Reflections on violence in Turkey published on Medium

A couple of weeks ago I made the decision to publish something I had started writing a month prior, in the wake of the third bombing here in Ankara within six months. Wanting to balance my professional concerns with my urge to speak my mind, I decided to publish it because of my convictions about the piece.

It discusses both the basic context of each of the bombings, as well as the impact medias have on the mediation and discussion of such events in the United States.

The article is called, “What Terrorism Coverage Has To Do With Terrorism- Notes From Ankara A Month On,” and if you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, please feel free to click through to my new Medium page and check it out!

John Kasich is No Moderate

My friends over at AMERICAblog ran a series delineating the many ways John Kasich’s record doesn’t match up with the moderate image he has tried to project throughout the Republican presidential primary. As a born-and-bred Ohioan, I hopped on the chance to contribute. You can check out an except below, and head on over to AMERICAblog to read it, and the whole series, in full.

What’s happening regarding abortion access and women’s health issues in my hometown of Toledo is even more baffling when compared to the existing regulations in my current place of residence, Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. Ankara has a population of roughly 4.6 million, whereas the population of the state of Ohio is about 18 million. In the entire state of Ohio there are currently 9 abortion providers. In the city of Ankara alone, there are 129. By a simple per-capita measure, that makes it 56 times more difficult to find an abortion clinic in Ohio than it is in Ankara.

As a native Ohioan who faces constant questioning about my experience as a non-Muslim American woman living here in Turkey, I cite this statistic not only because it’s a useful example to counter the assumptions the average American has about women and the Middle East, but also because it is a telling example of just how regressive policies affecting women are under John Kasich, and in the United States more generally. To be clear, Turkey’s regulations regarding abortion access are far from perfect, but it is telling that in a country notorious for its conservative leadership, abortion access remains far more attainable for the average woman here than in the state of Ohio under John Kasich.

 

‘A National Holiday That I Do Not Recognize’– Reflections on Columbus Day 2015

Today I am not at the office in observance of a United States national holiday that I do not recognize, a day commemorating that in which I recognize my complicity yet nonetheless reject; the project of settler-colonial domination and the creation and perpetuation of myths of nation which OPPRESS. Across the North American continent to the lands of historic Palestine to the city square up the way from my home here in Ankara, (and indeed across the globe) we wake daily to face the brutal and too often deadly consequences of narratives and myths of “nation.”

Today I am not at the office in observance of a United States national holiday that I do not recognize, a day which epitomizes the ‘success’ of *white-washing* history. Today I reflect on years in elementary school doing craft projects and reading story books that told truth through lies so masterfully spun they dared to call it history. The name of the class period was in fact “social sciences” which is far more fitting, for we know that there is a science, an art to the process of national mythology by which repression, displacement, and structural and physical violences against communities of difference is perpetuated and justified.

Today I am not at the office in observance of a United States national holiday which I do not recognize, and the irony of such a mandated commemoration on this the final official day of national mourning in Turkey is not lost on me. Before blood could be washed off the streets political paradigm creators began their acts of justification, of framing, of discourse, of what maybe can only be called story telling. Yet street cleaners and history-writers seem unaware that blood shed in the name of ideology cannot be washed away, for water does not erase, but flow. Innocent blood seeps down into the lands claimed as ‘homeland,’ trickles in the streams and creeks by which our children play, churns through pipes into our homes and places of work. Bloodshed is ingested, and flows without cessation, coursing through the veins of those awake to their own humanity.

Today is no holiday, but a day of mourning. As long as our brothers and sisters of humanity live chained by narratives of erasure and entitlement– of ‘manifestation’– there is no celebration, but only mournful, respectful solidarity and resistance.

 

Note: This was originally posted to my personal Facebook page on 12 October, 2015. 

Syrian American Contributions

Syrian Americans have been part of the rich fabric of American life for over a century. Syrian Americans include members of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Syrian Americans have contributed and elevated American politics, sports, popular and high culture, academia, industry, and civic life for generations.

If Paula was your favorite judge on American Idol in its heydey, you have danced along with a Syrian American.

If Jerry Seinfeld ever cracked you up, you have laughed alongside a Syrian American.

If you’ve used any Mac product, you can thank Steve Jobs, whose birth parents were from Syria.

If you’re a woman pursuing a career in law, you can look to the inspiring example of Rosemary Barkett, the first woman to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, and the first woman Chief Justice of that court, who has Syrian heritage.

If you live in Michigan or follow libertarian politics, you may have been represented in Washington by Justin Amash (R-MI-3), a Syrian American.

If you’ve been able to quickly and easily photocopy something, you can thank Paul Orfalea, the Syrian American who founded Kinkos.

If you attend Wofford College or Purdue University, your school is led by a Syrian American (Nayef Samhat and Mitch Daniels, respectively).

If you ever wanted to take up surfing because that Kelly Slater is just too darn gorgeous, that’s probably because he has Syrian heritage.

If you get your news from CNN, you may hear it from celebrated Syrian American journalist Hala Gorani.

If you’ve enjoyed watching Homeland, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Finding Forrester (etc.) then I’m sure you’ve recognized the acting talent of Syrian American F. Murray Abraham.

If you’re a big hockey fan, you are probably aware of former Blackhawk current Blue Jacket Brandon Saad’s talent on the ice– yes, Syrian Americans even play professional hockey.

If we want to ‪#‎makeamericagreat‬ again, how about we take in as many Syrians as possible, huh?

‪#‎immigration‬‪#‎wakeupamerica‬‪#‎syrianrefugees‬

 

Note: This was originally posted to my personal Facebook page on 15 November, 2015. 

Şükran Gününüz Kutlu Olsun! (Happy Thanksgiving!)

This post sends my sincerest Thanksgiving greetings to my friends and family, wherever they may be.
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This year marks my first ever Thanksgiving away from my traditional Waggoner family Thanksgiving/ reunion in Wood County, OH. İ took the opportunity this week to teach my classes about the history and traditions of the holiday, which was illuminating for me as well. Did you know, for example, that the name for turkey (the bird) actually comes from the country in which İ currently reside?
Below are a list of amusing and touching moments that have made this Thanksgiving unique:
    • In all of my classes I had my students share things for which they are thankful. Two responses stand out. From a student with whom I have an ongoıng joke about the rapper Eminem: “Teacher, I am thankful for Atatürk, God, and Marshall.” The other, which was expressed by a number of students: “Her şey, Teacher, I am thankful for everything in my life.” Amen to that!20131129-174839.jpg
  • My fellow K-towners and I hosted the best approximation of a traditional Thanksgiving meal as we could manage (perhaps ironically, sans turkey) for our university colleagues on Wednesday. Most amusing of our necessary substitutions was a bowl of shelled pomegranate in lieu of cranberry sauce. A great night of bonding and cultural exchange, and not a bad meal to boot! (P.S. Green bean casserole from scratch is more work than it seems!)20131129-175418.jpg
  • Some students were especially aware that being away from my family this week was difficult, and their thoughtfulness (gifts of candy bars and even a dinner invitation) made me feel as though İ really do have a home away from home here in K-Town. A group of 6 incredibly sweet ladies in one of my beginner level classes brought me a remarkable gift that almost brought me to tears: 7 glass elephant figurines with the Turkish “evil eye” attached (symbols of luck and protection in Turkish culture) as an expression of their gratitude. Each of the elephants represented one of them, and the smallest of them, they explained, was me!20131129-175811.jpg
  • “Thanksgivukah” was paid special tribute on Thursday when I followed my dad’s tradition of frying leftover mashed potatoes into pancakes 🙂
  • Thanksgiving day I had what was most probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. A relative of my roommate recently returned from hajj (Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina) and she shared with me a date from Mecca, and (miraculous) water from the ZamZam well!!20131129-175924.jpg

This list is just a small sampling of the many ways I’m blessed here in Turkey. I don’t think I’m taking much for granted here; I think know how lucky I am to have my health, a job, an affordable apartment (complete with an amazing and thoughtful roommate), a world-class education, plenty of food, and the most loving and supportive friends and family a girl could ask for. As some may say here in Turkey, “Hamdullilah!”

Sending all of my love along with cries of “Affiyet Olsun” (literally, may there be appetite) to those celebrating.

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Ray Kelly to DHS? Here’s Why Not

This was originally posted on AAI’s newsblog on July 19, 2013 under the title, “Why Commissioner Kelly is the Wrong Choice to Lead Homeland Security.”

Recent press reports have suggested that President Obama may be considering Ray Kelly, Commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD), for the recently vacated position of Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, formerly held by Janet Napolitano.  Last week, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) praisedCommissioner Kelly, saying, “There is no doubt Ray Kelly would be a great DHS Secretary” and “Kelly’s appointment… would be a great boon for the entire country.”

Really?

Under Commissioner Kelly’s leadership, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has violated the civil liberties of Arab Americans and American Muslims in New York City and surrounding areas. In addition, Commissioner Kelly has a history of making inflammatory and slanderous comments about Islam and Muslims. In so doing, he has compromised the efficacy of the NYPD by damaging relationships with communities who should be his partners.

AAI has published extensively about the NYPD’s widespread and warrantless surveillance of Muslim American communities in New York and across the tri-state area.  Over a period of ten years, at least 550 places of worship, privately owned business, non-profit organizations, student associations, schools and more were unknowing subjects of NYPD surveillance and intelligence collection activities. These communities were targeted and profiled solely on the basis of religion and national origin without evidence of suspected criminal activity. Furthermore, the Commanding Officer of the NYPD Intelligence Division himself, Lt. Paul Galati, admitted during sworn testimony that this surveillance program did not produce once single criminal lead in his six years of oversight.

Many have spoken out against this program and taken legislative measures to prevent a recurrence. New York’s City Council passed two bills last month to establish an independent Inspector General to provide New Yorkers with oversight and accountability over their police force. There’s an irony here that should not go unnoticed: these bills are collectively known as the Community Safety Act, a testament to the reality that many New Yorkers feel less safe as a result of Commissioner Kelly’s persistent and aggressive profiling measures.

Federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the CIA have voiced concerns about the lack of oversight and unethical tactics that have characterized the surveillance of these communities. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security itself found that $4.1 million in grants to the NYPD were awarded without following the appropriate procedures, wasting valuable resources.

Programs under Commissioner Kelly’s direction aren’t the only thing that reveal his views about American Muslims. He was interviewed in a propagandistic and Islamophobic film, The Third Jihad, where he stated that Muslims want to “infiltrate and dominate” America. The egregiousness of that comment stands on its own, but it gets worse: the film was later used as part of a standard training program for nearly 1,500 NYPD cadets. Use of the film and Commissioner Kelly’s comments in it are both dangerous and counterproductive, fomenting unwarranted suspicion against a community, and, in so doing, eroding the trusting relationship necessary for effective counter-terrorism enforcement.

Commissioner Kelly’s record of profiling goes far beyond the Muslim American community though. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), since Commissioner Kelly’s appointment in 2002, the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk Program has stopped over five million persons, 86% of whom were black or Latino.

In a recent interview with Chris Hayes, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) echoed our concerns about Commissioner Kelly’s potential appointment: “He’s been a good administrator, and perhaps I could even support his potential appointment to this position in the absence of the massive aggressive stop-and-frisk program that he’s run, and the unconstitutional Muslim surveillance program, but that’s kind of like saying, I had a good year, if you don’t count the winter, spring, and fall.” He continued,

“There’s got to be an effective balance between national security or effective law enforcement on the one hand and a healthy respect for our civil rights and civil liberties on the other. Ray Kelly, during his tenure as police commissioner under Michael Bloomberg, has consistently disrespected that balance, and that’s why I think he would be a poor choice for Secretary of Homeland Security.”

Because of his disregard for the rights, liberties, and trust of thousands of Americans, and his consistent inclination toward profiling despite its inefficacy, Commissioner Kelly would be a highly inappropriate choice for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Arab American Women Mobilize in Michigan

This post was originally published on the Arab American Institute newsblog on July 10, 2012, and on the Yalla Change blog on July 11, 2012.

A group of Arab American women in Dearborn, Michigan are mobilizing get out the vote efforts in preparation for November’s presidential election. Founded by Jumana Judeh, Arab American Women for Obama (AAWO) has formed a committee of 20 members and is currently planning strategies and programs to increase voter participation amongst Arab American women this fall, including phone banking, canvassing, and outreach at community events.  Judeh is serving as a delegate to the Democratic Convention in Charlotte this summer, and is also the founder of the Arab American Women’s Business Council.

Arab Americans comprise a substantial percentage of the population in southeast Michigan, which is expected to be a highly contested swing state. Judeh criticized Romney’s dismissal of bailouts for the automotive industry, saying that he does not understand the economy in Michigan. Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s father served as Governor of the state from 1963-1969. While they acknowledged the importance of foreign policy, Judeh noted, ““the issues for us as Arab American women are jobs, our kids, education and opportunity.” She also highlighted immigration and health care reform, as well as the rising cost of higher education, as being key issues for members of AAWO.

AAWO’s efforts are intended to encourage the civic participation of its members as women, and as members of an immigrant community.  Judeh believes the organization will provide agency for its members, while counteracting negative portrayals of Arab women as represented by the media.

To join or get more information about Arab Women for Obama, contact Jumana Judeh (judehj@aol.com) or call:(313) 277-1986.

Wear A Hoodie this Friday

To my Kenyon Community,

The media is ablaze with controversy following the death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin last month. His death (and the debate that has ensued) is one stark example amidst a series of incidents in the last week which have demonstrated the power and pervasiveness of racial, ethnic, gender, religious biases (etc.) in national discourse. Among these, I call to your attention the murder of Shamia Alawadi, an Iraqi-American mother of 5, who was found battered and unconscious in her kitchen floor, with a note reading: “go back to your own country. You’re a terrorist.” In pop culture, disgraceful internet uproar over the race of Hunger Games characters and a Shorty Award for new media being awarded to the Awkward Black Girl miniseries (who came to Kenyon this past February) has ensued. In a reprehensible moment that correlates hideously with Juan Williams’ admission that he feels “nervous” when he sees Muslims in the airport, Fox commentator Geraldo Rivera noted this week “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was…. What’s the instant identification [when you see someone wearing a hooded sweatshirt]?….People are gonna perceive you as a menace.” These incidents reflect the power of racial profiling to affect (and cut short) the lives of innocent persons in diverse communities. Further, they demonstrate the inability of many to disassociate damaging stereotypes and biases from the people they encounter, and recognize the value, beauty, or transcendence of someone’s narrative, fictional or not, is not dependent on their ethnic, racial or religious identity.

Kenyon College is better than that. I believe Kenyon to be a place that encourages the development of compassionate, humanistic global citizens.

Thus, I humbly ask you to join me in a national movement expressing solidarity with the families of Trayvon Martin and Shamia Alawadi, and all those who face discrimination by wearing a ‘hoodie’ TOMORROW, Friday March 30th. As a community, we can send the message that we reject racial, ethnic and religious profiling, and show our recognition that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Happy Social Justice Week.

Peace,

Tess Waggoner ’13
Yalla Change Campaign- Ohio

Hoodies, Hijabis and the Hunger Games

This article was originally published by the online edition of the Kenyon Observer

I remember in the aftermath of President Obama’s election in November 2008, many proclaimed that America was post-racial. I disagreed then and now with this assessment; it suggests that the election of a black President amounted to full eradication of racial prejudices in America. In light of recent events, I don’t think one could reasonably make that argument. Three seemingly unrelated recent events, two murders and a blockbuster movie, in addition to my involvement in Project Open Voices, have brought in sharp relief the long road that lies before us in eradicating discrimination.

As horrifying and tragic as the murders of Trayvon Martin and Shamia Alwadi are, they present an opportunity to refocus attention on issues of race, discrimination, and internal biases. In honor of ‘Social Justice Week’ here at Kenyon, I’d like to raise a few comments and challenges to our community, in the aftermath of these events.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that occasionally the Twitterverse can feel like an echo chamber. However, it can provide a compelling glimpse into aspects of popular opinions and perceptions. So when Twitter lit up with angry Hunger Games fans expressing their disappointment (so to speak) that casting agents had “made all the good characters black,” I was disturbed but not surprised.

The events surrounding Trayon Martin’s death and the subsequent investigation have been chronicled in detail by the media, an overview by TKO’s Megan Shaw can be found here. A lesser known murder occurred just last Wednesday in El Cajon, California, and is currently being investigated as a hate crime. Homemaker Shamia Alwadi was found by her seventeen year old daughter, at home, “in a pool of her own blood” after her head was beaten with a tire iron. Next to her mother’s unconscious body, the girl found a note which read, “go back to your own country. You’re a terrorist.” Alwadi and her family moved to the United States from Iraq in 1993. She was a mother of five, and was a muhajiba, a Muslim woman who chose to wear hijab, or a headscarf. Emily L Hauser writes,

“In a country in which entire police departments feel justified in spying on Muslim Americans across state lines; in a country in which entire communities, across the country, are whipped up into a froth over plans to build houses of worship; in a country in which elected officials feel free to call Muslim faith-based philanthropic events ‘pure, unadulterated evil’ — should we, in fact, be surprised that many believe ‘Muslim’ to be  synonymous with ‘terrorist’?”

The next logical question, I would hope, is, how do we stop it?

I appreciate Jon Green’s recent post, which bravely acknowledges the striking biases that permeate our society. Advocating humanism and egalitarianism over socialized stereotypes is a crucial step in the creation of a better world and more just society. He writes, “As long as I am aware that my biases exist I can consciously override them, knowing how irrational they are.” It’s a simple but noble call to action, one that could have a radical impact on the lives of many if implemented. I look forward to the day when controversial acknowledgments, like those by Geraldo Rivera and Juan Williams no longer occur, because they are overridden, “knowing how irrational they are.” Perhaps these Twitter users would feel differently about the Hunger Games movie if they were able to disassociate damaging stereotypes and biases from the story unfolding on screen, and recognize that the value of someone’s narrative, fictional or not, is not dependent on their ethnic, racial or religious identity.

The Third Jihad and the NYPD

My latest blog post for the Yalla Change campaign, called, “The Third Jihad: Dangerous NYPD Training Materials on American Muslims” can also be read here.

“This is not a film about Islam. This is about the threat of radical Islam. Only a small percentage of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are radical.”
 

So begins The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America, a 72-minute “documentary” which aims to show the infiltration of radical Islam into the United States. Though the film begins with this disclaimer, the method of argumentation throughout directly contradicts it with various misrepresentations of Islam. It describes the first two major jihads in Islamic history as Islam’s original expansion and Islam’s arrival in Europe in the 13th century, while the third jihad supposedly aims to establish a global Islamic state, which will be achieved through a combination of violence and deception. The film “exposes” the “creeping threat of sharia” over Constitutional law, and elicits concern for radicalization in prisons via conversion to Islam. The Third Jihad presents a clash of civilizations approach, with Islam portrayed as incompatible with modernity and democracy, and Muslim integration in to American society framed as part of a 1,400 year holy war. In doing so, the film fosters dangerous and counter-productive anti-Muslim sentiment.

The Third Jihad was produced by the Clarion Fund, the group responsible for the production and distribution of Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West to 28 million U.S. households in battleground states in the lead-up to the 2008 elections. An organization dedicated to producing films about “radical Islam,” the Clarion Fund’s advisory board is made up of such luminaries as Frank J. Gaffney Jr. and Daniel Pipes. Featuring interviews with “expert” Islamophobes including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Walid Phares, and Bernard Lewis, and government leaders including Tom Ridge, former Secretary of Homeland Security, and R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA. The Third Jihad  is a divisive and slanderous attack on the United States’ Muslim communities. It  was also used in counter-terrorism training by the New York Police Department.

Though news of the NYPD’s use of the film was first reported by the Village Voice over a year ago, the New York Times recently revealed that the film wasn’t merely shown “a couple of times,” as NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne originally asserted. Rather, it was shown for a period of three months as part of mandatory counter-terrorism training. Research by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School revealed that almost 1,500 officers watched this film as part of their training. The picture gets uglier: among those interviewed for the film were NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, and former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

This incident is just one in a series of affronts by the NYPD towards the Muslim community in New York. A recent report reveals deliberate NYPD targeting of Shiite mosques. The document also argues that, “The Palestinian community, although not Shi’a, should also be assessed due to presence of Hamas members and sympathizers and the group’s relationship with the Iranian government.” If this is the type of “research” that informs the NYPD’s counter-terrorism strategy, surveillance tactics such as these are unsurprising. In an article this summer, the Associated Press reported that, “the NYPD has become one of the nation’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government.”

Having a police commissioner who says, as Kelly does in the film, that Muslims want to “infiltrate and dominate” America inhibits his ability to properly engage with that community. Interfaith and Muslim leaders have openly protested these surveillance tactics, some by boycotting  New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s annual interfaith breakfast. In addition, the Arab American Institute, a Yalla Change partner organization, has sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano regarding the film. The NYPD’s tactics obstruct their ability to successfully subvert terror plots  by breeding distrust and resentment. Honesty, discourse, and collaboration with Muslim leaders is the most effective way to keep America safe.
 
 
 
To learn more about the Yalla Change campaign, visit our website
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