Healing the Tiger…in Egypt and in Each of Us

30 01 2011

COMPELLING. CAPTIVATING. We CONNECT with the drama unfolding in Eqypt. Why? In the U.S., we sit in our cozy homes and have the freedom to make a living (although many of us are admittedly struggling with that right now), the freedom to make decisions about our lives, and the freedom to speak our minds. We complain that the government is too big or not doing enough and yet our government has checks and balances with the three branches of government; no one person can dictate entirely what happens in the country and no one person can rob the country and the people in it of funds and assets. We are blessed and we so often take it for granted.

We are riveted to the stories of those who don’t have the freedoms we have…people like those protesting in the streets of Eqypt. Perhaps we are trying to imagine what it must be like to have lived 30 years under an oppressive regime. Perhaps we are stunned to see the police so powerless and the army for the most part just standing by, supporting the people, and allowing them to protest. Perhaps we are also stunned that a few people who take to the streets to protest would be gunned down and that the Internet and cell phone service would be shut down for an entire country. This would not happen here. No one person has that much power.

The country and people of Egypt seem to be suffering from societal trauma. Dr. Peter A. Levine, author of “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma,” says that:

Citizens in our inner cities randomly destroy property and life as the effects of years of accumulated stress, trauma, hostility, and economic oppression combust.

Credit: Dominic Harness

Dr. Levine talks of how an animal in the wild handles being attacked by another animal. It can fight back, flee, or freeze (play dead) until the attacking animal loses interest and then run away. The last option of freezing is what happens to people when their options are taken from them.

Unfortunately, human beings…unlike a tiger in the wild…don’t know how to shake off the trauma physically after freezing and we wind up internalizing the trauma sometimes for decades. Perhaps the traumatized part in each of us (for whatever reason…child abuse, a surgery, an accident, a divorce, a job loss, losing our home, the loss of a child, returning from war, etc.) connects with the people of Eqypt. They are acting out the effects of decades of trauma and woundedness and we get it.

Dr. Levine says that:

Trauma cannot be ignored. It is an inherent part of the primitive biology that brought us here. The only way we will be able to release ourselves, individually and collectively, from re-enacting our traumatic legacies is by transforming them through renegotiation.

He goes on to say that:

Transformation requires a willingness to challenge your basic beliefs about who you are. Through transformation, the nervous system regains its capacity for self-regulation. Our emotions begin to lift us up rather than bring us down. They propel us into the exhilarating ability to soar and fly, giving us a more complete view of our place in nature. Our perceptions broaden to encompass a receptivity and acceptance of what is, without judgment. We are able to learn from our life experiences. Without trying to forgive, we understand that there is no blame. We often obtain a surer sense of self while become more resilient and spontaneous. This new self-assuredness allows us to relax, enjoy, and live life more fully. We become more in tune with the passion and ecstatic dimensions of life.

Perhaps this is happening with the people in Egypt; they seem to be feeling more confident and more hopeful and are transforming as a people. We are watching history in the making, unfolding before our eyes. We see the possibility of what happens when people unite in a common cause to help lift each other and a nation up. It gives us hope as individuals that we can lift ourselves up out of our own personal traumas and transform our own personal and collective lives.





It’s OK to Beat Your Wife or Children in UAE – Just Don’t Leave a Mark

26 10 2010

The highest judicial body in the United Arab Emirates, which has the seventh largest oil reserves in the world, borders on Saudi Arabia, and includes Dubai, says it’s okay to beat your wife and young children…just don’t leave a mark. Here’s the short article about it from the Huffington Post:

Dubai in the UAE - Credit: Neil Emmerson/Getty Images

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The UAE’s highest judicial body says a man can beat his wife and young children as long as the beating leaves no physical marks.

The decision by the Federal Supreme Court shows the strong influence of Islamic law in the Emirates despite its international appeal in which foreign residents greatly outnumber the local population.

The court made the ruling earlier this month in the case of a man who left cuts and bruises on his wife and adult daughter after a beating.

It says the man was guilty of harming the women but noted that Islamic codes allow for “discipline” if no marks are left. It also says children who have reached “adulthood” – approximately puberty – cannot be struck.

The ruling was reported Monday in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National.

You’re probably feeling outraged, right? Of course. We live in a “civilized” society and can’t imagine our Supreme Court saying it’s okay for men to beat their wives and children as long as no physical mark is left on them. It is outrageous. Men are allowed to treat women and children in the UAE and in so many countries in the world however they please and women have few rights. And this is a RELIGION saying it is okay to “discipline” them if you don’t leave marks. Is this really the way that God wants women and children to be treated?

We can sit here in moral outrage because this is Islam and somewhere far away, but these things happen right here in the United States and are sanctioned by Christianity (remember the verse about spare the rod, spoil the child?). I wrote a post called Kids in School: Getting an Education Plus a Beating about how school children in the United States are beaten with barbaric looking paddles in schools…and often for things as benign as being late to class or chewing gum. Corporal punishment of children by parents has been banned in 29 countries, including 22 in Europe, but is still legal in all 50 states in the United States. In our country, if a child has physical marks from being beaten and someone alerts social services, the parents may suffer some consequences, but if the parents are able to cover it up, they may get away with it.

So are we any better than the United Arab Emirates? We still legally condone children being beaten in schools in 21 states and at home in all 50 states and often these beatings leave horrible marks (even from school beatings) and cause children to be aggressive and to have psychological problems. This is legally-condoned assault on children. We have a culture where people are becoming more aware of the horrors that women suffer when they are beaten by husbands or boyfriends, but still men crack jokes about “slapping her around” to friends.

When will women and children in the United States and around the world really be treated equally? Why aren’t they now? Men overwhelmingly make and enforce laws in our country and in other countries. We need more men to stand for and with women and children and protect them. No schoolteacher, husband, boyfriend, father, or any man has a right to hit a child or woman. Women and children don’t need to be “disciplined” through hitting; they need to be loved.





A Holocaust Survivor and a Kenyan Boy

20 07 2010

Director Jennifer Arnold, Chris Mburu, Hilde Back, Jane Wanjiru Muigai during the Sundance Film Festival - Credit: Matt Carr, Getty Images

For Chris Mburu, a young, rural Kenyan student, the opportunity to make something out of his life would’ve ended if not for a small act of kindness.

Hilde Back was a young girl and a Jew who was helped by a stranger to escape from Nazi Germany to Sweden. She never saw her parents (who did not survive the Holocaust) again after leaving. She never forgot the kindness of that stranger and of the people who helped her once she got to Sweden. Hilde eventually became a school teacher on a modest salary, but sponsored…for about $15 a month…a young Kenyan student.

Because she paid his fees to go to secondary school, which his parents could not afford, that student…Chris Mburu…went on to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and become a human rights lawyer for the United Nations. Inspired by Hilde’s generosity, in 2001 he decided to start a scholarship program to help other bright Kenyan students who can’t afford school fees and to name the scholarship program after her. With help, he tracked Hilde Back down and the two are now fast friends. She never knew that her small gift each month made such a difference in the life of one boy…and is now making a difference in the lives of countless other children.

Kimani, Ruth, and Caroline - Credit: http://asmallact.blogspot.com/

HBO is now airing an incredibly moving and important documentary film entitled A Small Act about this story and “the ripple effect one small act can have.” The world premiere of the movie was in January 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival. Jennifer Arnold wrote, directed, and produced this film.

It features three students…Kimani, Ruth, and Caroline…who are the top students in their school and who all have no hope of progressing in school due to the lack of ability to pay the $40 per month fees unless they get one of the coveted Hilde Back Education Fund scholarships.

I mostly subscribe to  HBO because of their documentaries. They are thoughtful, well done, and carry powerful messages. The message is easy to see in this one. So many of us think we don’t have the ability to make a difference in the life of another person so why bother? We may think we are barely scraping by ourselves and what little we could give just isn’t enough. This story shows that a small donation made monthly totally changed the life of Chris, who has gone on to change the lives of Kimani, Ruth, Caroline and so many more and they have all pledged to change the lives of students who come after them.

A few other ripple effects and how you can learn more:

Watch the trailer for the movie, and if you have HBO or if the film is being screened near you, watch the entire film. It will move you…hopefully to make your own small act.





Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani: Falsely Accused, Flogged, Sentenced to Death by Stoning

7 07 2010

Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, 42-year-old Iranian mother of two, has exasperated all legal steps to avoid being stoned any day now. She was convicted in May 2006 of having an “illicit relationship outside marriage” and received 99 lashes for that “crime,” which her son Sajjad, 22, and daughter Farideh, 17, say she did not do. Her son, who was 17 at the time, was present at her flogging and says “They lashed her just in front my eyes, this has been carved in my mind since then.”

Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani - Credit: Huffington Post

Why is she now to be stoned?  The Guardian reports that:

Sakineh already endured a sentence of 99 lashes, but her case was re-opened when a court in Tabriz suspected her of murdering her husband. She was acquitted, but the adultery charge was reviewed and a death penalty handed down on the basis of “judge’s knowledge” – a loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present.

The Guardian goes on to report that:

Mohammed Mostafaei, an acclaimed Iranian lawyer volunteered to represent her when her sentence was announced a few months ago. He wrote a public letter about her conviction shortly after. “This is an absolutely illegal sentence,” he said. “Two of five judges who investigated Sakineh’s case in Tabriz prison concluded that there’s no forensic evidence of adultery.

Men who commit adultery often do not receive the same punishment as women do in Islamic countries. CNN.com reports that:

Human rights activists have been pushing the Islamic government to abolish stoning, arguing that women are not treated equally before the law in Iran and are especially vulnerable in the judicial system. A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man, they say.

Article 74 of the Iranian penal code requires at least four witnesses — four men or three men and two women — for an adulterer to receive a stoning sentence, said Ahadi, of the International Committee Against Stoning. But there were no witnesses in Ashtiani’s case. Often, said Ahadi, husbands turn wives in to get out of a marriage.

Sakineh is to be stoned to death because the judge has supposed “knowledge” of her having had sex with someone who was not her husband…something she says she did not do and for which she has already been punished. Around 40 to 50 other women are awaiting the same fate in Iran right now.

Her children…helped by Mina Ahadi, head of the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty…are waging an international battle to get support to hopefully reverse the judge’s decision, which is their only hope to spare their mother’s life. They have written the following letter:

Today we stretch out our hands to the people of the whole world. It is now five years that we have lived in fear and in horror, deprived of motherly love. Is the world so cruel that it can watch this catastrophe and do nothing about it?

We are Sakine Mohammadi e Ashtiani’s children, Farideh and Sajjad Mohamamadi e Ashtiani. Since our childhood we have been acquainted with the pain of knowing that our mother is imprisoned and awaiting a catastrophe. To tell the truth, the term “stoning” is so horrific that we try never to use it. We instead say our mother is in danger, she might be killed, and she deserves everyone’s help.

Today, when nearly all options have reached dead-ends, and our mother’s lawyer says that she is in a dangerous situation, we resort to you. We resort to the people of the world, no matter who you are and where in the world you live. We resort to you, people of Iran, all of you who have experienced the pain and anguish of the horror of losing a loved one.

Please help our mother return home!

We especially stretch our hand out to the Iranians living abroad. Help to prevent this nightmare from becoming reality. Save our mother. We are unable to explain the anguish of every moment, every second of our lives. Words are unable to articulate our fear…

Help to save our mother. Write to and ask officials to free her. Tell them that she doesn’t have a civil complainant and has not done any wrong. Our mother should not be killed. Is there any one hearing this and rushing to our assistance?

Farideh and Sajjad Mohammadi e Ashtiani

What happens if Sakineh is stoned? She will be buried in the ground up to her chest. Carefully chosen stones…not too big to make death come too soon and not too small to prolong the process…will be thrown at her head and face until she dies. The public is not going to be allowed to witness this for fear of a backlash. In Somalia, 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, met a similar fate. She was accused of adultery and stoned to death after she reported having been gang raped. I wrote about this horrific case in an 11/13/08 blog post. I wrote another post about someone being stoned for having married sex and you can read it here.

This is not justice. This is a case of a government misusing supposed religious laws to instill fear in the people in order to control them. Imagine being stoned to death for being falsely accused of having sex with someone who was not your husband. We should all be outraged.

If you are and want to get involved, here are two ways you can:

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Sakineh-Mohammadi-Ashtiani-from-being-Stoned-to-Death-in-Iran/123908540984923?ref=ts&v=wall

Sign a petition: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-sakineh-mohammadi.html

Update 7/9/10 from The Guardian:

Iran has imposed a media blackout over the case of a 43-year-old mother of two who was sentenced to be stoned to death and whose fate is still unclear despite an apparent “reprieve.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is still facing execution by hanging after being convicted of adultery, her son told the Guardian today.

Newspapers, agencies and TV channels in Iran have been banned from reporting Mohammadi Ashtiani’s death sentence, despite an international campaign launched by her children, which has been joined by politicians and celebrities from all over the world.

The campaign, first highlighted by the Guardian last week, has failed to stop the Iranian authorities from pressing ahead.

Last night the Iranian embassy in London issued an opaque statement saying that Mohammadi Ashtiani would not be stoned to death. “According to information from the relevant judicial authorities in Iran, she will not be executed by stoning punishment,” it said.

The statement was not reported inside Iran and neither was the news of stoning death sentences for 15 other Iranians.

UPDATE 7/21/10: The Iranian Supreme Court was to have issued a statement today about Ms. Ashtiani’s case. I read on today’s blog of Maryam Namazie, who is a spokesperson for Iran Solidarity amongst other groups, that Iran’s Supreme Court decision has been postponed for 20 days. There is incredible international pressure for her not to be executed. July 24, 2010 has been proclaimed an international day in support of Ms. Ashtiani and rallies are being held all over the world.

The Guardian reports in its 7/22 issue that:

Last week, Iran imposed a media blackout over Mohammadi Ashtiani’s death sentence, banning newspapers, agencies and TV Channels in Iran from reporting any news about her case.

It also reports that her children are being told to stay silent or face arrest and mentions the http://freesakineh.org website, where signatures for her release are being collected.

UPDATE 8/5/10: This from CNN.com blog is very sad news indeed:

A second attorney representing an Iranian woman whose death by stoning sentence was under review told a human rights activist Thursday that Iranian authorities have decided she will be executed.

Mina Ahadi, spokeswoman for the International Committee against Stoning, said she had spoken to Hotan Kian, an attorney who attended a court session in Tehran Wednesday. He was informed that there would be no more appeals for his client, Sakineh Mohammedie Ashtiani, and that Iran’s high court will decide within a week whether she will be stoned or be executed in another way.

UPDATE 8/11/10: This was posted today on the Facebook page in support of Ms. Ashtiani:

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, was FORCED by the Regime in Iran to speak against herself, Mostafaei (her lawyer) and the Campaign on Iran state TV. Her lawyer said that she was tortured before interview recorded in Tabriz prison, and fears imminent execution. (Guardian)

UPDATE 8/15/10: This is from CNN’s website:

(CNN) — An Iranian court has delayed the final verdict of a 43-year-old woman sentenced to death by stoning, a human rights group said Sunday, two days after the country announced she will not be executed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The International Committee Against Stoning did not say how it got its information on the postponement of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s final verdict, which had previously been scheduled to come down last Thursday. The group said in a statement that the final verdict in Ashtiani’s case is now expected on August 21, the date of her lawyer’s next court appearance.

UPDATE 8/30/10: This is a press release issued on 8/29 by the International Committee Against Stoning and the International Committee Against Execution:

On the 28th of August, in connection with the global protests against stoning and the death penalty that took place in at least 111 cities around the world, the authorities of Tabriz prison informed Sakineh that she would be executed on the 29th of August at dawn. She was told that she could write her will if she wished to do so. Sakineh started to cry and wrote her will. She waited for her execution the whole night. She waited for the guards to take her to the place of execution. Sakineh’s friends in prison showed her their deep grief and tried to comfort and calm her. However, until this hour, noon on August 29th, there has been no news concerning the completion of this death sentence. It seems that the Islamic Republic, while under immense international pressure, wanted to give the impression that it would not bow to world public opinion.

The International Committee against Stoning and the International Committee against Execution strongly condemn such heinous and criminal behavior of the Islamic regime towards prisoners sentenced to death. This [mock preparation for execution] is an indicator of the lack of detainees’ human rights. Over the years, the regime has threatened prisoners with execution sentences in order to intimidate and torture them mentally. Azar Bagheri is a young girl who has been in jail for four years, awaiting execution by stoning. She was 15 years old when she was convicted of adultery. She has been subjected to mock stonings twice [wrapped in a shroud and buried in preparation to be stoned, then released]. The dimensions of this regime’s atrocities have no limits. Opposition by Iranian people and people worldwide is the only way to push back this regime and finally free the Iranian people and all of humanity from this Islamic regime.

The International Committee against Stoning and the International Committee against Execution will continue the campaign to save Sakineh and other prisoners sentenced to execution and stoning. From here, we encourage the world to participate actively in this struggle.

UPDATE 9/3/10: An incredibly moving interview was conducted by Bernard-Henry Levy, a French philosopher and writer with Sakineh’s 22-year-old son Sajjad, who is leading the efforts to save his mother. His mother is accused of complicity in murdering his father and he says it is a “blatant lie.” The interview is posted on Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bernardhenri-levy/interview-with-sajjad_b_704311.html. Also, Sakineh has been sentenced to another 99 lashes for (and I see two causes quoted) “spreading corruption and indecency” or allowing her cause to be taken to the press.

UPDATE 9/8/10: CNN reports that Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told state-run Press TV on Wednesday:

The sentencing of Ms. Ashtiani for adultery has been stopped and (her case) is being reviewed again, and her sentencing for complicity in murder is in process.

UPDATE 11/2/10: Sakineh’s son has been arrested, detained, and tortured. The go-ahead has been given to execute Sakineh on 11/3. Heartbreaking. Read about it here.

UPDATE 12/9/10: It was reported that Sakineh was released today. Iranian TV showed clips of her at home with her son. There is some question whether this was done by Iran just for appearances to try and quell the international human rights outcry over Sakineh’s case. Supporters are cautiously optimistic that she truly has been released. You can read about it in the online version of the UK’s Guardian here. The latest is that Iran is now denying that she was released.

UPDATE 1/17/11: This is from Reuters. You can read the full article here.

Iran has suspended a sentence to hang a woman [Sakineh] at the center of a global outcry about a separate stoning sentence, a member of parliament was quoted Monday as saying, but another official suggested the comments were false.





Stoned to Death for Having Unmarried Sex in Somalia

8 11 2009

33-year-old Abas Hussein Abdirahman, who confessed to adultery in an Islamic court, was stoned to death on 11/7/09 in Somalia for having sex with his girlfriend. She will be stoned to death after she gives birth to their baby. The BBC reports that an eyewitness…one of 300 to the stoning…said that Abas Somali Al-Shabaab - Credit BBC“…was screaming and blood was pouring from his head during the stoning. After seven minutes he stopped moving.”

The BBC reports that this is the third time this year that Al-Shabab, an Islamist insurgency group in Somalia, has stoned a person to death for adultery. Two men were stoned to death last month after being accused of being spies.

According to the BBC, Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed “has accused al-Shabab of spoiling the image of Islam by killing people and harassing women.” Ahmed also had this to say about the Al-Shabab:

Their actions have nothing to do with Islam. They are forcing women to wear very heavy clothes, saying they want them to properly cover their bodies but we know they have economic interests behind – they sell these kinds of clothes and want to force people to buy them.

Somalia has not had a functioning national government in 18 years. Ahmed was sworn in as president in January after UN-brokered peace talks. Ahmed has said he wants to implement the Islamic Sharia law, but the Al-Shabab say he will be too lenient.

One of my most-read posts is Remembering 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow from Somalia. She reported being gang-raped as she walked to her grandmother’s and was stoned to death, accused of being an adulterer.

Surely God would not condone killing a soon-to-be father and mother who physically expressed love for one another and a child who was gang raped. Stoning them are not acts of honor and love for God. These are acts of terrorism under the guise of religion. They are about instilling fear in people in order to control them. They are senseless acts by people who use God’s name to harm others in order to assert their own power.

I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia years ago and I understand that in Muslim countries, religion and law are combined in a way we don’t experience in the U.S.  We must be respectful of the laws and traditions of people different from us. Still, I wonder how long Muslims will stand by and allow this to happen in their religion’s name. How long will the world stand by and quietly condemn these acts while they continue?





Does Barack Obama Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

9 10 2009

I was really excited to hear who the Norwegian Nobel Committee would choose today to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Would it be Three Cups of Tea author and Afghanistan and Pakistan builder of schools for girls Greg Mortenson (see my post on Greg here)? Or Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Congolese gynecologist who has repaired the damage done to 21,000 gang raped women and given them hope? Both were incredibly deserving and could certainly put the $1.4 million prize money to good use helping women and girls.

President Obama at UN Security Council Mtg (Doug Mills, NY Times)

President Obama at UN Security Council Meeting in September 2009 (Doug Mills, NY Times)

I was as stunned as anyone to learn upon waking today that President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee received 205 nominations and created a short list of between 5 and 20 nominees. A group of academics who are permanent advisers to the Nobel Institute examined these candidates, gave their input, and the committee made the final decision. They had this to say about why they awarded President Obama the prize:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had this to say about President Obama’s win:

We are entering an era of renewed multilateralism, a new era where the challenges facing humankind demand global common cause and uncommon global effort. President Obama embodies the new spirit of dialogue and engagement on the world’s biggest problems: climate change, nuclear disarmament and a wide range of peace and security challenges.

There are many naysayers, though…mostly in the U.S….who ask what has he done to deserve this prestigious prize? After all, he’s only been president for 9 months. Go back even to the over two-year election period and you can see him already at work as a peacemaker. Some examples?

  • John McCain called him “that one” in an election debate and Obama turned the other cheek and did not react. He has been very gracious toward McCain and included him in many high-value decisions since he’s been president.
  • Hillary Clinton was snide and mocked Obama repeatedly during the election and Obama never responded in kind toward her. After her vitriol (and Bill’s) toward him, he had the grace to ask her to be his secretary of state.
  • Throughout all the Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, and Acorn debaucles and Palin hate mongering rallies, Obama said repeatedly that he trusted the American people to see what was really important and not to get sidetracked or misled.

Not once did he let all of the ugliness directed at him cause him to act ugly in return. Many people saw him as weak and thought he surely would not win the election because he didn’t go on the attack, but the American people decided they wanted someone who was peaceful, positive, and projected a quiet calm.

Besides how he conducted himself during the campaign, President Obama, in just a few short months has already done a lot to promote peace. A few of his efforts include:

  • A commitment to nuclear disarmament even in the face of North Korea’s threats and launching missiles
  • Meeting with President Dmitri Medvedev to begin repairing relations with Russia
  • Meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan to improve relations between their countries
  • Giving a major speech aimed at the Muslim world in Cairo where he spoke of a fresh start and a new relationship based on mutual respect and understanding
  • Working to restart peace talks by meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine

Obama responding to Nobel Peace Prize win - Stephen Crowley - NYTimesPresident Obama’s spoke this morning about this honor; here are some of his remarks:

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

That is why I’ve said that I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century. These challenges won’t all be met during my presidency, or even my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it’s recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award — and the call to action that comes with it — does not belong simply to me or my administration; it belongs to all people around the world who have fought for justice and for peace. And most of all, it belongs to you, the men and women of America, who have dared to hope and have worked so hard to make our world a little better.

President Obama will go to Oslo, Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10. He has announced that he will donate the prize money to charity.

Kenyan Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said:

Many people are waiting for miracles, when miracles have already happened. The getting of the senator into the Senate, the way he conducted his campaign, the way he won… In America it may not look as big a thing as it was to the rest of the world, the hope and the aspiration it provides for the rest of the world.

Think back to election night and inauguration day. Barack Obama…even before he became president…lifted not only the American people, but people all over the world. He gave them hope, he made them believe again in decency, respectfulness, dignity, honor, honesty, openness, civility, inclusiveness, and the power of trusting and communicating with people all over the world. To me, these are the hallmarks of what creating peace is all about.

Alfred Nobel stated in his will that he wanted the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to…

the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

Does Barack Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? For me…and the committee upholding Alfred Nobel’s wishes…the answer is YES, he does. I cannot think of a single other person who is more the active embodiment of what Alfred Nobel sought in a peacemaker worthy of this award. Congratulations, President Obama and thank you for your example and your peaceful tone as a man and as our president.

Here’s Geir Lundestad, Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, speaking to senior editor Simon Frantz about why President Obama was chosen for this high honor.





NBA Star Tracy McGrady Creates a Darfur Dream Team

7 09 2009
Tracy McGrady Houston Mansion

Tracy McGrady's Houston Mansion

30-year-old NBA Houston Rockets star Tracy McGrady, who makes an estimated $21.1 million a year, is an unlikely advocate for refugees in Darfur. He could just live a cushy life in his 35,000 square foot mansion with his four children and wife. Instead, he heard about the plight of Chad and Sudan refugees in Darfur, wanted to see for himself, thought that surely there was something he could do, and traveled there with John Prendergast and Omer Ismail from the Enough project, which bills itself as “the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Tracy grew up in a rough neighborhood in Auburndale, Florida where he witnessed shooting, robbing, and dealing drugs. He said that when he got aTracy McGrady - Credit NBA website well-paying job, he wanted to have nice things, but said that “…those things don’t really mean anything to me anymore.” Before he went to Darfur, in the western region of Sudan and bordering Chad, in the summer of 2007, he said he had no idea what genocide was and was nervous about what he would see…and he saw a lot.

His trip resulted in the documentary 3 Points, which has just been released and can be seen on Hulu. Tracy is so passionate about the film and his work that he has changed his jersey number to 3 to remind people of the three goals for the Darfuris: peace, protection, and punishment (of those who have harmed them).

Tracy goes there with a big heart and a lot to learn. He…like most of us…has no idea what the life of the refugees…all 2.2 million of them…is like…that the women are being raped, the men are being killed, and their villages have been burned down. He sees children running and wants to build them a soccer field (which would cost just $1,000) and an indoor swimming pool (which would be considered extravagant), but learns that these children have more basic needs such as clean water, food, safety, and schools and supplies. There are no secondary schools (high schools). The people tell them that they have nothing…NOTHING.

He sleeps in a tent for the first time and displays a lot of naivete, but a willingness to learn about the Darfuris. He learns that children and families walked 200 miles to be in the camps, that the women choose to go out to get firewood because they will only be raped; if their husbands go out, they will be killed. Refugees are bombed by planes that look like United Nations planes, are surrounded by land mines, and eat once a day if they are lucky. People are attacked, killed execution-style, and even buried alive by Sudan’s military and Janjaweed, the government-backed militia. Children watch their parents being killed and are instantly orphaned and traumatized. Even small babies being carried on their mothers’ backs are shot.

Tracy asks questions that reveal a lot about the refugees:

  • “Who is protecting you?” No one
  • “What did you [young children] do when your village was attacked?” We ran, hid in the bush for a month, and walked for 10 days to get to a refugee camp.
  • “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 3 boys: I want to be a teacher. A girl:” I want to run my country.
  • “What kind of help do you need?” We have nothing. Everything was burned.

These are brave people, courageous people, strong people, survivors. They have seen unspeakable atrocities and injustice…the worst from their own government. Tracy reflects…

Tracy McGrady with Darfuri Children - Credit Darfur Dream Team

Just imagine that this could be us. What if the roles were reversed? What if the dice were rolled another way? This is not a joke…it’s not a game…this is real. This is our people we’re talking about. I guess that I am beginning to feel that I was put on this earth to really like help people. There’s more to me than just playing basketball, doing Adidas commercials. This is who I am and who I’m going to be. This is the beginning stages that we’re in. There’s definitely a lot more that needs to be done.

After returning from Darfur, Tracy visited with the State Department with his teammate Dikembe Mutombo and got input about how he can make a difference in Darfur. He recruited several other NBA stars to help in this effort as well as other non-profit organizations. He started a Darfur Dream Team Sister School program, which connects middle schools, high schools, and universities with students in the refugee camps of Darfur.

Tracy also visited his alma mater high school in that rough neighborhood of Auburndale, Florida with his Enough project allies who told the students that by being passive and nothing, they help evil triumph. Omer Ismail, the human rights activist from Darfur who joined Tracy on his travels there, said this to the students:

One day somebody is going to look you in the eyes and ask you “When Darfur was declared genocide, what have you done? I want you to look them in the eyes and say “I knew about it then and I’m proud to tell you that I’ve done something about it.”

Here’s a trailer about the 3 Points movie. Watch it. It will touch you. If it moves you, consider donating to the Darfur Dream Team’s Sister School program. Refugees in Darfur need all the heroes…like Tracy McGrady and you and me…they can get to help lift them up and into a better life.





Empowering Women to Hold Up Half the Sky

28 08 2009

Her family in need of money, at age 14, Abbas Be left her home in Hyderabad, India and went to New Delhi to become a maid…or so she thought. Instead, she was locked up in a brothel, beaten, gang raped, made to service customers sexually, made to watch girls who didn’t comply be murdered, and was never paid for her work. Eventually she was rescued by police and taken back to Hyderabad, where she found a home in a shelter that helps trafficked girls heal and learn skills for a new life. Abbas is getting an education, has learned bookbinding, is counseling girls on how to avoid being trafficked, and is earning enough money to help her sisters get an education and help them avoid being trafficked.

How can we improve the plight of women and girls globally? One very important way is through education, as is demonstrated in this story and many others in the upcoming book Half the Sky BookHalf the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which will be released on 9/8/09. The book is written by the husband and wife team of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and journalist and author Sheryl WuDunn, who have both won Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. They wrote an essay called “The Women’s Crusade,” which is adapted from the book and appeared on 8/17/09 in the New York Times. Here are some of the things they report:

  • In 1990, while living and reporting in China, they read an obscure report that stated that 39,000 baby girls die in the first year of life annually in China because parents don’t get girls the same medical care they do boys.
  • A bride is burned once every two hours in India because the dowry isn’t high enough or the husband wants to get rid of her to marry someone else.
  • Anywhere from 60 to 107 million females are missing from the planet due primarily to not getting adequate nutrition and health care. This number is more than all the men who were killed in all the wars in the 20th century.
  • The poorest families in the world spend approximately 20% of their incomes on alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts and only about 2% of their income on educating their children. Studies show that when women are able to have an income, it is more often spent on good food, medicine, and housing and children are healthier.
  • In some cases, fathers drink away $5 a week at bars…$5 that could purchase a mosquito net and save a child from dying of malaria.

Sometimes even the simplest things can make a huge difference in the lives of girls. Examples mentioned in the article are:

  • A study done in Kenya by Harvard economist Michael Kremer showed that the best way to motivate sixth grade girls to better academic performance is to offer them a $19 scholarship for seventh and eighth grade and recognition at an assembly.
  • In another Kenyan study, it was shown that dropout and pregnancy rates can be significantly reduced by providing a $6 school uniform to girls every 18 months.
  • Another way to keep girls from missing classes is to aid girls in menstruation by providing pads and a place to change them.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

President Obama has appointed a new White House Council on Women and Girls. Nicholas and Sheryl have three concrete recommendations for the Council, which would cost no more than the U.S. has given to Pakistan since 9/11:

  • Set aside $10 billion over the next five years to educate girls all over the world.  When Larry Summers was chief economist of the World Bank, he said that “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
  • Sponsor a drive to help countries all over the world iodize salt and eliminate iodine deficiency. Approximately a third of households in developing countries don’t get enough iodine and it can affect particularly female fetuses and reduce girls’ IQs 10 to 15 points.
  • Provide $1.6 billion over the next 12 years to eradicate obstetric fistulas. A fistula is a hole formed inside a woman during a difficult childbirth and it can leave her smelly, incontinent, and shunned by her village. It only costs a few hundred dollars to repair.

There is a Chinese saying that inspired the title of the Kristof/WuDunn book:

Women hold up half the sky.

Sometimes women just need a little help. If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of women and children all over the world, here are just a few of the many organizations that would appreciate even a small donation:





The Biology of Belief: Moving Beyond the Survival of the Fittest

23 08 2009

The human body has over 50 trillion cells. The world population today is 6.8 billion. Our bodies have more than seven thousand times as many cells as there are people in the whole world! What can science teach us about how to survive, thrive, and co-exist and what spiritual implications can be found?

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published November 24, 1859 and is considered the basis for the evolution theory of biology. His idea was that populations evolve over time through a process of natural selection or what has been dubbed “the survival of the fittest.” German political philosopher and co-creator of the theory of communism Friedrich Engels said in 1872 that:

Darwin did not know what a bitter satire he wrote on mankind when he showed that free competition, the struggle for existence, which the economists celebrate as the highest historical achievement, is the normal state of the animal kingdom.

Dr. Bruce H. Lipton, trained as a cell biologist and now bridging science and spirit, talks… in his thought-provoking and ground-breaking book The Biology of Belief …of two new biomedical research fields:

  1. Signal transduction science, which “…recognizes that the fate and behavior of an organism is directly linked to its perception of the environment. In simple terms, the character of our life is based upon how we perceive it.”
  2. Epigenetics, which “…is the science of how environmental signals select, modify, and regulate gene activity. This new awareness reveals that our genes are constantly being remodeled in response to life experiences.”

Dr. Lipton has demonstrated in his own research that the nucleus (where DNA is) of a cell can be removed and the cell can still function for a time…until it needs to repair itself…and then it breaks down and dies. He theorizes that the real “brain” of the cell is in the membrane, which interacts with the environment (this is the signal transduction mentioned above). He concludes that “the cell’s operations are primarily molded by its interaction with the environment, not its genetic code.”

Gaia: The World by Lisa Hunt

Gaia: The World by Lisa Hunt

Based on this New Biology, Dr. Lipton suggests that we need to move beyond Darwinian theory…which focuses on the importance of individuals (or an individual cell’s DNA)…to one that stresses the importance of the community (or the connection and reference of the individual cell to its environment).

He talks of the Gaia Hypothesis, which was developed by independent research scientist Richard Lovelock in the 1960s as a result of his NASA work on methods to detect life on Mars. Lovelock postulated in his 1979 book (which was updated in 2000 with several additional sequels including one which came out in 2009) Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth that the earth and all its species constitute one interactive, living organism…a superorganism.

The implications of that are huge. As Dr. Lipton points out, the Newtonian version of the universe is linear. A -> B -> C -> D etc. This is the system that western doctors follow…that we have a universe that is just made up of ordered matter and they must prescribe a pill to act on that matter. Prescription drugs are used at one of these points to try and intercept and repair the defective element in our system.

The quantum universe…or Gaia…vision of the world is holistic, interconnected, and energetic. In the above example, a prescription drug used to treat point B not only treats that element, but also interacts with other elements in our body…thus, we get side effects. Eastern doctors, on the other hand, treat patients with a holistic view, recognizing that the universe…and the human body…is made up of energy. Acupuncture, for example, influences health by stimulating vital Globe in hands smallerenergy that may be blocked in the body.

Dr. Lipton says that an organism…and by implication the larger superorganism of our whole world…has two survival mechanisms: growth and protection. The organism can’t do both at the same time. If it uses all its energy in a fight-or-flight response, growth is inhibited.

Growth requires an open exchange between the organism and its environment; protection requires that the organism close down and wall itself off.  War, violence, depletion of environmental resources, close-mindedness, ideological control (by religions and governments), prejudice, illness, depression, and fear are all examples of what happens to individuals and larger organisms (like countries) that go into protective mode and close down.

What’s the take away from Dr. Lipton of this New Biology? That we must change our competitive, dog-eat-dog, one-up-manship, survival of the fittest paradigm to one that supports everyone and everything on this planet…a paradigm of interconnection, openness, growth, and survival of the most loving.

Thanks to Dr. Wayne Dyer for referring me and many others to this truly elucidating and ground-breaking book.





Muslim Model to be Caned for Drinking a Beer

21 08 2009

For the Muslim crime of drinking a beer, 32-year-old  Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who lives in Singapore with her husband, has been sentenced to pay a fine worth $1,400 and to six lashes by a rattan cane. The sentence for a Muslim being caught in public drinking can be as strict as a three-year prison term and caning, but typically offenders are only fined. Here’s a short article being published 8/22/09 from The Independent about this:

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno with children Muhammad and Kaitlynn - Source: The Independent

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno with children Muhammad and Kaitlynn - Source: The Independent

‘If you’re going to cane me, then do it in public’

Model’s stand after conviction for drinking alcohol exposes brutality of Malaysian law

by Andrew Buncombe, Asia editor

She says it was only the second time she had drunk alcohol in her life, and even then it was just a few of glasses of beer. But it was enough for a Muslim court in Malaysia to order Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a part-time model and mother-of-two, to be caned. The corporal punishment case has divided the Asian nation and led human rights campaigners to urge the authorities to show restraint.

Now, in her first interview, Ms Kartika has urged the authorities to carry out the punishment in public. “I never cried when I was sentenced by the judge,” she told Reuters at her father’s house in a village 200 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. “I told myself, all right then, let’s get on with it.”

Ms Kartika, who would be the first woman to be caned in the Muslim-majority country, is actually a citizen of neighbouring Singapore, and does not even live in Malaysia. But last year she was caught drinking at a hotel in Kuantan in the eastern Malaysian state of Pahang during a police raid. Under Malaysian law, while it is legal for non-Muslims to drink alcohol, Muslims – even foreigners – may not. [end of article]

I’ve been to Singapore, where this woman is from, and it is strict about a lot of things, but I easily saw women drinking in bars. I don’t know if they were Muslim or not. This incident took place in neighboring Malaysia, but still…I wonder how one of these raids takes place. Do the authorities walk in and demand proof whether you are Muslim or not? And how does one prove that?

I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia years ago and drinking was forbidden beerdue to the strict enforcement of Muslim Sharia law. There were no bars to go to and drink, but people still drank alcohol in their homes. Most expats (people from other countries working and living there) made their own wine and beer. Name-brand liquor was smuggled in the country and could be purchased.

As soon as an airplane lifted off and was no longer on Saudi Arabian soil, Saudis ordered and drank alcohol. While I’m sure there are many Muslims who follow the law and do not drink, there are many…like Mormons who also are required to not drink alcohol or religious zealots who are required by their faith to follow other strict codes…who often do what they want when they think no one who could judge them is watching or they are in a place where no could judge (and prosecute) them.

This was a simple case of a young woman sitting in a bar having a beer. If she was non-Muslim no one would care. If the religious police hadn’t shown up, no one would care. But this woman got caught. I can’t imagine a Mormon in our country being sentenced to pay such a hefty fine and being lashed even though their beliefs strictly forbid alcohol also.

The difference is that in our country…at least in theory and in most places…church and state are separate. This is a cautionary tale, though, that we must never allow religious zealots to take over the leadership of our country (as they are training people to do) or else we, too, might see religious “laws” and our judicial system laws become one and the same.

UPDATE: Kartika was on her way to a prison for the caning today, but was taken back home after she received a Ramadan (which began on 8/22) reprieve. The caning will still take place, but after Ramadan (the Islamic holy month) is over.

UPDATE 9/28/09: A judge in Malaysia has upheld the caning sentence and it will still be carried out.

UPDATE 4/1/10: One day before she was to surrender to authorities for the caning, Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang state overturned the Islamic court ruling and commuted Kartika’s sentence to three weeks of community service at a children’s home.





Youssou N’Dour: Goodwill and Music Ambassador of the World

16 08 2009

It penetrates. It uplifts. It feels joyful. Grammy award-winning Youssou N’Dour’s music. Mostly sung in his African Senegal native tongue of Youssou N'Dour Sept 2004Wolof, one does not need a translator to feel this music. Described by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 as “perhaps the most famous singer alive,” Youssou N’Dour is the subject of a documentary called I Bring What I Love, which was shown at many prestigious film festivals around the world. It is now being shown in theaters across the country and I had the privilege of seeing it on Friday.

I received an email from UNICEF USA about the movie. Youssou is an UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and, per the the email, “advocates for children at home and abroad, giving benefit performances and participating in social mobilization and advocacy campaigns. He has been a consistent supporter of the Roll-Back Malaria Partnership, a global initiative launch in 1998 to significantly reduce the number of malaria deaths.”

The email also had this to say about the movie:

Enjoy the tantalizing beats, be inspired by Youssou’s compelling story, but also go see the film because there is more at stake. It’s all too rare that an African or Muslim subject gets this kind of film making and this kind of attention. Amid the images in the U.S. media of African AIDS, war and poverty, this film is a chance for Americans to see a positive, realistic representation of contemporary Africa. In addition, it is all too rare that stories go below the surface and give nuanced views of a more tolerant Islam.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Youssou N’Dour is is often credited with introducing the music of Africa to countless new audiences. Now the innovative Sengalese singer, composer and producer is the subject of a new documentary film, ‘I Bring What I Love’, currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit and in cinemas.

Director and producer Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s cameras followed Mr. N’Dour for three years, documenting family life, concert appearances around the world, the infectious energy of Senegal and his Sufi Muslim faith.

The resulting music-driven journey unfolds at an extraordinary moment in N’Dour’s career, when his most personal, spiritual album to date sparks controversy at home when it is released.

Youssou is revered in Senegal and all of Africa, but originally the Egypt album, which was loved all over the world, was rejected in his home country. Considering it a testimony of his faith, he released it during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan; many considered it blasphemous. It was only after the album won a Grammy…Youssou’s first…that it was accepted.

I was privileged to attend the one showing in Austin that was followed by a discussion of the movie. About 20 former Peace Corps volunteers were present as well as several native Sengalese. The discussion was lively and intelligent, as would be expected from the worldly, curious, and open-minded people who stayed to participate. I came away with a new appreciation for the country of Senegal and a renewed interest in Youssou N’Dour.

Not only is he a world-renowned musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Youssou N’Dour also:

  • Organized in 1985 a concert for the release of Nelson Mandela
  • Performed in the 1988 worldwide Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour
  • Acted in the 2006 movie Amazing Grace about the abolitionist William Wilberforce
  • Performed at three Live 8 concerts
  • Worked with the United Nations
  • Advocated for public health (including AIDS/HIV activism) and civil and political stability in Africa
  • Helped change the economic landscape in Senegal through the Youssou N’Dour Foundation
  • Was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007 by Time magazine

Check out the movie if you have a chance and definitely check out some of his music. It will make you smile and make you want to get up and dance.

Here is the South by Southwest Film Festival trailer about the movie:







GHOST: Counterterrorism Agent Fred Burton

16 07 2009

A 12 year stint as a special agent (and later deputy chief) of the Diplomatic Security Service of the Department of State’s counterterrorism division began for Fred Burton on February 10, 1986. A former Maryland police officer, he Fred Burtonhad some experience working in the shadows and with the dark strands of society. His life totally changed on that cold Bethesda day and became consumed in finding and disarming those all over the world whose purpose is to cause harm and destruction and to strike fear in the hearts of innocent people.

I heard Fred Burton speak at the Texas Book Festival right before the election last year. I found his talk intriguing and bought and read his riveting book Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent. In it, he tells stories of how the initial office of himself, his boss Steve, and another agent (and later additional agents) investigated many international incidents to determine if they were terrorist attacks. These incidents included the following:

  1. A bomb on TWA Flight 840 from Athens to Rome
  2. A bomb at a German disco in West Berlin
  3. The Beirut hostage crisis
  4. The airplane crash that killed Pakistani President Zia
  5. The first World Trade Center bombing

Mr. Burton is a true American patriot. He kept a suitcase packed and was ready to go anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice. He often was gone for weeks and his wife would have no idea where he was; he couldn’t tell her for security reasons. He rarely got a full night’s sleep as he would either be awakened with an emergency call that necessitated him going into the office or would lay awake anticipating such a call. He rarely even had a weekend morning to himself. He was always on call, always on the ready, always working to keep Americans and people all over the world safe.

Since 1998, Fred has worked for Strategic Forecasting (STRATFOR) in Austin, Texas, a company that does “geopolitical intelligence and economic, political, and military strategic forecasting.” He is currently VP of Counterterrorism and Corporate Security. There he and his counterterrorism team “watch overseas threats, analyze them, and report our findings to our clients.”

Mr. Burton was kind enough to send me a note when he saw that I listed on my blog that I was reading his book. I said I’d love to read another book by him and he replied that “My next book is MANHUNT and centers on my 25 year quest to capture a Palestinian terrorist who gunned down an Israeli secret agent in the DC area.” That sounds like another riveting book and I look forward to reading it when it is released in April 2010.

When you go to bed tonight, your thoughts may be on an argument with your spouse or a slight from your boss, but most of us won’t have to worry about whether we are safe or not. Eight years into his stint in counterterrorism, Fred Burton made these observations:

Do the people around me have any idea of the ruthless depths of the world they live in? Do they have any clue what lurks around them? I certainly didn’t eight years ago. Perhaps that ignorance is a good thing. Living life in perpetual fear is not a life at all. In truth, there are moments where I miss that blissful ignorance. Knowledge and a top secret clearance do not equal happiness. I’ve found that out the hard way.

We can be grateful for people like Fred Burton who are willing to give so much so that we can live blissfully and ignorantly safe lives. Here’s Mr. Burton in February discussing his book:





Ishmael Beah: Former Sierra Leone Child Soldier

5 07 2009

At the age of 13, Ishmael Beah was forced to become a child soldier in a horrific civil war that started in 1991 in Sierra Leone. Rebels had ishmael_beah burned many villages and killed everyone in them, including his family. He and a group of boys roamed from village to village looking for food and shelter, just trying to stay alive. They had many close calls when they were mistaken for rebels and were almost executed. They saw things that children shouldn’t see…mutilated dead bodies (including those of other children) in piles and blood soaking the ground…and they cheered each other with boyish games to avoid feeling the pervasive fear and despair that drenched this war-ridden country.

They thought they had finally found safety at a military encampment in Yele. Ishmael was given food and stayed in a cement brick house with over 30 other orphaned boys between the ages of 7 and 16. For a while, it seemed idyllic as he helped prepare food and played his beloved soccer. One day everything changed. Lieutenant Jabati announced that the boys were needed to fight the rebels and told them “This is your time to revenge the deaths of your families and to make sure more children do not lose their families.”

Sierra Leone Child Soldier - Credit: Foreign Policy Assn

Sierra Leone Child Soldier - FR: Foreign Policy Assn

And so it began. Ishmael and his friends…upon threat of death if they tried to escape…became child soldiers. They were given AK-47 assault rifles, trained in how to attack and kill, and given marajuana, amphetamines, cocaine, and brown-brown (a mixture of cocaine and gun powder) to dull the horror of killing. They believed their commanders had juju…magical skills…and they did what they were told, which included execution style killings, slitting throats, and many other horrendous acts to prove their loyalty and soldiering ability.

Ishmael survived many harrowing scenes in which less clever and determined men and boys perished. He was rescued after almost three years by UNICEF and sent through an 8-month rehabilitation program, which required his caretakers…especially the very caring Esther who became like a mother figure to him…to be willing to see him and other former child soldiers as children and not as willing killers. He had a really difficult time withdrawing from all the drugs and facing what he had done. He suffered flashbacks and nightmares and had to relearn to trust adults.

He was repatriated by going to live with a long-lost uncle and his family in the city of Freetown. He was one of two children chosen to represent Sierra Leone at the United Nations First International Children’s Parliament in New York City. There he told his story of being a child soldier and the effects it had on him and other children.

Ishmael returned to Sierra Leone, attended school, and continued living with his uncle. On May 25, 1997, soldiers entered Freetown and raped, killed, threw tear gas, and plundered. Ishmael’s uncle suddenly became ill and died. With war raging around him, Ishmael knew that he needed to escape or he would be killed if he refused to become a child soldier again.

He made the decision to never go back to that soul-killing way of life and called Laura Simms…one of the NGOs (non-governmental officials) he’d met at the New York conference…and asked if he could come live with her. She said yes. With a few clothes and some money she sent him, he started the very dangerous path out of the country and escaped (barely) to Conakry, Guinea. From there he was able to get to New York and Laura became his foster mother.

Ishmael finished his last two years of high school at the United Nations International School in New York and went on to get a degree in political science in 2004 at Oberlin College. The book he eloquently wrote about his experiences…A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier…was published in 2007. I just finished reading that book and found it moving, disturbing, and in the end, hopeful.

There are hundreds of thousands of children worldwide who are forced to be soldiers. Since Ishmael was liberated from soldiering, positive changes have been happening in Sierra Leone. Child Soldiers: Global Report 2008 states that “A landmark in international justice was forged by the conviction in 2007 by the Special Court for Sierra Leone of four people on charges that included the recruitment and use of children during the civil war.” It goes on to laud Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, and Liberia for establishing truth commissions to address the issue of child soldiers.

The report names these countries as having used child soldiers in armed conflict between April 2004 and October 2007: Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan and Southern Sudan, Uganda, Yemen, and the UK (which sent under 18-year-olds to fight in Iraq). Under pressure from the United Nations and human rights organizations, some countries have ceased deploying child soldiers, but these victories have been limited. There is much work to be done.

To learn more about Ishmael Beah, you can visit the website http://www.alongwaygone.com. He has established the Ishmael Beah Foundation, which is “dedicated to helping former child soldiers reintegrate into society and improve their lives.” He was a long way gone, but now he’s a long way positively influencing the lives of others through his work with the Human Rights Watch Children’s Division Advisory Committee, speaking before the United Nations, serving as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and doing other work to bring to light the effects of war on children. Here’s Ishmael speaking on CBS News on June 4, 2007.





Rage Against the Machine: Protests in Iran

21 06 2009

This is a POWERFUL video of Iranian protests. It is posted on Huffington Post with the accompanying description:

Rage against the machine. An Iranian-American writes: “In my spare time, I make short documentaries and music videos, and my 22 year old cousin in Iran asked that I make a video for him with his favorite song. I just spoke with him and he told me that his friends and him are watching it before they go out to protest. He was stepping out the door to protest when I spoke with him just a few minutes ago. A lot of Iranians from Iran rely on huffingtonpost.com for their information. If you could somehow post this on your website and get this out to the youth in Iran, it would mean a lot.”





Celebrating World Refugee Day by Becoming a U.S. Citizen

20 06 2009

June 20 is World Refugee Day. 42 million people worldwide are refugees. Angelina Jolie serves as UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) Goodwill Ambassador. She and Brad Pitt have donated $1 million to help Pakistani refugees displaced because of war. Angelina says that the number of Pakistani refugees is jumping at a really high rate…as much as 100,000 people a day…and 2 million Pakistanis are now refugees.

Austin, Texas (where I live) takes in about 500 – 600 refugees per month; the most challenging thing is helping them find work. Here’s an article that is currently online and will appear in Sunday’s Austin American-Statesman newspaper about 21 refugees who became U.S. citizens today in Austin.

Refugees who fled horrors of war, famine now call Austin home.

Jeremy Schwartz
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, June 21, 2009

They’ve fled war, famine, genocide and concentration camps. But in an intimate ceremony Saturday at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, 21 refugees from 11 countries took an important step on their roads to a new life: They became U.S. citizens.

The naturalization ceremony took place on World Refugee Day and marked the second consecutive year that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has commemorated the day in Austin with a citizenship ceremony for refugees.

“They’ve gone through so much,” said Mario Ortiz, the San Antonio district director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. “So it’s only right that as an agency and as a country we recognize the contributions they will make to this country.”

For Amir Causevic, a 34-year-old who left his hometown in Bosnia-Herzegovina when war broke out in the early 1990s, Saturday’s ceremony was the culmination of nearly two decades of struggle.

“This is the biggest day in my life so far,” said Causevic, who lives in Hutto with his wife and son and works as an installer for Time Warner Cable. “You have so many bad memories of your country that you want to start your life over again.”

John Mohinga and Wife (with family) become Citizens in Austin 6/20/09 - Credit: KUT's Erika Aguilar

John Mohinga and Wife (with family) become Citizens in Austin 6/20/09 - Credit: KUT's Erika Aguilar

John Mohinga, a 52-year-old from Congo, urged his fellow newly anointed citizens to take advantage of their second chance.

“Here you can live in peace and see your children go to school and get degrees and so on,” he told the crowd during the ceremony. “Here, you can be whatever you want to be.”

Mohinga, who works as a security guard and is the assistant pastor at North Austin Christian Church, fled Congo during a civil war that killed about 5 million of his countrymen more than a decade ago. He and his wife were forced to leave, he said, because she was an ethnic Tutsi originally from Rwanda, putting her on the wrong side of local militias.

The couple and their children were rescued by Red Cross workers who delivered them to United Nations forces and ultimately to a refugee camp in Cameroon. They came to the United States in 2000.

“I want to thank the great people of Texas for this peaceful welcome,” Mohinga said.

After the 21 refugees — all of them Austin-area residents originally from places such as Sudan, Afghanistan, El Salvador and Cambodia — took their oath of citizenship, immigration officials handed out certificates. The new Americans held them as if they might break or fly away and posed for pictures with smiling family members.

“Thank you for inspiring us,” Ortiz told them. “Thank you for humbling us.”





The Audacity of Having a Voice

17 06 2009

We have so villified the Iranians. Made them to be the enemy. Bush called them part of the “axis of evil.” We have feared them, mistrusted them, hated them, wanted to harm them.

Credit: Huffington Post

Credit: Huffington Post

I am in awe of the Iranian people. These are people standing up for freedom and for having a voice. Would you have such courage to protest as they are doing now?

Why, when Bush stole the election in 2000, did people in the United States not stand up and protest? Why, when Bush tortured people and we knew about it, did we not cast him and Cheney out of office? Why, when we knew that the Bush Administration was monitoring ordinary citizens, clamping down our human rights, and creating legal documents to make themselves a monarchy with absolute authority did we do nothing?

Where is our moral courage and passion to march, protest, and demand an end to child trafficking or sexual abuse or violence against women? What about children going hungry even in our own country or people living in tents or elderly people who can’t afford their prescriptions? Do we stand up and say ENOUGH!? Do we write our lawmakers who make light of these situations and spend more money on weapons than feeding people and helping the afflicted? Do we do ANYTHING? 

Would you march silently to give voice and to stand up for something you strongly believe in? Is there anything so important to you that you would risk arrest, injury, or even death as the Iranians are doing? 

Consider spending 10 minutes each day in meditation for healing in our world. It’s the least we can do.

Here is a video of people in Tehran peacefully protesting the election results today. This brings tears to my eyes. This is courage and conviction in action. I hope that we can all begin to see the Iranians…and so many other people speaking out all over the world for freedom from violence and freedom for a voice…as our brothers and sisters who are to be loved and applauded and not enemies to be feared and hated.

 





The 1979 Iranian Revolution: A Personal Story

13 06 2009

We were all set to move to Tehran, Iran in 1978. My (then) husband was a software engineer with Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and we had the opportunity of a lifetime to move there (and him to work there) with our one-year-old baby girl.

Shah Pahlavi and Queen Farah 1977

Shah Pahlavi and Queen Farah 1977

Iran seemed stable then.  Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was the leader and had been since he came to power in 1941. He had put in place a lot of positive reforms, called the White Revolution, in Iran such as giving women the right to vote, advancing the country technologically and economically, guaranteeing children the right to go to school, allowing share croppers to own land, etc.

There was no Internet then, but I researched Iran the best I could. EDS gave us a packet of information on what to expect about living there and I learned more at the library. I knew it would be really different from living in the U.S. Things like celery and iceburg lettuce and other foods were hard to get and expensive when you could find them. I wouldn’t be driving there, but would have some freedom of movement. There was no email so contact with my family would be mostly through letters and the rare (and expensive) phone call. Still, I was ready for the adventure.

Ayatollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Khomeini

Things happened to change all that. Previously the Shah had Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was critical of his regime, imprisoned for 18 months and then deported in 1964 after Khomeini’s release and criticism of the U.S. government. Khomeini continued to speak out against the Pahlavi regime from exile. The Iranian (also called the Islamic) Revolution began in January 1978. A few months later, EDS asked if we would consider going to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia instead of Tehran. We didn’t really understand why, but they explained it would be safer. We changed course and agreed…and my research began anew. I became pregnant with our second child and had to hold back on going to Jeddah. Their father went around the beginning of November 1978. I, and our two children, didn’t go over until July 1979.

Amidst the backdrop of our changing personal saga, chaos had broken out in Iran and the Shah and his family had to flee the country in January 1979. His regime collapsed two weeks later. EDS employees fled the U.S.-friendly regime with the clothes on their back. Many of them came later to Jeddah and we were regaled with harrowing and heroic stories.

Khomeini returned from 15 years of exile and on 4/1/79, the people of Iran voted to become an Islamic Republic. In December of 1979, the people approved a theocratic (where God is considered the supreme civil ruler) constitution and Khomeini became the Supreme Leader, the highest ranking political and religious figure in the country. He has authority even over the president of Iran. Tens of thousands of loyalists to the previous regime were executed after Khomeini took office.

At this point, the U.S./Iran relationship deteriorated. On 11/4/79 Iranian students seized U.S. embassy personnel, accusing them of being CIA agents plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.  Khomeini supported them. Most of the women and African-American hostages were released after a few months, but the remaining 52 hostages were held captive for 444 days. They were set free in January 1981 in exchange for promises that included the U.S. removing a freeze on Iranian assets and not interfering with Iranian affairs.

While my family and I were spared the drama, tension, and danger in Iran, we were living in Jeddah when the Grand Mosque was seized and held for two weeks by Islamic terrorists on 11/20/79.  I wrote about this in a post entitled “Pilgrims to a Deadly Hajj.” I witnessed on the streets what an area under siege in a Middle Eastern country looks like.

Once again we seemed to escape potential danger unwittingly. We returned to the United States around mid-September of 1980. On 9/22/80 Saddam Hussein and Iraq invaded a weakend (from the revolution) Iran and thus began the Iran-Iraq War. It lasted until 1988 when Khomeini begrudgingly accepted a truce negotiated by the United Nations. 500,000 – 1 million Iranians died in this war; 100,000 of them from Iraqi chemical weapons.

Ali KhameneiKhomeini reigned as Supreme Leader until he died on 6/3/89. Ali Khamenei became Supreme Leader in 1989 and remains so in 2009. Iran had two additional presidents before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005.

I was a 25-year-old, wide-eyed, ready-for-anything young woman when my family was going to move to Iran. Things were pretty peaceful then. It seemed really exciting.

Today, in the aftermath of what looks like a rigged election, there is rioting in the streets of Iran. The people are crying out for freedom and representation and being heard. It’s a dangerous place to be. I could’ve walked amongst these people 30 years ago, but it would’ve been a different Iran, an Iran that was making progress and restoring rights to women and children and peasants.

Today, and the last 30 years, seem to have been a setback for the Iranians. I wonder when their country will be restored to peace and to being a place where another wide-eyed, brave young U.S. mother would dare to go undaunted with her family to have the adventure of a lifetime.





Can Retailers Teach Us How to Prevent Human Trafficking?

5 06 2009

I got a glimpse of the underbelly of fraudsters and organized crime a couple of years ago when I worked at a company that created software for online retailers to help them process good payments and weed out fraudulent ones. It was a fascinating glimpse into a world I hadn’t been exposed to and only knew about peripherally.

Hands and feet in Chains from iStockPhotoOnline fraud started out as pranksters or one-off transactions…individuals trying to get something for nothing. There’s still that happening, but online fraud progressed to being perpetrated by large organized crime rings, with a lot of it coming from eastern Europe and western Africa. Why the change? Organized crime can hide anonymously behind a computer, and with their organizations being so spread out geographically and across many jurisdictions, most law enforcement groups are not able to catch them. It’s an easy crime for many of them.

Analysts from my previous company monitored chat rooms where criminals sold stolen credit cards…or the information on your credit card or social security card… for $10 each. They got inside the criminals’ territories and learned the tricks of what they were doing…hiring waiters to take skimming machines and run credit cards through them to capture the information in the strip when you give them your card to pay for dinner, installing fake fronts to ATMs to capture the keystrokes of your PIN and your debit card number, etc. They had to find ways to put techniques in the software that allows retailers to stay two steps ahead of the criminals, who are very tech-savvy themselves.

As part of my work, I had several calls with the IC3…the Internet Crime Complaint Center…and the FBI and participated in the announcement of the www.LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com initiative, to help people avoid becoming a victim of online fraud. I was the press manager (one of the many hats I wore) for a large organization of retailers that came together to develop best practices to combat and prevent online fraud.

Okay…perhaps some of that is interesting…but my point of saying all that is this…organized crime got really savvy about how to commit fraud online. There have been a lot of businesses (including the one I worked with) that built software to prevent and stop this fraud and find these savvy fraudsters, which has led to many prosecutions.

Retailers banded together to pool their knowledge of how to outsmart the criminals. It’s a constant cat and mouse game; the fraudsters learn how to go around the software and the software companies come up with new techniques they hope the fraudsters can’t go around.

If all that is possible, why aren’t there businesses out there developing software…and maybe there are but I don’t know about them…that look for certain patterns and other things to detect that someone online might be engaging in child trafficking or sexual exploitation? There is software for keeping databases of sex offenders, but I’m talking about software that would stop this stuff from happening in the first place…that would disallow child pornography from being sold or a child being sold online.

Unfortunately, a lot of child trafficking is done the low-tech way…not online…so admittedly this makes it more difficult to track when it happens. But…just as fraud in stores orginally was mostly stealing stuff in stores (and of course this still happens) but progressed to online massive stealing…I suspect that child trafficking may also “progress” (if it isn’t already happening) to being done online.

Isn’t it worth it for someone to be developing high-tech solutions to stop and find traffickers? It seems at least an international tracking system is needed. I see so many stories about trafficking in so many countries. Is anyone looking at the big picture and tracking these occurrences across countries? In the retail world, that’s the only way they are beginning to find some of these organized crime rings and prosecute them.

Does anyone know if anything like this is being done? Isn’t it about time it was?

UPDATE 10/19/09: After writing this article, I received an email from the National Association to Protect Children. Read what they and the Oak Ridge National Laboratories are doing to stop child predators in the post I wrote on 10/19/09 entitled Oak Ridge, TN: Developed the Atomic Bomb and Now Stopping Child Predators.





We Can’t Afford To Turn Away

31 05 2009
We pay a high price for refusing to look at the atrocities being committed all over the world. The atrocities continue…bodies, minds, and hearts are destroyed…and we bear a collective responsibility and guilt for allowing them to continue.
 
My family members and friends rarely visit my blog and read my posts. Most never have. They don’t want to read about what I write about…particularly the abuse and injustice toward women and children all over the world. I try and talk with them about it and they don’t want to hear.

To refuse to see and acknowledge what is going on winds up hurting all of us at a very deep level. We deny the humanity of others who have less opportunity and more injustice than we do. How can we live with that? By staying incredibly busy and tuning out the inconvenient and raw truth? How authentic are our lives when we constantly do that? How authentic is our humanity?
 
Here’s an excellent New York Times op-ed column on this posted May 30. What are your thoughts?

“Holding On to Our Humanity” by Bob Herbert

Overload is a real problem. There is a danger that even the most decent of people can grow numb to the unending reports of atrocities occurring all around the globe. Mass rape. Mass murder. Torture. The institutionalized oppression of women.

There are other things in the world: a ballgame, your daughter’s graduation, the ballet. The tendency to draw an impenetrable psychic curtain across the worst that the world has to offer is understandable. But it’s a tendency, as Elie Wiesel has cautioned, that must be fought.

We have an obligation to listen, for example, when a woman from a culture foreign to our own recalls the moment when time stopped for her, when she was among a group of women attacked by soldiers:

“They said to us: ‘If you have a baby on your back, let us see it.’ The soldiers looked at the babies and if it was a boy, they killed it on the spot [by shooting him]. If it was a girl, they dropped or threw it on the ground. If the girl died, she died. If she didn’t die, the mothers were allowed to pick it up and keep it.”

The woman recalled that in that moment, the kind of throbbing moment when time is not just stopped but lost, when it ceases to have any meaning, her grandmother had a boy on her back. The grandmother refused to show the child to the soldiers, so both she and the boy were shot.

A team of female researchers, three of them physicians, traveled to Chad last fall to interview women who were refugees from the nightmare in Darfur. No one has written more compellingly about that horror than my colleague on this page, Nick Kristof. When I was alerted to the report that the team had compiled for Physicians for Human Rights, my first thought was, “What more is there to say?”

And then I thought about Mr. Wiesel, who has warned us so eloquently about the dangers inherent in indifference to the suffering of others. Stories of atrocities on the scale of those coming out of Darfur cannot be told too often.

The conflict has gone on for more than six years, and while the murders and mass rapes have diminished, this enormous human catastrophe is still very much with us. For one thing, Sudan has expelled humanitarian aid groups from Darfur, a move that Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently told Mr. Kristof “may well amount to genocide by other means.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and the systematic sexual attacks on Darfuri women have been widely reported. Millions have been displaced and perhaps a quarter of a million Darfuris are living in conditions of the barest subsistence in refugee camps along the Chad-Sudan border.

The report by Physicians for Human Rights, to be released officially on Sunday (available at darfuriwomen.org), focuses on several dozen women in the Farchana refugee camp in Chad. The report pays special attention to the humanity of the women.

“These are real people with children, with lives that may have been quite simple, but were really rich before they were displaced,” said Susannah Sirkin, a deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.

The conditions in the refugee camps are grim, made worse by the traumas that still grip the women, many of whom were witnesses — or the victims — of the most extreme violence.

“I don’t think I was prepared for the level of just palpable suffering that they are continuing to endure,” said Dr. Sondra Crosby, one of the four interviewers. “Women were telling me they were starving. They’re eating sorghum and oil and salt and sugar.”

Dr. Crosby and her colleagues had a few crackers or cookies on hand for the women during the interviews. “I don’t think I saw even one woman eat the crackers, even though they were hungry,” she said. “They all would hide them in their dresses so they could take them back to their children.”

The women also live with the ongoing fear of sexual assault. According to the report, rape is a pervasive problem around the refugee camps, with the women especially vulnerable when they are foraging for firewood or food.

“It is so much easier to look away from victims,” said Mr. Wiesel, in a speech at the White House in 1999. “It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.”

But indifference to the suffering of others “is what makes the human being inhuman,” he said, adding: “The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”





Vaginas and Lives Mutilated in the Congo: Thoughts from the Writer of The Vagina Monologues

18 05 2009

Eve Ensler, who authored the play “The Vagina Monologues,” wrote today about the horrors of what women in the Democratic Republic of Congo are experiencing. I tried to explain  to my  mother about what Eve wrote about and she said her system can only take so much and she couldn’t hear any more. I get that. It’s hard to hear. But we must have courage and acknowledge the horrors. Only by acknowledging and spreading the word to others who will also acknowledge what is happening can the proper light be shed on this tragedy and solutions will follow. Here’s Eve’s article. All that follows was posted on Huffington Post today.

“War on Women in Congo” by Eve Ensler, posted 5/18/09 on Huffington Post

I write today on behalf of countless V-Day activists worldwide, and in solidarity with my many Congolese sisters and brothers who demand justice and an end to rape and war.

It is my hope that these words and those of others will break the silence and break open a sea of action to move Congolese women toward peace, safety and freedom.

My play, The Vagina Monologues, opened my eyes to the world inside this world. Everywhere I traveled with it scores of women lined up to tell me of their rapes, incest, beatings, mutilations. It was because of this that over 11 years ago we launched V-Day, a worldwide movement to end violence against women and girls.

The movement has spread like wildfire to 130 countries, raising $70 million. I have visited and revisited the rape mines of the world, from defined war zones like Bosnia, Afghanistan and Haiti to the domestic battlegrounds in colleges and communities throughout North America, Europe and the world. My in-box — and heart — have been jammed with stories every hour of every day for over a decade.

Nothing I have heard or seen compares with what is going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where corporate greed, fueled by capitalist consumption, and the rape of women have merged into a single nightmare. Femicide, the systematic and planned destruction of the female population, is being used as a tactic of war to clear villages, pillage mines and destroy the fabric of Congolese society.

In 12 years, there have been 6 million dead men and women in Congo and 1.4 million people displaced. Hundreds and thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured. Babies as young as 6 months, women as old as 80, their insides torn apart. What I witnessed in Congo has shattered and changed me forever. I will never be the same. None of us should ever be the same.

I think of Beatrice, shot in her vagina, who now has tubes instead of organs. Honorata, raped by gangs as she was tied upside down to a wheel. Noella, who is my heart — an 8-year-old girl who was held for 2 weeks as groups of grown men raped her over and over. Now she has a fistula, causing her to urinate and defecate on herself. Now she lives in humiliation.

I was in Bosnia during the war in 1994 when it was discovered there were rape camps where white women were being raped. Within two years there was adequate intervention. Yet, in Congo, femicide has continued for 12 years. Why? Is it that coltan, the mineral that keeps our cell phones and computers in play, is more important than Congolese girls?

Is it flat-out racism, the world’s utter indifference and disregard for black people and black women in particular? Is it simply that the UN and most governments are run by men who have never known what it feels like to be raped?

What is happening in Congo is the most brutal and rampant violence toward women in the world. If it continues to go unchecked, if there continues to be complete impunity, it sets a precedent, it expands the boundaries of what is permissible to do to women’s bodies in the name of exploitation and greed everywhere. It’s cheap warfare.

The women in Congo are some of the most resilient women in the world. They need our protection and support. Western governments, like the United States, should fund a training program for female Congolese police officers.

They should address our role in plundering minerals and demand that companies trace the routes of these minerals. Make sure they are making and selling rape-free-products. Supply funds for women’s medical and psychological care and seed their economic empowerment. Put pressure on Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and other countries in the Great Lakes region to sit down with all the militias involved in this conflict to find a political solution.

Military solutions are no longer an option and will only bring about more rape. Most of all, we must support the women. Because women are at the center of this horror, they must be at the center of the solutions and peace negotiations. Women are the future of Congo. They are its greatest resource.

Sadly, we are not the first to testify about these atrocities in Congo. I stand in a line of many who have described this horror. Still, in Eastern Congo, 1,100 women a month are raped, according to the United Nations’ most recent report. What will the United States government, what will all of you reading this, do to stop it?

Let Congo be the place where we ended femicide, the trend that is madly eviscerating this planet — from the floggings in Pakistan, the new rape laws in Afghanistan, the ongoing rapes in Haiti, Darfur, Zimbabwe, the daily battering, incest, harassing, trafficking, enslaving, genital cutting and honor killing. Let Congo be the place where women were finally cherished and life affirmed, where the humiliation and subjugation ended, where women took their rightful agency over their bodies and land.

Note: Eve Ensler is the playwright of “The Vagina Monologues” and the founder of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. V-Day has funded over 10,000 community-based anti-violence programs and launched safe houses in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq. V-Day has launched a joint global campaign with UNICEF – STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE: Power to the Women and Girls of the DRC. (http://www.vday.org) This commentary was originally adapted for CNN.com from remarks Ensler made Wednesday to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs and the Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues.








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