Travel to China: Inside A 700 Year Old Mosque in Xian City

In a recent travel to China, I visited the ancient city of Xian and discovered a 700 year old mosque layered with history and tradition. The entrance felt like a Zen garden with shades of green and Arabic letters of the Quran carved in stone and wood. As I walked quietly and slowly along the ancient stone, a gray-bearded man with small eyes and a kind face followed.  "I am the imam," he said, … [Read more...]

Is It Safe To Travel To The Muslim World?

When is it safe to travel to the Muslim world and where can I go are common questions. News of the Muslim world give the illusion that most Muslim countries are spiraling out of control with frenzied conflicts and/or the possibility of terrorist attacks. One commentator lists at least 20 different conflicts in which Muslims are involved which is a high number. But there is a greater truth: the … [Read more...]

Life in Kashmir: Can You Imagine Living In A Place Without The Internet?

Most people I know would go crazy if they had to live in a place without full-time access to the Internet. But this is exactly what is happening in Indian-occupied Kashmir, where local residents--especially in the southern region--are constantly threatened with media blackout, Internet shutdowns, and curfews in the name of "national security." That's a buzz word for "chasing terrorists." Yes, … [Read more...]

A Message To The Army: You Just Can’t Kill Anyone

A month ago, there was a siege in a village. A contact, who will remain unnamed for security reasons, gave me a horrific account of the military madness that took place in the pristine valley of Kashmir.  They did it again. They shot four boys in our neighborhood. One was fifteen-years old. Oh God, I thought. He is too young to die. He belongs to someone. I could not (did not want to) … [Read more...]

Discovering Oman: A Peaceful Muslim Country

  Last winter, I sailed the Arabian sea onto the port of Muscat. When I was not giving terrorism lectures on the ship, I would step off the Seabourn and discover a world enshrined in mystique. Through the bazaar, you can smell the rich woody scent of frankincense and an array of spice stored in baskets.  Muscat sits on the Straits of Hormuz at the most easterly port of the Arabian … [Read more...]

The Pakistan I Thought I Knew: Part Four

There is an image that lingers on silent nights. The shifting patterns of house lights in play in Azad Kashmir, or Free Kashmir, situated in northern Pakistan in the city of Muzaffarabad. The suffocating closeness of that city to refugee camps and rain-glazed trees where leaves sagged toward another winter leave an indelible mark.The city is the strangest place I have ever visited. To many, it is … [Read more...]

The Pakistan I Thought I Knew: Part Three

A frequent traveler to Pakistan, I had always known and seen different variations of Islam. Those who choose the Sunni (orthodox) way. Those who adopt the history and traditions of the Shia. Or the Sufi, known as mystics and/or New Age-ers, of Islam. Even among these three broad groups, there are add-on practices and born-again preachers in Pakistan, who have redefined Islam--a religion revealed … [Read more...]

The Pakistan I Thought I Knew: Part Two

The Pakistan I thought I knew is almost gone. As a child, I didn't see political chaos and military coups but cousins racing to the rooftop to fly and cut down kites in the clear blue sky of Lahore, my birth city. Of memories jumping in the rain because we could; boys and girls playing together on rooftops. An innocence lost as we grow older--and as I continue to visit--a country that … [Read more...]

Pakistan: The View From Abbottabad On A Recent Trip (Part One)

The old adage that some things never change is true of Pakistan. Or at least parts of the country remain stagnant, as locals continue to manage expectations in a black-and-white world. The same expectations that something bad is going to happen in a village, town, city--a country shattered momentarily by bomb blasts, natural disasters, and crude awakenings.Outside the capital city of Islamabad, … [Read more...]

The Women of Kashmir Survive the Spoils of War

For years, I lived Kashmir. I dreamt of the women featured in this book. For awhile, they were like family. I knew intimate details of their lives. Even though I was their American guest, they gave me more than stories to be recorded in a book. They gave me a slice of modern history--the untold histories of women, the survivors of a 60-year-plus conflict. The women of this book form a community … [Read more...]

The Story of Mughli, A Mother Who Died Searching For Her Son

An enlarged black-and-white photo hangs in my home office. When I see her, I am reminded of why I write about women inc conflict. Many years ago, I had written a post about Mughli, a woman in Indian-held Kashmir who never stopped looking for her son. I write about women in war because women like Mughli deserve to be known. When a mother like Mughli loses a child, she no longer wants to live.Women … [Read more...]

When Saudi Women Work

Studies have shown that all women play a significant role in rebuilding their communities and countries, particularly in post-conflict areas. Even in thriving economies and seemingly stable countries in the Middle East, some Arab women dare to call for greater rights, equality and freedom from patriarchy. In my travels to the Gulf countries, most women do not work or step outside religious … [Read more...]

Human Rights Challenges for Women in Indian-Held Kashmir

Raising awareness on women in conflict is one small way to inform and invest in a community that is grappling with unspeakable and unthinkable acts of violence. For over a decade, I have interviewed Kashmiri men and women--some in the valley and others from afar--to understand their struggles and sacrifices. To the Kashmiri people, including famed writer Basharat Peer, the conflict has become … [Read more...]

Elections in Kashmir Set a Historic Precedent

In winter 2014, elections in Indian-held Kashmir should have been a benchmark for change. But the opposite occurred. The local government came to a standstill. And the Indian Army took control of the valley until the Governor stepped in. The French historian Alexis de Tocqueville said, "When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness." For decades, Kashmir looked as … [Read more...]

Working women in Pakistan admit it’s a man’s world

This spring, I was in Pakistan, traveling through the capital of Islamabad, the culture center of Lahore, and into the northern bustling towns of Abbottabad and Mansehra. As an American traveler, heading to Pakistan's tribal areas might have been daunting if I didn't have a car with young men I call brothers and bodyguards. On this trip, I met mostly with women. Young and old, single and … [Read more...]

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