Unlearning Hate

If you hate an entire sect, group, community, region, religion, nation etc., then you have surely fallen prey to indoctrination. 

You have been taught to hate, either by your own negative experiences, or by negative experiences/perceptions of others, or by agenda-driven propaganda. 

Yes, true. You can also indoctrinate yourself (self-indoctrination) by leaving your critical faculties unused.

But, don’t worry!

A learned behavior can be changed. Just remain humble; tell yourself repeatedly that you are teachable. 

There’s no shame in unlearning falsehood and embracing universal truths.

Quote from my Pakistani friend, journalist and activist

A Massacre Among Massacres

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Massacres have become so common these days that we seem to forget them as quickly as we hear about them. A few minutes of horror, then we shake the information off and go on with our day. IS has contributed to this phenomenon, killing people video-game style where nicely chosen colours frame the scene of the killing. Many internet users click on the Youtube video click without thinking twice, without thinking on how for each click, IS or the ones performing the massacre grows in fame and celebrity. Just because it doesn’t happen next to us, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect us – we are growing numb for the lives lost in this uttermost horrifying way. We loose the respect for the right to live.

To remind myself about how massacres challenges the very core of our humanity, I went back to read my own story from the Banyas massacre in Syria 2013. It was a massacre among many massacres, exactly two years ago today, May 2nd 2013. Please let me share this story again so as to remind us all, myself included, about how massacres really affects the surviving community, the world’s population, all of us who calls ourselves humans. The original blog post is found here, the text is copied below.

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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.

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Photo credit: pngimg.com

Syrian Opposition Member in Sweden Prosecuted for Torture Committed in Syria – This is Good

The last week news broke in Sweden that a 28-year-old Syrian man residing here since 2013, is now being charged with a crime committed in Syria in 2012. When I first heard the news, I thought the man had been a part of the Assad regime or the military and committed a crime against civilian people or opposition members. But no, according to the news the man previously belonged to the Free Syrian Army, and had participated in beating and torturing a man from the military, who are operating for Assad. The information didn’t reveal whether the victim had been a higher ranking officer or not.

Swedish media are usually quite mum about details, but from the news reports that the man is the first one in Sweden to be prosecuted for crimes against international law in Syria. The reason for the prosecution is a video that the young man supposedly had uploaded to his own Facebook page, where he is seen to beat and torture a man who is tied to a chair with his hands behind his back, dressed in only underwear and a t-shirt. The video is awful to see. The man who is tied up is trying to comply with his tormentors, who are beating him with tools (sticks and/or belts, it’s hard to see), assaulting him and screaming that the man shall say that Assad is a “motherfucker” and an “animal” (“Say it! What is he? What is Assad?”). It’s not known to the Swedish legal system whether the victim survived the abuse and torture or not.

As surprised as I initially was that the man did not belong to the regime – that he was one of the freedom fighters, fighting against decades of brutal oppression – as satisfied am I that the man now is prosecuted in Sweden. No, I don’t agree with the Syrian regime. I believe everyone have the right to their own opinions without fearing the kind of oppression that has been significant for the Assad regime, sr and jr. But all crimes are crimes, and no previous or current crimes justifies later ones. The one that the young man had recorded and added to his Facebook page is a horrible crime: physical and verbal abuse and torture of an unarmed person.

If convicted for the crime, the young man should under normal circumstances be deported to his home country and his permanent residency would be withdrawn. But Sweden don’t deport anyone to Syria during the circumstances of civil war, why the man most likely would serve time in a prison and then remain in a status quo in Sweden until the situation in Syria has calmed down, which might be, well… who knows? Despite this, I still agree with the trial.

We need to remain our values even in times of conflict. There are many freedom fighters in Syria who are making use of non-violent resistance; publishing news about the crimes committed against humanity; mobilising groups for peaceful protests; caring for the orphaned children and setting up schools in war zones. The young man who was fighting with the Free Syrian Army could have chosen this path instead of tying up and torturing an unarmed man, no matter what the victim had done, and then boldly put up the video on his Facebook page, bragging about what he had done for the world to see. I’m happy that I live in a country where these actions don’t go unpunished. No matter where they were committed and by who. If the Syrian opposition wants to snap out of the vicious cycle of violence their country is in, they need to rise above the methods used by the regime. Revenge will not get the Syrian people anywhere, it will not get anyone of us anywhere, no matter where we might live. Honouring our values of humanity will.

Photocredit: philly.com

First Female Prosecutors Sworn-In in Kuwait

In Kuwait women were given the right to vote and participate in elections as late as 2005, so when the news broke a few years back that the country would allow female prosecutors for the first time, this was to many a step forward. Kuwait is not as oppressive to women as some of their neighbouring countries – there’s no mandatory dress code for women, women are not banned from driving and there are fewer restrictions on work places for women than in Saudi Arabia. But it’s still behind many of the other Middle Eastern countries.

The other day the first batch of women prosecutors were sworn in, more precisely 22 of them, creating more headlines. It hadn’t been an easy path – Islamist MPs who opposed the women had delayed the process by several months, claiming that under Islamic Sharia law women cannot be judges, which they as prosecutors now have the possibility to be. In the end the new justice minister Yacoub Al-Sane (also a man) signed a decision to appoint the prosecutors, putting an end to the delay. After the women had been sworn in, MP Humoud Al-Hamdan held a press conference where he critiziced the decision and said that he and other Islamist MPs were to submit a draft law to ban the appointment of women judges, as this is against Islamic law.

Many others celebrated the event though and the group photo of smiling young women was shared widely online among Gulf people and women’s rights supporters, generating positive feedback but also comments from men such as “I can’t wait to be prosecuted in Kuwait!” and “They don’t look Kuwaiti, they must be Lebanese” (the ultimate insult for a Gulf girl).

I asked one of my male Kuwaiti friends what he thought of the women prosecutors and he gladly shared his views – on the condition that he could remain anonymous. My friend is not an activist, but he says he like to keep an eye on politics. His answer surprised me as I myself was very positive about the women prosecutors.

“I am not so excited” he says. “In 2005, I was super excited for women to get the ‘right’ of voting. But having a look into history will show something hidden. Before 2005, There was a lot of failed attempts for female activists for the right of voting. What was changed in 2005? It is external pressure. The government in Kuwait wanted to release this pressure by directing the members to vote for the right of the woman. Therefore, women were used to polish the authorities’ image to the West, and gaining this right was not because of local female activists.

The trick is using women to polish the image of the governments from the Western perspective, without allowing a real impact within the inside of the society. In all cases, what did women added in Kuwait after 10 years of gaining the right? We still see discrimination against women, less rights in the society etc.

The government today has a bad image because of funding the extremist groups all over the world, and it need to polish the image again. Therefore, women are the best tool to be used. I don’t feel that the society is pushing for more women rights. To see real impact, the change should come from the society, the average people. In fact I could say that using women this way is another way of abusing women in a completely patriarchal society. And we will never see any real impact to change the basic systematic violation of women rights.”

Let’s hope the appointment of these 22 women will be a step in the direction of real implementation of women’s rights and that this trickles down to the average people that my friend is talking about. So that the feedback for the next batch of prosecutors will generate more positive comments than sexist ones. At least they have male supporters. That’s something to cherish.

Photo credit: www.facebook.com/sultan.alqassemi

“You as a Woman are Guilty Until You Prove the Opposite” – The Execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari

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Reyhaneh Jabbari

As Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged yesterday, the 26-year old Iranian woman convicted of stabbing a man who tried to rape her, international media filled up with stories about the unfair trial and the torture Reyhaneh supposedly was exposed to before being sentenced.

Reyhaneh claimed that she met Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi in a coffee shop and after he asked her to come to his office to discuss a business deal, he tried to rape her, why she in selfdefence stabbed him with her pocket knife before fleeing. Her lawyer reportedly published on his blog about the unfair trial against Reyhaneh as a plea for help, there were media campaigns against Reyhaneh’s execution, but the media attention didn’t help. After 7 years in prison, for which under some time she was prevented from contact with her family and from having a lawyer, she was hanged in Gohardasht prison in Teheran on the morning of Saturday October 25.

I asked an Iranian man that I know who’s living outside of Iran how he felt about the hanging, and he had many things to say. These are his words:

“Reyaneh has basically been considered guilty to one thing, and that is that she has defended herself as a woman. In many ways you as a woman are considered to be guilty until you in some way prove the opposite. ‘Evidence’ is here quite an irrelevant word.”

He talks about how the police in Iran are not conducting proper forensic investigations, and that facts is not important in the judicial system.

“If the judge thinks she is guilty for whatever reason,  she is guilty no matter what the circumstances are. It’s also ridiculously humiliating that Reyhaneh’s family have to ask the man’s family for mercy so that they shall spare her life. In this way the system is positioning one family against another. It’s not about proportion, facts or the right to defend yourself, but simply about a system that wants to prove that you as a woman shall not defend yourself and that you don’t have the right to a fair trial. But these kind of cases are not uncommon in Iran, there are worse… In the bigger picture this is not surprising. In Isfahan women have had acid thrown on their faces. This is just one case of many.”

Photo credit: taz.de

First Saudi Policewoman Ever to Graduate!

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Yesterday the world suddenly became a little better place to live – a Saudi woman graduated from the Dubai police academy, and according to the news she is the first Saudi woman ever to become a police officer!

Leaving few traces of herself online and unknown to international media before her graduation, Ayat Bakhreeba did not only become the first Saudi police officer ever. According to Riyadhconnect.com and other Gulf media, Ayat Bakhreeba is graduating in public law with a thesis research on children’s rights in the Saudi regime – a brave subject in a totalitarian regime. For a country that systematically discriminates women and children, this woman is taking a small step on the moon; which is a big step for humanity. Not that I’m surprised with the Saudi women, not at all. Things are shaking up in the kingdom.

Photo credit: Emirates247.com

Whatever You Do, Don’t Get Raped in Dubai

In the Gulf and especially Dubai, prostitution is available everywhere. Online, at clubs and bars, in private parties. Young girls locked up or seemingly free; Asian, African, Eastern European. My experience is that prostitution is so common and accepted it’s hardly attached to any stigma for the buyers (“Why should I visit a whore?” a man once told me. “I get lots of women, I don’t have to pay!”). For being an Islamic country, this exception seems to exist within any moral remorses with the leadership.

So what’s the deal if you are forced to have sex against your will, if you get raped? The same legal system that overlooks the brutal sex trafficking will most likely confine you for having sex outside the institution of marriage and punish you as the victim instead. This goes for men and women, underage as well as adults.

This week the news broke that the Norwegian woman in Dubai, Marte Deborah Dalelv, who had been accused of premarital sex after reporting a rape to the authorities, was being “pardoned” and did not have to do her previously sentenced punishment in jail. Throughout the process she had been hiding in a Norwegian church in Dubai and international media had monitored the case over the past year. Now would a woman who was not white, westerner and with huge international support have been “pardoned” from the sentence? Probably not. And what else is, Marte’s rapist was pardoned at the same time.

Now many other countries have increased their legal support for victims of violence and sexual violence; in 2011 Iraqi Kurdistan passed a law that forbade domestic violence and in for example Lebanon there is a big network of women’s shelters with legal and social support for victims. Despite their financial lead, Dubai is still many years behind.