Mr President, What’s Going on in Your Country?

In the suburbs of Damascus, children are gassed to death by chemical weapons, and the old city Aleppo is one of the most destroyed cities in the world, bombed by it’s own government. But in the heart of the capital the president is still holding up, selling propaganda material for you to put on your refrigerator door, as if nothing is happening.

President Bashar Al Assad on the top, and the flag of Syria.

The flag and the map of Syria edited in a heart, sentences stating things like: “I love Damascus”, “I love Hama” and, of course, “I love Bashar”.

Photos: Copyright Sweden and the Middle East Blog

But You Need to Wear a Hijab Over There, Right?

The other night I was sitting with a French couple in their 50s and we came to talk about the ban on religious symbols in France. The couple, who I would say are very openminded and also has a son-in-law who’s Muslim, defended the ban and claimed that it was an equal ban for all religions. I don’t agree on this, I think the ban strikes harder on Muslim women wearing hijab, who either has to choose not to cover their hair, or stay away from certain choices in life – important choices such as education and work. The symbols in other religions are not as significant, I argued.

“But you have been to a lot of Middle Eastern countries” the woman then said. “And you have to wear a hijab there, right? So if we have to adapt when we are there, Muslims should adapt when they’re in a Western country!”

A small lesson for everyone that shares this idea: No, in the majority of the Middle Eastern countries women are not legally enforced to wear a hijab. Of the 21 countries in the MENA region (MENA=Middle East and Northern Africa, I am using the term MENA as I want to include also other Arab countries outside the Middle East) a woman is forced only to wear a hijab in Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is a misunderstanding that you are obliged to do so in all Arab countries.

Yes, most countries are conservative and culturally it would be inappropriate in many places to for example display your shoulders as a woman or wear a miniskirt that would expose your thighs. But this also differs from place to place. Even in more conservative countries such as Kuwait, where there is a ban on alcohol, in the private beaches the custom is bikini, and women in such swimwear mix with women who has donned the burkini, an all-covering swimsuit. It depends a lot on the context.

Me and the French couple didn’t get along when discussing this point, even after I explained the no force in most Arab contries on wearing hijab. They argued that hijab was not fit for schools as it is a religious symbol and that also young girls shouldn’t wear a hijab before they can choose for themselves. As I often do when being involved in such discussions, I have to explain myself: no, I’m not religious myself/No, l wouldn’t wear a hijab myself/Yes, also I think girls shouldn’t be made wearing a hijab until they are old enough to choose for themselves/Yes, it should definitely be a choice of their own. But if you want to cover your hair, if it’s a private part of your body for you, how do you think it feels being forced to show it? I myself would feel hurt and violated by the society. And it’s never very good to have a large group of people that feels violated by the society.

Not to boast about my own country but… We have no such ban here, I believe many Muslims feel that they are not as exposed to hate crimes in Sweden as in other societies where they are a minority, and we also have not faced the same level of terrorist crimes such as other European countries, for example France. Why is that?

Whatever one might think of how big role the religion should be allowed to take in a society, the state is creating more problems by preventing its citizens to practise their religion. During my stays in the Middle East I have in general been met with respect for the person I am, and I wish that respect always would work both ways.

“If someone asks you about what is happening in Syria tell him the humanity is died”

Today media has been flooded with the news that Syria has used chemical weapons in another one of their massacres of the citizens in Damascus suburbs, Eastern Ghouta. Some say victims counts in hundreds, others claim it’s over one thousand. Children suffocated to death after the and hospitals did not have enough resources to treat the overwhelming amount of victims rushed to the emergency rooms, where many more lives were lost, because what hospital can be prepared for a massacre?

I’m not posting the photos here but you can imagine what victims that has suffocated to death look like: frozen faces where panic and fear is still visible, mouth and eyes wide open.

It’s not the first time Syria has used chemical weapons on it’s citizens though. In March and April this year the Syrian government was accused of using chemical weapons in order to strike out the population. And in the 1980s the regime used the same kind of weapons to – effectively – crack down on the erstwhole uprising.

Today many of my friends Facebookpages were filled with sad and angry updates, and not of the regular kind. On one friends status, someone commented: “If someone asks you about what is happening in Syria tell him the humanity is died”

Egyptian Streets, شوارع مصر

A great insight in what’s going on in Egypt is to be found on the website Egyptian Streets. From their Facebookpage today I have borrowed this photo and statement:

These are not the streets of Paris, London, or New York. This is an image from 1941 at Emad El Dine street in Cairo.

During this bygone era, women were not afraid to walk in the streets. Garbage did not form mountains on every corner. Grey, uniformed apartment blocks and thick smog did not obscure the sun’s light.

A bygone era indeed.”

egyptian streets

Photo credit: http://egyptianstreets.com/

I Survived the Banyas Massacre (warning: gruesome story)

Who told me this story? It doesn’t matter. When did I here this? In June this year, one month after the Banyas massacre had taken place on May 3 2013, conducted by governmental troops on civilians. In Damascus noone mentioned the massacre by name, instead we called it “unrest” or “outbreak of violence”. The result of the systematic killing of everyone in the village is easily found online, but in the heart of the government controlled capital that is nothing you can talk about.

Why did the person tell me this story, despite the danger of talking about the ongoing crimes against humanity in Syria? I guess some things are just too unbearable to keep to yourself. I couldn’t share this story while I was still in Syria, but I can now. And why am I sharing it? I want the world to know. I hope all of you readers do, too.

“Do you know what happened in Banyas? They did something horrible there. They did something that no God allows, no religion allows. What they did is forbidden in all religions!What does the persons want, who are controlling our country? What do they want from God?

There was a couple here some weeks ago. They left me their number, look, here’s the note… When I heard about what happened in Banyas I tried to call them, I was worried. But the line was shut down, I didn’t even get a signal. I heard that they had shut down the lines to all the telephones in Banyas. I called and called.

First after a couple of days the man answered. He said:

They came in the night, they killed my wife and my two children‘.

His wife was pregnant when she was here, I saw it myself, she was seven or eight months pregnant. Do you know what they did to her? They cut her in the chest, like this. Then they cut open her stomach, her whole stomach, and took out the baby. Her husband cried when he said:

They killed her, they killed my unborn baby, they killed our two little children. I’m the only one left. They are all gone.