Charlie Hebdo

News That Eats You Alive

I live-tweeted a whole revolution in 2011. I posted pictures, videos, I wrote a few blog posts…but mainly I tweeted an almost minute-by-minute account of what was happening during those 18 fateful days in Egypt.

I wanted the world to know. I wanted the world to hear. I wanted the world to see.

I’m not sure I knew what I expected the world to do once they knew what was happening, but it was important to me for the world to be on our – the revolutionaries’ – side. It was important to me to have the events documented as historic evidence of what we went through and what we faced.

I am very aware of this when other things happen in the world.

Yesterday, three young Muslims were shot to death, reportedly execution-style, in their U.S. home in what seems to be a hate crime. Two days before that, 22 Egyptians died trying to get into a football match. The police played a major role in their deaths. A few days before, news surfaced that ISIS burned a Jordanian pilot alive while in a cage. A few days before that, a terrorist attack in Sinai resulted in the deaths of 32 military personnel. Three weeks earlier, two gunmen killed 17 people working for a media outlet that published cartoons mocking Islam. In the days in between, a young Egyptian mother was shot dead while demonstrating in Cairo, ISIS executed God-only-knows how many civilians, people in Syria and Iraq are being killed and tortured, there are countless political prisoners rotting in Egyptian jails…it just goes on and on and on.

Every single life is important. Every single one. Every single life is a story; there are mothers and fathers and siblings and spouses and children and friends. Every story is worthy of being told. Every story needs to be heard, needs to be seen, needs to be known.

When horrendous and great things were happening in Cairo between January 25 to February 11 – and beyond – I needed the world to know the details. I needed the world to know how I felt about it all and how it all impacted me. I am a person. I have a story. I need my story to be known.

Every single person deserves that same amount of attention from the world.

But by becoming acutely aware of these stories and the reactions to these stories, I am, oddly enough, slowly losing my hold on reality. I am slowly becoming more and more anxious. I am slowly feeling more and more helpless. (more…)

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Hopeful Desperation in an Unjust and Terrifying World

This morning I woke up to find several of my Facebook friends sharing an Arabs Got Talent video. I’ve never properly watched the show nor have I cared to. But just as I’ll click on a link to a video that any friend recommends as interesting or funny, I’ll click on a shared Arabs Got Talent video every now and then too. So I clicked on this one to see what all the fuss was about.

It was a musical group of young Palestinian children from Gaza. They trained through the recent Gaza bombings. There were days on end when they couldn’t go to school but they would train as a group nevertheless. They described how difficult it is for them to see all the destruction in Gaza as they make their way to their institute to train. They tried several times to get out of Gaza to participate in the show but they couldn’t. The border with Egypt, the only way out, is often closed. But they eventually managed to get themselves across the border, onto a plane from Cairo Airport, and into Lebanon for the auditions. “We want to show the world that there is talent in Palestine,” said the youngest of the group. The group was composed of one singer and four children on musical instruments. The singer, probably around 13-years-old, had the hugest smile on his face throughout the whole audition. They played and sang a song by legendary Lebanese singer/songwriter Wadih El Safi (1921-2013) about the return of a loved one; the implied message in this particular case being one of singing for the return of Palestine. The children played and sang the song beautifully. The judges were all very impressed; so much so that one of them, a Saudi comedian, pressed the golden button that allows them an automatic go-through to the next rounds. Gold confetti dropped all over them as they continued singing the song to its end, with the youngest player on the classical Arabian instrument, the zither, crying tears of joy.

I always have a good cry when I see people accomplishing their dreams. So it isn’t strange that I had a really good cry while watching this video. But this time was different because of the context of the past few days. I’ve had a very deep-sitting feeling of loneliness and frustration since the Charlie Hebdo attacks. I feel as if I’m not understood – by hardly anyone. I feel like I want to sit the people of the world down in front of me and slowly explain to them why it is that we’ve reached the situation we’re now in. I want to tell the Western powers-that-be what they have been doing and continue to be doing wrong. I want to tell my fellow Muslims what they have been doing and continue to be doing wrong. It’s all so clear in my head but because there are so many intermingled and complex reasons for it all, they get jumbled in the area just before my throat so that it feels like it all just comes out in a putrid spew of vomit. I can’t seem to find the energy or the willpower to put together a proper, evidence-based argument to be able to clarify things the way I see them. (more…)

Terrorism and the Need to Acknowledge Accountability

I have a mixture of feelings of relief, angst, and anger following yesterday’s dramatic end to the search Earth_Western_Hemisphere_transparent_backgroundfor the Charlie Hebdo attackers.

Relief, because two psychotic murderers no longer roam the streets of France.

Angst, because of the brutal backlash that has already started against Muslim communities in the West.

And anger, partly at my fellow Muslims for seemingly wanting to fully distance themselves from any accountability for the current state of the general Muslim mindset/culture. And partly at the general Western world for not wanting to take accountability for a whole context they have played a huge role in creating.

I was glued to the television set as I watched events unfold live yesterday in Dammartin-en-Goele and Porte de Vincennes. I was awash with relief to see them come to an end. But at the same time I was horrified that yet four more had died in the midst of it all. For some reason I need to know who those four people are. I woke up this morning and the first thing I did was to turn on the news, hoping more information had been released. It hasn’t. There is a connection I need to make with those remaining four.

Yesterday night, just as the events ended, I learned that a friend of mine had recently moved to France. “Today they put a pig’s head in front of the mosque,” he told me. “Several women had their hijab pulled off their heads and there is a horrifying incitement campaign [against Muslims]. People are directing their anger at Islam and not just the murderers,” he said.

Early this morning I woke up to a status from a Dutch Muslim friend reporting that within her own limited network two mosques were firebombed, two women were soaked in beer by a co-passenger on the train while being called “fucking terrorists”, the mother of a friend was pelted with coca cola bottles, a young woman was told at the supermarket register that she should feel ashamed to still wear “that rag on her head”, numerous friends of friends were cussed at, slapped, lectured on their obligation to apologize, violated, etc., while bystanders did nothing. All the victims she had heard of were veiled women, she said.

I fear for my friends’ lives and for their families’ safety.

What frustrates me the most, I think, is the constant blame game that ensues after these sort of horrific events. No one wants to take responsibility for the mess we’re all in.

There is no simple answer to the question: what makes a person become a terrorist. Terrorism is the result of a very large number of complex factors. What acutely annoys me is that most of us have a very good idea what they are.  (more…)

When a Culture Makes Information the Enemy

When I began my career as a journalist, working as a science editor at an online media organization that unfortunately no longer exists, I fantasized about becoming a war correspondent. I wanted to go into war zones and cover the truth about conflict. My naïve view was that all I needed was to be savvy about staying out of the line of fire. And I’ve always figured I’m pretty savvy. People at war, I wrongly thought, don’t target the people communicating the truth about a conflict they are involved in. It’s in their best interests for the truth to get out. Or so I naively believed.

It wasn’t until the middle of Egypt’s 2011 revolution when I experienced first hand and witnessed the targeting of journalists. My personal experience was fortunately very limited: a thug pounced on me and broke my video camera while filming the renowned Battle of the Camels, when men on camelback raided Tahrir Square.

But since then, I have become acutely aware that journalists are constantly targeted in my region and by people from my region. Journalists covering Israeli insurgencies in Gaza have been targeted and killed by the Israelis. Journalists covering the situation in Egypt are killed and jailed by the state for doing their jobs. Journalists covering the situation in Iraq and Syria are kidnapped and then brutally beheaded by IS militants.

And today, 12 people working at French satirist magazine, Charlie Hebdo, were killed by masked gunmen apparently saying God is Great.

Targeting journalists is not, obviously, something only people of Arab or Islamic origins do. It is incredibly frightening to me as an Arab Muslim, though, to see this happening in significant numbers in my region and by people from my region and religion.

I can’t help but see that much of this stems from a culture of enmity towards knowledge and information. (more…)