Religion

This category contains 12 posts

Bashar the Blasphemous and His Kingdom, Finished

“There is no God but Bashar.” “God Bashar and Maher (Bashar’s brother and military leader) Mohammed.”

“God, it’s about time you come down (from your throne) and Assad be put in your place.”

This is the hideous graffiti the people of Hama have to look at every day, left behind by the Syrian regime militia after last week’s siege, with this ominous threat: “If you come back (to protest), we’ll come back (to kill you).”

But anytime Bashar’s followers shout, “We Bow Only to Assad,” the Syrian public shouts back, “We Won’t Kneel,” the Friday 12 August protest theme.

Assad, increasingly desperate, has stepped up his brutality during Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar. Even his “frenemies,” still politically on the fence, draw the line at snipers picking off worshippers (including children) of any faith as they leave services. Sending your troops into a house of worship while people are praying. Torturing your fellow citizens to death for bowing to God instead of you.

I’ve told you already about Thamer Al-Sahri, age 15, who was tortured to death in May because he refused, over and over again, to kneel to Bashar, to anyone but Allah. Adult prisoners who were eyewitnesses to those events relayed his bravery to his family, who relayed it to Syrian activists. I read the full account and can say only this: I haven’t read anything like it in my lifetime.

That a child who to the very end was calling out for his parents to save him would still refuse to worship anyone but God takes tremendous courage I’m not sure I have. I need to give that some serious thought.

So does Bashar.

And while he does, there’s another true story from the Middle East that he needs to read, about a leader in ancient times who had similar delusions of grandeur, and how tragically that ended for him.

If you’re familiar with the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, you might’ve read Chapter 5 of The Book of Daniel and the story of King Belshazzar, the King of Babylon (in modern-day Iraq) and ‒ or so he thought ‒ the King of No Consequences.

One night, Belshazzar threw a raucous party at his castle for 1,000 friends, high-ranking employees, and extended family. Among other outrages, he served his guests wine in gold and silver goblets from the Temple. He’d been working up to that travesty for awhile, elevating himself higher and higher as a monarch as he sunk lower and lower as a man, both morally and spiritually.

The sad thing was he knew so much better. He’d watched his father King Nebuchadnezzar go down that road and knew exactly where that kind of pride led. The difference was that Nebuchadnezzar eventually repented, realizing that God had brought him low ‒ it doesn’t get much lower than eating grass in the pasture with the animals ‒ so that when he had a second chance to make things right, he would.

And did.

The last half of Nebuchadnezzar’s life was even more prosperous, and blessed, than the first. “My honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom,” he said. When he hit rock bottom, he admitted God’s tough love was what he’d needed, when he’d needed it, and his experiences are documented in the first person in Daniel Chapter 4.

So even we today don’t have to repeat his thousand-years-old mistakes.

But his son Belshazzar thought those rules didn’t apply to him and paid with his life for his flagrant dismissive-ness of the God of Heaven.

So, at this party, during which holy vessels intended solely for worship and had been “borrowed” from the House of God were being desecrated, we read that a man’s hand appeared out of nowhere and its fingers wrote some words on the plaster of the dining room wall.

The king was very afraid of the mysterious hand and even more afraid that he couldn’t read the message it had written.

I think Belshazzar knew instinctively that the message was from God and that it was meant for him personally because it says he went white as a sheet and his legs were trembling so much, he couldn’t walk. Heaven speaking to you in such a direct way is a very profound and serious thing, even if you haven’t heard that voice for a long time, if ever.

Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to listen to the Queen’s advice.

Daniel, as we know from Chapters 1-4, had been brought as a child slave to Babylon from Judah, in what we now call the West Bank, after the siege of Jerusalem. Through a series of events, he’d proven the power of the one God he worshipped, as opposed to the many gods of his captors, and the previous monarch went so far as to laud Daniel’s God and insist that his subjects pay respect, or else.

It was also common knowledge in the kingdom about Daniel’s interpretations of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams and, although he’d attained power and position in the interim, he and his friends from Judah were best known for their discretion and maturity.

Belshazzar, who remembered Daniel’s “excellent spirit,” once he gave it some thought, called for him to be brought in immediately.

The king offered to pay Daniel to find out the meaning of the message on the wall, but it wasn’t Daniel’s message and he wasn’t selling it. Daniel also understood the finality of what he was about to tell Belshazzar: the Lord has spoken and He says you are done.

Tu as refusé de rendre gloire au Dieu qui tient dans sa main ta vie présente et ta destinée. God, who holds your very breath in his hands, He you have not glorified.

Written on the wall: “God has numbered the days of your kingdom, and finished it. You’ve been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.”

It’s telling that, after hearing such a message, the king’s first response was to try once again to compensate Daniel for his services, still thinking that fortune fixes everything.

Later that night, Belshazzar was killed. Even though we don’t know the exact circumstances of his death, it’s clear it was God’s doing.

Anyone who wouldn’t respond, and repent with tears (as did other powerful people in the Scripture who made near-fatal spiritual errors), to a physical hand writing a message on an actual wall, to a message you couldn’t possibly miss the meaning of…

Had Belshazzar responded the same way his father had, despite everything he’d done ‒ and allowed to be done ‒ during his reign over Babylon, God might’ve listened. Maybe He would’ve taken Belshazzar’s life that night anyway, but He also might’ve given the king a very brief chance before death to settle his accounts.

I don’t know whether Bashar al-Assad knows this story, but I’m positive he’s kneeled in a mosque on many Fridays since childhood, reciting with other worshippers, “There is no God but Allah.”

NOT “There is no God but Bashar.”

He’s already lost his job, and the whole world knows it, but that’s the least of his worries.

For Bashar al-Assad, or anyone in power, to elevate himself to the level of God and demand his minions do so ‒ on pain of death, given his torture and murder of defected soldiers ‒ is a most dangerous game. If, after perpetuating lie upon mortal and spiritual lie and using your God-given gifts for ill, you have the audacity to impersonate Him, and justify it with bloodshed…

You’re finished. God says so, and we believe Him.

Facebook Kids Post on Dictators Wall: You’re Next

An Egyptian guy, a distance acquaintance ‒ a friend of a friend of a colleague from Nigeria ‒ who read my post Mabruk Ya Misr! and no doubt realized he’d better use very simple sentences in Arabic, wrote, “I like your blog. Please write about torture.” How to stamp out police brutality and revenge against political activists and how to help all victims of atrocities.

I responded in English, “Believe me, I plan to write about torture in Egypt. But, fair warning: I’m going to write about ALL kinds of torture, not just political. Sexual violence, trafficking, honor killings, female circumcision, etc. ALL of it.”

“Yes, yes. Please start today.” (Can’t miss that.)

I hope to graduate from Arabic kindergarten soon, but I definitely understand an insult when I hear one.

Gamal Mubarak, son of former ‒ I love the sound of that ‒ Egyptian dictator Hosni, was immortalized on YouTube in what’s got to be some of the most pathetic, ironic statements ever made by a politician.

He laughed at and made fun of the Egyptian demonstrators, who he called the “Facebook Kids.”

A few hundred thousand “Facebook Kids” of all ages, from all over the world, who’d just helped boot Gamal’s dad out of office, posted on ‒ you guessed it ‒ Facebook: Who’s laughing now?

Since the Evening Standard kindly published your secret London address, Gamal, Facebook Kids are at this moment organizing a protest outside your house, demanding the return of their rightful billions. (Directions for demonstrators: Piccadilly line to Knightsbridge.)

Check your messages (by clicking the middle icon in your Facebook header, not the little people icon and not the globe icon), George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and Friends: “regime change” doesn’t require massive military brigades, we’re not really sure how many lives lost, and billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money frittered away on we’re not really sure what, over 8 long years and counting.

(There were casualties of war for Egypt’s freedom, too. Over 300 dead. More injured. An unknown number still in prison who must be released, or at least accounted for. Although it could’ve been much worse, that’s precious little comfort to those families.)

But ask Facebook Kids how to accomplish regime change in less than 1% of that time, with no cash, no backing (at their insistence), no official anything. All you need are voices, laptops, social media technology, Friends, and that critical skill about which President Obama was hassled endlessly during the 2008 election: community organizing.

The game-changer: young Egyptians, and the seamless folding in of citizens of different religions, backgrounds, social status, educations, even ethnicities, who believed change was possible.

(I found it interesting that when Iran congratulated the Muslim Brotherhood on their “Islamic Revolution,” exactly 32 years to the day after the overthrow of the Shah, they made it clear this was an Egyptian victory and the date was just a coincidence. We’ll see how they still feel about coincidences once they’re part of a coalition government.)

Here’s the nay-sayer’s view: OK, Facebook Kids, you did topple a long-entrenched dictator. We grudgingly respect your non-violent, expeditious method of accomplishing that. But what comes next? You don’t have the skills or experience to create and run a civil government in the Middle East.

You’re saying that you DO? Really?

Look at the hash you’ve made of Iraq. You guys, of all people, have no business telling Egyptians, Freedom + 1 Week, that it can’t be done.

Because Facebook Kids adore people who underestimate us, whether it be the former regime now trying unsuccessfully to find a safe place to land with their stolen billions, or a self-serving world power who screwed it up despite pretty much unlimited resources and will continue to do so until the American people and the “coalition of the (un)willing” have the nerve to yank your chain on your outrageous defense overspending in the 2011 budget that, let’s face it, a majority of which is going directly into the pockets of “the devils we know.”

Not to mention wearing out your welcome. You’re like the rude dinner guests who just won’t leave despite hints, subtle and blatant, and who think that just because you brought the biggest casserole means you get to decide when the party ends.

Tunisia gave Egypt more motivation than it probably realized at the time. Egypt’s stunning, lightning-speed success has kicked off an incredible pro-democracy domino effect that’s unfolding by the minute. Demonstrations in Yemen, Algeria, Iran, and Bahrain are leaving presidents, kings, emirs, and supreme leaders of such-and-such all over North Africa and the Middle East scrambling for cover.

Refer to the “Democracy Watch” links in my right sidebar for the latest news, video or live feed, and even annotated Google maps of where demonstrations are taking place at this very moment. Syria sentencing teenage blogger and Facebook Kid Tal al-Mallohi to 5 years in prison for writing social commentary, much like I write on this blog, could bring Syria into play shortly.

BRAVO.

If I thought I had an iron grip on my “constituents,” I’d start looking over my shoulder to see how soon the Facebook Kids were coming for me.

For Egypt, now comes the hard part. Nobody, Egyptians least of all, questions that reality.

Not only are there political parties to be formed and a plethora of voices to be heard, there’s a lot of residual housekeeping on the to-do list. Institutionalized corruption is a hard habit to break, as is 30 years worth of cronyism. Plenty of people who Friended Mubarak are still in positions of authority and hoping to stay under the radar, although the “yes, you, too” arrests have begun.

The Egyptian police, jumping to the other side of the fence now and protesting themselves (for better pay and working conditions), still must be held to account for the innocent people they brutalized, imprisoned, and murdered pre-February 11th.

The other forms of torture I mentioned earlier, committed almost solely against women and children, will be even harder to end, since they involve much more than just law enforcement turning a blind eye.

Some persist because “Since there are never any legal consequences, I’ll do whatever I want,” same as I wrote about Kenya. Some are religiously justified and persist despite respected religious leaders saying they’re “prohibited, prohibited, prohibited” and no part of any doctrine. Some persist due to cultural norms and/or family pressure.

These problems are far bigger than today’s post, but here’s the bottom line: the ability to count on the police to call out and punish torturers ‒ whatever they’re doing, wherever they’re found ‒ will be proof that a truly democratic society is emerging in Egypt.

Facebook Kids will demand it.

Facebook Kids are pressing the caretaker military government to end torture ‒ not only those who do it with no fear of punishment, but those who stand by and watch it and do nothing ‒ and to end those despicable emergency laws. But it’s going to take a group effort ‒ Facebook Kids plus finally-with-the- democracy-program grownups ‒ to make sure those demands to end torture weren’t left behind, unresolved, in Tahrir Square.

Holding new leaders’ feet to the fire about torture in Egypt and in other emerging democracies in Africa and the Middle East is going to take everybody, everywhere. Friends of Friends of Friends times forever.

Starting today.

Mabruk Ya Misr!

(“Congratulations, Egypt!”) I knew I studied Arabic for a reason.

Yesterday, February 11, 2011: Egypt’s Independence Day.

On January 25th, an Egyptian-American former colleague forwarded me a link to a Facebook page. “This is going to be important,” her email said.

What an incredible, beautiful underestimation.

Here’s the English version of the Arabic Facebook page that kicked off the revolution in Egypt, called “We are all Khaled Said” and administered by a guy we now know as Wael Ghonim, an Egyptian and Google marketing exec based in Dubai, whose tearful interview on Egyptian TV − here’s the New York Times version with English subtitles − the day he was released from jail made me tear up, too, and breathed new life into the revolt.

Hundreds of thousands of us have been watching, and “liking,” this page for 3 weeks, thinking this was going to be a long, drawn-out thing and it would be just as important to keep the online momentum alive as to keep the streets and squares filled with people who just weren’t going to give up, period.

Mubarak tried every tactic in his outdated playbook to avoid losing the power that had allowed him to pocket billions in stolen cash, which he’d hid partially in Swiss banks. (The Swiss, quickly realizing they were on the losing side, quickly froze his accounts.)

First he said he’d give up a few powers. Then he said he’d increase salaries by 30%. In an 11th-hour Hail Mary pass, he’d had his VP tell everyone to go home.

No, it’s YOU who should be going home, somewhere far away from Egypt and we don’t really care where. !!!ارحل ارحل ارحل (“Leave, leave, leave!!!”)

OK, now you’ve gone beyond ridiculous. We’re not remotely afraid to tell you anymore that you’re out of touch and out of time. And Al Jazeera (English version) is going to be on the air 24×7 reminding you of that. (Who ever thought Al Jazeera would turn out to be one of the good guys in this story?)

Then, to the amazement of everyone, it was almost too easy.

The comments on Facebook, Twitter, and assorted other venues yesterday ranged from euphoric − “We are free! Thanks God!” (because in Arabic there’s no verb “to be”) − to hilarious − “Consensus emerges amongst top twitter hubs: 1 dictator a month please…” − to profane − “That was an awesome a** kicking knockout.”

To spiritual − “The lion rose up and roared!” − to fair warning − “To friends of Mubarak: step down, or we will step you down.”

To practical: “Egyptians now offer their services to all nations: Your dictator down in 3 weeks or your money back! ;-)”

Can’t you just see the Revolutions ‘R Us Social Media Marketing and Technology Workaround Toolkit (with multi-lingual user manual) back-ordered on amazon.com?

Some publicity-addicted, no-value-added American pundits, who are so geographically challenged that they don’t realize Egypt, while an Arab country, is on the African continent, immediately jumped to the conclusion that in the power vacuum of Egypt will arise an Islamic fundamentalist regime.

Folks, don’t forget this “stability” you’ve enjoyed for the past 3 decades came at a price you didn’t personally have to pay: the price of risking being hauled out of your bed in the middle of the night, any night at all, and “disappeared.”

(Or out of an Internet cafe, as Khaled Said was, and tortured and killed as he begged for mercy. Only if you have a really strong stomach should you look at the before and after photos of what the police did to him and realize why his brutal murder was what pushed the protesters over the edge.)

The price of never being able to start a business, or even to find meaningful work. The price of never having your vote count for anything.

As Wael famously said, you foreign powers have let − even encouraged − this to go on for 30 years. Please don’t start interfering now.

Sure, a radical Islamic regime is possible, and dangerous. You really think politically secular Egyptians haven’t already thought of that?

All they have to do is look over at Iran and see how and why NOT to let that happen. Facebook response to anyone with such ideas: “Warning: we can have 1 million people in Tahrir again within 1 day.”

Just like American voters said in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid.” There is a way to have a majority Muslim secular society. Look at Turkey. They’re on the 10-year plan to be considered for membership in the EU. Bloomberg noted in early February that if Egypt had a free market economy, it would take it only a few years to surpass Turkey.

Take a moment to ponder that potential.

Despite yesterday’s huge-by-anyone’s-standards win, democracy in Egypt is by no means guaranteed, and there as many pitfalls between here and there as there were demonstrators, and supporters of the movement, during these last 3 weeks. Activists risking their lives and livelihoods for the potential of a free Egypt.

But it’s important to remember that the world is vastly different than it was in 1979…

…because Facebook and Twitter and like-minded enterprises have engineers and marketers with skills to swerve around old-school, rent-a-thug tactics…

…and a generation of educated people who can’t find jobs saying, “I want the same opportunities as those other guys. What do I have to do to get that?”

We Are All Khaled Said: “We will build a new Egypt. A new fair, free & just Egypt for all.”

This Facebook page is staying alive − “with your permission,” posted the admin − to discuss how to help Egypt’s economy and victims of the regime, as well as transitioning to civil government. As I write this, in less than 24 hours, there are 768 comments, ideas, and offers of help.

Muammar Qaddafi must be feeling mighty uncomfortable right now, Libya squeezed between Egypt and Algeria, where they’re wasting no time making Abdelaziz Bouteflika mighty uncomfortable, too. Today, just 1 day after Mubarak’s resignation, is Algeria’s largest demonstration yet. Libya and Iran − no, that’s not a typo − plan to demonstrate on Monday.

Algeria and Yemen are competing for who’s next up to bat in the democracy game. If you guys did it in 18 days, we can do it in 17. Just watch us.

For all his religious education, Mubarak apparently neglected to memorize one critical verse in the Koran: “And he was arrogant, he and his soldiers, in the land, without right, and they thought that they would not be returned to Us. So We took him and his soldiers and threw them into the sea.

So see how was the end of the wrongdoers.”

The Terrorists Don’t Live Here Anymore

Riding around King Salmon, Alaska in the “terrorist-mobile” over Christmas, just waiting for something bad to happen.

And knowing it won’t.

Readers of this blog already know about convicted Islamic terrorists Paul and Nadia Rockwood, whose 4-year, Oscar-worthy performance of true friendship ‒ friendship akin to family ‒ while they hid in plain sight in remote Alaska, ended for us with their shocking arrest by the FBI in April and convictions in federal court last summer.

Before that, when all we knew to feel was sadness about the Rockwoods moving to the United Kingdom, but promising to keep in touch and visit someday, Paul sold my family his old Suburban.

Suburbans are the ideal bush Alaska vehicle. They’re heavy, sturdy on icy roads with snow tires. They have a huge hauling capacity. There are other Suburbans around that you can salvage for parts.

So, regardless of its condition, if a Suburban starts and the wheels go ‘round in some fashion, it’s a commodity and will cost you several thousand dollars, even from departing neighbors making you a sweet deal.

The last time I’d seen that Suburban, Christmas ’09, it had been parked in front of the Rockwood’s house…in FAA housing. Federal government housing, the very government that employed Paul and that he and his fellow jihadists hate and want to destroy.

Between Christmas and New Year’s, the Rockwoods hosted a dinner party for 30 or so. Their close circle of friends and out-of-town holiday guests attended, including ‒ just when you thought you’d heard every unbelievable aspect of this story ‒ a member of law enforcement!

When the party was over, I distinctly remember saying to goodbye to Paul, shaking his hand, and thanking him for his hospitality. “No problem,” he said.

Only later would we discover there was a far more serious problem in that household than we ever could’ve imagined.

Today is Christmas ’10 and our former host is a convicted terrorist, serving 8 years in federal prison, from which he’ll emerge spoiling for jihad and unfortunately is certain to find plenty more like-minded, under-the-radar Islamic terrorists still laughing at what idiots we are to believe their lame cover stories about loving the freedom here.

The holiday season in King Salmon is about the same this year as every year. Much the same as in Christmases past, too, long before my first visit in 1998.

Bristol Bay Angels high school basketball games. Moose meatballs (my original recipe, coveted by local cooks). Christmas ornament exchanges ‒ everything beautifully handmade, and if you stick around, we’ll teach you how.

Chilly walks in the snow down by the river, wearing everything in your suitcase…at once.

The can’t-miss Saturday Christmas bazaars, the “it” place to socialize over hot cocoa, buy enticing holiday gifts (again, beautifully handmade with local “ingredients”), and do the “Cake Walk,” which for reasons unknown I win at least once without fail and, being a cake detester, gladly give away my delicious-to-somebody-I’m-sure winnings to the chronically unlucky.

But we were completely outdone this year by the 5th graders in Quinhagak (pronounced QUINN-ah-hawk), another Yup’ik village along the Bering Sea coast near Bethel, who showcased their entire town ‒ which looks an awful lot like King Salmon, if you never make it up here for Christmas ‒ in an utterly original and hilarious Christmas music video.

Soundtrack: Handel’s Messiah!

Watch Jim Barthelman’s class on YouTube…and ponder what would happen if every public school teacher in this country was as creative as he is.

Then our annual Christmas concert at the chapel, this year with incredibly special guest violinist (and composer) Zach Spontak. We didn’t even have to beg because Zach’s mother is a talented singer/flutist in town.

Watch for Zach’s name up in lights, and soon. He’s a high school senior, headed to a top music conservatory ‒ he’ll probably have a half dozen offers of admission to choose from ‒ next fall, and is already just that good (and a nice guy, too).

If all that last-minute Christmas shopping stressed you out, close your eyes and listen to Zach’s Quartet Danae play Mendelssohn.

Anyway, it was surreal not to see the Rockwoods in their usual places on Tuesday night: Nadia and her mother on stage with the choir, anchoring the soprano section. Paul in the audience with the video camera, watching their son ‒ age 5 by now, with a newborn brother or sister ‒ out of the corner of his eye, with little success.

The shock of the Rockwoods being revealed for who and what they really were ‒ being seen off at the King Salmon airport by half the town (the weepy half), only to disembark in Anchorage an hour and a half later into the waiting arms of the FBI ‒ has faded.

However, make no mistake: this will never happen in King Salmon again.

Alaska has a long memory and I think there are a few bush residents, who, having gone out of their way to be respectful and trusting, only to be burned…and to have their hometown profiled in the Los Angeles Times for the worst possible reason…might not wait for the FBI to sort things out next time.

This is the Rockwood tragedy: falling in long-distance love with the crazed ideology of a jihadist killer and the lengths you’ll go to get his attention and prove your loyalty. Then how much you lose when your dreams come true.

Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

This year, I ordered up a white Christmas 3 months in advance and was not disappointed. Huge snowflakes falling. Ever. So. Slowly. Then, inevitably, huge snowballs catching you off-guard in the back of the head. (Thanks a lot, Dad, but remember: revenge is sweet and I’m here for another week.)

Breath-defying wind chill clocking in at -19F/-28C, although when you get down to those kinds of numbers, it’s all just plain ridiculously freezing cold, no doubt about it.

Regardless, there’s a comfort and safety in the sameness of bush Alaska that the Rockwoods threw away: their best chance of having a good life to count on and good people to count on. People who cared for them unconditionally, and wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment to put themselves in harm’s way to protect and save them if circumstances had called for it ‒ and in the unforgiving, frozen north it sometimes does.

(Sadly, Paul would’ve thought nothing of putting those same people in harm’s way ‒ or worse ‒ because he’s convinced his religion demands him to.)

This is what the holiday season is all about: not the most festive of carols, not the mountains of gifts that arrive at the post office daily, not even the biggest and best of all big and best Christmas dinners ‒ although, believe me, we’re giving the latter our very best team effort.

It’s about spending precious time with people who, given lots of better choices, choose to love us back anyway.

Christmas According to George

“Good evening! Welcome to sopranos, altos, tenors, and God’s Chosen People (basses).”

Oh please.

Dr. Stephen Sano is a jovial guy, the hugely popular director of all things choral at Stanford University and indeed chairman of the music department. This is his 19th year herding the cats aka conducting the annual Stanford Messiah Sing-along.

He’s obviously enjoying every minute of it, as are the concertmaster (professor of electrical engineering) and second chair first violinist (professor of psychiatry), proving − as if we needed a reminder − that people at Stanford are hyper super overly overachievers and these guys are probably not only professionally trained classical musicians, but likely won Nobel Prizes, Congressional Medals of Honor, and Olympic gold, too.

They probably even composed the thing themselves in their spare time, or at least arranged it.

Before we begin, Dr. Sano takes a poll. Raise your hand if this is your very first Messiah Sing-along. Maybe 500 out of 800.

Wow. That’s a lot of newbies for one night.

Lots of people like listening to Georg Friedrich Händel’s (the German spelling) Messiah over the Christmas holidays. Some even like to perform it with the choir of their choice.

However, not every family is like ours and has a favorite recording of the work − it’s either the über-authentic Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, or nothing − nor their own carefully annotated musical scores.

Nor do they play it on the sound system at home while each person in turn runs out of the secret gift-wrapping room in time to sing your part.

Not every family times road trips by Handel’s Messiah, either, queuing the “Overture” at the I-5 onramp and wrapping up the “Amens” just as we’re pulling into the relatives’ driveway 3.5 hours later.

So, it’s 8pm Friday night at Stanford Memorial Church, where people who have Messiah singing experience are choosing their seats carefully.

Here’s why: if a conductor is conducting music for a crowd where people singing the same part aren’t necessarily sitting together, he or she conducts in 4 quadrants. You only need to look for yours.

Since I already know that altos will get direction from the conductor’s lower-right, I’m sitting in a left-hand pew several rows back from the orchestra…right underneath the dome, with more singers in the transept lofts on either side of me. Perfect stereo sound, with some the best church acoustics on the USA West coast.

Then the downbeat of the “Overture,” which I’d recognize from the moon.

Unlike other Messiah sing-alongs, there were no soloists. That meant choristers got to try out and stumble around in parts that Dr. Sano described as “athletic” and are traditionally reserved for professionals.

Which is a nice way of saying it’s really OK and understandable if you butcher it, as long as you all end up on the last note together…which I’ll basically guarantee happens by giving you a few last HUGE gestures and holding the orchestra back a couple of beats in a very theatrical pause, kindly making it sound just like it was meant to be that way to begin with.

Having said that, there were some mighty polished singers in the audience. Perfectly on-time, on-pitch singers with long choral experience, who kept the wobbly, inconsistent singers afloat. (The ones coming in just enough late to be obvious that we’ve been fishing around all this time for our first note.)

The problem was that none of them were standing anywhere near me.

This is about what happened at the very first performance of the Messiah…on a rainy evening (but in March), much like tonight, Dr. Sano tells us. Handel was stuck on the mainland due to weather, so the performance in Dublin went on − somewhat badly, he adds − without the composer.

“Oh, I thought your singers could sight-read (meaning, read the vocal score and sing the right notes without hearing them first),” said Handel to the choirmaster after he finally got into town. “Weeeeeeeel,” replied the choirmaster, “maybe not on FIRST sight.”

Contrary to popular belief, the famous “Hallelujah Chorus” isn’t at the very end of the Messiah. It’s part 44 out of 54, the 7th-inning stretch of the Easter section.

Since tonight we’re focusing mainly on the Christmas section, parts 1-21, ending with “His Yoke Is Easy,” consequently we’re not singing some of my favorites. But even I don’t want to be singing “O death, where is thy sting…?” (for altos and tenors, burying the hatchet just this once) at midnight tonight.

Handel wrote the whole Messiah in a little over 3 weeks and the only way he managed that was by locking himself in a room with a coffee pot and plagiarizing himself a lot musically…and plagiarizing King James for the Biblical text (and repeating the same verses over and over again within each section).

Not a bad system, actually…for singers, either. If you ruin something completely the first time, you get another chance when that same theme comes around again and you’re more ready for it (or the people around you are more ready for it and you can pretend to follow them).

A few of the most beautiful arias are recycled Italian love duets. No surprise from Handel, who loved Italian Baroque and trained for several years in Italy.

(…and one way for a young composer to get your first opera a lot of air time in Rome is to get a cardinal to write the libretto for you.)

But Handel’s strong suit was really 4-part choral harmony.

Altos, including me, have a lot in common with bridesmaids, salutatorians, and Vice Presidents. We’re the Avis of the choral world: #2 and proud of it. Unlike sopranos, those unapologetic drama queens so inclined to temper tantrums about singing the dead-easiest part: the melody part everybody already knows!

Except for Brahms and the random Bach cantata, altos don’t sing the melody, which means we actually have to learn something new.

Handel’s Messiah features this upside-down pattern in which the lowest voices start a theme and each sequentially higher voice follows. That means basses first and sopranos last. So, you tell me: how hard could it possibly be to sing something you’ve just heard 3 times already?

Having said that, it doesn’t get much better in classical music than a soprano/alto duet, which it originally was, of “He Shall Feed His Flock (Like A Shepherd).”

Tenors are the men’s sectional equivalent to sopranos. They get away with it because in any choir there are always, always too few of them. Yet they get really defensive when sometimes either altos or basses can sing their part, too.

Tenors’ favorite song is more contemporary. Eddie Cantor, 1923: “I love me, yes, sir-ee, I’m wild about myself…”

A good first date question: if you sang in a chorus, which part would you be?

God’s Chosen People, altos’ counterparts on the lower register, thunder so effectively that you can’t help but be impressed by “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” with 200 basses and baritones and 7 trumpet players, most likely Stanford professors of history, physics, and Far East languages, who brought down the house.

Just before Handel died, he attended one last concert…of his Messiah. Handel was a British citizen and requested burial at Westminster Abbey. A couple of weeks ago, I stood in front of his tomb and read his epitaph: “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.”

Hallelujah.

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

I was just waiting for the ushers to recognize me and unceremoniously usher me out.

The last time I’d been at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I’d collapsed on the marble floor and had to be carried out by portly docents in immaculate red vests who were starting to heartily regret St. Paul’s long tradition of hospitality to foreign visitors, maybe pondering whether flash photography might not be the worst thing they had to deal with.

Remember her? After she crashed and burned in front of 200 guests and wrecked a year’s worth of PR toward our £40 million renovation, we poured her into a taxi and left it to Bart (of St. Bart’s Hospital) to take care of her.

But then again, the ushers might’ve pondered that there were are a lot worse things than sudden and tragic death under the stained glass windows of one of the world’s great cathedrals, surely an expedited pass − if there ever was one − through the Pearly Gates.

But St. Paul’s has sustained far worse damage than I ever have, and over many more years. I’m inspecting some of the shrapnel holes, pits, and gashes that remain ‒ some left as a reminder of war for the ages, some repaired in an economical but inartistic patchwork of past and present.

Never forgetting the tremendous losses of American lives and the tremendous sacrifices of families, friends, and communities stateside, there’s one vivid difference reinforced by St. Paul’s: except for Pearl Harbor, the United States went away to World War II. The war didn’t come to us.

Being there again on a chilly night before Christmas, singing carols with a cast of thousands, descendants of those who perhaps sang carols here during the Blitz…ever so quietly, in the dark, because through all that time, St. Paul’s remained open and served as a place of worship and refuge for Londoners caught up in the fighting, who found themselves helpless and alone.

Hungry. Cold. Not sure whether they had a home anymore, or a family to go home to anymore, either.

In 1940, major cities all over the UK were subjected to the Luftwaffe’s (German Air Force) “Blitzkrieg,” but London most of all: it was bombed every night for 18 months.

In those dark times, St. Paul’s was the Londoners’ 2nd inspiration. Their 1st were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who even after Buckingham Palace was bombed refused to leave with their children for their own safety, endearing them forever to the British people. Because her bravery inspired bravery in others, Hitler had good reason to call the Queen of England “the most dangerous woman in Europe.”

Almost 30 bombs hit St. Paul’s directly, but while buildings on all sides were completely destroyed, St. Paul’s survived. Damaged by smoke and fire and shrapnel, but alive.

Christmas of 1940, war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote that seeing St. Paul’s emerge from the cloud of smoke, an iconic image that became a wartime symbol of the unwavering British spirit, was “a picture of some miraculous figure that appears before peace-hungry soldiers on a battlefield” and “the most hateful, most beautiful single scene I have ever known.”

The St. Paul’s Watch is what kept the church alive. This was a group of 300 men and women who volunteered, along with their families and friends, to ensure St. Paul’s never burned down again. In nightly teams of 40, they patrolled for burnt embers, errant sparks…anything that could spell disaster for their beloved cathedral, which had been through the wars, literally, since opening its doors in 604 AD.

(The current iteration of the cathedral, the one we all recognize, was built by royal architect Sir Christopher Wren. The cathedral had burned to the ground in the Great London Fire in 1666 and the first service in this “resurrected” place of worship was in 1697, featuring the organ that Mendelssohn would one day play.)

However, the cathedral wasn’t done yet. Queen Victoria described its interior as “most dreary, dingy and undevotional,” not exactly the ringing endorsement you’re looking for from the reigning monarch. The mosaics for which St Paul’s is famous were among her feature requests.

St. Paul’s couldn’t be more different this crisp winter night, where the lights are almost too bright and the throngs almost too festive. “Dressed to the 9s,” one of the few British English expressions we can honestly say we know the meaning of.

Singing “All Is Calm, All Is Bright,” as if it had always been that way in London, one of the world’s great cities that, for all its hopeful singing, has been rocked in past decades by IRA bombings and again in recent years by Islamic jihadists for whom this is the nightmare of all nightmarish holidays seasons, in which the birth of the Christ is celebrated by a fair majority…and respected by respectful believers of other religions who realize that true inner conviction never justifies murder and that the war we read about in our respective Scriptures takes place within our own hearts and goes on the other 364 days of the year, too, if we’re doing it right.

It doesn’t escape my notice either that only a few short miles away from St. Paul’s lives Nadia Rockwood with her 2 children. Nadia, the former Alaskan ‒ but not former terrorist, since there’s no such thing ‒ and Islamic jihadist Paul Rockwood’s wife (and convicted felon herself), who epitomizes the word “denial”: Don’t Even Know I Am Lying.

We’re singing Away in a Manger now, with one crucial difference. Americans sing “…and TAKE us to Heaven to live with Thee there.” The British version says “FIT us for Heaven…” We’re not ready to be taken there yet. Prepare us. Work with us. Help us understand and do whatever it takes.

To fit in.

The title of this post is from another famous Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, written by Episcopal priest Phillips Brooks of Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia. He was inspired to write it after visiting Bethlehem in 1865 and asked his church organist Lewis Redner to set the words to music.

The Guilty Innocents

Sometimes being guilty is getting off easy.

You don’t have to be a criminal to get a sentence. Sometimes innocence results in a punishment even longer and more painful than if you’d committed the crime yourself in the first place.

Yesterday, Paul and Nadia Rockwood, secret dévotes of Islamic terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaki, who pretended to be loving friends so they could use all of us as a cover for their assassination plot, stood before a federal judge in Anchorage, Alaska.

They’d pled guilty on July 21st to domestic terrorism and August 23rd was their day of reckoning.

Their sentences: 8 years in federal prison for Paul, 5 years of probation for Nadia, which she’ll serve in her native England.

Their 4-year-old son’s life sentence: convicted terrorist parents, who are no longer welcome in the country of his birth.

Growing up in a foreign (to him) country, under the cloud of his mother’s criminal history. Not seeing his dad again until he’s 12 years old…and then what?

(The Rockwood’s unborn child’s sentence: never, ever knowing what true family life is like.)

The Rockwood boy is a cute kid. Dark hair, a bit curly. Very energetic, borderline wild at times, but what kid that age isn’t? (If you think I’m picking on little boys, there are little girls his age in their former Alaskan hometown who are worthy competitors.)

For everyone who knew − or thought they knew − the Rockwoods, I think our first thought, when we heard of their arrest, was of their little child and was he OK. Too bad he wasn’t his parents’ first thought, or none of this ever would’ve happened.

The press’ only comment about this little boy was that he’d come along with his parents to federal court for the plea hearing. How bizarre. Thankfully, they didn’t mention him by name and I’m not going to, either. (His maternal grandmother took care of that deliberate omission when she was interviewed in the British press. Shame on her.)

The pre-schooler and his Batman backpack sat in the pews, playing, the American reporters duly noted, while his parents pled guilty to terrorism.

I’m flashing back to the King Salmon choir rehearsal, the few I attended − and he attended, too. A local church offers their space free for rehearsals and I can still picture him in my mind, alternately sitting and playing in the pews, running back to the foyer, using his “outside voice” (yelling) despite all guidance to the contrary, and then running back, worried he’d missed something…because when you’re 4 going on 5, that’s the worst possible thing.

Or, so he thought, until his parents were arrested.

Of all the choices available to Paul, this boy’s father, in this richest of all countries (and rich in openness and opportunity most of all), he chose to espouse Al-Awlaki’s ideology. He chose to hate America, a country he’d sworn to serve as a member of the military. He chose to make a list of 16 fellow Americans to assassinate, including his fellow veterans, as well as 4 other American businesses and organizations. (The hit list contained 20 targets in all, not 15 as originally reported.)

Then he took it one step further and chose the methods by which he thought these targets should be eliminated, as punishment for their alleged viewpoints contrary to radical Islam.

Option #1: kill them by mail, or kill by mail whoever(s) had the misfortune of opening the package first because you can be pretty sure they’re an enemy of Islam anyway. Better yet, be able to set off the bomb remotely, so you can watch it all happen.

Option #2: find them in person and shoot them in the head.

Anybody who still harbors doubt (or hope) about these convictions being a result of railroading by the FBI needs to take a look at the level of detail the hit list included, besides just the names of the assassination targets.

Ages. Hometowns. Business names and addresses. Military ranks and branches of service.

Names of targets’ spouses, siblings, parents, and CHILDREN.

Paul and Nadia planned to send bombs in the mail to addresses where they knew children lived and even knew the name of a child who might check the family mailbox on the way home from school and be killed?????

THAT’S DEPRAVED.

Nobody goes to this much trouble over “paperwork,” over a 4-year period. Nobody puts together an operational timeline for murder over a philosophical discussion. Nobody buys bomb-making components without intent to assemble them.

According to documents filed in federal court, Paul had already managed to create a small bomb that any mail carrier could deliver. So much for his family’s assertions that he was “mechanically unsophisticated.” He was one trip to the King Salmon post office away from 20 (at a minimum) people’s deaths.

8 years in federal prison is not even close to long enough for this guy (and neither is 5 years of probation for his wife, while she lives in a cushy London suburb). Paul is exactly the kind of deluded believer we’re going to see on the roster of a 9/11-like terrorist attack in the future.

And we know there will be one in the future. Islamic terrorists are not done with us, by any means.

This little boy’s mother Nadia knew her husband had become radicalized years before this and did nothing to stop it. Instead, she perpetuated his assassination plans as a go-between for him with like-minded believers.

Had she called the authorities early on, as did the brother of the Unabomber and the father of the Christmas Day airplane bomber, all would’ve been well. There would’ve been no question as to her culpability, since she had no idea the FBI had already had them under surveillance for some time.

Instead, she chose at the very least to enable her husband’s convictions and additionally, according to her plea bargain, to participate in their execution. (What a frightening word choice.)

Nadia’s statement in court: “To associate the word terrorist with me is absurd. I truly believe my husband never had any true intent to kill anyone.”

District Court Judge Ralph Beistline’s reply: “You’ve lived with a man who, by his words, is a militant jihadist. That’s not the kind of rights we gain by U.S. citizenship, those are the kinds of things we are protected from.”

Once Paul gets out of prison in 2018, the Rockwoods won’t have much of a life to pick up again (for which they’ll receive exactly zero pity). He’s lost his military benefits, his social security, his job prospects. They’ve lost their home, their friends, and any resources they might’ve acquired in the last decade.

Who hires a convicted terrorist except other terrorists? Who gives visas to convicted terrorists, except terrorist nations?

There’s already an outcry in Britain, reported by the press there: DO NOT under any circumstances let Paul Rockwood move to the UK after he serves his sentence! It’s bad enough that Nadia, pregnancy aside, is being allowed to live here while she serves hers. Our soft-on-crime government is probably going to let the family reunite here permanently. We already have enough Islamic terrorists in the UK without importing even more from the USA!

From the country of September 11th to the country of July 7th, we understand your feelings perfectly.

Regardless, anybody who Googles the Rockwood boy from this day forward will see that his parents are Islamic terrorists, no matter who he decides to be himself. That includes future employers, future friends, future wives. Credit bureaus. Mortgage companies. University admissions boards.

Guess who will be on the mother of all no-fly lists.

His father and mother decided all that for him before he was even born and, unless he grows up believing the same ideology (and let’s pray that he doesn’t), he’ll be forever explaining and explaining and explaining to people who look on him with immediate suspicion, if not fear.

Sometimes we read about parents who cut a child out of their will. You’re on your own, they say. Don’t ask us for money. Don’t ask us for help. Your unacceptable choices have forced us to take these painful, drastic measures that we’d give anything not to have to do, because we love you. But we cannot and will not condone or support what you do and who you are.

Imagine saying that to your parents.

The inheritance you’re leaving me – the poisonous hate and murderous betrayal of Islamic jihadism – I reject absolutely. Your unacceptable choices have forced me to take these painful, drastic measures that will separate me from you and everything you stand for. I’ll always love you, but you always loved something else − someone else − more.

And that’s a legacy I must live without.

The Boomerang of Respect

“So, I bet you support that mosque they want to build at Ground Zero, too.”

(To be accurate, the proposed site is 2 blocks away.)

Since I posted Stand Beside Her, and Guide Her, this is the tone of a few emails I’ve received. (It’s fine to have strong opinions, folks who stumble onto my blog, but have the guts to own them and post your comments publicly.)

No, for the record, I DON’T support building a mosque near Ground Zero. But I also don’t think it makes sense to file frivolous lawsuits, boycott businesses in the area, or ‒ not even! ‒ take matters into our own hands. Guess who we start resembling when we contemplate solutions like that.

I think this is a decision that the American Muslims who own this property and are managing this mosque development project need to make for themselves, whether voluntarily to choose another location in Manhattan.

Sure, it’s a free country. Sure, the law allows you to build anything you want to on private property. Both the President and the mayor of New York cited the Constitution’s unequivocal guarantee of religious freedom, a foundation of this nation. I couldn’t agree more.

Having said that, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right. Doesn’t mean it’s kind. Doesn’t mean it’s appropriate, or respectful.

I was among the many volunteers who handed out bottles of water to recovery workers at Ground Zero during those late September days after the airspace reopened. We probably hydrated an equal number of frantic citizens still handing out flyers in search of missing loved ones, who they already knew, in their heart of hearts, had been lost.

(Thankfully, I hadn’t been in New York on that particular Tuesday morning, but I freaked out my family completely when they couldn’t reach me by phone until more than a day later.)

I knew people on one of those 4 hijacked airplanes. I knew people who worked above the 100th floor in the north tower. I knew people who lived in lower Manhattan, who were found safe, but for whom for hours or days we all were scared to death.

I also knew someone who survived the day, but didn’t survive the event.

A colleague and friend’s wife, a broker at Merrill Lynch, who from her office across the street watched people jump out of windows to their deaths, committed suicide in 2002. I had dinner with them in October 2001 and she was barely hanging on. She was wearing a business suit…and track shoes, the only shoes she could ever wear after that day, “in case I have to run home,” like she did all the way from Ground Zero to 98th & Lex, about 6 miles/9 kilometers, on September 11th. What a waste of a beautiful person with a beautiful life. RIP, Alison.

We all know it’s true that Muslims were among the dead on September 11th and that jihad is not a universal goal among Muslims. But I have, for my fellow Americans who want to worship Islam in this new mosque, just one simple request in this one special case: for Alison’s sake, and her loved ones, and for the sake of every family who had their hearts ripped out on September 11th, please have pity.

Forget for a moment what’s legal and imagine it was you.

Kindness, understanding, generosity, respect…they’re boomerangs. They’re the right kind of payback.

Imagine the uproar if next door to any mosque in America somebody built ‒ on private property, which they’d have an equally legal right to do ‒ an Islamic Terrorism Awareness Center? Even people who don’t think a mosque belongs anywhere near Ground Zero would find that highly provocative and offensive, and would say so. In a civil society you just don’t do stuff like that.

…and unless you’re tone-deaf and heartless, you don’t do stuff like this, either.

Stand Beside Her, and Guide Her

…Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.

American patriotic song written by Irving Berlin (a Russian immigrant), 1918.

As I expected, I got strong, immediate reactions from Muslim friends, and friends of friends, to my 22 July post on domestic terrorism by Islamic jihadists you didn’t realize you were friends with until they were arrested.

The replies ranged from worried and angry to sad and frustrated. Many are too personal to print. All share the same sentiment: we need to rid our religion of these extreme and dangerous people (to us, too – notice the “infidels” they’re intent on destroying include other Muslims who don’t endorse their radical philosophy?). Clearly we’ve been unsuccessful in doing that so far, and keep paying and paying and paying for it.

A few people expressed concern that either I or one of my loved ones had been on that hit list. No, don’t worry. We’d have been under FBI protection long before now and I’m sure none of us are important enough to make even the top 15 million jihadist targets in the Lower 48, let alone a list of 15, which presumably includes people like President Obama.

However, I’m Jeanette, I have a blog, and I’m not afraid to use it. If the posts I write somehow get me added to a future list of jihadist targets, that just means I’m doing something right. Sheik whoever, if you’re intent on taking out every American blogger who’s against Islamic terrorism, that’s a really, really long list (in the 10s of millions). You’ll need more than a staff of 2 in bush Alaska!

A few other people commented that Paul and Nadia Rockwood seemed not very savvy to get caught like that. I agree. Maybe they were dufuses who didn’t happen to hurt anybody. THIS TIME. LUCKILY.

But look at every terrorist attack in the last decade, successful or not. What do they all have in common? Without exception, they depended on passionate but unsophisticated foot soldiers whose blind commitment was exploited by more sophisticated, more deadly masterminds with actionable plans and funding in place. How convenient to have the targets all picked out, and the most convenient ways to kill them carefully researched, handed off to you like a…user guide?!

More importantly: how would you feel if you got that phone call from the FBI saying you made the Rockwood Top 15 and had to leave town on a moment’s notice?

Having said all that, it’s good to remember in these situations that other major religions have also, during one era or another, been hijacked by radicals on a global scale. This post isn’t nearly long enough to address the Crusades, for example. For 200 years, 1095 to 1291, there were 9 major waves – plus a few minor ones − of religiously motivated and politically sanctioned invasions from Western Europe into the Middle East, primarily to rid the Holy Land of Muslim influence, but also as a bonus to bring a half-dozen other objectionable groups of people under control. I know of no Christians today who are proud of their faith having been the force behind that bloodbath, which also carried millions of Christian victims, who were “in the way,” along with it.

Here’s a sampling of replies to my post, with reprint permission from the authors, all but one of whom are US citizens. I’ve included names and countries of origin, with my notes in italics. Smart, sane people from all over the globe who love America – and in some cases made extreme sacrifices to immigrate that we wouldn’t consider making − and reject the hatred of fundamentalism.

Sam (Saddam), Iraq:
(Sam’s real name is Saddam, but because his last initial unfortunately is H, he got a lot of death threats to his work email during the first Gulf War. He took Sam as a nickname and became a citizen in 1992. He was arrested once, in Iraq, because his brother-in-law criticized the government.)

“I’ve been a Muslim on this earth for almost 50 years and never even once have I felt the need to make a list of people to kill. If I ever wrote a list like that and gave it to Sharon (his wife), she’d call the FBI herself!”

Naeemah, Egypt:
“What can I say, here we go again. It’s sad that our (3 American-born) kids are really good at explaining why it’s not us.”

(I’d seen Naeemah around, but didn’t know her at all until we met in the women’s restroom on 9/11. She was fixing her headscarf and crying. I put my arms around her and we held each other for a long time. I found out later that her citizenship ceremony had originally been scheduled for 9/11.)

Dumadi, Indonesia:
“Pathetic criminals who need to stop calling themselves Muslims right now and find another religion in jail, which they deserve. WE REJECT VIOLENCE and want no part of this.”

Mohammed, United Arab Emirates:
“You don’t know me, but I work with Tom and he forwarded me your blog. WTF??????”

Another guy named Mohammed wrote me: “Do you remember when I came over to your team and moved into the building with my boxes and my prayer rug? Do you remember the sign you made for my door? Closed For Prayer.” I’d forgotten about that. Glad to hear, Mohammed, that you’re still praying 5 times a day and making your mama proud, although I’m sure she’s still not thrilled with that Southern Baptist girl you married. Can’t win ‘em all.

Zeytoona, Palestinian from Jordan:
(I met Zeytoona, which means “olive,” through our mutual humanitarian work.)

“So the FBI is just now realizing they should be looking for terrorists called Paul, not normal people called Ahmed (her husband)?”

Ahmed (a different Ahmed), Nigeria:
“Those people are TRAITORS. Deport them to Yemen (Anwar al-Awlaki’s headquarters)! They’ll love it there (NOT)!”

…and Hanan, Iraq, who I met in Barcelona and is the subject of my 9 June post The National Cookie of Iraq:

“I’m sorry. Please still come to Iraq.”

Hanan, you have nothing to be sorry about.

Islamic Terrorism Crashes Your Christmas Party

Their beautiful voices are preserved on the recording of our family and friends Christmas concert, which I made on December 21st. Exactly 7 months later, to the day − to the complete shock of everyone, including me – our former supposed friends/closet Islamic jihadists Paul and Nadia Rockwood pled guilty in federal court to domestic terrorism.

Actually, it was only Nadia and her mother Piroska (Piri) singing. Paul had dropped out of the choir earlier due to Ménière’s disease, a debilitating condition of the inner ear that’s sometimes combined with − or mistaken for − epilepsy. The doctors in Anchorage had told him that he wasn’t a good candidate for surgery, which had only a moderate chance of success anyway and would likely leave him deaf.

Since I have epilepsy, I felt Paul’s pain and wanted to get him an appointment with a true Ménière’s expert, to be sure there weren’t any other options with better prognoses.

Through my own neurologists and by calling in a couple of favors from former colleagues, who joked that I’d forgotten all about them until − sure enough − I needed something, I’d gotten a prize Ménière’s referral for Paul, plus the promise of an impossible-to-get appointment with a renowned physician who hadn’t taken any new patients in years. If this internationally known, widely published specialist couldn’t help Paul, at the end of the day they at least could feel sure they’d gone down every possible path. I’d then told Paul and Nadia about this third medical opinion and even organized some friends to host them for several days while they were in town for the evaluation.

What was I thinking?

Now I wonder whether Paul’s Ménière’s disease was really that debilitating, or if he even had it at all. I wonder if he was simply using his condition as an excuse to get sympathy, stay home from work, and communicate with his fellow Islamic terrorists about creative ways to kill other Americans.

Worse yet, he was a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. Who knows how he might’ve been planning to use his scientific and procedural expertise in the name of Allah. I’m sure the 9/11 terrorists would’ve loved to add him to their team. Since he apparently converted to Islam in late 2001 and early 2002, perhaps 9/11 was part of his motivation to convert in the first place.

Thanks to the FBI, nothing tragic that we know of ever came of Paul and Nadia’s conversion to Islam and their subsequent jihadist activities in remote Alaska, pretty much the least likely jihad destination on earth.

The Rockwoods were planning to move back to the United Kingdom, Nadia’s home country, because ongoing Ménière’s treatment for Paul would be free under the National Health Service. (This was before health care reform.) Given the high cost of treatment for neurological conditions, I understood that plan completely. She also would have family support for her 4-year-old son and unborn child, in case Paul wasn’t able to go back to work right away, or at all. My guess now is that they planned to move to the UK primarily to make terrorism easier and extradition more difficult.

Yes, she’s pregnant. Imaging the life that baby will be born into, a father in federal prison for betraying his country and a mother on parole for being complicit in those crimes, not to mention an older brother who one hopes isn’t yet old enough for indoctrination, but could hardly help it, with parents like that.

Crazy thing was, everything about the Rockwoods screamed politically moderate, even lackadaisically observant. Many Friday nights they were socializing with my sister’s family and their circle of friends, not praying toward Mecca as far as anyone could tell. Guess we were wrong on all counts.

I remember running into Nadia at the King Salmon airport a couple of years ago. I was flying out after a visit. She was flying out, too (urgently), to Anchorage, sure she’d just had a miscarriage. A mutual friend had by chance run into her at the airport, too, and hearing she was going to try to go to Anchorage alone, made the instant decision to rearrange her plans and accompany Nadia to the doctor, to make sure she got there safely.

That’s the kind of town King Salmon is. People help each other. If you’re new, your neighbors help you get settled and feel at home. If you want it, you can have an instant circle of friends. If you urgently need something that someone else can provide, no matter if it’s inconvenient, they’ll pull out the stops to make it happen – and anyone else they call on in town to lend a hand is happy to do so, too.

Then how does my sister, interviewed by the Anchorage Daily News today, explain to my niece that her ballet teacher wishes her dead?

Members of my family have also flown with Nadia to Anchorage a time or two. I wonder if it was on one of those trips during which, unbeknownst to them, Nadia handed off that list of terrorist targets to her and Paul’s partners in crime, who I certainly hope the FBI has arrested by now, too.

Paul, Nadia, and their young son planned to arrive in London in early May. By coincidence, I was passing through London for a day on my way to Paris. Nadia and I exchanged email in April about planning to meet for an afternoon – a Sunday, ironically − and share a meal together. Also in April, as we now know, Paul gave Nadia their jihadist hit list to give to somebody else, who presumably lives in the Lower 48 and was geographically better positioned to act on it.

I was disappointed at the time, but I’m ever so grateful now, that our visit never materialized. Imagine them moving to London and inviting me over for lunch, all the while planning with their terrorist friends a repeat of the July 2005 attacks on the London transit system. The excuse she gave me was that their move was delayed due to their respective medical issues. I now know they were under FBI surveillance. Just over 2 weeks after I would’ve met them in London, they were questioned by the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Nadia’s mother Piri Hawes, also a convert to Islam, lives near London and, as close as she and her daughter are, there’s no way on earth she didn’t know what was going on in that household. That’s where Nadia and her son (and the newborn) will live while Nadia serves out her 5-year probation, according to the British press. I certainly hope they’ll both remain under MI5’s watchful eye.

The three of them attended the Christmas Eve party at my sister’s family’s home. They brought an appetizer. They raved about my Swedish cabbage, citrus, and dill salad. They took some food home to Paul, whose ears supposedly couldn’t tolerate big groups of noisy people. Right. Maybe he just couldn’t trust himself to hide his hatred of Christmas Eve, and of Christmas in general.

This is what Islamic domestic terrorism is all about: duping innocent Americans, whose culture is to be open, kind, friendly, and welcoming to a fault, into real friendships (for us, at least), in order to establish themselves as “normal people” in normal communities and to operate under the radar until they’re ready to pull the trigger – literally, in Paul’s case – on even more innocent, open, kind, friendly, and welcoming Americans elsewhere.

To Paul and Nadia: bravo. Anwar Al-Awlaki would be proud. You duped us completely, you sick, sick bastards.

The scary thing is that we know full well there are more people out there like the Rockwoods, living quietly in other big cities and small towns in the USA. They could be borrowing your fishing pole. They could be standing next to you in the choir. They could be babysitting your kids (or you could be babysitting theirs).

I’ve always been comfortable and open with Muslims, having always had friends and co-workers of the Islamic faith and from traveling and living in predominantly Muslim countries. However, as much as I’ll try not to be suspicious from now on, in my mind I’ll always harbor that little doubt: are these people closet Islamic terrorists, members of sleeper cells, who are just befriending me − using us − to blend in, meanwhile plotting the deaths of other people we love, including those serving in the US military?

Yes, to confirm peaceful, law-abiding Muslims’ worst fears: Nadia and Paul, and people like them, have indeed − once again − ruined everything for you.

I listened to my Christmas concert recording one last time. “One small child in a land of a thousand,” the song goes. “One small dream of the people tonight.” This is the song they sang with us on that stage last December, all the while hating with a passion everything the song, the holiday, and the other singers stood for.

“One small Savior of Light.”