16 Inspirational quotes to feed your inner peace activist

There’s a lot of hatred, discrimination and violence on every level in our societies – within our communities, towns, nations and across national orders. Standing up for peace is vital. But don’t be disheartened, it’s not all doom and gloom! We can make a difference by spreading a much-needed message of peace, tolerance and love (not as cheesy as it sounds!) to unite communities and remind our fellow human beings of the need for non-violence, tolerance and respect for human rights.

So with that in mind, here’s 16 famous quotes to feed your inner peace activist and inspire us all, courtesy of Postcards for Peace.

1. “The greatest problem in the world is intolerance . Everyone is intolerant of each other.” (Princess Diana)
2. “Race, gender, religion, sexuality, we are all people and that’s it. We’re all people. We’re all equal.” (Connor Franta)
3. “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation” (Mahatma Ghandi)
4. “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” (J.K. Rowling)

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5. “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.” (Maria Montessori)
6. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” (Nelson Mandela)
7. “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)
8. “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” (Gautama Buddha)

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9. “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch and do nothing.” (Albert Einstein)
10. “We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help free the other half.” (Emmeline Pankhurst)
11. “I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.” (Rosa Parks)
12. “Each of us has the power to change the world. Just start thinking peace and the message will spread quicker than you think.” (Yoko Ono)

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13. “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” (Mother Teresa)
14. “When the world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” (Malala Yousafzai)
15. “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” (Jo Cox)
16. “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” (Jimi Hendrix)

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Credits and acknowledgments:

Featured image: Celeste Damiani (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Thanks to Postcards for Peace for their inspiring selection of peace quotes. The full presentation can be downloaded Postcards-for-peace-inspirational-quotes.

You can find out more about Postcards for Peace via their website and social media – check them out!

Twitter: @postcards4peace
Facebook: @postcardsforpeacecharity

Salam, shalom, peace! ♡

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Respect, equality and non-discrimination: Aren’t these core universal human rights for each and every one of us?

It’s become quite a sad occurrence to increasingly find that certain individuals, groups, organisations and community figures are continuing (and I’m discovering more) to promote a blatant double standard when it comes to our human rights and freedoms and the basic concepts of respect, equality and non-discrimination.

Time and time again, here in the UK and worldwide, I’m discovering how certain organisations and “leaders” are expressing, promoting or failing to address divisive, degrading language, beliefs and practices. And time and time again, I’m discovering more and more people to quite literally steer well clear of!

Let’s be clear. We all have rights, needs and wishes and we also all have responsibilities and duties to our fellow human beings. For example: we are all endowed with the right to practice our religion freely but we are also responsible for protecting the religious freedom of others, to not impede on the freedom of other groups and to not advocate hatred against other religious or non-religious communities.

I’ve spoken about this before in a previous blog entitled Human Rights: It’s all for one or none for all, but I’m becoming increasingly shocked at the double standards out there. What are these you might ask? Well take a look below at the sad reality. I have not stated names but these are all real examples/issues.

Intrafaith hatred

They campaign against religious discrimination as (presumably Sunni) Muslims but hate Shia and Ahmadi Muslims.

Homophobia

They advocate for peace and interfaith tolerance or the rights of their own community yet they exclude and/or demonise members of LGBT community through the use of derogatory language and exclusive practices and/or through constitutional history.

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Divisiveness

They preach the importance of anti-sectarianism within Islam but whilst (often vehemently) referring to themselves as Sunni they (almost always) refuse to accept Ahmadi Muslims as Muslims and preach an intolerant, divisive, hate-fuelled narrative.

Anti-Semitism

They claim to stand for the need for peace and non-violence – in particular by engaging faith communities and strengthening faith relations – but have (un-denounced) anti-Semitic history.

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Violence and extremism

They are concerned about injustices in the name of anti-terror legislation but do not (actively) tackle extremism within their own communities.

Misogyny

They promote a supposedly feminist narrative in opposition of the idea that Islam “oppresses women” but do so with often little or no involvement of women and whilst holding and/or failing to speak out against outdated misogynist beliefs and practices.

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Selective outrage / human rights

They campaign for the rights of Palestinians yet fail to condemn and/or do not advocate against human rights abuses throughout the Middle East committed by “Arabs/Muslims” and/nor comment on violence committed by Hamas. They also use anti-Semitic language and demonise large segments of the Jewish community .

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So, where do we go from here?

Without naming people and organisation this may all appear rather “abstract” but I am sure that if you think carefully and look, you’ll find plenty of examples of these double standards.

I can think of numerous organisations, people and bodies here in the UK and elsewhere operating under the guise of promoting peace, anti-Islamophobia etc. but who are directly/indirectly promoting/upholding some of these double standards. I’m not saying we all have to focus on the same areas of work but ignoring issues, failing to address inequality, preaching hatred and using derogatory language is not acceptable.

When will enough be enough? When will the ignorant, divisive and even hate-fuelled narrative stop? Stand up and speak out – for everyone. We are all human. We are all entitled to the same rights, regardless of gender, age, sexuality, faith, ethnicity and nationality. And we all all responsible for upholding the rights of each and every one of us and speaking out against hatred, discrimination and violence.

Salam, shalom, peace ♡

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Six things I’ve learnt working on a rough sleepers project

We’re all hearing about it and many of us are seeing more of more of it on the streets across Britain. Yes, tragically, homelessness is on the rise across the UK. Tents, sleeping bags, duvets, people in crisis… Everyone’s seen the dramatic increase in rough sleepers across the country.

According to Homeless Link, around 4,134 people sleep rough every night in England alone. This figure in fact marks an 134% increase since the change in UK government in 2010. In London, that’s an increase from around 400 to almost 1,000 people. Here in the capital we currently have the highest number of rough sleepers across England. It’s truly shocking.

Yet the crisis doesn’t only affect those sleeping rough. There’s also the “invisible homeless” – men, women and children sleeping on friends’ sofas, living in and out of temporary accommodation and with no home to call their own.

Across London, there are a variety of organisations working to provide shelter, food and clothing to people in crisis. One of these is Feeding Folk (Peace by Piece) – an interfaith food programme based at West London Synagogue which brings together Muslims and Jews to cook a hearty hot meal for rough sleepers across London.

Distributing meals across central London, this is what I’ve witnessed and learnt and what I think everyone should know.

1. It costs less than £1 to feed a homeless person a complete hot meal

For a third of the cost of a take-out coffee, you can provide a hot meal, drink, piece of fresh fruit and a snack. The cost is minimal. Yet what is the social and human cost of homelessness? From 2001 to 2009, 1,731 of recorded deaths were traced to homeless people. As temperatures drop during winter, people are especially vulnerable to contracting pneumonia and hypothermia. The government needs to put more money, time and effort in to solve this crisis.

2. The less you have the more you give

The people I’ve met only take food when they’re hungry. If they’ve eaten they’ll be eager for you to to save the food for someone else. Sharing is caring as they say. The saying really is true: the less you have the more you give.

3. Life on the streets truly is hell

It goes without saying that living on the streets is a nightmare but if you could read some of the messages that people write and see what these people are going through… “Hell” was the worst description I have ever seen written.

4. Never underestimate the companionship an animal can bring

Many of us know the joy a pet can bring. Living on the streets is a lonely experience and a pet can bring much-needed comfort. One night we met a man who had recently lost his dog. For him, his dog was his best friend and his life companion. He was “not just a dog”. Housing providers need to understand that a man and his dog come as a pair – they’ll not be separated. Everybody deserves someone and everybody also deserves a home.

5. Almost very single person is grateful

Whatever (little) time, skills or resources you can offer – give them. Every bit will make a difference. To see people heartwarmed or even shocked and surprised at receiving a small meal shows that there is so much more to do. We need to change these heartbreaking trends.

6. Just because someone is sleeping rough doesn’t mean they don’t work

I’ve met people sleeping rough who work and know of many others. Sleeping rough has many causes and contributing factors. Some people lack the funds and/or legal status to rent accommodation after arriving in the UK, whilst for others sleeping rough has been a long-term reality. Do not presume that because someone is sleeping rough, that they have no will, no ambition or no interest in life. In any case, if they didn’t, they’d need emotional and social support.

Take action

Addiction, domestic abuse, financial hardship – there are many reasons why people end up on the streets but one thing is clear: it’s so easy to slip through the net.

It’s time that we raise our voices and tell politicians that this has to end. Write to your local MP and call on them to address the issue.

It’s super easy. Simply:

  1. Look up their contact details here
  2. Download my letter template text and edit the message (stats for your area can be found here)
  3. Copy the text in the webpage above and send!

If you hear back from your MP, then do drop me a line and feedback to me!

So, until next time,

Salam, shalom, peace ♡

Credits

Image credit: Eflon (CC BY 2.0)

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“These people are risking their lives in the Mediterranean – we must not forget them” – Welcoming refugees along the Andalusian coast

With so much in the media about migrants and refugees, it’s more important than ever to listen to real stories – stories of those who’ve lived through their very own refugee journey and also those of the people who are on the ground followig the difficult journeys vulnerable refugees and migrants face each and every day in their work.

With this is mind, let me introduce you to Jesús – a professional photographer working in Malaga (southern Spain) documenting the arrival of migrants and refugees across the Mediterranean. Here’s his story.

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Hi, my name is Jesús and I’m a press journalist based in Malaga (Spain). In my day-to-day work I focus on a variety of different local, national and international issues. One of the many areas I cover is immigration and in Malaga in particular this involves documenting the influx of refugees/migrants arriving in small rubber dinghies. Most people who arrive here have usually travelled from Morocco and this topic continues to gain ongoing media attention as more and more boats are arriving.

On a personal level, I’m passionate about photographing these vulnerable people and documenting their lives because I want to make sure that society doesn’t forget that there are people out there constantly risking their lives in Mediterranean waters. It’s more important than ever to show people the reality of what’s going on so that anti-migrant and anti-refugee abuse can stop – both on a political and governmental level.

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In southern Spain, migrants and refugees arrive via the Alboran Sea which is right next to the coast of Malaga, Granada and Almeria on the Andalusian coastline. Over the last few months, there’s been a constant stream of dinghies arriving here in Malaga. Sources say that the number is more than double the amount than those in 2016.

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Normally people travel in inflatable boats (called “toys”) in terrible, degrading conditions, risking their lives in the process. Once their boats are spotted in the Alboran Sea, the Maritime Rescue boats pick them up and take them to the port in Malaga (or other nearby locations in areas such as Motril or Barbate).

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People usually arrive safely, except for a select few who require urgent medical assistance from the Red Cross. This could include minors, pregnant women or people with either hypothermia or showin signs of other illnesses. Whilst the Maritime Rescue team help new arrivals enter the port, Red Cross staff are responsible for offering humanitarian aid including medical assistance and food inside the port itself in a marquee set up by the Red Cross. This marquee is constantly guarded by local, national police and the Civil Guard.

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New arrivals requiring urgent medical attention leave the port and are taken by ambulance to the nearest medical facility. Malaga port is not adequately equipped to offer appropriate medical care, unlike areas such as Motril for example. A lot of people have complained about that and thankfully, they’ve now agreed to set up a space to be able to deal with those people arriving, rather than simply using an open-air space in the port. However, despite the agreed plans, nothing has yet been built.

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Every time a dingy arrives into the port, the complex police procedures start. Police forces are on the ground watching over new arrivals in case a fight breaks out or things turns sour. Working as a member of the press alongside the police is difficult. Sometimes they block us from taking photos of people arriving or of covering potentially “compromising situations” such as when someone is being taken away in a police escort – as if they’d committed some sort of crime.

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At this point, once the Red Cross have finished their work, lawyers from the College of Lawyers in Malaga are on hand to offer legal assistance and deal with possible asylum and refugee claims etc. Finally, all the migrants/refugees are taken to the police station or what is referred to as “detention centres for foreigners”.

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Having experienced the arrival of refugees/migrants on our coast, one thing I have to say that it’s never easy to be there. It’s even harder to take their photos. These are tough, difficult moments in people’s lives, especially when minors are involved. You see how these vulnerable men, women and children are moved to the port to spend the night out in the cold or humid sea air and you get a glimpse of just how truly terrible it is to be travelling in these rubber dinghies, crammed in together, suffering for many long hours at sea. Perhaps the worst moment of their life is when their dinghy is lost at sea and becomes untraceable. In the worst cases, it sinks in the Mediterranean waters with no help from anyone because the rescue forces haven’t (yet) reached them. It’s moments like these that make you feel angry, outraged and powerless.

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Despite such tragedy, Spanish society is still talking about the issue as some sort of “mass immigration crisis”. People have so much prejudice, despite knowing nothing about the lives of these people and their reasons for leaving their homeland. Sometimes I think that if we were to hear people’s own stories directly from them – rather than through the media – and listen to everything that was and is happening to them then people’s opinions would change. However, sometimes I just think that society will just carry on being racist and xenophobic. We’re dealing with a moral issue here – people’s lack of respect for and interest in repeated human rights violations against migrant and refugee populations, simply for what they see as a minor “inconvenience” for our government’s administration.

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Perhaps one of the biggest things I’ve discovered through my work and in my personal life as a volunteer and human rights activist, is how thankful these people are when they first step onto “Spanish soil”. These people have lived through such immense hardships and faced many more to arrive here and yet almost each and every person who arrives will look at you with such thanks, kindness and sincerity. If you look into their eyes and then look into ours, you’ll see the difference.

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It is this that helps in some way to tear down stereotypes and prejudices. It is this that helps us to always see these people as humans, just like any other person endowed with rights. We should recognise that all migrants and refugees must be respected and treated in the best way possible. This lesson is especially true for my current government and the European Union – the main abusers of the human rights of these vulnerable human beings.

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jesus bio.jpgJesús Mérida, 24 years old, is a freelance press photographer based in Malaga (Spain).

He works with the local newspaper Málaga Hoy and the press agency ASNERP, as well as Amnesty International (Malaga).

Jesús’ professional and personal interests are focused around social and human rights issues both locally, nationally and internationally.

Credits and ackowledgments

Text and photography: Jesús Mérida (c) (all rights reserved)
Translation: Elizabeth Arif-Fear (original Spanish text can be viewed here)

Thank you Jesús for sharing your inspiring story and photography and for all the amazing work you do!

Follow Jesús on Twitter @JesusMerida_

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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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Italy: Second generation immigrants wait for passports

The reform of Italy’s citizenship laws has caused hunger strikes, anti-racism protests and huge debates across the country. Today, one million people born on Italian soil fail to be recognised as Italian. For two years, they have been waiting for a law blocked in the Senate, and their struggle to be recognised as an italiano vero is all too real.

After being bombarded by the press and across television channels, the Italian government finally addressed the issue of reforming Italy‘s citizenship laws. The result was jus soli (a.k.a. birthright citizenship). However, masking over current legislative controversies with this new label means nothing. This new legislation would by no means grant those born on Italian soil the right to citizenship (as is the case in the USA). Instead, the government introduced the term ius soli temperato. This regulation underlines a temporary status, placing a series of incredibly detailed limitations and conditions on the right to obtaining Italian citizenship. This way, Italy won’t risk becoming “the breeding ground for Africans and terrorists,” as was described by certain national tabloid newspapers.

“Italy is a mother that doesn’t want us as children”

The immediate and most significant effect this new law will have – if it does indeed get approved – is that it will improve the lives of around one million people (a number estimated by the Italian statistical body Istat). These people’s legal status as Italian residents will no longer be a topic of debate, but instead become a reality. The issue around so-called second generation Italians (those who are born or grow up in Italy) is that whilst these people feel Italian, on paper they’re not. Above all, the law will bear favorably on those who, at around age 18, would only have been a year away for applying for citizenship. It will favor those who’ve passed through the Italian education system but who still have to wait ten years to start the expensive and exhausting bureaucratic process to obtaining citizenship.

The debate around citizenship arises from fear; fear of the ‘other’, fear of people’s failure to integrate, fear of potential terrorist attacks… At this time in Italy, talk about the danger of racial dominance, easy citizenship and the “Islamisation” of society is out in the open.

To deny the right to citizenship means saying no to people who are legally living in Italy, who are registered, who have a doctor, who go to school and who pay taxes, contributing to the national economy. That’s why, in the many protests that have taken place over the last few months, you can read: “Italy is a mother that doesn’t want us as children,” on many signs. With a lot of effort, some have managed to become officially Italian. But what needs to be done for the one million to get their citizenship, and what are the rights of these young people?

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Protesting Italy’s current laws on the right to citizenship | Giuseppe Marsoner/Più Culture


Blessy and her endless expectations

“My parents were granted citizenship before me,” says Blessy Nambio bitterly. She was born in a hospital in Rome to Filipino parents, who have been in Italy for 30 years. Blessy is 28, speaks with a strong Roman accent, and was finally able to read the word “Italian” on her ID card just three short weeks ago. As a ‘non-resident’ for the first six years of her life, Blessy was unable to apply for citizenship at 18, despite being able to show evidence of going to school and receiving medical vaccinations.

She then had to renew her residence permit for more than ten years, first for family reasons, then for her studies. Having reached the age of 18 and being legally independent, she no longer met the income criteria required to apply for citizenship.

For Blessy, who now teaches Italian, citizenship isn’t what makes you Italian, but it does make a difference. “Paper talks,” she concludes. When she tells her students that she’s an Italian national, they’re not surprised: “Nowadays citizenship doesn’t have an ethnicity,” she explains.

Shehan and hidden racism

Back in 2011, the notion that the Italian citizenship law needed to be reformed had already been brought to light. In Milan people realised that, although the law existed, very few youngsters who had reached the age of 18 were realising their right to citizenship – presumably because they were not aware of it. Milan, like other cities, had overcome the lack of awareness on the issue with a special initiative: send letters to any foreigners turning 18 and remind them that they can apply for citizenship up until their 19th birthday. However, this solution was only introduced in some municipalities and promoted by mayors while the initiative never rolled out across the rest of the country.

Shehan Horawala, born in Milan, remembers the moment that letter arrived at his house. As a child, his classmates saw him as ‘foreign’ because of the colour of his skin. “People still think that you need to be white to be Italian, that you have to have certain physical features,” he says. The defeat of the State in the face of second generation Italians without a legal status is evident from Shehan’s words: “I have never felt so foreign in my country than when I was forced to queue up at the police station, along with my mother, to renew my residency permit.”

No one who has experienced waiting in line for hours at a time in the cold to be granted your turn to hand in documents, and have your fingerprint taken as a child, would say that it was a dignified and pleasant experience as an adult.

Now 28 years old, Shehan is a financial broker in the city where he was born and raised. He took his first trip around Europe at age 18 and for him, being Italian means “first of all having the opportunity to move and travel freely.” He’ll be moving to London in the hopes of continuing his career in the heart of the financial world. Perhaps, without the right information, Shehan would never have become an Italian Citizen.

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Protesting Italy’s current laws on the right to citizenship | Giuseppe Marsoner/Più Culture

Cristina and European barriers 

Like Shehan, Cristina also considers being able to travel freely one of a range of rights granted to Italian citizens.

Like Shehan, Cristina also considers being able to travel freely one of the fundamental rights granted to Italian citizens. Cristina Mallak was born in Italy but her parents are of Egyptian origins. Her father came to this side of the Mediterranean to escape the persecution of the Coptic Christians, leaving behind his degree in economics. After being granted Italian citizenship, he passed his citizenship on to his daughter. In 2007, when Cristina was in her last year of middle school, she played the Italian national anthem as her father took his solemn oath to the Italian Republic.

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Protesting Italy’s current laws on the right to citizenship | Giuseppe Marsoner/Più Culture

“Maybe not having citizenship would have stopped me from being able to travel around Europe and gain work experience as part of my studies,” says Cristina. Culture and education are two factors highlighted by this bill. In the case of second-generation migrants, Italy relishes in its schools of excellence but doesn’t safeguard the future (and present) of its country and people.

In her final years of high school, Cristina was rewarded by her region for excellent school results and has since continued her studies, graduating in international communication. She recently finished a year of civil service, which was previously off-limits to those without Italian citizenship. It’s thanks to a petition launched by four second-generation Italians, along with the ASGI (The Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration), that now even “Italians without citizenship” can undertake a civil service.

Blessy, Shehan and Cristina feel “fortunate” to have obtained Italian citizenship. However, to support all of the others who are still waiting in limbo for a passport, all three of them joined the protests in the piazza along with thousands of others to carry on daily battles and open new roads for the children of immigrants; ghosts not recognised by their own state.

Credits and acknowledgements

Author: Nadeesha Dilshani Uyangoda (translated by Elizabeth Arif-Fear), first featured via Café Babel (17/10/2017) (c)

Images: Giuseppe Marsoner/Più Culture (c)

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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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