Sunday, September 30, 2012


My soul aching
with your absence
I wander out
in my sandals
into the sand.
Chasing the shimmering heat
I find a dune
rolling high above
the yellow sea,
and struggling
clawing-crawling to the crest
I share its secret:
An oasis
resting below me like a pearl
in a sandy shell.
A dozen date palms
guard a cobblestone well
that waits patiently
to surrender its soul
to a beaten plastic bucket
the serenity swallows me...
After an hour
lost in the centuries
I reach down, smooth
a place in the sand
and write
my heart surrendering
to my hand
words it could never trust
to my lips.
Dusk calling
I rise to leave
the secret, my love
to Allah and his wind.

Friday, September 28, 2012

To A Few Of My Conservative Friends, To Whom I Am Tired Of Discussing Terrorism With

A few notes before I proceed - I am tired, sick, and oddly in the mood to write this post. I do not support terrorism, but I am not sure I don't understand it. As a Muslim, I decry cowardly acts such as 9/11, but I am a little worn thin by the folks on the other side of it who use it as a tool to mask their own selfishness and barbarism. They say we have freedom of speech in this country, let's see.......

I am probably more conservative than I am liberal, thanks to a few years living in a refugee camp with folks from a civil war. Succinctly put, they taught me that there were wicked people in the world that needed to be stopped by force, not coddled by diplomacy. It reminded me of living in those cheap rentals over the Midwest, cowering in an empty corner as my drunken step-father raged through the place. When I finally stood up and fought him, I lost, but whatever pain he inflicted was far less than the humiliation of my silence, my cowardice. Yes an eleven year old is a coward if he hides away while his mother is beaten or his sister is terrified or worse. The liberals in my universe of course tried to comfort me, probably believed I shouldn't have felt any shame. But I did - when someone takes up in his hands all that you have, all that you love and fear and humbles and crushes you with it, there is little left but the emptiness of shame.
It was almost forty years before I felt that helplessness again; this time at the hands (and rifle barrels) of young Israelis bent on toying with me while I tried to go into mosques to pray - indifferently exposing me to just a bit of the animosity and ugliness inside them that they project so well on the Palestinians around them. And to be sure, mine was just a taste of this madness. I would love to take any freedom-loving American over there, let them find out why they believe it is so important that the military is not the only armed populace in their society, find out what it is like to have a 19 year old hold your life in the balance at any given moment of the day, or maybe just leave them at home, knock down their houses, move them fifty miles away and tell them they can never return "home." Or maybe have them explain how a group of people could displace them over night, claiming the land that has a cemetery with five generations of their family buried in it.
Really, what I am most tired of is the dishonesty that often precedes the questions about terrorism. An artful artifice of sorts, masking the motive that dares not reveal itself: "We think those people should just disappear quietly." Whether it fulfills a prophecy or profitability, it is amazing how a good part of the world cares so little about these Palestinians who face daily realities that are completely anathema to the American ideals I was taught. Well, given that they probably won't just go away, what should they do? What would an American do?
In this modern world, there is inevitable conflict. How does a group, outnumbered and out resourced, defend itself today? In a military state where the general populace feels disenfranchised and oppressed, how should they assert their basic rights? Imagine an American reality where a particular ethnic group could expect their homes to be demolished regularly with no recourse, no recompense. Imagine a world that would respect you only if you slid silently into your oblivion in order to spare it some uncomfortable introspection.
While growing up in that household filled with violence and shame, I was often astounded by the grown-ups that stood away and let it happen. These adults were family members, school officials, social workers, even policemen. There were times the police were called to our house and they cautiously dealt with my step-father, as afraid of him as I was I supposed. On most occasions, they postured a bit then let him return back into the house, not concerned with the consequences that would follow. I realized early that I was on my own. When I did begin to fight back, eventually prevailing, those same mature witnesses looked the other way - fair is fair I guess, but perhaps not in Palestine though.
As I have said before, I should have killed my step-father back then, before those more terrible things followed my occasional beatings and periodic degradation - things I won't speak of here. If I had killed him with whatever means I could have summoned, would I have been a terrorist? Am I a terrorist now for promoting this retroactive posture? Am I a terrorist when the occasional thought passes my mind that killing one Israeli soldier would do more good than trying to help teach a hundred displaced Palestinian children in a desolate refugee camp (that point when my logic and my ethics collide uncomfortably and repulsively)?
It is an ever-coalescing notion that I as a Muslim am becoming an enemy to my own country. Whether it is Michele Bachmann, the state of Kansas, or the Republican convention featuring a Zionist Rabbi and the Democratic convention voting Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I see the alignment forming. Looking down this road, I wonder what my recourse would be when a bulldozer or tank shows up at my home because my grandson threw a rock at armored soldier, or if the space became needed for some zealous Christian converts who liked the property. If my home wasn't very nice, would they put a thirty-foot high wall around it? Would my religion trump my right to bear arms? Would I be expected to relocate to Mexico or Canada? No, surely not in America! Why then anywhere else in the world?
So, given that we won't suggest the Palestinians turn away and die, what is their recourse? What are the rules of engagement? Of war? When negotiations fail, and you are hopelessly outnumbered, what do you do?
I don't know the answers to these honest questions, but I do know I am weary of the conversations I have about the byproducts of injustice and racism. When you oppress people, when you treat them inhumanely, you introduce them to the evil you may one day reap. Let me be clear - evil is evil, and anyone who engages in it is evil and unsupportable. It is a dangerous game to begin to quantify its effects, particularly when you initiate it - I would never say or believe a terrorist act is justified, but I would be less than honest if I said I could not imagine what motivated it. And if I would have killed my step-father forty years ago, I would suspect there would be consequences, lest our society unravel into a anarchistic chaos as Martin Luther King admonished us.
We are a nation that worships justice, that has attained a fair measure of it, and maybe no longer appreciates its principles. I simply cannot believe that what has evolved in Palestine is compatible with the fair and equitable notions lodged securely in the freedom-loving hearts of most of the people I know here in the United States. Therefore, please quit asking me about terrorism because I am a Muslim and start asking me about the basic and unalienable rights of all people everywhere, and the consequences of looking the other way, or worse yet, colluding in the suppression of the freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of anyone.

I do not support terrorism.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11th - An Event

Today, the Muslim Student Association will host an event in an attempt to begin an ongoing dialogue on Islam and other inter-faith issues here at Moraine Valley Community College. I am proud to participate and to open the event as their advisor - here are my brief opening remarks:
Good afternoon, I would like to welcome you to this event, Islam: A moment of realignment – putting our perspectives into perspective sponsored by the Moraine Valley Community College Muslim Student Association. My name is Michael Morsches, and I am here with you as the sponsor of the MSA, the college’s liaison to the Arab-American community, a Muslim, and most importantly, as a member of this community who is dedicated to the success and welfare of all its students, regardless of ethnicity, race, or faith.

Eleven years ago, a group of terrible men perpetrated an unconscionable act on the USA and humanity. In an instant they changed the world for the worse, in ways far beyond the horrible destruction and loss of life of the day. These criminals corrupted many things eleven years ago, including the Western view of our faith, Islam. This wedge they have driven between us as Americans just might have been their ultimate goal. As a result, we as Muslims have listened as others have defined us and our faith daily for the past 4015 days. In some instances, this has led to positive debate and education, but most of us would agree that when we watch and listen to the media discuss Islam, we see and recognize very little of ourselves. My concern as an educator reaches well past the personal needs of my faith to my responsibility to help create a learning environment free from hate and bias, and most importantly, from the tyranny of bullies that would silence anyone’s voice. When people stop me and ask why we are doing this event on this day with a disapproving tone, it saddens me – this division is the fruit of that terrorism eleven years ago, and I don’t believe those terrorists should own the day a second longer. We seek to assert our positive voice in this community, and to take back that which was stolen from us – the right to define our own faith.

Today we don’t want to engage in a national debate, or to create any kind of debate for that matter. Today we simply want to introduce ourselves to you, and for you to meet us as students, faculty, peers, community members, and as friends. The first step towards this goal is to let you know who we think we are, then to let you judge us for yourselves. Over the next two hours you will meet several young people from our community who will share their diverse experiences and perspectives as Muslims here at MVCC. You will also hear from a prominent member of the local Islamic community who will share what we all believe to be the core tenets of our faith. Finally, you will have a chance to ask us questions and have time to visit with us personally if you wish at the end of the program.

Once again, welcome and thank you for coming and allowing us the opportunity to speak for ourselves about ourselves on this important day. September 11th has been a day that has exploited many of us in very negative ways – perhaps it is now time for all of us to exploit this day, and to begin a dialogue that a group of terrorists hoped we never had…..

Thank you.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Work Ethic

I don't work hard, I think, but I do work long hours. Since I can remember, people have commented on my "work ethic" occasionally piling on with the epithet "workaholic." I have written around this topic before (Balance Schmalance), alluding to the odd and curious relationship we have with work and leisure. Evidently we admire people who work hard, but maybe not too hard. But as I have said, I don't work hard.
I have seen work all my life. I have seen refugees toil for next to nothing (and it isn't a very nice metaphor btw) and I have sat and worked with billionaires. In between, I have worked with everyone else I suppose, and there isn't much to the construct I don't understand. I have gone to bed physically and mentally beat from my endeavors, filthy and pristine, well compensated and broke. I started working early, and have had very few gaps in employment these past forty years. I suppose I have had more than fifty jobs, and I excelled at all but a handful. I cannot remember the last time I dreaded the job I woke up to each morning, but I have disliked some of the people that inhabited the environments I worked in. Work is, has been, and will be the primary activity in my life.
My typical work week now has me at the office from 8:30am until 9pm Monday through Thursday, 8am until 5 or 6pm Friday, and eight or ten hours over the weekend. I should emphasize that I am not stooped over a drill press during that time, standing at a cash register, waiting tables, digging ditches, nor am I engaged in a thousand other more demanding occupations. My days are remarkably diverse and efficacious, and most importantly, I direct most of the activities (the assignment and deportment of) I am involved in. I work long hours, I do not work hard.
I think of Mr. Vassel when people comment on my working regime and I smile. I think of hundreds of merchants and laborers in Dar es Salaam, Montego Bay, Sanaa, London, Kampala, Kigali, Irbid, Hebron, and here in Palos Hills, Illinois. People toiling away for equivalent hours for far less, with half the hope or reward I take for granted each and every day. I smile when I invoke Mr. Vassel, and any notions of self-righteousness or industry indignity evaporate instantly in a small cloud of irony and self-deprecation.
Mr. Vassel ran a small family grocery store across from my rented house in Jamaica, on the edge of the worst slum in Montego Bay. It was a very small building that held an impossibly diverse range of products on old wooden shelves. He was a large, gentle man who was in his seventies when I met him. He and his wife had run the store for more than fifty years, and it was a local institution that held the fragile sinews of the community together when the world around it was deteriorating. He was the mayor of the "pen", the slum that slid down into a long and dirty gully. The store stood up on the apex of that horizon, at the end of the sardonically named Lovers Lane. Fittingly, Mr. Vassel and his wife looked after it all with kindness and love.
Sam Vassel married his bride young and shortly thereafter went off to Panama for seven years to work on the recently completed Panama Canal. He toiled there under terrible conditions in order to come back and purchase the store and eventually, his family's legacy. He and his wife were in that store more than 12 hours a day six days a week for half a century or more, providing credit, settling arguments, passing on good news and dampening bad, and educating those of us who would listen. I loved climbing the stars up to the store, and often invented errands or tastes to do so. He gave me advice about my chickens, she gave me her grandmother's recipes, and I often just sat around for ten or twenty minutes listening to the congenial patois as other customers drifted through for salt cod, tomato paste, and a patient and wise ear.
Jamaicans, who know a few things about labor and leisure, never brought up a balance criticism about the Vassels, they never even conceived it. And those two lovely people didn't have to work those hours for all those decades for financial reasons. They did so because that was their job, to hold up an overlooked community with their collective hands. There are no hands on these peoples clocks btw, no 5pm whistles or overtime pay. Maybe there are just too many other people who don't understand what work can be, and that is a bit saddening.
I work a lot simply because the tasks I have adopted cannot be done in any sort of minimalistic contract with my employer or myself. I work a lot because my brain doesn't shut down, and it is better to keep it employed in challenging and productive ventures (this is why retirement scares the heck out of me - me and my thoughts alone all day!). I work a lot because I find myself in the the intriguing company of people who need me and who inspire and who help me. There is no other habitat like this in my universe. I work a lot in the slim hope that I too will make a legacy in my "store" like those two wonderful people who sold me groceries for two years at the edge of the world in a place where hopes and dreams had no business being bartered in.

* In my ongoing love/hate relationship with the internet, I just did a quick search for Mr. Vassel and found this. I cannot tell you how broad my smile is, or how light my heart seems as I think about my friend!