Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Please Read the Linked Post

Professor Kim, my colleague at BlogHer.com has written about a serious threat to democracy guised in religious raiment. Hr post, entitled
Family Secrets: Jeff Sharlet Exposes "The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power"

Here is a quote from her article about the quasi-secret group that is manipulating power globally. :

Sharlet traces evidence of the Family's hand in charges that some US military leaders are pushing an extreme Christian theology on troops, violating the military's own rules. He says The Family helped former Pres. Jimmy Carter jump-start the talks that led the Camp David Accords, but its members also threw their weight behind murderous dictators in Indonesia, Somalia and Haiti, among other places. A Family associate is behind the repugnant Ugandan legislative proposal targeting homosexuals for execution, and prison for people who fail to turn in gay people they might know - although the organization has condemned the measure.

We Need to Stand Up to the Thugs

I cannot write coolly about the rising tide of hatred in America. I'd love to be able to come up with a rational journalistic effort that succinctly spells out the problem and offers some convenient solutions. But I am not there yet. I have torn up two dozen attempts.

A week ago, Tea Party protesters shouted "Nigger" at African American Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement.

It used to be easy to step back, and to say that these sorts of things were only muttered by the lunatic fringe. Ignore them --- they have to real power in America. Not my America. Not now.

Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH), who voted for the health care bill, said that he has since gotten multiple death threats.

Just do not "sink to their level", and they will stop. Isn't that the conventional wisdom? Just do not dignify what they say with a response. But that is not working. Silence is just fanning the flames.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a "Faggot," while protesters mocked him. Frank told the Washington newspaper The Hill that he was also called a “homo communist” and told to “go homo to Massachusetts." He also had to call Capitol police “to move away” five or six protesters who were banging on his office door and yelling through the mail slot.

We have free speech in America. We need to defend these people's rights to be stupid, anti-intellectual bigots. But where is the line drawn between free speech and inciting to riot? Or inciting to cultivate hatred?

I spent some time looking on the web, trying to convince myself that hate sites were there, but in small numbers. When I was done, I felt that I had rubbed my eyes in raw sewage.

I just saw an online video game in which the object was to kill illegal immigrants from Mexico to the USA. One group to kill was called "Breeders". They object was to position a target sight over a large woman running in fear with her children.

Just do not draw attention to this evil garbage. That is what we were told, right?

But in doing so, we are allowing a Thug Mentality to develop. I watch the likes of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh for five minutes and I want to vomit -- my stomach feels like I swallowed razor blades. It is not just because I disagree with them. It is also because, in my opinion, they are deliberate liars. Add the "birthers" to the mix and my eyeballs start spinning backwards in my head.

Will frightened Americans believe anything? And what are the terrifying consequences that come from the free expression of hatred, and the deliberate fanning of the flames of bigotry?

Politico44 reports a disturbing rejection by the RNC:

The Republican National Committee has rejected a proposal from its Democratic counterpart to sign a joint “civility” statement, POLITICO has learned.

Various members of the DNC — including Chairman Tim Kaine, Executive Director Jen O’Malley Dillon and Communications Director Brad Woodhouse — contacted their respective RNC counterparts this week in hopes of getting RNC Chairman Michael Steele to co-sign a document with Kaine that, in part, called for “elected officials of both parties to set an example of the civility we want to see in our citizenry.”

“We also call on all Americans to respect differences of opinion, to refrain from inappropriate forms of intimidation, to reject violence and vandalism, and to scale back rhetoric that might reasonably be misinterpreted by those prone to such behavior,” read the proposed joint statement.

This was rejected by the Republican National Committee. REJECTED!?

Every time some absurd statement is made that describes some other group with a nasty epithet, the speaker makes them less than human. Why? Because it is easier to hate a XXX than a lesbian woman named Mary, or an African American grandfather named William, or a Muslim daughter named Fatima, or a Spanish man named Enrique.

The sewers of race hatred have backed up in America. Can it feel any different from what preceded Hitler's rise in Germany?

Another blog I won't link to has a picture of a noose with the caption that "It Is Possible to Hang Someone Important in Government for Treason". Beneath that is a poster of Obama...it says "Wanted for Treason"

This is not your ordinary hate speech we are seeing these days. It is hate speech that is edging people into potentially violent action.

Sarah Palin "targets" certain Democratic Congresspeople. She shows them on a map with gun-sights over their locations. When challenged about that (even by Elizabeth Hasselback on The View) she does not back down. Palin tweeted:“Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America : “Don’t Retreat, Instead RELOAD!”

Watch this video and hear this issue thoughtfully discussed.

Bad things are afoot in America. I do not think we should just ignore them. The kind of hateful grumblings that preceded Hitler's rise to power echo in what we hear today -- blaming other races for our misfortunes, seeing people we decide are "enemies" as less than human. In an alarming cautionary note, the Nazi party never even got 38% of the popular vote to rise to power. How many Americans have to start saying hateful things, doing hateful things before we decide to speak out in opposition, or to hold them in some way accountable?

Or do we just let them believe what those who are jerking their marionette strings want them to believe?

A recent Harris poll quoted by John Avalon in The Daily Beast reveals:

* 67 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that Obama is a socialist
* 57 percent of Republicans (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim
* 45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president"
* 38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did"
* Scariest of all, 24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama "may be the Antichrist."

Avalon goes on to say : "The poll, which surveyed 2,230 people right at the height of the health-care reform debate, also clearly shows that education is a barrier to extremism. Respondents without a college education are vastly more likely to believe such claims, while Americans with college degrees or better are less easily duped. It's a reminder of what the 19th-century educator Horace Mann once too-loftily said: 'Ignorance breeds monsters to fill up the vacancies of the soul that are unoccupied by the verities of knowledge.' "

It's time to stand up, to speak out, to not let snarling dogs lie.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March 29th - Passover Begins. Why You Should Know How to Find B'nei Berak

Passover is coming! I love this holiday. My extended family is Jewish,and they have given me the gift of including me in so much that is beautiful in their lives...especially Passover. This year, we won't be together due to illnesses and other unavoidable unusual circumstances. I find myself mourning the loss of this gathering this year. So instead of being sad, I want to share with you some treasured memories.

First -- for those who have not yet been blessed with the joy of a Passover Seder, this is an eight day festival that celebrates the escape of the Israelites from over 400 years of enslavement in Egypt by Pharaoh. Led by Moses, they implored Pharaoh to let them go. When he just heaped more indignities on them, more suffering, Moses threatened him with various plagues if he did not relent. Pharaoh was arrogant. So along came the plagues, -- boils, locusts, dying livestock, frogs, flies, hail, lice --- and more. But the Pharaoh stayed resolute and threatened to kill Moses. Then the tenth plague -- all the firstborn of Egypt -- human and animal, would be killed. That night, Israelites put a mark of a slaughtered lamb above their doorposts to identify their homes. The Angel of Death came that night and "passed over" only the marked homes. It was then that Pharaoh relented, and the former slaves started their exodus from Egypt.

That period in history is recalled in the rituals and elements of a special family dinner that occurs around a religious liturgy which is recorded in a prayerbook called "The Haggadah". Passover lasts eight days, but usually only the first two nights have the elaborate Seder meal. This event is all about attaining freedom, about celebration.
Many of the foods are symbolic - bitter foods for bitter years, unleavened bread as a reminder of having left Egypt in a hurry, and so on. You can read about the symbolic meaning of items on the Seder Plate here.

One of my most treasured memories s a simple silly thing that our host does every year.
He reads this portion of the Haggadah and asks the same question every time:

It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarphon were reclining [at a seder] in B'nei Berak. They were discussing the exodus from Egypt all that night, until their students came and told them: "Our Masters! The time has come for reciting the morning Shema!"

His question: "Where is B'nei Berak?"

And we all answer, in unison and with gusto the lesson we have learned every year. "It is a suburb of Tel Aviv!" And then we all laugh because it is so silly to be asked what we already know. We smile, because we all share the joke. Our host feigns surprise that we remembered.

But on another level, it is an interesting bit of knowledge. It is a real place, a place many around the table have visited -- that hiding place for the rabbis. It may seem strange that they had to be told that it was daylight, and time for morning prayers. But during the time of these rabbis, the Roman Empire was in charge, and forbade the practice of Judaism. They were celebrating Passover in secret, perhaps in a cave, while their students stood watch. It might have cost them their lives to be discovered.

Our host knows that we cannot let important places just become suburbs in our minds -- that we have to understand that people paid a price to preserve what we enjoy now in freedom. And that is not just a lesson for the Jewish community.

One year our host forgot to ask us about B'nei Berak. We made him stop and go back. It wouldn't be right to skip over our lesson about sacred ground.

And every year, we know the folks at the table who don't like home-made gefilte fish, and the ones who love matzoh noodles. We know who can take the strongest blast of home-made horseradish and who is a gastronomic coward. And we know that there are millions of families probably nothing like ours, but who are identically gathering to say these same words and celebrate these same events -- some in freedom, and some in oppression.

Every year I was honored with being asked to read "The Hallel" - a stunningly wonderful and poetic prayer at the end of the liturgy. I will quote a part of it here, so those of you who are new to it can hear its joyous Psalmic beauty, and those who know it well can smile in fond remembrance with me.

...To You alone we give thanks. Even if our mouths were filled with song as the sea, and our tongues with joyous singing like the multitudes of its waves, and our lips with praise like the expanse of the sky; and our eyes shining like the sun and the moon, and our hands spread out like the eagles of heaven, and our feet swift like deer we would still be unable to thank You L-rd, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, and to bless Your Name, for even one of the thousands of millions, and myriads of myriads, of favors, miracles and wonders which You have done for us and for our fathers before us. L-rd, our G-d.

You have redeemed us from Egypt, You have freed us from the house of bondage, You have fed us in famine and nourished us in plenty; You have saved us from the sword and delivered us from pestilence, and raised us from evil and lasting maladies. Until now Your mercies have helped us, and Your kindnesses have not forsaken us; and do not abandon us, L-rd our G-d, forever! Therefore, the limbs which You have arranged within us, and the spirit and soul which You have breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue which You have placed in our mouth they all shall thank, bless, praise, glorify, exalt, adore, sanctify and proclaim the sovereignty of Your Name, our King.

For every mouth shall offer thanks to You, every tongue shall swear by You, every eye shall look to You, every knee shall bend to You, all who stand erect shall, bow down before You...

May the blessings of joy in Passover be yours.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Faith Based Iitiatives - a Mess, a Very Sad Mess

The discussion of faith-based initiatives is such a thorny, nasty mess that it is a wonder anyone writes about it at all. The best one can do is to highlight the issues and stand back. Waaaay back.

OK - let's start. Even uncovering the history to the current kerfuffle is tricky.

First, keep in mind these points:

1. The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlines the right of religious organizations to choose to hire only employees who share that organization's religious beliefs.

2. For dozens and dozens of years religious colleges and universities, religious hospitals, religious foster care and adoption agencies and many other religious organizations have received government funding.

3. In 2001, George W. Bush established a White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The Republican leaders of the House introduced legislation expanding the faith based initiatives to a much broader range of federal funding. The New York Times in 2009 was not as charitable:

The [Bush] administration provided large grants for projects favored by the Christian right, like Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries and Teen Challenge, a drug rehabilitation program that openly pushed religious conversion (even using the phrase “completed Jews” to describe teenage converts from Judaism) as a way of overcoming addiction. John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of Mr. Bush’s faith-based office, resigned after only eight months and later complained about the politicization of the program.

4. During the Bush years, a provision was added to legislation that required the religious group to separate any overt religious activity from the aid they were providing with government funds. Essentially, a group could be very sectarian with their right hand, but had to be non-religious with their left. Someone actually thought this would work.

5. Obama campaigned on a pledge to bar funds from houses of worship that would use the money to proselytize or discriminate in hiring on the basis of a prospective employee’s religion and beliefs.

6. In February of 2009, President Obama established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the 25-member President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This group was to have an even wider advisory scope than the Bush group. BUT they were specifically told not to deal with the hiring issue. That would be handled on a one by one case by case basis, and was under further legal review.

7. After their first year, their first 73 page report reads, in its opening paragraph, "At the Administration’s direction, the Council did not address the issue of religion-based employment decisions regarding jobs partially or fully subsidized by Federal funds."

8. They also did not address abortion, although President Obama did say he wanted the group to look at "abortion reduction". According to the Christian Post, he later retracted. "Joshua DuBois, the director of the office, said the council members have been involved in conversations about abortion reduction but did not create a task force for the issue because the president would like to extend the discussion to include the Domestic Policy Council."

So here is one part of the mess.

Should a group accepting federal funds be forced to hire gay people or people who support reproductive choice for the federally funded part of their work, when they regard these people as representing all they do not believe in? There are many thoughts about this, all of them usually a decibel louder than normal conversation. Wishing won't make it so. The Catholic church has made it abundantly clear that they will stop providing services if they are forced to provide support to gay people or to people affirming freedom of choice.

And another fine mess.

According to the Huffington Post, Catholic Charities in DC has stopped paying spousal benefits for all new employees (just in case any of them are gay, thereby leveling the playing field).

According to the Washington Post, Catholic Charities protested the December vote that made same-sex marriage legal in D.C., and has threatened not to renew its contracts with the city. The nation's capital provides $22 million every year to Catholic Charities for social services programs.

The charity had threatened to pull out of DC entirely if this issue could not be resolved. And this charity does a great deal of work in DC.

There are some who would suggest that the best course might be to rid the country of any connection between faith groups and federal funds. Yet, inner city churches, serving the poorest of the poor have been able (with federal help) to continue serving a constituency that the government may miss entirely. They offer programs promoting nutrition, dealing with addiction, spousal abuse, preventative health care, mental illness, child care and so much more. With the declining economy, can we afford not to support these groups?

Personally, I want my government to help social service wherever it can. And if that means enabling religious or neighborhood groups, fine. But I don't want my government blackmailed by any group that threatens to take its football home if the government doesn't play their way. And, on the other hand of what must be twenty hands by now, I never want my government telling me what I have to believe. But I want to be able to be hired regardless of my sexual preference or opinion about abortion.

Saad Mohammad Ali's story is told by philly.com

He had volunteered for six months at World Relief, helping the agency resettle arriving Iraqi refugees, when a manager suggested he apply for an Arabic-speaking case worker job. The 42-year-old...had been an interpreter for the U.S. government in Iraq before coming to the U.S. two years ago - himself as a refugee. With a degree in statistics, strong English skills and basic knowledge of American culture, [he]could help his arriving countrymen... But a few days after he applied for the position last December, the Muslim and father of three got an unexpected call from the same manager at World Relief: She was sorry, she told him, but the agency couldn't offer him the job because he is not Christian.

There are some who would say that because an organization accepts federal funds, it should accept federal hiring practices at all levels. World Relief receives an estimated 70% of their expenses from the government.

Dive in folks. This sea is teeming with opinions. This post is just an opening stab at the issue. There is much more to say. How would you say it?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Nun in a Herring Barrel

It was the 1522, and Katharina von Bora was hiding in a herring barrel. Along with her were eleven other nuns in herring barrels, all in a horse-drawn cart, escaping their convent.

Since March is Women's History Month, I was asked what woman I would like to see written back into history, specifically the history of religion. For me, it's the nun hiding in the herring barrel.

It had been a long journey for Katharine to this clever escape. Katharina had been born to a noble family that had become impoverished. Her mother died, and when her father remarried Katharina was sent -- presumably by her wicked step-mother -- to a convent at age 5. By the time she was 16, she had become a nun.

By then, exciting news from outside the convent began to trickle in. Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, had been making waves, protesting many of the actions of the Catholic church. Somehow news of this filtered into the convent. Nuns dissatisfied with life there were drawn by Luther's words. Katharina smuggled word to the then-unknown-to-her Dr. Luther pleading with him to help rescue her and the other escaping nuns.

He sent a friend of his whose wagon delivered herring to the large convent. It soon became a wagon full of herring barrels full of nuns. And so Katharina's adventurous story begins.

Not much is known about the other nuns. Three went back to their homes. Nine landed on Luther's doorstep seeking husbands or positions. There was no other choice for a woman who could not or would not return home. After three years, Luther had found positions or husbands for all of them. Except Katharina.

Luther himself had been staunchly against marriage. An online biography of Luther says:

Having taken a vow of chastity and often preaching on the virtues and importance of marriage, Luther wrote in a letter to Bavarian noblewoman Argula von Grumbach, his response to her query as to whether he would ever marry;

“Nevertheless, the way I feel now, and have felt thus far, I will not marry. It is not that I do not feel my flesh or sex, since I am neither wood nor stone, but my mind is far removed from marriage, since I daily expect death and the punishment due to a heretic. Therefore I shall not limit God’s work in me, nor shall I rely on my own heart. Yet I hope God does not let me live long.”

Then along came Katharina. She turned down suitor after suitor, and refused to marry anyone but Luther. We don't know how it all managed to change for Luther, but they were wed. By this point, Luther was a famous reformer. Getting married sealed forever his departure from the role of dissident monk. He was 42, she 26.

A local nobleman gave them a ramshackle old abbey in which to make their home. In those days the household consisted of Martin, Katharina, and a growing stream of students and widows seeking shelter. Traffic in and out could mean as many as 30 living there at one time. And Katherina was at the helm.

Before long she had convinced Luther to buy neighboring farmland. She grew their food, established a herd of cattle and other farm animals, started a fishpond, opened and ran a brewery and managed every detail of this constantly flexing community. She kept all the accounts, and was the only woman allowed in to Luther's private, informal meetings with his students - later collected in volumes called "Table Talk".

In addition to their own six children, they also took in orphans and offered housing to students.

Luther, never a romantic personage, clearly fell in love with Katherina. Dr Ken Curtis of the Christian History Institute writes:

Luther wrote a friend, "There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage. One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before."

After a year of marriage Luther wrote another friend, "My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus." Luther, the former celibate monk, now exalted marriage, exclaiming, "There is no bond on earth so sweet, nor any separation so bitter, as that which occurs in a good marriage."

Letters from Luther to Katharina which survive, show him to be an adoring husband, as he writes about how much he misses her when he travels, how dear she is to him. He also writes in Latin and German to her discussing detailed theological arguments he is having with other Reformers.

In the 1500's, women had no rights - especially after their husbands died. Luther and Katharine, whom he called "Katie" or "My Lord Katie" arranged things differently. An article by George Ella for New Focus says:

Martin’s and Katie’s contemporaries always referred to the couple in one breath as ‘Luther and Lutheress’ (Germ. Lutherin), emphasizing their joint importance. Luther made sure that Katie should be accepted as his equal in all ways. Contrary to the legal custom of the day, he insisted on making Katie his heir and legatee, even if she should remarry after his death. Luther also made Katie his children’s legal guardian, contrary to contemporary practice. When Luther died, his enemies believed Katie, whom they called Doctorissa, would continue her husband’s work. They thus used all their energies to rob her of her property, reputation and influence.

However, after Luther died, the new Elector took Luther's lands and buildings. The will was annulled and the Katharina and her children were put under the "protection" of a male guardian who forbade her making any business or financial arrangements.

She refused to go along. However, with the outbreak of the Smalkaldic War and the onset of the plague, everything went awry. Katharina had to flee the area. But she did not give up. She took to the courts and was about to win back her property and rights when she died from injuries in a cart accident.

Today, she is largely a forgotten woman. But her efforts supported the entire Protestant Reformation. Uncharacteristically industrious, outspoken and accomplished, her name needs to be written in larger type in the collective memory of those years.

She is part of the thousands of women in history who supported those whose names could become famous in a patriarchy. Her name has many names behind it, many lives behind it . These women fought, worked and supported the lives of others who could change the world in ways that they were not allowed. These were not just women standing behind their men -- these were women who were part of the dialogue. These women of a different time, who, along with Katharina Luther, made historical change possible.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Wasteful Mail

Today I got an envelope from the US Census Bureau. It came 1st class. Inside was a letter address to "Resident" at my address that told me to expect the Census form next week.


What did the government expect to accomplish by mailing presumably every household in America, telling them that another piece of mail was coming?

Am I supposed to stand at my mailbox waiting?

If I plan to ignore the census (which I would not) what makes them think I'll open mail from them?

If I plan to complete the census (my plan), I'm going to open it when it gets here, with or without warning.

The way I see it, the government just spammed the whole nation, and made us pay for it.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Veiled Voices. A Film About Women Musilm Religious Leaders

"Veiled Voices", is a documentary about women religious leaders in Islam soon to be shown across many PBS TV stations, starting with a March 8th for Women's Day.

The film looks at the lives of three women who are reviving the role of Sheikha, or religious teacher. For those of us in predominantly non-Islamic communities, the sheika is (to use terms we know) the Islamic equivalent of a combination of Rabbinical scholar, counselor, and educator. And they are teaching women in countries where the patriarchy is not uniformly supportive of their actions.

The women --
Ghina Hammoud of Beirut, Lebanon.
She is a religious leader, operator of her own center for learning and charity. She was abused and beaten by her husband for many years,until she finally divorced him. At that point she lost everything, including custody of her twin daughters and the support of many of the women who studied with her.

Dr. Su'Ad Saleh of Cairo, Egypt.
She is a religious leader, has her own TV talk show where she gives advice based on Islamic law and has been a professor for over 30 years at a University in Cairo. She has authored over 20 books. Yet she has been unable to obtain the necessary votes to serve on the Islamic Research council. She points out that although women have received PhDs in areas of Islamic religious study, "we are regarded to be, in the fields of religious study, incompetent by men." The most outspoken of the three, she also said "We have reduced Islam to a scarf, a veil and a beard. That's it. That is not fair. Islam is more than that."

Huda al-Habash of Damascus, Syria.
She has been unable to join the Islamic Leaders Foundation in Syria, which is only for men. Yet she teaches to groups of women and individual women both in Syria and in other areas of the Islamic world. Her daughter has just started study at the American University in Washington, DC. Huda has the full support of her husband and family for her work. She will say that the veil is just an object, and then add that a believer's faith is not complete unless she wears the veil.

All women have certain qualities in common. First, they love their religion. They all wear the veil. All of them teach other women, and none of them seems troubled by the lack of any formal approval to do so. They believe that the Holy Qur'an does not impede their teaching, and that, further, the first leader who was female was Aisha, the wife of the Prophet Mohammad, over 1700 years ago. They all work in the mainstream walk of life. None are liberal in any vivid sense, although all are surprising in some way.

When Brigid Maher was asked about the film by Safiyyah of Muslim Media Watch, she said:

These women represent mainstream interpretations of Islam in their countries so I think when people realize this, it shatters their stereotypes of Muslim in general. Perhaps they realize there’s little difference between what Ghina dealt with and a personal obstacle they faced. Or they may wish that their husband helped clean up after dinner like Huda’s husband. Or they feel inspired with how Dr. Su’ad Saleh took on the religious establishment and kept on going undeterred. I will say I did not realize how much these women and stories would affect my own life…

This grassroots movement of women establishing themselves as teachers of Islam may seem like a non-event to the Westerner used to female clergy, female teachers, religious and secular classes and worship where the two sexes sit next to each other.

But in most parts of the Arab world, the realities of the West are as foreign to them as their realities are to us. And as Huda's daughter says, all Americans are not George Bush, and all Arabs are not Osama bin Laden.

This film is an attempt to humanize our view of women in the Arab world, particularly women who wear the veil, who have the visual trappings of a culture and a religion that we largely misunderstand. Yet the view through this lens is a narrow one.

The women are all educated, all financially well-off, all living in very nice surroundings. Their clothing is well tailored, richly embellished. They may represent a slice of women of a certain income/social strata who have chosen to take a role in their faith that is counter to their culture's drift from the days of Aisha, but they raise as many questions as they answer in this film.

Are they feminists? Or, are they mainstream trail blazers? Is this the beginning of a stirring of a new Muslim feminist activism? Is this education of women about their rights in Islamic law going to bear culture-changing fruit?

It made me think. When Professor Su'ad Saleh says, matter-of-factly "Those trying to oppress women are going against Islamic law," is she planting the seed for a new reality for Muslim women? What is the resistance going to look like?

And how far down the class strata will any new reality stretch? Of course, as these women are in three different countries, their political realities are different. But the fact that they are from different areas of the Arab world surely points to a kind of movement that is beginning to take place, and is worth watching -- as is this film.
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