terrorism

The hatred is everywhere

I’ve learned to numb myself to most of the horrible news we hear almost everyday now. I try to avoid the details and only have a general idea of the goings-on. I convince myself that these events, no matter how frequent, are really only rare. It’s only because we’ve become hyper-connected that we hear about every bad thing in the world. I tell myself that bad things have been happening in the world since the world began, but that good things and good people are what make up the majority on this planet. I tell myself that the voice of evil is just very loud while the voice of good is apparently meek, otherwise we’d all have a very different perception of our world.

I watch the news, find out about the terror attacks, the wars, and the dirty politicians and pretend that I can still live a good life without having to deal with all that. If I told myself otherwise, I’d just feel so helpless. No. I already feel helpless in a way. I’d feel too helpless.

I can numb myself to the news. I’ve been fortunate enough for most of the bad stuff to be at least an arm’s-length away from me that I can I just get on with things.

I can numb myself to the news. But I am completely incapable of numbing myself to the hatred, intolerance, bigotry and encouragement of or incitement to violence I now often see from people I think of being “just like you and me”. There seems to be so much of it and it’s everywhere. Social media has opened up doors to what’s really going on in the minds of people. It’s like it’s opened the floodgates that previously held in check all the crazy thoughts people hold inside and try not to let out in public.

There’s so much hatred. There’s so much anger.

There is a context to the hatred and anger. They aren’t borne of nothing. But that hatred and anger aren’t solving the world’s problems. They are fuel to the fire. Why can’t people see that? (more…)

That elusive “inner peace”

For a short period of time, I had found my inner peace. It was heaven. I had made peace with the big IMG_1688existential questions of life by deciding it was all right not to have all the answers. I stopped allowing other people’s lives, interferences and reactions affect me. I felt focused. I felt relaxed. I had accepted that life would never be perfect but that I’m very blessed nevertheless.

Heaven on Earth, I tell you.

You know that inner peace? I seem to have misplaced it and no matter how hard I look for it I can’t find it.

I still know somewhere in the back of my mind that it’s all right not to have all the answers.

But some questions are really bugging the heck out of me. Not that I’m doing much to figure them out. The big questions just need so much time and energy. I’m tired of the big questions. I want life to be simple and straightforward. Why isn’t life simple and straightforward?

And then there’s people. What the FUCK, people?? What is wrong with you lot?? (more…)

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…)

Understanding Sterlina

That was me in the mid-90s. Was I that different from Sterlina?

I often get nightmares. I used to blame them on the murder mysteries I read as a child or the police drama series I used to watch as a young adult. I stopped doing all that but the nightmares never stopped. I think my subconscious is strongly linked to my conscious. It turns all my real-life worries into horror-movie-worthy nightmares.

Last night I had nightmares of war. The part of the nightmare I remember was about me walking into a room and discovering it was full of Iraqi fighters. They were all pointing huge weapons out of a large balcony, focusing on something, people probably, not far below. I went to their leader, a rather stocky woman wearing a flowery dress with henna-painted fingernails. I was told that if I wanted to leave the room I had to have her permission. I gave her the most innocent I’m-of-no-matter-to-anyone look I could muster and told her that I really needed to go home PLUS I had to go to the toilet anyway. She looked at me very briefly, she was busy, and told me that it was dangerous out there. How was I planning on making my way home? I told her I’d walk to my father’s house which was not far away. I promised her I’d be fine. She allowed me to leave. There were many other woman in that room who were being held captive who were not as lucky. Perhaps they hadn’t tried to ask for permission like I had? Perhaps they knew too much already and could not be allowed to leave for that reason? A very young friend of mine was there. Her father’s house was close to my father’s house. She asked me to ask permission from the leader to take her with me. I woke up just as I started explaining things to the leader. I’ll never know if we both managed to leave.

When I woke up this morning, I tried to figure out what it was I was thinking about the day before that would have stimulated this nightmare. An aspect of this dream is reminiscent of the days of revolution in Cairo in 2011. But I realized that wasn’t what brought this one to the surface.

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook posted an article about an 18-year-old Dutch girl who converted to Islam, wore a face veil, and soon after fled from the Netherlands to Turkey by train, crossed the border into Syria, and married a Dutch-Turkish fighter.

Her story freaked me out.

This morning I figured out why.

Had the Internet been around when I was that age, that girl could have been me. (more…)

The Commonplaceness of Brutal Death

Yesterday morning I woke up to the news of yet another man, a Brit this time, being brutally beheaded by IS militants somewhere in Syria. On the face of it, my reaction was, “Oh my! That is absolutely horrible!” Then I went on with my daily activities. Underneath, however, my mind was in a whirlwind, partially because of my apparent reaction.

Brutal, violent deaths have become so commonplace now in the Middle East. There are so many innocent victims regardless of who is doing the killing. I am someone living in a safe environment who receives this news, feels horrified by it, but is able to continue with my life as normal afterwards. So many people like me are in the same position.

I try to put myself in the shoes of all those people who are under constant threat of a horrific death. I think what it must feel like to believe that my life is so transient, so worthless in the grand scale of things, that beyond a few of my close friends and relatives, the heinous crime that will be enacted against me in the next few minutes will have such an insignificant impact on the rest of the world that the most they will do is utter words of disgust and then they will go on with their lives. (more…)

The Fall of a Revolution – Or Can It Still Be Saved?

On January 28, 2011, after killing hundreds of revolutionaries, the Egyptian security forces retreated from the scene, suffering a huge emotional defeat after revolutionaries took over important squares all over the country. During the months to come, they would rarely appear on the streets of Egypt’s major cities, seemingly hoping that the country would descend into chaos.  It would appear, however, that instead of mere moping, they spent the months between February 2011 and June 2013 regrouping. Now, under the leadership of General Al-Sisi, a leader even more ruthless than ousted President Mubarak if that is even possible, the Egyptian security forces have staged a comeback as no other. The twist is that they now have the support of a large portion of the Egyptian population.

The telltale signs of Mubarak’s former regime are all there:

  • Churches are burning and sectarian violence has returned.
  • The fear of the Shiites is stronger than ever in the hearts of Sunni Egyptians.
  • Opposition media have all been shut down while the majority of remaining media organizations are towing the military’s line.
  • Men in civilian clothing are present with the Egyptian security forces during all standoffs, standing with and shooting from among their ranks.
  • Claims of a need to clamp down on terrorists are being used to impose control over a whole country through martial law and curfews.
  • Egypt’s jails are overflowing with political prisoners.
  • Every kind of rumor imaginable with barely any evidence to back it is making the rounds among the Egyptian public.

And today we hear news of Mubarak’s imminent release after judges cleared him from a second corruption case.

When the good times arrive, they arrive in a flood. (more…)

Boston: Why Arabs Like Me Are Horrified

Yesterday afternoon while we were on our way to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, my husband (a Scot) drove by a restaurant in England where we are at the moment that reminded him of the September 11 attacks on the United States. He had dinner at that restaurant shortly after the attacks. Someone he worked with called him on the phone earlier that day and told him what was happening. His initial reaction was, “What? What do you mean? What does this mean?” He describes another work colleague’s reaction being, “I really need to eat Chinese food.” So they both got up and went out for Chinese. It was only later, my husband explained, that they both realized the severity of the attacks and the massive death toll that ensued.

“Where were you on September 11?” my husband asked me. And I proceeded to tell him a story I do not like to tell and have rarely told. But it is the true story of so many Arabs that day, even if they won’t admit it. (more…)