Tag Archives: Palestine

Censorship and the self-righteous now target restaurants

26 Nov

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On a day when at least one college president was pressured to apologize for saying something rational, a minor story appeared about angry people trying to censor a restaurant.

Within just a few days, possibly while another person was making a forced apology, a second report of restaurant censorship appeared. What this means is that the movement to shut the traps of the dumb, the smart and the mediocre has reached a new and dangerous low.

While sporadic, disarrayed and multi-headed, the censorship movement is highly effective. Its practitioners sacrifice freedom for all as a way to secure kindness for all – which ends up being not so kind. Their popularity has grown with their intolerance, but God help them if they get between a hungry person and their food.

conflict-kitchen-storefrontNot going down easily is a Pittsburgh takeout joint called Conflict Kitchen. It shutdown after death threats, but has since reopened. More than 200 people – God bless them all – rallied on its behalf, singing and twisting verse from John Lennon: “All we are saying . . . is give food a chance.”

The Conflict Kitchen – little more than a kiosk – serves food from countries in conflict with the United States. Since opening in 2011, owners Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski have prepared culinary items from nations such as Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.

The food is wrapped in paper containing information about the country’s culture and politics. The restaurant claims not to take a position but wants to present the positions of countries we may be biased against. Jon and Dawn also hold public forums to facilitate discussions.

When the Conflict Kitchen began serving Palestinian food in October, there were complaints from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the B’nai B’rith and other groups. The restaurant closed after police received a letter with death threats against it, but it has since reopened. A police investigation continues.

Meanwhile, out in Colorado, a fellow named Pete Turner has vowed to keep open his Mexican-style restaurants in the face of community protests. Again, the complaint is not about food but about words, in this case a single word.

Pete has been operating restaurants for 20 years and has six in Boulder and Denver. It is only recently that his trouble began.

The trouble is about the name of his restaurants: Illegal Pete’s.

It is felt by the protesters that the “I-Word” is offensive and hurtful and should be removed.

Pete’s inspiration for the name came in several forms. It’s a literary reference, he said, to a bar in a novel he read as a college student. It also pays homage to anti-heroes and the counter-culture, honors the nonconformist streak of his father (also named Pete) and keeps his own name out there as well.

Pete recently attended a community meeting with his detractors. He listened politely. Several days later, he announced he would not change the restaurant’s name.

I admire his guts.

You can’t please everyone and it’s ridiculous to try. You also can’t guarantee a person a totally inoffensive day, unmarred by an indelicate word, picture, conversation, hint or suggestion. Life as a whole is offensive. Isn’t that abundantly clear? We are an aggressive, acquisitive, violent and murderous species. Must we use the proper words in the course of our murdering?

I don’t think Pete was trying to offend, but if people are free to offend, at least we will know where they stand. To me, this is preferable to having people hide their feelings and seem like something they are not.

Sometimes all we need to do is shake our heads and continue walking – or eat somewhere else.

Milton Guevara, the Salvadoran general manager of an Illegal Pete’s in Boulder, took what I think is the right “c’est la vie” attitude. He said, “I’m Hispanic, and I’m very proud to be. People come to us because they love our food . . . The name doesn’t mean anything.”

In the end, if someone is providing you with good food, how can you not like and appreciate them? If you’ve got to picket, I say picket those who can’t cook.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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On Breaking the Cycle of Hate in Gaza and Israel

5 Aug

Gaza rubble

Dangerous are the men and women with nothing to lose. Count the people of Gaza among them.

 

They will have the world burn and themselves with it. They are accustomed to death, to being trapped and hunted, and will die just to make a point.

 

Gaza is a place often described as an open-air prison. The people can’t leave. They are caged. What goes in and out is controlled. Not even a fish can be taken from the sea. The view of that sea can ease the claustrophobia, but only if one ignores the war ships on the horizon.

 

Mohammed Suliman, a Palestinian human rights worker in Gaza, compares the plight of his people to the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. In the Huffington Post he writes:

 

“The besieged Jews of the Warsaw ghetto had a motto ‘to live and die in dignity.’ As I sit in my own besieged ghetto, I think how Palestinians have honored this universal value. We live in dignity and we die in dignity, refusing to accept subjugation.”

 

There is nothing unnatural in what the Gazans do. In their situation, most of us would do the same. We don’t realize that, and won’t admit to that, only because we can’t see ourselves living such a life, can’t even imagine that such a life exists.

 

If the Palestinians in Gaza were docile, their conditions would be better.

Gaza map2The blockade of Gaza is justified as way to combat Palestinian terrorism. And so in striking out at those who created the blockade, Gaza must face its own terror.

 

Israel says it will make Gaza pay an “intolerable price,” which it can. Hamas says it will destroy Israel, which it cannot.

 

Hamas, which rules Gaza, sends men into Israel with guns and bombs. It sends in barrages of largely ineffective missiles. In return, Israel destroys Gaza neighborhoods with jet fighters and missiles, effective ones.

 

The death toll is lopsided. In Gaza, schools, hospitals, homes and places of refuge are bombed. So-called “human shields” die rather than shield. Maternity hospitals become morgues.

 

What Israel sees as Palestinian terrorism, the Palestinians see as resistance. There is no common ground for negotiations. This lack of understanding is ironic, since the Hamas approach was used by Jewish freedom fighters in their battle for independence with Britain.

 

What both sides can understand, however, is the preponderance of hate and the need for vengeance and retribution. There is no thought or concern for humanity.

 

While American critics of Israel are being silenced with charges of anti-Semitism, and while real and vicious anti-Semitism grows in sympathetic Europe, I try to remember humanity.

 

I try to avoid the obscuring cloak of religion and see people simply as people and tragedy simply as tragedy. I ignore old scores but recognize the destructive dynamics of power and politics and the readiness to kill to maintain power.

 

I try to see the many victims of power, and the people who must rally around it for protection and as a way to secure the basic necessities of life.

 

With this kind of view, perhaps some answers can be found. Yet the situation grows increasingly complex.

 

There is new instability in the Middle East that is making matters worse. A growing number of Arab nations see Hamas and the Islamic movement as a threat. Like Israel, they want Hamas neutralized. And so these countries, mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, provide back channel support and momentum in the campaign against Gaza. In a way, we are witnessing a proxy war in the Sunni-Shiite fight for regional dominance, which is further complicated by an intra-Sunni rivalry.

 

As a result, hostility is layered upon hostility, making resolution much harder to achieve.

 

When the current war ends, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia may find – to their disappointment — that Hamas actually is stronger. After absorbing such terrific blows, it may win concessions pushed by the United Nations and the international community. Some of the borders around Gaza could open.

 

With people being able to get TVs, medicine, motorbikes and much more of what they need and desire, a degree of calm and possibly optimism will set in. The intelligent thing for Israel and Egypt to do is to go beyond any negotiated settlement and open borders even wider and increase that optimism. They should rebuild schools, hospitals and neighborhoods. They should initiate cultural exchanges and promote commerce and trade.

 

Gaza should be made a decent place to live.

 

Regardless, some Palestinian fighters will continue their attacks, keeping Israel under threat. But slowly, very slowly, sympathy for Hamas could shift to a more accommodating faction. With hate and revenge so insidious, nothing short of a Gandhi-esque approach will work in Gaza. And it will take time.

 

As a big assist, America’s warlike attitudes in these conflicts must end. American Jewish organization and American Jews in general can and should play a part in a new peace initiative. Likewise, Christian organizations must seek to heal and stop seeing Arab progress as a threat to Biblical prophecy. All who value religion need to recognize the importance and necessity of brotherhood and the sanctity of life.

 

A continuation of current policy only guarantees resistance, rebellion, instability, unhappiness, death and a bankruptcy of our collective spirit.

 

Mohammed al-Banna, a Palestinian who in one morning lost nine of his in-laws, told the New York Times, “The aggression here is creating a new generation of youth who want revenge for all the crimes.”

There is no future in this. The cycle of hate and death needs to be broken. The outstanding question is: Who or what has the courage, stamina, patience, temperament and love of mankind to do it?

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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