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Will Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Linda Sarsour Help More Muslims Around The World?

Muslim bride with husband and friends in Central Park

An American Muslim Bride of Bangladeshi Descent With Her Husband and Friends, Taking Photos in Central Park, New York, Spring 2019

For My Friend Nafisa Ali Sodhi
World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd, 2019

By Michele Leight

I have enormous gratitude for all the gifts America has given me, most of all freedom of speech. I have always advocated for people in countries that do not have the freedoms we have here, and I have come to know the tragic price some people pay for expressing their opinions. "Support the press," my mother said, wherever we were in the world, burying herself in the local paper. She could never get enough of them. My mother loved New York newstands, with their newspapers from all over the world - and an astonishing number printed in New York and America. She thought that was the height of civilization. Give my mother her books and newspapers and she was a happy camper. I could not get her onto the Internet to access her news. She had to hold a newspaper in her own two hands. I know she would have something to say about journalists and writers on International Free Press Day. I miss her so much.

I had many, many friends growing up in India. I am still close with some of  them, decades later and living thousands of miles away. One of my dearest friends, however, is my sister's best friend Nafisa Ali, who started hitting the headlines as India's National Swimming Champion in High School, Miss India soon after that, and then came a starring role in a film called "Junoon," that made her a household name - all before she was 20 years old. Other films followed, then marriage and motherhood and her social activism. She became a politician, in the Indian National Congress. Nafisa has had a lifelong bond with the media, which has helped increase awareness for her causes. I did an AIDS awareness benefit with her in India, and could not believe how many members of the press covered it, from small rural TV and radio stations and newspapers that were vital to the cause, all the way up to the major networks and newspapers that reached millions of people on air and online. It was deeply moving and helped propel real action and change.  

The media and Nafisa have been in a love/love relationship from the very beginning, with a heart-warming headline in our local newspaper entitled: "WATER BABY" when she became India's swimming champ. Nafisa was glamorous, fun - and serious. She knew when to let up, giggle and release the pressure, with that twinkle in her eye. She still has the charm and glamour of those fabulous, no-nonsense ladies of Hollywood's Golden Age: like Rita Hayworth, Betty Davis, and Carol Lombard. No one pushed those ladies around. At the age of sixteen, without acting lessons, Nafisa held her own on screen with the top Bollywood male star at that time, the wildly popular and beloved Shashi Kapoor. No small feat for a kid.

Away from the limelight, Nafisa's energies were rarely devoted to "popular" causes. They were usually the ones people would rather not talk or hear about. She was loved by millions of people for it, but she also encountered a fierce backlash from the powerful, especially in government. Things came to a boil when Nafisa started to talk to the media about the infamous Gujrat Riots in 2002, when Hindu mobs attacked Muslims after a train of Hindu pilgrims was set on fire, a total tragedy. The deaths caused outrage and a backlash so horrific it is hard to even think about, but Nafisa was out there on TV and quoted in newspapers, revealing whatever she had been told by eyewitnesses, activists, journalists and even distraught cops. It was a horrific atrocity against innocent people who had nothing to do with the first atrocity of burning a train filled with innocent Hindu pilgrims. Tensions in Gujrat were dangerously high, and it spread across India. Nafisa was never one to back down from a cause she took on, and, being Muslim, this was very important to her.

For her outspokenness, Nafisa soon had to defend herself in court against a barrage of formidable political accusers, and for a while things did not look good at all. It was a terrifying time for all those who loved her. 

Then one day, the Prime Minister of India asked her to come and see him and explain what was going on. He liked her films and the articles she had written about racing cars, and he wanted to know why she was involved in such controversy. After hearing her explanations, the (then) Prime Minister of the BJP - Atal Bahari Vajpai - mercifully helped quell the dangers swirling around her. 

Nafisa did not go to jail, but it was a close call. 

It was a wake-up call for me to see someone who was like a member of the family get into so much trouble for speaking the truth. I was also aware that she was one of the lucky ones. Many activists, journalists, politicians and ordinary citizens around the world suffer terrible fates for speaking the truth. The world witnessed that last year with the murder - and worse - of a brave journalist with The Washington Post in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. He too was an outspoken critic of some things that were going on in his country. There are many critics that simply vanish, all over the world.

The next furor occurred when Nafisa started talking about AIDS, which was spreading at an alarming rate across India, but no one in high places or the government was saying anything about it. AIDS kept spreading in a land with over a billion citizens, many of them illiterate and poor, without access to information. Taboos run deep in many countries, and the subject of AIDS in India was off limits at that time. I remember someone I had known all my life asking: "How can she talk about things like this?" I asked her how she could not talk about it, when millions of innocent people, including babies, were at risk for a disease that could be passed through a mother to her baby without her even knowing it, because she did not know she was infected. Nafisa just kept on talking about it, blasting homophobia, prejudice and bigotry, and encouraging people not to fear HIV-testing, because even though AIDS was incurable, it was preventable. Stigma was a wall, and Nafisa wanted to break it down. It seemed like a hopeless task, but she kept at it.

Nafisa is also a wonderful photographer, a lifelong passion that began young, encouraged by her father who was a professional photographer. She created enough alarm with her stories and photographs of people suffering with AIDS that something was done about it by the government. She shattered the myth that AIDS was a only a homosexual disease by interviewing wives who had become infected by their husbands, and writing about children who had received contaminated blood in transfusions. Today, in a deeply religious country there are enormous billboards accross India offering advice about how to prevent AIDS, where to get tested, and access to treatment if infection is found. I believe Nafisa helped save millions of lives and prevented far more suffering because she spoke out. She had a high-profile, powerful platform, and she used it to the max for endangered people.

When Nafisa was diagosed with cancer last year it made national headlines in India. She received thousands of messages of support from friends, colleagues and fans across the country and around the world, which surprised her, because she has been leading a quiet life for the past few years. She had just celebrated 39 years of marriage to one of my favourite men on the planet, Retired Colonel "Pickles" Sodhi, and has devoted herself to her beloved family and especially her grandchildren, who all adore her. Often, in the midst of her family photographs, is my wonderful sister. They used to play together when they were little girls, and they still play together - with all their kids.

India did not forget Nafisa. Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India,  was one of the first to contact her. There is a beautiful photograph of them on Nafisa has shared her cancer treatment experience, like she has shared everything else. There is a moving tribute to her on, "Nafisa Ali, Battling Cancer, Shares Throwback Pic Worth a Thousand Words." Nafisa is the rock of her family, and they are everything to her. When she had to have surgery, her childhood friend, now Dr. Anklesaria, was present.

For myself, it was hard to accept that someone so fearless, vital and energetic could be threatened by anything. It made me think about what Nafisa has done that has impacted so many people, of all religions, backgrounds, ethnicities and races. She is a force of nature, and a proud Muslim, which has made me follow the careers of contemporary Muslim women with powerful platforms, to see what they are doing.

One thing I will say here is that 9/11 changed the world forever, including for moderate Muslims, who have had to endure not only the backlash that comes from these kinds of atrocities from non-Muslims, but also the constant pressure and hostility from radical Muslims that think they are not traditional, observant and strict enough in their faith. This manifested tragically in the Easter attacks on churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka recently, which targeted Christians, but in fact is a far more complex situation. Last year, moderate Sufi Muslims in the same town as the radicalized mastermind of the attacks - who blew himself in a suicide bomb attack - warned the authorities that he was not only preaching hatred against Christians and people of other faiths, but was also threatening them. As I write, the Sufis in his town fear attacks against them by radicalized members of their own faith. There are reports that Muslims are fleeing the towns where the bombings occurred, because the majority Buddhist communities blame them for the attacks. 

There have been op-eds and reports by moderate Muslims in India and Sri Lanka that wear Western clothes, Indian salwars and saris or sarongs - and do not wear a hijab - who descrbe how this Muslim-on-Muslim hostility has built up gradually ever  since a steady flow of Sri Lankan and Indian Muslims have gone to the Middle East to work. They return wearling full length robes and hijabs, but more importantly, they follow much stricter and rigid forms of the Muslim faith, and are increasingly intolerant of not only Westerners, but also of them. These are trying times, and it is necessary to be supportive of those that may not be the target of an attack, but who are also at risk. Islamophobia is as virulent a form of hatred as any other bigotry.

I had high expectations when Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were elected to Congress. I had seen Ms. Omar on a Van Jones show on CNN, and she came across as really promising. I was excited for what they would bring to America and the world with their new power, especially for Muslims. I have also followed the career of Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist, who is sometimes in the news. I feel these three young women have the ability to change lives for the better, just as Nafisa has done.   

In the months since the congresswomen took office, I am sad to say I have had to fight my disappointment at the controversial Tweets and Twitter feuds with colleagues in Congress, and the sometimes unwise and even innacurate comments in very public venues or at conferences where it is clear the media cameras are rolling and the cellphones recording . I kept saying to myself that this is due to inexperience, that more time would produce a different result. I was hoping for some real bridge-building within their own party in Congress and across the aisle with Republicans, that might result in substantive legislative action, for important policies. But things just seem to get more and more sensational and less practical. Nancy Pelosi put it really well. I paraphrase: Popularity on Instagram and Twitter are not going to get the votes needed on the floor of the House to create new policies.

Dreams are hard won. 

Being a member of Congress is a serious business, with real repercussions for good or bad. I am a staunch believer in free speech, and while I have been saddened by the Israel-bashing and even anti-Semitic sentiments, I am not one to shut down anyone's opinions, even unpleasant ones that I disagree with. The only time to deny speech is if it calls for or incites violence and death. Otherwise, shutting people down just makes them angrier opponents, which is not productive. Debate and dialogue is the only way to move forward and forge solutions. While I am dismayed by some of Ms. Tlaib's views about Israel, including a one-state solution, I believe she has the right to say what she thinks. The "Benjamins" Tweet was unworthy of Ms. Omar. She can do better than that. I will not even get into the 9/11 uproar. It was distressing. 

There are far more productive ways to citicize a country's policies than resorting to anti-Semitism that, among other things, really upset colleagues in your own party and members across the aisle, who you will need to help you forge legislation in the future. 

The controversy last year about anti-Semitism within The Women's March - of which Linda Sarsour is a Co-Founder - caused a rift and split in the organization, that was disheartening. It was the opposite of bridge-building across women's communities, and such a stark contrast to what I have seen Nafisa do for decades. She has always embraced diversity of thought and purpose - and tolerance. She is one of the most pro-Jewish people I have ever met. Women squabbling among themselves in an organization with hundreds of thousands of female members is not helpful to furthering the interests of all women. The good of the movement as a whole was undermined by personality clashes and intractable differences, sadly. A great idea was trampled by questionable associations with Louis Farrakhan, who has (at the time of writing) just been banned from all of Facebook's platforms - for hate speech. He is in terrible company. The infamous founder of Infowars, Alex Jones, among others, has also been banned, a man who has incited his followers to harass the parents of children that were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who among other horrors, pedaled the falsehood that the mass shooting was staged. 

Mr. Farrakhan is anti-Semitism incarnate, and has been for decades. For example, "I am not an anti-Semite, I am anti-termite" is one of his now well-known descriptions of Jews. Hopefully this "ban" will remove that video from Facebook. It is vitally important in this new atmosphere of heightened tensions and partisanship to be careful who one associates with, especially as a member of Congress. It is not sufficient to say you do not agree with someones opinions, yet join them at highly visible venues jammed with press, smiling and hugging.

For a while now, all three women have been motivated by the - singular - focus of the plight of the Palestinian people (a worthy focus) that is a "popular" cause across the country, especially on college campuses. Yet the nature of their support has not resulted in any meaningful help or relief for them. The wall-to-wall negativity about anything to do with Israel is counter-productive to solutions, because only they can implement change. Virulent opinions about a legitimate country that seem to invalidate its right to exist will not do the job.

While many Americans may think that this "Israel-bashing" from congresswomen is new, I heard this kind of rhetoric decades ago while I was a student in London, mainly from fellow students in institutions like Oxford and The London School of Economics. They were firmly on the far left politically and rabidly anti-Israel. The ensuing decades of the Labor government in Britain has now produced Jeremy Corbyn, a polarizing figure who has done nothing to move the needle forward for the benefit of the Palestinian people, even though he has long advocated for them, probably because of his virulent anti-Semitism and blatant hostility towards Israel. Not to mention America.

There is a pattern throughout history that aspiring reformers can win a battle over an issue, but lose the war. Such is the case for people like Louis Farrkhan and Jeremy Corbyn, whose efforts on behalf of others become too mired in controversy to help them in any real way. They do grab a lot of headlines, though, for what that is worth. 

Incidentally, I remained friends with those anti-Israel students. We agreed to disagree about Israel, and were never hateful to each other.

Domestic and international terrorism, attacks on places of worship by White Nationalists and ISIS-inspired militants, incendiary political rhetoric, partisanship, fears among whites of demographic replacement (by Muslims and Jews), have contributed to an atmosphere of fear, anger and a sense of isolation in many communities.  

If ever there was a time for carefully considered, responsible Tweets and rhetoric it is now. Factual innacuracies such as the date that CAIR was founded (well before, not after, the 9/11 attacks) and unwise comments about that terrible day in New York, my home city, that are still raw in the minds and hearts of most Americans, invite the kind of backlash that has dimmed the hopes of many Muslims - and myself - who imagined something very different when Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were elected. 

It a baseline responsibility of any elected official who is representing a community with many minorities, to avoid incendiary remarks that can backfire on them. I have cited examples of the tragedies that occur against innocent people in religious and ethnic conflicts. Within a few months, Ms. Omar has been menaced so brazenly by a man who did not appreciate her rhetoric that he occupies a jail cell. Language and Tweets reach all kinds of people. It is important to be self-protective, and take care of those you love and represent. 

Nowhere is there any evidence that American troops "killed thousands of Somalis," and it is insensitive and insulting to our troops that have served and are still serving, dying and getting wounded to even put a comment like that out there without thoroughly researching the facts. Ms.Omar has staff now to do these things. Firing off Tweets is not wise in these incendiary times. A few sentences can do a lot of damage, especially when they are re-Tweeted by a President who has 60 million followers, many of whom serve in the military, or are severely wounded veterans, and when colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

I do not think it is productive or wise to insert profanities at the President in a victory speech after being elected to Congress, especially when the expletive is used in the context of a comment to her own child. Respectfully, I have to say that this kind of careless hurts the professionalism of the office and gives fodder to opponents who can spin it to their own advantage - and imply that this is the "liberated" Muslim woman. I never once heard Nafisa use profane language because she was experienced at media politics and knew that the cameras were always rolling - even at private events. Prematurely invoking impeachment is also unwise without the guarantee it can be achieved. The Senate is controlled by the Republicans. Til that changes, impeachment is dead in the water. 

It would be far more helpful to the Somali people, for example, for Ms. Omar to use her platform to highlight the terrible human rights abuses that continue there daily, especially the mistreatment of women and the rape-culture that is pervasive and accepted as the norm at all levels of Somali society. There are brave, fearless women who want to make Somalia better for their citizens, who have no wish to live anywhere else, and who do not have the priviliges that Ms. Omar has - thanks to America welcoming her here. It is a gift that should not be taken lightly. I think Somali atrocities against their women are a far more worthy focus rather than tirades against American soldiers.

As previously mentioned, Israel-bashing, and BDS (Boycott, Sanction, Divest) are the "popular" causes of the moment at elite universities and colleges in America, in some media outlets, in op-eds in some newspapers, and on panel discussions or speaking engagements. Unfortunately this kind of advocacy, (which my beloved Mother called the "feel good" variety) is far removed from the harsh realities faced by Israelis, and the beleaguered Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. 

Without intending any offence, it is a truly priviliged form of protest conducted from the safety of gorgeous campuses, well-endowed and fashionable Non-Profits, and Progressive institutions, that is also spread through the Twitter-universe, that has thus far done nothing to change the status quo in the Middle East for the Palestinian people. In fact it has hardened the outlook of even those Israeli's that once supported negotiations with the Palestinians - resulting in the hammering of the Israeli left wing parties in recent elections. Even those Israelis that do not support Mr. Netanyahu do not approve of the kind of hatred directed at him. No other leader in the world is subjected to this constant insult and battery. There are those who believed it helped Mr. Netanyahu win. 

I would like to take this opportunity to say to Ms. Omar, Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Sarsour that it is important to remember that Israeli prime ministers represent a people who, even after 80 years since WWII, have not been able to replace themselves demographically, because so many Jews were murdered by the Nazis.  On  Brian Williams' broadcast on MSNBC on World Holocaust Day he said that the same number of Jews exist today as did back in the 1930s. Fifteen million.

When Hezbollah, Hamas, and the mullahs in Iran say "Death to Israel," and White Nationalists say 'Jews will not replace us,"  they should think of that number - 15 million. That they feel so threatened by 15 million Jews is the height of cowardice. The Muslim and white population represent several billion people. Yet somehow Jews represent a threat. It is absurd and hateful.

"Death to Israel" and "Death to America" has enormous significance. It is profound hate speech of the vilest kind, and should never be accepted, tolerated or normalized in discussions about the Israelis and Palestinians. I for one will never be de-sensitized to it. It makes me really angry. "Death to America" is invoked by criminals who belong behind bars. Grown men with families say this, with impunity. To show any sympathy towards individuals or organization with ties to terrorist organizations or "charities" that funnel funds to them is disloyal to America.   

No children, anywhere, should suffer because the adults in this world keep letting them down. It was a child that Nafisa met in a hospital that began her AIDS advocacy. At that time, she did not know you could get infected from a blood transfusion. There was very little information available. The boy's mother told her. Nafisa was a mother with young children and it alarmed her enough to motivate to act. We are all one step removed from the problems of others.

It would help the Palestinian people much more if Americans of Palestinian descent and Americans that care about them raise funds for schools with after-school programs and healthcare for their children. These are tangible, practical solutions that would bring enormous relief to parents, and a smile to the faces of children who need some reason to be joyful, till a solution is found. Generations of Palestinian children have not experienced childhood. It is so sad to watch the persistent tire-burning and rock throwing Palestinian teenagers, the violent confrontations at the Israeli border, and to hear the wailing sirens that are a normal backdrop of daily life in Israel everytime a rocket lands near schools and homes there. We all have to do better than this.

Generations of Israeli youth have served in the military, and generations of Palestinian youth have been engaged in protests against them. I still believe it is possible to reach a solution that will end this continuous trauma, but it cannot be achieved by Tweets and BDS.
Chants of "Death to Israel/Death to America" by Iran's mullahs, Hezbollah and Hamas are not a prelude for successful negotiations about anything, especially when they are not the real representatives of the Palestinain people. Hamas has, in my humble opinion, hijacked their voices, at the bidding of Iran. If anyone threatened to annihilate my children and loved ones, I would not sit down and talk with them about anything. I would not want to be in the same room with them. Death threats are criminal offences, and non-negotiable.

Of all countries, Israel, that was forged on a foundation of the Holocaust,  pogroms, worldwide displacement and terror, should not be constantly threatened with annihilation. Ms. Tlaib has indicated she favors a one-state solution. It is incomprehensible to me that someone who has a grandmother living in the West Bank can make dangerous comments like that - for  her grandmothers safety!

America, the halls of Congress monitored by Capitol Police, and beautifully manicured college campuses are out of range of the daily rockets that crash into Israeli's iron dome from Gaza, the pounding retaliatory fire, and the checkpoints manned by Israeli soldiers tasked with detecting suicide bombers and others that mean real harm to Israeli children and families. It is a highly charged tinderbox, waiting to ignite at any moment. Ms. Tlaib's grandmother is not protected, as she is, from rocket fire. 

Israel is not going anywhere. Its people survived the Holocaust. If Ms. Tlaib wants her grandmother to have a homeland to call her own, calling for the elimination of Israel is not going to help her achieve that. 

Any advocacy for the Palestinian people should include that they be given the right to speak for themselves. Not proxies of Iran.
While no country is perfect, and there are legitimate concerns to raise about Israel, it has been utterly baffling to me that, (as they regularly assail Israel), Ms. Omar, Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Sarsour fail to mention 1) what organizations like Hamas are doing to the Palestinian people; 2) what some Muslims are doing to their own people in Muslim majority countries; and 3) what is being done to Muslims in countries where they are in the minority. 

Here are a few examples that are generally well known, but thus far not referenced in the sensational Twitter, social media and TV commentaries by the three women cited here that have often dominated headlines - a missed opportunity that is deeply saddening. 

Nafisa would have used the same platforms to unleash these atrocities that shame us all - but especially Muslims that have a voice.

There has been no criticism from Ms. Omar, Ms. Tlaib or Ms. Sarsour 
about the recent brutal suppression of peacful protests by Hamas against the Palestinians in Gaza, who did not want to pay additional taxes on food and cigarettes they were demanding. Perhaps Hamas retaliated so harshly because they said they were protesting them, not Israel. For their right to free speech and to assemble peacefully, the protesters were swiftly subjected to Hamas justice. 

Among others, Hamas beat up two members of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, a Palestinian journalist who documented the protest, and many other journalists and organizers who exposed how badly they were being treated. No comments or Tweets have been made by our congresswomen or Ms. Sarsour about the novelist and Fatah spokesman Atef Abu Saif who was transported to a hospital in the West Bank - for treatment and his safety - with lacerations to his face and upper body, a fractured scull, and broken hands and legs, after brutal beatings by "masked men." 

In The Guardian report "Palestinian Writer Has Fingers Smashed In Gaza Beating," (23 March, 2019), a UK Publisher that works with Abu Saif said: "...Most notably, the assailants broke his finger in the right arm, a recognized punishment for writers."

The Guardian report also notes: "Although activists say their demands are purely economic, Hamas has accused its Palestinian political rival, Fatah, of fomenting strife....Speaking to Palestinian media from his hospital bed, his head wrapped in bandages, Abu Saif denied that Fatah has pushed for protests: 'These masses went out to look for a better life.'"

"Fatah called it an attempt to murder Saif, and held Hamas responsible. A member of his family said he believed this was Hamas retaliating against Abu Saif's criticism of their crackdown." (The Guardian).

Abu Saif was attacked before, in September 2018, six months after he became a spokesman for Fatah. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International condemned Hamas for their brutality. 

All three women cited in this story are fervent supporters of the Palestinian people, y
et there has been no condemnation or Twitter outrage for this assault on their freedom. All the finger-pointing and accusations have gone in one direction only: towards Israel, and anyone one that supports Israel. 

Why give Hamas a pass?
  I believe it is far worse to be treated badly by your own people than any foreign power. 

When Muslim Americans like our congresswomen, and Ms. Sarsour, vociferously demand their right to free speech in America, there is also a responsibility for them to support Muslims in other countries that do not have any rights or protections whatsoever for expressing their opinions, especially in Gaza or the West Bank! They have invested so much credibility in their criticism of Israel's treatment of the Palestinains, it is impossible to believe it is an oversight to not apply the same standards of outrage to Hamas.

In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Turkey, Iran, Brunei, and other Muslim majority countries, the treatment of their own people is deeply disturbing, flagrantly in violation of International norms. Brave youn women in Saudi Arabia are tortured in jail because they dared to inspire the right for women to drive. Women are whipped in Iran for exposing their hair in public. In Pakistan women are hunted down and murdered in "Honor Killings" by their own family members for daring to choose who to love instead of complying with loveless arranged marriages - often to men much older than they are - for the financial benefit of the parents.

Someone I shall not name here, for obvious reasons, secretly recorded the stoning of a young Muslim woman on her cellphone in a country I shall also not name. The truly amazing thing about this is that the women around her said and did nothing, as they have done, in the past. They silently supported her action - which was punishable by death if they were found out - and the video ended up at an institution that was able to use it to pressure those with the power to stop it. I have not heard about any more stonings, at least in that part of the country. It is just not possible to deny hard evidence like that. The Congresswomen can express as much outrage against atrocities like this. 

Accusations against Israel and America for human rights abuses fall flat when compared with crucixitions (ISIS and Saudi Arabia), widespread rapes, stoning people to death and honor killings. It is absolutely absurd how focused students on our college campuses are on these two countries, when there are real, glaring atrocities to go after elsewhere. 

China is not a Muslim majority country, but it has many Muslim citizens. The largest internment camps in the world now exist in Xinjiang Province, which the Chinese government call "Re-Education" camps. These grim structures that recall the concentration camps of Nazi Germany presently incarcerate over a million Uighur Muslims (of Turkic descent), and some Kazakhs, who are expected to give up all their Muslim traditions and religious beliefs because the Chinese Government demands it. They are not even allowed to pray. There are reports that those that refuse to give up their faith and culture are tortured and brutalized. There are also reports of crematoria being built besides the camps, for those that die from disease, starvation, or succumb to torture. All this is horrific enough, but it is the denial of their right to be buried, a requirement in the Muslim faith, that is so unjust

There are so many reports about this inhumane and brutal situation I do not need to enumerate them. China is not as easy to criticize as Israel, but it is the Chinese that have committed far worse atrocities and it keeps getting worse because of their economic clout. 

Atrocities were not concealed last year in Myanmar, when Muslim Rohingya citizens that have lived there for centuries were brutally removed from their land, which was torched by their Buddhist neighbors and the military. The remnants of their homes were bulldozed, and new homes only for Buddhists have replaced them. The removal of the Rohingya in two separate purges in 2017 and 2018 have been described by the UN as "ethnic cleansing with genocidal intent," that has resulted in the largest refugee camp in the world in neighboring Bangladesh - in excess of 730,000, and possibly as many as 1 million people. 

Details of some of the atrocities committed against the Rohingya, including mass killings - the worst treatment reserved for women, children and the elderly - were reported by two Reuters journalists. They were then framed by the Myanmar authorities, jailed on bogus charges to silence them, and are currently serving a 7-year prison sentence. offers a history of this tragedy, and highlights the fear among the Buddhist majority of being replaced by Muslims (demographic replacement) - a fear echoed in the manifestos of the White Nationalist New Zealand terrorist that attacked a mosque, and the manifesto of the gunman who targeted Jews attending services at their synagogue in Poway, California, on the last day of Passover. 

Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownbach, went to Bangladesh on his first overseas visit on the job. In "Medium" he wrote: "When all of the facts are in I believe the situation will prove to be far worse than currently understood. Every individual I spoke with said that their Muslim faith was one of the chief reasons they were targeted., citing the destruction of mosques, the public beatings of imams in the streets, and the explicit statements of the perpetrators who drove the Rohingya from their homes."

It would be such a worthy focus for our two Muslim Congresswomen - especially Ms. Omar who lived in a refugee camp in Kenya - and Ms. Sarsour to help the poor, brutalized Rohingya people, that are in refugee camps in Bandladesh and fear returning to Myanmar - with justification. 

"Soldiers threw infants and small children into open fires, rivers, wells and burning huts. One refugee reported that a soldier threw an infant in the air and impaled it on a sword." (

"Muslims are a worldwide disease. Anyone who says any different is lying," said Than Tun, one of the founders of a group of Buddhist Nationalists called the Ancilliary Committee for the Reconstruction of Rakhine National Territory. "My desire, if I'm not being diplomatic, is that we only want Rakhines." In other words, they only want Buddhists living in Myanmar. (

How eerily familiar this infected rhetoric sounds like that used against Jews and other minorities in Russia and Europe that led to pogroms and the Holocaust, and the hideous genocide of Jews by the Nazi, who also targeted the mentally ill, the disabled, homosexuals, Eastern Europeans, and gypsies.  

ISIS is believed to be behind the Sri Lanka attacks. In the aftermath, Al Bagdadi, the founder of ISIS, has let the world know with the first photograph of himself in five years, that he is back in business, even though the territory of ISIS is no more. Moderate Muslims that want to co-exist with people of other faiths in peace also have much to fear. In a New York Times article on April 26th, 2019, "Rogue Preacher Urged Murder of All Idolators," states:

"There were, Mr. Zarahan said in one of his online sermons, three types of people. Muslims, those who had reached an accord with Muslims, and 'people who need to be killed'...It was clear for years that Mr. Zaharan's hateful cadences were designed to lure a new generation of militants." 

Mr. Zarahan started a group in 2014 called National Thowheeth Jama'ath, who authorities said masterminded the attacks. This is how ISIS began in Iraq and Syria, and it does not bode well for India and Sri Lanka. There are reports that Indian authorities have tracked over a dozen Keralites (from South India) that have been drawn to ISIS overseas, including 5 that were trained in Syria. These individuals return home. Last month, the FBI intercepted a plot by ISIS supporters that were planning a bomb attack in the United States.

While our Congresswomen are free to focus their attention in the Middle East, they might also want to devote more attention to what is going on here at home as well. Moderate Muslims are in as much danger as anyone else.

Raising awareness about where free speech crosses the line into hate speach that incites violence and death should be the responsibility of all adults - and that begins with their own speech. Politicians, activists, professors, school and college administrators, student organizers, religious leaders, teachers and all those that can impact the actions of others - especially the young - have never had as much responsibility as they have now to encourage tolerance and dialogue especially when controversial issues and opinions are involved.
I read the op-eds and social media comments of respected journalists around the world. One Israeli journalist said the greatest threat to Israel was not Islamic fundamentalism or terrorism, but the American left. That might be an exaggeration, but it is worth considering.

When universities like the UMass (Amherst) sanction seminars with agendas like "Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Human Rights," that do not include a single Jewish student, activist or celebrity on their panel to balance the pro-Palestinian agenda, it is also incumbent upon them to anticipate some fallout on campus from this one-sided focus. It may be a coincidence, but there seems to be a direct connection between these kinds of events and swastikas daubed on the walls of college dorms with Jewish students, and outright hostility towards them. To my knowledge I have not heard of any Jewish students expressing hostility towards Palestinian students or their supporters on college campuses or at events.

Insights and comments by those who are for and against this kind of seminar are included  in an article in The Daily Hampshire Gazette (April 23, 2019): "Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, Activist Linda Sarsour
  to Talk Israel, Palestine, at UMass Amherst." 

In the "not-thrilled-about-it" comments is this one, from the President of the University's Student Alliance for Israel: 

"I think the number one thing that I see wrong with this event is that it isn't a platform for open dialogue and discussion. It kind of feeds into possible incitement on campus..."

Besides enumerating the faults of the Israelis at this seminar, I sincerely hope Ms. Sarsour tells the audience that the "free speech" of Palestinains in Gaza was recently brutally suppressed by Hamas. This should include at a minimum reference to the smashed fingers of the Fatah advocate and author, Abu Saif, and the battered member of Human Rights Watch who did not report back favorably about this incident, which caught the attention of The Guardian, usually a staunch supporter of anyone that dislikes Israel - including Hamas. 

One of the great memories I have about my LSE and Oxford student friends decades ago, is that they thoroughly enjoyed the debates with opposing points of view that were then a routine part of college life. The Oxford Union (a debating society) was famous for their lengthy arguments between students of extremely "opposing" opinions and ideas, duking it out for all to hear. They would never have dreamed of having a one sided-debate on a panel discussion about any issue and I never heard of anyone using slurs and profanities to make a point. That would have been considered totally un-democratic and not much fun. No one learns anything when presented with a one-sided argument, which is why I believe so stronly in free speech, no matter how controversial it is. I am really grateful that I was never pressured to attend a one-sided panel discussion, or to consider it normal.

As we have come full circle back to the Palestinian/Israeli issue - and because it is such a focus of the three women featured in this story - I would like to discuss the controversial topic of BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) in connection with Israel. 

I think everyone would agree that all nations work in their own best interest. Israel is a staunch ally of the United States, but it is not immune to the barrage of criticism and attacks that have come from the American left in recent years, reaching new heights with the entry of two new Muslim women to Congress with power to weild it many different ways. 

So far, it is pretty clear that both our new Congresswomen and Ms. Sarsour are no friends of Israel. What remains to be seen is how that plays out for the Palestinian people. Ms. Tlaib has made it pretty clear that she wants a one-state solution - which means what exactly?  I have read many ideas on this topic, but it would be a relief to have some clarity on what Israel is supposed to do with all its citizens? 

From what I know of the Israelis, my guess is that with all this negative rhetoric flowing from the halls of Congress and university campuses in America, they would quite rightly make contingency plans should Congress and the Presidency revert to the Democrats. 

It cannot have escaped the Democrats notice that Israel's standing in the Middle East has changed. As the object of constant battery and insults from his critics over the past decade - lead by the American left - Mr. Netanyahu has forged some interesting, and some questionable alliances - out of necessity. Like him or not, he will do whatever it takes to protect the Israeli people, which is why they re-elected him for yet another term as Prime Minister, an honor comparable only to that of Israel's founder, David Ben Gurion.

The number one concern for all Israelis is security, for obvious reasons. 

Several Middle Eastern countries are now allies of Israel, for many reasons, including its remarkable armed forces and security agencies that are a deterrent to what could otherwise be accelerated regional extremism and mayhem (mainly from ISIS and Iran's mullahs via their proxies). Israel also has a powerful ally in the United States - certainly among American Republicans, and many Independents, which could be a majority of Americans. 

The noise on the left is loud and fierce, but it does not represent the best interests of the American people, who need a democratic ally they can count on in the Middle East. If for any reason that should change, it is clear there are several countries that would happily fill that void - for their own interests - to the great disadvantage of America. 

Who would have imagined that Israel and Egypt would ever become allies, when they were once arch enemies? England and the United States made an alliance with Stalin during WWII, even though they were aware of his appalling history of brutality and murder of hundreds of thousands of Russians that did not want to give up their farms and move to work in dreary factories in cities - and his pogroms against Jews, among other atrocities. It was the kind of devils bargain that has been made by nations thoughout history, for their survival and advantage. The Allies won with the help of Stalin, and then he went on to murder and brutalize millions more people, and lay the groundwork for the Cold War. We are still feeling the effects of Russian soft aggression - via interference in our elections.

Israels technological prowess and innovation, its hospitals and doctors, its ability to adjust to changing circumstances, are legendary. The wealthy and powerful from around the world go to Israel's hospitals for treatment, hire their security experts and invest in their start-ups. There are two countries that I think would pounce to replace America should its Democrat party abandon Israel, or if American companies are hounded by left wing politicians and activists through boycotts for doing business with Israel. 

Can America's Democrats envision a world in which Israel shares critical intelligence - with severe global implications - with countries like Russia and China (with its deep financial pockets) rather than America? In exchange, China, with its strategic goals to replace America as the world's superpower, could easily replace the $4 billion in funding towards Israel's defence that some Progressive Democrats want to remove - including I believe the three women cited in this story. 

China came close to receiving a major stake in a strategic Israeli port last year - till  America objected. As an strong ally of Israel, America prevailed. However, China would have prevailed if America was not a great ally. We would be the losers in that scenario, for many reasons. When China enters into financial alliances with countries, they make demands. They interfere in their governments, they buy their way to more and more power. Should Russia also start interfering in Israel, like they have done here, it could also adversely affect the Palestinian people. Russia admits no Muslim immigrants into their country and would never give them citizenship if they did.  Both countries are pathologically Islamophobic. Imagine then, the consequences this would have for the Palestinain people if China, for example, had a stake in what should be done about Gaza and the West Bank? Forget statehood in Gaza and the West Bank for a start. Russia has no qualms about encroaching on the territory of other nations. Annexing Gaza or the West Bank would be a no brainer.

While Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Linda Sarsour storm the barricades for the Palestinians, they should be careful what they wish for.

At least some Americans support a two-state solution, and most Americans are not Islamophobic.

If I was Benjamin Netanyahu and the government of Israel, I would be making contingency plans based on their record so far, because many of their anti-Israel proposals - including BDS - are backed by members of the Progressive Democrat Caucus.

It is important - as my mother always said - to think strategically and long term. What is your endgame? Who will lose or benefit?

As an eternally hopeful person - like Nafisa - I would like to end on an optimistic note. I met a Jewish friend yesterday I have known for 40 years. She was deeply disturbed by a grotesque anti-Semitic cartoon that had appeared in the international edition of The New York Times, that was widely viewed on the internet. She talked about cancelling her subscription, which began when she was 20 years old, decades ago. It was especially painful, she said, after the gunman had just attacked worshippers in the synagogue in California and its proximity to World Holocaust Day.

I told her to hold on, because I believed that The New York Times would do something to restore confidence that has been severaly eroded for many of us after years of Israel-bashing and anti-Semitic coverage. The paper owes Mr. Netanyahu an apology, out of common decency. It was not fair to Americans either, portraying their president as a stupid puppet of the leader of another country - an ancient anti-Semitic trope. 

I was also thinking of cancelling our subscription, and just sticking with The Wall Street Journal, which would have broken my heart. My mother loved The New York Times, but she would not feel the same way about it in its present form. 

Although it will take some time to convince me it will change, I was rewarded for my optimism. The editorial page of The New York Times yesterday included a mea culpa entitled "A Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism." It includes the following:

"In the 30s and 40s, The Times was largely silent as anti-semitism rose up and bathed the world in blood. That failure still haunts this paper. Now, rightly, The Times has declared itself  'deeply sorry' for the cartoon and called it 'unacceptable.' Apologies are important, but the deeper obligation of The Times is to focus on leading through unblinking journalism and the clear editorial expression of its values. Society in recent years has shown healthy signs of increased sensitivity in other forms of bigotry, yet somehow anti-Semitism can still be dismissed as a disease gnawing only at the fringes of society. That is a dangerous mistake. As recent events have shown, it is a very mainstream problem...As the world once again contends with this age-old enemy, it is not enough to refrain from empowering it. It is necessary to stand in opposition."

Let's see some real opposition, editors, reporters and op-ed writers. The time has come. Enough already.

I hope our politicians in America - including Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib - and others around the world encourage tolerance and freedom of speech, not hateful opinions or actions that result in violence or death. Educational institutions should seek to push back on the increasing militancy and hate speech that is proliferating on campuses that tramples on the rights of others - be it Jewish students or other supporters of Israel, conservatives, or those with un-cool agendas. Just because a majority of students might favor a "popular" cause does not give them supremacy over their colleagues. It also does not translate to acceptance of their militancy or substantive change in the real world. 

If Ms. Omar, Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Sarsour really want to help the Palestinian people, they would be wise to dialogue with the other side in Congress and in the Middle East, notably the Israelis. Ms. Sarsour could deploy the formidable forces of The Women's March to raise funds for Palestinian children. My mother and Nafisa definitely believed/believe that being for something is far more meaningful than being against things. 

BDS Israel could produce a devastating outcome for the Palestinian people. No one wants that. Everyone deserves a dignified, happy life. Imagine living life in peace (John Lennon) 

As I was ending this story, I saw a headline in The Wall Street Journal that grabbed my attention: "Sri Lankan Terror Spree Was a Family Affair: Islamic State tactic draws wives and children into suicide attacks."  It is a sad indictment of parents and grandparents that are co-opted into signing off on the death of their children without any guilt or remorse: "...police discovered a video circulating online that they believe was made in the house before the explosions. 'The dogs are coming,' says one of the men in the video...The three men speak by turns, one with a gun in one hand and a young boy seated on his lap. A child wails in the background...'There are three wives of martyrs with us and they will join their husbands in heaven,' one of the men in the video says."

Some, clearly have second thoughts: "Before the explosions, women emerged from the premises asking people in the neighborhood to take their children in exchange for money, according to several residents. But locals had seen the men carry arms and refused, residents said."

As law enforcement approached the house where the terror suspects were hiding, they detonated three big explosions. The next day they counted at least 15 corpses, including six children, and the father and two brothers of one of the suicide bombers.

What a tragic destiny for children, who have no choice in these suicide pacts devised by families that are willing to sacrifice them. 

I end by saying I am still optimistic for substantive contributions from Ms. Omar, Ms.Tlaib and Ms. Sarsour. I wish them the best. 

I would like to offer my gratitude to the soldiers and their families here at home and around the world that have to pay the price for our collective inability to dialogue positively with each other as people and as nations, to create a world where you too can lay down your arms and enjoy peace with your families. Your children are always in my thoughts. 

All homes should ring with the laughter of children. They should all be happy and free from harm. 

I wish my lifelong friend Nafisa a full recovery, and many more joyful days with her beloved grandchildren and family.

 I thank you for the inspiration and the fun you have been, my friend. Til we meet again, Godspeed.

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