Tag Archive | "Middle East"

Palestine Then, Palestine Now


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From David Anthony Hohol…

Anyone who knows me, or has been a reader here on RELATIVITY OnLine, knows this writer’s thoughts on what has happened  in the past and continues to happen now in Palestine.  How it has all unfolded since 1948, right up until today, is the ultimate example of the so called leader’s of free world picking and choosing to intervene, to blame, to define and to manipulate international affairs with only their own benefit in mind. If it were another part of the world involving different players it would be called genocide, apartheid, occupation, or even terrorism. While the international community has greatly shifted in its stance over the last decade, popular opinion does little to instill change. Perhaps, it is a start however.

I came across this photograph today. It seemed to say it all.

20140714-221749-80269159 (1)

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Absolute Power, Absolute Fear


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Guilt_FingerThis is a translation of an article written by Saudi human rights activist Ali Al Hattab:

The translation of title is, “The dangers of officials’ immunity and absolute authority on individuals’ freedom of opinion and expression in society.”

 

Introduction:

We all agree on the importance and the necessity of laws in regulating social interactions on all levels to ensure that these interactions do not clash or conflict. Since the emergence of humankind, man has been on a constant quest for mechanisms to organize his public life, beginning with his formulation of simple social norms and ending with advanced legislative constitutions which are considered the highest canopy for laws and regulations, with the objective of serving society and establishing peace and security within their specific frameworks of time and place.

 

The Dilemma:

communistsIt is the “holy union” between immunity and absolute authority granted to administrative governors and its obstruction of the right of opinion and speech for all individuals in society, or what is termed “freedom of opinion.” This is the first and foremost civil liberty sought by individuals; unless a person is emboldened to speak with complete freedom, he will never dare to express his ambitions or object to and reject all forms of injustice and tyranny.

The mechanism of immunity and authority on all legal levels has become the “big stick” that does not differentiate between legitimate and non-legitimate demands. Authorities use it to gag mouths and confiscate freedoms and demands regardless of their orientation, under the pretext of royal or princely immunity. This has led to the destabilization of civil peace and the natural social balance between ruler and ruled, especially with regards to transparent expression, accountability and liability.

Officials have striven to make themselves totally immune to criticism, placing dictates in articles of law in order to achieve personal gains and ambitions independent of legitimacy and the popular will. As a result, hope was lost, demands for reform aborted, the initiators of these demands imprisoned.

 

To follow are some examples of constitutional codes and articles which make clear the danger of immunity to freedom of opinion and expression in each member state of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the resulting legal liabilities and penalties.

 

gg58175388Kuwait

Article 54: “The prince is the head of state and his royal person is not to be touched.” Kuwaiti constitution, 1962.

In 2013, Sarah Al-Diress was sentenced to one year and 8 months in prison for tweets she posted on her Twitter account, for which she was accused of insulting the royal person of the prince. Leader and former parliament member Msallam Al-Barrak also received a preliminary sentence of 5 years for insulting the royal person in a speech he gave in October, 2013.

 

Qatar

powerQatari Poet Mohammed Al-Ajami sentenced to 15 years for writing  a poem.

Qatari Poet Mohammed Al-Ajami sentenced to 15 years for writing a poem.

Article: 64: “The prince is the head of state. His person is inviolable and respecting him is obligatory.” Qatari constitution, 2004.

Mohamed Rashed Hassan Al-Ajami “Ibn Aldeeb” was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years for a poem that became popular on YouTube and which was considered incitement to overthrow the regime and an insult to the ruling prince.

 

Bahrain

“The king is the head of state and its nominal representative, and is inviolable. He is the trustworthy protector of the religion and the homeland and the symbol of national unity.” Constitution of Bahrain, 2002.

Activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to 3 years on the charge of participating in an illegal assembly, insulting officials and questioning their patriotism.

 

absolute power cartoonOman

Article 41: “The sultan is the head of state and the supreme commander of the armed forces. His person is inviolable and cannot be touched; respecting him is obligatory and his commands are to be obeyed.” The Basic System of Government, 1996.

In December 2012, The Court of Appeals sentenced Basma Al-Kayoumi, Said El-Hashemi and a group of Omani activists to terms ranging from 6 months to a year on the alleged charges of ridiculing the sultan, the violation of the Information Act, illegal assembly and disturbing the peace.

 

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Mohammed Al Qahtani serving a 10 year sentence for political & human activism

The basic system of government in Saudi Arabia has no articles referring to the criticism of royal personages, yet many demands for rights and political liberties have been rejected, with those demanding them penalized under other punitive regulations – such as the system for combatting IT crimes which states in article six: “Punishment by imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years and a fine not exceeding 3 million Riyals, or either of these punishments for anyone who produces material detrimental to the public good, religious values, public morals or the sanctity of private life, etc…”

The Criminal Court of Riyadh ruled for the dissolution of the ACPRA Society, the confiscation of its money, termination of its activities and the imprisonment of its members Abdullah Al-Hamed (11 years) and Mohamed Fahd Al- Qahtani (10 years) for “cyber crimes” based on the above-mentioned article six, because they were demanding political and constitutional reform.

 

United Arab Emirates

orwell_894378341Article 29: “A prison term and fine of up to one million Dirhams for any person using information technology with the intention of satirizing or damaging the reputation and standing of the state or any of its institutions, including the president, vice president, the rulers of its emirates, crown princes or their deputies, the state flag, national security, the state emblem and national anthem or national symbols.” Law for the combat of cyber crimes, 2012.

Activist Waleed Al-Shehhi, arrested in May of 2013, was sentenced to 2 years plus a fine of half a million for tweets posted on his Twitter account about indicted Islamists.

These in addition to hundreds of other cases and examples in the same context, whereas international law is clear in stating that state officials with their wide range of authority must necessarily be liable to a higher degree of criticism than the average citizen.

The UN Commission on Human Rights which issued binding standards for freedom of opinion and expression in article 19 of its Declaration, has made clear that insulting public figures does not justify penalties. It stressed that public figures “including those who exercise the highest political authority such as state presidents and governments” are legitimate targets for criticism.

The aura with which the gulf rulers have surrounded themselves is an exaggerated form of sanctity, and gives them expansive legal grounds to try those who demand political reform and other rights, especially as the position of the ruler is not merely a ceremonial one as is the case in most Western monarchies; It is an administrative position with broad executive powers directly linked to the needs, ambitions and destinies of their peoples.

Hence citizens have a legitimate right to criticize the performance of the ruler and to monitor him, away from personal insults and abuse, in an effort to improve living standards and the quality of life. The constitutions of advanced countries allow for the monitoring of the president and criticism of his performance and even subjecting him to enquiries in certain circumstances, through elected parliaments.

 

Recommendations:

'Power corrupts and absolute power is really fun!'The rewriting of the articles of the constitution and penal regulations to commensurate with freedom of opinion and expression, and to ensure the implementation of international agreements and conventions.

The establishment of precise criteria based on international standards to clarify and define the basic principles of the right to freedom of expression.

The annulment of all laws that obstruct freedom of opinion and expression.

The immediate and unconditional release of all political activists and defenders of human rights who have been imprisoned for practicing their right to freedom of opinion and expression, in addition to dropping all charges related to their practice of freedom of opinion and expression.

The ratification of a new charter that irrefutably endorses the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

 

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Saudi Immorality


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saudi arabia domestic violence psa

From Saudi Arabia Corespondent Eman Al Nafjan…

Late April, Abullah Al Alami and Samar Fatany announced that they would be starting a local White Ribbon campaign. Since then, bringing them down has become the personal mission of many ultra-conservative sheikhs. The White Ribbon campaign originally was started in Canada as a reaction to a massacre committed by Marc Lepine (born Gamil Gharbi). Lepine had gone into an engineering college that had rejected his application and shot dead fourteen women and wounded ten women and four men. Two years later, Canadian activists started a campaign to raise awareness about violence against women. This is the campaign’s actual statement from their website:

White Ribbon is the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, promote gender equity, healthy relationships and a new vision of masculinity.Starting in 1991, we asked men to wear white ribbons as a pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls. Since then the White Ribbon has spread to over 60 countries around the world.We work to examine the root causes of gender-based violence and create a cultural shift that helps bring us to a future without violence.Our vision is for a masculinity that embodies the best qualities of being human. We believe that men are part of the solution and part of a future that is safe and equitable for all people.Through education, awareness-raising, outreach, technical assistance, capacity building, partnerships and creative campaigns, White Ribbon is helping create tools, strategies and models that challenge negative, outdated concepts of manhood and inspire men to understand and embrace the incredible potential they have to be a part of positive change.

As you can see, it is not affiliated with any particular religion or political body but rather it’s a humane movement for something positive. International campaigns and wearing ribbons to signify awareness-raising are not new to Saudis. We have government approved international campaigns for breast cancer, Alzheimer’s and even hand washing. Somehow those and others do not get the “it’s unIslamic to follow the infidels” argument but raising awareness about violence against women does.

The most influential sheikh to lash out against the White Ribbon campaign is Sheikh Nasser Al Omar. In a video-taped sermon he instructs all Muslims to reject Abdullah Al Alami and Samar Fatani’s campaign. He refers to them collectively as advocates of immorality. He says that the White Ribbon campaign compromises the very foundation of the pact between the Saudi Royal family and Mohammad bin Abdul Wahab’s followers. He also mentions national security three times in the 24 minute long video. He objects to the “advocates of immorality” campaign’s mission statement mentioning of ending child marriages. Another issue he takes up with the mission statement is that it calls for laws against harassment at work. He says that that is a call for not segregating the genders. Since women will feel safe to work in a non-segregated environment if there are laws to protect them. Sheikh Al Omar actually says “they want to extract women from their subordination” and “they want women to be presidents” as if it were satanic to want that. And then he goes on about how CEDAW is evil and a westernizing plot to demoralize Muslim societies. The sheikh denies that violence against women even exists in Saudi except for a few exceptions. He ends the sermon with a call to action particularly to Muslim women to reject the White Ribbon campaign on social media. But he does note that these women have to reject it by only written means because their voices should not be heard in public.

In Saudi the male guardianship system and absence of family law ensure that, just like what the poster produced by the King Khalid Foundation states, “what is not visible is much worse.” Let’s take for example a hypothetical situation where I know that a friend of mine is being abused by her father. There are no means in Saudi through which I could help her. If I report the situation to the police and they take it seriously enough to go to my friend’s house, her father as her legal guardian could simply dismiss them at the door. Even if like Samar Badawi, my friend gathers the courage to go to the police station herself, she is more likely to be sent to prison than her father is. Her charge would be disobeying her father.

In a system like this, you would think that religious clerics would welcome an anti-violence campaign. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Just last Sunday dozens of clerics went to the ministry of labour yet again to oppose women being allowed to work openly in the malls. The White Ribbon campaign is about men and boys going public with a declaration of rejecting violence against women. Saudi ultra-conservatives do go public about women issues but it’s more about confining women than protecting them.

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The Root Of All Evil


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From David Anthony Hohol… 

Hers is a sample of the Earthquake causers, stay clear at all times.

Here is a sample of the Earthquake causers. Stay clear at all times. Proceed with caution when approached by Va-jay-jays.

On April 16th, 2013 an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter Scale rattled Iran, causing millions of dollars in damage, killing 34 people and seriously injuring many more. The country in suffrage, the Islamic Republic’s Clerical Leadership addressed the nation to help comfort the wounds.

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes,” said Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, a senior Iranian Cleric.

No, really. He actually said that. He actually said women who wear revealing clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes.

The rest of the civilized world will never look at the Middle East as a whole with anything but disdain and tragic humor until backwards, fundamentalist and misogynist drivel like this stops emanating from their highest sources of power.  It is even more tragic when considering that this writer, having spent time in Iran and knowing many Iranians, has never seen a people so far removed in their thinking from its leadership. Make no mistake – the Iranian regime is truly despised by the majority of its population. 

In a region where women are valued at less than half of men, even in legal circles (women are described as having a deficiency in reason and therefore cannot give testimony as a witness in any court. Only when two women testify together will their testimony be accepted) women are often blamed for the shortcomings of men. Now it has shifted to earthquakes. What’s next?  Volcanoes? Tsunamis? Global Warming? Unemployment Rates?

Women in Iran are required by law to cover from head to toe, but many, especially the young, ignore some of the more strict codes, wearing tighter fitting clothing and pulling their scarves back to show much of the hair. Holy shit, if that isn’t cause for an earthquake, I don’t know what is!

 

You nailed it Cleric, bang on the money, it's the women, the women that cause it all I say!

“You nailed it Cleric, bang on the money, it’s the women, those dam Va-jay-jays, that cause it all I say!”

 “What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes,” stated the highly enlightened cleric.

I truly feel it’s this kind of thinking, these kinds of laws, in countries like Iran and most especially in the vestibule of defecation that is Saudi Arabian Legislation, where Islam is most damaged. Even more than the recent Boston Bomber, people look at this kind of thinking as scarier than that of some crazed lunatic; scarier because it is calmly streaming from a point of so-called reason and from those in positions of power, influence and control. 

 

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City Of Women


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5667462218_211da561df_bFrom Saudi Arabian Corespondent Eman Al Naafjan…

This past decade unemployment in Saudi has kept increasing despite the several plans and projects made by the education ministry, civil services and the ministry of labor. Numbers vary from one source to another with government research usually being the smaller of the bunch. But even the government’s numbers are considerably high. The latest official number for male unemployment is 10.5%. The annual flooding in of a million migrant workers into the country who are willing to work longer for less exacerbates this state of affairs. A recent report by the ministry of labor states that for every Saudi employed this past year in the private sector, there were thirteen expatriates hired.

Saudi women fare much worse with an official unemployment rate of 29.6%. Other official estimates are that over 78% of those graduating from college are unemployed. Four years ago the press got ahold on the number of applicants to 218 positions at the Princess Noura University and it was over 40,000! That’s about 200 applicants per vacancy. I analyzed some of the reasons why back then.

Last year when the Arab Spring sparks were flying within Saudi, the government started an unemployment program called Hafiz (meaning encouragement or boost). The minister of labor, Adel Fakieh gave a PowerPoint presentation at his office in Riyadh which David Ottaway wrote about in an enlightening report on his 2012 visit to Saudi:

Fakieh began by taking issue with the Central Department of Statistics estimate that the number of unemployed Saudis was only 448,000. He reported that more than two million Saudis had applied for the $533 monthly unemployment allowance under the government’s new social security Hafiz Program launched last year. Those who would finally meet the necessary criteria would probably total slightly more than one million, he said, disclosing that his ministry had discovered that 85 percent of those applying were women. “Hundreds of thousands” of housewives had applied, but he claimed they were not “real job seekers.” Many were well off financially, did not really want to work, or would only accept certain kinds of jobs, according to their applications. This explained why the government intended to accept only about half of the two million applicants. Those accepted would have to prove they were really looking for employment and be ready to accept training and take offered jobs. If not, they would be dropped from the program after one year.

I don’t know about Fakeih’s “many were well off financially” part, considering that the average two-income Saudi family earns only 8,000 riyals (2,133USD) and has to pay 30% to 35% of that for rent. Add that statistic to another presented by the head of the real estate commission in the Eastern Region that 70% of Saudis do not own their houses and you’ve got a pretty humble picture that does not quite mesh with Fakeih’s “many were well off” but still applied for unemployment benefits.

Hafiz remains a great program although I’ve seen many upset on social media that the benefits expire in a year’s time and that a person on these benefits has to make weekly updates to show that they are actively seeking a job.

Hafiz was not the only project introduced in last year’s decrees. Another much more groundbreaking development was that women were finally allowed to work openly in retail at malls. Before then, the only public spaces women were allowed to sell products at were on mats on the sides of the curb at souks. For a few months now it has been legal for women to work as cashiers at supermarkets and sales-persons at lingerie and make-up counters but many sheikhs still can’t get used to the sight.

Last June two Saudi lawyers and a businessman won a case at the Board of Grievances to abort the royal decree allowing women to work openly in malls and return Saudi to a time when women could only work in retail if the shop front was completely covered and only women clients allowed in. Fortunately and unusually our wacky system worked for women this time and the ministry of labor seems so far to have ignored the Board of Grievances decision. That’s why over the past couple of weeks, envoys of ultra conservative sheikhs, fifty at a time, have been going to the ministry demanding to see the minister to remind him about the Board of Grievances decision and to demand a return to extreme gender segregation policies.

Some of the alternatives that ultra-conservatives have proposed as a means of income for women are that all Saudi women be granted a governmental stipend to stay home, initiation of programs where women can work from home and the opening of women-only malls, factories, hospitals…etc.

At first look it seems that one of those alternatives is seeing the light of day some time in the near future. Last week it came out that the Saudi Industrial Property Authority (Modon) is planning a half million square meters industrial city near Hofuf. The industrial city is inaccurately being touted as women-only by some news media. The announcement was actually made by the general director of Modon, Salah Al-Rasheed. In an interview with Al-Eqtasadiyah newspaper, Al-Rasheed explained that the industrial city would provide Saudis with 10,000 jobs, of which half will be targeted towards women. Another way that this project will be helping women is through making women investments easier. Al-Rasheed goes on to say that it will be located close to Hofuf so that transportation will be accessible to women. Nowhere within the interview or available firsthand information does it state that the industrial city is planned to be a full-blown women only metropolitan. So I wonder why international journalists are making it out to be that?

From Modon’s website and Al-Rasheed’s interview, it’s apparent that the “women” part comes from the novelty of having women allowed on a manufacturing site and not that it will be completely operated from A to Z by women. In a country where the Highest Islamic Council has on it’s website a fatwadiscouraging people from allowing women to specialize in scientific fields and where the number of women who have experience in industry is somewhere around zero, it wouldn’t be business-savvy to open a whole industrial city for women. It would be basically opening a ghost town and burning millions of dollars.

These women industrial cities (I say cities because the one in Hofuf is the first of several that are being planned for across the kingdom) are going to be industrial areas just outside major cities where Saudi women can apply for jobs in designated buildings to do what Al-Rasheed called “light and clean parts of manufacturing in an appropriate environment.”

The reaction so far within Saudi has been quiet. This is because these types of projects take several years to be built and started up. The ultra-conservatives are currently too busy chasing female cashiers and sales-women to question or even advocate for the industrial city. The only reaction so far was from Ms. Olfat Kabbani, deputy director of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Kabbanni expressed her reservations about the project. She told Okaz newspaperthat the real need is to right now provide training, remove legal obstacles and encourage investors to integrate women into their workforce.

According to Modon’s website, there are already “more than 3,000 factories in the existing industrial cities with investments exceeding 250 billion riyals, and more than 300,000 employees.” I wonder how many of those 300,000 employees are Saudis? And why can’t women apply today to work in these 3,000 factories? Aren’t there any “light and clean parts of manufacturing in an appropriate environment” at any of them?

You can listen to me repeat much of what I wrote above HERE.

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The Arab Spring, Springs Backward


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From David Anthony Hohol…

It’s been a few weeks since the insanity of the protests that swept across Arab World in reaction to the derogatory low budget film about the Prophet Muhammad PBUH. The American Election, the crisis in Syria – the world moved on and attention has since been placed elsewhere. 

Looking back at things now, I can’t help but think how the Arab Spring, Sprang backward during those protests. How easily manipulated, how easily played for violent fools can this irrational faction of the Arab world be? And does it know no end? Anytime a particular group wants to demonstrate the volatility, the anger, the uncivilized nature of the region, all that needs to be done is a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, the desecration of the Koran, and all hell breaks loose.  The whole world then points it’s finger and says, “Look at those crazy Arabs.”  And this is the plan each and every time out; this is why  that video was posted in the first place.

The actions of those who made the film posted on YouTube or those who would do anything else to insult any individual’s religion, race, sexual orientation, or lifestyle choice is no doubt wrong. That is not in question here. What is in question is the child-like behavior of many in the Middle East that makes life so very difficult for Arabs everywhere. 

Entirely innocent people were slaughtered, buildings were burned to the ground; they even burned downed a Kentucky Fried Chicken; blind rage, plain and simple. First, let’s blame all things American, then, when there’s nothing else burn down any Western Country’s embassy, and if all else fails, set flame to a fast food outlet. I mean, really. How ridiculous, how infantile can you be? 

The Arab Spring will lead to nowhere unless those in the region show zero tolerance for those who reacted with violence and rage over a stupid, cheap, meaningless, manipulative video posted on YouTube.  The passive acceptance of such behavior will only lead the latest leaders of the Arab World down the same path as their predecessors, as a boot to the neck is the only way to control a populace that represens itself as an angry and easily manipulated mob of buffoons. The young, informed and modernized generation of Arabs who are now gallantly fighting to free themselves from the grips of dictatorship, must also fight to moderate the region. It is an even bigger challenge in the end, but one that cannot go unsought.

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Kelish Zift


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From David Anthony Hohol…

“Don’t worry, Fatimah,” my father said, stroking my tear stained cheek.

         “They’re only moving us to another location, Habibi.”

            Even at the age of eleven, I knew it wasn’t the truth. Even more so, I knew my father didn’t trust them for a minute, but he did his best to convince us he did.  

            Sectarian violence, the Americans called it. We just called it kelish zift, as what transpired was no less than total disaster. Several years later, I don’t think those who invaded my country ever really understood what they were doing when the came charging through the desert like cowboys; either that, or they just didn’t care. Even more frightening, perhaps, what unfolded was exactly what they’d planned all along. Within a few months, every conceivable part of Iraqi society began to crumble. Eventually, the real message of Allah, our kind and loving God above, disappeared from the hearts of so many, slowly drifting into the empty sand dunes of loss and denial surrounding us.   

            We became ruthless with one another. The occupier’s simplistically naive division of Iraqi people into Sunni, Shiite and Kurd aside, we became a splintered hoard of lost and angry souls. My beautiful religion was often the biggest victim, both in my own country and abroad. Animal-like packs of madmen kidnap Islam, holding it hostage for their own destructive deeds, and we all suffer because of it. In Iraq, people began to commit the most horrible atrocities in the name of Allah, and madness soon followed us all. I can’t remember all the details about that night, but I’ll never forget.  

            Even with a forced smile upon his bearded face, I noticed the sweat upon my father’s brow. My mother adjusted her hijab, a nervous habit that became obsessively compulsive whenever she was anxious or afraid. My older bother Khalid walked with a swagger of defiance alongside Father, his chest out, his chin pointed upward.  “Your family will look good on camera before passing to the angels above,” said the largest man of the group.

            With his AK47 assault rifle draped over his hulking shoulder, he rested his open hand upon my back. The softness of his touch surprised me.

            “Take your hands off her!” ordered my father.

            The mercenary scowled with intensity. My mother slapped the giant of a man across the face. “Bas! You cannot lay your hands upon my daughter… not ever!”

            His icy stare seemed to look straight through her, but my mother did not retreat a single step. “I’m sorry, you’re right… ana asif,” he said.

             The wry grin upon his round face said something else.

            The camera man was busy preparing the tripod when we arrived in the basement.  Surrounded by concrete walls, we were all asked to sit on a bench. We were then told to stand and finally, were positioned in a circle around my father – all the while the camera rolled. “All right, that looks perfect,” he said.

            “Yalla, shabab! They’re ready!” he suddenly yelled.

            From the next room, at least ten men with rifles walked in and took position directly in front of us. “What’s happening, Baba? Shoo tsawi, Baba? Shoo tsawi?” I asked Father again and again.

            My body began to tremble.

            He looked down at me with only silently regretful eyes. My mother’s grip nearly crushed my fingers. The men raised their weapons. Suddenly, I felt dizzy. Just before the room exploded with gunfire, my mother threw herself in front of me.  

            The next thing I remember is being rolled over onto my back by a large black boot and looking up at a savage pack on ominous faces hovering over me. “I won’t finish her off,” said one.

           “She’s just a child.”

            “Atlah barra! I’ll do it, you coward!” said another. “And here… take the machete and remove their heads.”  

            I felt a large hand wrap around my forearm and pull me to my feet. As I stood and focused my eyes for the first time since the roar of gunfire filled the room, I saw the bodies of my family.  The walls were red with blood. The floor was sticky. “Allah, Akbar! Allah, Akbar!” a man yelled, as he raised a machete high in the air above my father’s lifeless corpse.

            I only heard the sinking thud of the blade and never actually saw it come down. With the entire pack of animals looking on at the beheading of my family, I managed to dart up the stairs and sprint into the alleyways behind our home.  

            “Yalla! After her!” a voice bellowed, just as I reached the front door.  

            With a burnt-out urban jungle to disappear into, I quickly got away.

            Four years later, I find myself living in Jordan. Two years after the murder of my family by radical Iraqi extremists, with no compulsive CNN-like need to preface the description of those bastards with the word Islamic, I was living alone on the chaotic streets of Baghdad.

            At thirteen years of age I offered myself to a man, so that he would hide me in his truck and take me across the border into Jordan. It was the only form of currency available to me at the time and I did what I had to do to stay alive. Once I arrived in Amman, I was given a warm bed to sleep in at a camp for displaced Iraqis.  I became one of what later reached nearly a million Iraqi refugees in the tiny Hashemite Kingdom. The people here have been kind and I’ve done my best to go on living.  

            I try not to remember, I never want to forget, and madness still rages in the desert.   

 

 

 

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Living in Denial


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From Saudi Arabia Corespondent Eman Al Nafjan…

The ministry of justice was provoked this week by an outspoken piece by Dr. Badriya Al Bishr to issue a statement to the same newspaper where Al Bishr’s piece was published. Al Bishr criticized the white washing of the Saudi justice system that took place at the International Association of Lawyers 55th Congress in Miami. There, the minister of Justice, prof. Mohammed Al Eissa gave a talk on the justice system in Saudi Arabia. According to local papers his talk mostly constituted a presentation on how wonderful and just the Saudi justice system. The papers reported that among other things he stated that the Saudi justice system does not discriminate between men and women when it comes to rights and obligations. The audacity of making such a statement at an international conference by no less than the minister of justice himself seriously makes me wonder if this whole thing is all my head. Did I imagine that a few weeks ago a Saudi woman was sentenced to ten lashes for driving her own car and that only a pardon from the king spared her the punishment? Is Najla Hariri’s upcoming trial for driving her car a figment of my imagination? How about that the ministry of justice refuses to issue licenses to women to practice law and won’t even recognize the title of lawyer for women who have obtained licenses abroad, did that change overnight?

AlBishr is apparently having the same delusions as I am, since she pointed out how sexist the ministry is when it comes to sentencing in homicide cases. If women are charged with murdering their spouse, it’s an automatic death sentence while men who murder their wives are dealt with much more leniently. AlBishr cites the recent case of a man who ran over his wife because she would not give him her salary. The murder was committed in daylight, in front of the woman’s family home and in front of several witnesses and yet the man was only sentenced to 12 years in prison. Another case that I recall is one where a man decapitated his wife in front of their toddler and was originally sentenced to only five years in prison then revised to 15.

AlBishr also notes the irony in that the minister’s talk coincided with news that a teacher at an elementary school has reached out to activists concerning the weddings of two of her students during Hajj break. The third and fourth grade girls were scheduled to be married off to adult men at the same time that the minister was giving his talk in Miami. To say that there is no gender discrimination in the Saudi justice system is an outright denial of the truth. However the ministry in issuing its statement today has shown that it is persistent in this denial even at the national level.

In the statement, the head of the ministry’s press office, Ibrahim AlTayyer, mostly took offence with the part of AlBishr’s column that raised the issue of child marriages. He states that according to ministry studies the number of child marriages are not high enough to consider it a phenomenon in Saudi. Though he did not mention what number would be enough for the ministry to act nor more importantly disclose the number of child marriages that was documented in those studies. To me one child marriage is enough to issue a law however it is obviously much more than that. According to an interview with AlRiyadh Newspaper on Jan/22/2010, a sociologist, Dr. Al Johara Mohammed, states that “among us there are more than 3000 Saudi girls aged no more than 13 years married to men in the age of their parents or grandparents”. Are 3000 cases of pedophilia not a signficant enough number for our ministry? How about that an anonymous source within the ministry itself informed AlWatan Newspaper on Oct/15/2010 that in the Eastern region alone, during the previous year, 40 cases of child marriages were stopped via verbal unofficial instructions. The number of child marriages that were approved however was not mentioned in that article, only an interview with a girl who was a victim of child marriages.

AlTayyer went on to state that regardless of the ministry’s position on child marriages, it is not within its governmental jurisdiction to issue a law consigning a minimum age for marriage. If it’s not the ministry of justice’s jurisdiction, than whose is it? The Shura council when they were discussing the implementation of a child protection system, refused to officially recognize child marriages as a form of child abuse. Their reasoning was a bla bla bla argument on the semantics of child and minor.

The remarkable thing is that there is a widespread consensus among Saudis that child marriages should be banned. Members of the royal family, religious scholars, high ranking government officials and celebrities have all spoken out against it. Yet you can tell from AlTayyer’s statement that simply issuing a law that sets a minimum age for marriage is not going to happen in the forseeable future.

Maybe this is due to the hold that fundamentalists have on the Saudi government. A member of the highest religious council, sheikh AlFowzan, wrote in Okaz newspaper last July that child marriages should not be banned and warns that if we do ban them God will punish us by inflicting us with wars and plagues. A sentiment echoed yesterday by a Saudi woman columnist, Fatima Al Faqih. Besides the usual disputed argument that the Prophet (PBUH) married one of his wives when she was only six and consummated it when she was nine, she reasons that since girls for centuries were able to physically survive child marriages then the scientific argument against child marriages is de facto disproven.

Regarding those who claim that we should not abolish child marriages because the prophet (pbuh) consummated his marriage with Aisha when she was nine, this has been repeatedly proven inconsistent with historian records. This is discussed and you can read more about it in English. Besides the historical inconsistency, it’s also inconsistent with the prophet’s behavior since all his other wives were not only adult women but also divorcees and widows. And if we were to go with the fundamentalist argument that we should not ban anything that isn’t banned by the Qur’an than slavery should be legalized and sexual intercourse between a master and his female slaves as well. Both should be considered completely legal if we were to solely go upon the text of the Qur’an. Yet the government has abolished slavery and intercourse is only legal within the confines of marriage. So why can’t we abolish child marriages in the same way?

On a final note, in the local papers on the minister’s talk at the Miami conference, it is reported that the President of the International Association of Lawyers, Pascal Maurer, was impressed by the Saudi judicial system and hoped that the law system would be made accessible to the international community so that they could benefit.

I could not find any report of Prof. AlEissa’s talk in American or international press.

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The Driving Veil


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From Saudi Corespondent Eman Al Nafjan…

Every accusation imaginable has been thrown at Saudi women who spoke up for their right to drive their own cars. Sheikhs and ultra conservatives have created this intricate conspiracy theory on how this whole demand is a well-planned Iranian/Shia plight to bring down the government by corrupting it’s women. Others have claimed that it is a Western conspiracy because somehow the Christian/Jewish West know deep down that Islam is the right path but they need to corrupt Muslim women through using their own women as an example. According to their logic, somehow women driving cars will lead to the fall of Islam. Confusing, I know, but nevertheless quite emotional and effective when presented in a religious context of salvation and preserving our faith and morals in an evil world. Another issue that they have is a “gotcha” argument where they say if women really wanted to drive for the good of the country and independence then they would first have to prove it by giving up their maids. As if maids were a requirement and by law, Saudi women are banned from doing their own housework as they are from driving their cars?! Choice and freedom are two words that are not in the opposition’s vocabulary.

That was all expected, it’s the same rhetoric that is employed by the extreme right in opposing anything they don’t like. However what was surprising is that quite a few Saudis who are progressive and some activists as well are against the women driving campaign. Some have taken it as a matter of pride, that the women joining the campaign are exposing the country to international ridicule. Some are cynical about why Western media has given this issue so much attention. They say it’s just an oriental stereotype that these outlets are abusing for their own amusement. Such a clear black and white case of gender discrimination in the 21st century is really not worthy of anyone’s attention. And that a government would arrest women simply for driving a car is a “stereotype” and not actual incidents happening nationwide. Then they question why western media doesn’t consult Saudis on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict or why they don’t cover this or that.

They also are upset at Saudi women who have had to resort to Western media to present their case, instead of being upset at local media for not giving these women a platform. The day after June 17, our newspapers completely ignored the issue except for one report in one paper, Okaz, where the traffic police denied that there were any cases of women driving. This was despite the fact that traffic police issued a ticket to a woman, Maha Al Qahtani, for driving without a Saudi license on the very same day they claimed that there were no women drivers.

These same progressives and activists claim that the women driving their cars are going about it the wrong way and that they should go through official channels. It has obviously slipped their minds that Wajeha Al Huwaider and Ebtihal Mubarak  had delivered a petition to the Royal Court to lift the ban signed by over 3000 Saudis. They also must have forgotten when Dr. Mohmammed  Zalfa during his time on the Shura Council (closest thing to parliament in Saudi) presented a proposal to lift the ban in 2006 and received a huge social and professional backlash in return. Also Abdullah Al Alami, a journalist and activist has been trying for the past year to get the Shura Council to revisit the issue with no success. It’s very obvious that the official track is pretty worn out. Although we have still not lost hope and are persevering in its pursuit.

One example of such progressives is Tareq Al Homayed, who claimed in an article published on June 27 and translated to English the next day is that the Western media is out of touch.  And that they have been following misinformed social media hype. He claims that the women who drove on June 17th and after are fewer than those who protested the ban in 1990. When actually the 1990 protest was only fourteen cars that had 47 passengers, while from June 17th and onwards there have been about seventy documented cases of women driving. He also claimed that this issue was politicized by the campaign when in actuality the politicization of this basic right was by the extreme right with their accusations from decades ago until today that this is a foreign conspiracy and that women who call for this right are traitors. Finally he claims that the low number of women driving is a reflection of the campaign’s low priority for Saudi women. As if he wasn’t Saudi and does not understand how paralyzed with fear people are here when it comes to any form of public demonstrations.  For example we have thousands of political prisoners who are in prison indefinitely and without trial and yet at its height of the protest only 200 of their loved ones stood in front of the interior ministry to demand their release.

In an interview on a weekly discussion show, Suad Al Shammari, a leading Saudi women rights activist presented the following statistics: only 45000 Saudi women have licenses which they can only acquire from abroad, 40% of cars purchased in Saudi are purchased by women and that there are currently over a million and two hundred thousand foreign men brought into this country for the sole purpose of driving our cars instead of the women owners. FYI the Saudi population is 27,140,000 a third of which are foreign workers.

You would think that it’s a reflection of our wealth while in reality, 70% of Saudi do not have the financial resources to buy their own homes. The unemployment rate for women is over 28%, the majority of those unemployed women have graduate degrees. The unemployment rate for men too is high with two million registering for unemployment benefits.  So essentially many of these foreign drivers are here only due to the ban rather than the “luxurious Saudi lifestyle”.

The low number of women driving their cars is not due to the low number of women who care. The overwhelming majority of women do not know how to drive since Saudi driving schools ban women students and just practicing with your father or brother might end up with both of you with a criminal record. The low number is also because Saudi society shames women who publicly speak out against anything. As one Saudi woman who desperately needs to drive told me: “I will put up with importing a driver and a salary I can’t afford to pay, because otherwise my family would estrange me and people would drag my name in the mud.”

Recommended Reading:

The veil behind the wheel: Reuters report on being in the car with a woman activist who happens to be of a conservative Bedouin background.

An Arabic statement released by Shiekh Abdullah Al Mutlaq, a member of the highest religious council in Saudi Arabia where he states that women driving is allowed in Islam however he likens it to allowing weapon trade which is also allowed in Islam but would have dangerous consequences on the security of the country and safety of society.

Another member of the highest religious council, Shiekh Qays Al Mubarak, surprisingly is being quite outspoken in this Arabic piece in the call for lifting the ban on women driving.

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Fiasco In Bahrain


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From Hassan Isilow…

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights has described King Hamad bin Isa’s approved parliamentary reforms as a sham process, urging that it was impossible to dialogue when half of the country’s opposition was in jail.

“We don’t see any indication that government is serious about dialogue. The matter is as bad as before. We are heading towards a deeper crisis,” Nabel Rajab, president of the center told Africa witness.

He said the government of Bahrain was merely trying to convince the international community after being pressurized to reform. Two weeks ago Bahrain’s king approved parliamentary reforms after the suppression of pro-democracy protests in March, but the opposition has said the process does not fulfill their demands. “There are no serious reforms or dialogue taking place in Bahrain. The government has brought in more troops from Saudi-Arabia, United Arab Emirates and mercenaries from other countries to quell protestors,” Nabel revealed.

Last week demonstrations took place in the capital Manama and several villages including Sitra, Karzakan and A’ali. The protesters chanted slogans against King Hamad and demanded an end to his dictatorship. In A’ali -village, Saudi-backed Bahraini troops used teargas against the protesters. One protester’s home was also set on fire. The Persian Gulf sheikhdom has been rocked by a wave of anti-government protests since February. Dozens have been killed and hundreds wounded in the clampdown.

Saeed al-Shahabi of the Bahrain Freedom Movement told Press TV last week that the situation was so tense that nobody could forecast were it was heading to. When asked why Western governments were silent regarding the Bahrain revolution yet protestors were being beaten by the military. Al-shahabi said the west has been adopting double standard in its policies towards the Middle East. He said the west would keep quiet about what the Israelis would do, but would raise massive short comings about other countries.

“As regards to Bahrain, they have chosen not to say anything, and they have chosen to be on the wrong side of history by supporting the hereditary dictatorship, and by keeping quiet about the Saudi occupation of the country.” He said western powers went to Kuwait to liberate it from Saddam Hussein forces in 1991, but they would keep quiet and probably support the Saudi mercenaries, who are the source of all evil in the world today, including terrorism, fanaticism, and extremism.
Additional reporting from PRESS TV

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