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.

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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.





International Women’s Day: Have Women Made Any Progress?

8 03 2010

Yesterday I heard the second president (in 1970) of the National Organization of Women (NOW) Aileen Hernandez speak on “Women’s Human Rights: Turning Principles into Practice: An International Women’s Day Event” at University of California at Berkeley. Aileen is currently the chair of the California Women’s Agenda, a state action alliance of over 600 organizations. Yesterday…as part of today’s International Women’s Day commemoration and sponsored by the UN Association-East Bay…she led a group of activists through a discussion of the advances that women have made over the last three or so decades. Those include:

  • More choices of types of work are available to women now. Previously women primarily were employed as sales clerks, teachers, nurses, secretaries, or domestic workers.
  • Women and girls are more involved in athletics and play in team sports now.
  • Women have more choices about working vs. staying at home with children. This creates more choices for men, too, and more men are stay-at-home fathers, for instance.
  • Women are seen more often in higher level positions within companies.
  • Women represent higher percentages of those seeking upper education degrees.
  • Women have more choices about whether to marry or not and whether to have children or not. Previously it was assumed they would marry and would have children.
  • There’s more recognition that educating a girl or woman means that a whole family and whole community benefits.
  • Women have assumed leadership roles in government and other positions of power to greater degrees.

And yet, despite the advances for women, many things have not changed…or have not changed enough. Some examples:

  • The International Trade Union (ITUC)…which represents 176 million workers from 155 countries…reported on 3/8/10 that women with children still only earn 68% of what their male counterparts earn for the same job. Women overall earn 74% of what men earn for the same position. This study included information from over 40 countries across the world.
  • According to Causecast, which has been dubbed a “one stop philanthropy shop, “One in three women die or are seriously injured as a result of gender-based violence. Violence against women results in more deaths among women ages 15 to 44 than the total number of women who die because of war, malaria and cancer.” One woman in the talk yesterday said she felt that the attention to violence against women has been a plus, but in reality, all that attention has not lowered the prevalence of the violence. Causecast also reports that “One out of every six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. An estimated 60 percent of all rapes are not reported to the police.”
  • Also per Causecast, an “estimated four million women and girls are bought and sold worldwide each year, either into marriage, prostitution or slavery.”
  • Another disturbing statistic from Causecast: “Approximately 96 million young women in developing countries still cannot read or write. Globally, girls account for 55 percent of children not in school.
  • And also from Causecast, “nearly 75% of those displaced by violent conflict are women. Displacement leaves women without access to health care, proper nutrition or education. Displaced women face a higher threat of gender-based terrorism and violence.”

You can read a lot more statistics about the state of women internationally today in my 2009 International Women’s Day post.

So have we achieved equal rights for women? No…far from it. Women and girls still bear the brunt of violence, lack of education, and lack the same privileges and pay as men…even in the United States. When will we…as human beings and the men throughout the world…the fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, grandfathers…begin to cherish and value women and girls and create opportunities, laws, and places in family and society that guarantee their safety and worth?






Are Your Human Rights More Right Than Mine?

31 01 2010

When I say HUMAN RIGHTS, you may think about a trafficked sex slave, a child soldier, a raped woman prosecuted for adultery in a Muslim country, a woman in China who is pregnant with a second child being forcibly taken to a hospital and given an abortion, and the people in earthquake-ravaged Haiti who need food, water, safety, and shelter.

But what about the basic human right to live in peace and quiet in your own home? Most cities…including my new city of Berkeley, California…have ordinances that proclaim that this is a right of residents. Even my own apartment lease declares this one of the rules that residents must abide by.

For over a month I have lived under a family of four who choose not to respect this basic human right.  I moved here from out of state and never saw this apartment except on videotape before moving in. I rented the apartment next door and due to the mold there, was moved by my landlord into this apartment…completely unaware that I’d be moving under a family with two young children.

The family plays drums (which the lease says is not allowed), loud thumping music, allows the boys to run up and down the halls (this sounds like a stampede since there are hardwood floors and no carpet), slams windows and doors, stomps around, argues loudly…everything is done LOUDLY. They tell me they are just living their life.

Who’s to say that me living my life doesn’t include playing my stereo really loudly at 3 a.m. or that I have to turn up my television as loud as it goes because that’s the way I like it or I need to plug my amplifier into my keyboard and play it loud so I can really get the feel of the music when I play it? (I haven’t done any of those things, but sometimes it is tempting.)

I have spoken twice with the mother/wife. The last time, when I calmly explained that the noise was unbearable, she screamed at me and threatened me. She said I had “no right to come from Texas and tell her to be quiet in HER neighborhood.” She also informed me that her children were going to continue doing what they were doing that was so loud and they were going to do it ALL DAY LONG.

My neighbor asserted to me that she and her family have MORE rights than me because they were here first and they are a family (and I’m a single woman). I pay rent here too…no less than they do…and my lease reads the same as theirs. I’m protected by the same city laws as they are that give me the right to peace and quiet in my own home.

I’m saying all this not to complain, but to show how absurd it is when one person proclaims they have more rights than another person and that their rights are more important than another person’s. You could substitute anything going on in the world in exchange for this story and see how ridiculous it is…and yet we do it all the time. My neighbor and her family have a sense of entitlement and so they do whatever they want to do without any regard for my rights.

My landlord/apartment owner has little regard for my rights also…rights that they even decreed in the rules we all signed. Instead of asking these people to leave, I am being let out of my lease. The neighbors will then be allowed to intrude on the rights of the next person(s) who live(s) where I do now. And me? I am spending my time, energy, and money to move to another place where my basic human right of peace and quiet in my own home will be respected.

How often do we let the people who intrude on our human rights or those of others continue? Or perhaps we perceive the person who had their rights violated as a complainer and the violaters just bully us into letting them do whatever they feel they are entitled to do?

In my case, I could go to the city and complain and could probably force the issue so that the people above me are evicted and I could stay here. I choose instead to no longer rent an apartment from a landlord who doesn’t back up the rights they guaranteed me and to no longer live under people who are so disrespectful and scream at me to my face that their rights matter more than mine.

For 5 weeks I’ve felt victimized by these people…the neighbors and the non-acting landlords. Now I’m taking my power back and moving to a place that will be a refuge.  Peace and quiet are an important basic human right to me. I need it to survive…and to thrive.

Do you think your rights are more important…or more right…than those of other people? Are you respecting the rights of others?





Reflection on Human Rights Day

10 12 2009

Today is Human Right’s Day. Take a moment to reflect.

  • Do you respect the human rights of those you deal with on a day-to-day basis?
  • Are you respectful, kind, considerate, thoughtful, encouraging, and supportive?
  • Do you listen to, acknowledge, and treat respectfully people who think, act, look, speak, or practice religion differently from you?
  • Do you ever give any thought to the rights of those in other countries?
  • Do you care if women can vote, hold public office, work, drive a car, have protections through the legal system, love and marry who they want, and speak their minds?
  • Do you care if children are allowed to be children and go to school, wait until they are adults to marry, have nourishment, have clean water, and are free from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse?
  • Have you considered what life would be like if you had been born to poor parents in Afghanistan or Mali or Haiti?
  • Have you considered what it must be like to be hungry, to have no fresh water, to have no parents, to have AIDS, to have no access to the Internet, and to have no hope and feel useless in the world?

We are each important in the world. We each have rights just because of being born. Be aware. Care. Acknowledge. Listen. Then allow your heart to open and do what you can. Even a word of encouragement can make a difference.

Human Rights are not just for a day. Every day we must do what we can to help our brothers and sisters in the world. Every person is valuable, is needed, and is important…just like you.





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?





Oak Ridge, TN: Developed the Atomic Bomb and Now Stopping Child Predators

19 10 2009

What was rolling farm land in east Tennessee, the city now known as Oak Ridge was quickly transformed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1942 to become one of the four places that worked on the Manhattan Project and birthed the atomic bomb. Because of the plentiful and cheap hydroelectric power provided through the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Oak Ridge was the place where uranium was enriched. At one point, the Oak Ridge plants consumed one-sixth of the electricity in the entire United States…more than New York City.

World War II-era billboard at the Oak Ridge Facility, part of the Manhattan Project. (Photo: Life)

World War II-era billboard at the Oak Ridge Facility (Photo: Life)

What workers were doing in Oak Ridge was so secretive that not even the governor of the state knew it. The city was not on a map and was referred to as the Clinton Engineering Works.

Today three of the four major facilities used for wartime bomb production are still in use and owned by the Department of Energy. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is the DOE’s largest science and energy lab in the country. It is home to over 4,300 scientists and staff, 3,000 guest researchers annually, a $1.4 billion budget, two of the most advanced neutron scattering research facilities in the world, and the most powerful scientific supercomputer in the world.

They do research there in the fields of nanosciences, biological systems, energy, advanced materials, national security, chemical sciences, electron microscopy, nuclear medicine, and physics.

Detective Tom Evans of the Tennessee Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (blue shirt) demonstrates child rescue technology to Tom Potok of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (standing) and PROTECT's David Keith

Detective Tom Evans of the Tennessee Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (blue shirt) demonstrates child rescue technology to Tom Potok of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (standing) and PROTECT's David Keith

According to the National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT), “the Oak Ridge research community may be taking on its grandest, and most important, challenge since the legendary World War II Manhattan Project.” Oak Ridge scientists, led by ORNL Applied Software Engineering Group Leader Dr. Tom Potok, and Y-12 (one of the remaining Oak Ridge facilities) National Security Complex’s Steve Payne, are partnering with the Knoxville Police Department, PROTECT, and PROTECT development director and actor David Keith to develop software to help track and prosecute child molesters and pedophiles who traffic in child pornography.

An example of how efficient and effective this software is? An estimated 10,000 Tennesseans traffic in child pornography. Manually sifting through just one of those 10,000 computers takes 40 hours of work. The software developed by Dr. Potok’s team does it in just one hour. Knoxville Police Department is in a pilot program with this software now; if the program is successful, it could become a national law enforcement standard per WBIR.com, a Knoxville news station site.

PROTECT Executive Director Grier Weeks says that the Protect Our Children Act of 2008 was a major step forward that the federal government made, but technology has not been forthcoming. He said:

There’s been a government-wide disconnect, where it is understood that cyber-security and economic crimes require serious resources, but it’s somehow assumed that volunteers and micro grants are enough to drive child rescue technology. Our hope is that when Washington sees the inspiration and passion for rescuing children coming out of one of America’s finest scientific research centers, a light will go on for many people. We can really do this, and this is the way.

I wrote a blog post about the need for technology to stop human trafficking on 6/5/09 entitled Can Retailers Teach Us How to Prevent Human Trafficking? As a member of PROTECT, I received an email on 8/14/09 about what is now being done with technology to stop predators and that’s how I heard about the ORNL project.

I am so impressed with the work that David Keith is doing. He is using his celebrity as an actor…in An Officer and a Gentleman, The Rose, The Great Santini, Firestarter, and many more movies…to bring awareness to sexual abuse and the trafficking of children, and to rescue children from the hands of sexual predators.

David Keith

David Keith

He speaks to groups to enlist help in his quest and tells them how there are 750,000 traffickers of child pornography in the U.S., child pornography is a multi-billion dollar global industry, 50% of the worldwide market for child porn comes from the U.S., 96% of cases of child sex abuse are committed by a member of the child’s family or a trusted acquaintance, and how child molesters assault 27 children on average.

PROTECT operates on only a $400,000 annual budget. So much more is needed. Consider joining PROTECT at http://www.protect.org and donating to help them do this very important work. Here is PROTECT’s mission from their website:

PROTECT is a national pro-child, anti-crime membership association. We are founded on the belief that our first and most sacred obligation as parents, citizens, and members of the human species is the protection of children from harm. We are committed to building a powerful, nonpartisan force for the protection of children from abuse, exploitation and neglect. We believe that this must be done through a determined single-issue focus, a meaningful mainstream agenda and the use of proven modern political strategies.

I have a personal connection with this story. David’s father is a neighbor of my mother and sings in the men’s chorus she accompanies and leads. I met David’s father at one of their chorus performances recently and he told me that he’s most proud of his son (even more than his acting) David for his work to stop child predators and rescue children in their throes. I am from east Tennessee and lived in Oak Ridge for five years and even wrote a weekly business column for a year for the local Oak Ridger newspaper.

To commemorate the 50th birthday of the city of Oak Ridge…the city that was created to develop the atomic bomb…dedicated on May 3, 1996 a Japanese bell (also called the International Friendship Bell) to exemplify theOak Ridge Peace Bell theme of the celebration of Oak Ridge’s birth: “born of war, living for peace, growing through science.” I was privileged to play piano for the chorus that sang at this prestigious dedication, which was attended by many dignitaries and also by representatives from Oak Ridge’s sister city Naka, Ibaraki, Japan. It was a moving experience.

Oak Ridge is a town that was quickly and secretly assembled to build the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 6, 1945 and on Hiroshima, Japan on August 9, 1945, facilitating the end of World War II. The very labs where such destructive power was created is now creating the means to rescue children from the destructive power of child predators and to stop them from ruining any more children’s lives. The peace bell is a fitting symbol…a place, people, facilities, technology, and tremendous brain power are now being used to create peace in the world and stop those who would use their own horrendous power against innocent children and devastate their lives and the lives of people who love them.





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:





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.





Teens Making a Difference – Bravo!

28 07 2009

Remember summers when you were a teenager? Going to the movies or the pool with friends, gossiping or talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend on the phone, hanging out at the mall, etc.? Three Houston siblings…Stephen (18), Melanie (17), and Dianna (14) Muldrow…have much bigger things on their mind this summer. They have organized a concert to be held at Houston’s Jones Hall on August 29th to benefit organizations that work to combat human trafficking.

The concert features renowned musicians: 3 pianists, a clarinetist, 2 violinists, and one viola player. You can find more information about the concert at www.BrokenCords.com.

Houston is one of the major corridors of human trafficking. I wrote a blog post about cantina workers being trafficked there.

Muldrow Family

Muldrow Family - Credit: http://www.BrokenCords.com

The Muldrow children are home schooled and quite accomplished. Their parents have obviously instilled in their children a sense of compassion, caring, and desire to help others.

From their website:

“Part of a family of 10 children born and raised here in the Houston area, Stephen, Melanie, and Dianna encourage all young people to stand up and use this time in their lives to make a difference in the world around them!”

They have a Facebook page if you’d like to join their cause and be kept up to date. They also welcome donations and/or you can purchase tickets to the concert on their Broken Cords web page.

Bravo to Stephen, Melanie, and Dianna for the work you’re doing to help victims of trafficking! You are real heroes.





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.





Celebrating Diversity at a Gay Pride Parade

7 06 2009

Outlandish. Festive. Convivial. Celebratory. My first gay pride parade ever. My good friend (a gay guy) had invited me years before…this year I said yes. After a dinner of fine Mexican food downtown, we walked over to 4th and Colorado and staked our spot near the reviewing stand to watch the Austin gay pride parade last night.

Attendees at Austin Gay Pride Parade June 6 09 - StatesmanThe crowd of several thousand grew as the 8:30 starting time approached. The streets blocked to traffic, this was people watching at its finest. Lean young men in black briefs wearing white feathery angel wings with a five foot span. Lots of tattoos. Women who looked more like men than some of the men did. Bleached blond…and even green… spiked hair.
Tranvestites…men dressed as women…with full makeup, hair, and dresses. Men with bare chests and tight leather pants. Androgynous women. Men holding hands with men. Women holding hands with women. Lots of dogs on leashes. Children. Rainbow flags and leis. A rowdy but controlled crowd of people of all ages, sizes, and looks.

And then there were the usual Saturday night Austin club hoppers…the 20-something women in 5-inch heels, short tight skirts, skin-tight tops, and tons of makeup. Their male dates in sloppy shorts, Birkenstocks, and shirts that hung over their beltless pants. And of course the rest of the hetero crowd that came down to check out the action, but wasn’t out to find “love” for the evening. A lot of these people stared blankly as they walked by, not Best Buy Austin Gay Pride Parade - Statesmancomprehending what they were seeing.

The crowd roared when the parade wound its way through the streets of downtown to where we were standing and sitting. As for every gay pride parade (per my friends), it was kicked off by the “dykes on bikes.” What followed was a 1.5 hour procession of people from church groups, clubs, arts groups, bands, restaurants, bars, retail stores, and miscellaneous organizations. Some marched, some rode in cars or trucks, and some rode on cheesy (and definitely not Rose Parade material) floats.

Particularly impressive was the sight of Austin Chief of Police Art Acevedo marching with his gay police men and women and Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, one of only 30 women fire chiefs in the nation, marching with her gay fire men and women.

The non-uniformed marchers were in various states of dress and undress…with men in speedos seductively dancing getting the most cat calls. Some people dressed in costumes…the moLove Peace Equality Sign at Gay Pride Parade - Statesmanst memorable being two women in wedding dresses who held hands and walked together to make a point about gay marriage. In the spirit of a mardi gras parade, marchers flung cheap yet colorful beads into the crowd as well as t-shirts and condoms.

It was a fun evening, but in the midst of the hilarity and raucousness, the seriousness of the Sign at Gay Pride Parade - Statesmanoccasion was not lost. Many of the marchers held signs that proclaimed messages of equality, which reminded us in a quiet way why we were all even attending a gay pride parade.

I feel proud to live in a town (Austin) that is accepting of the diversity of people who came out for the parade. I think I’ll go back next year. Gay or straight, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Note: All photos are from the Austin American-Statesman’s online website www.statesman.com.





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.





That’s SO… Think B4 You Speak

31 05 2009
Source: GLSEN

Source: GLSEN

That’s so…CHEERLEADER! What if you said that when someone said something vacuous? How do you think that would make cheerleaders feel? Or what if you said “That’s so jock” if someone talks like they are dumb…like a football player who can complete a pass, but not a sentence?

Now imagine that you’re gay and people make the comment “That’s so gay!” as if to say that’s stupid or queer or effeminate or whatever. How do you think that makes you feel as a gay person? Do you ever stop to think about your language and how it affects others?

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is running a campaign now called ThinkB4YouSpeak to make people aware of their use of homophobic language and to reduce bullying of gay people. The campaign to reduce bullying kicked off with the 4/17/09 Day of Silence, which I wrote about in a blog post entitled LGBT (Gay) in America, LGBT in Iraq.

This is from the GLSEN website and tells what the organization stands for:

GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established nationally in 1995, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community.

Dr. Jill Biden, a lifelong educator and wife of the vice president, will speak at the GLSEN Respect Awards, a gala in New York on 6/1/09.

Carl Walker-Hoover - Credit: www.towleroad.com

Carl Walker-Hoover - Credit: http://www.towleroad.com

Perhaps you think that every kid gets teased in school so what’s the big deal, right? Think again. Children are committing suicide after being bullied and called gay repeatedly. An example is Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old Massachusetts sixth grader who hanged himself after yet another day of school bullies calling him gay, making fun of the way he dressed, and threatening him. His mother had called the school repeatedly before this happened. Now she lives with the devastating and senseless loss of her son.

What can you do? Stand up and call people on it when they use language that belittles, diminishes, or bullies gay people. Notify the school if your child is being bullied and make sure that steps are being taken for it to stop. If your child is a bully, educate them on the possibly devastating effects of their actions and let them know that there will be zero tolerance for that kind of language. Educate yourself by reading the materials on the GLSEN website.

Here’s a video from the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign that makes the point of how ridiculous and hurtful it is to call something gay and what you can do about it.