Friday, June 30, 2006

Independence Day, Indeed!

What a week! I am so glad it is Friday. However, this weekend and the 4th of July holiday promise to be busy. Independence Day will have new meaning this year since Derek joined the Marine Corp, and since he won't be there with us, it will be one more very stressful holiday. More than ever, I am sure that I will struggle with not making snide comments when the patriotic music roars and the mortars and fireworks go off. At the same time, I'm sure I will tear up when I hear the Star Spangled Banner. Before we had Noah, Erik and I would sit on a blanket behind all of the relatives on the Brunin side of the family and give political commentary on what was wrong with American foreign policy. We thought it was hysterical. Some of my relatives, namely Aunt Debbie, made it very clear that they did not appreciate our political wit. So we stopped. I figured that it wasn't worth ruining their holiday. I wish I could revel in mindless patriotism. I don't mean that badly. I wish I could just enjoy it like I used to, but with everything going on, I just can't.

The funny thing is, I love the 4th of July. It is one holiday where I don't have to try and figure out whether it is compatible with my Islamic beliefs. I'm American, so I celebrate Independence Day. I love the traditional BBQ at the Brunins and I love fighting off the enormous mosquitoes at the park, seeing people I haven't seen in years, and oohing and aahing over the fireworks. For being a small town, St. Marys has an excellent display. This year I am particularly excited to show Noah the fireworks. I don't know what his reaction will be, but it will be fun, I think.

As I was saying, with everything going on, I just can't feel the swelling of pride in my chest that I used to. I think it was 9/11 that everything changed. Before 9/11, it was American Independence Day. Now it just feels like one more reason people have to tell you to shut your mouth. Instead of playing "America the Beautiful," radio stations play Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue", reminding everyone why it is necessary to kick the rest of the world's ass if they look at us wrong, or Lee Greenwood, reminding us that no matter how bad things are, we should be grateful that we are in America because being an American makes everything okay. Sure, you don't have any food for your children, but at least you are American!

Then, there was the flag-burning amendment that failed this week (thank God), put through exactly a week before the holiday. I don't know if the resolution that passed today condemning the U.S. media was supposed to coincide with the holiday, but it seemed about as unpatriotic as it could get. I know we are at war and civil liberties die during times of war. They always have in American history. I guess I thought that we had progressed beyond that point. Maybe I am imagining it, but before 9/11, both the liberals and conservatives would have stood up and protested against loss of freedom of the press, or being wiretapped, or having their financial transactions viewed without their knowledge. They knew what was acceptable and what was not. Loss of civil liberties was not acceptable. Now it is as if no one cares, or if they do care, they feel powerless to do anything about it. It's like someone zapped this country with a 25-megaton apathy bomb.

Honestly, I am no exception. I heard about the database of phone records and I was like, "Well, if they want to listen to me discuss the skin problem that my rat suffers from, or how I just purchased new drapes, go ahead." Then I thought, "You know, that is unacceptable. It is none of their damn business that my rat has mites. They are invading my privacy, pure and simple. Why should they get to know about the intimate details of my life when they are unwilling to share information that by all rights, should be public record? You tell me why you need the records and give a good answer, not a generic 'the terrorists will win if you don't' answer, and maybe I will consider allowing them to spy on me on a limited basis (unlikely, but maybe it really is a good reason)."

As American taxpayers, we are entitled to some answers, damn it. I guess that is what is so ludicrous about the resolution passed today. News organizations, whether they be Fox News or the New York Times, provide us with information that we might not otherwise have. They are an unofficial check on the government and they are vitally important. If these news organizations do whatever the government tells them to do, we might as well not have the media. What would be the point? After all this rant, I really don't have an answer. I just know that we should not allow ourselves to become desensitized to these gradual erosions of our civil liberties. When something outrages us, we should tell someone about it. You might end up in an argument or a fight, but at least we're talking about it. We are still exercising our freedom of speech, whether we're conservative, liberal, moderate, Smurf, or whatever.

This 4th of July, I think I will resurrect the political commentary that Erik and I used to engage in. Sure, it will piss people off, but at least we will be capturing the real meaning of Independence Day and everything that it represents. We will truly be celebrating the 4th of July. God Bless America and Happy 4th of July. Let's go raise some hell, American-style!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hijab vs. Exercise: Round 1

Alright, I have a confession to make to the world. When I exercise or play sports, I don't wear my hijab. I used to. Honestly I did. When I first starting wearing hijab it was wintertime and in the wintertime, I tend to hibernate, doing very little physical activity except yoga, and consuming mass quantities of food. Mainly my hijab kept me warm. However, spring came and although it was a bit warm, I could handle it. Then came summer in eastern Kansas. For anyone who has spent anytime in eastern Kansas from about mid-April until early October, you know how humid it is. Then the heat sets in.

The first summer that I wore my hijab I was pregnant and on very light bed rest for the first trimester. I only went from my office to home so the heat didn't seem that oppressive. Then, most of the next summer I was working from noon to nine and staying home with Noah in the morning so no real exercise regimen last summer and thus, no problems. However, this year I wanted to get really active. Clearly, age and pregnancy have affected my metabolism because I weigh more now than I ever have (I am fortunate because my BMI is still very good, but I don't want to take that for granted).

When my co-workers formed a softball team, I was happy to sign up. However, I didn't know what to do about wearing my hijab because I didn't want to be a heat-stroke victim. So I wore a bandana. I was still covered, right? However, about 10 minutes into practice, the bandana fell off. I tried to put it back on, but as soon as I went up to hit, it fell off again. "Screw it," I grumbled and threw it to the side. I haven't worn it to a softball game since. I keep waiting for a big bus of Muslims that I know to drive up and say, "Danielle, I thought you wore hijab; I guess you're going to burn in hell. (Not too mention that I play in a coed league and my husband doesn't go to the games, double hell). The funny thing is, that no one knows the difference. I am tall, pale, an adopted blonde,and I have blue eyes. Nobody knows the difference. Even though it is essentially a beer league, I absolutely do not drink any alcohol, an occasional root beer maybe, but not anything else.

I had essentially the same thing happen at Dog Days. For non-Lawrencians, Dog Days is an intense conditioning led by a retired police officer who was tired of high school athletes getting injured because they didn't condition properly during the summer. It meets two to three times a day twice a week depending on the month and has two runs on Saturday. There are approximately consistently 400-500 crazy people ranging in age from infant to elderly, fat people, skinny people, old, young, KU track stars, and people like me, etc. who meet at these times at Memorial Stadium to be tortured by Red Dog. The only real rules are that you do as much as you are capable, no less, no more, and you absolutely cannot laugh at anyone else. I am totally addicted. However, the workouts are very intense and if I were to wear a hijab I am convinced that I would drop dead. Once again, nobody knows the difference and everybody who is there is there to workout, not gawk at the opposite sex.

The point of hijab is to be modest. I can assure you that I am at my most modest when I am working out. Greasy hair, beads of sweat dripping down my eggplant purple face, and big, sweaty stains under my arms and on my back. Most Muslims argue that the point of hijab, other than being symbolic, is to not draw attention to oneself and blend in as best you can. Therefore, it begs the question: If a hijab makes you conspicuous in various situations, should you wear it? Passing out from heat would definitely make me stand out in a crowd. I think working out is a very good thing and I feel so much better after I do it. As a Muslim (as in most other religions), you are supposed to take very good care of your body. I think working out would fall into that category. However, does wearing hijab trump taking care of your body? Is hijab taking care of your body?

In all fairness, I should point out that if I were in an Islamic country, I would abide by and participate in exercise activities that were deemed appropriate by the local population. It is very much a cultural issue. For that matter, is hijab a cultural issue? I suppose I could delve into the Samuel Huntington "clash of civilizations" theory in terms of hijab and women's exercise, but I have already wrote a much longer post than I intended. In closing, is not wearing hijab while exercising my Western cultural baggage and an insult to the Islamic faith, or a pragmatic approach to a religion that is, Qu'ranically speaking, supposed to be practical?

I don't mean to run the hijab issue into the ground, but it was in the forefront of my mind since I went to Dog Days tonight. Also, it has been a slow couple of days news-wise. Well, except for Americans still having freedom of speech since the flag burning amendment didn't pass. Yeah! However, that is another post. Cheers!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The meaning of jihad and a tribute to Dr. Deborah "Misty" Gerner

Hi! My name is Danielle Brunin and I became a Muslim approximately three years ago. My life as an American Muslim can be a little complicated at times. I am American in every since of the word, yet I have adopted a belief system that can be very foreign to the average American. For example, I don't drink and I don't eat pork. Being originally from a small town in the Midwest, to not drink or eat pork (among other things) is to essentially be from another planet. I was actually raised Catholic and attended Loyola University until I was a sophomore in college when I transferred to KU. It was here that I began to study Africa and the Middle East and became interested in Islam.

I decided to call this site "My mid-twenty-something jihad" because my life as an American Muslim can be rather complicated at times. Jihad, contrary to popular belief, doesn't just mean "holy war." Although it has about 150 different meanings in Arabic, the one that is most relevant to me means "personal struggle", a very deep personal struggle. I feel as though I carry on a jihad in my heart every day, trying to discover who I am and what I should be.

The most relevant example I can think of right now is that my brother Derek who is a proud U.S. Marine (and who I am unbelievably proud of), faces the very real possibility of being deployed to Iraq in the next few months. I cry as I write this because the job that he could be doing entails some very serious danger. I struggle every day to deal with the fact that he may be fighting in a war that I have vehemently opposed since the very beginning, and could kill or be killed by the very people that claim to be my brothers and sisters in Islam. I love Islam dearly, but I don't think my faith in any religion could survive if something, God forbid, happened to him. That is part of my jihad and I don't have an answer as to what is right or wrong because it all seems wrong to me. I believe in peace and social justice in a world where it just doesn't exist. That is my jihad everyday.

Similarly, I want to pay tribute to a dear professor of mine at the University of Kansas, Dr. Deborah "Misty" Gerner who died on June 19, 2006 of metastatic breast cancer. Dr. Gerner had such a profound impact on what I want to do with my life. She was an internationally renowned expert on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the peace process. Since I have decided that I want to eventually pursue graduate studies in this area, she was an incredible influence on me. I took her "Politics of the Middle East" class in the spring of 2002 and she taught it brilliantly. She was so objective, I honestly wouldn't have known her opinions on many subjects, except that she attended many of the rallies and protests that I attended. I loved the class where she made the "pro-Israeli" students role play the Palestinians and vice versa with the "pro-Palestinian" students. I loved the fact that she would call on me when I didn't volunteer the answer to a question because somehow she knew that I knew it, and that gave me so much confidence in my ability. I remember that she was so happy that I was studying Arabic and was thrilled that I was going to study abroad in Morocco for the summer. I remember how proudly she wore her black checkered kaffiyeh at a Palestinian protest that I attended, yet she was admired by the counterprotesting pro-Israeli students. I always knew that if I was attending a rally or protest and she was there, that I was undoubtedly doing the right thing. Her commitment to peace and social justice will live on forever.

I sobbed yesterday when I was told that she had stated that she desperately didn't want to die. In fact, I am told she taught her classes even after the cancer had spread to her brain. I am comforted by the fact that she died at home because I can't imagine a free spirit like her being confined to a hospital. I mourn the good that she could have done in another 20, 10, or even 5 years, but the good that she has done will affect the world forevermore. Her death has made me realize my own mortality because even though I know on a conscious level that we will all die, I realized this week that if someone as good and a strong as her can die so young, none of the rest of us have a chance. Dr. Gerner, thank you, and may your memory be eternal.