Why is Intolerance Towards Gays Still Accepted by People Who Claim to Believe in Human Rights?

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?

American Jewish Women in Support of Middle Eastern Refugees

After Donald Trump’s horrifying statements regarding Muslim refugees, tensions have been high in social media, and therefore I was happily surprised to see a different kind of action.

A Jewish women’s group in US decided to start a movement under the hashtag #welcomethestranger, with this aim in mind:

“…to counter the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and corresponding legislative action recently taken by Congress (HR 4038) that would keep refugees in limbo until they are “certified” as not being a security threat. People who are fleeing for their lives. We must not let this come to pass in the Senate. please join us in this action of writing your representatives, and share additional actions you are taking. Now is the time.” 

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It will be interesting to see how far this campaign can reach. In this polarised and intolerant times, I decided to share this small, but for humanity so necessary action, with you.

Photo copyrights: Leah Katz Ahmadi

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.

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

Inside Activists against IS from Mosul, Mosul Eye, Trying to Remain active

Local activists against Islamic State, behind the Facebook page Mosul eye, where they regularly publish news on how the city is ruined IS’s ruling, recently had to close down their activities, due to continuous attacks on their page. They have announced that they will reopen their page and continue to – anonymously – report about the ingoing crimes against humanity from inside Mosul. I want to share their statement here to support the activists:

“For public manners and everyday life, it all can be summed in following bullet points:

ISIL constructed subsidiaries, organizations and departments for everything, and for each manner they set a bureau and appointed staff dedicated for it. the civilians are living under a bloody authority and power. people can not move or breathe, The borders are completely closed, and no one can get out of the city, and dire conditions are applied for anyone wants to leave the city.

And ISIL issued and published these conditions, namely: 

1- hand over House mortgage ownership documents, 

2- $ 2,500 as a deposit 

3- a modern car which is manufactured no further that 2011, and 

4- a sponsor who sponsors the traveller, and for a duration of only one month. If the permission expires, the sponsor gets arrested and the house, the car and the deposit are all confiscated, and the traveller is considered to be an apostate infidel and is permitted to be killed on sight.

Kids are subjected to extreme measures of massing and incitement to all the mass murders and criminal operations ISIL leads through its media points that are scattered over the streets, and through exchanging of video clips that depict scenes of slaughter, crucifixion, burning and murder. large numbers of teenagers have been affected by ISIL’s enormous propaganda and amused by its capabilities of violence.

Lots of teens have voluntarily joined ISIL in its various ranks. Recent statistics study showed that the numbers of children volunteered into ISIL’s ranks, who were under the age of 16 years; were amounted to 370 and received religious and military training in ISIL’s camps, more than 130 children who actually participated in the battles and suicide bombings, many of them died mostly in battles for Baiji, Anbar and west of Nineveh.

ISIL imposes new strict and tough restrictions every day upon the citizens, and the last of its restrictions is men are forced to leave their beards unshaved, we already published on this page, about ISIL’s leaflet on the prevention of shaving the beard, and this is especially targeting the youth.  As for Women, ISIL is practicing extremely harsh restrictions upon them, things like wearing the veil is a must, prohibiting women from going out alone to the market unless they are accompanied with a male relative as a guardian, and as Ramadan is approaching, women are absolutely banned from leaving their houses.  Smoking is banned as well, and penalizing cigarettes vendors started at first with 70 lashes with a big fine, and now the penalty for anyone caught selling or trading cigarettes is “decapitation”!

Food prices constantly rising and will depend on whether the roads are closed with Baghdad and Kurdistan, Baghdad has recently closed the road to Mosul, and prevented the entry of large quantities of goods and foods to Mosul ISIL also imposed severe penalties on those who do not come to the mosque during prayers and closes his shop, and the penalty is confiscation of the shop with large fine and imprisonment for a whole month. Many libraries were closed, and complete banning of trading books that never call them ISIL “infidelity and apostasy books” of Arab and international novels and books of philosophy, history and literature.

In short: There are no sign of life in Mosul, I mean life in which man will be free and able to act freely and easily. The rights to live is guaranteed only by abiding by the conditions and ruthless control of ISIL and any one opposes ISIL is subjecting himself and his family to execution and confiscation of all property.

To be Continued …”

Non-Religious Doesn’t Mean Open-minded, Religious Doesn’t Mean Close-minded. Got It?

There’s so much talk of religions nowadays and many, especially in the West, seem to presume that being religious automatically makes you close-minded, while being non-religious automatically makes you open-minded. Even if being faithful to a religion usually comes with a pattern that you will want to follow (sometimes not, though), this doesn’t necessarily make the faithful person close-minded and unwilling to accept other people’s lifestyles. And even if a person claims not to be religious, this doesn’t make him or her an open-minded, liberal person.

We are in an international fragile situation right now where some automatically make a connection between religion and closed minds. I believe this is a dangerous road to take, so I wanna straighten some things out. Ready?

Drinking alcohol doesn’t automatically make you liberal.

Sleeping around before marriage doesn’t automatically make you liberal.

Moving to a Western country doesn’t automatically make you liberal.

Having a mixed circle of friends doesn’t automatically make you liberal.

Claiming you don’t want to hang out with people from your country of origin, to score points with white people, does absolutely not make you liberal.

Close-minded, or can we call it hypocrite?, is the man claiming to be liberal, but who makes a girl he got pregnant have an abortion since he can’t tell his family he had a child outside marriage. Or if she still keeps it, he never tells his family he fathered a child, tucks the child away as a secret. I have met many of these men and girls who have had a baby by these men, it’s not a nice experience.

Open-minded is the religious woman who doesn’t condemn her girlfriends when their life choices dramatically differ from hers. I have met many such women who were believers and who weren’t bothered by my lifestyle (important note: I also wasn’t bothered by theirs). It has always been a great experience. A religious Swedish-Egyptian girl who has a special place in my heart, has been supportive of me in some difficult situations, always without being judgemental, despite our sometimes very different values. Another close friend is hajja (she has made the pilgrim trip to Mecca), and she has often been the first one I reach out to for advice.

People don’t impress me when they claim not to be religious. People impress me when they have non-judgemental, egalitarian values and stick with them, stay honest with who they are. Some of our values might always clash, but there can still be mutual respect and friendship. I’ve had this proved many times.

Forget about people having to be close-minded since they’re openly religious. Forget about people being open-minded since they claim not to be religious, or play down the role of religion. If we want to tackle the challenges of extremism and alienation between groups, we have to widen our gaze and see people’s actions and acceptance for other people. That is what really tells us who a person is. That, rather than the label of a religion.

I Love Syria, That’s Why I’m Writing This Post

The old city in Damascus

I am a, for now, retired humanitarian aid worker, who have worked in many countries across the world, mostly in the Middle East. In my former profession I tried not to be too wrapped up in the countries that I lived in, since it’s important to remain calm and neutral as much as possible. Plenty of young Westerners have been travelling to countries in what we used to love to call the third world and start to identify with the countries, the politics and the people. As a humanitarian aid worker you’re not supposed to do that; overly identifying means you loose part of your focus.

But here’s a confession to make from my side: when I see the current news from Syria, and when I hear other aid workers talk about Syria in the most general ways, it breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart, because people who didn’t know Syria before the war don’t know anything about the country. Aid workers and people outside who have never been, seem to see it as just another country where conflict has been going on and will be going on forever. They see it as a country where every person is a potential islamic fundamentalist. They see it as a country where there are few functioning schools, few functional hospitals, where water and electricity is a luxury. A country like any other country they have worked in.

What breaks my heart is, people who only have seen Syria in a state of conflict, have never seen it as it really is. I have been living in many countries in the Middle East and Syria is my absolute favourite. Not by choice, it was just one of the places where I grew really attached to the place, where the good by far outweighed the bad. Syria is my pearl in the ocean. Let me tell you why.

Syria is the country that has a beautiful capital, a capital where night clubs takes place just like late-night cafés and restaurants; beach resorts; mosques and ancient buildings.

Syria is a country that lacks the superficiality that sometimes takes over in Lebanon, a country that has the night life that you won’t find in Jordan (with or without alcohol), a place where men and women; people from different religions; locals and foreigners, easily mix.

Syria is the country where people will keep their promise, they pick you up when they say they will pick you up, call you when they say they will call you.

Syria is a country where liberal people are next door neighbours with conservative.

Syria is a country where you sit in a café playing dawla with your girlfriend until midnight and no one bothers you.

Syria is the country where you go to have ice cream with your colleagues after work at Abu Shaker’s restaurant in Damascus on a weekday, or hit the swimming pool in your bikini in Damarose Hotel on a hot summer’s day, working on your tan and ordering plenty of arabic coffees to have at the pool, or go to Lounge 808 on a Friday night for a drink.

Syria is not a country of extremists, it’s a not a country of terrorists, it’s a country where people used to live and prosper in some of the most dynamic ways in the Middle East, before the civil war started.

Syria was once a place where friendship, love and beautiful things took place – now it’s a country that’s reduced to the international headlines of terror and misery, and humanitarian aid workers whose beer drinking and generalised ideas of a country full of war and terrorists, have taken over a place where beautiful things once was. That is what breaks my heart.

Photo copyrights: Sweden and the Middle East Views

A Response to Islamic State

There has been plenty of inside resistance to the Islamic State in the Middle East. The blog Mosul Eye is reporting anonymously from inside Mosul about the disaster of the ruling of the Islamic State. Artist Rostam Aghala is painting the horrors of living with the threats of Islamic State.

And here is the last one – Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, from Sharjah in United Arab Emirates, published this version of Islamic State’s infamous flag on his Facebook today on May 29. It has already created plenty of negative feedback according to himself on his Facebook page, it has been reported for nudity and taken down by Facebook (Sultan published it again).

Maybe he is right and the IS-thingy was just a joke all along? In reality, they were all just young, misunderstood gays.

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Photo credit: Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi