From the Masjid to Shooting Six Jews

Yesterday a Muslim man left jummah in Seattle and shortly thereafter went to the offices of the Jewish federation in Seattle and shot six women, killing one. I have no doubt that all of the major Muslim organizations will condemn this act, and most already have, but is condemning enough?

Today I opened my email box and found emails and action alerts on a variety of issues, and any time on important event happens in Palestine I will receive an email within hours; but I had no email from any Muslim organization today announcing their displeasure at this incident. Now I have no doubt that Muslim leaders in America frown on this kind of action, I do doubt their commitment to reigning in the rabid anti-Jewish rhetoric in the Muslim community.

It is not enough to condemn such a cowardly act as occurred yesterday; we have to condemn the fiery rhetoric aimed toward Jews and Israel in our masjids and amongst many leaders. I will never say that Muslims, or anyone else, does not have the right to criticize Israel and lobby against Israel, that is the American political process; what I will say is that in many American masjids, and amongst groups of Muslims, the suicide bombers of Palestine are lionized, and an anti-Israeli feeling morphs itself into something resembling classical European Christian anti-Semitism.

When Muslims receive emails everyday touting anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, European writings rewritten for a Muslim audience, and our given the same thing at the masjid, then can anyone be surprised that someone can say to himself “hey, if the guy who blows up a pizzeria in Israel is a hero and my imam told me he is a shahid, then why cant I become a hero and a shahid by shooting up a group of Jewish women?”

Will the Muslim community step up the plate? Or will the victims be blamed and the shooter apologized for? I am also not that concerned with the communiqués of Muslim organizations. What I a more concerned with is the dialogue that is happening within the community on a grassroots level.

From the masjid to shooting six Jews, wonder what he heard at the masjid? A message of peace and love?

Tariq Nelson has also wrote on this issue today

Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?

Last night I had the opportunity to see the premier of the film Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? At the Tivoli Theater in St. Louis. This film follows Jeff Smith, a progressive Democratic candidate for congress in 2004 as he tried to win the Democratic nomination for the congressional seat held by Dick Gephardt for 24 years ( and Lenora K. Sullivan for more than two decades before him) .

There were ten candidates in the field to replace Gephardt; but in the end it came down to two men and they were Jeff Smith and Russ Carnahan and the two men could not have been anymore dissimilar.

Smith ran as a progressive populist and was the first white candidate in Srt. Louis that I know of, ever, to make racial reconciliation a center-piece of his campaign. He had never held political office before and was a 29 year old teacher at Washington University in St. Louis. He began his campaign with no money and only a handful of volunteers and ran an issues-oriented campaign based on his support for universal single-payer health-care, a strong commitment to public education and racial justice.

The real story with Smith was his bio however; he grew up in the affluent suburbs the son of a basketball fanatic who wanted him to be an NBA player. The problem for Jeff was that his dad was 5”6 and his mom 5”2; but that did not stop his father from sending him to play for all-black teams in North St. Louis as a kid. As a kid the young Jeff remarked to his father “Dad why do the houses in the neighborhoods down here look like this?”

Basketball was an important tool in the Smith campaign as he would go to North St. Louis and play basketball in the streets with African-Americans and hold events at rec centers. If you have not lived in St. Louis maybe you do not understand how major this is. There is really only one political issue in St. Louis and that is race. The issues of policing, education, housing and the like are all racial issues (not solely class-issues as those on the white-left would have you believe). White candidates have a power base in white areas and black candidates in black areas. There are two political parties in St. Louis, the white dems and the black dems, and they fight like cats and dogs. If African-American voters support a white candidate , as has happened in the past, it is almost always the case that they are being encouraged to vote for a white politician who has cut a backroom deal with some leaders of the elders of the black political machine and Clergy Coalition. Never has a serious white politician came into the black community with a passionate commitment to the issues of the community and then went back to white audiences to talk about race as Smith did.

The Smith campaign became a strong grassroots campaign of the likes St. Louis has never seen. Smith was able to attract a sea of young volunteers and he personally called thousands of voters on his cell phone and door knocked at dozens of homes in the district everyday. A friend of mine voted for Smith because he called him and discussed issues with him at length. My sister voted for Smith because he knocked on her door and made a good impression on her. There are many other stories like that.

While Smith represented something new for St. Louis Russ Carnahan very much represented something old. He had money, the support of the Democratic machine, his father was the former Missouri Governor, his mother a former Senator (who got her seat because her husband died in a plane crash before the election but still managed to beat John Ashcroft), his grandfather a Congressman, and his sister an elected official. Carnahan was the machine guy who had the apparatus behind him and other factors, such as sympathy at the untimely death of his father and brother, going for him.

Politically Carnahan represented the kind of Democratic mush we see out of Hillary Clinton; conviction by polls, commitment to nothing, and caution. However, many at the time, including myself at one point, thought that as painfully bland as he was he might have been the guy who could carry the entire district that extended into rural areas.

In the end the idealism of Smith was hit by a sober dose of reality. Despite campaigning tirelessly in the black community he was not able to throw around the kind of money to black leaders like Carnahan and the machine and he lost the endorsement of the St. Louis American to Carnahan and money won the day. Sylvester Brown, Jr. of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out that the black political establishment is based on their relationship to the white establishment and that black leaders are reluctant to take a gamble on an outsider. More simply put; the job of the black machine is to extract money and jobs from the white machine, the good of the community be dammed, and if you don’t have any money to line their pockets with then you don’t have shit comin.

Eventually Smith lost by less than two points to Carnahan in a race he was supposed to not have even been a factor and it was his grassroots effort and idealism that made the race close.

The film is will be showing at art house theaters in Washington, DC and Boston soon and I definitely recommend it.

What a Night

Sometimes when you are driving a cab things just get worse and worse as the night moves along. Of course there are other days when nothing seems to go wrong and your night is filled with pleasant passengers with whom it is a pleasure to meet and the money stacks up nicely ( everyday is payday when you are driving). Last night was one of those bad nights.

I had spent the day with a friend running him around on different errands before actually starting to work at night and I only got three trips last night (I wasn’t trying that hard anyway and didn’t feel like working too hard on a slow night and enjoyed the company of my friend).

My first passenger was a real downer; I mean I don’t know what could have happened to get anyone with a heart and soul more down. I pulled up to Children’s Hospital and picked-up a mother, teenage daughter, and a six year old boy hooked-up to a breathing machine and took them to the Ronald McDonald House. The boy was a cute little skinny kid from the South and was in St. Louis awaiting a lung transplant. He was supposed to get operated on that night and get new lungs; but apparently the lungs that he was supposed to get died as they were being shipped to St. Louis.

I have no problem picking up passengers from gay bars and nightclubs, and I get along fine with my gay passengers when we treat each other with respect. There are a few gay passengers who are some of my favorite people to pick up and I look forward to riding with them; this guy wasn’t one of them.

The guy kept on touching my back and saying that he knew me from some club and I had to turn around and say “ muthafucka you don’t know me and I aint been in no fuckin club” and that cut the conversation short as I delivered him to another club.

I went to see a friend of mine at Maryland House in the CWE and ending up sitting for a while and shooting the shit with an eclectic group of an Israeli, Palestinian, Tunisian, Mauritanian, Mexicana, a Swiss woman a Russian woman, an Irishman, and an African-American singer. Driving off I decided that I would take another fare and that was the big mistake.

The next passenger I picked up at the Hi-Pointe Café (next to the movie theater and home to some good hip-hop shows). I noticed that when I pulled up that there was a fight between a white man and several black people but I could see what was happening What I did see is that the white man was heading for my cab and he got in and said with a perfect Irish brogue said “I need a bottle man, where can I get a bottle?” The gentleman had already had a few bottles (too many) I could tell and I didn’t want to see him drinking anymore but I decided that I would take him to the Pin-Up Bowl on Delmar to get another drink as he requested.

On the way driving up Skinker he began yelling “I hit those two fucking black cunts… I gave them a fucking southpaw…I am the fighting Irish….I fought the niggers in the Bronx and Ill fight them here… I was a boxer in Ireland” anyway, you guys get the point (he won’t be getting an NAACP Image Award any time soon).

When we pulled up to the Pin-up Bowl I could see a large group of well-dressed black men standing outside and my Irish passenger was yelling “ Ill fight the black niggers” and I turned to him and said “ maybe it is better that you get that bottle somewhere else”.

I took him to the Schnucks (a large supermarket) on Lindell and a bottle couldn’t be bought because it was too late and he said “Ill just have to steal it” and I told him” no you don’t have to do that because I have an after-hours connection where I can get you a bottle” and I was true to my word, if not my deen, and got him the bottle just so he would shut the fuck up (which he didn’t). (He also wanted to bet me 20 bucks about his chances of beating up both security guards and I declined).

Driving on Kingshighway towards Highway 40 I pulled up next to a black man at the light and he was driving a car with spinning rims, a loud system, and some kind of a pimped-out paint and interior job. My Irishman just could not leave it alone and yelled out of the window “that’s a nice car, did you steal it?”

On the highway things calmed down and he told us stories of Ireland and his life in London, his hatred of the British, his love of the IRA and his mother. His philosophy on women was espoused “when you love a woman you have to treat her good; but you have to let these dirty fucking whores know who the man is”. Next he began calling friends and reciting poetry and telling them of his friendship and the calls included calls to Ireland and he asked people to check up on his mother. Then he got poetic with one friend who told he was lucky to have a friend like him, and that they both traveled the lonesome road, and said “a man only has three things in this world and those are his word, fresh air, and opportunity and without that he is dead”.

Shortly thereafter my night came to an end, alhamdudilah.

Cabbin in the Storm

We got a very small taste of what the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast went through on Wednesday night when heavy winds and a severe thunder storm rampaged through the heart of St. Louis at night.

I do not normally watch the weather, and I did not on that day, but as I was driving down the industrial Hall Street towards downtown St. Louis , I noticed the sky across the Mississippi River in Illinois had blackened and minute by minute the winds were getting heavier. By the time I got to North Broadway dust was flying through the air, my big Crown Vic was swerving, tree limbs were flying through the street, construction cones were hitting cars, and to make things worse as I pulled up to Lacledes Landing it appeared that materials from a construction site (possibly from the new extension of the President Casino) were flying through the air and doing damage to vehicles.

My job was to go to the Embassy Suites Hotel and pick up an employee and take her home to a street directly behind St. Louis University Hospital on Grand. She instructed me to drive down the Riverfront (Lenora K. Sullivan Dr.) and take it to Chouteau to Grand. Driving down the Riverfront all I could think about is that I wished I still kept a camera in my cab because the river looked like an ocean as it violently beat against the banks and its currents were growing more and more rapid. A steady stream of people were filing out of the casino and the tour boat (and good for them because a building would later collapse on the Eads Bridge and the Casino Queen, on the other side of the river, would sustain damage).

I had Chouteau all to myself but when I approached the intersection with Grand the traffic light had been blown to the pavement and the signal , which was still a live wire, was swinging through the street and I narrowly avoided it. After dropping the lady off I figured I would take some time off and let the weather clam down and went into the Carpenter Branch of the St. Louis Public Library; but the electric was going on and off. When I left the library the rains were hitting the streets hard and now all traffic signals had stopped working (which didn’t stop a lot of guys driving around with booming systems from speeding through the streets in the rain) and half of the streets were impassable because large trees or utility polls had collapsed in the street.

The radio was busy and I picked up a disabled lady from the Old Post Office downtown and took her home to the projects on the Near North Side and I picked up two doctors who I had to take to The Hill to get some Italian food. The problem in the Hill was that it had no power, and I saw several vehicles which had polls or trees on top of them and a lot of polls and trees were leaning halfway at this point and I didn’t want to be under them when they fell. It was hard to find a place that was still open but I managed to get them to Favazzas and then get the hell out of the Hill.

Heading to the Central West End (a trendy upscale neighborhood) the lights were out and many of the streets were impassable as huge trees had fell all along Lindell and in the exclusive neighborhood off of Lake. Another problem also began to emerge; I needed gas and all of the gas stations were closed. This became very problematic as Lambert International Airport was evacuated because the roof of the building was torn off and landed in the highway. So I sat the rest of the night at Maryland House in the CWE with friends and tried to not think about all the money I was missing.

Thursday was hot as hell, the heat-factor over 100 and 100% humidity, and hundreds of thousands were without power and this became a health-concern for the elderly. The city, county, and private agencies began to set-up cooling centers for those without electricity and they quickly filled up or the power went out in them so people were forced to go further and further outside of the city. This led many people to rent hotel and motel rooms and by last night there were no vacancies anywhere and people coming in from out of town were sleeping at bus stations, train stations and the airport. My company was giving free rides for people to get to cooling centers and I took several people to cooling centers.

There is also another story. Last night I picked up a young women from Children’s Hospital who had been visiting her sick son. I had to take her to a neighborhood ( off Cherokee) which is bad and dangerous under any circumstances and it was completely without electricity and gangs of youths were roaming the streets with flashlights, sticks, and Allah knows what else. As I was dropping her off several youths approached the cab but I drive off before they got to me; but just a few blocks away I saw a group of young men busting out the window of an SUV, I guess that was their plan to get AC. Mayor Francis Slay is predicted a few more days with no AC, and weekends in St. Louis in the summer are already known for their violence, so I am just bracing and tying my camel as I drive this weekend Insha’Allah.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch story and photo gallery.