Muslim Group’s New Philly Leader: Award-Winning Filmmaker, Interfaith Activist, and Yes, a Jew

Talk to Jacob Bender for five minutes and you’ll get a sense that if bridges can be built between Muslims and other faith groups, he’s certainly the guy for the job.

In October, the award-winning documentary filmmaker and interfaith activist was tapped to head the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). His appointment to the Muslim advocacy group, which protects civil liberties of Muslim Americans and aims to increase public understanding of Islam, might have passed under the radar had his own religious faith — Judaism — not become the focus of his new gig.

Bender is the first Jew to lead a local chapter of the organization — a reality that seems to be the everlasting focus of nearly all who covered his appointment. It’s historic — sure — and bodes well for an organization whose chapter directors have long been of one faith. But Bender doesn’t seem all that obsessed with his own religion; he certainly doesn’t tout it as credential that would make him a more capable leader.

Read moreMuslim Group’s New Philly Leader: Award-Winning Filmmaker, Interfaith Activist, and Yes, a Jew

Students React to Controversial California Resolution On Anti-Semitism

On August 28, 2012, a non-binding California State Assembly resolution – drafted partially under the aegis of the Simon Wiesenthal Center – passed, persuading state funded institutions of higher learning to clean up anti-Semitic practices on their campuses. HR-35 rebuked the encouragement of BDS (boycotts, divestments and sanctions) for its “means of demonizing Israel…” Among examples of “anti-Semitic discourse” listed in the resolution were inferences that “Israel is a racist, apartheid, or Nazi state [and] that Israel is guilty of heinous crimes against humanity, such as ethnic cleansing and genocide.”

As an upshot, the other side insisted that at the legislature’s next session it would push for a new resolution that protects the First Amendment in the wake of the original resolution. An open letter written by California Scholars for Academic Freedom reads:

Read moreStudents React to Controversial California Resolution On Anti-Semitism

Why Fox News’s Interview with Zealot author Reza Aslan Was So Shockingly Awful

By now, you have most likely seen what some are describing as the most embarrassing, or most cringe-worthy, interview ever. On July 26th, Dr. Reza Aslan appeared on the FoxNews.com show Spirited Debate, a program about religion hosted by Lauren Green. Invited, ostensibly, to discuss his new book Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Aslan was then treated to Fox’s raison d’etre, the interrogation of his secret agenda.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. As you can no doubt tell by the masthead above this article, I work for Reza Aslan. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I have actually read his most recent book (okay, my Kindle tells me I am 66% of the way through it, but that’s way past page 2). So, as much as I am writing to defend my friend and colleague, I am also concerned about yet another front of Islamophobia that Fox is trying to open. I know Reza is a Muslim.

Read moreWhy Fox News’s Interview with Zealot author Reza Aslan Was So Shockingly Awful

Star Trek: Into a Darkness We're Already Lost In

With all the buzz on the latest release from the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek: Into Darkness, I entered the theater expecting at least some social commentary to pop up in the movie. What I wasn’t sure about- but which ultimately delivered- was the grace with which that commentary would be woven into the Star Trek universe we know so well and love.

But, then, Gene Roddenberry created the show as an allegory of ourselves, a reflection of our time. And all the past caretakers of Star Trek canon have always understood that. It all just happens to be set in space...and in the future.

Through all the different incarnations, from the show’s original team led by Captain James Tiberius Kirk, to the rise of the incomparable Captain Picard, the lost voyagers of Captain Kathryn Janeway, and the rag tag team of Deep Space Nine- and even the (not as popular) prequel team of pre-Kirk Enterprise, the brand has always tackled the biggest questions of American society, and our world. From racism to sexism to war and peace, the Star Trek brand rarely shies away from exploring the big themes across a wide gamut of human experience.

Read moreStar Trek: Into a Darkness We're Already Lost In

“Meet a Muslim Person”: Four Minutes of Heartbreak and Honesty After Boston

On April 24, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, and the apprehension of two American Muslim suspects, Adam Saleh posted a video clip entitled, “Meet a Muslim Person” on YouTube (posted here below). I’ll be honest – this film broke my heart, many times over. The clip began circulating online, almost immediately—particularly among Muslims- and provoked a wide spectrum of reactions. The four-minute documentary clip is a brilliant success—not in showing the xenophobia many American Muslims face nor the majority of non-Muslims who seem to harbor no generalized ill-will towards a diverse community. The clip’s power comes from what it reveals about the position of the Muslim community in the United States today.

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As Iraq War Veterans Suffer, Neocons Live Large and Free

"One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror." 
- George W. Bush, interview with CBS Evening News’ Katie Couric, September 6, 2006

War is especially strenuous on those who are called upon to fight. The men and women who unflinchingly turn to defend their nation deserve to be led for a purpose that is real, genuine, and worthwhile. Even then, combat can leave a determined soul dented, no matter how righteous the cause. The ones who survive continue to be haunted, their capacity to be at peace shattered.

The second Iraq War, arguably not just a blunder, but a crime, consumed the lives of over 4,000 American soldiers, leaving thousands of middle class, young veterans with grief and amputated limbs. Today they suffer while their country does little to honor their anguish. They bear all this for a lie that served the interest of only a few, those who always had enough and remain free of any repercussions while countless others are crushed.

Read moreAs Iraq War Veterans Suffer, Neocons Live Large and Free

Blinded By Love: The US-Israel Relationship

The Washington-AIPAC love-fest season is upon us once again. The New York Times’ featured article displays a picture of Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a loving embrace pledging support and allegiance, unconditional and eternal, for the special relationship between the United States and Israel. Kiss! Kiss!

All talk of settlement freeze is shelved for the moment as the most formidable Washington lobby – for all intent and purposes, agents of a foreign country – push for yet more resolutions choking Iran; seek blanket agreement for congressional backing of whatever measure Israel deems necessary to pursue their interests; and secure their 3.1 billion yearly aid even as sequestration threatens American jobs and economic recovery. Not bad! If the forefathers could see the turn this democracy has taken, they would be thrilled I’m sure.

Read moreBlinded By Love: The US-Israel Relationship

A Muslim Response to Pamela Geller’s Hate Speech

Provocative anti-Islam messages keep being displayed as “ads” around the country’s bus and metro stations thanks to the initiative of controversial anti-Muslim bloggers and hate group leaders Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. In the latest batch of ads, which plop gory images of 9/11 alongside cherry-picked scriptures, Geller and her ilk have intentionally tried to provoke people against Islam.

The purpose of these ads, though they are labeled as “freedom fighting” and promoting free speech is clear. Geller hopes to encourage her fellow Americans to turn against their Muslim neighbors by scaring them and attempting to present Islam as a religion of violence. Let's face the facts: All three monotheistic religions have ancient scriptures that contain passages about war and violence. One can easily compile from each of these traditions a selective list of sources that could inflame hatred. And anyone can just as easily find in Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy books verses that support peace, love, justice, co-existence and tolerance. But what good does it do to go around picking out the violent verses of each other’s sacred books and dangling them before the eyes of our fellow citizens?

Read moreA Muslim Response to Pamela Geller’s Hate Speech

Welcome to America, Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera will soon be opening its newest branch in the United States, Al Jazeera America. The company confirmed its future stake in the United States media industry when it purchased Al Gore’s seldom watched “Current TV” channel. The new network is projected to contain roughly 50% domestic coverage and the rest will be devoted to the network’s award winning international news coverage.

The $100 million dollar transaction has provided a field day for America’s conservative news pundits. Not the least of which being anti-Muslim hate group leader Pamela Geller, the sponsor of the bigoted New York subway ad campaign targeted at Muslims.

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Drone Follies: “We Can’t Kill Our Way Out of This Mess”

President Obama’s condemnation of the horrors of the Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in December of 2012 have provoked comparisons with his attitude towards the children killed by unmanned aerial vehicles (“U.A.V.’s,” also known as drones). In his eloquent Op-Ed for The Guardian, George Monbiot writes that:

“It must follow that what applies to the children murdered there by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a sombre American president…If the victims of Mr. Obama’s drone strikes are mentioned by the state at all, they are discussed in terms which suggest that they are less than human.”

Sadly, Monbiot is right.

Read moreDrone Follies: “We Can’t Kill Our Way Out of This Mess”