Sunday, February 28, 2016

Love Letter to the Worthless

Dear Sir or Madame,

You are a sir and you are a madame. You are a dignified person. I don't want to call you worthless because that is not what you are.

But you think you are and that is why I titled this post 'A Love Letter to the Worthless'.

I needed to get your attention. I hope I hold it.

I have thought myself worthless many times.

Thinking about my supposed worthlessness tonight is what prompted me to punch these words on my keyboard and post them into cyberspace.

We are told, by someone, at a young age that we are not good enough. Years later we can scarcely remember why we were supposedly not good enough. Yet we still think we are worthless.

We drink or smoke ourselves to new worlds. Because we hate our world for not being better. We hate ourselves for not being stronger. We want to feel okay and that intoxicants are often the only way we feel okay.

Or we drive ourselves mad with work. We throw ourselves completely into the pursuit or money and fame. We tell ourselves we can never be enough.

We are enough. We have always been enough. We were enough as children before someone told us we were not enough.

I'm not here to give you a psychological cure for your sense of insecurity. You like me have probably already googled your eyes red night after night searching for self-help articles.

All I want to say is this. You are more than enough. You are beautiful.

You won't believe it and I won't blame you for it. I don't believe it as often as I should either. Yet it's the truth.

You -man, woman, teenager, child, elder- you're not what the shade that infects your head says. You are not. You don't have to be.

Beauty is in you. Greatness is in you. You are a living, breathing, loving, caring passionate human. You are thrust into a world that wants beauty to die for the sake of conformity.

Don't die. Don't die. Don't let your beauty die.

You don't deserve it. You don't deserve it.

You dear one are beautiful. You are extravagant. 

Much Love,
A Fellow Sojourner 

Friday, February 26, 2016

If Trump is Strong, I Want to Be Weak


I'm not a fan of Trump. Anyone who reads what I write and sees my FB posts can see that. 


Whenever I share something about him a little debate goes on in my mind about whether to post that meme or article. 


'Do you really want to give the man the attention he so desperately craves?' The cautious part of my mind asks. 


'A huge segment of the electorate and the media gives him that attention anyway.' I reason. 'And they often don't recognize him for the fascist blowhard he is.'

I had this same debate with myself while trying to decide on whether to dedicate a blog-post to his candidacy. I decided it was worth it.


If nothing else, I can make sure there's a public record of where I stood on his candidacy during this election. 


I want to write this, not in the hopes of swaying his supporters. I'm almost certain they will defend the man regardless of anything he says or does. I write this in the hope that people who may regard him as just a joke will see just how dangerous he could be for America and for the world.

If I boil my feelings on the man's campaign down to one word, that word is 'repulsive'. 


His personality, his platform (if his ramblings can even be called that), his manipulation of people's fears and prejudices, his willingness to dish out insults but throw a hissy-fit if anyone attacks him, his gleeful pride of his own ignorance, his blatant, never-ending ego-masturbation. 


There is nothing, nothing redeemable about what this man says or stands for. His ravings represent a version of America that mindlessly indulges the darkest parts of our history and society. 


Like many populist demagogues throughout history, he gives his followers a temporary but ecstatic high of security and confidence by making them part of his own grand myth. He makes his people the heroes of an epic story in which they are 'winners' and every problem in their life is the fault of some other (Immigrants, Muslims, Liberals, the Media). 


Hitler did it, Mussolini did it and now Trump follows in their goosestepping wake. He is creating his own simplistic black and white universe for anxious Americans, angry (often justifiably) at all things established to lose themselves in. It's a universe removed from the complex nature of reality. But it's a simple one to accept and understand, which is why it has such appeal in a time of anxious uncertainty.

And it is that willingness to swallow Trump's koolaid that is most frightening. What Trump says is repulsive but I think there is still an argument to be made that he is simply a reality tv-showman playing to his audience's fears. There's still some doubt in my mind over whether he is truly committed to all the BS he spouts. 


What is far more troubling to me are the people who get so lost in his fantasy that they begin to see everyone who differs or disagrees with them as an enemy. The example of two Boston men beating up and urinating on a homeless Hispanic man in Trump's name could just be the tip of the iceberg.

Once this kind of alternate, Nativist fantasy is mainstream (as I fear it is becoming) it can be hard to get rid of. Even if the story itself is inconsistent people cling to it because they need that story to make them feel empowered. 


For the kind of mythology Trump peddles is not for strong, secure people. His story of  'Make America Great Again' is for those who are profoundly insecure and doubt themselves in a time of change. 


And that includes Trump. He needs to believe his own BS perhaps even more than his followers do.

He bristles as every hard question thrown his way by reporters. He feuds with those few voices in the mainstream media that call him out on making up stories about Muslims cheering the collapse of the World Trade Center. He throws personal insults like a toddler when his own tweets get read back to him for a debate.


Is this the mark of a secure strong leader? 


A man who styles himself as a strong leader who will make America great, cannot handle a tough line of questioning and talks lustfully about punching protesters in the face when they try and disrupt his rallies.


If this is what strength is in Donald Trump's America, if it is measured not by how well you can engage your opponent in mutual discussion but by how loudly you can shout, pout and throw a tantrum when the entire world does not declare you to be the best man in the universe, than I am perfectly fine being weak. 


If winning in Donny's United States is demonizing others to make yourself feel better, I'm happy to be called a loser. 


If being great, means having an ego so frail that it can be shattered with a single question, than I earnestly embrace being small. 


Donald Trump is a clown, but he is a dangerous clown. And if the people of America lose themselves in his world we deserve everything that comes next.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Badass Women of History- Asmahan


The Spy



Syrian princess, Egyptian singer, British spy and Nazi double-agent - Asmahan was an alluring figure in the Middle East during the 1930s and 40s.


Born Amal al-Atrash into a prominent Syrian family, Asmahan's father was an Ottoman official in Turkey during WWI.

Her parents, both members of the Druze religion, fled Turkey in 1918 after the French and British invaded and occupied the Ottoman Empire's territories.

Supposedly, Asmahan was born on the ship that carried the family to Beirut from Turkey.

When they returned to Syria, Asmahan's father moved the family to his ancestral homeland in the south of the country.

Tensions between the Al-Atrash clan and the French government turned violent in 1921 after a man who tried to assassinate the French governor of Syria was aided in his escape attempt by the Al-Atrash patriarch.

Asmahan's mother, Alia, who felt her marriage was also on the rocks, decided to separate from her husband and move with her children to the relative safety of Egypt.

Despite her husband's objections, Alia left as the French stepped up their violent campaign against the Al-Atrash.


Asmahan (far right) with her mother and two brothers shortly 
after arriving in Egypt.

When they arrived in Egypt, Asmahan's mother was forced to moveher children into a humble Cairo apartment.

Well to do relatives in Egypt avoided contact with Alia because they felt she had disgraced the family by leaving her husband.

Though she was of upper class origins, Asmahan's mother supported her children by working as a seamstress and by singing at parties.

However, her aristocratic background allowed Alia to send her children to a prestigious French Catholic school. Eventually, the family made enough money to live comfortably again. Their fortunes improved dramatically after Asmahan's older brother, Farid, began to succeed as a musician. 

Asmahan as a teenager. 

Inspired by their mother's singing, Asmahan's older brother helped to pave the way for his own sister's rapid rise to fame.

At fourteen Asmahan began performing in concerts. By sixteen she had recorded her first album. Gaining notoriety on Egyptian radio, many of her songs were written by Farid who she would remain close to throughout her life.

Asmahan also transitioned well into the Egyptian film scene. She became one of the country's most prominent movie stars, gaining fame and notoriety across the Middle East for her beauty, charm and singing talent. 


Despite or perhaps because of her great success, Asmahan received resentment and criticism from her extended family in Syria who pressured her into marrying her cousin, an powerful amir, in 1933.

Returning with her new husband to Syria for the first time since her childhood, the Egyptian star's liberal, more Western lifestyle clashed with her husband's conservative worldview.

She refused to change and fit the role of a traditional Druze wife and began to spend more and more time away from her husband's mountain palace.

Her rocky marriage to her cousin ended in divorce in 1938 (they would marry and divorce one more time) and Asmahan decided to move on.

Free from her marriage, Asmahan made a new home for herself at the luxurious King David Hotel in Jerusalem. 


The King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

It was here, at what was regarded as the headquarters of British rule in the Middle East, that Asmahan developed a reputation as a fem-fatale.

Using her singing, charm and extraordinary good looks, 'The Lady of the Lobbies' was able to beguile prominent British and Arab officials alike who stayed at or worked out of the hotel. 

The life of many parties, she was regarded  as an 'agent of influence' who could win and trade favors from a variety of power players. Many important men were smitten with her .

General Edward Spears, a British official, once described Asmahan as: ' of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Her eyes were immense, green as the sea you cross to paradise. She bowled over British officers with the speed and accuracy of a machine gun.'

There was also a popular joke at the hotel that it was impossible to be alone in her room as you were likely to find one general in her bed, another under her bed and one more dangling from the chandelier.

Asmahan was also bisexual and had numerous affairs with prominent Jerusalem women. Her female lovers were mainly the wives of her male lovers.

It was this ability to charm and influence important men which would change her life once again in 1939 when war broke out in Europe between Britain and Nazi Germany. 


Hitler in Paris after the Fall of France

The German conquest of France in 1940 brought numerous French colonies and possessions under de'facto Nazi control. Syria, a French Mandate, came under the domain of Vichy French forces who were loyal to the Nazi government.

Since A Vichy/Nazi controlled Syria threatened British possessions in Palestine and Iraq, British military officials knew they needed support from the peoples of Syria to bring the territory under their control.

In 1941, MI6 recruited Asmahan as an agent and sent her back to Syria. She agreed to work as their operative under the promise that Syria would be granted full and immediate independence once the British invaded it.

Going to Damascus and then to Southern Syria, her mission was to charm and bribe various local leaders into supporting the British invasion and turn their backs on the pro-German French authorities.

She also traveled through the Druze majority areas on the borders of Palestine and Syria convincing her father's people to fight for the British.

With her assistance, the British army in Palestine easily captured Syri. The Free French leader Charles De Gaulle thanked Asmahan personally for her assistance.

Asmahan's honeymoon with the Allies, however, was short lived. 

The British failed to deliver on their promise of Syrian independence. The territory was given to Free French forces opposed to Nazi Germany instead.

This betrayal prompted Asmahan to turn into a double agent.

Operating in Damascus, Asmahan used her seductive charms to steal British military secrets from her high ranking lovers for German intelligence.

Eventually, though Asmahan was captured with British military secrets while trying to reach a German contact in Turkey. She bit the border official who arrested her and she was booted out of Syria by the Free French.

Despite being caught red handed as a double-agent, Asmahan charmed her way out of a firing squad and returned to Jerusalem in 1942.

There, at the age of 24, she resumed her life as the  'Lady of the Lobbies' at the King David Hotel.

She lived there for the next two years, entertaining local notables, restarting her film career, and enjoying her favorite drink a champagne-whiskey cocktail on a daily basis.

She continued to have many affairs and lovers.

In 1944, Asmahan returned to Egypt to star in the film: 'Love and Vengeance' a move which she hoped would make her a prominent star once more.

While filming, she took a car-ride with a friend and a chauffeur in the Nile Delta.

According to the driver, who was the only witness of the event, he lost control of the vehicle which went off the road and dove straight into the Nile River.

Asmahan and her friend drowned before the chauffeur could pull them out.

The odd circumstances around Asmahan's death have prompted many to speculate that the accident was arranged by one of many different parties that would have wished the star harm.

Did MI6 kill her for her betrayal during the war? Did the Germans silence her out of fear that she would reveal secrets? Was a jaded ex-lover or a rebuffed suitor looking for vengeance?

It's unlikely any evidence of a plot will ever emerge. Yet Asmahan's death, like her life, was anything but typical.

Though she wasn't a warrior or a political leader, her skill at charming others made her an invaluable intelligence asset and she showed time and again how great her powers of persuasion were.

Dying only at the age of twenty seven, she lived an exciting albeit tumultuous life and remains an intriguing figure even to this day.