Saturday, September 13, 2014

Back from the "Dead"/Book Reviews

Just getting back on my feet after eight weeks of very intense interactions with Czech kids in summer camp in the mountains. The experience was so intense I felt cut off from my own spirit from time to time, but worth every minute.  What great kids.

I'm getting ready to review two books, John Boyne's magnificent fictional treatment of the sex abuse scandal in the Irish Church, The History of Loneliness. Here are the endorsements from three of Ireland's finest contemporary writers:

"An urgently compelling story of power, corruption, lies and self-deceits, the damage that happens when we turn our eyes from wrong. Anyone who wants to know what happened in the Irish Catholic Church needs to read this brave, righteously angry and stunning book. Some of us have long wondered what it would be like if a master storyteller turned his powers to this theme. Now we know." (Joseph O'Connor)

"John Boyne has plunged into the dark and troubled history of the Catholic Church in our time and come up with a novel to treasure. Unflinching, moving and true" (John Banville)

"The complex architecture of this haunting novel is seamlessly constructed. The path to the priesthood that Odran Yates follows is both understandable and sympathetic. And Father Yates is a good man; he is innocent of the false accusations made against him (he's not a pedophile). But as this author accomplished, so masterfully, in The Absolutist, John Boyne has created a character who holds himself accountable -- in the case of Father Yates, for the sins of others. No writer today handles guilt with as much depth and sadness as John Boyne. As Father Yates takes himself to task for all he didn't do, no less than the sexual duplicity and cover-ups of the Catholic Church are indicted. This is John Boyne's most important novel, and of vital importance to Irish history; it is also a gripping story, one no reader can put down until its devastating ending." (John Irving)

The second book I've been asked to review by the publishers: Robert Blair Kaiser's Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis is Changing the Church and the World. Both RB Kaiser and myself spent sometime in the California Province of the Society of Jesus, so we share some of the same old friends and mentors.

As a brief preview of my reactions: Kaiser's book takes us up to January of 2014 when many of us were still in the full flush of Francis' honeymoon, without reality having a chance to intrude into our idealised conception of this pope (though Betty Clemont over at Open Tabernacle was as usual far ahead of the rest of us). So Kaiser's glowing optimism seems already terribly outdated.

More damning in an otherwise illuminating book on the endeavors of Jesuit ministries world wide - is Kaiser's chapter on former Jesuits who are still doing outstanding humanitarian and religious work in the world - whom he dubs 'still a Jesuit' Jesuits. Many outstanding former Jesuits are listed together with their inspiring ministries - with one glaring omission. Not a hint of the great gay theologian and former Jesuit, John McNeil. Not a whiff, not a suggestion. Once again, as with Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God,  we are presented with a sweeping survey of many significant movements  and individuals that does not include a single hint of LGBT people and their struggles, not to mention the outstanding activists and theologians working on their behalf. In a way, the failure to mention John McNeil in Kaiser's book is a greater lacunae than our absence in Johnson's book. It is as if we simply don't exist, not even a blimp on the radar screen, and certainly we are not invited to the conversation, as Bill Lindsey never tires of pointing out at Bilgrimage.  I suspect that these writers would both be quite surprised to have this omission pointed out to them: "Oh dear, I never thought of that," blinked the deer in the headlights. I don't think it's done with ill intent. I suspect it really doesn't occur to these thinkers that LGBT are of any importance in the theological conversation. LGBT who?

So anyway...after a glorious summer, it's back to reality and work and writing and dealing with the world. But life seems good, and the Holy and the Sacred are all around us leading us by the heart to new forms of spiritual community. I simply have no time for dealing with the manifold scandals of crumbling religious institutions which have outlived their time. My beloved students deserve more from life and from my own paltry efforts on their behalf. No time or energy to spend on fools in high places. The Crucified and Risen Lord calls to us on the byways of the world among the lost and marginalized, far from the purple carpeted hallways of religious elitism. I run to him where he is truly found and leave all else behind. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The travails of young love

On a bit of a hiatus from blogging for the summer as I recollect my spirit, but I may have some reflections to share this weekend about the difficulties of young love. Been listening to tales of heartbreak from some of my young students. And young River Viiperi has broken from his partner of two years, Paris Hilton, so these must be difficult days for him as well. I emphasize his youth - and that of my students - because he and they have their whole lives ahead of the them, with unimaginable riches of love yet to come. But the travails of young love can be so painful to endure.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Papa Francesco does it again

Well, the whole world - or at least the semi Christian world - is all a flutter over yet another freewheeling interview of Pope Francis conducted by acknowledged atheist and La Republica journalist Eduardo Scalfari. Before the ink had barely dried, Father Lombardi of The Vatican Press Office was already huffing out his damage control , assuring us that Scalfari was not directly quoting the unpredictable pontiff's exact words - especially in regard to two celebrated quotes which are already causing much comment and consternation among some, bemusement and amusement among others, including myself.  More serious comment will follow in short order, I'm sure.

Why all this elaborate Comedy of Errors - surely this effect is exactly what Pope Francisco wants, else why grant a second interview to the very journalist who supposedly took such license with his words the first time around.

The two quotes-: paraphrased by me, since Father Lombardi assures us that as quoted they couldn't be the pope's own words.:

Some cardinals are among the church's pedophile abusers. Wow, what a shock to the cast system  of clerical  idolatry that barb must be, and I have no trouble believing Pope Francis capable of making such a simple, sensible, common sense observation.

And it only reminds me of the famous remark attributed to Our Lady of Garabandal, Spain in 1966:

Many priests, bishops and cardinals are on the road to perdition and are leading many souls with them.

The pope then goes on to "say," in Scalfari's imaginative rendition, that about 2% of Catholic priests are pedophiles, which would be lower than the current loose estimate of their number as less than 5% among the general population (if so, I doubt the pope's statistic). That seems a bit of damage control, and politely and very gently misses the point - it is not the number of pedophiles among the clergy that is and has been the problem, it is the astounding number of bishop enablers who have helped cover up the offending priests, thereby extending their rein of abuse and vastly increasing their number of victims.

Second quote: celibacy was instituted 900 years after the death of Christ. "The problem certainly exists, but it is not on a large scale. It will need time, but the solutions are there and I will find them."
Celibacy a problem? Another shock to the system of false institutional idolatry. Change does indeed come to the church - but oh so painfully slowly.

Two quite ordinary comments among ordinary mature, rational human beings. So why all the flutter?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Tears of Gaza and Women who Love Women who Love Children Who Are Not Wanted

Krivoklat Castle

Tomorrow I leave for three weeks of summer camps in the forests of Krivoklat, so there will be little time to devote to my random musings on this blog. I look forward to the camps every year for the wonderful bonding that takes place between camp teachers and the Czech kids. In my case, I get to do real theater with a group of about 12 students, aged between 14 and 18, We spend the entire week preparing a 30 minute play for presentation on Friday. It's all great fun, with lots of exciting activities in the evening - including campfires and the harrowing 'Scary Walk,' in which teachers, staff and older kids hide in the forest and scare the bejesus out of the little ones, who must follow a string and a line of candles through the forest. I always come home exhilarated and exhausted both.  

A few final comments on previous items I've posted about - forgive the lack of links.


Eyewitnesses have confirmed that Tariq Abu Khdeir was abducted from his uncle's backyard while watching the protests outside on the streets - in other words he was deliberately targeted as a member of his cousin, Mohammed's family. 

The death toll in Gaza from the recent Israeli onslaught has left 100 dead, 84 of them women and children. Prior to the death of the three Israeli teens, which so dominated the world's media, Israeli soldiers were caught on video firing point blank into a crowd, and killing two unarmed teen boys - an event that registered nary a blimp on the world's news networks. Yet this mainstream indifference to Palestinian life has been going on for decades. 

Israel’s current escalation and assault on Gaza should be viewed in the same context – a cynical attempt to distract and make the Abu Khdeir immolation lynching story disappear from headlines and memory (and to a lesser extent the brutal beating of his American 15 year old cousin Tarek by Israel’s Border Police). While assaulting Gaza’s defenseless population, Israel’s government will find itself back in its comfort zone where it will be able to take control of the narrative by having obsequious Western media outlets and politicians parrot its preposterous claim that it is “defending itself”. They will also repeat the hackneyed “what would US/UK/Canada do” line, ignoring the fact that Gaza is an open air prison for dispossessed Palestinian refugees under Israel’s control. An escalation along the northern border cannot be precluded. This is what happens when you suffer two devastating PR blows in one week.
Will the subterfuge work or will history remember the immolation murder of 16 year old Mohammed Abu K’deir as Israel’s Rosa Parks moment, the moment when Israel’s apartheid could no longer be denied? Only time will tell.
And a moving story from Haaretz about Gordon Levy visiting the family of Mohammed Abu Kdeir.
Small Shrine to Mohammed on his bed
Gordon Levy again in another Haaretz article on the Israeli onslaught against Gaza, which puts everytning into perspective, Hamas' rockets, the murdered Israeli teens, the burning alive of Mohammed and the uncountable nunber of Palestinian children killed:

Following the kidnapping of three teenaged Israelis in the territories and their murders, Israel wildly arrested some 500 Palestinians, including members of parliament and dozens of freed prisoners who had no connection at all to the kidnapping. The army terrorized the entire West Bank with a dragnet and mass arrests, whose declared aim was “to crush Hamas.” A racist campaign raged on the Internet and led to a Palestinian teenager being burned alive. All this followed Israel’s punitive campaign against the effort to establish a Palestinian unity government that the world was prepared to recognize, its violation of its commitment to release prisoners, a halt of the diplomatic process and a refusal to propose any alternate plan or vision.
Did we really think the Palestinians would accept all this submissively, obediently, and calmly, and that peace and quiet would continue to prevail in Israel’s cities?
What exactly were we thinking? That Gaza would live forever in the shadow of Israeli (and Egyptian) caprice, with the restraints sometimes loosened a bit, or sometimes painfully tightened? That the biggest prison in the world would carry on as a prison? That hundreds of thousands of its residents would remain cut off forever? That exports would be blocked and fishing restricted? What exactly are 1.5 million people supposed to live on? Is there anyone who can explain why the blockade, even if partial, of Gaza continues? Can anyone explain why its future is never discussed? Did we think that all this would continue and Gaza would accept it submissively? Anyone who thought so was a victim of dangerous delusions, and now we are all paying the price.
But please, just don’t act surprised. Just don’t raise hell about the Palestinians raining rockets on Israeli cities for nothing – such luxuries are no longer acceptable. The dread that Israeli citizens are feeling now is no greater than the dread felt by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who in recent weeks waited in terror for the soldiers to break down their doors and invade their homes in the middle of the night, to search, trash, destroy, humiliate, and then snatch a member of their household. The fear we’re experiencing is no greater than the fear felt by Palestinian children and teens, several of whom were killed needlessly by Israeli Defense Forces fire in recent weeks. The trepidation Israelis feel is certainly less than that felt by Gaza residents, who have no Color Red warnings, no “secure spaces,” and no Iron Dome to save them, only hundreds of scary sorties by the Israel Air Force that end in destruction and the death of innocents, including the elderly, women, and children, who have already been killed during this operation, as it during all its predecessors.
Isabel and Tabra
Meanwhile, on other fronts, I'm simultaneously reading Isabel Allende's early novel Of Love and Shadows, and her recent memoir, The Sum of All Fears. In the latter, she describes the anguishing situation of her stepdaughter, Sabrina, born prematurely to her husband, Willie Gordon's drug addict daughter Jennifer.  When the courts deprived Jennifer of custody and the doctors assigned Sabrina to a home for terminally ill babies, Isabel was desperate for her and Willie to adopt the granddaughter, but Willie refused, saying neither he nor Isabel were prepared emotionally to care adequately for a child after the death of Paula. It was the worst disagreement of their marriage, and Isabel even moved out of the family house for a while. However, providence intervened in the most wondrous way. Her best friend, Tabra, had also counseled Isabel that she was ill equipped to care adequately for this baby who "needed two mothers." When Isabel told this to her support group of women friends, The Sisters of Perpetual Disorder (which she joined after the death of her daughter Paula,) and when she repeated the phrase, "the baby who needs two mothers," one of the women in the group said, "Oh, I know two mothers." These two mothers were both Buddhist nuns who ran a retreat center on the ocean. After a ten minute call, Fu said she wanted to meet the baby. After she and her partner, Grace, met the baby - 
"Grace held out her arms and Odilia handed her the baby, who seemed to have lost weight and was shivering even more than before. But she was alert. Her large Egyptian eyes gazed into Grace's and then focused on Fu. I don't know what she told them in that first glance, but it was definitive. Without discussion, with a single voice, the two women declared that Sabrina was the little girl they had been waiting for all their lives."
No wonder Isabel has such sympathy and understanding for love between two women in the face of such generosity of heart. Once again we see Lesbian women partners coming forward to love and care for the most challenging kind of child. 
Finally, River Viiperi. Mustn't forget our favorite Spanish supermodel. He's driving around in a brand new Mercedes, 'donated' to him by Mercedes Benz Esperanza, while assuring his followers that luxury does not bring happiness or love, a principle I think he truly believes. One of his favorite singers is Sam Smith and River's favorite lyric:
I don't have much to give,but I don't care for gold
What use is money,when you need someone to hold

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Women, Gays and the World of the Spirit in the work of Isabel Allende

Despite the sweeping title, these are simply disjointed reflections on one of my favorite authors, whose work has always shown great spiritual depth and insight, coupled with the clenched fist of indignation in the face of injustice towards women and gays and all marginalized groups.

First a word on Isabel Allende's spiritual awakening, which gives great insight into the spiritual dimension of her work:

Taken from Lorette C. Luzajic's Fascinating Writers series. 

When Allende herself encounters the rare-for-her but dreaded writer’s block, she finds an unusual way around it: she drinks a potent shamanic rainforest hallucinogen and disappears into her mind for several days. During this unorthodox excursion, Isabel “crossed through the opening and effortlessly plunged into an absolute void… There was no sensation, no spirit, not a trace of individual consciousness; instead I felt a divine, absolute presence. I was inside the goddess… something I can only define as love, an impression of oneness, I dissolved into the divine, I felt that there was no separation between me and the rest of all that exists, all that was light and silence. I was left with the certainly that we are spirits, and all that is material is illusory.”

Allende says that on that voyage she lost her fear of death.

This remarkable anecdote is far more significant than the loss of writer's block. It testifies to Isabel's own vocation as a witness to the spiritual dimension outside the framework of conventional Christianity. "I was inside the goddess." This is what I have always appreciated about Isabel's work, that she is so open to discerning the validity of non traditional spiritualities, without losing her critical faculties. She is able to appreciate and critique in equal measure, while respecting and incorporating the spiritual dimension into her stories, but spirit seen from a feminist perspective. 

In the previous posting Celebrated Women and Humble Men,  I linked her with Spanish supermodel, River Viiperi, in a reflection on enduring love between famous women and their loving partners, a comparison that was intended to be mind-bending. 

A gender bending portrait of the male if ever there was one. Wow!

Much of Isabel's fiction concerns the struggle to free women and sexual minorities from heterosexual male control over space and power and to create safe, open spaces for women (and by extension all sexual minorities) to express their own desires and achieve their own emancipation. In Latin American culture especially - men tend to dominate the public spaces, women are expected to fade into the background, and gays, well of course, gays must remain well hidden behind closed doors - and transexuals, don't even mention the word. In other words machismo culture assigns women and gays to their own private assigned spaces on the margins as inferior beings. Isabel seeks to break down all of these barriers and to insist that males must learn to defer at times to the equal power of their women partners and to allow them their own space. 

This is one reason I paired her with young fashion model, River Viiperi in the previous posting. When in the public sphere with his partner, Paris Hilton, River must defer to the intense media attention she engenders, step back and allow his partner her own public space.  His own role is as a regulator of the crowds, and even video recorder. It is a subservient position, to be sure,  and it is  remarkable to watch a Latin Male fulfilling this role with such grace, charm and good humor - and with no loss to his self respect. For this, he has received much flack and and an ocean of sexist sarcasm. Wittingly or not, River Viiperi is a feminist ally and a role model for strong supportive males. 

River controlling the ' space' around his partner. 

Isabel in her own position as a feminist author has not had so easy a time herself. As Lorette C. Luzajic says in her wonderful article, "Of Love and Shadows: the Stories of Isabel Allende," at Book Slut:

Despite endless comparisons of her work to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other writers of the Latin American "magical realism" genre, where the mystical merges with quotidian life, Allende is not acknowledged by the Latin boys’ club as a serious writer. Pablo Neruda told her she had too much imagination to be a journalist, and Marquez does not acknowledge her importance -- sad, because the woman’s perspective in this genre of literature is the element that was always missing, the most important one. “I don’t belong to their club,” Allende told Argentinean-born anthologist Alberto Manguel. “In Latin America, women are not respected. You have to make twice the as much effort as a man for half the recognition. And if you are a writer, ten times as much… If a woman had written Garcia Marquez’s brilliant Love in the Time of Cholera, her novel would have been branded mushy, over-sentimental… The male literary community in Latin America would be delighted if women wrote only cookbooks, children’s books… let them not fuck around with the rest, with ‘real’ literature.”

Nonetheless, Isabel has attained her own special renown as a powerful feminist author and artist, even if she will never be paired with the 'big boys' of Latin American fiction. And she has proven herself to be an ally of all marginalized sexual minorities as well.

First a bit of gossip about Isabel's own personal experience with gay people.

Isabel's son Nicu had been married for some ten years to a Venezualan women named Celia. Upon the birth of their third child, Celia announced that she was really a lesbian and needed to separate from Nicu. She then promplty fell in love with Sally, the fiancee of the son of her husband by a previous marriage. Much to the shock of the whole household and to the consternation of Nicu, both women moved away together. Celia leaves the children to be taken care of by poor Nicu. 

"Isabel not only continues her friendship with Celia, but she even takes the side of Celia and supports her to the annoyance of her son. Before this conversion, Celia was a gay-baiter with very strong views and prejudices. Afterwards, Celia not only practices lesbianism, but actively preaches the advanteges of gay love. She advocates that everyone should try it and says that it is much better than being heterosexual."

Despite the genuine heartbreak of this story, especially for Nicu, there is something resembling a 'comic opera' about this anecdote. That Isabel sides with her daughter in law demonstrates a remarkable tolerance and understanding for alternative sexual experiences. 

Now onto Isabel's gay characters. 

First the criticism:

Isabel's latest book, Ripper, a crime novel set in the San Francisco Bay Area, received mixed reviews and some critical comment for 'gay bashing'. I was surprised to hear this, because I knew of Isabel's sensitive treatment of gay characters in her previous work. However, once I began reading Ripper I had to confess that some of the treatment seemed a bit slapdash. 

Here is a rather harsh criticism from Canada's Amazon. 

I don't want to be a hyper- sensitive politically correct watchdog, but some things must be said. This author's portrayal of LGBT characters is cliched at best and reactionary at worst (save for two female partners who make a brief appearance). We are portrayed as child molesters, self destructive waiters/drag performers (nothing wrong with a drag performer, but it saddens me that some straight people are still only comfortable with a gay man if he is in a dress) and at worst one of fiction's most tired and offensive cliches, a homicidal maniac of a cross dresser (no, it is not the waiter) Put this together with unbelievable premise and unlikely leaps of faith, and you have a novel that simply does not deliver on any of it's promise.

For myself, I thoroughly enjoyed Ripper, though I admit some of the descriptions of gay folks did seem like caricatures of some of our most embarrassing characteristics. However, I am also thoroughly familiar with Isabel Allende's remarkable treatment of gay characters in her previous fiction, so this made the excesses of Ripper seem like an anomaly

Since this is not an in-depth literary essay, I'm simply going to quote a long passage from her 1986 novel, Of Love and Shadows, to demonstrate Isabel's great sensitivity to the plight of gay people. 

Here is Isabel's description of Mario, the 'elegant and discrete stylist' at the fashion magazine where the lead male character of the novel, Francisco, works for a time and meets the love of his life:

He had delicate hands and a spirit inclined towards fantasy, a quality his father had tried to beat out of him. Drastic measures had not, however, cured his effeminate manerisms or altered his inclinations. As a child, if the family turned their backs for an instant, he slipped away to entertain himself in solitary pastimes that provoked pitiless ridicule: he gathered stones from the river and polished them for the pleasure of seeing the colors shine: he scouted the dismal landscape looking for dry leaves to arrange in artistic compositions; he was moved to tears by a sunset, wanting to capture it forever in a line of poetry or in a painting he could imagine but felt incapable of realizing. Only his mother accepted his peculiarities, seeing them not as signs of perversion but as evidence of a soul that was different. To save him from his father's merciless floggings, she took him to the parish priest to enroll him as an assistant to the sacristan, hoping to disguise his womanly gentleness among the skirts of the mass and offerings of incense. The boy's mind always wandered from his dog Latin, however, diverted by the golden particles floating in the light that streamed through the church windows. ... When his father learned of these visits, he led Mario by the ear to the mine whorehouse, accompanied by his two older brothers. There, with a dozen men impatient to spend their Friday wages, they waited their turn. Only Mario noticed the filthy, faded curtains, the stench of urine, and Lysol, the infinite desolation of the place. Only he was moved by the melancholy of those women exhausted by wear and the absence of love. Threatened by his own brothers, when his turn came he tried to play the macho with the prostitute, but she needed only a glance at the boy to see that he was destined for a life filled with mockery and solitude. She was moved with compassion when she saw him trembling with revulsion at the sight of her naked flesh, and she asked the men to leave them alone so she could do her job in peace. As soon as the others left, she bolted the door, sat on the bed beside Mario and took his hand.

"This isn't something you can be forced to do," she said to Mario, who was weeping with terror. "Go away, far away, boy, where no one knows you, because if you stay around here they'll end up killing you."

In all his life he had never received better advice. He dried his tears and promised never to spill them again over a manliness that in his heart he did not desire.
What a remarkably sensitive portrait of a young gay man, the only young male capable of seeing the "infinite desolation" of the brothel and "the melancholy of those women exhausted by wear and the absence of love."

Shortly after meeting Francisco for the first time, Mario falls deeply in love with the heterosexual young man. Here is Isabel's remarkably sensitive description of their first dinner together in Mario's apartment:

Francisco saw two goblets beside an ice bucket where a bottle of champagne was cooling; he noticed the soft lights, smelled the aroma of the wood fire and incense burning in a bronze censer; he heard the jazz from the hi-fi speakers, and realized he was the only guest. For an instant he was tempted to turn and walk out, to avoid raising any hope in his host's heart, but his desire not to hurt Mario, to gain his friendship, won out. As he looked in Mario's eyes, Francisco was moved by a mixture of pity and sympathy. He searched among his gentlest emotions for the one most appropriate to give to the man who was timidly offering him his love. He sat down beside Mario on the raw-silk sofa and accepted a glass of champagne, calling on his professional experience to help him steer through uncharted waters without doing something foolish. It was a night they both remembered. Mario told Francisco his life story, and delicately hinted at his growing passion. He anticipated a refusal, but he was too moved not to voice his emotions; no man had ever appealed to him so strongly. Francisco combined virile strength and assurance with the rare quality of gentleness. Mario did not fall in love easily; he distrusted stormy affairs, the cause of much unpleasantness in the past. He was prepared this once, however, to risk everything. Francisco also talked about himself and , without overtly saying so, communicated to Mario the possibility of sharing a solid and deep friendship, but never love. Through that long evening they discovered shared interests, laughed, listened to music, and drank champagne. In a burst of confidence forbidden by the most elementary caution, Mario spoke of his revulsion for the dictatorship and his desire to oppose it. His new friend, able to read the truth in his eyes, offered his secret in return. When they said goodbye, shortly before the hour of curfew, they exchanged a firm handshake, sealing a pact of solidarity.

Another remarkable passage and I dare say one that could only have been written by a woman. I rest my case about the sensitivity of Isabel Allende towards her gay characters in fiction. This is a woman of great insight and compassion into the plight of marginalized human beings, a woman who views the myriad forms of human love across gender boundaries through the eyes of the loving divine mother goddess. 

Viva Allende

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Update to the beating of Tariq Abu Khdier: A Way Out of Darkness

Yesterday I posted about the savage beating by masked Israeli police of 15 year old American-Palestinian, Tariq Khdeir, cousin to murdered teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Why do I mention the fact that the police were masked? Because the 'blaming of the victim' continues with police assertions that Tariq was wearing a keffiyeh, the traditional symbol of Palestinian nationalism - and the common protection worn by Palestinian youth against Israeli tear gas. None of this explains why a 15 year old child, who had clearly been subdued, was beaten again and again and again without restraint.

The first instance of 'blaming the victim' came with the suspicions planted that the boy's murdered cousin, Mohammed,  may have been gay, insinuations that immediately went viral over Israeli channels.

Here is an excellent article at The Jewish Daily Forward about The 'Pinkwashing' of Mohammed Abu Kdeir: It suggests that part of the motivation for the rumors, besides pinning a motive on the family for the murder, may also have been to contrast the 'homophobic Palestinians (bad) with the very liberal Israeli attitude towards LGBT people (good). Mohammed's father was questioned for six hours after the discovery of the body as police attempted to get him to admit this was an honor killing. 

But back to the beating of 15 year old Tariq Abu Khdeir. Would we even be discussing this case if Tariq were not an American citizen? As it is, the video of the beating has gone viral and caused widespread outrage in the US and Palestine. Does anyone remember the brutal beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 and the widespread riots in 1992 that occurred when the four police officers were first acquitted? I still remember Rodney's plaintive cry urging restraint in a news conference while the riots raged: Can we all get along?

This case is taking on similar proportions, as the common Israeli brutality to Palestinians on a daily basis (including, it should be added, the abduction and murder of young teens) has now been exposed in a way that cannot be shoved under the carpet - simply because the victim was a US citizen and, most importantly, because the incident was caught on video. 

Here is a poignant photo posted of young Mohammed before his case went worldwide:

It turns out that Mohammed's story - and the gruesome photos of his burned torso - have gone viral over the airwaves and nearly obliterated the preceding story of the three murdered Israeli teens. This fact has occasioned a great deal of outrage, as well, on the part of those invested in an image of Israel as a just and democratic state. Why does one murdered Palestinian boy, and a beaten cousin,  take precedence over three Israeli teens who were first murdered by Palestinians. And so the cycle of blame continues round and round and round. 

Palestinians say this 'happens all the time,' particularly the beatings they sustain. There is a great deal of bluster and denial coming forth from Israeli spokespersons at the moment in reaction to this claim, but this is a case that will not go away. It looks to be a watershed moment for US-Israel relations. The boy has been placed under house arrest - with no charge - and fined - for no reason given. The family and his mother especially, are furious and are demanding compensation from the Israeli government. 

In yesterday's posting, however, I was much too glib about the effects of Tariq's beating. Here is the professional opinion of an American neurologist:

He needs an immediate return to the US for appropriate comprehensive neurological work up – his loss of consciousness as well as his chronic headaches
and occasional disorientation suggest the possibility of significant issues. 

Tariq's family claims he was in the back garden of his Uncle's Jerusalem backyard when he was attacked. Given the fact his cousin, Mohammed's charred body had not yet been released to the family, there is some speculation that the attack was premeditated as a way of putting pressure on the family to 'admit' the death of Mohammed was an 'honor killing,' due to his being gay. In any event, the attackers did not count on a video going viral. 

For full coverage, see Mondoweis

And yet, there is a way out of the madness, and it is being shown by the families of the Israeli and Palestinian teens.

The families of murdered Israeli teen Naftali Fraenkel and murdered Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir are drawing comfort from an unexpected source: each other.
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat took to Facebook on Sunday to write about an “emotional and special telephone conversation between two families that have lost their sons.” He said that during his visit to the Fraenkel family home, he had a chance to speak to Hussein Abu Khdeir, Mohammed’s father, and express pain at the “barbaric” murder of his son.
Barkat then suggested that Abu Khdeir speak to Yishai Fraenkel, the uncle of Naftali Fraenkel who recently told the press that “the life of an Arab is equally precious to that of a Jew. Blood is blood, and murder is murder, whether that murder is Jewish or Arab.” The two men took Barkat’s advice and comforted one another by telephone.
In a separate visit organized by Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, chair of the religious council of Gush Etzion, Palestinians from the Hebron area showed up at the door of the Fraenkel family, looking to comfort the bereaved.
Asked why they had come, one Palestinian said, “Things will only get better when we learn to cope with each other’s pain and stop getting angry at each other. Our task is to give strength to the family and also to take a step toward my nation’s liberation. We believe that the way to our liberation is through the hearts of Jews.”
He later said that the visit went very well from his perspective. “They received us very, very nicely. The mother [Rachel Fraenkel] was incredible.”
“I see before me a Jewish family who has lost a son opening the door to me,” he added. “That’s not obvious. It touched my heart and my nation.”
The Palestinian visitors also mentioned an initiative spearheaded by Jews and Muslims to transform July 15, the Jewish fast day known as 17 Tammuz, into a joint fast day for people of both religions who wish to express their desire to end violence in the region.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Heartbreak in Israel : Blaming the victim as gay

Grieving parents of Mohamed Abu Khdeir

The recent abductions and murder of three Israeli teens, followed by the abduction and burning of 16 year old Mohamed Abu Khdeir has shocked the world. The following are some disjointed notes I've put together.

The case of murdered Mohamed Abu Khdeir is tragic enough in its own terms, but I became alerted to this aspect of the  case with reports Israeli police were first spreading rumors the boy was 'gay,' and had suffered a homophobic retaliation attack - instead, as is now being admitted, he was the victim of a revenge by Israeli extremists killing in retaliation for the murder of the three teenage Israelis last week. Now his  visiting American cousin has fallen victim to the same hideous brutality. He was savagely beaten by Israel police, who claim he was 'intending' to throw rocks, but not actually doing so. 

First the "gay" report:

Taken from Richard Silverstein's blog:

Yesterday night, I noticed severalIsraeli Facebook users infecting myfeed with false claims that Mohamed Abu Khdeir, the 16 year-old who was murdered by suspected Jewish terrorists, was killed in an honor crime because he was gay.  With the help of an Israeli friend, I traced the rumor to, of all places, the Israeli police (Hebrew).  They leaked (Hebrew) this false information to the media, which dutifully reported it as if it was true (it wasn’t).  The police claim (made anonymously of course) that it had “information” Abu Khdeir was gay was false.  But this calumny spread like the wind, and a credulous Israeli public eager to believe the worst of Palestinians and refusing to take any responsibility for their own brethren spilling the blood of a Palestinian, took to social media like a raging plague and spread this bile everywhere.

This is the proverbial “blaming the victim” tactic often used by accused rapists and their defense attorneys.  But this is worse because the victim in this case is dead and the fellow citizens of the accused killers refuse to acknowledge the pain and suffering of the murder.  They want to wipe it out because they hate Palestinians and believe them undeserving of sympathy.
This Haaretz report (pictured on right) by Nir Hasson and Jack Khoury documents the fraud and conveys the angry response of the victim’s family:
Our family is not involved in any dispute and he was a good boy.  this is not a family problem.  It is a kidnapping [now murder] and everyone must know this.
You can read the rest at Richard Silverstein's wonderful blog,  which I can't recommend too highly.

Tikun Olam-תיקון עול

And now the story of Tariq Abu Khdeir, the 15 year old cousin of Mohamed Abu Khdeir

(Warning, the video is very graphic!)

The Palestinian youth who was caught on video earlier this week being beaten by members of the Israeli Border Police is a United States citizen from Florida, the U.S. State Department confirmed on Saturday. 

The US teenager was kept in custody by police for seven hours and denied all medical attention - until his father showed up with the boy's American passport. That suddenly changed everything - and as the proverbial expression goes, the shit hit the fan. 

You can watch this video here at Al Jazeera in which an Israeli police spokesperson attempts to justify the arrest of the boy - but unfortunately we have the video footage of his savage merciless beating - which goes on and on and on and on. Very painful to watch. As the father says, "No mercy." 

Before receiving medical attention.

So as not to unduly sensationalize the event, here he is some 24 hours after the beating and after receiving medical attention - so it's some relief to realize the injuries will not mar his face permanently. But I've rarely been so shocked as I was watching the Israeli police mercilessly beating and beating this 15 year old child, and then justifying it as "he was intending to throw rocks."

Full coverage from the New York Times with two different versions of the video. 

I don't really have the heart to editorialize on these tragic events, except to point out that homophobia is alive and well in Israel. But here is a voice of conscience I truly respect - whom the UK's Independent calls "The Most Hated Man in Israel or the Most Heroic."  A really excellent in depth article. 

The great Israeli journalist, Gordon Levy, lamenting the state of his country: Our Wretched Jewish State.

Here is Tarek, looking like an ordinary happy hip teenager - replete with the essential accessory of all teens -  earphones.  His visit marked the first time his American branch of the family had visited Palestine in over ten years.

Tarek Abu Khdeir before his injuries. (Photo provided and published with consent from the Abu Khdeir family)
Tarek Abu Khdeir before his injuries. (Photo provided and published with consent from the Abu Khdeir family)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Celebrated Women and Humble Men: Isabel Allende and River Viiperi

Enduring Love

(This long reflection linking renowned author and women's rights activist, Isabel Allende, with Spanish supermodel, River Viiperi is my indirect response to the recent US Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, denying basic contraceptive health care coverage to women employees of companies who object on 'religious grounds'. This ruling will also adversely affect LGBT anti-discrimination laws.  Wiser heads than I have commented extensively on this. See here and here.

However, I'd rather be positive. So here is an outstanding feminist author and activist coupled with a supportive and gay friendly model and up and coming fashion designer.

Isabel Allende, Latin America's most renowned author, is also regarded as the world's most widely read Spanish language author, with over 60 million copies of her books sold worldwide in 35 different languages. However, Isabel is also an outspoken activist for women's rights. She donates half a million dollars a year to organizations empowering women around the world, through her Isabel Allende Foundation. 

Why, then, pair her with a charismatic young Spanish model at the top of his profession and on his way to becoming a fashion designer with his own clothing line? What could they possibly have in common, apart from their Spanish ancestry? 

                                              (Click on the photo to donate to Isabel's Foundation)                  
(Click on the photo for a video of River:          Click here for a video of Isabel Allende)

Isabel Allende is from Chile, and  the 'first cousin, once removed' of assassinated President Salvadore Allende, overthrown in the  CIA-backed military coup that took place in September, 1973, and which brought Augusto Pinochet to power. Most of Isabel's family were put on death lists at the time.   Receiving death threats herself, Isabel fled to Venezuela where she lived for thirteen years before immigrating to the US. After working as a journalist for many years, Isabel published her first novel, House of the Spirits, in 1982 (first published in Spain) which went on to become an international bestseller, going through several dozen editions and translated into a score of languages. Since that time she has published a book a year, inspired three major films, and garnered 50 literary awards. In the world of publishing, Isabel is a megastar.

River Viiperi was born in Ibiza, Spain in 1991 to a Spanish father and a Finnish mother, who was herself a fashion model and who encouraged him to enter the profession. After a bumpy start, River has quickly become one of the most respected and sought after models in the profession, and he is now developing his own clothing line. River has just finished 'walking the walk' at the prestigious Gran Canaria Moda Calida swimwear show and the 080 Barcelona Fashion week. He is a young man still in the formative years of his life journey, still discerning the signs of his destiny, but I expect he will go far. He has already proven himself to be a feminist ally and a friend to his LGBT fans, whom he treats with unfailing courtesy, affection and respect.  Isabel Allende is in the golden years of an extraordinary career as the most renowned Spanish language author on the planet, and a woman who uses her fame and wealth to foster the rights of women worldwide. What mysterious element could possibly bind these two together?

River at 080 BCN FAshion Week 

The answer is quite simple. Both of them are involved in serious loving relationships in which the woman is by far the more celebrated, famous and wealthy partner. 

Isabel is married to San Francisco Bay Area lawyer, Willie Gordon, who specializes in cases dealing with Hispanic workers, whom he represents. He is a strong and decent man with a passionate sense of justice and is fluent in Spanish. He is also a crime novelist in his own right, having published six very original and distinguished noir mysteries set in San Francisco, which have been well reviewed and which have their own loyal following (including myself). But in terms of literary fame, he is eclipsed by his more famous partner, Isabel, whose every yearly book hits the bestseller lists within weeks, followed by book tours and interviews. Isabel is the media star, Willie the modest creative artist. Perhaps by his own choosing, none of his books are available on Kindle. Willie ruefully and good naturedly describes himself as "Soy la sombra de Isabel Allende," - "I am her shadow." The couple have been married for 26 years. When asked what was the initial attraction, Isabel, known for her wicked sense of humor, replied, 

For Me? Sex. I had been living in chastity for a very long time - like two weeks (laughs).

River Viiperi is the loving partner of American heiress and fashion icon Paris Hilton, and there are clear indications that the couple - in their own good time - are heading towards a permanent committment  and children. The couple have been together a little less than two years. Miss Hilton, as we all know, has a controversial past that has compromised her public image, but she has come a long ways in the past few years towards redeeming herself. The person behind the image is far more grounded, decent and caring than the persona crafted by the media. One suspects that her relationship with a man as honest as River Viiperi has done her a world of good.  For a closer look at the real person behind the facade, here is Forbes' excellent article, "Ditzy  Blond No More: Paris Hilton Reinvents Herself.  The first line of the article says it all, "The first thing you need to know about Paris Hilton is that you don't really know Paris Hilton." 

Well that was certainly true of myself. I am no fan of the cult of celebrity or conspicuous consupmption. So I didn't expect to find -when I visited Paris' online store, that all of her goods - with very few exceptions - are priced within the $100 range. They are marketed for young women of modest means who desire a bit of glamor on a worker's salary. You won't find a Paris Hilton handbag selling for 22,000 euros in the Costa del Sol, but you will find Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana handbags with such obscene price tags (I've seen them). So right there I was brought up against my own prejudices and misconceptions about this always fashionable young woman. 

At 22, River is eleven years younger than Paris Hilton, and this has occasioned much comment, some of it quite bitchy. None of this interests me, except from a feminist perspective. In a sexist universe, a relationship between a celebrated older woman and a younger man requires very special qualities of tolerance and forbearance on the part of the male, who must be strong enough in his own identity to defer to the greater public fame of his partner.  Would we be shocked about a man dating a woman eleven years his junior? Certainly not, we would consider it nothing out of the ordinary. And in the case of a young woman married to a famous man would we be concerned about her own personal identity apart from that of her famous husband? Would we be worried she would not have space to grow on her own terms and would be dwarfed by her partner's fame, wealth and power? Up until a few decades ago, certainly not. For hundreds and hundreds of years, women were expected to be content in their identity solely as the helpmate and supporter of the male, who went 'out into the world' to forge his destiny, while the 'little woman' stayed home to mind the hearth and raise the children. She also had to be there to comfort her husband when he returned from the warring world of male competitive egos. Women simply didn't have 'destinies' up until the mid twentieth century (with rare exceptions), that sort of privilege was reserved for the male alone. 

How times have changed, and for the better, when young, charismatic men can feel secure enough in their identities to 'take the lesser part,' at least in terms of public perception, in a relationship in which the woman enjoys greater fame, position, wealth and power. It takes a man of considerable strength of character and self respect to not only survive in such a relationship, but to make it endure. River's honesty and solid values are on display in this excellent interview at Finally Brave. Clearly, we must not underestimate River's own ability to succeed. He is likely to achieve much on his own and, I expect him to evolve into an outstanding role model as a man for whom love and compassion far surpass fame and fortune as his preeminent values.

River with Jon Kortajarea backstage at 080 Fashion Week Barcelona.

River and Paris, who reside in LA (when not traveling the world) are just starting out on their life journey together. I have no crystal ball to predict the endurance of their relationship, but I wish them well. However, in San Rafael, in a Spanish style estate in the hills of Northern California, another couple enjoying their golden years, offer a superlative role model for enduring love between a famous woman and her loyal and supportive husband. 

Enduring love

In the privacy of their beautiful Spanish style hacienda in San Rafael, Isabel and Willie lead a normal life as loving equals. They have had to endure many trials in life, but they have survived because of their strong support for one another.

The couple met in San Francisco in 1988 and were married shortly thereafter. Isabel, with her customary earthy sense of humor, says, "I fell in lust.". They first moved into a spacious hillside apartment in Sausalito with spectacular views of San Francisco Bay. Each of them had their own private writing office as they worked in harmony on their books. Some years later, the couple moved to their magnificent estate in San Rafael. Then in 1992 tragedy struck. Isabel's daughter, Paula, from Isabel's previous marriage to Miguel Frias, died from complications due to  a rare, hereditary enzyme deficiency known as porphyria. In fact, Paula died in Isabel's arms on the evening of December 8, 1992, one year to the day she had fallen into a coma. The experience would plunge Isabel into a profound depression lasting several years, and it was Willie's stable love and support that sustained her through this trial and brought her back to life. Out of this experience, she would begin her Foundation in support of Women's health worldwide and write one of her most memorable books, the memoir, Paula.

(See  here for a great video of Isabel Allende)

Of her grief, Isabel has said:

“Sometimes, still, it hits me like a rock and then it’s a bad day. I wake up with that feeling of terrible loss and anything can make me cry. But most of the time I’m doing fine.”

Nonetheless, Isabel confesses to suffering from nightmares and chronic insomnia. She rarely sleeps for more than a few hours at a time. She will then get up from bed and wander about the house, make herself a cup of tea, light a candle, take some notes. When she is ready to go back to bed, she climbs in next to Willie, who always sleeps in the fetal position, and she curls her body up behind him, molding herself to his form. Then she entwines her legs around his and her arms around his body and succeeds in falling asleep once again. Does he awake when she comes back to bed and wraps herself around him? No, she explains, he never moves. He only wakes slightly at those times she disengages herself from him and gets out of bed. In other words, it is not her presence that disturbs Willie's sleep, it is the sense of her absence that stirs him. This beautiful anecdote encapsulates an enduring relationship of such power and depth, two human beings tried by the vicissitudes of life and fused through love into one body, one heart, one soul.

In 2010 tragedy struck their family again. Willie's youngest son, Harley, died of a heroin overdose. It was his second terrible loss, as in 1994 his daughter, Jennifer, from a previous marriage,  had died of an overdose as well. Isabel says, 

My husband just collapsed – he is a very strong man but he went into a dark, dark depression and would not take any medication and accepted very little help. I think people who are depressed fall in love with the darkness and start spiralling down – and when you live with somebody in that state, there is no way that you can escape the black cloud over the house.”

And I saw the broken heart, the vulnerability, that was not only about Harley dying, it was about a whole lifetime of denying the pain. And he's there now...and I'm there with him.

Eventually, through Isabel's loving support, Willie recovered from this trial and resumed a healthy, balanced life once again, returning to his love for crime writing. 

(Isabel and Willie discuss these personal tragedies in this candid interview on YouTube.)

Today the couple life a 'normal' life in the hills of San Rafael, with much of Isabel's extended family living nearby. On Sundays in summer, they have a full house and the couple cook for the family:

If the tribe is coming for dinner, I cook the main course and sometimes dessert. Willie cooks the rest of the week; Sunday is his day off. In winter I may cook a Chilean vegetable stew (charquicán) and filet mignon, or a coq au vin, or beef stew. For dessert, a Chilean flan de leche, my son’s favorite.

On Sunday mornings:

Willie, my husband, brings me a big — really big — cup of coffee with milk in bed. I drink my coffee slowly, enjoying the moment. Then we take Olive for a walk, usually to Samuel P. Taylor State Park. I have a favorite trail where I always reflect or pray a little. It’s where we scattered my daughter’s ashes. We stop at Two Bird Cafe in West Marin or Comforts in San Anselmo for breakfast. Coffee and toast is good enough, sometimes oatmeal.

On their exercise regime, Isabel reveals another touching anecdote. They have an exercise room with several machines and two treadmills. They always exercise together at the same time, but they don't always enter at the same time. When Isabel  enters and Willie is already on the treadmill, they don't exchange greetings, Isabel simply begins her exercise regime, comforted by Willie's presence. When Willie finishes, he leaves quietly without a word - because for this couple words are not necessary to express the comfortable, peaceful harmony that exists between them. This is a couple that has endured. 

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles another couple lives their ordinary life, enjoying simple pleasures together like cooking and walking the dog. In a mature and honest interview with Mujorhoy.Com, River Viiperi reveals the normal life behind the glitter of celebrity fame. He says of Paris (in my rough translation), that within the privacy of the home, Paris wants to live an ordinary life and does not want to live in luxury. The world of fame and luxury is for the outside world, within the home Paris is "simply herself." 

River says he fell in love with Paris the night he took her to dinner and discovered that she was 'lovely and normal." Describing himself as a very romantic man, who does not 'hook up' on a first date, he says of their traditional relationship, "People have a very wrong idea of us." And in a moment of special candor, he confesses that the couple did not become 'intimate' until four months into their relationship, and that is indeed something rare. Almost two years later and the couple seem well on their way to fashioning their own enduring love. It appears that Paris Hilton has finally found "her man."

It takes a special man of uncommon strength of character to remain committed to a famous women, especially a younger man still in the process of forging his own destiny. I think in River Viiperi, Paris Hilton has struck gold and I think she knows it. I wish the couple well. However, the best blessing I could bestow upon them is to wish them the same enduring love as exists between Isabel Allende and her beloved husband, Willie Gordon.

I don't have much to give,but I don't care for gold
What use is money,when you need someone to hold
Sam Smith 2014

Isabel's Official Blog
Isabel's Website
River Viiperi's Twitter Account
River Viiperi's Official Webstore

(All photos taken from the web, most from the articles linked. All due respect to copyright.)