Saturday, 12 December 2009

Studying Love Instead Of War -- What If?

President Obama has just officially ordered another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. We are now fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and have troops stationed in 147 other countries around the world. The US actually has 1.6 million troops and a little fewer than 300,000 now in the Middle East. Protectionism, resource grabbing, retaliation, fear; the list is endless for the 'reasons' we do War. The question is, though, why? During our evolution, how did we humans turn in the direction of hate and War instead of care and Love?

The negative emotions like fear, anger, jealousy, envy, pride - all of the seven deadly sins when you think about it - how come these run us instead of compassion, love, understanding, knowledge and care? How did we get to be a human population of fighters and not lovers? What are we doing? And better yet, what are we doing about it?

Do you remember the old folk ballad Down By the River Side - The one that has the line "I ain't gonna study war no more"? What if everyone studied Love instead? What would life be like if we humans had made a turn, somewhere deep in the past, that lead us down a path of love instead of fear and hate? Would we have been much more careful about population explosion, hunger, abuse, control issues and infanticide? Would we have cared for those we did have and cherished and cared for the earth in better ways? Would there be no 'us and them' in this scenario?

In today's society adversity seems to rule. Stress, anger, judgment, opposition, defensiveness, alienation, and loneliness are pervasive in our lives. The de-stabilization that is caused by an up-tight and frightened society is killing us. The statistics are everywhere - crime, suicide, health, addiction - research shows that since 9/11 the average person in the US has had much less frequency of sexual contact. Another new study shows that murder rates go higher as mistrust in government gets stronger.

I read an article recently about a group of chimpanzees that had never encountered man. They were found in 2003 in a deep jungle area of the Congo. This is a phenomenal thing in today's modern world. But more importantly, the researchers were amazed to find that the animals came forward, unafraid, and sat with them for hours on end. The humans studied these animals for months and came to discover that in this chimp society there was virtually no fighting, no infanticide, extensive sharing, no fear and obvious deep caring among members of the whole tribe. This is unlike any chimpanzee group researchers have studied in the past and opens the possibility that apes, and indeed possibly humans, once lived in a much more natural and paradise-like way. It seems so far out of our experiences to even consider that we might once have lived closer and much more lovingly than we do today.

We live in a very altered, false, manufactured society in which we increasingly feel marginalized, compartmentalized, and negated. Yet there are many places in life to find hope. And there are many ways in which we might all make a huge difference in the quality of our own lives, the lives of those we love, and even the lives of all of humanity. Adversity may force us to eventually care more profoundly for fellow humans but let's hope that there might be more immediate reasons for change now.

More questions, always more questions. How would you answer some of these?

What if everyone studied Love not War?
Even a little. Can you imagine what life would be like? It's mind-boggling.

What if we reacted with vulnerability rather than defensiveness?
It feels so good to fess-up when I'm wrong. I can cultivate those good feelings and this will help me drop defensiveness more often.

What if we easily and freely hugged more?
I become more innocent when I hug, like a child who still has undying faith in everything. Hugging can be an art form.

What if we focused our lives on 'giving' but each of us could lovingly 'receive' also?
I often feel as though it is easier to give than to receive but when a true breakthrough happens to me emotionally it is always when I am forced to receive. One goes with the other so learn and use the one that you have the most difficult time with.

What if we all studied intimacy techniques as though our lives depended on it?
What we would see is mothers nursing their babies much more and businesses actually making spaces for moms and children. We would value all generations. We would all listen and communicate more effectively. There would be a lot more Love.

What if we treated lovemaking as an art form that we expanded throughout our lives?
Awe, for us all to be masters and mistresses at this! Kama Sutra throughout the ages!

What if intimate conversations healed something in each of us every time we had them? What if everyone practiced deep compassion so much so that we all became naturals at it? What if we all told the truth, all the time? What if we stopped studying War and started studying Love? What would our world be like then? Shall we learn and practice together?

Suzie Heumann is the founder of She studies, writes, has authored three books and makes films about conscious sex, Tantra and the Kama Sutra. Check out Premium for the most comprehensive tantra training available on the Internet!
Published at: Posted: December 8, 2009 10:08 AM
Huffington Post, USA

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Ban the Burqa

Op-Ed Contributor
Published: July 2, 2009
New York Times

NEW YORK — I am a Muslim, I am a feminist and I detest the full-body veil, known as a niqab or burqa. It erases women from society and has nothing to do with Islam but everything to do with the hatred for women at the heart of the extremist ideology that preaches it.

We must not sacrifice women at the altar of political correctness or in the name of fighting a growingly powerful right wing that Muslims face in countries where they live as a minority.

As disagreeable as I often find French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he was right when he said recently, “The burqa is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory.” It should not be welcome anywhere, I would add.

Yet his words have inspired attempts to defend the indefensible — the erasure of women.

Some have argued that Sarkozy’s right-leaning, anti-Muslim bias was behind his opposition to the burqa. But I would remind them of comments in 2006 by the then-British House of Commons leader Jack Straw, who said the burqa prevents communication. He was right, and he was hardly a right-winger — and yet he too was attacked for daring to speak out against the burqa.

The racism and discrimination that Muslim minorities face in many countries — such as France, which has the largest Muslim community in Europe, and Britain, where two members of the xenophobic British National Party were shamefully elected to the European Parliament — are very real.

But the best way to support Muslim women would be to say we oppose both racist Islamophobes and the burqa. We’ve been silent on too many things out of fear we’ll arm the right wing.

The best way to debunk the burqa as an expression of Muslim faith is to listen to Muslims who oppose it. At the time of Mr. Straw’s comments, a controversy erupted when a university dean in Egypt warned students they would not be able to stay at college dorms unless they removed their burqa. The dean cited security grounds, saying that men disguised as women in burqa could slip into the female dorms.

Soad Saleh, a professor of Islamic law and former dean of the women’s faculty of Islamic studies at Al-Azhar University — hardly a liberal, said the burqa had nothing to do with Islam. It was but an old Bedouin tradition.

It is sad to see a strange ambivalence toward the burqa from many of my fellow Muslims and others who claim to support us. They will take on everything — the right wing, Islamophobia, Mr. Straw, Mr. Sarkozy — rather than come out and plainly state that the burqa is an affront to Muslim women.

I blame such reluctance on the success of the ultra-conservative Salafi ideology — practiced most famously in Saudi Arabia — in leaving its imprimatur on Islam globally by persuading too many Muslims that it is the purest and highest form of our faith.

It’s one thing to argue about the burqa in a country like Saudi Arabia — where I lived for six years and where women are treated like children — but it is utterly dispiriting to have those same arguments in a country where women’s rights have long been enshrined. When I first saw a woman in a burqa in Copenhagen I was horrified.

I wore a headscarf for nine years. An argument I had on the Cairo subway with a woman who wore a burqa helped seal for good my refusal to defend it. Dressed in black from head to toe, the woman asked me why I did not wear the burqa. I pointed to my headscarf and asked her “Is this not enough?”

“If you wanted a piece of candy, would you choose an unwrapped piece or one that came in a wrapper?” she asked.

“I am not candy,” I answered. “Women are not candy.”

I have since heard arguments made for the burqa in which the woman is portrayed as a diamond ring or a precious stone that needs to be hidden to prove her “worth.” Unless we challenge it, the burqa — and by extension the erasure of women — becomes the pinnacle of piety.

It is not about comparing burqas to bikinis, as some claim. I used to compare my headscarf to a miniskirt, the two being essentially two sides to the same coin of a woman’s body. The burqa is something else altogether: A woman who wears it is erased.

A bizarre political correctness has tied the tongues of those who would normally rally to women’s rights. One blogger, a woman, lamented that “Sarkozy’s anti-burqa stance deprives women of identity.” It’s precisely the opposite: It’s the burqa that deprives a woman of identity.

Why do women in Muslim-minority communities wear the burqa? Sarkozy touched on one reason when he admitted his country’s integration model wasn’t working any more because it doesn’t give immigrants and their French-born children a fair chance.

But the Muslim community must ask itself the same question: Why the silence as some of our women fade into black either as a form of identity politics, a protest against the state or out of acquiescence to Salafism?

As a Muslim woman and a feminist I would ban the burqa.

Mona Eltahawy (see photo above presenting lecture) is an Egyptian-born commentator on Arab and Muslim issues.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Here's a thought - Humanists should be welcome on Thought for the Day – if they would only admit their own fundamental irrationality, Wednesday 18 November 2009
by Nick Spencer

When, nearly five years ago, thousands of Christians got excited about the BBC's broadcast of Jerry Springer – The Opera, some joker made the point that they shouldn't be blaming the BBC but rather the person in Dixons who sold them a TV set with only one channel and no off switch. Much the same could be said about the campaign to open up Thought for the Day to non-religious contributors.

The slot takes 150 seconds out of a programme that lasts three hours. It is carefully and, for the most part, successfully edited so as to prevent it from "stepping out of the pulpit and on to a soapbox." And it is intentionally religious.

Many of those who object to it would happily see all religion driven out of the public square and confined to the private realm. However, contemporary Britain is an increasingly plural democracy, in which we all live alongside people whose worldviews we may dislike and whose opinions we may abhor. Religious people exist. Religious views are real. To limit them to some invisible and entirely personal domain is neither attractive nor helpful.

The immediate response – that we don't want to abolish religious views, merely open up this "God-slot" to other, non-religious views – misses the point entirely. On the same count, if Tom objects to Woman's Hour (too female), Dick to You and Yours (too consumerist), and Harry to Match of the Day (too football obsessed), we should open each up so it is more inclusive.

But Match of the Day is about football. Opening it up to features on boxing or modern art would stop it from being about football. I may not especially like football but that does not mean that the programme will never entertain or even educate me. And if I am convinced it is a complete waste of time and an abuse of my license fee I can always switch over and watch The Culture Show.

Those who have been campaigning so long and so hard to open up Thought for the Day to non-religious items have vowed to carry on. We have not heard the end of this story. There is, however, a way through the impasse.

Humanism, the non-religious body that has made the most convincing case for a slot on the programme, insists with some vigour that it is not a religion. In one respect that is right. Religions are (in part) about people being "bound together" around a common vision of the good. Humanists may agree about what they do not believe, but it is hard to see what substantive vision they share. Talk of "shared human values" merely begs the question.

In another way, however, humanism is deeply religious. It may not rely on revelation or the supernatural but, like any serious worldview, it does depend on beliefs and moral convictions that cannot be proved. Humanists tend to be a little shy of admitting this, preferring to pretend that their belief system is "scientific", "rational" or "neutral". But the fact remains that if you have an opinion on the merits of assisted dying, or whether the Scottish government was right to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, or indeed why it is worth getting out of bed in the morning, you will be drawing on a worldview that is not demonstrably rational or neutral.

And that is the sticking point. As long as humanism hides under these fig leaves of science, rationality and neutrality, and insists it is not a religion, it is hard to see how it can legitimately demand a slice of the religious cake. If, however, those who hold such views are willing to abandon their fig leaves and embrace the vulnerability that goes with any religious faith position then there might be a role for them on this most contentious 2½ minutes of broadcasting.

* © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009