Victim-blaming and shaming needs to stop

I read an article today on Al Jazeera English about a brutal gang rape of a young university student in India. She was brutally beaten and raped by several men. She is now in critical condition. Her companion was also assaulted and is recovering in the hospital. There is little one can say on something horrible like this. No words can express how depressing, infuriating and sickening it is to read stories like this. I pray for this young woman’s recovery and that justice is done for all victims.

Unfortunately, as we all know our world has no shortage of atrocities, as recent news has sadly demonstrated. Although I don’t know the details of this particular case or the politics of the region beyond the articles I have read, I was very moved by the responses of high officials such as the New Delhi police chief and some other key officials. The police chief called for the death penalty for the rapists and other political leaders called for the hanging of the rapists. As I have mentioned I am not familiar with the politics of the region or know if this is merely empty political talk without implementing the much needed courageous actions to bring those criminals to justice and prevent horrific crimes like this from taking place again.

What I do know is that the outrage in India following this case by citizens, the media, the police chief and some politicians is very much welcomed and needed in every society, which sadly doesn’t happen too often.

Contrast this to what occurred following the case of the 11 year old baby, who was gang raped in Texas last year. That gruesome case was not on the front pages of newspapers around the country nor did Congress hold an emergency meeting to address violence against girls and women in this country. (Laws designed to protect Native women for example are still lacking political momentum in this country).

Instead when cases like this arise there is a lot of victim blaming and shaming that accompanies them. Even with all the hard work done by feminism and women rights activists, which helped put in place not only policies and protections for girls and women, but also educational resources, there is still a lot of work to be done. Just consider this recent case in Ohio, in which football players raped a young girl, took photos of her naked, and bragged about it online. Prinniefied.com documented the rape and here is an article on the New York Times about the case.

Popular blogger Franchesca Ramsey recently gave a powerful testimony about her ordeal here.

This issue has been covered by people far more articulate and insightful than I. And I hope we keep covering it and highlighting it again and again, until there is no one left to say, “I feel really bad that happened to her, but she shouldn’t have …….”

When the movie “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf” came out, I went to go see it with a group of friends and afterwards we had a big discussion about the rape scene. I am not even sure if I had blogged about it already, but one of my friends said something along the lines of, “she shouldn’t have invited him to her home.” Instead of putting the blame on the perpetrator and holding him accountable for his criminal actions, it was the victim who “should’ve known better.”

Unfortunately such reasoning is not isolated. It is horrible logic and terrible ethics. It reminds me of the justification of “collateral damage”, ie destroy an entire neighborhood with innocent children, men and women, because a suspect might be hiding among them and afterwards say, “they should’ve known better and taken the necessary steps to avert their slaughter.” This reasoning does exist and these crimes do continue to happen. The root of all these crimes, international or domestic is not seeing the victim (s) as fully human therefore the victim (s) becomes unworthy of a right to life, dignity, and protection.

Certainty one should make smart decisions and avoid risky situations. The problem, rather the moral crisis is how some of us discuss the issue when the crime of rape/sexual assault has been committed. A more powerful party taking full advantage of a weaker party in a certain situation is oppression, is it not? Who will disagree with this? I hope no one, who has a conscience. Therefore when oppression has occurred of a weaker party, and rape is oppression, the conversation shouldn’t be about what the oppressed did or didn’t do to prevent her oppression, but rather the oppression committed by the oppressor. If our conscience doesn’t put full accountability and blame on the oppressor, than that is to provide both a refuge and a moral validation for oppressors (rapists). You might as well go ahead and say slaughtered innocents should’ve known better than to attend an unprotected school, because madmen exist in the world. Why is that logic unacceptable, but shaming rape victim isn’t?

That just reminds us how important it is to keep reiterating victims are not to blame for the crimes of oppressors.It is the oppressors who should be shamed, blamed, and be held accountable for their crimes. And we must support those brave souls like Franchesca, who tell their stories so that through them a young girl or a woman somewhere in the world, who blames herself will know it was never her fault, that she never invited or asked for to be raped.

I will end this post with a famous story shared by a large percentage of humanity. That story is the story of the Prophet Joseph or Yusuf (alayhi salaam) as he is known to Muslims. Most of us probably heard or read of this story. Movies and mini-series have been made of this story. He is said to be the most handsome human being to have ever walked the earth. So much so that upon seeing him, one could not engage in any activity but stare at him awestruck at his remarkable beauty. The wife of Pharaoh, a powerful woman desired him, and he was a slave at that time.

The story goes that she desired him so much and sought to seduce him. He rebuked her advances, which eventually led to their confrontation and then the incident was brought to the King. Yusuf alayhi salaam, a slave, and thus in a weaker, more vulnerable position in that kingdom told the King she sought to take advantage of him, and if he was weaker physically he just may have been raped.

I heard that story growing up on so many occasions, as it is a major story in the Quran, but never had I thought of it in the light of sexual assault/molestation/rape, and victims taking the power to shame their abusers until I heard a lecture from an Imam, who was using that example to encourage the empowerment of victims and not their silence as often done by their conservative communities more concerned about image rather than justice.

Alice Walker on Democratic Womanism, Color Purple, Justice and the Election

I know this sounds like I live under a rock, but I have yet to read the Color Purple. I’ve heard of this book so many years ago and watched the movie, but never read the book. Nor can I say I have ever read literature by the great Alice Walker. Watched her lectures and read articles, yes. But books, no. After watching her interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, I was reminded about how much I have missed out on. I am a huge fan now and am so much in awe of her, that I can’t wait to read more of her work. Even Amy Goodman seems a bit giddy by interviewing Alice Walker. The full interview can be found here (It starts at 16:23 and it’s well worth the watch, simply brilliant!) but I wanted to share the poem she read at the end of the interview. Just Amazing.

(More on Alice Walker, NPR does a section on Alice Walker’s rediscovery of Zora Neale Hurston found here. Visit Alice Walker’s Website and be inspired!)

Democratic Womanism A Poem by Alice Walker

You ask me why I smile
when you tell me you intend
in the coming national elections
to hold your nose
and vote for the lesser of two evils.
There are more than two evils out there,
is one reason I smile.
Another is that our old buddy Nostradamus
comes to mind, with his fearful
400 year old prophecy: that our world
and theirs too
(our “enemies” – lots of kids included there)
will end (by nuclear nakba or holocaust)
in our lifetime. Which makes the idea of elections
and the billions of dollars wasted on them
somewhat fatuous.
A Southerner of Color,
my people held the vote
very dear
while others, for centuries,
merely appeared to play
with it.
One thing I can assure
you of is this:
I will never betray such pure hearts
by voting for evil
even if it were microscopic
which, as you can see in any newscast
no matter the slant,
it is not.
I want something else;
a different system
entirely.
One not seen
on this earth
for thousands of years. If ever.
Democratic Womanism.
Notice how this word has “man” right in the middle of it?
That’s one reason I like it. He is right there, front and center. But he is surrounded.
I want to vote and work for a way of life
that honors the feminine;
a way that acknowledges
the theft of the wisdom
female and dark Mother leadership
might have provided our spaceship
all along.
I am not thinking
of a talking head
kind of gal:
happy to be mixing
it up
with the baddest
bad boys
on the planet
her eyes a slit
her mouth a zipper.
No, I am speaking of true
regime change.
Where women rise
to take their place
en masse
at the helm
of earth’s frail and failing ship;
where each thousand years
of our silence
is examined
with regret,
and the cruel manner in which our values
of compassion and kindness
have been ridiculed
and suppressed
brought to bear on the disaster
of the present time.
The past must be examined closely, I believe, before we can leave
it there.
I am thinking of Democratic, and, perhaps
Socialist, Womanism.
For who else knows so deeply
how to share but Mothers
and Grandmothers? Big sisters
and Aunts?
To love
and adore
both female and male?
Not to mention those in between.
To work at keeping
the entire community
fed, educated
and safe?
Democratic womanism,
Democratic Socialist
Womanism,
would have as its icons
such fierce warriors
for good as
Vandana Shiva
Aung San Suu Kyi,
Wangari Maathai
Harriet Tubman
Yoko Ono
Frida Kahlo
Angela Davis
& Barbara Lee:
With new ones always rising, wherever you look.
You are also on this list, but it is so long (Isis would appear midway) that I must stop or be unable to finish the poem! So just know I’ve stood you in a circle that includes Marian Wright Edelman, Amy Goodman, Sojourner Truth, Gloria Steinem and Mary McLeod Bethune. John Brown, Frederick Douglass, John Lennon and Howard Zinn are there. Happy to be surrounded!
There is no system
There is no system
now in place
that can change
the disastrous course
the Earth is on.
Who can doubt this?
The male leaders
of Earth
appear to have abandoned
their very senses
though most appear
to live now
entirely
in their heads.
They murder humans and other
animals
forests and rivers and mountains
every day
they are in office
and never seem
to notice it.
They eat and drink devastation.
Women of the world,
Women of the world,
Is this devastation Us?
Would we kill whole continents for oil
(or anything else)
rather than limit
the number of consumer offspring we produce
and learn how to make our own fire?
Democratic Womanism.
Democratic Socialist Womanism.
A system of governance
we can dream and imagine and build together. One that recognizes
at least six thousand years
of brutally enforced complicity
in the assassination
of Mother Earth, but foresees six thousand years
ahead of us when we will not submit.
What will we need? A hundred years
at least to plan: (five hundred will be handed us
gladly
when the planet is scared enough)
in which circles of women meet,
organize ourselves, and,
allied with men
brave enough to stand with women,
men brave enough to stand with women,
nurture our planet to a degree of health.
And without apology —-
(impossible to make
a bigger mess than has been made already) -—
devote ourselves, heedless of opposition,
to tirelessly serving and resuscitating Our Mother ship
and with gratitude
for Her care of us
worshipfully commit
to rehabilitating it.

Could you survive on a weekly paycheck? Play spent and find out

I saw someone post this game on twitter called “Spent” from Urban Ministries of Durham. I am not familar with the organization, but was deeply taken by the game. I played it twice, before deciding to share it here and let others also experience it for themselves. The first time I played it, I cashed out on day 8. Damn, I would be homeless. I know it is only a game, but it is very scary and eye opening, because it is real life for many folks and allows us to “experience” such an experience. It is one thing to read reports as I often do and I do deeply care about these issues, but a whole different ball game to put yourself in that situation. Even when you think you know, reality is you don’t know jack and this game just showed it to me.

Reminded me of the book Nickel and Dimed and how author Barbara Ehrenreich took on the role of a minimum wage worker. I encourage you to read that book if this subject is of interest to you, it’s short and very informative.

The game throws at you, real life situations (as also described in Nickel and Dimed), such as paying for health insurance, medications, or your child’s after school programs just to name a few. What was interesting is that I ran out of money by doing the “right thing”, such as paying for any loans, putting the kid in after school programs, or going to the doctor before it was too late. My money ran further when I skipped those things in order to buy food or pay rent/gas, however this choice led to my debt increasing, car being possessed, unhappy kid, and putting my health in danger. Either way, I couldn’t win.

Try it for yourself here and let me know how you did.

One woman’s painful story of migration from Africa to Europe

Somalia, as most of us know from the news for the past two decades has experienced every human catastrophe imaginable. Wars, terrorism, diseases, and famine are just among some of the enemies of the Somali people and many who survive these foes, fall victim to equally devastating and humiliating afflictions.

Nowhere are these afflictions more pronounced than for women. Even in privileged societies like North America, where law and order is intact, women not only fall victim to sexual violence and domestic abuse, but at times are victimized twice. So one can imagine the catastrophe which befalls vulnerable groups, most specially women in a war torn society like Somalia that has no such protections in place.

(Note: Not the picture of “Marwo”.)

The phenomenon called “Tahriib” or migration exposes an already very vulnerable group to more dangers, rape often being the weapon of choice. Historically, civil unrest has always been accompanied by sexual violence.

Women are raped along the journey as they flee the conflict or extreme poverty conditions. They are raped once they reach “safety” at a refugee camp. As if that was not enough torture for a soul to endure, some contract deadly diseases like HIV. For the lucky ones who escape the wretched life at camps and end up in lands far beyond their borders, misery is never far too behind.

Below I will do my very best to translate into English one such story of a Somali woman migrant, who recently did an interview with a Somali channel about her tahriib (migration). English is the leading world language. The vast majority of people around the world, who use the internet, can read English. This is only a personal blog with minor viewership, however with the world being interconnected than ever before, it is my hope people will come across this post and have the interest to get a glimpse of a heartbreaking human story, which often goes untold.

When we read about human tragedies it rarely goes beyond headlines like “scores of Africans dead at sea attempting a voyage to Europe”, we never see names, faces, or read their intimate narratives. What were these people like? How was their childhood? What were their fears and their dreams? What made them happy, laugh, or sad?

When the tragedy concerns privileged societies or individuals we get to see the narratives beyond the headlines. They are not just numbers or “scores dead”, but people with names, faces, interests, and loved ones. But when you are both poor and black such a privilege is usually not granted.

Ultimately the weight of the responsibility to document and tell these narratives and make African lives significant on the world stage falls upon Africans themselves. Tahriib or migration of Africans out of Africa is a major area that needs to be spotlighted and documented, but this has been so far neglected.

It is my hope in my limited capabilities at this moment to at least try in this post to give English readers a sense of what it is like for a migrant, who undertakes the dangerous journey to Europe from the Horn of Africa. It will be impossible to capture the hurt, the pain, and the suffering of this woman in simply writing this post, but I’d like more people to at least hear this story outside of those who watched the interview on Somali channel. I will do my best to translate word for word or when I am unable then summarize the narrator and not project my own voice into the story. When I do so I will use brackets.

******************

The source for this summary is from: Somali Channel episode 10/14/2012. The video can be found here.

The segment is titled: The troubles facing women migrants.

The host of the interview begins with a prayer and welcoming her viewers to the show. In the past several segments, the show has been highlighting stories relating the troubles facing Somali women. The host tells the viewers this particular upcoming story is a story which is the most shocking story she has covered on her show. She mentions how such stories are hidden by victims because of the fear of being treated like pariahs. She admonishes the culture of Somali’s, concerning hiding shocking/painful experiences. She compares this phenomenon to having physical pain, saying if one hides the pain and does not seek treatment; the pain will continue to persist. Then a news clip is shown about 30 migrants from Ethiopia (of Somali descent), who were fleeing to Yemen, but instead were arrested by Somali authorities in the coastal city of Bososso. Recently there has been a spike of migrants from the city of Burco and other areas of Somaliland and Puntland. People are fleeing poverty and drought. The policemen being interviewed has harsh words for any would be migrants, stating they will be arrested and taken to court.

Host: Discusses the economic troubles facing young people in Somalia. No work, no livelihood. Mentions these young people are the very people, who would build the nation as the next generation, but don’t have the environment to facilitate their talents and strengths, and thus they take the dangerous journey of seeking a better life overseas. She further states, most people believe those who make these types of voyages reach their destination safely, but that is not the case and most actually lose their lives, not to mention suffer many human right abuses. (The host seems to be very anti-tahriib. She hammers at the point of the risks far outweighing any potential benefits),

(Will now go straight to the interview. To protect her identity, the host decides to call the interviewee the name “Marwo”, which is a name of endearment. I too will stick to that name. The interviewee is also wearing a niqaab, which is covering everything except the eyes).

Host: Thanks Marwo for being brave and courageous to share her story.

Marwo: Is thankful to be on the program. She was born in Burco, a major city of the breakaway region of Somaliland, and now lives in Manchester, England. It seems she is in legal trouble in England and asks for help from those watching. She further calls on mothers, women, who have suffered to not hide their suffering, but come forward and tell their stories.

Marwo: My suffering is long. For a longtime I have suffered. My suffering is a result of not having a mother, having lost my mother, and not having the love and care of a mother. I have undertaken migration to foreign lands and suffered a lot in those lands.

Host: Where did you come from?

Marwo: My birthplace is the city of Burco and I migrated from Burco. From there I came to the city of Bossoso with my husband. I was pregnant at the time. We took a boat. There were many people on this boat. There was heavy rain, which made the boat tilt from side to side. Many people on the boat were forcefully thrown off the boat. I pray for the families of those who lost their lives.

Host: How were these people thrown off the boat?

Marwo: If the person was overweight, they were told to jump off. If they are unable to jump (because of fear), then a gun was pulled on them. Before we got on the boat, they searched everyone for weapons. (She mentions all the suffering she has witnessed in the experience of being a migrant, which will forever be tattooed on her conscious. Those who are telling people to jump off into the ocean are the traffickers, who solicit money from these migrants with a promise to take them to Europe.)

Host: Tell us more about the boat experience.

Marwo: As many people were being forcefully thrown off, while others were falling off, a pregnant woman gave birth on the boat. What was most shocking and stomach turning to me was the day I saw people, who were Somalis throw their own brethren off the boat…throw off the boat a woman, who is their sister and shares the name Somali with them. The pregnant woman gave birth due to the pain of what she witnessed. They told her to jump or sharks will come for us. (I suppose the reasoning behind this statement is because of the loss of blood, the mother has undergone having given birth). The woman hesitated and couldn’t jump so they took her baby and threw the baby overboard. When her baby was thrown, the mother jumped after the baby. What was most painful to witness was the cruelty people who are brethren inflicted on each other, and their lack of mercy. I pray God guides these people and to those who died, I pray God rests their souls. Then my husband, who I loved most in the world stood up and said to the men this is inhuman and unislamic. When he said this they stabbed him, took all his money and threw him to the ocean. (the Host repeats the story: the baby being thrown overboard, then the mother jumping after the baby, Marwo’s husband protesting the inhuman action of the traffickers and he too being killed.)

Marwo: I was pregnant when I got to Yemen. (She pauses indicating a poignant memory having landed in Yemen. She repeats several times, “the country of Yemen”). In Yemen everyone else ran away from me. As I kept walking, I saw an old man with a donkey who stopped to help me. I didn’t know how to swim. I must have been saved to come ashore. When I reached the shore….. (She pauses and says the tale is too painful to tell. The host urges her to keep narrating). The old man took me, while I was in chaotic state. I kept screaming and repeating the name of my husband. He took me to his home. (The host cuts her off and redirects the conversation towards Marwo being pregnant. She asks her to talk about how she gave birth on the street. But before she does, Marwo says she stayed in the old man’s home for a period of one month then he took her to a camp called Jihiin in Yemen. There is no word if she was abused/sexually assaulted by this man, but I suspect that was highly likely). I went to the camp feeling chaotic and confused, not knowing anyone or having any clan connections. I slept in the camp. A Yemeni man who runs the camp assisted me. To survive, I became part of the people who beg on the streets. It is on the streets I would beg. It was while I was on the street begging that I gave birth. I didn’t know anything about giving birth. It is the God who made me pregnant, who helped facilitate the birth. The people covered me in a blue bag and it was on the street that I gave birth.

Marwo: Radwan Mohamed Seed (she mentions this woman, who was at the camp with her. I am most likely spelling the individual name (s) wrong). I thank you dear sister for the help and kindness you have shown me. You maybe watching this( program) as I am on the air and I thank you sister. I believe you are in Canada or America. This woman had one tent at the camp and she gave me one side of the tent to live after I gave birth. (Marwo discusses how Radwan encouraged her to live with her and to also find a job and not beg on the street. It is not clear if they leave the camp and find a home outside of the camp, but I believe it is the latter. Marwo then leaves the city Radwan lives in, after a while of staying with her and she finds a job. There is no mention of what type of job and the duration of this process. It looks like it was several years and the job most likely was maid work. Marwo finds a baby sitter, while she goes out and works. In the home of the baby sitter, her boy was raped. He was six at the time. The host asks Marwo what she did to the people who raped her child. Marwo says she filed a complaint, but nothing was done. Then other Somalis began to harass her and shame her, because her son was raped and thus she went to another city. The bus she was on with her son was involved in an accident. Her son had a head injury as a result of that accident. At the hospital she was given the option to have blood money for her son’s injuries. It is not clear if this offer came from the bus driver. She didn’t take the money and said tragedies happen outside of human control. She resolved to marry to help herself and her child, because she was poor and had nothing. She says she met a man in the hospital, it is not clear if this man is the bus driver or the owner of the bus. She marries for the sole purpose of having a roof and a safe place for her son. She marries the Arab man for that reason and for a while she lived a good life, however his family didn’t like her).

Host: Did you have children for this man?

Marwo: I gave him two children. Their names are Osama and Muctas (wrong spelling). Unluckily, my two children, he took from me and I would have loved that they come with me to the UK.

Host: The man’s relatives didn’t like you and you had trouble with them, so he took your two children from you. And now all you have left is your first son. How did you and your son manage to leave?

Marwo: (She had help from a Somali woman who assists refugees. Papers were filed with the UN on her behalf and her son. Eventually she left Yemen for Romania. She was happy on the one end of leaving Yemen and on the other end deeply saddened to leave her children behind. When she comes to Romania, she is taken to a camp for refugees. There at the camp she meets another Somali woman, who shames Marwo for her son’s rape. Marwo fights this woman, who was spreading rumors around the camp. Marwo pulls a knife on this woman and the police are called. Only Marwo is arrested and this makes her very angry. She is in a chaotic state and can’t communicate why she is protesting the arrest. She is taken to a psychiatric ward, where she is sedated with drugs. They increase the dose during the times she fails to be sedated. She says her body was lifeless, but her mind was still functioning, when the Romanian doctor raped her.

Marwo: When I was taken to the psychiatric ward, I was evaluated and was not pregnant. When it was discovered I was pregnant, everyone was shocked. I am not blaming the entire United Nations, only the office, which brought me to Romania. They knew what I suffered and how I suffered, but turned a blind eye. It reached a point where officials from this agency sought to kill me and put a pillow over my face to kill me. A Romanian woman, Mama Maryana (who works for that UN agency) told me to have an abortion, because this pregnancy will embarrass the UN. An Arab guy, I thank him so much. I won’t say his name, because I don’t want to reveal his identity and for him to lose his job, this Arab guy from one of the Arab countries told me when I get to the UK I have a case to file a complaint against the UN office. (Eventually she lands in London with her first born son and her daughter from the Romania doctor).

Marwo: I was in London for a short while. I was broken. I didn’t know the language and the people who brought me, having taught me nothing, but just brought me to a home. My son called the authorities on me and said I beat him. My son and new born child were taken from me. He said I was not his mother and didn’t give birth to him. A DNA test was taken and it showed I was his mother. (The host and Marwo discuss the trauma faced by the young boy, his rape, the head injury from the bus accident, having led to him rejecting his mother. There is no question from the host if Marwo did beat her son. Marwo says she loves her son more than anything and asks people to pray for her that her children return to her).

The host: Summarizes the story of Marwo, recalling the details she shared.

Marwo: Mentions the Romanian doctor who raped her has not been charged and the officials/UN agency has put in her personal file that is she is psychotic so that she would never file a case against them and her testimony wouldn’t be taken seriously. (It seems Marwo is listed as psychotic in her files, even the ones she has in her now new residence of Manchester. This led to her children being taken away. This interests me, but the host doesn’t ask her further questions regarding this aspect of her story, ie the legal case against the UN agency, who helped sponsor her to the UN and the Romanian Doctor…. what is being done about the cover-up Instead the host goes on a tirade about the difficulties of tahriib/migration.) Marwo cuts off the host and brings attention to the problems facing Somalis in Yemen, especially new arrivals who came seeking employment. She mentions young Somali men face the greatest difficultly; they are being raped and set on fire by the Yemenis. She signals out a place in Yemen called: Basateen.

Caller: Calls in. He thanks Marwo for telling her painful story. Mentions many people have suffered like this, but are too afraid of shame to come public with their story. The caller seems to be an informed man and is a community activist. The host finally draws attention to the case in Romania and asks the caller what Marwo can do about the case. The caller details what Marwo can do about her case, file a lawsuit and so forth.

Host: Tells the caller about the evaluation papers Marwo has from a doctor in the UK, who has outlined Marwo is not crazy and has no cognitive deficits. (Marwo comes across as very intelligent, compassionate, sincere, and sane). This doctor encourages the state to reinstate the children to their mother. The baby girl was only two months old when she was taken by the authorities. The host asks the caller to speak on this.

Caller: He says this doctor’s paper will be very helpful for Marwo’s case. He explains what she can do with the law and encourages her to fight using the laws in place. (I am not sure if the Somali community and human rights adovcates in England are assisting Marwo. There is no mention of legal help or help of any kind she is getting).

The host opens the floor to more callers, who mainly pray for Marwo. I will end the post here.

It is an ugly fact so many lives have been swallowed up by the world’s seas. How many in the last two decades, we will never know. While those who survived the overwhelming journey, so many suffered like Marwo. Most of their stories will never be known. For me, I am always ambivalent when relating the stories of victims. Even though I am not a journalist and I am simply translating an interview, I don’t wish to define Marwo solely by her suffering and thus making her a case for pity. There is a delicate balance when telling stories and obviously, Marwo is much more than the horrors she has suffered. I don’t know her story beyond this interview, therefore I am limited in what I can relate, but I do feel the need to say this just in case one were to come across this post, I would want them to also remember the importance of not seeing people through one dimension. People are much more than the unfortune fate has dealt them. Regarding tahriib, I would encourage anyone who comes across this post to read the story of Olympian Samia Omar written by Teresa Krug. It is a very personal and beautiful piece by Teresa, who I believe captured that delicate balance of relating a tragedy.

I mourn for all of those who have perished seeking a better life and those still in the struggle.

Balpreet Kaur, a powerful message

Saw this great post today. Such a powerful and positive message from this young lady Balpreet.

Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I actually didn’t know about this until one of my friends told on facebook. If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled However, I’m not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am. Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can. So, to me, my face isn’t important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. So, if anyone sees me at OSU, please come up and say hello. I appreciate all of the comments here, both positive and less positive because I’ve gotten a better understanding of myself and others from this. Also, the yoga pants are quite comfortable and the Better Together tshirt is actually from Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that focuses on storytelling and engagement between different faiths. I hope this explains everything a bit more, and I apologize for causing such confusion and uttering anything that hurt anyone.

Fore more see http://jezebel.com/5946643/reddit-users-attempt-to-shame-sikh-woman-get-righteously-schooled

Testimony of Hapreet Singh Saini

Bring out the tissues. This is so sad and heartbreaking and yet very touching. A strong young man, may God bless you. Losing a parent and in this fashion. There are no words one could say. I pray for this young man, his family and all affected by this tragedy. May God heal our world. Stop the hate and spread love.

before the UNITED STATES SENATE Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
Committee on the Judiciary on “Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism”

September 19, 2012

My name is Harpreet Singh Saini. I would like to thank Senator Durbin, Ranking Member Graham, and the entire subcommittee for giving me the opportunity to be here today. I am here because my mother was murdered in an act of hate 45 days ago. I am here on behalf of all the children who lost parents or grandparents during the massacre in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

A little over a month ago, I never imagined I’d be here. I never imagined that anyone outside of Oak Creek would know my name. Or my mother’s name. Paramjit Kaur Saini. Or my brother’s name, Kamaljit Singh Saini. Kamal, my brother and best friend, is here with me today.

As we all know, on Sunday, August 5, 2012, a white supremacist fueled by hatred walked into our local Gurdwara with a loaded gun. He killed my mother, Paramjit Kaur, while she was sitting for morning prayers. He shot and killed five more men – all of them were fathers, all had turbans like me.

And now people know all our names: Sita Singh. Ranjit Singh. Prakash Singh. Suvegh Singh. Satwant Singh Kaleka.

This was not supposed to be our American story. This was not my mother’s dream.

My mother and father brought Kamal and me to America in 2004. I was only 10 years-old. Like many other immigrants, they wanted us to have a better life, a better education. More options. In the land of the free. In the land of diversity.

It was a Tuesday, 2 days after our mother was killed, that my brother Kamal and I ate the leftovers of the last meal she had made for us. We ate her last rotis – which are a type of South Asian flatbread. She had made the rotis from scratch the night before she died. Along with the last bite of our food that Tuesday…came the realization that this was the last meal, made by the hands of our mother, that we will ever eat in our lifetime.

My mother was a brilliant woman, a reasonable woman. Everyone knew she was smart, but she never had the chance to get a formal education. She couldn’t. As a hard-working immigrant, she had to work long hours to feed her family, to get her sons educated, and help us achieve our American dreams. This was more important to her than anything else.

Senators, my mother was our biggest fan, our biggest supporter. She was always there for us, she always had a smile on her face.

But now she’s gone. Because of a man who hated her because she wasn’t his color? His religion?

I just had my first day of college. And my mother wasn’t there to send me off. She won’t be there for my graduation. She won’t be there on my wedding day. She won’t be there to meet her grandchildren.

I want to tell the gunman who took her from me: You may have been full of hate, but my mother was full of love.

She was an American. And this was not our American dream.

It was not the American dream of Prakash Singh, who had only been reunited with his family for a few precious weeks after 6 years apart. When he heard gunshots that morning, he told his two children to hide in the basement. He saved their lives. When it was over, his children found him lying in a pool of blood. They shook his body and cried “Papa! Get up!” But he was gone.

It was not the American dream of Suvegh Singh Khattra, a retired farmer who came here to be with his children and grandchildren. That morning, his family found him face down, a bullet in his head, his turban thrown to the side.

It was not the American dream of Satwant Singh Kaleka, president of the gurdwara who was killed while bravely fighting the gunman.

It was not the American dream of Sita Singh and Ranjit Singh, two brothers who sang prayers for our community and were separated from their families for 16 years. Their wives and children came to this country for the first time for their funerals.

It was not the American dream of Santokh Singh or Punjab Singh who were injured in the massacre. Punjab Singh’s sons are by his side day and night, but he may never fully recover from his multiple gunshot wounds.
We ache for our loved ones. We have lost so much. But I want people to know that our heads are held high.

My mother was a devout Sikh. Like all Sikhs, she was bound to live in Chardi Kala – a state of high spirits and optimism. She was also taught as a Sikh to neither have fear of anyone nor strike fear in anyone.

So despite what happened, we will not live in a state of fear, nor will be make anyone fearful.
Like my Mother, my brother and I are working every day to be in a state of high spirits and optimism.

We also know that we are not alone. Tens of thousands of people sent us letters, attended vigils, and gave us their support – Oak Creek’s Mayor and Police Chief, Wisconsin’s Governor, the President and the First Lady. All their support also gave me the strength to come here today.

Senators, I came here today to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic. The FBI does not track hate crimes against Sikhs. My mother and those shot that day will not even count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.

Senators, I also ask that the government pursue domestic terrorists with the same vigor as attackers from abroad.

The man who killed my mother was on the watch lists of public interest groups. I believe the government could have tracked him long before he went on a shooting spree.

Finally, Senators, I ask that you stand up for us. As lawmakers and leaders, you have the power to shape public opinion. Your words carry weight. When others scapegoat or demean people because of who they are, use your power to say that is wrong.

So many have asked Sikhs to simply blame Muslims for attacks against our community or just say “We are not Muslim.”
But we won’t blame anyone else. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

I also want to be a part of the solution. That’s why I want to be a law enforcement officer like Lt. Brian Murphy, who saved so many lives on August 5, 2012. I want to protect other people from what happened to my mother. I want to combat hate – not just against Sikhs but against all people. Senators, I know what happened at Oak Creek was not an isolated incident. I fear it may happen again if we don’t stand up and do something.

I don’t want anyone to suffer what we have suffered. I want to build a world where all people can live, work, and worship in America in peace.

Because you see, despite everything, I still believe in the American dream. In my mother’s memory, I ask that you stand up for it with me. Today. And in the days to come.

Thank you for considering my testimony.

source: http://www.durbin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=b1297ccf-504c-49d7-9b66-ef2b26360623

Pass the Violence Against Women Act & Safe Native Women’s Act (VAWA PSA)

I know very little of this issue and of tribal lands. The only time I’ve seen this issue covered in the mainstream media, was on NPR more than two years ago (And I am a news junkie). I can’t help but feel helpless and horrified this is happening, victims are not getting justice and very little is being done.

Aljazeera also did a segment today on AJstream. The discussion will be posted later on their website and I’ll update here.

Miss Representation of Media

I may have posted this before. I saw it again today. Although some dismiss it, I’ve always maintained the media influences, if not controls people’s souls, and thus shapes our communities. As we watch what we put into our bodies, we must be even more careful of what we put into our souls. Negative/Toxic consumption will have consequences.

The Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting and the role of the Media.

I was horrified and saddened to learn of yesterday’s shooting targeting worshippers at a Sikh Temple. When an attack specifically targets a group of people rather than it being a random shooting by a psychopath, it feels very personal and hits closer to home. I pray for the families directly affected by this tragedy and those who lost their life for no reason other than being different.

As a community I commend them on how they have responded. So gracious and very honorable. Because of this tragedy I have learned aspects of the Sikh faith, which I didn’t know before and have now come to appreciate. I hope our Nation is spared from seeing any rise of hateful attacks on religious minorities (or any other group). Just minutes ago I read about of a mosque burning down from an arson attack in Joplin, Mo.

Although the ultimate accountability is upon the individual who commits the act, I do believe some of that responsibility for crimes such as this is shared by the media and organizations like FoxNews and those with similar agendas. They incite hate and thus make crimes like this occur. I see little to no difference between these organizations that are mouth pieces for far right ideologies and those whose ideology encourages “death to the west”. FoxNews and other far right commentators may not right out say “death to Arabs/or Muslims”, but they do so in subtle language. The radio world of right wing ideologists is even more vocal in their hatred for Muslims (which in my opinion is a cover-up for hate against anyone who isn’t their race).

Although I do believe in freedom of speech, I do think there is a dangerous line when the speech involves minority groups. The majority of the Nation has little contact with Muslim people and what they do know of Muslims is from the media. This almost always involves historical violent political conflicts in the Muslim world.
So what do have? We have a narrative that is being fed to the Nation, in which Muslims are not the tellers of their own stories. Since there is a lack of power to reach millions of Americans, those who do have this power, the major media, I believe do have responsibility in how they approach minority groups. But often times what do we see when the matter concerns Muslims?

We see violent conflicts, terrorism, and hateful Mullahs bent on destroying Western civilization and oppressed women who are in need of being saved from them. So when a “patriotic” isolated American views these images over and over again on FoxNews, who does he view as his enemy? Them, who look like the images he sees on TV. It’s classic propaganda that has been used throughout history to demonize the “other” and as consequence it leads to killings like we saw yesterday in Wisconsin. It’s no surprise Hitler used the media as did the Hutu militia just to name two infamous examples. And we all know the tragic consequences.

The quote by Malcolm X comes to mind:

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

You may be wondering what does all of this have to do with the tragedy that occurred yesterday at the Sikh Temple. I have followed the news coverage and the sentiment seems to be Sikhs were mistaken for Muslims. The implicit suggestion here from the media seems to be it is understandable to hate and attack Muslims. The gunmen and the ideology he follows may very well be most outspoken about their hatred of Muslims, but make no mistake their hatred is of the Other. The attack on the Temple was not just an attack on Sikhs, or Sikhs “mistaken” for Muslims, but an attack on anyone who was not his race. I say race and not religion, because right wing “Christians” hate black people as much as they hate people of other religions. In my opinion I think their hatred of black folk is even greater than that of religious differences, it just that in the years following 9/11 the media focus has shifted to those folk overseas.

The Aurora Killings: Why we should be surprised

I’ve been following the tragic killings in Aurora, Colorado, in which a lone gunman killed 12 people and injured dozens at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie. It’s the ultimate nightmare to imagine for those of us, who have been fortunate to have never experienced such a gruesome scene; therefore we can only be horrified and deeply saddened by the needless loss of life. I pray for the families affected and hope they can find healing.

The aftermath of the tragedy has renewed debate on gun control, the psychology of mass-murdering lunatics, and our pop culture glorification of violence in movies/video games etc, just to name a few issues that have been raised in the passed two days.

When it comes to polarized debates such as the one surrounding the Aurora killings, it shows that most people are interested in hearing their own voices and defending their stances. There is little if any coming together. One of the arguments I’ve seen being thrown around is that if more citizens were armed at the theater, the mad man would have been stopped and there would have been fewer casualties. The proponents of this theory are more likely to be pro-gun and believe carrying guns makes us all safer. On the other spectrum are the opponents to this argument, who see this idea not only as preposterous, but the very reason why such tragic events take place in the first place. They argue if more people were armed, there would have been a shootout and in a dark theater, the logical conclusion is there would have been more not less casualties.

This back and forth continues and we arrive at no solution. However, despite the stark differences that exist concerning guns in society, the unifying factor is that no matter what side of the debate one is on, we all want a safer society for all of us especially for our children. This is more significant and the end value we seek, thus why can’t we as people unite upon this factor regardless of our political and ideological differences?

Concerning gun control, my views are very one sided and I strongly support the ban on guns, at the same-time I can concede that most people, who do carry guns and who are pro-gun are indeed law abiding citizens, who would never commit the atrocity that was committed in Aurora. Despite the divide on this debate, both sides want the same thing, a safe society without crime and criminals.

So how do we reach this destination and why aren’t we having this debate? Why are most people more in love with hearing their own voices and sticking to their positions, rather than taking a step towards working together in making our communities and our world a safer place by standing together upon what unites us against crime, rather being caught up on the different viewpoints?

I know. I know. The world is not a utopia, one may argue. There will always be crime and mass murderers. It’s part of the human story, always has been and always will be, one may say.

Not only do I completely disagree with this notion, but I see it very dangerous and counterproductive.

One of the more interesting articles I read on the Auhora killings and in this post I wanted to post as reply was by PAUL CAMPOS http://www.salon.com/2012/07/20/why_arent_there_more_auroras/

We live in a (compared to the rest of the developed world) extraordinarily violent, deeply economically stratified nation, with more than 270 million guns floating around – enough to arm every adult and half the kids in the nation.
A lot of Americans are broke, or angry, or paranoid, or all three, and a lot of these people are heavily armed. It’s not exactly a shock that this combination of factors helps produce 15,000 murders per year

Mr.Campos is surprised more crime doesn’t happen due to these dangerous combinations. Although not exactly the viewpoint presented by Mr. Campos, I’ve seen similar viewpoints before. Many times even, whenever the topic of peace and violece is discussed. I was once having this debate following a forum on geopolitical conflicts and I remember one gentleman make the argument that violence was always part of our existence and it started with the two sons of Adam, Cain and Abel and will always be with us for the rest of human existence. Immediately what arose in my mind was a rundown of some horrific highlights from the human past. So I imagined similar viewpoints were perhaps echoed by many when slavery and having slaves was part of society, but now how morally outrageous is that notion to us? As it should be and similarly war, violence, killings should occupy a similar position within us.

On those grounds, I disagree with that gentleman and with Mr. Paul Campos. In my opinion, violence, crime, war is not part of our existence and we can and I am hopeful and even envision we will rid our world of it. For now, I believe we should make way to limit it as much as possible. To do so, it starts with us finding violence/crime an outrage, a moral outrage and an anomaly (despite it’s occurrence). The alternative does us no good.

With this change in mindset, I would say we need to work towards reducing those factors, which Mr. Campos listed. But to really get cracking at preventing tragic events like the Aurora Killings, wars, and crimes against humanity, it starts with raising children, who view all life as scared and spreading love. I’ve been told many times that these views are too idealistic since bad things will always happen because there are just bad people out there, but I dare say if every person on this planet made love and spreading kindness to every living being a priority we’d be better off. I am hopeful we can build a peaceful world.