Tree of Life 

I started writing about the history of Jewish persecution and persecution a year and a half ago. I started writing in response to the rise of Nazsm in the United States, and the failure of most on the American Left to recognize antisemitism in their own ranks. I wanted to do what I could to prevent attacks on Jewish Americans, like the mass shooting which killed eleven Jewish elders yesterday morning, during a baby welcoming ceremony. 
The killer started on the third floor of the synagogue, where children’s classes are usually held. Those classes were cancelled before the gunman arrived. He wanted to start by murdering children. When that wasn’t possible, he descended to the basement where the majority of the congregation was sheltered in place. We know he shot at least fifteen people: four law enforcement officials who are expected to survive their injuries, and eleven elderly Jewish congregants, including 97 year old Rose Mallinger. She survived the Holocaust and all its horrors, but not a Sabbath service in the United States in 2018. 
This comes as the third terrorist attack within a single week. America is broken. Racist, sexist, hateful. Jews were not the first victims targeted by the current administration. Muslims, immigrants, trans people, sex workers, and the *president’s critics have all been designated as acceptable victims for violence. But I always knew this anti-Semitic violence was coming.
People wishing to diminish the horrors of the Shoa often bring up the other victims of Nazis in order to obscure the anti-Semitic justifications for concentration and extermination camps. But the truth is, the fates of Jews and other minorities have always been entwined. In ancient Rome, Christian rulers were capable of greater violence against Jews when Samaritans, desperate to not be victims of antisemitism, sides with their Christian oppressors and not their Jewish neighbors. Medieval prohibitions against Jews shopping from Christian owned market stalls also applied to prostitutes; sex workers and Jews were considered equally unclean. And yes, the Nazis targeted multiple population groups. 
Fighting Nazism starts with fighting antisemitism. Of course it also includes fighting homophobia, racism, and religious intolerance. But it must start with a complete rejection of all conspiracy theories, suspicions, stereotypes, and biases regarding Jewish people. 
We are all in this together. My lesbian atheist survival isn’t merely contingent on how queers are tolerated or how atheists are viewed. A world which is hostile to Jews is also a world intolerant to homosexuals, sex workers, disabled people, religious minorities, and on and on and on. I don’t want self interest to be your reason to fight antisemitism, but if that’s what it takes, we’ll make it work.

“I Believe Dr. Ford” (poem)

We demand little girls
not let their little traumas
stand in the way
of a big man’s big dreams.

We hate women
who sleep their way
to the top,
and never question why the top
is populated by so many
willing to promote from within
the bedroom.

We sacrifice virgins,
mothers, daughters, sisters,
to angry gods and men,
hoping they will be sated
before they get to us.

We ask nothing of men. Life is for men.


I haven’t posted here in months, because I don’t know how to tell you that my child and I are homeless. We spent thirty days in a Catholic run ssheltst – forced to attend “life skills classes” which were really missionary attempts, and discriminated against based on my homosexuality and our mutual disabilities. We were discharged for asking for “too much” help in becoming not homeless. We were at a second, ostensibly secular shelter for 83 days. The facility was dangerous in every conceivable way, from lead paint on the walls to slippery stairs to never cleaning out the grease trap in the industrial oven. I constantly feared death by fire, knowing the structure kept us locked in and barred fire exits. I was never even assigned a case manager. 

We have been in a motel for the past 18 days. 

This is where I have been and why I’ve been gone. 

Pinker White Supremacy 

​Steven Pinker got a Wall Street Journal article a few days ago where he presented an overly rosy picture of the present. He used lots of cherry picked data from random time frames within the past two centuries to fit his position, glossed over two world wars as largely unpredictable hiccups, and credited a sunny future of income equality and total literacy to the Eurocentric Enlightenment. 

To understand his magical thinking, it’s important to note that Steven Pinker is an eugenicist. He supports “neonaticide” of disabled infants, and has called for such murders to be legalized. He has railed against the entire field of bioethics for holding back unbridled human experimentation. He is a rich capitalist who claims “open economies and free trade are negatively correlated with genocide’ in the profit receiving country, ignoring the impact on the country being ravaged for the sake of that profit. He is an atheist who believes he is smarter than people of faith, because he is the prophet of his own delusions. He thinks the humanities have nothing to offer scientists, and that if he could travel back in time to meet wise thinkers like Hume and Spinoza he would teach and guide them. He is supremely arrogant. 

He only knows European white culture and history, so he imagines a linear progression from the Dark Ages through the Renaissance to the Enlightenment and the Modern Age. He displays absolutely no awareness of any other cultures on Earth having ever had a Golden Age – not the Maya, Arabs, Ghana, Tang dynasty. Only white Europe. And the editors at WJS published his tripe. Hundreds of thousands of people read and absorbed it, most without serious reflection and this background knowledge of Pinker’s Most Dubious Hits. That’s how white supremacy, abled supremacy, male supremacy continues to be maintained. It’s not all cops beating people. A lot of times, it’s men in nice suits approving words for print.


Warning this post discusses extreme child abuse. 

On Sunday a 17 year old girl escaped her prison home in the early hours of the morning with a disconnected cell phone and photos. She used the phone to call 911, and the photos to show police officers evidence that her brothers and sisters were kept chained to their beds. She is a hero of incomprehensible bravery. Her daring escape led to a home welfare check, the first in her family’s well kept secret history. Law enforcement found her twelve siblings inside the “hell house”, three of them shackled and padlocked to their beds. The biological parents of all thirteen were arrested on multiple counts of torture and child abuse. 

I am upset by this story. Saddened, angry, grieving. I am not shocked. I wish I could be. But the Turpin family is familiar to me. They are like the families my grandmother recruited as followers to her cult. Every news story I read about this horrific abuse simply reminds me of another family we knew growing up. 

I remember the first time I met a family I was absolutely certain used their adopted children as slave labor. I was between seven and nine. The family had eighteen children – nine biological white children, and nine adopted children of color. Each time the mother got pregnant, they took in a new slave to raise it. In 1990s United States of America. 

I was fourteen when my grandma considered selling me into marriage for a land trade, but I went to public school and I had so much freedom compared to these kids that I was able to fight for myself. I fucked my boyfriend and destroyed my own bride price. I wasn’t sold. 

There’s an awful world for Christian children going on right under all our noses, and most have no clue.  The Turpin family hell home is just one example. There are hundreds or thousands of families like theirs all across America. 

I wish I could be more shocked. Instead I’m crying because this is too damn familiar. And I’m terrified the rest of the country still thinks this is an aberration. 

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 97

Abd al-Mu’min was an Algerian Berber of the Zenata tribe, born in 1094 CE. He was studying Fiqh, “full understanding”or the study of Islamic law, when his teacher died. The students had heard of Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Tumart, a fiery preaching scholar who had studied in Cordoba, Baghdad, and Alexandria – three of the greatest cities of learning in the world. They wanted him to be their new teacher. Abd al-Mu’min was sent with a letter to persuade ibn Tumart to settle in Tlemcen. Ibn Tumart wouldn’t be put off his path towards Morocco, but he invited al-Mu’min to become his follower (~1117 CE). As they journeyed, ibn Tumart preached on the steps of mosques and courthouses, destroyed the merchandise of wine and pork merchants, and condemned and even assaulted women for not veiling. They were hustled along from one city to the next. 

By 1120 they took to the Sous Valley, on the opposite side of the High Atlas Mountains, to escape arrest. The following Ramadan ibn Tumart announced to his ten followers that he was the Mahdi, a messianic imam of supreme purity and wisdom from the House of Muhammad. They believed him and confirmed this revelation, and helped him establish a tiny emirate in the mountains. Ibn Tumart and al-Mu’min made alliances with the other anti-Almoravid tribes in the High Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains, and created a hierarchy and system of succession. The first ten followers were ranked highest, followed by a council of forty from important tribes, followed by a third body before the whole mass. They built a fortress high in the mountains called the Tinmel where they lived and trained. Almohad riders disrupted the trade routes between the mountains, diverting gold from west Africa intended for Morocco. 

In early 1130 the Almohads made their first direct assault on an Almoravid city, Aghmat. Most of the Almohad leadership was wiped out, including their general. Ibn Tumart died that August in the fortress compound. Al-Mu’min was an outsider in the Sous Valley, from a different tribe and tribal confederation. He was uncertain the others would accept his leadership after ibn Tumart’s death, so he kept it secret for two or three years while cultivating relationships, before officially taking over as the head of the Almohads. 

Al-Mu’min was the student who took his master’s teaching and built it into an empire. First conquering the High Atlas and Middle Atlas, he made a caliphate in the mountains that stretched north to Algeria. Reverter de La Guardia I was the Viscount of Barcelona and a mercenary hired by the Almoravids as protector. His Christian army kept the Almohads in check for years, but he died in battle in 1142 or 1144. His corpse was crucified by enemies after. Al-Mu’min and his forces were able to take Marrakesh by 1147, and the war quickly turned in their favor from there. The Almohads made their base at Marrakesh, after tearing down temples and mosques they found too lavish. 

They expelled 30,000 residents from Marrakesh – Jews, Christians, or people they thought likely to revolt. Then they turned their expansion efforts eastward, focusing on north Africa. The Almohads conquered Hammadid territory to take Algeria in 1152, and defeated Normans to take Ifriqiya (Tunisia) in 1159. Grenada, Cordoba, and Seville relented to diplomatic shows of force in the early 1160s. Al-Mu’min had a fort constructed in preparation for his arrival in Spain, Ribat el Fath or “Camp of Victory”. He died in 1163 before the campaign could begin. His son Abu Yaqub Yusuf would invade Al-Andalus, and impose a series of Islamic reforms on the entirety of the Almohad caliphate. 

Further Reading 

Fromherz, Allen J. “The Almohads: The Rise of an Islamic Empire”. I.B. Tauris, 2012. 

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 96

Image shows a modern Berber man of the Tuarag confederation. Like Almoravids did, they wear tagelmust. These cobalt blue stained cloths serve as turban and veil, wrapped around the head and face.

Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Tumart was born in the Sous Valley of southern Morocco, between the Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains, around 1080 CE. Born to sedentary Berber parents, the boy ibn Tumart earned the nickname “firebrand” for his piety and for his love of helping his mosque lamplighter father with the lamps and candles. Morocco along with much of northwest Africa was territory of the Almoravid Empire. Once he was a young man ibn Tumart left home in search of religious knowledge. In 1106 he went to Cordoba, the capital of theological discourse in the (then known) western world.

Ibn Tumart studied under at-Turtushi, a Maliki jurist and highly respected philosopher. He was influenced by the many works of ibn Hazm (994-1064), a polymath linguist Qur’anic literalist teacher of the controversial Zahiri school. Zahiris rejected analogical deduction, the widely accepted Islamic law practice of using qiyas (analogies) from the Qur’an, Surah, and hadith, confirmed by consensus, to interpret law. Asharite theologians also believed qiyas were too vulnerable to errors in human logic and reason. The best known was the Persian mystic, jurist, and theologian al-Ghazali, known as “the Proof of Islam” for his persuasive employment of neoplatonic, or Greek revival, philosophy. Ibn Tumart definitely read some of his works and according to hagiographies met the great man as ibn Tumart journeyed to Baghdad to continue his theology studies, devout as ever. 

Al-Ghazali wrote an Islamic philosophy book Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din which mixed neoplatonism with patriarchy. Around 1108, the Muslim intellectual and religious leaders of Cordoba burned the text, which suggested women were inferior to men, should cover their faces with veils in public, and ought not to have property or inheritance rights. Ibn Tumart had explored anti Almoravid views in the past, studying under Sufist jurists in Spain. The burning of Al-Ghazali’s work created a formative impression on the young adult ibn Tumart. He returned to Morocco by way of Egypt, reaching Cairo in 1117 or 1118. While in Egypt ibn Tumart learned more of Asharite jurisprudence as an alternative to Maliki. 

As he journeyed ibn Tumart preached against the equality of sexes, lax imposition of Qur’anic morals on public behavior, and the corruption of the Almoravid government. The founding generation of desert warriors had left a thriving kingdom of metropolitan cities to their grandchildren – coddled and urbane. Fending off Abbasid wars from the east and Christian wars from the north, the Almoravids had been forced to raise taxes to pay for peace. They had come to power nearly a century before on promises to “Promote good, forbid evil, and abolish un-Islamic taxes”, but now they were failing on all three counts, at least by the estimate of ibn Tumart. 

Once he reached Fez, ibn Tumart made his presence felt. He chucked rocks at an African princess, the sister of the Emir of Fez, knocking her off her horse for appearing in public without a veil. When he was dragged before the Emir, ibn Tumart refused to bow to the man whose face was covered in the style of many Saharan desert dwelling tribes saying, “I see only women here.” His followers joined him in ransacking and destroying butcher’s stores that sold pork and setting fire to wine shops. The Maliki jurists urged execution, but the Caliph’s viziers counselled tolerance. Ibn Tumart was banished from Fez with his followers, and his life. This mercy would be the undoing of the Almoravids. The paradox of tolerance would bring about the end of the first feminist Muslim empire nearly a thousand years ago. 

Further reading

Aderinto, Saheed, editor. “African Kingdoms: An Encyclopedia of Empires and Civilizations”. ABC-CLIO, 2017. Google Books.

Encyclopedia Judaica 1971, volume 6, column 1255. Entry on ” Fez”.

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