“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here’s a confession from Sweden: despite working in Syria and Iraq during the civil wars, the collective trauma of the wars has hit me the most when being in Sweden.
I am happy I have friends and colleagues from different countries also in Sweden. I’ve shared my views on my female friendships on this site before, several times. I’m happy I have a job where I get to offer some support to the refugees in Sweden. But the secondary traumas are creeping up on me from time to time, as well as the high cost of trying to be neutral in the midst of relationship chaos that comes from internalised conflicts.
There is one thing, according to me, that people who suffered a war have in common: distrust. And distrust can take many forms. People can become shattered. Or angry. Or hostile. Or traumatised. Or depressed. The good things lies underneath, still there; people can be still be wonderful friends, colleagues, human beings; but the reaction to war rarely leaves a person without a trace.
On the outskirts of these conflicts, here in Sweden, I’m trying to manage the Assad supporters disbelieving in the activists from the opposition. The opposition activists suspecting the Assad supporters for being in liaison with the intelligence. People blaming Iranians for messing up Syria. People blaming Iraqis for Daesh. People blaming each other for not caring about the others. Trying to remain neutral in this is a battlefield on its own.
Taking part of people’s experiences made things to me as well. All the stories I have heard are sometimes blurring in my mind, if I ever am to retell them. Was it the Iraqi boy I knew who was forced, as a teenager, to watch a gang rape of an Iraqi girl? Was it the Syrian woman I knew who couldn’t sleep through the night so she chose the day instead, terrified of the dark? Was it the Palestinian man who had covered his child’s ears from hearing the bombings at night in Gaza, who still was in anguish, because despite being outside of the country, his child still heard the bombs? Or was it someone else?
I just now recalled a morning that I spent some time back with a Syrian friend in the Swedish Migration Board, when she was about to apply for asylum. I had gone with her as she didn’t want to be on her own. She hadn’t slept all night but she was still composed. In the Migration Board, the queue system had broken down and people were fighting in order to get to the desk to have their application handed in before closing time. The scene somehow reminded of the situation at the Syrian border. There were no pens to fill in the applications. There was no one to explain anything. People were pulling at me, a Swede, to explain the system to them (I only could somehow), to ask for water (there was none), to ask if they would be allowed somewhere to sleep during the night (I didn’t know). There were too many people in the room that became unbearably hot. I started to yell at the woman behind the desk when she said she was out of pens. I started to yell when she refused to come out and organise the queue. I became increasingly irritated with the asylum seekers begging me for help.
My friend told me to come out and sit down at one of the benches in the waiting room, and surprisingly enough, a man left his place so that here was room for me. A Syrian family that my friend had befriended in the waiting room came up, and their 8-year-old daughter placed herself in my knee, so that she could watch music videos on my iPhone. But before so, she folded my jacket and placed it behind my head. Why did the girl do that? Her mom gave the girl’s brother a KitKat and a soft drink to give to me, him resolutely pressing the items in my hands, urging me to open the chocolate bar. Then a few minutes later, I heard the children’s father speak to his bench neighbour next to us. The neighbour had asked him something about Sweden, and the man answered:
“I don’t know… there is a Swedish girl over there who speaks a little bit of Arabic, that I could ask. But I don’t want to do it right now. As you can see, she is very tired.”
Are you planning on murdering some people? Assassinate an entire group of men, women and children due to the city they reside in? Murder is illegal in any country of the world – everyone knows that. But there’s still a way to get away with it. Do you, at the same time, want to get away with the crime? Here’s some useful advice for you:
Make some good friends. Friends with power and military resources.
Make sure these friends are short of morals, that also they are conducting crimes against humanity in their own countries. With this, they will not blame you for the crimes that you commit.
Divert all the attention towards the terrorists residing in the target area. Everyone knows that there are jihadist groups, and they have had a very active online presence, torturing the world with their terror. But you play up the jihadist as if they include all the rebel groups in the area; all the civilians; all the rescue workers.
Pretend as if the civilians don’t exist. Each and every human being in the city is in liaison with the jihadists.
If people, who are trying to flee from the bombings, make it to what they think are safe areas, the areas that are under your control – immediately accuse them of being terrorists, imprison them and torture them.
Bomb the hospitals, the last piece of infrastructure that is left; the core of humanity. Everything is already gone: schools, electricity, running water.
Few people will survive this ordeal. Even fewer will survive with their sanity intact. You know this. By breaking a society, a city, piece by piece, you have taken away the humanity and the urge to resistance. The world is watching silently, despite the terrors being broadcasted every minute in social media, every day on prime time TV. You have reached so far with your powerful friends, with launching the idea of the terrorists, the whole world is scared by it.
You are almost there, close to the finish line. Soon all of these people are gone. The city that once was, is no more. You’re close to where you have succeeded without paying the price for the crimes you committed. Where you have gotten away with murder.
Photo credit: travelpulse.com
Why is intolerance towards gays till accepted by people who claim to believe in human rights? Human rights is somehow the slogan of this century from activist groups, still many people who demand the human rights declaration to be followed cannot apply the human rights convention to all societal groups.
In popular news this week it was broadcasted that the singer Ricky Martin is engaged to a man. This caused an uproar of hate. Why? The man, Jwan Yosef, is supposedly of Syrian-Kurdish ethnicity. For many people, it’s unacceptable for a Middle Eastern man to get publicly and romantically committed to another man.
This is a very sensitive issue. Culture and religion – many different cultures, many different religions, are sometimes being used as excuses for homophobia.
For actively oppressing those with a certain sexual orientation.
For preventing people from being able to legally marry their partner.
For preventing people from having children.
For subjecting people to discrimination.
For subjecting people to abuse.
Here are two questions I asked myself when seeing the hate towards the mentioned engagement on social media: why is it in 2016 still ok to refer to culture or religion as a reason to not accept human rights for everyone? Women; men; straight; gays; disabled; people from different colours.
And: is it even possible for the people who don’t accept the human rights convention for everyone, to claim the given human rights in another situation?
The Release of the “Syria Always Beautiful” video is not brand new, it was released on August 30 by the Syrian Ministry of Tourism, but it sent out signals that is still accurate. Messages about happy people in regime controlled areas, enjoying life as if the year was 2010 and there was no war anywhere; partying, celebrating, riding water scooters and swimming in crystal blue water, sends out the message that the regime are regaining confidence about winning the war.
For a long time, Assad and his allies were denying that a war was ongoing at all. In central Damascus, young people were still partying, singing karaoke despite the distant sounds of mortars and shelling from the suburbs. The public TV channels still aired soap operas and broadcasted news about the president visiting local areas where people happily threw flowers at hime and his wife.
Then in 2013, there was finally little room for denying that a war was going on, and the rhetoric then turned to describe the opposition as solely consisting of terrorists, mainly from foreign countries.
Now, in 2016, when Aleppo is being massacred in front of all the world; when Syrian army together with support from Russia and crushing the little resistance that is left, Assad seems more sure than ever that he regain dictatorship of all of the country.
It seems impossible from the outside, that a country where people have been starting to talk freely for the first time in decades; where people have started to demand an end to corruption and the suppressing of oppositional groups, would return to live under the same conditions they were risking their lives for.
But in the Assad controlled Syria, anything now seems possible.
The opposition is shattered, weak, and have been hijacked by terrorist groups.
The terrorist groups have been pushing the population that was previously against the regime, or unsure what to think, back in believing in the comfort of Assad being in power again.
The regime has effectively played the terrorist card and making people longing back to the days when you were safe if you didn’t utter a word of criticism towards the non-elected government. Or if you by some other reason ended up in the grips of the feared security intelligence. Or if you, as a girl, happened to be abducted by young men of the regime allies and sexually abused.
They have made people believe that a rule under Assad is to prefer to the current situation. That they might even provide elections with other reliable candidates than Assad himself.
Tourism in Tartous might be possible in a near future. For everyone except for the people from the Syrian opposition, who have already escaped the country and will see no chance of ever going back. Except for the people who are, or will be, if the regime regain control everywhere, secretly imprisoned in one of the intelligence underground prisons, with no chance of getting out. People who only wanted freedom, a chance to say whatever you were thinking, a chance for young girls to be safe from the hands of the young men of the regime.
An upcoming stream of tourism to Tartous will be the last page turned by the Assad regime. It will mean he has won the war.
Photo credit: Tumblr
IS are being pushed further and further, and many are already celebrating the victory over one of the worst terrorist organisations – at least one of the worst who’s been able to show it off so cleverly online – this decade.
What will happen after IS might finally succumb in Iraq and its scattered members go on the run to avoid being tortured by the general army’s forces? What will happen after its European members will go back to their respective countries and plan terrorist attacks back home?
This is what needs to happen:
Iraqi government needs to include minorities in their politics. They need to take safety measures so that minorities can live under the same conditions as the majority population.
Public schools needs to receive sufficient funding and teachers so that all children get a substantial education.
The national army and police needs to be trained so that they don’t repeat the human rights abuses that has been conducted towards civilians.
Otherwise, the same constellation, or a new one, will pop up sooner or later. And the celebrations will be silenced for good.
A girl wearing a hijab is interviewed in Playboy! The world goes berserk! Liberals are super happy! The religious ones gets furious!
And most people, according to me, are missing the point.
This is what happened: A woman from a religious and/or ethnic minority is represented in a mainstream magazine famous for it’s exhibition of scantily dressed women. The woman, Nour Tagouri, is featured due to her profession, she’s a journalist, and she’s not dressed like one of the women who usually features in the Playboy photos; undressed. No, she’s well dressed but good looking and makes some facial expressions as if she has an attitude, or, as the interviewer puts it, “badass”.
Now we’re living in a women hating world, women from minorities are usually more severely attacked, and some cultures and countries are worse when it comes to it’s treatment of women – legally, culturally, socially. Women from these groups are often believed to be oppressed by people in the West, even though we don’t know their individual situation.
At the same time, the men’s magazines are still here, in the 21st century, where women who value themselves in terms of their looks and bodies are featured again and again.
That’s why I’m all for representation, the kind if representation that portray the individual as an individual, and not describes a person in a stereotypical way. But Nour Tagouri, while not being portrayed as an oppressed, voiceless Arab woman, now falls into the trap of being included in a sexist context. When liberals appreciate this move, they fail to recognise that Nour is now being included in another stereotypical context. When religious people criticise her for not being honourable enough, they put her in the context of having to be an obedient woman.
But a woman in a hijab featured in Playboy is not a sign of victory for the group she represents. It’s the sign of women who hate themselves, and that sometimes, us women don’t need men to bring us down. Our internalised misogyny works perfectly well itself.
Some Syrians I know complain that the world doesn’t pay attention to Syria. I don’t agree on this. Having worked with humanitarian aid, I can recount plenty of conflicts that goes on in the world that has less international attention in media and social media, even almost non-existent.
In DRC, large areas have never been under government control, and the way the different rebel groups are performing massacres has escalated into a race to the bottom, where they try to surpass each other.
In Pakistan, the deserted tribal area FATA has seen an increase in human rights violations not only from the Taliban but also from the counterattacks of the military.
In Egypt, criminal groups are kidnapping and torturing Eritrean refugees fleeing the brutal Eritrean regime for ransoms of money.
How many people would know the details of these conflicts? Hands up, please.
Syria is quite well covered in the international and social media. Westerners who had no clue what Syria was before the war, have seen pictures from the war zones on the evening news for the last five years.
What stands out with Syria to me, is the level of madness that plays out on prime time TV before our eyes, with no real solution or intervention ahead. Bashar Al Assad keeps repeating that his army are targeting terrorists – while civilians, mothers with their babies, aid workers, medical doctors, are being killed in front of our eyes. Whatever the dictator says, social media counters it, to no avail.
Syria to me is not a forgotten conflict. It’s a new level of madness.
The world is falling apart and people’s minds are going downhill with it.
Intolerance are increasing everywhere. People with intolerant views believe they are finally right.
What before was off the record is now on the record. Everything is possible. Everything is true. It’s like the Holocaust never happened. WWII never happened.
You try to stick to your values anyhow. You try to stick to what’s right. Maybe not stick up for, but stick to. That’s the least you can demand from yourself.
Does it pay off? Maybe for your soul.
Does it pay off for your every day life? No.
Does it pay off for your social life? No.
Does it pay off for your relationships? No.
At the other end of sticking to your values in a time when most people don’t, comes this: loneliness.
Catching my breath after the Orlando massacre on innocent visitors at a gay club. I have been wondering if any of my American friends could have been around, especially any of my gay friends; also my cousin is gay and living in US since a few years, but none of them have been in Orlando, so I’m fine. For now.
After a while, a photo was shared by the Swedish Islam Academy, a respected institute in Southern Sweden, with a statement commenting on the massacre. I read it, curiously. Would the Islam Academy take a stance for equal rights for the LBGT community? Would they condemn attacks on homosexuals? This kind of reconciliation would be very needed in this moment.
This is what the message from the Islam Academy said (my translation):
“Another terror attack has affected innocent civilian people. This attack is unfortunately not the first one and probably not the last. While terrorist groups are being affected by military losses in the Middle East we will probably see more cowardly terrorist attacks affect different parts of the world. Regardless of whether the people who perform these attacks are lone maniacs or organised groups, these attacks are being born out of the same evil ideology. An evil and devilish ideology that has nothing to do with God or Religion.
This violence that these terrorist groups are performing are affecting Christians, Jews, and others, but they are even affecting Muslims. They easily blow up a church, a synagogue, a dance club as well as they blow up a mosque.
The lastest act was directed towards a LGBT club in Orlando, USA. For the vast majority of Muslims, there is no doubt that this act is pure evil that needs to be condemned. It is important to clarify that regardless of Islam’s or Muslims’ views on LGBT issues, this cowardly killing of civilians can not be legitimised by Islam and the traditional Muslim faith. Muslims and Muslim organisations around the world have clearly condemned this terrorist act, like they condemn other acts of violence that affect civilians and innocent people.
It is also important in the context to remind that the Syrian and Iraqi people are constantly being affected by this violence and this evil. We can never forget their suffering and exposure. We continuously need to pray and actively work for a quick and impartial end of the conflict.
Our thoughts and prayers goes out to all people around the world that are being affected by unjustified violence. We ask God to remain the security and safety in our country, Sweden, and around the world. We also ask God to strengthen and protect our Muslim brothers and sisters from potential reprisals.
Signed by the chairman of the Islam Academy.