Friday, May 28, 2010

Choosing to Wear the Muslim Headscarf

The choice to wear a Muslim headscarf, or hijab, can often be difficult for American Muslim women.  How interesting, then, is it to hear the story of Krista Bremer's fourth-grade daughter, Aliya, the product of a Muslim father and Christian mother, who has chosen the headscarf to mark her own identity.

Ms. Bremer writes of her trepidation on learning of her daughter's desire to wear the hijab:
I wanted to ask her to remove her head covering before she got out of the car, but I couldn't think of a single logical reason why, except that the sight of it made my blood pressure rise. I'd always encouraged her to express her individuality and to resist peer pressure, but now I felt as self-conscious and claustrophobic as if I were wearing that headscarf myself.
Despite her misgivings, Ms. Bremer allows her daughter to wear the hijab and meditates on what it means to cover in American culture and her own experience growing up uncovered.

One thought I felt Ms. Bremer missed, was that covering confers dignity to a woman in a way uncovering does not.  In recounting her own experience with a bikini, Ms. Bremer notes that she felt, "a strange and mounting sense of shame."  Some feminists, however, may argue that a bikini allows a woman to feel powerful, sexual, and in command of men's desires and her own abilities.

Yet, it is hard to imagine that one could feel dignified in such clothing.  And in Islam, the dignity of a woman is to be protected at all costs and intimacy is to be shared only through marriage.

A great scholar of Islam, Shaykh Amin, once explained to me that in Islam, the clothing of people should be like that of birds.  When you look at most birds, you never see their private parts, because they are always covered.  One differentiates the sexes by the colors of the feathers, beaks or other features.

In a similar way, men and women should cover themselves  in modesty.  Like birds, however, modest dress can also be beautiful, colorful, even playful.

I am glad that Aliya has chosen the unconventional and individualistic path of the hijab.  May it strengthen her character and build bridges of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.

One final note, Krista Bremer is the winner of the Pushcart Prize and has written many other fascinating essays, including "My Accidental Jihad" in which her criticism of Ramadan and fasting is transformed by a realization of what it truly is demanding.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The LOST finale: Where art thou, Yoda?

I'm a LOST fan.  Heck, my whole family loved the show. I still mourn Mr. Ecko and the smack down he got from the Smoke Monster in "Cost of Living." Any episode with Desmond still excites me.  Even as fans, however, we knew there were many weak episodes in the series, even characters (Kate never fails to immensely annoy the wife and me).  

As the final season neared its conclusion, itself uneven at times, we consoled ourselves in the knowledge that they would still have 1 hour and 40 minutes to set it all right, to answer questions that seemed to lie just beyond the bamboo trees.  

No matter what, though, we knew we weren't going to let a few imperfections stop us from celebrating the end of LOST.  We even gathered up the gumption to host a LOST party, a tradition of my little brother in Chicago.  We were all set for a good time: homemade chicken wings, Domino's pizza and two kinds of chocolate cake and ice cream for desert.  Our friends even showed up on time, a few minutes after 7pm (reminding us that our Punjabi time sensibilities are not as sensible as we find them)...

The mood was anticipatory, expectant. With two hours to go, the conversation centered around plot lines and character stories, as we casually watched the ABC pre-show and loaded up on food.  I recall feeling a little queasy upon learning that the show title for the finale was the uninspiring moniker, "The End," and initially attributed it to eating too fast.  Alas, that feeling, I later learned was the initial twinge of disappointment, a feeling that only grew as the show wore on. 

Honestly, it's not that I didn't want everyone to live happily ever after.  I did.  But I wanted it to mean more.  All the important choices and consequences of the island were rushed through, steamrolled, in order to achieve the interfaith nirvana of the sideways purgatory.  

Even the emotional sugar candy didn't taste right. Sayid with Shannon? What about Nadia, Sayid's true love? Where was Richard with his wife?  Jin and Sun's re-reunion? Didn't we already play that? Where is Walt? And would it have been so bad to bring back Mr. Ecko? What about Whidmore and his supposed conversion to Jacob's side? Where was he? Why did he get such a poor exit from the show?

The plot lines, what of those? Wasn't this series at least about good versus evil? Why did Desmond, after so much hype about being a weapon, end up being such a non-factor in the real timeline? How disappointing a misfire was that? Couldn't Desmond have turned into a polar bear? Or Faraday time travel back to the island with an electromagnetic capture device for the Smoke Monster (a la Ghost Busters)?  Seriously, give us something! White Smoke vs. Black Smoke? Anything?

Even Jack's selection as the new Jacob and Island Protector lacked any gravity. He was like the only kid in class to raise his hand.  We know he was always meant to do it, but where was the suspense? And with everything hanging in the balance, Jacob can't give Jack any real advice? Aren't the rules of the island essentially Jacob's? That would have been a good time for a cheat sheet on taking down Smokey.  

That brings us to the cave, but the cave itself was so disappointing. Whidmore's experiment of charging up Desmond earlier this season had better effects and at least gave us some insight into Desmond.  The cave scene didn't give us any insight into anything, but just looked and felt silly, with none of the mystique that had been built up over 6 seasons.   

Speaking of epic deflations, Jack's battle with old Smokey.  Shouldn't it have happened in the cave? Did Kate really have to be the one to deliver the fatal blow? Kate? Seriously? Didn't she have to go check and make sure they didn't leave any iguanas behind on the island? She's always scampering off somewhere like a squirrel, but now all of a sudden she's the big heroine? 

The one pleasant surprise was Jack's passing on of the island to Hurley.  While Jacob was worse than Yoda, Hurley can at least quote the little green aphorism of pop-culture wisdom and make everyone feel good in the process.      

After watching the finale and letting myself process the show, I still can't shake the feeling of disappointment at the way they ended it all.  You get the sense that the writers knew how they wanted to feel at the end of it all but no longer knew how to get there.  They hurried through the plot in order to get to the slow montages, all the flashbacks they knew would resonate with fans.  Fine, but don't cheapen it by getting lazy on us now! Ah well, it ends, and I have already written more on this than I should, without 10 minute interruptions for $900,000 commercial breaks... 

Many interesting articles have been written about the LOST finale, some worth reading:
  • Roeper's glowing review of the finale in the Sun Times, which reminded me of the good times but also makes me wonder whether Roeper was really watching the show called, "The End."   
  • Mike Hale's take, from the NY Times, was closer to how I felt at the end of the show.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Anesthesiologists: Lethal Injection Lethal for your Career

Very significant ethical decision by the American Board of Anesthesiologists - they have decided to revoke board certification for any anesthesiologist who participates in lethal injections.

The AMA has long opposed physician involvement in state executions, but no specialty in medicine has taken the step of revoking certification for physician members who participate in state executions. 

This is a really big deal, a strong statement by a large specialty group to separate physicians from state executions.  It also puts pressure on other healthcare professionals, like nurse practitioners and physician assistants who sometimes participate in state executions. 

It will be interesting to see if other medical specialties follow suit...

Sunday, May 02, 2010

White House Quietly Courts Muslims in U.S.

This piece in the NY Times argues that the Obama administration is quietly reaching out to American Muslims. While the article does detail some nice gestures from the administration, the President has yet to visit an American mosque or meet with American Muslim leaders.

That would be fine if he didn't visit any American religious institutions, but he has met with American religious leaders from other groups as well as their respective places of worship.

If the man can go to Cairo and give a nice speech there, how much of a stretch is it to visit a mosque in D.C.?...oh, Barack, I wish you were half the man we all imagined you to be...