijab and did a proper Playboy shoot? Would the community be less offended?
Yes, this is so.
Falguni Sheth wrote in 2009 that while the sari has been “colonially domesticated” as a “sexy” garment, the hijab – still “undomesticated” – remains a target of hostility. “The hijab is perceived to violate the norms of a sexually and politically liberated society, as well as the aesthetic norms that correspond to such a world,” writes Sheth, so: “The hijab, unlike the sari, still has the widespread public perception of being “strange” rather than sexy.”
Well, hijab, welcome to Playboy and 2016. Also, for those of you unaware of hijab chic and sexy hijab, try a google search. (Keep a barf bag handy). I just attended ISNA, and I have seen sexy hijab. Sexy hijab is not a weird thing.
Some might ask, is that so bad? When is a person not sexy, in fact? Helen Mirren can be sexy, for instance, in a muu-muu. Sex and sexiness are part of life. What makes hijab sexy? Eye make-up? That hump on the top of the head? Adventurous wraps that reveal a lock of hair? Just how much are we going to police it for authenticity?
For the gorgeous among us, we are never not sexy. We apologize to the rest of you for this.
But what is a problem is the commodification and selling of sexiness. Welcome to capitalism. Anything that will sell, will be sold.
Modesty and agency are not the only purposes for a wearer of hijab. For those of my sisters who wear hijab for modesty and agency, this is a tough encounter but a necessary one. You don’t own hijab.
But wait.
Here’s another reason to wear hijab: in the global cultural marketplace, when everything is 5 seconds old the moment it’s on Twitter and Instagram, what can bring you visibility and public recognition when trying to make it in a public career, in a world of conventional pantsuits and summer dresses?
You got it. Hijab.
Welcome to capitalism. Tagouri owns her own brand, and her brand can be sexy hijab welcome in Playboy. Your hijab, and my nerdy-middle-aged lack of hijab will never be welcome there.
Playboy as well as public figures are not necessarily static cultural symbols but merely commodities and products seeking wider markets in the cultural marketplace of capitalism. Trump’s mad demagoguery plays beautifully to the cultural marketplace. It’s so —- so — WEIRD! I can’t look away! I’m so mad about it I’m going to keep talking and writing about it until it stops!
Made you look.
economic, Uncategorized

A dream of work

Last night, I dreamed that I had a brand new job. No, it was a real dream, not a figurative one.

I was at this great big hotel, or hostel, where all the employees were milling around, living, talking, preparing to go to work.

LS Lowry's Returning from Work, 1929. LS Lowry's Returning from Work, 1929.  lowry returning
L.S. Lowry’s Returning From Work (1929)

But as I sat near a room, I overheard some of the employees discussing in hushed tones. They were talking about a friend or a cousin who was trapped in trying to pay off the employer, endlessly. The new faceless employer was covertly owning and enslaving people. People were trying to buy their freedom from the job. Some people were abusing substances, and the employer was facilitating their addiction.


I realized my new job was a total loss of freedom. A disconnection from yourself. It was a terrible thing. It was a mafia. It was a system where you would get consumed and never escape. After the celebratory moment where you land the job, become identified with the status of employment and salary, you discover you are trapped forever.

Then I looked at my watch, and realized I was late to work. I freaked out, and thought, I must get to work! I’m late! 


Capitalism? The time-bound enslavement and apportionment of humans in hours and pyramid.jpgminutes? The job, the work that you feel bound to, identified by, even when it destroys you?

In most cases, it sounds like the very nature of work today. We struggle to carve out an existence, a weekend, maybe if we’re lucky a vacation once or twice a year, – around the Pac-Man of work. Work threatens our hobbies, our leisure, our families, our marriages, our children.

When my daughter was six, she used to say, “When I grow up, I will have 100 children. And I will not go to work, so my children are not sad.”

And yet, without work, we are worthless. The “job” defines us. We emerge from high school and college, shiny and hopeful. We parade our cv’s around. If no faceless corporation checks our teeth and our muscles and takes possession of all our working hours, we hang our heads in shame: we have failed. We are without value. Our value is defined by the employer.

When I sought a career, I sought freedom. I saw how many women who didn’t have professional careers struggled to be beautiful, accomplished cooks, excellent housekeepers, and elegant, polite ladies, and celebrated the moment when Someone put a ring on all that. Without that Man, their futures were uncertain. Who would give them a home after their parents died?

tiem2.jpgI said, f*** that. I’ll be a person in my own right. I’ll put value to myself. I’ll earn my own living and enjoy my work and my leisure.

Then I discovered employment under Western capitalism.

That was the dream.



“Kubo & The Two Strings”

kubo-and-the-two-strings-art-design-5-600x400I wept so profusely while watching Kubo & the Two Strings, I thought I would never stop weeping. This humorous, playful, artistically innovative, visually stunning, and musically delicious film also engages head-on with grief, loss, death, and trauma. It plunges into the difficult problems of love and mortality, avoiding the Disney happy ending while rooting its reassurance in the profundity of the experience of love.

Oh, I guess I forgot to give readers a spoiler alert. kubo

Initially, I was extremely distracted, glancing over to check and see that my fairly sensitive daughter wasn’t scared and upset. The movie keeps a snappy pace, so there isn’t too much time devoting to dwelling on horror. The aunts, with their Kabuki masks, are absolutely terrifying. One moment I was moved to tears
at the painful sight of Kubo’s mother’s post-traumatic stress disorder, and her dissociative condition, and Kubo’s “parenting” of this woman. Then, however, she battles and defends her child against her sisters. kubo-1

Kubo’s magical imagination and musical creativity express his capacity for love and joy. The film beautifully uses Shinto ritual, origami, Japanese cultural practices in food, music, dress, art, architecture, and lifestyle. It is a treat for the senses.

kubo2.jpgI’ve come to hold death, grief, and loss as heartache that I am not really sure how to resolve. Kubo won’t magick pain away, but I had a taste of the catharsis that consumers of Greek tragedy experienced. “‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all” (Tennyson) may work for you. In the moment of grief and loss, it’s unlikely to help, but the Moon Beast’s dissociation of raging resentment offers no promise of healing. The world is aflame with fear, pain, and rage. Can the Moon Kings of our world replace their rage and loss with love and grief? Can the Mothers, after trauma, come back to life and return to their lost selves? Can the children, having sacrificed eyes and hearts, return to joy, music, and love?


Eid Greetings to all

14355781_1095719060475110_2534847048236480976_nApparently it’s Eid al-Scooter today. I couldn’t make it to Eid namaz for various reasons and decided to let this one have the kind of holiday she wanted.

On this gorgeous September day on a pretty quiet tree lined street in Chicago, when all the neighborhood children are at school, and we took a day off for Eid – even if it’s not a traditional community Eid – I’m grateful my child can have a real childhood.

On this day, my conscience and friend Najeeba Syeed shared the picture below, via Naveed Iqbal, of14322375_1293173024040785_6072772325920191031_n Syrian children celebrating Eid on an unexploded bomb in Aleppo.

I’m wishing and praying all the children and their families can have such normal, ordinary, calm days to celebrate, free from fear and free from the struggle to survive.

Ameen and Eid Mubarak to all of my living family, on the planet and beyond!


‘Cancer’ as shorthand for other stuff

I confess I don’t love ipicture-315t when a tirade against a social or global problem say “X is a cancer.”
But then I’m a cancer survivor.
Cancer is a cancer. Cancer’s not shorthand. Maybe to you it is. It’s not to me.
Cancer is getting that call from the oncologist that changes the trajectory of your life.
Cancer is vomiting in the parking lot after leaving a birthday party.
Cancer is that cloud of nausea and illness that doesn’t waft over you, but descends and crashes down upon you as you sit in those recliners at the chemotherapy center.
Cancer is finding clumps of hair on your pillow.
Cancer is realizing that chemo baldness isn’t a cute pixie cut but all-over-hairlessness, that you can’t even raise your eyebrows or flutter your eyelashes, because it’s all gone and you look like death warmed over.
Cancer is fatigue; always fatigue, exhaustion, a cloud of confusion. But productive, active people look at you funny and think, Well, she’s fine now, so why isn’t she pulling her weight like everyone else?
Cancer is the effects of chemo, surgery, radiation that live with you, long after people congratulate you on “Oh you’re well now!” because that means they don’t have to feel so bad for you anymore.
Cancer is aloneness. oct-2009
Cancer is people not knowing what to say to you. Not knowing what to say back. Losing people because what can anyone say? Losing people because making an effort is so hard now.
Cancer is not knowing what to say when people ask you what they can do for you, because you want to say: everything and nothing.
Cancer is being irritable because nobody gets it.
Cancer is becoming a target of everyone’s advice on lifestyle, diet, attitude, mental health, parenting, work, family, and self-help. Cancer is not being able to tell anyone to stuff it, because after all, you may need their help, and you don’t want to have a bad attitude. A cancer patient is supposed to be a suffering saint. A symbol. A Jonah. A big sign that says to other people PHEW. At least YOU don’t have CANCER.
Cancer is fear of losing your job, your marriage, your sex life, your life.
Cancer is losing your job and your sex life.
Cancer is wondering if your employer and colleagues really mean they will support you, or if they just want you to stop looking so miserable.
Cancer is trying too hard, teaching in the middle of chemo, doing fieldwork in the middle of chemo (picture 1), traveling, working, and still finding it was not enough.
Cancer is, often, realizing that your colleagues were lying about their “support”, and that they were angling to kick you out as soon as your hair came back. When the hair is back, don’t you know, you’re all better, and can be treated like shit again.
Cancer is the body fighting for survival, losing the battle as it wins.
Cancer is losing femininity, losing years, losing quality of life.
Cancer is peeling, blackened skin, scabbing skin, black pores, painful radiation sites.
Cancer is fake nipples that look like a cartoon, a joke; dented reconstructed breasts.
Cancer is feeling like a freak and a clown with one breast until they get the other part of your bilateral mastectomy done.
Cancer is fear.
Cancer is a huge change of plans like nothing else.
Cancer is wondering if you should plan to stay in a neighborhood, a city, a region, – or if it even matters because you might be gone soon, so maybe your spouse should be free to move elsewhere he can get a good job.
Cancer is wondering if you should write articles, do new research, write a new book, focus on teaching — or if you should spend all your time with your child because none of that stuff will matter soon.
Cancer is not illiteracy, cancer is not sectarianism, cancer is not hate, cancer is not all this other stuff. Cancer is something else. Cancer isn’t out there. Cancer is in there. In my body. Hiding. Ready to get me.
You may not have experienced it. Lucky you. But it’s annoying when people recycle cancer as a label for all the other things that spread insidiously.
When I get irritated about people calling other things cancer, I’m not protecting an identity. Some kind of cancer club.
What I’m actually doing, ironically, is protecting the rest of my life, I’m protecting non-disease discourse from the encroachment of cancer. Cancer has taken over enough of my daily working, resting, reflecting hours. No more. Cancer is cancer.

Day 1: My daughter’s new school

coonley-day1-5Day 1 at my kid’s new school was a success. As you can see from that huge dramatic scowl in that picture, she had a wonderful day at school.

We had sleepless nights worrying about that first day. We wondered how her teachers would read her. We worried that they would not be able to see the laughter in her eyes past the frown. We wondered, will they see her spirit blazing behind the eyebrows drawn together? Will they know her, or will she sit in the corner, in her lonely soul?

I cannot express how grateful I am to the underpaid, overworked teachers in these schools. They work hard. They make music in those classrooms. Surrounded by these children. These brilliant, fragile, powerful children with their blossoming minds, struggling to grow and flourish in spite of all their grown-ups and their inhibitions, their stereotypes, their nightmares. These children, these unique souls, who love to smile and to scowl and
shout and jump with all their hearts, who are being trained to enter the world of adults where they must NOT do anything with all their hearts, and definitely NOT to scowl and shout and jump and laugh too much.coonley-day1-3

I’m trying, I’m really trying, to help her be herself, my intentions are good, but then, too often, I keep demanding that she become me. I keep slipping into asking, pushing her to become a grown-up, an inhibited, conformist, anal retentive adult. But she keeps coming back, with that irrepressible scowl, that bright eyed raucous laugh, and telling me, THIS IS WHO I AM. Get used to it.

Keep doing that, girl. Keep fighting me.