Tag Archives: anti-war

A Hate Letter to the Taliban

wasps-eating-apple

Oh, horrid people, I hope your Taliban houses lose their roofs
May the bloody nights of your city be always without magic.
Your ignorant generation has taken our lives
Our dearest ones with a light in their eyes have become orphaned.
Oh, thoughtless people who make our mothers taste the death of their loved ones.
Must the youth always have crying eyes to the death?
Can you think of nothing to do besides egging on atrocities?
Your generation is as unproductive as a fruitless tree.
You, who bomb our schools, our cities, our bazaars,
All you do is destroy our country.

By Fariba H.

Photo by RichardBH

Reza Gul, an Innocent Bird in a Violent Marriage

reza-gul-blurred-photo

Editor’s note: Reza Gul was expected to be taken to Turkey for reconstructive surgery after her husband attacked her with a knife on January 19, 2016 in the remote northern province of Faryab, which borders Turkmenistan. 

Once again, in our land of horror, a young Afghan woman was beaten many times by her husband until she finally lost her nose when he attacked her with a knife.

Reza Gul is like an innocent bird, married for six years and now, at twenty, she is a mother in the Shar Shar village in the Ghormach district of Faryab province. Her husband attacked her and sliced off her nose. She was taken to hospital, while he fled to a nearby Taliban-dominated village.

Reza Gul endured violence so many times. At an age when another girl would still be studying at school, she suffered terrible abuse while raising a child without the help of a husband.

There are many female victims of violence in a similar situation in my country. The Human Rights Commission reported that violence against women in Afghanistan increased seven percent in a six-month period from late March to September 2015 compared with the same months a year earlier. Human Rights Commissioner Qadria Haq Parast said that in that period 2,579 cases of violence against women were documented. This included 190 murdered women.

Why are so many women facing violence in their homes? Why does the violence increase day by day despite all of the organizations and a women’s ministry who work against violence? Does the government pay attention? Is it a lack of security? Are the organizations not doing the work they should? These are questions for the authorities to answer.

I ask all men who commit these acts against women: Would you be able to tolerate the same pain you inflict on your wife or daughter? Can you live without your nose, ear, lips, or fingers? How dare you commit this violence against women? Do you think they are not humans? Even animals do not hurt their co-gender.

If you love your wife and daughter, you will feel the real happiness of life. If you respect them, they will worship you. Being a human being is not so difficult. You lose nothing by acting humane.

My innocent sister Reza Gul, you are not alone. I feel your pain with my body and soul. I wish I could have saved you from your husband but I promise to support your power if you raise your voice. Do not be quiet. Fight for your rights. We are with you. You deserve all the beautiful things in the world. I love you, my innocent bird!

By Afsana

Photo by Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission

TED talk transcript …”follow your heart”…a case for visceral navigation in the 21st century….

FOLLOW YOUR HEART

(talk starts with verse and chorus form the song “follow your heart”…..)

I was 16 years old when I decided to leave home alone and move from NY to Israel, for love.


I come from a Jewish Yemenite family, born in Israel but raised in the US from age 2.

When I was 15, I was on a summer hiking trip in Israel, when I met this amazing young man, and fell totally in love with him. From that moment, all I could think about was how to plan my return, how to convince my parents, how to be with him. This was crazy and totally devoid of logic. I was already really into music, and living in the most amazing city in the world for a potentially budding artist, I knew going back to Israel would mean mandatory military service, an identity crisis (I already had a pretty complex identity), a total meltdown of my comfort zone and yet, my heart wouldn’t let go of me. “Achinoam, Achinoam” it said, day and night. “You know this is what you’ve gotta do, so do it!”


And I did.


Achinoam, as my heart just told you, is the beautiful name my parents gave me.  It means, freely translated, sister of peace. But later in life, as I embarked on an international musical career, and understanding Achinoam was just too difficult for most people to pronounce, i took on the name “NOA”…three letters at the heart of Achinoam,  with roots in the Bible.


Noa was the first feminist in Jewish history, But for me, the name is more significant as an acronym: N-O-A : Not Only Achinom.


I understood, I guess, from a very young age that together works better. That giving up some of your ME to become a WE is glorious. My heart dances whenever I connect and resonate, and Asher…that man I fell in love with (which is sitting right here)….was just the beginning.

After my military service…I went to study at the Rimon School of music in Ramat Ha Sharon…

My idea was to form a band…I never wanted to be a Star Star in classic fashion, I wanted a team, a family! I wanted to be Sting in the Police. (btw years later I did a whole tour in France with sting! But that’s another story 🙂 So I set out to find my mates. Then I walked into class on the first day, and there was this teacher, and he was talking, and I was mesmerized, by his wisdom, creativity, energy, passion, he was a total WOW. I mustered courage to ask him to listen to the songs I was writing at the time, fortunately he found my song writing worth encouraging and offered me a student teacher collaboration in a festival the school was taking part in. I was so thrilled!!


At the time I was already being wooed by all kinds of producers, managers, etc, that were offering to invest a lot of money in my career, pushing me to take the so called “fast  tkt” to stardom,  (I would later learn that no such thing exists) , to forget this collaboration with a musician 17 years my elder, to go for younger, hipper producers, forget my original songwriting, to do some remixed covers, take songs from professional pop song writers,  change my hair and the way I dress, pose for the camera, etc etc…


It seemed tempting, who doesn’t want to be a star?? But there was my heart, nagging…naaa. It said, this is not right Achinoam. I don’t care how successful a mundane pop song could be , I want to create something new!  I want to work with a person who can encourage creativity, nurture it, who can join me on this quest for depth and beauty, who is relentless and passionate and as much a perfectionist as I am, who believes in the ME WE idea, the team, the family…so I said no to all those guys with their big promises (my heart is going! Yeah! go girl)….and went with the teacher.


I got much more than I bargained for. A partner, a mentor,  an amazing musician, a  gold mine of music ,mind and spirit. I left school that year, but stayed in the school of life to this day, with this great man to my right: my musical collaborator and guitar master GIL DOR 🙂


Then things started moving really quickly. Gil introduced me to Pat Metheny, one of the world’s most amazing musicians, an incredible Jazz guitarist and composer, and one of my heroes! I met Pat in New York soon after, and left him a recording gil and I had made earlier that year .

He called me later that evening, and said one of the songs he heard on that disc was so beautiful he wished he had written it himself! I almost died. He asked: how can I help you? So I took a breath and said: produce an album for me.


And he did!


So Gil and I went to NY, Pat brought his incredible musicians, we started making the album, it was amazing.

After the recording, pat had to go on tour, so we had a few months before we mixed the album.

Gil and I came back to Israel, and started working on a project for the Israel Festival in Jerusalem, based on the beautiful poetry or Rachel and Leah Goldberg. It was a totally artistic project, so you can imagine our surprise when one of the songs became a huge hit!

A recurring theme with us, all of our “hits” were accidental…they just happened as we were busy following our hearts…


So we were performing in Israel, in bigger and bigger halls, and travelling across the Atlantic to finish the album with Pat, we got signed by Geffen Records, I was getting really popular and working really hard. And in the middle of all this…I got married!


 Yes yes, your head is saying: what? Why! All these guys falling at your feet, travelling, exciting places, be free! Why weigh yourself down??


But my heart was saying: naaa….that guy, the one from the hiking trip… he’s your man. He’s you partner for the marathon…unite!


And I did. 
And my heart was dancing….


And that’s when I started learning to juggle. A three ball juggle…music, matrimony, and ten years later, motherhood, once, twice three times..three children, three thousand concerts….three, is a magic number..:)


By the way, that’s another reason I never wanted to sing any song I didn’t love, or do anything I didn’t feel strongly about…how could I justify leaving my loved ones for fluff? For bogus? What for??


But for lighting my little flashlight into another hidden corner of the human soul, for creating something, for making the world a better place, for beholding a dance of hearts as music connects people on a higher level…ah! For that, I was willing to sacrifice…


And I did…


Carrying my kids around the world, nursing them on planes and trains, on many sleepless nights with the help of my incredible family and friends…

The juggling was intense. but it was about to get totally crazy….as several monumental events unfolded..


On the album NOA, that Pat produced, we had recorded an original version of the Bach- Gunod Ave Maria. I wrote original lyrics, an ecumenical, almost iconoclastic prayer for peace….and gil arranged it to sound almost like a folk song. this song fell into the hands of a man in Italy who was producing an event in the Vatican…so one day we got a call, inviting us to perform for an audience of 150,000 people in St Peter’s square, for Pope John Paul the 2. The first Israelis ever to do so. We were shocked, and thrilled! 
There were voices in Israel calling me to decline this invitation, Jews that were still angry at the church for what it had done to our people over the centuries…but my heart was saying, if this pope believes in breaking the walls between religions, in collaboration, in reaching out, who am I to say no? on the contrary, this is exactly where I want to be!


We were subsequently invited 8 times to perform at the Vatican for John Paul the second, and later, for Pope Benedict, and just recently, for the wonderful Pope Francis.

And my heart? Not only dancing, exploding! What an honor, to be able to contribute to a shift in consciousness through music, to an expansion of vision, to a broadening of perspective! How thrilling, how right it feels.

And so another ball was thrown into my juggling act, the fourth…..not only music , matrimony and motherhood,  but meaning…a mission….a message….much greater than myself.

and that was just the beginning.


The following year, we were invited to perform in another huge event….a peace rally being organize in Tel Aviv, to support Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres, Nobel peace laureates, as  they signed the Oslo Accords…a new horizon for Israel and Palestine! What joy!


When the mayor of Tel Aviv called me to ask if I would sing, it took me three milliseconds to say YES! He was thrilled as it appeared he’d gotten quite a few “No”s already, which surprised me, but shouldn’t have.  I was later to learn; any political affiliation is almost Taboo for popular artists.  But I wasn’t thinking in those terms, I was so honored to be able to celebrate peace!


The event was the most wonderful and most horrible evenings of my life. What began as a joyous celebration of the future, ended in enormous tragedy when Yitchak Rabin was murdered by Yigal Amir, as he descended the very same staircase I myself had walked down just a few minutes earlier.


I was devastated.  that very night, I decided that if this great man could pay with his life for peace, for humanity, for values, for the future of our children, I too would pay a price….i would act, I would speak out, I would carry this torch forward stubbornly, fearlessly.


my heart , understanding the ramifications of this decision… bowed its head, and nodded in agreement.

After that,  one thing lead to another very quickly, all mixed, blurred… speaking out, refusing to perform in the occupied territories, supporting a two state solution,  threats to my life, concerts cancelled, performing  at the white house, speaking and singing at the World Economic Forum in Davos, becoming a Global Leader of Tomorrow, meeting and befriending Quincy Jones and performing in many of his events, in NY, Rome, Switzerland, being Knighted by the president of Italy, becoming good will ambassador for the UN….working with Nicola Piovanni and Robberto Benigni, collaborating with Arab artists , like Khaled, Nabil Salameh, Rim Banna and more, participating in demonstrations, writing blogs, refusing to receive prizes alongside racist artists, more hate mail and threats, boycotts, and all the time writing songs, putting my hands in the mud of the soul and flying high above it all like a bird, and back again….. touring, wonderful concert halls, long roads, children, juggling, juggling while running, on my knees, in my sleep, in my dreams…. praying to the God of music, and believing, with all my heart, that it all comes down to “love your brother as you love yourself…..”

In 2009 I was approached by the Israeli Eurovision committee to represent Israel in the Eurovision. I said Yes, but I had conditions: I wanted to share the spotlight with Mira Awad, a great Arab Israeli artist, and we would write the song ourselves, in English, Hebrew and Arabic.


And so it was. We were attacked from all sides, those who hate, those who are suspicious and afraid, those who do not believe, those who have given up.

But we also reached CNN, the NY Times, El Jazeera, BBC Iran and millions of young people around the world with an incredible message that they could relate to , that they believed in, and they gave us their support! Every one of the hundreds of letters I received at the time, from iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, all over the world …every one brought tears to my eyes….they  are treasures I will pass on to my children….


Here’s part of the song as I wrote it originally in English:

(we perform part of “there must be another way”)


I’ve followed my heart.  It’s nagging, dancing and prodding me on has brought me to the most challenging and most spectacular places of my life. And I say to you, in a crazy world, changing so fast, mind boggling technology, communication, FOMO, pressure, uncertainty, and almost preternatural competitiveness…..though it seems crazy, it may not be such a bad idea….


To follow your heart.

because, in the worst case….you’re left with your heart!  (If you’ve done something meaningful for yourself and others,  you are a success! Yippee..

And in the best case.. you’re left with your heart. What’s all the success, glory, fame and fortune in the world worth without it??

And what is your heart anyway?

It’s more than a blood pumping organ on a valentine’s day card…

Here’s how I see it:


HEART

H- head, humanity, home, humility, hearing….

E- essence, ear, empathy, extension…

A -Art!

R- resonance, responsibility, the road….

T- two, togetherness, time….and tomorrow….

Dear friends, thank you for listening.

We’d like to leave you with a song.

(we perform UNI…)

The end 🙂

Can Our Children Be Safe? Pakistanis Ask After University Attack

Members of Civil Society protesting in Karachi, Pakistan against the attack on Bacha Khan University of Charsadda. Image by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix (21/1/2016)

Members of civil society protesting in Karachi, Pakistan, against the attack on Bacha Khan University of Charsadda. Image by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix (21/1/2016)

Heavily armed militants stormed Bacha Khan University in Charsadda on 20 January, 2016, and opened fire on students and staff members, killing 21 people and many more injured. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, in which the four attackers were killed by security forces.

Charsadda, is about 50 kilometres from Peshawar, where in December 2014 Taliban gunmen killed 141 people, including 132 schoolchildren, at a branch of the Army Public School (APS).

The sheer scale and brutal violence in that attack spun the government to close all schools across Pakistan for a month, and the provincial government made it mandatory for all educational institutions to go through a security audit, train and arm their watchmen, install metal detectors, and increase their boundary walls to eight-feet, topping them with two-feet high razor wire. Bacha Khan University fell under this audit too and had 54 security guards on campus when the attack took place. More than 3,000 students are enrolled at Bacha Khan University.

Even though there hasn’t been a fatal attack targeting an educational institute in Pakistan since the 2014 violence at APS, the wounds of that bloodshed are still raw.

Element of surprise is what would have resulted in maximum casualties & fatalities. No Institute can respond to such an attack w/out losses

— norbalm (@norbalm) January 20, 2016

‘Stop using adjectives such as resilient,brave,heroes & courageous.They were students. (The Nation) #BachaKhanUniv http://pic.twitter.com/X6TE4iLzSK

— Abdul Majeed Khan (@koolkopper) January 21, 2016

The teachers and students at Bacha Khan University were attending a poetic symposium in the school to commemorate the 28th death anniversary of renowned Pakhtoon leader and proponent of non-violence Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as ‘Bacha Khan’. Khan opposed the partition of India and Pakistan after independence in 1947, and he toured India in an effort to quell inter-communal violence. Bacha Khan University was built by his own party, Awami National Party, in 2012 at Charsadda, his birth place.

#BachaKhan‘s ideology still pricks peoples’ conscience.An apprehension among radicals-resulted #BachaKhanUniAttack. http://pic.twitter.com/PwptWhx0PL

— Pirah Mangi (@pirahmangi) January 20, 2016

The Bacha Khan University has come under attack by terrorists on the day when his death anniversary is being observed. Such is the irony.

— Iftikhar Firdous (@IftikharFirdous) January 20, 2016

Pakistanis were not only outraged at the perpetrators of the attack, but also directed their displeasure at authorities. A year ago, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a comprehensive roadmap to counter the threat of these armed groups in his National Action Plan, the effectiveness of which has been much criticised.

This is going to be a test.. a harsh one.. comparisons will be drawn.. you can’t have winners when children have been snatched from parents

— norbalm (@norbalm) January 20, 2016

Under the plan, the government quickly passed a constitutional amendment relinquishing justice to “speedy military courts” to sentence “hardcore terrorists”, and arrested dozens of suspected “hate preachers”, launched more than 28,000 “terrorist” sweep operations across the country, arresting more than 100,000 people and lifted a seven-year-old moratorium of the death penalty executing more than 300 people, who were on death row, in 2015.

In a biting editorial, Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest English-language daily says:

The death penalty does not deter terrorism. In fact, it can act as a propaganda tool for the militants as a contested claim of the responsibility for the Charsadda attack attests. Finally, the Bacha Khan University and the day of the attack do not appear to have been selected randomly.

The tolerant, compassionate, inclusive politics of Abdul Ghaffar Khan is what Pakistan ought to embody, and what the militant extremists are seeking to destroy. They must not win. Essential as it is to physically eliminate militancy, the very idea of the Taliban needs to be defeated too by making Pakistan a peaceful, democratic and constitutional land.

Writer Umer Ali also doubted the efficacy of the National Action Plan in an oped at The Nation:

Whatever the military demanded, civilian government gave – from military courts to foreign policy, everything has been under control of Army. But what are the results beyond photo-ops and extensive PR gains?

Members of Civil Society are protesting against the attack on Bacha Khan University of Charsadda. Image by piiimages. Copyright Demotix (21/01/2016)

Members of Civil Society are protesting against the attack on Bacha Khan University of Charsadda. Image by piiimages. Copyright Demotix (21/01/2016)

According to a report released in 2014 by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), about 30 schoolchildren and 20 teachers lost their lives, in attacks on education institutions in Pakistan between 2009 and 2012. Perhaps one of the most famous victims of this violence targeting education is Nobel prize-winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the face and neck on her school bus for “promoting secular and anti-Taliban values” by campaigning for girls’ schooling.

According to one timeline, 229 people were killed in attacks of all kinds in 2015 in Pakistan. In 2014, 280 died, and 429 lost their lives in 2013. A day before the horror at Bacha Khan University, 10 people were killed in suicide attack targeting security forces vehicle in the Khyber region of Peshawar, for which Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility.

And rumors of security threats to educational institutions forced closure of several educational institutions in the same region earlier in the week. A recent video message the Taliban faction behind the Bacha Khan University massacre in Charsadda vowed to target schools throughout the country, calling them “nurseries” for people who challenge the group’s interpretation of holy law.

Columnist and activist Ali Salman Alvi argued in an oped in NDTV.com that even though the National Action Plan “looked good on paper, the situation on the ground remains disturbingly awful and unchanged”:

While it is obvious that it’ll take significant amount of time to eliminate terror from Pakistan, the more worrying part is that the state of Pakistan has shown no clear intent or political will to counter the mindset that has been a major hurdle in developing a counter-terrorism narrative in the country.

The question is whether Pakistan will be able to stem the flow of expanding militancy in the country. An editorial in The News asks “How many children are we to sacrifice before history and politics teach us which way salvation lies?”

Written by Veengas · comments (0)
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Warlords to the Lebanese People: Let’s Forgive and Forget!

Lebanese “Warlords Collage”. Geagea (with mustache) and Aoun (in uniform) appear in the photo at the upper right. Source: moulahazat.wordpress.com

Lebanon is special, we know, because our ancestors are Phoenician and because we can swim and ski in the same day. But Lebanon is also special because key figures of the Lebanese civil war are still in power, waltzing on the corpses of thousands of dead civilians and the living bodies of 4.5 million Lebanese citizens.

On January 18th, 2016, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea publicly endorsed his wartime rival Michel Aoun’s candidacy for president. This agreement means that Lebanon might finally have a new president, after 20 months in which the country’s top post has been vacant.

Here’s some context. Geagea, the executive chairman of the Lebanese Forces, the second largest Christian political party in Lebanon, and Aoun, a former Lebanese Army Commander and founder of the Free Patriotic Movement, are former enemies who fought against each other during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). On January 31, 1990, the Lebanese Army, with Aoun as its commander-in-chief, clashed with the Lebanese Forces (then a militia). The latter objected to Aoun’s assertion that it was in the national interest for the government to “unify weapons”, meaning that the Lebanese Forces should submit to his authority as acting head of state. The clash resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

I felt the need to add my two cents’—or two liras—on this state of affairs because of what General Aoun said during what blogger Joey Ayoub compared to an acceptance speech at the Oscars—that he wanted to leave the past behind in order to build the future.

“I would like to thank the academy for giving me this opportunity to shine” http://bitly.com/1JjfMA7

— Joey Ayoub جووي أيوب (@joeyayoub) January 18, 2016

People are sharing stories online of the times Aoun and Geagea bombed their neighborhoods. I can’t testify to that, as I was too young at the time and had the “luxury” of being born in a remote village in the north of Lebanon. I can’t testify first-hand to the pain of the war, to the loss, to the fear, to the experience of living surrounded by death. But I can testify to the hatred I saw, and continue to witness, between people my age or younger who also did not live through the war. No matter what anyone says, Lebanon’s regions, cities and neighborhoods, already riven by sectarian divisions, are still divided between the Aoun and Geagea camps.

I am not dismissing these experiences of these young partisans, nor the experiences of their loved ones. But I do wonder how they, with no direct experience of the war, manage to muster such hatred, why they listen to songs about an ugly war that ended 25 years ago that describe one leader as the alpha and omega and the other as god sent. I’m puzzled as to why they learn how to signal their support by honking their car horns—a “taratatata” or a “tata tatata tata tata tata” in the wrong place or time can get you into trouble—display party stickers on their cars, and wage their own second-hand war. A bloodless one, it’s true, but a cold war nevertheless.

“I’m puzzled as to why they learn how to signal their support by honking their car horns—a “taratatata” or a “tata tatata tata tata tata” in the wrong place or time can get you into trouble…”

Where is the urge to question those they blindly follow, and ask questions like “what happened”? “Who won”? “How many people died”? “What happened to those who were kidnapped”? “How many women and girls were raped”? “How many corpses were tied and dragged behind cars like war trophies”? “How many loaves of bread were stolen at checkpoints”?

During his “acceptance speech” Aoun basically said that what happened happened, and we should put it behind us, and maybe remember it so that we don’t repeat it. Geagea was smiling beside him.

Well, even though it is our fault (we elected them, after all, over again over again, those times we were actually allowed to have elections), I don’t want to stop believing that we deserve better. This endorsement, this deal between two war criminals, represents yet another nail in the coffin of our collective memory. Those of us who didn’t experience the war are now stripped of our ability to hold these men accountable for the deaths of thousands. And now they tell us to forget and move on. Because it is convenient for them? Because after years of wanting to eliminate each other, this is the only way to survive? We shouldn’t question their pasts or demand justice, yet these men want us to trust them with our future?

It’s about peacemaking, they say. But can peace really exist in a vacuum? How can we   achieve peace without a reconciliation process? Without healing the wounds of the past? How can peace exist when a silent, brutal, cold, war is being waged every day?

Where, indeed, is there room for peace when all we see is corruption, unaccountability, nepotism, theft, and the dismissal of an entire people?

Written by Abir Ghattas · comments (0)
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AWWP Poet to Make Guest Appearance at Michigan Poetry Slam

ClarkstonHighSchoolPoetrySlam2015

AWWP Poet Marzia will make a guest appearance via Skype at the Clarkston High School Voices for Change poetry slam on Friday, January 22nd at 7 p.m. This is the second year Marzia has participated as a guest reader. The slam, co-produced by sisters Madeline and Olivia Maday, will feature twenty Clarkston High School students selected to perform their work. Proceeds will go to the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.

“I am very excited about Voices for Change,” says Marzia, 25. “I believe my voice is not only for me, it is for millions of women and girls who have been fighting the violence and discrimination.”

Olivia Maday, 17, speaks to the importance of the poetry slam: “In a world where so many people are shouting to have their voices heard, important words can get lost in the noise. Slam poetry has the purpose of conveying personal messages as well as universal demands for change.”

The Maday sisters chose to include the Afghan Women’s Writing Project after a suggestion from a Clarkston High School teacher. “The AWWP saying ‘to tell one’s story is a human right’ inspired us because it was exactly the message which we wanted to convey throughout the Clarkston community as well as one that should be promoted globally,” says Olivia. “We were very moved by the courage that the women had in sharing their stories and messages with the world, and we greatly wanted to encourage a similar sense of empowerment for all students through the creative outlet of poetry.”

Voices for Change debuted last year to acclaim. “We were so surprised by how fantastic the response was,” says Maday. “My sister and I sat together after the show, reading aloud the incredible messages and tweets that people were sending to us, letting us know how inspired they were from hearing the voices of others. It definitely united our community on a whole new level.”

Admission is $1 and can be paid at the door. Follow the slam via Twitter at @_Voices4Change and hashtag #Voices4Change. Clarkston High School, 6093 Flemings Lake Rd. Clarkston, MI 48346 

Photo: Olivia (left) and Madeline Maday at 2015 Voices for Change Poetry Slam in Clarkston, MI. Photograph by Nathan Brown.

Syrian Refugees? Get Your Facts Straight Before You Share Their stories

Refugees are Human Beings. Photo from Commons Wikimedia

Refugees are Human Beings. Photograph from Commons Wikimedia CC-BY-SA-3.0

Nowadays, most sad stories come from the Middle East. Although every story counts among the thousands discussing the region every day, we need to look at some of those stories with a pinch of salt. Sadly, this year is shaping up to be the year of Syrian refugees. Unfortunately, in some cases, the world continues to be misinformed by recurring photographs from the tragedy on the Internet where social media is being used to spread rumors and circulate fake stories.

The reasons vary from clicktivism to politics. For instance, some European political right-wing parties are using the recent refugees crisis to further push their agenda and close the doors on Syrian refugees taking refuge in Europe. In fact, a photograph claiming to show Syrian refugees waving the ISIS flag in Germany, which is widely being shared on Facebook, is three years old and is not related to the current crisis.

Following are four stories of Syrian refugees stories, you may have come across on your social media accounts, which are far from what they appear to be.

Story 1: The Italian fashion model and the Syrian Immigrants boat

Shared on the Syrians in Belgium group on Facebook, this video above is shared with the following caption:

عارضة ازياء ايطالية تصور فيديو على الشاطئ وفجأة بطريقة عفوية وقع المحظور تصل دفعة لاجئين غير متوقعة الى شاطئ الامان في ايطاليا سوف تشتهر هده العارضة لهدا الموقف الظريف والعفوي الدي لايتكرر
معظمهم سوريين وفلسطينيين الحمد الله على السلامة

An Italian model is filming a video on the beach and suddenly the unexpected happened and a group of unexpected refugees arrives on the beach safely in Italy. This model will become famous for this funny and spontaneous incident which will not repeat itself. Most of them are Syrians and Palestinians. Thank God for their safety.

However, the model is the video being shared far and wide is not Italian and the video itself is not even shot in Italy. And the refugees are neither Syrian nor Palestinian. The original video published on July 10, 2015, by the same model Ekaterina Juskowski reads:

Ms. Juskowski, a Miami-based artist and a founder of the Miami Girls Foundation (www.miamigirls.org) “who migrated from Russia at age 18 as a university student – had a more compassionate take. She said, “Witnessing people starting their life anew by jumping off the boat and running into the city made my personal struggle seem rather small. As controversial as the problem of illegal immigration can be for many of us, it is important to remember that people come here in search of the better life, and it comes at a very high price of great courage, hard work, and loneliness. I got to know America as a country with a big heart. While I trust it to the U.S. government to work out the policies on improving the immigration laws, it feels natural to stay compassionate and understanding on a personal level.”

Story 2: A Syrian Boy Sleeping between his Parents’ Graves

There’s a big chance you have seen this dramatic picture of a Syrian boy covered by a blanket sleeping between the two graves of his dead parents. It went viral after some big accounts published it [in January 2014] on Twitter.

There is only one problem: The picture is not from Syria, but from Saudi Arabia. Photo credit haralddoornbos on wordpress

There is only one problem: The picture is not from Syria, but from Saudi Arabia. Photo credit haralddoornbos blog

The Harld Doornbos Blog maybe was the first who investigate the case by contacting the photographer, Abdul Aziz al Otaibi, a Saudi national, from Yanbu al Bahr city, who is behind this story.

“Look, it’s not true at all that my picture has anything to do with Syria,” Al-Otaibi says, “I am really shocked how people have twisted my picture.”

“I love photography,” he continues over the phone, “Every artist has ideas in his head. So I had the idea to make a project whereby I show in pictures how the love of a child for his parents is irreplaceable. This love cannot be substituted by anything or anybody else, even if the parents are dead.”

On Twitter, Abdulaziz shares another photograph of his nephew, hoping to clear the misconception the photograph, along with the wrong information shared with it, had caused:

هذي بعد صورة من خلف الكواليس لبراهيم ولد اخوي #ابومتعب_الامريكي_يسرق_صورتي http://pic.twitter.com/twjFO2BwS3

— عبدالعزيز العتيبي (@abdulaziz_Photo) January 17, 2014

This is also photograph from behind the scenes for my nephew Ibrahim

Story 3: Immigrants Refuse non-Halal Food

YouTube user komehtap K stated that Muslim refugees, on the border between Macedonia and Greece, refused the food parcels distributed on them because they carried the Red Cross symbol, which is, according to the author, not halal. While the video is true, this information is totally false.

According to Red Cross spokesman John Aangendal Nielsen to French newspaper Liberation, the refusal of refugees was not related to the content of which was Halal but was a kind of protest against the police who blocked their way and kept them stranded throughout the night under the rain.

On YouTube, komehtap K explains:

Muslim migrants in Macedonia refuse Red Cross parcels because of… the red cross
The headless chicken reaction by the leaders of the European Union regarding mass migration by hundreds of thousands of people has resulted in these so called refugees not only demanding to be allowed to go where they want to go, but insisting on subscribing to the religious bigotry they claim they are running away from.

Here on the Macedonian/Greek border Red Cross aid parcels are being refused due to them having a red cross on the box. And the left call me a bigot for questioning the veracity of these so called refugees

And on Twitter, many reacted with anger at the “ingratitude” of the refugees:

I saw a video of a load of Syrian men throwing food offered to them away because it ain’t halal. They should be sent back IMO

— Niall (@SpiritBlade_) September 10, 2015

Unbelievable and ungrateful! #Syrian #refugees in #Hungary are complaining because the food they are being given is not guaranteed as Halal.

— Mike (@1961mike) September 11, 2015

Story 4: The Photoshopped Photograph of a Syrian Mother at Sea

A photograph of reportedly a Syrian mother trying to swim to safety carrying her toddler child. Photo gone viral (source unknown)

A Syrian mother trying to swim to safety carrying her toddler child. Photo gone viral (source unknown), but it isn’t what it seems to be

This photograph of a Syrian mother struggling at sea has been making the rounds online. But something is amiss. Netizens were quick to notice that the photograph was Photoshopped, covering the woman’s hair. Omneya Talaat tweets:

عندما لا يهتم مجتمع سوى بتغطية شعر المرأة لا بتوفير حياة كريمة لها فهو مجتمع منتهي بلا جدال #SyrianRefugees #سوريا http://pic.twitter.com/Az8PcSbSqR

— Omneya Talaat (@OmneyaTalaat) August 29, 2015

When society is only concerned with covering a woman’s hair and not providing her with a dignified life, then it is a society on its way to oblivion. There is nothing to argue about here

Phogotraphy asks why a doctored photograph is being used to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees:

This terrifying photograph shows Syrian refugee Rukhsan Muhammed who was rescued off the coast of Turkey in 2013 after the boat she and her son were on capsized. Without the need for an expert’s inspection it is clear that a white headscarf has been crudely applied to the photograph using digital tools.

The moment captured is one of utter despair, indeed since the photograph was taken we learned that Rukhsan had been in the water with her one year old son who was washed away and drowned by the strong currents. So why trivialise this awful situation by drawing on a headscarf to protect this poor woman’s modesty?

Does her dress matter? Phogotraphy explains:

Of course underneath any clothing is a human being, a mother who has lost her child and nearly her own life. We want to care about this person and if she lived to tell of her ordeal. Within the series of images from the Anadolu Agency we can see that Rukhsan was thankfully rescued and what is striking to us now is not a story of survival, but further insight to her clothing. We can see now, clearly that she dresses like us, The West. During rising xenophobia in Europe being prevalent surely a more effective way of realising our compassion is by showing the world we are all the same.

Refugees arriving in Europe are escaping the fate of 320,000 Syrians who have been killed back home in Syria since the start of the war in their country four years ago. They have risked all, to ensure their future and that of their children. Should they be judged for aspiring to live?

Written by Rami Alhames · comments (0)
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Turkey’s ‘Kurdish Question’ on Fire Again

Arial shot of Cizre, Turkey.  Wiki image.

Aerial shot of Cizre, Turkey. Wiki image.

In the last two weeks Turkish authorities have imposed, lifted, reimposed and lifted once more a curfew on the Kurdish-populated town of Cizre on the Syrian border, close to where the brutal ISIS group has conquered swathes of Middle Eastern territory.

The curfews were introduced to combat the activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), that Ankara once declared a tenuous truce with, but which has re-emerged as an enemy in recent months.

During the imposed curfew on Cizre town, at least 21 civilians were killed according to the Pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

A curfew has been in place in the province of #Cizre last week where 21 civilians have been killed #CizreUnderAttack http://pic.twitter.com/5WewE2LvQ5

— HDP English (@HDPenglish) September 10, 2015

The government says all the dead were militants fighting for the PKK.

In a General Election in June, HDP passed the parliamentary threshold, taking over 13% of the vote and stripping the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of its precious parliamentary majority.

The parties remaining in the parliament could not secure a coalition agreement and, as a result, snap elections were scheduled for November 1.

Shortly after the June elections, a suicide-bomb attack on July 20 killed 32 people in the town of Suruc, most of them young Kurdish activists coordinating efforts to deliver aid to the people of the Kurdish-populated Syrian town of Kobane, who have been battered by fighting between local militias and ISIS.

This caused outrage and strengthened accusations that AKP was at best a passive force in the struggle against ISIS, who are believed to have been behind the Suruc attack.

Collage of Suruc victims, tweeted by @SarkawtShams on July 22nd.

Collage of Suruc victims, tweeted by @SarkawtShams on July 22nd.

Following the bombing, the PKK reacted by killing two Turkish soldiers.

In response, the Turkish government bombed both ISIS and PKK strongholds in Iraq. The attacks on the PKK were the first since late 2012, when a peace-process was in place.

Inside Turkey, political tensions have continued to escalate, with reports of widespread attacks on the offices of HDP.

The party’s headquarters in Ankara were set ablaze, as were several other offices throughout the country.

VIDEO – Turkey: Nationalist protesters destroy pro-Kurdish HDP headquarters in Ankara http://bitly.com/1Jb547C http://pic.twitter.com/xcooHcTDdn

— FRANCE 24 English (@France24_en) September 9, 2015

Despite this, a delegation from HDP headed towards Cizre, attempting to bring an end to the curfew.

Here are some photos from the march: http://pic.twitter.com/CXMEL4MYcw

— HDP English (@HDPenglish) September 9, 2015

During this period of instability and conflict, several journalists have been deported, including the Dutch freelance journalist Frederike Geerdink, for reporting on Kurdish issues.

Written by Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar · comments (0)
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