The Dying Girl

I’m a seasoned humanitarian aid worker and it takes quite a lot to upset me. Even though I moved back to Sweden I work with refugees, most of them are from Syria, so I comfort people a lot in my daily work and I hear the most horrifying stories. I keep tissues in my bag for these reasons, because women have a tendency to collapse in my arms, crying over everything lost and the horrifying things they’ve been through.

Then recently a new friend showed me a clip on his cellphone, from the underground hospital in Homs where he had worked – without formal medical training – as a nurse. Underground hospitals in Syria are run by ICRC and other organisations that treat patients impartially; in Syria it means without reporting opposition members to the Syrian regime. They operate without proper equipment, and often with staff who have little medical training. My friend had recorded quite a lot of the work in the unit and brought the movies with him to Sweden.

The footage was of good quality. Could it be useful for Swedish media? Everyone knows that there’s a civil war in Syria but few knows what it actually looks like when you’re in the middle of it. And these kinds of footages rarely make it to the international media.

I watched the clip in a coffee shop where we met during Christmas in Sweden. It was rainy and damp outside and people around us rested from their shopping sprees. I used the headphones not to disturb the other guests. I’m used to misery but I do respect people who are not.

The sounds of airplanes and bombs outside were suddenly drenched in the voice of a medical doctor. He came running with a small girl, 3 or 4 years old, in his hands, that he placed on a small bunk. But the girl wasn’t bleeding, she had no bruises, her skin was smooth and perfect. She looked like my niece that I had spent the previous day with; chubby and with her curly hair framing rosy cheeks. She seemed to be half-asleep. The girl wasn’t crying, only wailing softly. Why was the doctor in such a hurry?

“Internal injuries”, my friend said.

Then I realized: she was dying from the inside and out. The girl was in such pain that she was beyond hurting. As the doctors inserted a hose through her mouth she half-heartedly raised her hand to try and prevent it, she looked like a child who don’t want to take their medicine, nothing else. The doctor put her hand back to her side. The small natural efforts of a child to escape discomfort slowly faded. I knew what was coming before the movie was finished. I unplugged the headphones so I didn’t have to listen to it all. Life was slipping out of her by the second, under the panicky ways of the staff with sometimes little medical training in a make-shift hospital in the basement of a shabby, abandoned building in the previously so beautiful city of Homs.

Only then it struck me that there was no other people in the hospital that were worrying about the little girl than the staff. No crying mother or a father.

“She was the only survivor of that attack,” my friend confirmed. “Her mother and father, her sister, they were all gone.”

Someone was crying at the table that day, despite me not being at work. It wasn’t my friend, despite all the traumatizing things he has been through. It wasn’t anyone of the women that usually collapse in my arms when I visit one of the refugee camps. To my surprise I realized it was myself.

Christmas in Baghdad

Christmas Eve yesterday in Baghdad, Iraq. The photos are from the Iraqi photographer Ahmad Mousa, founder of the @everydayiraq project. The captions are the original ones from Ahmad Mousa’s Facebookpage.

10295015_10203869910308405_4750105813454503804_o

Iraqi Christian girls light candles on Christmas Eve at a church in Baghdad

1980466_10203868350109401_4576801807836803229_o

Christmas mass in Baghdad, at Our Lady of Salvation church

10386997_10203868315308531_5199901384359251384_o

Christmas mass in Baghdad, Iraq

“Iraqis and Iraqis Only Will Own This Land”

Iraq doesn’t belong to IS, Iraq never did. Don’t get fooled by the news.

If you follow anti-IS activists online you see plenty of resistance everyday, resistance that rarely make headlines in the Western news. The lack of international recognition for these activists is a reason I share these news on this web page.

This is Tourism in Iraq‘s, the page I have written about on previous occasions, latest, subtle, response to the so-called Islamic State, in form of a Facebook status update:

Iraq is the cradle of civilization with great history and magical beauty. lraqis and Iraqis only own this land.

12294908_1058223907531119_1346037794364198499_n

Photo credit: Tourism in Iraq

Dear Western Activist for a Middle Eastern Cause!

Activist11

Are you into a Middle Eastern political or social cause that you have found yourself 100% dedicated to? Congratulations to discovering a new part of the world! Not many people who travels start to indulge in the culture and language of another country.

However, there are some side effects I have seen consistently with the, mostly young, sometimes older, Western activists who throw themselves into a Middle Eastern cause. If I have met you somewhere, some of your traits might resemble this person:

You are completely in love with the new country, the new culture and the cause you have discovered. The reason for the cause – a conflict, a social injustice – has probably existed for long but for you it’s new, and so be it. For you, it’s a new situation, and you apply that to the cause. Therefore, the cause is new.

Injustices in your own country, at home, don’t matter half as much to you. To be active in the local politics or volunteer in your local community is not as exciting, even though you might be able to provide much more input in a country where you already knew the context, the culture and the language. No, it’s the across-border-thingy that attracts you. The Middle Eastern people need to be saved. They are oppressed.

Could there be nuances in or two sides to a conflict? Nah, that doesn’t interest you. You are 100% pro or against. Local politics, peace negotiations, revision of the law – all this isn’t that interesting, if it isn’t involving what you can recognise as pure, angry activism.

You despise the Gulf countries and are in love with the rest. Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are oppressive countries where other kinds of Westerners go to make money. There might be plenty of human rights groups in these countries, but that doesn’t catch your attention.

All injustices are the fault of US, Europe, or Israel. There is little responsibility with the national governments or the hardcore religious groups that overthrow any attempt to democracy. The West is to blame for everything. The West is all over racist. You don’t have statistics that will back this up, but statistics is nothing that matters to you anyhow.

The women’s rights situation you either overlook, you become uncomfortable if another activist points out the systematic oppression of women in the country or region you are dedicated to. Or you might make this your own cause, you take it on yourself to educate and liberate the oppressed women in the Middle East, ignoring the many local women’s rights groups that is, patronising the Middle Eastern women by making them need your help. You might even create a Facebook page where you undress in support of the women of the Middle East. Would a Middle Eastern woman undress to support her sisters in the West? Probably not. But that doesn’t cross your mind.

You have very clear opinions on the hijab. It’s either sexy, you try it on in the mirror before you travel to a Middle Eastern country (note: in most Middle Eastern countries it’s not mandatory), you have postcards with photographs of women in hijabs and AK4s stuck to your bedroom wall, and you dress in one on occasions and in places even when it’s not needed. Or it’s oppressive, and you do everything you can to find evidence that justifies this cause.

When hanging out with Middle Eastern friends that you’ve made in your city back home, you have lower standards than you would have with friends of your own nationality. Did a man you hang out with crack a sexist joke? Do you know that he specifically treated a woman you know badly? You forgive him, because he is from the Middle Eastern country you adore. He still needs to learn, as if he has no brain of his own, as if there weren’t men in his country that could behave properly.

Dear Western activist for a Middle Eastern cause: if you read this and you feel targeted, please don’t get too mad with me. If you feel targeted, spend some time to think why and how being an activist for a foreign cause without seeing the full aspects of it, can be problematic and reinforce stereotypes. You see, this text is aiming the problematic aspects of activism when applied to a foreign country, in the context of post-colonialism. And you know what else? I used to be where you are, myself, once upon a time.

Photo credit: brown fox.org

“When Politicians Failed to Agree on Conducting the Country’s Affairs, the Quartet Helped Them.”

151009102440-tunisia-nobel-prize-winners-2015-large-169

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet

Congratulations Tunisia! We were many who were overwhelmed by joy when the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet scored the – Swedish! – Nobel Peace Prize of 2015 a few days ago. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel!

Now, what does a Tunisian person think of this? My friend Firas, who usually is happy to share his ideas about politics, especially the Tunisian ones, gave me his ideas, in a typical Tunisian style of mixing English with French vocabulary. He was, for once, very optimistic. A trait that is not very common among Middle Eastern and North African people nowadays.

He is happy to say that the quartet deserves it:

“They negotiated for a year in order to take country to the end of the tunnel. 2012 and 2013 were tough years. Radicals were in the government, economy was down and terrorism and unemployment up. The Nobel Peace lauréates managed to make a deal, through dialogue that allowed peaceful power shift.

They lobbied and conducted a dialogue that almowed power shift from mainly islamist government to a next one made of technocrats. This lowered social tensions… Each part of this quartet represented a part of the society. When politicians failed to agree on conducting country’s affairs, the quartet helped them.”

Firas says that the quartet helped in avoiding dictatorship and power vacuum, and points out that they negotiated around nine months to facilitate the power shift to a technocrat government and to prepare for the first democratic election:

“They negotiated around nine months the power shift to technocrat government, a non-politicised one whose mission is to keep the government afloat, and prepare for the first democratic election that will bring first democratically elected government.”

I share Firas’ hopefulness too. This quartet helped Tunisia in avoiding the fate of Egypt and Libya: where sectarian tensions has taken over and terrorism replaces politics. These days I think we should celebrate the victory over terrorism, or as the player would put it: Dialogue vs Conflict: 1-0.

Photo credit: cnn.com

Beiruti Graffiti in a Time of Turbulence

10402964_10153188059712903_4009785402964153413_n

Beiruti graffiti, captured with someone’s smartphone and posted online.

Is it maybe a comment to the ongoing protests against the uncollected garbage in the city, the so called Garbage Crisis? Or is it a comment to the terrorist groups in the region, pretending to commit crimes in the name of God? Or maybe it’s just the people being fed up with not being listened to by anyone in power?

The graffiti reads, in translation:

“There is no God but the people.”

Did you get the reference?

“There is no God but God.”

Photo credit: Charbel Maydaa’s Facebook page

Alfarra Ft. Sami Bakheet: Refugee, Official Video with Lyrics

From the artist Alfa in Gaza, together with the rapper Sami Bakheet, who usually plays in Darg Team, here is the song “Refugee”.

The lyrics are on how the journey begins in Gaza, and where it ends. The reasons you have for leaving Gaza in the first place, until you meet reality.

Even if you don’t understand Arabic, I still hope you find the song nice to listen to.

Update August 5:

You can now read the subtitles in English if you click “settings” -> “subtitles” on the Youtube clip.

All About Damascus, a Sign of Normal Life

War may torment larger parts of Syria and the Middle East, but few signs of the beautiful country that once was and in some places still is, exists and pops up like butterflies here and there. One of them is the Facebook page All About Damascus, a page that started before the war, in 2010, and that is still going strong.

Today, on July 13, the page uploaded a few photos from the every day life in the colourful city of Damascus, the life that is still going on despite the war.

In the politicised debate over Syria, some might say this page is a part of the regime’s propaganda to show that they are able to reign over some parts of the country, that they are able to keep some of the city calm. But I would prefer to say it might as well be a sign of normal life. A sign to remind of what life that can remain during the dirtiest of wars.

11138662_966076513445329_7080118056154571159_n

11709247_966076116778702_985712891824170832_n

11742848_966076183445362_3578537036096338827_n

11750637_966076066778707_4011958866093648226_n

Photo copyrights: All About Damascus Facebook page 

How Do We Feel about Tunisia?

How do feel about Tunisia? Do we have the energy to gather empathy for the victims, the country, after the terrorist attack, or are we by now so numb that we will just write it off as another horrible event that seems to be the trade mark of our time?

Me myself I’m upset and sad. I have a friend in Sousse where the massacre took place and it seems that each time a terror attack happens, it’s in a place where I have close friends, and I have to send e-mails, make phone calls, send texts, to make sure everyone is ok. The negative side of having friends all over the world is the constant worry. And I would also feel less of the lack of empathy that I sometimes experience for the ever-growing terrorism worldwide. Maybe I should have stayed in Sweden and never started my travels. Maybe my life would be less worrisome then.

But feelings aside, how does this attack feel for Tunisians? We sometimes seem to forget them in the aftermath of this very attack. Therefore I asked a friend of mine, living in France, to hear what he had to say. His name is Aymen El Amri and he was once one of the initiators to the Pirate party in Tunisia. He seemed upset and sad, and said that he doubted that he would feel secure in returning to live in Tunisia, but he still wanted to share his views.

A gunman trying to kill civilians, I think it happened in some other countries around the world throughout history, but personally I have never experienced such things except in some Hollywood movies. This is new to Tunisia…

Tunisia is a small country and everything is limited there, from natural resources to police security equipment but I appreciate the fact that it has helped and provided humanitarian aid to nearly two millions Libyan refugees. But the fact of being neighbor with Libya, the civil war in this country plus the economic instability of Tunisia gave the advantage to malevolent people and groups to infiltrate to the Tunisian land, by recruitment of teenagers and trafficking of weapons.

I’ve always had a reflection of linking what is happening; IS, terrorism, attacks, bombing, to an economic; oil, gas, and geopolitical; balance of forces context. Seeing this as a religious extremism consequence is right but not enough since this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Firstly, I accuse the incompetence of the current Tunisian government – even if it is a secular government it remains incompetent – and secondly I accuse all the international “forces” that invaded Libya, supposedly to give birth to a democracy while the only change was traded equities of some oil and gas companies that increased overnight following the invasion of Libya.

For sure, I will not be 100% comfortable returning to live there and at the same time I am uncomfortable not being able to participate in getting things progress in Tunisia given the distance.

What happened is very sad but it will happen in many other countries because we’re simply living in the same world.

What stands out to me in Aymen’s reply, is that despite his country’s current sad situation and his own despairs for the future, he himself can still appreciate the help his country have been giving to two million refugees. War and terror doesn’t have to conquer empathy, at least not for everyone. Sometimes I like to be proven to be wrong.

Photo credit: uknewsroom.tk