The Jordan – Politics, Pollution and the Death of a River – sources.

It occurred to me in what I think was literally the middle of the night last night that I should have also posted my source list for the Jordan River Valley talk I posted yesterday.

But rather than add on to an already lengthy post, I’ll slap it up now, starting here and continuing after the jump.


The Jordan – Politics, Pollution and the Death of a River


Following is a list of resources for anyone wanting to learn more about the issues I discussed at the Chicago Humanities Festival on November 11, 2007. It is necessarily incomplete, and subjective, but each of the following has been very useful to me, either in preparing specifically for my talk about the Jordan River, or generally in my efforts to cover and learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


The Jordan – Politics, Pollution, and the Death of a River

Update: Some resources for the following can be found in this brief follow-up post.

Thanks to my new best friend, Twitter (follow me, won’t you?), I learned yesterday that hey, guess what? The Jordan River may run dry next year.

So I’ve been tweeting a bit about the issue, and was reminded of this post, wherein I promised to someday put up the transcript of a talk I gave at the Chicago Humanities Festival a couple of years ago, discussing the degradation of the Jordan River Valley down to and including the rapidly shrinking Dead Sea.

At that point in my blogging life, I wasn’t sure how to post the thing. Its own page? Perhaps? And then I pretty much just forgot about it. Well, now I’ve remembered, and now I know! I’ll start the transcript here, and you’ll find the rest of it after the jump.

One last thing: If you know anyone interested in the environment, the science of waterways, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and/or able to donate much-needed funds to a very worthy cause, please forward this post to him or her — or just direct him/her to Friends of the Earth Middle East (a link to which can always be found in the blogroll, to the right). Thanks!


Chicago Humanities Festival
The Jordan – Politics, Pollution, and the Death of a River

Good afternoon, and thank you so much for being here today. My name is Emily Hauser; I’m an American-Israeli who has written about the contemporary Middle East for 15 or so years. Ever since the explosion of the second intifada in September 2000, I have made no effort to hide my politics in my writing: I believe that the only thing that can possibly bring real peace or security to Israelis or Palestinians is a negotiated, mutually accepted two-state solution.

Years have proven, though, that while this is a surpassingly simple thing to say, it is apparently all but impossible to achieve. There are many, many reasons for the continuation of the conflict, and many heartbreaking consequences of its continuation – more often than not, the consequences wind up providing more reasons to keep fighting, and the struggle and the losses become ever more tightly wrapped around each other. Each dead child, every dead father, every shattered dream is another reason to never stop hating, never give an inch. On both sides.

As a rule in my work, I tend to focus on the blood spilled, the hearts broken – narrowing the harrowing numbers of dead and wounded down to an individual story or face, in an effort to shake readers and audiences into remembering that these numbers represent real people, real lives. People who, while they might not be exactly like you and me, have lost their worlds, and who among us cannot understand the terror and grief that must bring?

Yet in focusing entirely on people, I miss other pieces of the story – facets that are, perhaps, less immediate, but nonetheless tragic, and serve to play a crucial role in the perpetuation of the conflict.


Dear Betty White, SNL, & comedians everywhere: prison rape is never funny.

I watched the Betty White-hosted SNL a little earlier, and my goodness me, the woman is a national treasure. Really, and truly. I adore her, and not just because I attended St. Olaf for a year!

But one skit made it nearly impossible for me to keep watching, much less laughing — perhaps you’ve guessed which one! Yes, boys and girls, it was the “if-you-don’t-change-your-ways-you’ll-go-to-prison-and-get-raped” lark.

Ha! Rape is so fucking funny! No, not really. Not ever.

No, wait. I have been taught — schooled, really, is more the word — that if the rape is your own, if you’re the survivor, you get to joke as much as you want. Megan, formerly of Jezebel, made this very clear to me, and she was damn right. I do not get to tell you how you deal with the reality of your experience, no matter how squirmy it might make me.

But, with that caveat — rape is just not a topic for jokes and/or japes. And for the most part we as a society seem to have understood that to be the case.

Except when it comes to men. Exceptexcept when it comes to men in prison.

This fact infuriates me. I used to work with male survivors of sexual assault, and I have a hard time expressing just how much it infuriates me — but I did write something about it once, for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. (Oddly enough, soon after I wrote the following, Ezra Klein also addressed the issue [as I’ve since learned he had been doing for some time]. To see a man writing about it made me almost weepy with gratitude).

I harbor this wee little hope that the folks at SNL, and in the world of comedy more broadly, will someday realize the enormity of their error….

Emily L. Hauser: Prison rape: Not funny, not OK

Rape destroys your security and shreds your sense of self. No one — no one — deserves that.


March 4, 2008

OK, it was funny: The “I’m F—ing Ben Affleck” bit on Jimmy Kimmel’s show was, in fact, kind of hysterical. It’s no surprise it’s gotten so many YouTube views since.

But, as so often happens when straight men joke about gay sex, Kimmel and Affleck had to throw in a joke about prison rape. And rape, unlike silly videos where people make fun of themselves and each other, isn’t actually funny.

Which is why most of us no longer tell rape jokes — unless they involve male prisoners, that one small part of society about whom we apparently believe such humor to still be knee-slapping. And by extension (subtle or not-so), the rather larger group of men in general.

In 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice reported some 8,210 allegations of sexual violence among the country’s 2.6 million inmates of America’s jails, prisons and juvenile facilities; of these, about 2,100 were substantiated (due to underreporting, this number is not reliable).

The simple truth is that rape shatters people, no matter where it happens. Rape takes your sense of security and sense of self, and shreds them. The problem of prison rape, Prof. Mary Sigler wrote in the Iowa Law Review in 2006, “is first and foremost a failure of our moral obligation to treat people humanely.”

If a rape survivor is lucky — with access to good counseling services and surrounded by loving people, and assuming the attacker wasn’t an authority figure, and no STD was contracted — he or she will find a way to pick up the pieces and move on.

Off the top of my head, though, I’m guessing men in prison don’t often have such luck.

Our use of this humor reveals an alarming disregard for the people in our prison system — and a troubling approach to the notion of male weakness. Affleck’s and Kimmel’s joke was directed against each other, but can you imagine if they’d suggested women enjoy sexual abuse?

Why is it not horrifying to suggest the same of a man?

I suspect that, to some extent, it’s our fear of homosexuality (never mind that most prison rapists are heterosexual). We still can’t abide the notion that lots of men out there have sex with other men. So we treat such sex as something bestial, and act as if gay men invite, enjoy, maybe deserve, assault.

All of which seems to me to be painfully wrapped up in the thorny issue of America’s masculine ideals: That “real” men, somehow, don’t get hurt. As if boys in the hands of pedophiles, or men overcome by those more powerful, are culpable. Are, in fact, laughable.

Please don’t misunderstand: I don’t blame either Jimmy Kimmel or Ben Affleck for this social ill.

But the ease with which such jokes are still made reflects something very disturbing about us. I shudder to think what goes through the hearts of male rape victims at such moments, whether they are teenaged survivors of predator teachers, or hardened criminals.

No one deserves to be raped, abused or assaulted. And when it happens, it is never, ever funny.

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer living outside of Chicago. She is a former rape crisis counselor.


Update: I updated the post title. Not sure why. I think I wanted to be more direct.

Ah – career plan now in place.

PS Funny story – I once wrote to the artist behind The Buckets, Greg Cravens, to try to get my hands on a strip I swore I’d seen once. He just went ahead and drew me a new one! This one, right here. Please visit The Buckets onlineGreg Cravens is a peach of a guy!

Why is this country so big?

I realized yesterday that it’s been ages since I was funny on this blog. Or, at least ages since I was anything other than bitterly funny. I don’t think “bitterly funny” counts, really. Not quite so joyful!

So while this isn’t necessarily “funny,” per se, perhaps I’ll be mildly amusing as I grocery list stuff that I really-but-really wish I had the time and funds to do, in rather far-flung American locales.

Stuff I wish I had the time and funds to do.

  1. Fly to New York and go to American Idiot – Green Day has developed a musical based on the album American Idiot with additional tunes from their more recent disc, 21st Century Breakdown, and OMG, I want to go to there! American Idiot the album is so fucking awesome (side note: As a former music reviewer, I wonder why it is that these days, when I really love some musical effort, the only word I have for it is “awesome.” But I digress) and it is, always was, by nature a rock opera. To actually stage the thing is the sort of plan that would either be epically awful, or fucking awesome! And reviews suggest that for someone such as myself — a woman who never got over her giddy love of brainexploding rock n’ roll — it is fucking awesome. (Also, side note #2: Billy Joe Armstrong looks like my kindergarten best friend Kevin, if Kevin had grown up to be a punk rocker).
  2. Fly to the opposite side of the country, to Salinas, California, to attend this year’s Steinbeck Festival – a) I did not know that there was such a thing as an annual Steinbeck Festival! b) This year’s focus is the role of travel in his writing, and b.1) that fascinates me unto itself and b.2) one of my favorite books in the history of ever is Travels with Charley, wherein Steinbeck travels around the US with his faithful standard poodle Charley. (Side note #3: I love that book so much that I actually fashioned a trip around Israel based on it, and ultimately wrote a book — a not altogether bad book! — about the experience entitled Travels without Charley. Remember back when I said that some of my current professional woes can be traced back to my own decisions and mistakes? Not having the courage to shepherd that book to publication is one of the two or three biggest mistakes of my life. And no, it’s too late to publish it now, as it was a travel memoir set in a very specific time and place and that time is well and truly over. Sad to say, actually. But I digress!) The thing is, I can’t really curse in describing how much I want to attend this event, because I recently learned that Steinbeck was known for coming up with stunningly creative ways to curse without using curse words — a fact I admire, mainly because of the lingual creativity it had to entail, but hey, I do love the salty talk, so I’m not going to stop now. But, in writing about Steinbeck, it hardly seems appropriate, amirite? So: Blessed jelly sandwiches, this festival looks like it would be a supernova of awesome! And I want very much to go to there. I even began to play with trying to figure out a way to write about the festival for someone who would pay me — as if I’d forgotten that the world of paid writing has collapsed in on itself! Ah, now, that’s funny. Oh wait, but it’s bitter. Oh well.
  3. Stay right here in the Middle West and go on the girl’s field trip to the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago – but wait! I do have the time and funds to do that! And it’s today! In, like, ten minutes! So, I’m off. I know this was short, but hey, I’m off to have fun with a busload of marvelous teachers and delightful (and often quite funny!) kids, so dude! I’m out!


I swore I was going to write about something lighthearted today, and that may yet occur, but yesterday I wrote (in Update #2)

I mean, dude, how cool would it have been if the hero had been the Muslim this time around?

And I just learned: HE WAS! THE HERO WAS MUSLIM!

Needless to say, I had no idea, because no one is talking about the good guy’s connection to Islam. I’ve seen a lot of stuff like the tweet of extreme rightwing radio host Neal Boortz: “OMG! The Times Square Bomber is a Muslim! Shocker! Who would have believed it!” — but Aliou Niasse, the Senagalese Muslim immigrant who first noticed the smoke and engaged his fellow vendor to get ahold of the cops? No mention whatsoever.

Aliou Niasse, a street vendor selling framed photographs of New York, said that he was the first to spot the car containing the bomb, which pulled up right in front of his cart on the corner of 45th street and Broadway next to the Marriott hotel.

“I didn’t see the car pull up or notice the driver because I was busy with customers. But when I looked up I saw that smoke appeared to be coming from the car. This would have been around 6.30pm.”

“I thought I should call 911, but my English is not very good and I had no credit left on my phone, so I walked over to Lance, who has the T-shirt stall next to mine, and told him. He said we shouldn’t call 911. Immediately he alerted a police officer near by,” said Mr Niasse, who is originally from Senegal and who has been a vendor in Times Square for about eight years.

ThinkProgress is all over it, and I hope that we all can spread the news as far as possible: The heroes who tipped the police to a carbomb in Times Square were an African Muslim immigrant and two African-American Vietnam War vets.

There’s your real America. Welcome to it.


PS Don’t forget to read about the anti-terrorism fatwa issued by a prominent Pakistan theologian, and check out the Islam reading list if you want to learn more.

There’s Pakistani, and then there’s Pakistani.

There’s actual work to be done today, for money and everything (no, I know! Really!), but I couldn’t start my day without first leaping into the fray re: the Times Square Bomber.

I suspect I wasn’t the only Mideast geek whose first thought upon hearing of a failed carbombing in Times Square was “Pleaseletitbeawhiteguy pleaseletitbeawhiteguy pleaseletitbeawhiteguy….” And it wasn’t a white guy. It was a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan. So.

So, I want to offer a reminder that not all Muslims think like this jag-off — nor, indeed, do all Pakistani Muslims. I wrote here about Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, “a prominent mega-Imam,” a revered Sunni theologian and former Pakistani lawmaker, who published a positively scathing anti-terrorism fatwa:

Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it, or any kind of excuses of ifs and buts. The world needs an absolute, unconditional, unqualified and total condemnation of terrorism….

And while I’m at it, here’s a reading list for those who might want to learn more about Islam.

Finally, please forward this information (post on your Facebook pages, or tweet, or send by email, or carrier pigeon, I care not!) to any and all who you think might be interested — whether it’s links to this post, or the other posts, or links to my sources within those posts, again: I care not! I just want the information spread as far as we can spread it.

Non-Muslim Americans clearly have some very, very good reasons to be fearful of murderous people who call themselves Muslim, and it is perhaps understandable that we came to conflate Islam with the acts of people who claim to be representing Islam when they commit murder.

But a half truth is often more dangerous than no truth at all. We must learn to recognize the vast majority of the Muslim world for whom such behavior is an abomination.

In the words of the Prophet Muhammad: “What’s better than charity, fasting and prayer? Keeping peace and good relations between people. Quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.”*

*thanks to @MuslimCharacter


Update #1: I’m very happy to report that Lesley Hazleton, author of After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam, a book I reviewed and really rather loved, has left a comment on the original post! So, comment here or there, as you’d like, but I’ll be busy over to the side, doing a little Snoopy dance of happiness.

Update #2: Someone I love and respect just sent me a note to say, essentially: Uh, excuse me, but why exactly were you hoping the bomber was a white guy? I’ve replied personally, but it’s a good question so I thought I’d clarify here:

The Middle East, writ large, is my bailiwick, of course, and as a peace advocate, I find it particularly painful whenever anyone on any of the sides of any of the conflicts does some kind of stereotype-confirming shit. I mean, dude, how cool would it have been if the hero had been the Muslim this time around? One would really rather that the horrible story was not located squarely in one’s own backyard, so to speak. The battle for hearts and minds is hard enough as is….

Also, and not for nothing, but home-grown terrorism tends to spread less chaos than international (or – given that this was actually an American citizen – internationally-motivated) terrorism. Anything that spans oceans, deserts, mountains, and plains and winds up in a foreign capital is likely to lead to even more pain and suffering than anything that stays neatly within one country’s borders.

Shattered dreams.

I’m periodically blogging about Martin Luther King’s Strength to Love. Each post can be read independently, but if you’re interested, previous installments are here.

And what better way to mark the end of Confederate History Month (aka April), than to get back into Dr. King!

Chapter nine – Shattered dreams

I’ve spent some time away from Strength to Love, and yesterday had a kind of first-day-of-school excitement to get back into it. And yet — chapter nine? Meh.

Yeesh, I can’t tell you how wrong it feels to write that.

Dr. King has become something of a guru for me. I refer to this book all the time now, quoting him to myself and others, looking for ways to integrate his thinking into my life and worldview. Just today, I was (of all things) Tweeting with him in mind (no – really! Sort of: WWMLKT?).

But “Shattered dreams” says little that is particularly unusual or unusually phrased, boiling down to this quote (which is repeated in two or three iterations): “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

And while this is a beautiful idea, it’s similar to something King said better in an earlier chapter: “The transformed nonconformist… recognizes that social change will not come overnight, yet he works as though it is an imminent possibility” — it’s not enough to have hope, after all. You have to take action from within that hope — even if the action is merely getting up and facing the day without bitterness or fatalism.

At the point of the finite/infinite quote, though, I felt myself responding more, as King began to speak of those who lived all those long, horrific years as slaves in the American South:

Some of us, of course, will die without having received the realization of freedom, but we must continue to sail on our charted course…. This was the secret of the survival of our slave foreparents. Slavery was a low, dirty, and inhuman business…. Yet in spite of inexpressible cruelties, our foreparents survived…. They had no alternative except to accept the fact of slavery, but they clung tenaciously to the hope of freedom. In a seemingly hopeless situation, they fashioned within their souls a creative optimism that strengthened them.

First, it’s worth noting that it was only when  I started taking notes that I went: “Hold on. Dr. King was one of those people who died ‘without having received the realization of freedom’…!” He has come so alive to me in this reading/writing process that, somehow, the man I read on the page has come decoupled from the martyr who is no longer with us. What an odd thing to be surprised by.

Second — and somewhat more to the point — I am really fascinated by King’s regular return to the word “creative.” I wish I could ask him what he means by “creative optimism.” At other times, he’s talked about “creative, redemptive goodwill for all men,” said that the Peace Corps “will succeed if it seeks creatively to do something” with the world’s underprivileged, and written that “God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice.” On and on. “Creative” is in every chapter, at least once, I think — searching for it on Google Books turns up 19 hits, in a book with 15 chapters and a preface.

The idea, I think, is to build up, rather than tear down; to act, rather than to wait to be acted upon; to seek the ingenious and new, rather than the traditional but unproductive.

But I sense that there’s something else, just beyond my grasp, something he had in mind all the many times he used that one word. I find myself reading these passages over and over, turning them over in my mind. What did King see when he reached into the inordinate depths of his rhetorical bag and pulled out “creative” again, and again, and again?

Yet: Just as I was beginning to be drawn in again, I very quickly ran into a problem — one that’s come up before, if to a lesser degree, as I’ve worked through these readings: The man was, honest-to-goodness, a Christian.

St. Paul was a spiritual role model for Dr. King, and his dream to bring the gospel to Spain serves as the frame for this chapter, because it was a dream that was to be shattered. Paul never gets to Spain, instead living out his final days in a Roman prison — indeed

his life was a continual round of disappointments. On every side were broken plans and shattered dreams…. His gallant mission for Christ was measured ‘in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers….’

[And yet] as Paul testified, in life or in death, in Spain or in Rome… ‘all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’

And, of course, aside from anything else, even if Paul were not a spiritual hero, Dr. King quite genuinely held to Christ:

Our capacity to deal creatively with shattered dreams is ultimately determined by our faith in God…. God through Christ has taken the sting from death by freeing us from its dominion. Our early life is a prelude to a glorious new awakening, and death is an open door that leads us into life eternal.

And here I am, The Reader: a Jew who’s not only made a bit nervous by the historical figure of Paul (as Jews often are), but a Jew who became a Jew when she rejected the theology (and Savior) of which King speaks.

Perhaps this is to be expected when one is reading a collection of what are, after all, sermons. Perhaps one unwittingly wanted her guru to be speaking directly to her personal heart at all times.

Next up: “How should a Christian view Communism?” — perhaps a more anthropological approach would be useful….