Sunday nights in the Sacred Heart

Sunday night Mass is one of my favorite parts of my week at Georgetown.  The 9:30pm service in Dahlgren of the Sacred Heart helps to slow me down, put my life in perspective, and notice God working in my life.  Conscious of the benefits of starting my week with Mass, I decided to also attend Sunday night Mass during my semester in Amman.

Thanks to the suggestion of a few folks at Georgetown, tonight I went to Mass at an English-language parish that holds Masses in a few Catholic churches in the neighborhood.  The presider is an American Jesuit priest with friends at Georgetown, and the congregation is made up mostly of Filipino families.  (Surprising to many others and me, Jordan has a large Filipino and Sri Lankan foreign worker population.)

Even before arriving at the church, I felt welcomed by the community, especially the priest, who I called frantically from my cab to ask for nearby landmarks that the cab driver would recognize.  (No one uses addresses or street names here.)  The priest didn’t get frustrated when I called a second time, this time as I walked from where the cabby dropped me off near a supermarket.

When I reached the church, I was immediately asked to read the first reading, which has always been my favorite way to participate in Mass since I was in first grade.  I read a passage from Deuteronomy about prophethood, a topic that has always resonated with me in different religious traditions.

Throughout the Mass, I was struck by differences, and I want to share some of my observations in the hopes that later they’ll come together more coherently.

-Provided by some of the Filipino women with guitars and a tambourine, the music is simple but pretty, and the song sheet is decorated with music notes and quotes of saints about the importance of praying through song.
-The intercessions are much more specific and almost political.  We prayed for the violence in Syria, Nigeria, and Somalia to be resolved peacefully; for leaders at the economic summit; and for those with birthdays, including King Abdullah II of Jordan.
-The Eucharist is distributed differently in the Jerusalem province (Jerusalem—how cool!)  Everyone receives the host on their tongue after it has been dipped in the wine.
-As people return to their seats after Communion, many people stop before a statue of Mary, and touch her blue cloak or the rosary she holds.

These differences from Mass at home, whether I liked them or not, reminded me of how much I miss my home at Dahlgren of the Sacred Heart.

I miss the smoky waves of incense that curl around the swinging gold bulb, and the aroma that lingers in the church for the rest of the week, greeting me when I stop in for a quick prayer under the bright stained glass windows.  I miss walking into the church early to prepare for the service, and peeking inside the tabernacle to see the embroidered lamb on the inside of the gold door.  I miss setting the credence table with two chalices and crisp purificators—and having to stop to listen to the choir as it hits a crescendo while practicing the evening’s hymns.  I miss that the homilies actually have an impact on the way I think, the way I live, the way I pray.

Though I miss Dahlgren, and the people who are the heart of that place, I realize that in Amman I also have a spiritual home.  Like Dahlgren, this parish in Amman is called Sacred Heart.

I have confidence that those who make up this sacred heart in Amman will teach me, challenge me, and love me in new ways.  By the end of my time here, I hope I will be writing again about how I miss Sunday night Masses at this Sacred Heart, where old men grab the hem of Our Lady’s blue dress.


What’s in a name?: Jordan goes to Jordan

Written January 23, 2012

Today is my first full day in Amman, Jordan.  During my four months studying abroad here, my blog will continue to serve as a place where I post stories and reflections, which will no doubt be enhanced by my new location, activities, and acquaintances.

I think it’s appropriate to begin this post by talking about my name, and how funny it is that I’m studying in Jordan.  The humor regarding my first name is obvious, but my last name is funny to people, too.  Denari is related to “dinar,” the name of the currency in Jordan.  My last name is a type of currency used by the Romans, whose empire stretched into the area that is now Jordan.

Already, it’s been funny introducing myself to other American students and the staff in my program.  Most of them have the same reactions: “Oh!” with a short chuckle, and an occasional “That’s funny.”  I then tell about my last name, which generally elicits a smiling shaking of the head.  I can’t wait until I start meeting ordinary Jordanians, who I hope will be pleasantly surprised. It would be like a foreigner coming to the U.S. with the name America Dollar.

You might be wondering what Jordan is like and why I decided to study abroad here—no, not because of my name—and I hope to answer some of your questions in this post. 

Where is Jordan?

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is located in the heart of the Middle East, which makes regional travel quite easy.

Jordan is the apricot colored country.

As you can see, Jordan is bordered by Israel, the occupied West Bank, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

What language do Jordanians speak?  Do you understand it? 

Jordanians speak Arabic, which I’ve studied for two-and-a-half years at Georgetown.  However, Arabic as a spoken language is very diverse, which makes my answer a bit more complicated.

I have studied Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is used in the news and other formal settings.  Jordanians don’t use MSA in everyday life, but rather a dialect that is specific to the region.  For example, person from Morocco could not understand the Jordanian dialect.  However, both a Moroccan and a Jordanian can understand MSA.

In Jordan, I will continue my study of MSA, and will also take a class on the Jordanian dialect so I can speak with ordinary folks.  If I were to get into a cab and speak in MSA, it would sound overly proper, sort of like if an English speaker started talking like Shakespeare.

I can’t understand much spoken language yet, but thanks to a bit of colloquial study I did last summer, I comprehend a bit more than most of the American students here.

What does the Arabic language look and sound like?

To English speakers, Arabic may sound like a harsh language—I also thought it sounded harsh before I started studying it.  But I’ve grown to find Arabic very beautiful and passionate.

The Arabic script is also very beautiful and is written kind of like cursive.  The text below, written in one of many Arabic script styles, is the Lord’s Prayer, which I hope to have memorized soon.

"Our Father, who art in heaven..."

Where are you living?

I’m living in Amman, the capital, with a host family.  Until I move into their home on the 25rth, I’m staying in a hotel with others in my program. My host family is Christian, and the children range in age from 20 to 2.  I’m looking to forward to having both peers and young children to spend time with.

Where are you studying?  What classes will you take?

I will be studying at the University of Jordan, the largest university in Jordan.  However, instead of directly matriculating into the university, I’ll be taking classes through CIEE, an organization that operates several study abroad programs all over the world.  My classes—two Arabic classes and two courses in English about regional culture, history, politics, etc.—will be with other American students.

Once you get settled, what will your everyday life be like there?

Friends who have studied abroad here say that, in some ways, my everyday schedule will be similar to my high school one.  I’ll get to school by 8a.m. and spend most of the day in class or in and around campus.  After school I may go to the gym or to volunteer with a Jesuit organization in Amman.  On the weekends, I’ll spend time with my host family, explore the city, and travel outside Amman.

Are you planning to travel in the region?

Yes. Because of Jordan’s central location, I hope to travel to Israel and the West Bank, Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt.  I’m also planning to travel within Jordan through CIEE trips and on my own.  Some notable sights include Petra, Aqaba, the Dead Sea, old Crusader castles, and ruins of the Roman Empire.

What is Jordan like? Is it safe? 

Amman has very little violent crime.  I like to tell people that I’ll act in Jordan the way I do in the D.C. or Indianapolis.  In the U.S., just like in Amman, I don’t walk alone at night or put myself in danger by becoming intoxicated.

In the Arab world in general, white women, especially blondes, get harassed by some local men.  It’s normally not more than getting yelled or whistled after, and if I dress appropriately and wear my hair up, I shouldn’t have too many problems.

Comparing Jordan to the rest of the region, Jordan is a politically stable and hasn’t experienced much of the upheaval associated with the Arab Spring.  That is likely due to the country’s relative economic prosperity and political freedoms.  (Relative is a key word in that sentence.  Many Jordanians are poor, and democracy is nonexistent–the monarchy has ultimate control over the parliament.)  However, there are protests and people calling for political change and reform (which I in many ways support).  We are not allowed to attend protests, which is unfortunate but probably a wise rule.

What do you wear? Do you have to cover your hair?

I wear clothes very similar to the ones I wear at home.  Amman is very cold and rainy in the winter, so I have sweaters and long sleeved shirts and jeans.  In the spring and summer, I will wear blouses or t-shirts with cardigans with long pants or capris.  The highs will only be in the 80s when I leave, so the weather won’t be unbearably warm.

The norms here don’t require me to wear a headscarf.  Most women do, but many don’t.  In Jordan, many women have adopted Western forms of dress.  Often, women wearing a headscarf dress in Western styles.  Hijab doesn’t always equal traditional dress.

What is the religion in Jordan 

Jordan is 95% Muslim and close to 5% Christian, and thus the country is clearly shaped by its strong Islamic tradition.  The workweek spans Sunday through Thursday, leaving Friday (the holy day) and Saturday off.  Christians practice freely under law shaped by Islam.

Why is Jordan called Jordan?

Jordan is bordered on the west by the Jordan River.  The country used to be called Trans Jordan because it was across the Jordan from Palestine.  I’m excited to travel to the Jordan River on our program’s “Sites of Biblical Jordan” day trip, when we’ll visit the spot where John baptized Jesus.

Why did you decide to study abroad in Jordan?

I’ve wanted to study in Jordan for a long time.  When I still was intent on a career in foreign journalism, it made the most sense in terms of the location and dialect.  At that time, the most news worthy places in the Arab world were Iraq and Palestine, and conscious that I might one day immerse myself in one of those regions, studying in the country that’s smack dab between them made sense.  Jordan’s history has been greatly shaped by the influxes of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, meaning I could learn about the political and historical situations in those countries without even being there.  Also, wanting to be a journalist who didn’t rely on an interpreter, I knew that learning spoken Arabic was crucial.  The Jordanian dialect would help me learn colloquial Palestinian later, since both are quite close.

However, both my own interests and the political situation in the Arab world has changed.  I no longer anticipate a career as a foreign correspondent, and thanks to the Arab Spring, the entire Arab world needs foreign journalists to cover its changing landscape.  Despite that my old reasons for coming to Jordan are no longer valid, I still chose to come here—why?

Most importantly, to have the opportunity to live with a host family.  To me, studying abroad is about true immersion, living how locals do, and I think that can be done best by living with ordinary people.  The other programs Georgetown offered me—in Egypt, Morocco, and Qatar—couldn’t provide me with a home stay.

A few other reasons:

-Jordan is centrally located in the region, and that makes travel easy
-its dialect is pretty and similar to MSA than other dialects
-it has a deep and diverse cultural history
-Amman is a bustling city but not too overwhelming for a first time in the Middle East

And, coming to Jordan simply felt right.  If I think more about it, maybe my name actually did have something to do with it.  Names are more than just words that identify us to others.  They point to the core, the spirit, of the thing they name.  By sharing names, the country of Jordan and I share something.  What that is, I’m not yet sure.

When I was young, I used to get little bookmarks with my name on them, with an explanation of my name’s meaning.  I was always a bit disappointed, because the cards usually said, “from the river” (the Jordan river, of course.)  It seemed a bit boring.

But now, when I think about it, that definition—“from the river”—makes a lot of sense.  Even before coming to Jordan, I was pulled by something about this place that seemed familiar, even though I’d never visited.   Maybe I’m drawn to Jordan because I’m somehow from here, because somehow it feels like home.

(I miss everyone back at my other two homes–Georgetown and Indianapolis. If you have more questions, please ask!)  

Why you should care about the National Defense Authorization Act

*This is a long post.  But its length reflects the importance of its topic.  I hope this discussion communicates the complexity of the NDAA and the significance of the law’s implications.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was signed into law by President Obama on December 31.  This bill is passed yearly to determine the budget for the Department of Defense, but this year it also contains short but sweeping provisions that affect ordinary Americans and expand the scope of the executive branch’s power.  Civil rights groups, military officials, and others have expressed concerns about this law, fearing that it infringes on the rights of Americans and hampers America’s ability to fight terrorism.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): This law “contains harmful provisions that some legislators have said could authorize the U.S. military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians, including American citizens, anywhere in the world.”

Glenn Greenwald of “It will be the first time that the United States Congress has codified the power of indefinite detention into the law since the McCarthy era of the 1950s.”

New York Times Editorial: “The measures… will strip the F.B.I., federal prosecutors and federal courts of all or most of their power to arrest and prosecute terrorists and hand it off to the military, which has made clear that it doesn’t want the job.”

These criticisms of the law seem outrageous and scary, if they are indeed true.  As I hope to explain clearly through this Q&A-style post, these claims about the NDAA are true, meaning that we, as Americans, have lost some of the basic rights that make our country the free place we believe it to be.

1) What exactly do the NDAA’s “harmful provisions” say?

Sections 1021 and 1022 are the provisions that concern the ACLU, the New York Times, Glenn Greenwald, and me.

Let’s look at the first section (p. 265)  It authorizes the president and armed forces to detain the following people:

These individuals can be detained indefinitely without charges or trial, until the end of the War on Terror:

Now let’s look at Section 1022 (p. 266), summarized by Glenn Greenwald, the columnist and former constitutional and civil rights litigator:

“[Section 1022] mandates that all accused Terrorists be indefinitely imprisoned by the military rather than in the civilian court system; it also unquestionably permits (but does not mandate) that even U.S. citizens on U.S. soil accused of Terrorism be held by the military rather than charged in the civilian court system (Sec. 1032).”

Here’s the text from the provision specific to US citizens:

2) Why are these provisions problematic?

Let’s look at the portions that were highlighted above by Greenwald.

Substantially supported;” “associated forces”:  These phrases are extremely vague, and can be interpreted widely by those enforcing the law: the president and the military.  How can one determine what “substantially supporting“ a group means?  (See Question 8 for a more detailed discussion on this point.) How can one determine if a group is “associated” with al-Qaeda?

This broad language was likely intentional, written to bring the law in line with the Obama and Bush administrations’ post-9/11 policy of indefinitely detaining individuals without trial.  (See Question 6 for further discussion.)

Without trial until the end of hostilities”: The line doesn’t need much elaboration.  A detainee held without charges and trial doesn’t need to be released until the end of the war, in this case, the War on Terror. But how do we know when the War on Terror has been won?  When all terrorists are killed?  When anti-American sentiment has been quashed?  (In my opinion, more American military action yields more anti-American feelings and contributes to the creation of terrorist groups.)

Military custody”: Those detained are not held by civilian law enforcement, but by the military, no matter if they were captured in a war zone or an American neighborhood.

The requirement to detain a person…does not extend to US citizens”:  This new law affects both foreigners and American citizens.  Foreigners must be held by the military.  US citizens are not required to be held by the military, but the option is still there.  This means that Americans are not protected from indefinite detention.  They can be subjected to it without formal charges for their supposed support of terrorism.

It is important to note that, under existing American law, even non-citizens are guaranteed the right to a trial.  The NDAA strips away that right as well.

The full issue is a long, complicated one, and Glenn Greenwald has done a good job answering it in his article, “Three myths about the detention bill.”

3) Indefinite detention seems wrong.  Don’t we have laws that should protect us from that?

Yes, the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.  The fifth guarantees due process, and the sixth a speedy and public trial.

4) This talk of indefinite detention rings a bell.  Has Congress passed a similar provision before?

Yep.  Glenn Greenwald:

“This is the first time indefinite detention has been enshrined in law since the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when — as the ACLU put it — “President Truman had the courage to veto” the Internal Security Act of 1950 on the ground that it “would make a mockery of our Bill of Rights” and then watched Congress override the veto. That Act authorized the imprisonment of Communists and other “subversives” without the necessity of full trials or due process (many of the most egregious provisions of that bill were repealed by the1971 Non-Detention Act, and are now being rejuvenated by these War on Terror policies of indefinite detention).

5) I heard that President Obama was going to veto this law.  Why did he threaten to veto and then change his mind?

Initially, the Obama Administration objected to a portion of an earlier draft of the bill that would exempt accused US citizens from mandatory military detention.  Why would it urge the drafters to take out this portion?  Greenwald and many argue that the administration wanted to increase its own power to determine who and how is detained.  Greenwald:

“This was an example of the White House demanding greater detention powers in the bill by insisting on the removal of one of its few constraints (the prohibition on military detention for Americans captured on U.S. soil). “

The current version of the law—the one that passed and was signed by Obama—has the new provision I mentioned in Question 2: US citizens aren’t required to be detained by the military, but they still can be.

Greenwald: “Those changes were almost entirely about removing the parts of the bill that constrained his power, and had nothing to do with improving the bill from a civil liberties perspective. Once the sole concern of the White House was addressed — eliminating limits on the President’s power — they were happy to sign the bill even though (rather: because) none of the civil liberties assaults were fixed.

6) Didn’t the Bush and Obama administrations indefinitely detain Americans before this law was passed?  How does this law change anything?

In practice, the law changes little.  Obama, like Bush before him, claims that the president possesses the authority to detain Americans indefinitely.  (See Question 7 for more details.) These administrations have detained many Americans (and even more foreigners) without charges and held them.  This law only codifies this practice into law—protects it—and that’s what is scary and dangerous.

7) What gives the President and the military authority to indefinitely detain people?

According to Bush and Obama, the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), which was passed by the Congress just days after September 11, 2001.  Here’s an excerpt from the AUMF:

Greenwald: “…First the Bush administration and now the Obama administration have aggressively argued that the original 2001 AUMF already empowers them to imprison people without charges, use force against even U.S. citizens without due process (Anwar Awlaki), and target not only members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban (as the law states) but also anyone who “substantially supports” those groups and/or “associated forces” (whatever those terms mean). That’s why this bill states that it does not intend to change the 2001 AUMF (even as it codifies far broader language defining the scope of the war) or the detention powers of the President, and it’s why they purposely made the bill vague on whether it expressly authorizes military detention of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil: it’s because the bill’s proponents and the White House both believe that the President already possesses these broadened powers with or without this bill. With a couple of exceptions, this bill just “clarifies” — and codifies — the powers President Obama has already claimed, seized and exercised.

8) I’ve heard that this law also threatens free speech.  How so?

Let’s go back to the brief discussion about what it means to “substantially support” al-Qaeda or terrorist groups.  As I said, this term is extremely vague, and as Greenwald has argued above, this vagueness is likely intentionally so.

Generally, we understand “support” to mean material support—giving weapons, money, etc. However, a 2010 Supreme Court case changes all that—a case that went virtually unnoticed despite its surprising verdict and widespread negative implications.

In Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, the US Supreme Court ruled that ‘speech’ given in support of an organization is the same as ‘material support.’  This decision was made to match similar rulings in the UK, where free speech is not guaranteed in the way it is in the US.

This ruling, coupled with the practices of indefinite detainment and the NDAA, greatly endangers the First Amendment and free speech.  If speech equals material support, and material support is a detainable offense, then speech, simply speech, is a crime.  And a crime that doesn’t result in a fair trial or even formal charges.

In my opinion, this is what makes the NDAA’s implications so frightening.  For engaging in what should be free speech, an American can be rounded up and held.  For simply being “associated” with terrorist groups, an American can be detained.  And because these Americans are held without formal charges and aren’t guaranteed to see court, it will never be truly known if those detained were actually “guilty.” 

9) Why should I care about the NDAA and the practice of indefinite detention?

Many Americans citizens, and even more non-citizens, have been affected.

Look at Murat Kurnaz, a German who was held in Guantanamo without charges for five years.

And Sami al-Arian, an American and outspoken Palestine activist.  He was detained and treated horribly in civilian prisons on terrorism charges.  Most of the evidence brought against him in his eventual trial were things like books he own and things he said. 

And Tarik Mehanna, who translated al-Qaeda documents into English for American readers.  Despite that this action is in the realm of free speech, he was arrested and tried in a civilian court for them.

All Americans, myself included, have the potential to be affected by the NDAA.  If the government decided that I somehow had ties to or supported terrorism because of books I read or things I said, I could be locked up.

Sadly, though, this law will likely be only used to target Muslims, people like Kurnaz, al-Arian, and Mehanna.

Non-Muslim Americans who advocate violence and terrorism will probably not be targeted.  People like a middle-aged American who commented on my YouTube account, calling for Muslims to be expelled from America.  When I went to his YouTube page, I found a video in his “Favorites” list, called “Top 10 Mosques to Bomb.”  This man was supporting violence against Muslims.  I called him out on it, and he removed the video.  (Click the photo to the right to see the conversation I had with this man.)

I want to make this very clear: violence and terrorism are both wrong.  I don’t support violence and terrorism, and I condemn those who do. But a Muslim’s verbal support of these tactics should not be more punishable than a non-Muslim’s.

As I’ve talked to friends and professors about the NDAA, I’ve heard a one main concern expressed, one beyond specifics of the bill and its possible uses.  What does it means for our country when our legislators and our executives are able to sit around and discuss taking away some of our most basic rights, as if it doesn’t matter? There have been dissenting voices, but there is no loud outcry. As Americans, we pride ourselves on our freedoms, and want to spread them to the ends of the earth.  Ironic, given that we’ve done away with many of them.

The NDAA needs to receive much more critical media attention if we hope to preserve the rights we still have and regain the ones we’ve lost.  I hope this post can contribute in some small way to the national discussion we must have about the NDAA.

10) What can I do about this?

Contact your legislators and ask them to vote for the Due Process Guarantee Act.  In the wake of Obama’s passage of the NDAA, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) proposed this bill to amend part of the law and protect American citizens.

It says: “An authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States.” (See the entire bill here.)

This bill doesn’t fix the entire problem, but it goes along way in addressing the issues of the NDAA.

Have any questions I didn’t answer?  Ask them in the comments section.