10 Top Human Rights Anthems for Social Activists

I was at the Three Faiths Forum Interfaith Summit the other week and to end the evening we were introduced to range of music from different groups and faith traditions. The last ensemble – The Big Choir – belted out a lovely classic. I knew the song as soon as they announced the name but it wasn’t till I heard it sung that I realised I’d totally failed to take into account the lyrics. It had been years since I’d heard the song and now they were so much more inspiring. This then got me thinking…

There are some great songs out there for the socially minded! Music really has the power to inspire people to create change, to maintain hope in hard times, to build bridges and to remind us of what’s really important and the real struggles that many people sadly face. So, after a great refreshing reminder with this song, I put together my 10 Top Human Rights Anthems list. So, what was the song you may ask? Well you’ll find out when you reach number one on the list!

So here’s my countdown of my chosen top ten human rights anthems. Let me know what you think!

10. The Lighthouse Family – (I Wish I Knew It Would Feel To Be) Free / One
9. Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come
8. The Scorpions – Winds of Change
7. U2 and Mary J Blige – One
6. John Farnham – You’re The Voice
5. U2 – Love and Peace or Else
4. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
3. Sting – Fragile
2. Simon and Garfunkel – He Was My Brother

Due to copyright – here’s a cover (alas sadly not the same!):

1. Labi Siffre – Something Inside So Strong


If you’re anything like me, you’ll have these on repeat over and over! Since I “re-found” my number one, I’ve been listening to it pretty much every day!

So, what are your top human rights anthems? Drop us a comment and let us know!

Salam! ♡

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Dear Sister: Violence is not love

The other month I came across a very moving poem by Nomad Speaks called “Dear Sister” which addresses the issue of domestic violence.

Here in the UK and across the world, domestic abuse is a big issue. It knows no boundaries, affecting women of every culture, religion, race and ethnicity. Young and old, it doesn’t matter to an abuser. Just take a look at these stats on the situation here in the UK:

  • Every week across England and Wales, on average two women are killed by their partner
  • Every hour the police on average receive over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse
  • In 2015/2016, 83.3% of victims were women (where gender was recorded)

Yes, it’s a widespread issue. Which is why any means to empower women (and male victims) is all the more welcome. Check out the great poem here:

Now remember, domestic abuse takes many forms. It’s not just physical violence. It’s also words, it’s dominating and demeaning behaviour – in short, it’s ultimately his attempt to control you and disempower you.

Domestic abuse can include:

  • Sexual abuse: rape and/or coercion, forcing you to participate in sexual activities
  • Financial abuse: demanding your wages, not letting you spend your own money
  • Spiritual abuse: forbidding you to pray, go to church, practice your faith etc.
  • Physical abuse: beating, hitting, burning, hair pulling etc.
  • Emotional and psychological abuse: insulting you, demeaning you, making you feel you are worthless etc.
  • Stalking and harrassment

So, if you know anyone at risk, remember wounds aren’t always physical – there’s other ways they may be suffering.

For more information please visit Womens Aid.

Lastly, for brothers in need, please contact the Men’s Advice Line.

Credits:

Feature image: dualdflipflop (CC BY 2.0)

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Homophobic hate crime in the UK: Why are we not talking about it more?

National Hate Crime Awareness Week runs from 14th to 21st October across the UK this year, with last Tuesday already welcoming the return of the No2H8 Crime National Awards honoring the country’s top “upstanders” against hatred and hate crime.

This year, at a time when many different communities have witnessed an increase in hate crime over the last 12 months, I want to draw attention to one particular community. You see, a few months ago I watched a BBC documentary entitled “Is it Safe to be Gay in the UK?” and I was shocked by the statistics.

Take a look at this short clip:

Shocking isn’t it? See, the reality is that more and more members of the LGBTQ community are becoming victims of sickening hate crime. Just check out these figures:

  • 1 in 4 members of the LGBTQ community have experienced violent hate crime
  • 4 out of 5 hate crimes are not reported to authorities – in particular when younger members of the community are involved
  • The number of homophobic attacks in the UK have risen by 80% since 2013
  • 1 in 10 of those who have experienced hate crime were subjected to sexual violence

I find it astonishing that anyone should be subject to verbal, sexual or physical abuse for any “reason” – whether it be on the basis of their gender, skin colour, ethnic background, religious affiliation, sexual orientation or whatever quite frankly.

See the thing is, if we look over the last 12 months, the UK has witnessed a rise in Islamophobic hate crime, anti-Semitic hate crime and homophobic hate crime. In fact, according to reports, violent crime has also increased as a whole over the last year. What a sad reality….

Yes, it’s time we stood up and fought against this degeneration of behaviour and the security and peace of our society. So, here’s some advice from Stonewall about what you can do to help fight anti-LGBTQ hate crime and discrimination:

  • Speak out if you see abuse – as long as it’s safe to do so
  • Report local businesses and staff who discriminate
  • Report cases of discrimination experienced by public service providers e.g housing or social services to the local council or service provider

For advice and support you can also contact Stonewall’s information service on 08000 50 20 20.

Lastly,  for incidences of anti-religious abuse and hate-crime, the following services are available:

  • Islamophobic hate crime: Tell MAMA (call 0800 456 1226, send a text/What’s App message, get in touch via social media/email or submit a form online)
  • Anti-Semitic hate crime: CST (call 020 8457 9999 for information or fill out the online form

When one community suffers, we all suffer. So please stand up and stand out. We all need to be talking about this more to let people know that this is not acceptable and it will not go unpunished. Give the victims of such horrible abuse the confidence and support to report these crimes and help make our society safer, stronger and more social!

Say #no2h8 and take action!

Salam! ♡

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10 Quotes illustrating the importance of non-violent reform

We’ve all heard the famous saying: “Two wrongs don’t make a right” but what does this mean in relation to human rights and peacekeeping? Does the end justify the means?

Well – no I say! The term oxymoron springs to mind. Violence only begets violence. If we want peace, we have to pursue non-violent means because a foundation built in opposition to the very principles one is apparently defending is a contradiction in terms. You can’t “force” or establish “peace” with violence as this is the very opposite of peace itself. Self-defense for example is one thing but ultimately there needs to be dialogue, discussion, understanding and engagement or no long-lasting bonds or change can be established.

Here’s ten great quotes which highlight exactly why violence is not the answer to any problem and especially not in establishing or maintaining peace.

1. Difference of opinion is acceptable but violence is not

Liberty and democracy become unholy when their hands are dyed red with innocent blood..jpg

2. Difference is unavoidable but violence is

Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means..jpg

3. Only a peaceful resolution can ensure peace

If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence. If we desire a society without discrimination, then we must not discriminate against anyone in th

4. To fight violence with violence is a lost cause

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness- only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate- only love can d (1).jpg

5. Vengeance and violence only perpetuates a cycle of violence

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind..jpg

6. In order to establish peace, parties must understand each other

Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding..jpg

7. Dialogue is essential for establishing mutual understanding

If you want peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.jpg

8. Once you understand the other party, you can come to an agreement

It is understanding that gives us an ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow's viewpoint, and he understands ours, then we can sit down and work out our differences..jpg

9. Agreements which respect the rights of others can therefore avoid violence

Respect for the rights of others means peace..jpg

10. Because ultimately, peace thrives on non-violence, love and compassion!

We do not need guns and bombs to bring peace. We need love and compassion.jpg

Food for thought folks!

Salam! ♡

Credits:

Featured image: Meg Chang (CC)

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Marriage at 13, forced veiling and a ban on cycling – welcome to Iran for women

It’s no secret that abuse of human rights – or lack of human rights rather – is a major problem in Iran. Living in a theocratic State, religion (and in particular the government’s interpretation of it I should add!) rules every aspect of public life. A twisted extreme ideology is used to permit/prolong – and in some cases enforce – child marriage, domestic violence and forced veiling amongst a wide range of other abuses. Whilst freedom of speech is a right that citizens are not blessed with – young and old, male and female – for women and girls, life is incredibly tough.

Wanting to find out what really goes in Iran, I spoke to the group Iran Human Rights Monitor to find out what life is like for women in Iran, day in day out on the ground. Here’s what they had to say…

Thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview! As a human rights organisation fighting for change in Iran, it would be very insightful to find out what it’s really like for women and girls living in Iran on a daily basis.

President Hassan Rouhani was quoted during a post-election speech giving supposed support for women’s rights:

“There must be equal opportunities for women. There is no difference between man and woman in their creation, in their humanity, in their pursuit of knowledge, in their understanding, in their intelligence, in their religious piety, in serving God and in serving people.” (Fars News, retrieved 25/20/2013)

How does this fair to the reality to the daily life of girls and women in Iran today? Could you outline some of the obstacles which women and girls in Iran face on a daily basis?

Women are deprived of their most basic rights in Iran. No matter what they say, whether for national or international consumption, women are systematically discriminated against both in law and practice.

Women are not allowed to study in at least 70 fields at university. The unemployment rate among educated women and female university graduates is 85.9%. According to official statements, women’s participation in the job market is only 13%, while the majority of women are hired in unregistered jobs with salaries lower than the minimum wage and no insurance or benefits.

So, women have a really hard time earning a living. Every year, an average of 100,000 women are fired from their jobs. The situation is particularly difficult for women who head households and have to feed and provide for their families. The latest figures indicate that there are at least 3.5 million single women acting as head of the household in Iran. Only 18% of these women receive some small form of assistance from the government – the rest do not have any sort of backing.

Women are also not allowed in sports stadiums. They are not allowed to ride bicycles in public, and they are not allowed to perform at musical concerts or sing in public and are also not allowed to work in cafés. There have been frequent instances of women flouting government rulings which ban women from cycling, swimming, etc.

Of course, it is common knowledge that women do not enjoy freedom in choice of clothing and are forced to wear the compulsory veil, something that they are becoming more and more defiant about. Today, the regime is trying to control women who drop their veils behind the wheel.

The religious police enforce compulsory observation of hijab (Islamic covering). At what age does this apply? What are the penalties for not fully observing hijab?

According to the mullahs’ [religious figures] interpretation of Sharia, girls are considered to be adults when they reach the age of nine lunar years. That is less than nine years old and is the age when they are obliged to wear the veil and cover their hair. At this age, they can also be subjected to any punishment applicable to adults. The legal age of marriage is 13 years old, but fathers and grandfathers are permitted to wed their daughters at even younger ages (even nine or 10 years old), by simply getting permission from a court.

The penalty for not fully observing the hijab is usually a warning on the street, then women are taken into detention. Usually these women have to sign written pledges to conform with the official dress code. They have to pay bail and are then released. However, sometimes, the young women and girls are taken under the pretext of improper veiling to unknown locations and are sexually attacked. There have been incidents where women who get out of such detentions commit suicide because of what they have gone through.

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Being ordered to correct her hijab – Image credit: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi (CC)

There are some severe lack of protections within Iranian law. There is no law against domestic violence and marital rape is not criminalised. If a woman has an abusive husband, where can she go for help? How does society respond to this?

There is absolutely no support for women who are subjected to domestic violence at home. The courts and police stations tend to encourage woman to return to their abusive husbands. There was a famous case in Mashhad where the woman had complained to the police station about the abuses of her husband but they sent her home, only to be tortured and burned by her husband for 21 days along with her two daughters. They were found accidentally by neighbours who heard their cries and moaning. As long as the laws discriminate against women, there is not much that can be done by the general public.

Women in Iran gained the right to vote in 1963 and can be judges/legal counsellors but cannot give final verdicts. Could you describe women’s role in the political and legal systems In Iran? How does this fair in Iran?

The Iranian regime ranks 137th on the international level among 145 countries in terms of gender equality and political participation, and 141st in terms of economic participation. Women are not allowed to run for president or become leader. As you already mentioned, women cannot issue rulings or be a de facto judge in Iran.

In the current Iranian parliament, there are only 17 women among 290 members of parliament, making up a mere 5.8% participation for women. In the administration of Iranian cities and provinces, women hold only 13 out of 2,653 positions as provincial governors, governors, district governors, and mayors. In a total of 500 big and small cities, only 64 women were elected as members of City Councils compared to 3,724 male members. That amounts to a meager 1.7% participation for women in City Councils. In reality, women have no role in political decision making and leadership in Iran.

Similar to Saudi Arabia, strict laws exist in Iran regarding nationality and marriage. Iranian nationality can be passed only through the father by law. For the child of an Iranian mother and father of another nationality, Iranian nationality can usually only be gained after residing in Iran for over one year after the age of 18. Why do you believe that such law exists? What is the impact legally, socially and culturally of such laws?

To understand the source of this kind of laws, you should first understand and study the nature of the Iranian regime which is a misogynistic regime. That means all the laws are based on the repression of women. To understand better please read this article.

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Female sports are restricted in Iran – Image credit: Anoo Bhuyan (CC)

For women (and men!) who speak out against the political system, what are the consequences?

They receive long prison sentences. There are many human rights and civil rights activists imprisoned in Iran. Prison conditions are very bad in Iran, and those who are imprisoned become very ill because of the inhuman conditions in prison and lack of basic medical services.

Could you talk a little about your organisation and what your goals and successes have been?

Iran Human Rights Monitor is a web portal working in collaboration with the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Our main goal is to condemn the violation of human rights in Iran at international level – mostly the ongoing wave of executions.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Right now, we need the UN Special Rapporteur of human rights in Iran, Asma Jahanguir, to get more involved in the issue of executions in Iran. July was a bloody month with 101 executions but unfortunately we have witnessed a lack of reaction, condemnation and severity in dealing with this from international organisations and the UN.

We we also have started a new project regarding the 1988 Massacre in Iran [an estimated 30,000 political prisoners were killed on order of Ayotallah Khomeini]. After this massacre, no one was brought to justice. The perpetrators are still playing important role with the government of the Iranian regime and we want them to face trial. This is a call for a movement of justice.

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Image credit: gato-gato-gato (Flickr, CC)

What achievements are you particularly proud of within the movement for human rights in Iran?

Since last year, our movement calling people to action has been expanded. Many people have been informed about this massacre, whilst the Iranian regime has tried to remove any trace of it happening. However, our main goal hasn’t been achieved yet.

Where can we learn more about the issues discussed and how can we help?

You can learn more by visiting our new website calling for justice after the 1988 massacre and also by signing and sharing out petition.

Thank you for your time and participation and all the very best in your work for the future!

For all the latest information, follow Iran Human Rights Monitor on Twitter and Facebook and please sign the petition!

Salam!

Credits

Featured image: Chris Marchant (CC)

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A 10-year prison sentence for blogging? Meet Raif Badawi

Picture this: being passionate about justice and equality, you start a blog. Disillusioned with the socio-political reality of your own country you take to the internet and express your concerns about the religious authorities/senior religious figures. You write your thoughts and then bam!

You’re taken in for questioning…

You’re forbidden to leave the country and your wife’s bank accounts are frozen.

You’re accused of insulting your religion, accused of apostasy (and so your wife’s family later want a divorce).

As a Muslim, you’re accused of “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and thrown in prison. Your original sentence is then increased and you’re eventually condemned to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes…

Sound surreal? Sound like an eerie film plot? No, this is the story of Saudi Arabian writer and activist Raif Badawi. Raif is currently in prison for writing a blog, criticising senior religious figures. He’s accused of insulting Islam and leaving his faith – a “crime” which comes with a death sentence in Saudi Arabia.

Raif has received 50 lashes and 17th June 2017 marked the fifth anniversary of his imprisonment. Raif’s wife Ensaf and three children are now living in Canada, having been granted political asylum, yet they want Raif back – free and safe. However, for being a Saudi citizen and speaking his mind in a theocratic country based on an extreme, toxic and Medieval form of Islam with no consent of private faith and free will in religious matters, Raif is now paying a heavy price. His sons and daughters long to see their dad again and his wife is carrying on his fight for freedom.

Take a look at the poem their 12 year-old son Doudi recently wrote:

 The Dream

A dream wakes me up every night
I wake up crying, feeling longing and desperate
I dream of you,
Father
I dream that you’re hugging me, kissing me and your tears filling me with love. Telling me that you love me, and I cry for joy. I can’t believe I’m with you, touching you, holding your face, kissing you, daddy daddy, you are with me and we are close again
How many years has it been?
I was only seven years old when we left you and left our country, Saudi Arabia
I didn’t know why we left you back then
I remember you hugging me, telling me goodbye, and asking me to be strong for my mom
I didn’t understand
I didn’t understand that you went for prison and didn’t understand the reason for that
But I know what is it like to miss you
To miss your love
Your company
Your smile
At school when the teacher asked us to talk about our families, I didn’t know what to say to them
My father is Raif Badawi, a writer and he’s Saudi Arabian. He went to jail because he loves his country and its people. He voiced an opinion that many people in Saudi Arabia agree with. But today my father is paying the price
My father is in jail because he loves his country.

A dream wakes me up every night
I see you in my dreams. I wake up. And the dream turns into imagination. The feel of your embrace was just my imagination
And I cry, feeling sad, feeling a longing
I pray for God, please bring back my father
I pray with love
With grief
May He answer my prayers.

Doudi ‘Trad’ Raid Badawi, aged 12
(written with the help of his mother, Ensaf Haider)

Incredibly, incredibly sad. Raif is not the first prisoner of conscience in Saudi Arabia and he won’t be the last but we must keep on his and his family’s fight.

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Ensaf Haider holding a photo of her husband Raif (Image credit: European Parliament – CC)

What can we do to help?

It’s really important to not let Raif’s case go silent. Raif needs to know that he’s not alone and the Saudi authorities also need to know that we’re not going to let his case go. Pressure needs to be continuously built, calling on the authorities to release Raif, in addition to public awareness to keep the issue in the spotlight and increase support.

Here’s a suggested list of actions courtesy of Amnesty International: 

1. Social media campaigning

Related Twitter accounts:

  • @Raif_Badawi (Raif’s account managed by his wife Ensaf)
  • @Miss9afi (Ensaf’s account)
  • @BorisJohnson (UK foreign minister’s)
  • @UKinSaudiArabia (UK embassy in Saudi Arabia)
  • @SaudiEmbassyUK (Saudi Arabian embassy in UK)

Suggested Tweets:

  • @KingSalman blogging is not a crime! We urge you to #FreeRaif today!
  • @Raif_Badawi has already spent 5 years in prison. Just for blogging. Tell @KingSalman that’s 5 years too many – he must #FreeRaif now!
  • Blogging can be costly in Saudi Arabia & @Raif_Badawi has paid the highest price: 10 yrs behind bars, 1000 lashes. @KingSalman: #FreeRaif!
  • @BorisJohnson: Help @raif_badawi see his family again – Call for his freedom today! #FreeRaif!
  • @Raif_badawi deserves freedom and dignity. 5 years is already too many – @UKinSaudiArabia should call for his release #FreeRaif

2. Contact Saudi authorities directly

You can send cards and/or letters to the Saudi Arabian embassy in your country or even give them a call.

Here are the details for London:

Mail:
His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz
Ambassador to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
30 Charles Street
LONDON
W1J 5DZ

Telephone: 0207 917 3000 or 0207 917 3288

Tweet, write – do whatever you can to let Raif and his family know that they are not alone. Even more importantly, let the Saudi authorities that we’re here and we stand with Raif. Freedom of religion, freedom of belief and freedom of expression are universal human rights. It’s about time that Saudi Arabia joined the 21st century and started recognising these rights…

Peace, salam ♡

Credits, acknowledgements and further information:

To find out more about Raif visit:

Campaign materials: Amnesty International (UK, 2017)
Poem courtesy of Amnesty International (UK, 2017)
Image credits: Amnesty Finland (CC) (featured image)

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Raqqa: The city of ghosts

Yesterday I watched a very moving – and harrowing film – called City of Ghosts about an astonishing group of Syrian men who formed the movement Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered – a citizen led press movement to tell the world of the atrocities taking place in Raqqa. From fighting for political freedom under the Assad regime to living under the bloodthirsty rule of ISIS, they risked their lives – and continue to do so today – to spread light on the realities on the ground. Despite having since lost family members, friends and colleagues in “revenge attacks” both in Syria and Turkey, these brave inspirational men continue the fight for peace and justice and in 2015, the group were awarded the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

I’d like to share with you a message from the co-founder of RBSS, Aziz (Abdalaziz Alhamza), courtesy of The Syria Campaign to give an insight into life in Raqqa and the RBSS movement. Take a look at Aziz’s story…

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Abdalaziz Alhamza (Image: New America – CC)

Raqqa, the city where I was born in 1991, used to be the forgotten city of Syria. The TV weather forecast even missed us out. Now as the capital of the Islamic State, the name of Raqqa is never far from the lips of world leaders.

To me, Raqqa is the city where I grew up and where I have my friends and relatives. It’s the city where I speak my accent (I miss it now) and where I went to school and spent my childhood. Raqqa is a place where everyone knows everyone else. If you don’t know someone directly, you’ll know his brother. And if you don’t know his brother, you’ll definitely know his cousin.

When I grew up everyone wanted to leave Syria for work – usually to somewhere like Dubai. But that’s because the government was controlling 80% of the economy. A country that has oil, gas, historical sites, antiquities, ancient civilisation, tourism and so much more besides. We were tired of the government controlling all the money. When I joined the peaceful protests in 2011 it was because I believe I have a right to have a good life in my own country.

For decades we were so scared. There was no freedom of expression, we used to say the walls have ears. Everyone was a spy and you’d keep hearing that this neighbour or that neighbour was arrested for political reasons. Saying a single word against the Assad regime could result in 20-50 years in prison or being killed. You can’t imagine these conditions.

But in 2011 we realised that people have more power than the government. People were able to break the fear and go into the street even though they knew they might face death in any second.

Most Syrians outside of my city never thought or talked about Raqqa until March 4, 2013, the morning we woke up to be the first liberated city in Syria. After nearly two years of protest and revolt, our people had managed to push the Assad regime forces out the city, and Syrians nicknamed Raqqa the “Capital of Liberation”.

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Raqqa – the “Capital of Liberation” (Image: Beshr Abdulhadi – CC)

That’s when for the first time in 40 years, civilians were running the city. We had a local and provincial council and dozens of civil society organisations. I was part of the Union of Free Syrian Students and we opened up the university again. Many people who were fleeing persecution from the Assad regime came to Raqqa and were able to have a normal life. Civil society organisations had more power than the armed groups – how it should be.

But then Isis came.

First they came in small numbers, and we demonstrated against them. Then they came with heavy weapons stolen from Iraq and those who were defending Raqqa didn’t have the means to stop them. Our city’s fighters pleaded with the international community for more support but it didn’t come and Isis took over.

But Raqqawis – people from Raqqa – never accepted Isis.

Less than 1% of locals joined Isis. That means that most are against Isis but they can’t show it, they can’t say it, otherwise they’ll be arrested or killed. Our people have been living under Isis for years but just keeping their heads low as civilians. This means no salaries and jobs. If they joined Isis they would get money, cars – even sex – but still Raqqawis refuse. This silent refusal is one of the most important forms of resistance.

In April 2014 along with a few of my friends we set up Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently to counter Isis propaganda.

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Children are growing up amongst violence and bloodshed (Image: Beshr Abdulhadi – CC)

We began sneaking covert photos and footage out of Raqqa, publishing them on our social media channels, showing that this wasn’t the utopia that Isis claimed. We sprayed anti-Isis slogans on the walls of our town and published our own magazine mocking their propaganda. They hated it and hunted us down.

Many of us escaped Raqqa then but Isis responded by targeting our families. They released a propaganda video of the execution of the father of my friend and RBSS co-founder Hamoud al-Mousa. It’s one of the most brutal things I’ve ever had to watch. But this didn’t stop us. Our anonymous colleagues in Raqqa continue to this day to sneak out footage and information which gets picked up by the biggest networks in the world. Our pictures and video from inside the heart of Isis’s capital have been broadcast by the BBC, CNN and other channels.

But today the threat to my city’s civilians is not just from Isis.

The US and its allies have been begun bombing Raqqa and the surrounding area recklessly. Since the beginning of the year these airstrikes have killed more civilians than Isis. This ‘scorched earth’ policy is because they want to defeat Isis militarily as soon as possible. But they don’t ever think about the day after defeating Isis.

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Raqqa – a destroyed city (Image: Beshr Abdulhadi – CC)

In the coming weeks and months as Isis gets driven out of its territory, people will ask who is taking over. The Kurdish-led forces backed by the West have displaced people and burned homes. It is hard to see them welcomed by locals in and around Raqqa.

And then there are rumours that these areas will be handed over to Assad. This is the worst scenario.

Many would be arrested and killed – it will be a massacre. Worse than that, it will be a step back to the beginning of this mess. Assad created this extremism. Many people were radicalised because of how his regime treated its own people. Every single Syrian has a brother, friend, neighbour or relative killed by Assad.

I have been interrogated many times by Isis, they killed many of my friends and they tried to kidnap me. And yet still I understand that Assad is the main problem in Syria. This is the issue that the world needs to understand.

And yet I am hopeful.

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“Raqqa strong and free” (Image: Beshr Abdulhadi – CC)

I have an optimism deep inside me more than six years since we first took to the streets. That is because today people are still demanding their rights. I feel hope looking at people in the different cities who are demonstrating every day. Like people in Maaret al-Numan who drove out Al Qaeda with their demonstrations.

That’s why I still have hope. There are still millions who believe in the Revolution. People who are resisting not only Assad, but all groups who are violating our rights. These are things that make me believe that one day we will have democracy and a united country where people can have jobs in a thriving economy.

When people outside the country ask what should be done about Raqqa or Syria, this is what I tell them. Help us to achieve a government that represents all of us, that will help us defeat extremism and permit Raqqawis and other Syrians to return home.

There is no other way.

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These men have given their lives in the fight towards freedom. I definitely recommend watching the film. You’re taken into the lives of RBSS – their struggles, their losses and their futures. The film is directed by Oscar-nominated Matthew Heineman and was given a 5-star review by The Guardian who stated it “could be the definitive Syrian documentary”.

For those of you in the UK, information on film screenings can be found here. You can also watch it on demand at home (UK/Ireland). For those of you in the US and elsewhere, the film will be available on Amazon Prime from 13th October 2017. Do check it out but warning – some scenes are quite graphic.

To also find out more about RBSS and to keep up with the latest news on Syria, please visit the following sites:

Thank you to our Syrian brothers who have dedicated their lives to bringing the truth to the world about the atrocities in Syria. We can only but imagine the hardship you have all faced…

Credits and acknowledgements

Text written by Aziz (Abdalaziz Alhamza), as featured by The Syria Campaign (01/08/2017).

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Human Rights: It’s all for one or none for all

Life is but a lesson of learning… The more issues you explore, the more people you meet, the more you learn about them and about yourself. In light of a recurring lesson of mine, I’d like to share with you a beautiful, simple yet oh so powerful poem. You may know it. Take a look…

First They Came

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemoller

This short but very poignant poem refers back to the era of Nazi Germany and the failure of German intellectuals to stand up to the Nazis. Dating back to the middle of the last century, it is as relevant as ever in an era of rising hate crime, neo-Nazi/far-right groups and religious extremism to name a few, despite the public awareness of human rights, the availability of resources to learn about each others’ rights and the wide range of means/mediums to speak out (social media, lobbying organisations etc.).

This poem in fact highlights a few very serious key points, which can be summed up in the following famous quotes:

  • “Love for others what you love for yourself” (Prophet Muhammad, pbuh)
  • “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem” (Eldridge Cleaver)
  • “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (Edmund Burke)
  • “I am not free while any women is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own” (Audre Lorde)

What is the overall message you may ask? Well, put quite simply it’s this: you cannot be free whilst someone else is oppressed. You cannot advocate for peace whilst hating others and you cannot call for the rights of one group, whilst advocating hatred or intolerance for another. No one is saying we all have to have the same beliefs or opinions, but common decency and universal rights are not exclusive. Where human rights are concerned it’s in the famous words of the three musketeers (!) that things go: “It’s all for one, and one for all!”.

Imagine this: you want others to accept and accommodate your religious beliefs but you won’t do the same. Not very logical is it? Or you want women to have the freedom to wear what you want them to wear but not what they may or may not want to wear. Not a simple pick and choose is it? Bearing that in mind, I’d like to lay out the following scenarios. For simplicity sake, we’ll use the names “Mr A” and “Mrs A”:

  1. “Mr A” advocates for the rights of Muslim minorities in Europe but perpetuates anti-Shia, anti-Sunni, anti-Ahmadi rhetoric.
  2. “Mrs A” is outraged at the discrimination hijabis face but forces her daughter to cover and won’t accept difference of opinion related to covering within Muslim circles.
  3. “Mr and Mrs A” are campaigning for the rights of Palestinians yet victimise the Jewish community, refusing to separate faith from politics and fail to stand up to rising anti-Semitism
  4. “Mr A” is outraged about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but doesn’t put pen to paper and seek genuine dialogue
  5. “Mrs A” expresses concern for UK foreign policy in the Middle East yet stays silent about the famine in Yemen caused by the Saudi led war, the abuse of women in Saudi law and Iran, the suffering of the Uyghurs in China, the cause of the Tibetans etc.
  6. “Mr and Mrs A” stands up for the religious/cultural/ethnic rights of their personal communities but stay silent about the abuse and difficulties that others face.

What is the message in all of these cases? Well, the message is quite clearly this: they’ve got it wrong! They’re missing the point. If it’s human rights you want, if it’s justice, freedom and equality, then it’s all for one and one for all! So when you’re advocating for a specific cause, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I advocating a message of peace, non-violence, tolerance and unity? (Unbiased educated criticism is allowed but violence is counter-productive!)
  • Am I utilising the correct tools, networks and organisations which advocate peace and tolerance? (Giving/sharing a platform with an intolerant, bigoted group is also a counter-productive no-no!)
  • Is my message inclusive or exclusive? (Am I alienating or spreading hatred of others?)
  • What is my ultimate message and purpose? (Am I aiming for a positive outcome which will resolve conflict and abuse?)

Remember: calling out abuse is always going to ruffle a few feathers. That’s not the problem! The problem is when your method goes against the principles and purpose of what you’re fighting for – or if you’re cause is exclusive in the rights and aims you’re fighting for.

Think about this and remember, when we’re talking about rights: it’s all for one and one for all!

Salam

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10 Trends which reveal the reality behind gender inequality

You’ve no doubt heard about gender inequality but you may not be aware of the reality that women across the world face. What does “gender inequality” actually mean in real terms? Perhaps you may feel that in your part of the world it’s not an issue. Well, I beg to differ. Statistically speaking, women are more likely to be affected by a range of discrimination and abuse than their male peers due to their gender and the relationship between poverty and prevailing socio-cultural norms. Now, everything has a context and therefore social, cultural and economic factors must be taken into account but by being female – across the so-called “developed” and non-developing world, there are a range of trends that stick and which are unacceptable in the 21st century.

Here’s 10 trends which highlight and exemplify the shocking reality of gender inequality today.

1. Women are the hardest hit by poverty

Women are overall disproportionately affected by poverty. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), out of the 1.3 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty, women account for a disproportionately large amount of this figure. But what about in the “developed world”? What about mainstream society? Well, the UN’s research “The World’s Women” in 2015 concluded that in Europe women and girls were greater affected by poverty than men (53%).

Poverty (2).jpg

2. More girls leave school early and become illiterate than their male peers

Without an education, you’re more likely to remain trapped in the cycle of poverty and without a doubt, women and girls are the worst affected. Due to a combination of social, cultural and economic factors such as poverty and child marriage, many girls leave school much earlier than is required leaving them unable to gain a solid education and build their future.

Education (1).jpg

3. Females are more likely to experience sexual violence

We need to break the myth that sexual violence only affects women and girls. It DOES affect men but to a far lesser degree. Many women (as well as men) will also not report or speak out about sexual violence for fear of retribution of social stigma, but the figures we do have are shocking.

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4. Women are excluded from habitually male-led decision making

We’ve all heard of the glass ceiling and it’s real. The lack of females in politics and high management positions is shocking as this ultimately means that women are excluded from decision making, meaning that half of the population remain under-represented in politics, finance etc. – you name it!

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5. Women earn less than their male colleagues for the same job

Not only are women more likely than men to work in undervalued, low-paid or vulnerable jobs but women are also on average paid less than men (ILO, 2012; UN Women, 2017). According to the World Bank, in most countries across the globe, women on average earn only 60-75% of what men do. This is a staggering phenomena in the “Western world” which many find hard to believe.

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6. Being female means you’re more likely to be sold into slavery

Human trafficking is a serious problem across the globe. Most victims of human trafficking are female and the numbers of girls being trafficked is increasing. Human trafficking of women and girls often involves sexual exploitation and is unimaginably detrimental to the psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, social, cultural and economical wellbeing of those affected.

Slavery and Explotation.jpg

7. Women are more likely to die from natural hazards

When natural disaster strikes, women are once again at greater risk of harm. Women living in poverty (as usual!) are more likely to be affected than their male counterparts and remain incredibly vulnerable.

Women (and children) living in poverty, are more likely to be killed during a natural disaster. (4).jpg

8. Girls are more likely to be affected by HIV and AIDS than their male peers

51% of adults living with HIV are female (UNAIDS, 2015). What’s more, if we break down the figures by age, we find that young girls and women (aged 15 to 24 years old) are particularly vulnerable to infection (UNAIDS 2015; UN Women 2017). New infections amongst young women are higher than that of their male peers and with 45% of teenage girls in certain cases declaring that their first sexual experience was non-consensual, this may not come as a surprise for many people out there (UNAIDS, 2014).

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9. Women spend more time on unpaid housework and less on leisure than men

We may think this is a stereotype but it’s true. Across the world, in pretty much every country, each day men spend more time on leisure activities while women spend more time doing unpaid housework (OECD, 2017). Women take on the major burden of domestic and care work – even when they have a job of their own.

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10. Being born female means you’re more likely to be married as a child

Child marriage predominantly affects girls. Whilst boys can be affected, the numbers show that this is a far less common occurrence. Child marriage results in high numbers of young girls missing out on an education, financial independence and being subject to sexual, emotional and physical abuse. For girls of such a young age, childbirth can even mean death, as their young bodies cannot bear the physical burden.

Child Marriage.jpg

So there we are folks. The figures speak for themselves. Please, please – next time you hear someone harping on about “feminism” this and that as though it’s a man-hating phenomena, remind them of these facts. We must keep raising awareness and challenging socio-cultural norms which discriminate against women and perpetuate the marginalisation, exclusion and abuse of so many women – both closer to home and further afield.

Sources, credits and further information

A full list of sources can be downloaded here (PDF)

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Have you heard of the Uyghurs? Read one sister’s account of the persecution she faced in China

The Uyghur community, both in China and abroad, are facing ongoing persecution. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this community, please see my previous post – an interview with “Mr X” – which outlines the complex situation in China, in particular the east of the country (Xinjiang province). This province in was in fact once East Turkestan before being later seized by China and held under the Communist State.

Unlike the Han Chinese, the Uyghur community are an ethnic minority (mostly Muslim) which face a range of ongoing religious, cultural, social, economic and political restrictions/abuses under the Chinese government. I therefore first urge you to read my previous post to get a full insight into the issue. Slowly, slowly the issue is gaining more publicity but not enough. MUCH more awareness needs to be raised. Finding out more is a good place to start!

In light of this, I’d like to share with you the account of one Uyghur sister who was forced to flee China with her family due to the situation they were living in in their home country.

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My name is Gulnaz and I am a Uyghur Muslim. My place of birth is East Turkestan but the world knows it as Xinjiang because China says so. When I was a child, eleven years old, my family fled “Xinjiang”. At that point I had already seen enough. This 11 year-old girl had seen enough to understand that she was not safe in China. Today I am 23 years old and even after so many years, Xinjiang still haunts me.

Below is a write-up by me. I have tried to not reveal much about myself and have simply written my story. Maybe you will understand my position after reading it. If you wish, you may also share it.

I remember being not allowed to attend school because I had to work in the fields with my father. Sometimes I would work alone if my father was unwell. My little hands weren’t able to help much but I had no choice. I remember the eyes of Chinese guards looking at us in the market. It made me feel as if I belonged to a different planet – a planet which they disliked. This happened only because we were Uyghurs and Muslims. One night, they stormed our house, checking every nook and corner. My mother hid me in the basement, gave me a little bottle with liquid in it and instructed me to drink it if an officer tried to touch me. Thankfully, nothing happened and we were told that these were normal search operations. But soon a horrific incident followed which forced us to flee the country.

One of my aunts in the neighborhood was pregnant with her second child and her family was planning to send her away as Uyghurs weren’t allowed to have a second child. Somehow the Chinese officials found out about my aunt and they forced her to have an abortion. In a dingy hospital room, one night, she died. Patime was six months pregnant and doctors operated on her, risking her life.

This incident shocked my family and my father decided to leave China. We immediately fled to Turkey but kept changing places, sometimes countries, every two years or so.

Throughout this time we kept hearing news about China’s crackdown on Uyghurs, the Urumqi Massacre, how they were demolishing mosques, arresting innocent people and about their raids to find Uyghurs living abroad too. My father warned us to never reveal our Uyghur identities and refrained from teaching us about the Uyghur culture too. The terrifying news of Thailand detaining 300 Uyghurs and sending them back to China instilled fear in us again. The fact that no protests or hunger strikes by detained Uyghurs could save them made it clear that once China finds about our family then we will be punished too.

Despite of all the hardships we faced, my father never compromised our education. He made sure that we got a good schooling. He thinks that only good education can lead us off this path of slavery and fear. Today, he wants me to become a teacher so that I can contribute towards making our world a better place for everyone. I however think that I am an activist inside and whenever I listen to or come across a news of injustice, my blood boils and I become determined to do something. Our world has been seen as divided between “First World” and “Third World” countries but Uyghurs aren’t given a place within any of those spheres. We are people living in a fourth country which has been left to suffer by world leaders but why? Aren’t Uyghurs human beings too? So a few years back, the Uyghur in me took over and I made my account on Twitter (@iamgul8).

Here I try to talk with as many people as I can to convey the struggle of Uyghurs in China. Why should we suffer just because we are Uyghur or Muslim? What is our crime? Out of the many people I have contacted, some of them have always asked about my story but I can’t say anything else because that could place my family in trouble.

After writing this story, my chances of being chased by Chinese officials are greater so I may go quiet. However – our story is important. The world has ignored Uyghurs for long enough and now they must stand with us. Like many Uyghurs, another Gulnaz may get abducted, tortured or killed but her fight, our fight against injustice must be continued by someone and it has to be you!

In search of a safe world,
Gulnaz Uighur

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Please help raise awareness of this persecuted community who face imprisonment, torture and even death. Get active on social media and share the truth! You can start by sending a solidarity message to imprisoned Uyghur scholar named Ilham Tohti via the Amnesty International Write for Rights campaign. Your words can really make a difference to ease his suffering and show the authorities that they are being watched!

Credits and acknowledgements:

Thanks to Gulnaz for sharing her inspiring story. All my very best wishes to you, your family and the Uyghur community. May the persecution come to an end soon, insha’Allah.

Gul’s post was first published on the World Uyghur Congress website (29/05/2017). The original piece can be found here.

Image credits: Kök Bayraq (Uyghur flag) (CC)

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