Lisa Kaaki, a Muslim Convert Children’s Author

In the mid 1980s, I stumbled upon a TV interview with an intelligent and beautiful young convert to Islam named Lisa Kaaki. Of British-French descent and barely in her twenties, she had moved to Saudi Arabia with her Lebanese husband. Lisa worked for the Saudi Broadcasting System, English and French Services, in Riyadh (and she would soon move into TV programs).

I was lonely, not just for a friend who would help me practice French, but for someone who understood what it was like to be a convert. Since I wrote for the Saudi Broadcasting System, English Service, in Jeddah, it was natural to try and contact her.

The friendship grew roots over the phone. We experienced many of the same things and gave each other support. Lisa was a budding writer. I told her of my publisher, American Trust Publications (NAIT), based in Indiana. ATP had put out my first story book, The Four Daughters of Yousef the Dairy Farmer.  Editor/author M. Tariq Quraishi was working on my second, The Princess Who Wanted to be Poor.

Writing is a consolation to dreamers, which Lisa has always been. She immediately wrote a touching story of a little Muslim boy named Tarek who has lost his memory and is found sleeping in front of the Eiffel Tower by a woman named Madame Rose. Lisa asked me to edit, which I was happy to do.

ATP published Tarek, engaging the same talented illustrator, Mamoun Sakkal, as did the art for my later books, The Jinn in the Clock and A Wicked Wazir. Tarek

Lisa then wrote another poetic and meaningful Muslim children’s book, The Awakening. In this story, a little Arab boy named Salem, who has everything he could ask for, feels emptiness. Against his will, he turns into a palm tree. From that experience of life, he transforms into a stone and then a rose. When Lisa sent me this manuscript, I was delighted at her imagination and edited swiftly.

Tarek could not be more appropriate for this present moment of countless child refugees seeking asylum–and supportive comfort–in the West.  The Awakening continues to offer a powerful yet subtle message for those young ones so blessed by material goods they may undervalue their own  humanity.the awakening

Lisa and I wrote a travel column together for the Riyadh Daily newspaper. At the same time, she carved a niche for herself on Saudi television and radio, in both French and English, interviewing many interesting people and helping Muslim women gain respect as can be seen in this Youtube interview with female historian Hatoon Al Fassi :Lisa Kaaki, Not Without Women.

Today Lisa, ever the poet, lives in Cairo with her daughter and grandchild. I love her dearly. Il y a longtemps que je t’aime, mon amie. Que Dieu te bénisse! 


The West’s Frankenstein by Mark Dowling


thIn Reconciliation, Benazir Bhutto shows she knows a thing or two about Middle Eastern history; she should–after all she was born and raised there and knew the culture of her own people. History did not start on September 1, 2001, as some people would like us to believe. Any time the U.S.A. or its allies are attacked, a group argues it was caused by religious extremists who didn’t like the way we as infidels were living.

“They hate us for our freedom” is an all-too-common piece of propaganda espoused by those who don’t want to see the error of their ways. Personally I find it hard to believe that a young man or woman, barely into adulthood, would be willing to blow themselves up for “our freedom.” The truth is that many of these people are radicalized as a result of the killing of their family members by American bombs, or by evil dictators backed by America. Bhutto seems to know this history of Western intervention in the Middle East and the Frankenstein monster that this history has created.

Bhutto is aware of the false allegations which state that the sole blame for the regions’ problems lies in the Muslim holy book. Bhutto addresses this misplaced blame, saying “But the responsibility does not lie in the Muslim Holy Book.” The truth is that for over a century, the West, and particularly America, have destabilized Muslim countries due to lack of understanding of Middle Eastern culture and indifference to the effects meddling would have on it. There are obvious instances that most people are aware of such as the invasion of Iraq and the ousting of Saddam Hussein; however, most don’t know the true extent of imposed regime change, political assassinations, backing of extremist groups, and civilian casualties caused by the so-called “Land of the Free.”

Bhutto shows many examples of the undermining of democratic values in her country and the countries surrounding hers. One clear instance of the United States creating a monster that it was unable to control is the funding of, and funneling weapons to, an extremist group known as the Mujahedeen; this group of extremists would later go on to form groups such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Bhutto writes, “The establishment of the Afghan Mujahedeen by Zia in the 1980s is an example of extremists. (After all, the jihad in Afghanistan aimed to rid the country of Soviet occupation, not reject modernity, technology, and pluralism, and to establish “strategic depth” in Pakistan. That was the political goal of Zia.)”

Although she may not have been referring specifically to the role of America in the creation of the mujahedeen, Bhutto implicitly gets to the heart of the matter as to why the United States backed the mujahedeen. The U.S.A. helped the extremists not out of pity for their plight at the hands of the Soviet Union, but to thwart communist expansion. Once more the West shows no understanding of how things work in other parts of the world, and simultaneously falls for the incorrect assumption that the enemy of its enemy must be its friend.

Once again Bhutto has her finger on the pulse of the problems caused by the West. She states that “After the United States invaded Iraq, these same extremists turned their attention to that country.”  Although many warmongers and saber rattlers would have us believe different, Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the attacks on September 11th, nor did he have any ties to the Al-Qaeda. In fact, Al-Qaeda had almost no presence in Iraq whatsoever due in large part to being enemies with the mostly secular Saddam, who made sure they had no foothold in his country.

Before the U.S.A. invaded Iraq, suicide bombings in that country were almost unheard of. Once the invasion took place, the extremists rushed into the country to take advantage of the American military presence that would surely bolster their ranks with disenfranchised young men who had watched loved ones lose their lives thanks to American bombs; after all, it is hard to convince someone that you are freeing them whilst you are bombing them. According to n, The Guardian, there were over 12,000 deaths caused by suicide bombs alone between the years 2003 and 2010. Oftentimes people who wish to rush to war again will cite numbers like these to garnish support for another invasion; again it would seem that history was non-existent before a certain date to these people. Without seeing that they created the monster before them, they fed the monster again with the invasion of Iraq.

When most people think of reasons why the Middle East is in a perpetual state of chaos, they often think of the terrorist groups; however, an often-overlooked aspect of the chaos is the authoritarian regimes that control many Arab states. Oftentimes, leaders of western nations lecture the world on the need for democracy without admitting that they themselves support many dictatorial powers, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. On some occasions, the United States is the sole reason that a country is in the grip of an evil regime, such as in the case of Iran.

Indeed, at one time the leader of Iran was democratically elected and generally friendly to Western nations. That is until the United States, with the help of Britain, overthrew that leader in 1953 due to a dispute over British controlled oil. The United States then installed a man named Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi who ruled with a much firmer hand than his predecessor. This led to anger in the Iranian population that would go on to force the Shah into exile, and bring the Khomeini regime into power, which rules to this day, albeit with a different head. Again the United states meddled in the affairs of country and a people that it new nothing about, thereby furthering the creation of the Frankenstein of authoritarianism that Benazir Bhutto refers to. According to Bhutto, “Despite often grand rhetoric to the contrary, there has been little real western support for indigenous democratic movements. Indeed, too often there has been outright support for dictatorships.” (186) Quite an apt description I would say.

It is unfortunate that the former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto is not with us today to calm the tensions and help pave the way for the democratically elected governments that people in the middle east so desperately deserve. Unfortunately, until the west stops meddling in the middle east, it is unlikely that anyone, even Bhutto (if she were still alive), could pave the way for democracy in the region. There is still hope however that Bhutto’s dream will not die with her, but live on and come to fruition. Her dream can only be seen if the West stops feeding the monster that is the Frankenstein in the Middle East.

Muhammad Ali, Always a Hero

I don’t normally re-blog news, but I cannot help asking, which one is the champ? I know whom I pick!

Donald Trump, Muhammad Ali

FILE – In this March 24, 2007, file photo, Donald Trump, left, accepts his Muhammad Ali award from Ali at Muhammad Ali’s Celebrity Fight Night XIII in Phoenix, Ariz. Ali is criticizing Republican presidential front-runner Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, and calling on Muslims “to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda.” (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Ali, one of the most famous Muslims in the world, issued a statement saying, “True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.”

Degrees of Manliness in California’s Hispanic Culture


Furious Dusk, the 2014 winner of the Andres Montoya award by my colleague David Campos, completely derailed my impressions of a calm, even restrained, colleague. However, Campos’s verse has helped me better understand the Hispanic culture into which I have married/moved here in Central California.


Hunting” is about a young boy whose manhood initiation depends on his ability to embrace the power of hurt. The father in “Drywall Dust” sings while his son, laboring to prove that machismo, smashes his own thumb. While “The Call” does mention a mother, its formatting suggests the degree to which women are disjointed from men, and the son from his father; when told his father has collapsed, the author wonders if it is not “Another punishment of his?”

“After One Year of Trying” offers the overripe decay of a fruitless union. The poet’s anguished marriage imagery is arresting recognizable: “Leftovers stick like bad memories, / like the biting words, irresponsible, / childish and selfish. /My wife and I left the table/ to scream each other’s faults down the hall.”

“Inheritance” is a side reflection, focusing on an abandoned table crafted by a female carpenter. That short poem’s final play on words stopped me short: ”I had stood on its stump and proclaimed / to be more capable than my father/ a giant literate in its grains.” “Hollywood Endings” and “Museum of Natural History” both helped cement the unsettling feeling that home is always alien.

Drinking lizard blood is just one of the never-ending tests of manliness Campos displays, yet the peak of suffering comes in the modern trauma of obesity, encountered in “Diet.” Brilliantly, Campos uses formatting to evoke a mirror’s image, reflecting his battle with father and form, expectations and results.

Hurt, he demonstrates, is hurt’s reward. “Bowl” shows men stepping in to clean up the mess they have created, to forestall death and perpetuate pain, as if there were no other reason to exist.

Campos implies that being hurt can be a decision: the poet’s father counted the neighbors’ shrinking at his loud morning music as proof of racial hatred.

“The Stones from the Water” felt like ablution. Campos combines a volcano and its lava with boulders, glaciers and water. While earlier he writes “baptism isn’t enough,” when stones dance to the meeting of fire and water meet, the cleansing is sufficient.
Forgiveness plays under the unsettling beat of discord: ”After Hearing of My Father’s Passing” begins “This afternoon it’s raining in Riverside/ and I remember how the mountains of Los Angeles/ slowly put on their long coat of pines/ as we climbed trails up the steep inclines/ of the heart; breaths were hard to take.”

“Dusk” is the poem that gives the compilation its name, and it centers upon Fresno. If I see an old typewriter in a thrift store in downtown Fresno, I will wonder whether Campos typed “this is not a toy” on it, as dictated by his father.