Syria, #Syria & Syrians

I spied this link on Omar Offendum‘s Facebook page, and couldn’t resist reposting it here – this isn’t a cop-out; I will totally post on Syria, as well as other Middle Eastern countries — too many topics, and yet we need to do one at a time. I had the chance to hear Omar at the University of Washington a few years ago, as part of the amazing trio (including Mark Gonzales and Nizar Wattad/Ragtop) that performed the inspiring piece “Brooklyn Beats to Beirut Streets.” Since then, I’ve followed his music and have fallen in love with his album “SyrianamericanA“. He is a Washington DC-native of Syrian background, currently based out of Los Angeles as an architect, but is an incredible musician.

This article was originally posted by the OCWeekly at this link; the below content is the work of Yasmin Nouh.

Omar Offendum on “#SYRIA”: “It isn’t just the music; it’s really the message the government is afraid of”

Syrian American hip-hop artist Omar Offendum performs at a concert venue in Beirut, Lebanon.

The music video to the song #SYRIA opens up with 400,000 demonstrators flooding the streets in the largest-ever protest against Syrian ruler Bashar Al-Assad in early July, 2011, just a few months after the revolution’s outbreak. The masses chant, “al-shaab yureed isqat al-nitham,” which translates to “the people want the regime to collapse.” That slogan, coined in Tunisia, now echoes in protests across the rest of the Arab world, such as Syria. The chant turns into the chorus of the song, and the artist, Omar Offendum raps the beginning lines, ”Let’s keep hope alive/Stand in solidarity with all of your fellow citizens/Peacefully protesting for an end to all the militance.” 

Offendum, born to Syrian parents and raised in Washington D.C., started his musical career as half of a hip-hop duo. He later went solo, and recently released his first album titled Syrian-AmericanA with tracks in Arabic and English. Offendum uses his music and spoken word as a medium to bridge the gaps of misunderstanding between West and East. At the start of the Arab Spring, Offendum collaborated with other Arab and African-American artists on #Jan25″–a song inspired by the Egyptian revolution that went viral on the internet shortly after its release. In his latest track, titled “#SYRIA,” he raps about a less romantic uprising in his native Syria – where the country has been mired in a bloody, brutal, year-and-some-weeks-long uprising.

OC Weekly: What inspired you to write the song? And what were the challenges in doing so?

Omar Offendum:
I’m a human being and speaking out against injustice is important, as well as using my music to shed light on situations where real human suffering needs to be addressed. That’s the niyyah (“intention” in Arabic) behind it. Secondly, I am Syrian, and I have immediate family who’ve been living there for decades. So it’s a very direct connection that I have to the country; their safety and things they do on a daily basis is of deep concern to me. My father is from Hama, and in 1982, that city suffered a horrific massacre at the hands of the father of this dictator Bashar Al-Assad. Our generation had to swallow the havoc it wreaked on us for so long – the fear and paranoia of speaking out against the regime. But now, the fear barrier is broken in Syria, and if they can speak out and protest over there and they’re in the midst of the violence, then I have to do something as well. I felt a responsibility to do something.

So when did you decide to release “#Syria,” and what prompted that decision?

I wrote and recorded this song last summer. My producer and I recorded it on the bloodiest day in Hama since 1982 where a couple hundred people were killed in one day, so it really lit up a lot of emotions and brought back all these tragedies. It would, however, have been irresponsible and reckless to release it then because that could’ve put my immediate family in danger, so it took me a very long time before I felt comfortable doing that. We ended up waiting until the one-year anniversary [of the revolution] before releasing it. I noticed after a year that people – those in the diaspora at least – were started to get revolution fatigue. You can imagine what the emotional fluctuation in Syria was like with hundreds being tortured and turning into refugees. It really takes its toll. I felt like this song could re-inspire and re-energize the people who watched it. And while I appreciate the attention I’ve received after releasing it, it means more to me when my own family members, who’ve had to flee from Syria, have seen it and they tell me that the song is positive and they appreciate it and my work isn’t in vain. Getting their support and blessings meant the world to me. Hip-hop and rap are increasingly popular music genres in the Middle East.

So why rap? Does that form of music resonate more with the populace?

I really don’t think hip-hop is as big in Syria as it is in other Middle Eastern countries. The music of the revolution in Syria is very much the music of the people – the nighttime chanting. Syria has had a long history of chanting, freestyling lyrics, poetry and a strong admiration for percussive beats. When the revolution began, that evolved into revolutionary chants. As for hip-hop and rap elsewhere, young rappers in the Arab world were some of the first people to address corruption, nepotism and challenge the status quo. They recognized that the marginalized voices of African Americans in New York birthed rap and hip hop, and they connected with those origins. Given that context, they were better able to take the reins during these revolutions and perform songs that move protests forward.

You often mix Arabic and English in your music. What’s the reason for that?

Art, at its best, is a reflection of the community that it comes from. To that end, it’s an honest reflection of the lifestyle I’ve lived. I was born in Saudi Arabia, raised in the United States and studied at an Arabic school. My album is 30 percent Arabic, and that’s a reflection of my daily life; I speak in Arabic 30 percent of the time during the day, with my family and my friends. My other reasons for using it in my music are that it helps demystify the language for a public who most likely generally hears Arabic coming out of the mouth of an angry Arab on television. I wanted to get people used to hearing Arabic in a more positive way.

What are some protest songs from the Arab Spring or other movements that have inspired you, if any?

Obviously the main one was “Yalla Irhal Ya Bashar” (Come On, Leave Bashar) [by Ibrahim Qashoush] not just because of the words and how many shivers they sent down my spine, but because he was saying things people had been afraid to say for decades. Shortly after he sang that song, he was found dead with a gashed throat and his vocal cords ripped out, and he was found floating in the Orontes River, which ironically translates into “the disobedient” river. He was just a fireman and he found himself in this position to lead thousands of people in chants every night. The government felt threatened by that, and they killed him. It just shows you that it isn’t just music; it’s really the message they’re afraid of.

See also:

Twenty: Remembering the Siege of Sarajevo

If you are an offended reader and you want to tell me that Sarajevo citizens attacked themselves (or engage in other denials, anti-intellectualism and conspiracy theories), please click X on the top right-hand corner of your browser.


On today’s date in 1945, Partisans liberated Sarajevo from fascism. On the same date in 1992, Sarajevo was attacked by the Yugoslav People’s Army and the Army of Republika Srpska and this became the longest siege of a city in modern military history.  Although the war was complex, and allies sometimes became enemies depending on the place of fighting, my intention here is not to clarify or simplify the complexities, but rather to share some of my thoughts on the siege of Sarajevo, twenty years after it started.

Today, in a personal narrative, I remember the aggression on my hometown and the capital city of my country. Next year again, this will repeat: with one side remembering, and the other pretending that the sound of death was just firecrackers in the distant mountains.

As I prepared to write this, I had several objections from older people who refused to engage in any discussion about the past. Denial was rampant, and arguments ended with weak commentary about young people not knowing anything, our place not being in politics, and general logical fallacies.

My story, incomplete and fragmented

I was young when the war started and I remember seeing protests on television and asked my parents what was happening. “Nothing” was the answer, but I recall clearly that something was wrong and very soon after, my mom, my sister and I had to leave Sarajevo while my dad stayed behind. I trivially remember wearing turquoise sweatpants. There were times where my mom did not eat so that we could. She looked nearly anorexic, but her strength was that of Samson (even though she cut her hair). We had no idea where my dad was or if he was alive. We had no light or heating, and my mom’s resourcefulness continues to amaze me to this day.

I ran around the neighborhood with my cousin, collecting various sizes of shell casings – we found one that was as big as we were, but we were excited that this large shiny object was now in our possession. Our mothers would tell us, don’t go into any [abandoned, looted] houses, there are snipers everywhere! But we went anyway, we were curious to see what was in people’s homes. The doors were open and the howling of the wind added to the strangeness of abandoned homes of our neighbors.  We collected colorful paper napkins, and once we saw a soldier who rudely told us to leave. I don’t know where he was aiming his weapon, but I am certain that the adult me would have asked him what he was doing and asked him to leave. My mother would say again, don’t get involved!

I remember only a short period in the first grade in my hometown and then we moved to a new place. We moved again, and again, and again, and I lost count. I started a new school, and that was going to be my life for seven years. I moved between borders, places, ideas, hyphens, and labels. Refugee. Internally displaced. Victim. Newcomer. Immigrant.

I am still trying to find words to express the strange and empty feeling of being an adult woman, learning about my hometown years after I had to leave, asking other newcomers where streets and famous landmarks are. There are places I should know, the essentialization and homogenization of Sarajevan citizenship say that I must innately feel some sort of a spirit, or soul of the city. But I only hear different dialects, people complaining about newcomers, ex-patriates eagerly awaiting to eat their portion of ćevapi and speaking languages of their new homelands. Sometimes, when I’m alone in my thoughts, I think, do they know? Can they hear my differences?

I don’t even remember the exact story of our exodus other than what my parents and neighbours have told me, but even they don’t like talking about it. I remain curious and I continue to ask questions. My mom warned me to not get myself killed by asking around too much, but what am I supposed to do? Silence is not an option and neither is forgetting.  A child never understands the complexity of war, but a child can feel that something around him or her is wrong and can empathize with people experiencing pain and tragedy. A child with a difficult past reflects as an adult, and for some people like myself, war has become an important theme. While I refused to let it define me, its impact was significant enough that the only logical option now seems to learn more, to ask, to understand.

Why else would people be saying never forget and never again, or do we casually enjoy clichés?

The painful part of my history is veiled by a wall of fog and fear, where those with clearer memories refuse to talk and I am left to invent new ways to question them without them noticing. I jump around the subject, hoping to find a transparent window, maybe someone will tell me or maybe even draw pictures. I will take pictures too, I will take anything that makes sense. And I seem to be seeing a manipulation of facts and history, and emotions taking place of serious inquiry and investigation as far as the media is concerned.

I think, maybe if I ask a question this way, they won’t notice and they won’t die without telling me what happened. I have to know. I want to know. As I reconstruct the past, I remember stories from others, I remember the cries of women who lost their husbands, boyfriends, brothers, sons, and I remember the hypocrisy of apparently God-fearing war profiteers and criminals in our hometown and in other parts of the country. I am told not to speak about that either – they continue to prosper, by the way. They hold positions in all levels of government and their children live in privilege unknown to most young people in Sarajevo. Here, I am reminded by the words of Seneca the Younger: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”

I reflect on other people’s stories, and somewhere between those stories, there is fear, hate, resentment, and the silence which veils the truth. I eagerly listen when someone tells me their story, and sometimes I rehearse the questions in my head – I want the stories, but I want to ask questions carefully, respectful of individual history and memory and its place in the collective memories of our peoples.

Silence and denial

Since we were children, the stories and fairy tales always had a moral message, with a mandatory fight between good and evil. I suppose during the war, they wanted to surprise us and have the evil win, to keep us on our toes. There was a clear distinction between the villain and the hero, the winner and the loser. But there are also attempts to erase history, to equate the aggressor and the victim, a clear barrier to justice and reconciliation. Ethnically cleansed areas and party control of media sources with no journalistic integrity are yet another barrier to peace and reconciliation. Even Hollywood stereotypes us, romanticizes our experiences as something that happened in an exotic part of the world.

I am however not angry at Serbs as a group of people, I am not angry at Croats as a group of people, I am not angry at Bosniaks as a group of people. The war happened and the real truth will likely always remain hidden because there are people who want to keep it hidden and soon, those who know it will die, and we will create and recreate the truth, and we will continue doing so until people have justice, until there is a sense of catharsis. I have to remind my friends that the aggressor is not the same as the victim and that the aggressor also killed his own in the process of destruction. I am however disappointed in individuals who refuse to accept that evil was done in their name and that many refuse to critically examine the information which they were spoon-fed for years without alternative viewpoints. The anti-intellectualism of some individuals, parties, and professionals is so concerning, that I have to remind myself to breathe, that the future generations  will understand that (for example) Croatia’s crimes in Jasenovac are not a justification for Srebrenica or any other war crime, that an eye for an eye will be a forgotten model of “justice”

I am disappointed in people like the award-winning filmmaker Emir Kusturica who continues to use his visibility for spreading hatred and ignorance. Today, Sarajevo is displaying 11 541 empty red chairs to commemorate the victims of the Sarajevo siege and it seems that they were made in Serbia. He decided to use this opportunity to post on Facebook: “In Sarajevo, there is a day of red chairs. I guess we can use this as an opportunity to say “buy local’ “. In this case, local refers to Serbian, since the chairs were made in Serbia, and as of a few years ago, he started identifying as a Serb, because he discovered that his Muslim family was once Serb but converted to Islam during the Ottoman colonization. Not only is he ignoring the meaning of this day and the symbolism of the red chairs, he is also mocking the thousands who perished in this aggression and those who are living today and whose lives were impacted by it. The President of Bosnia’s entity Republika Srpska also refuses to commemorate this day and denies genocide completely, and a writer for a newspaper Glas Srpske, Svjetlana Tadić refers to the siege of Sarajevo as “so-called siege”. She asks how come there was a siege , if from the 160,000 Serbs, only 6000 are left, while ignoring the role of Serb forces also killing their own people and directly or indirectly forcing their relocation, including the existence of East Sarajevo (which is not even the eastern part of the city). Her post was shared over 2800 times at the time of this blog post, and amidst general denial of atrocities, she ends her piece by saying that everyone who had a soul left, and now there are only people without a soul living there.  In Belgrade, a feminist group Women in Black (Žene u crnom) remembered the aggression and reminded people that this indeed was an aggression, and not a civil war.

Red Chairs in Sarajevo, author unknown


The radicalization and polarization of the political space remains a concerning factor and probably the largest barrier to a sustainable peace other than economic development. As long as the national discourse is shaped in the absence of citizens and as long as their voices are discouraged and silenced, there will be no sustainable peace.  Please remember Sarajevo, remember Bosnia-Herzegovina. Speak out against war, speak out against injustice and don’t allow a vocal ignorant minority to dominate the public space and ruin people’s lives and futures.

Author’s note:

Please share your stories with me. Connect with me via hello [at], I would love to hear your views and understanding of the war in Bosnia. You can write to me in English, French or Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian. Thanks for reading. See you soon in Sarajevo.


Interview with the Cousin of Trayvon Martin

Cedric President-Turner

Cedric President-Turner, Trayvon Martin's cousin, addresses the crowd.

I had the chance to speak with Cedric President-Turner, the cousin of Trayvon Martin. Cedric is 18 and attends Foss High School in Tacoma, WA. I only had a couple minutes to speak with him, and while I know a lot of people were asking about how he felt, his family, the questions which immediately came to my mind were slightly different. To no great surprise, I found myself speaking with a bright, eloquent young man with goals and dreams — not unlike how I would envision his cousin to be.

The below is a transcript of a recording I took on my iPod). 3/25/12


NB: Speaking with Cedric, the cousin of Trayvon Martin, this is Nina for the peace blog, what are your thoughts on the crowd that you’re seeing here today in Seattle?

CPT: it’s remarkable, oh my gosh, like, I can’t believe that all these people are out supporting my cousin; and it’s one of those things that you’d never imagine in a million years, and it’s coming true, and it’s right in front of my eyes, and for it to be so big, and for these young kids to be out here, that’s what is most important, is that these young kids are out here, that I can spread this message to them, and they’re able to know that if they don’t fight, then things aren’t going to change and they could be next, so we have to fight, we have to fight, and we gonna keep fighting, and my family, we are gonna always fight for justice, for justice, justice, justice.

NB: I volunteer with a lot of high school students, and I know it’s difficult for some of them to make the connect, a lot of people say they care about the issues but they’re hopeless, or apathetic, and they don’t think things can change; what would be your message to people?

CPT: get it out of their mindset, because if you stay in that mindset, you’re gonna live it. You have to change your mind to be able to change others; so if you don’t change, then nobody else is gonna change, so you need to change yourself, and to be in that mindset is one of those things where it’s like, why, it’s like why am I living? Well, I’m living because God has still given me another day, obviously. But at the same time, what are you going to do on this earth? And that’s my main thing. You need to get it out of their mindset, do something positive, and impact this world.

NB: what are your personal goals for your life? I mean, are you still in high school, what are you planning to do after that? …I mean, I studied Political Science, but I completely agree with you when you say I do not want to be in politics—

CPT: Oh, yeah.

NB: –but at the same time; what are your hopes? I mean we live in Seattle, it’s a city that on the one hand has been pretty active about social justice issues, but that is not necessarily the case for the rest of the country; what are your personal goals with what you have hopes for with this particular movement, if this can keep people talking about the issues and getting involved, but what do you also personally want to do?

CPT: I want to be a social justice attorney international, going over to Africa, working, like in Somalia, with the unrest, and bringing justice to other countries, and fighting for justice here in America. So I plan on doing a lot of pro bono work,  but at the same time, I want to be – I also want to be a business lawyer too, so I’ll probably do both.

NB: Sweet, well thank you—

CPT: Thank you so much… (Recording cuts off)


You can see further pictures from Sunday’s event here on my Flickr page; updated soon with pictures from Wednesday’s rally in Downtown Seattle.

You can see video Nina took of Cedric President-Turner speaking 3/28/12 at an event in downtown Seattle; YouTube link here.

Liberty & Justice For All…Kind Of, But Not Really…

I have been mulling over this post for a few days now, trying to figure out the best way to say what I want, to share my thoughts–and finally I have come to the conclusion that it’s best to simply share my thoughts, raw as they may be — for there are simply times when there are no words, and hatever we say will simply be just that.

I gew up in a diverse neighborhood in Seattle, attending public school all the ay from elementary school through college. My mother recalls that when my sister (four years older than myself) and I would talk about our friends, that my parents couldn’t tell what their background or race was – to us, they were all our friends. Apparently once in elementary school, my sister came home wanting my mom to braid her hair in cornrows like she had seen some of her friends had — and my mother amusingly had to explain to her that not everyone’s hair could necessarily be done in styles like that.

My favorite story is that of when my sister’s class first learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. My sister came home and was telling our parents about what they had heard, about his life and accomplishments — but my sister looked at my parents — Western-European Americans, born in Montana — and asked in all the honesty that only a child can: “but mom, who are the white people?”

My mother paused, then asked my sister what color she was. My sister apparently looked at her arm, studied it a moment, then decided it was rather a peach-like hue. My mother then explained to her that in life, there have been times when people would do things to other people simply based upon what color they were. Some time later, at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, my sister (still quite young) saw an albino man. Tugging on my mother’s sleeve, she said, “Mom! Is that one of the white people?” My mother admitted, well, yes he was quite white. My sister stated: “Well, he doesn’t look like he would do anything like what those people did to Dr. King.” Oh, sometimes I envy the young — I look at my nephews, ages 5 and 3, and my heart aches at the lessons that they will inevitably have to learn some day. But, because of their skin color, they have the luxury of the choice of not having to learn them just yet — however, some children have to learn these lessons all too soon.


Trayvon Martin's cousin holds high a bag of Skittles and iced tea, what Trayvon had on him when he was killed.

I’ve begun volunteering at the high school I attended, but now I see a new face amongst the hundreds: the ghost of Trayvon Martin. Trayvon was a 17 year old in Florida, shot and killed by a man who found him suspicious for walking in a gated community. Trayvon had recently stopped for an iced tea and a bag of Skittles, and was talking to his girlfriend on the phone as he walked to his father’s fiancee’s house.

George Zimmerman, an attentive member of his community and neighborhood watch noticed Trayvon walking with the hood of his sweatshirt up. He felt Trayvon to be suspicious, and called the police — he had also called the police some 40+ times in the previous month — quite an active member of his neighborhood watch, it would seem. He had a gun which he wore in a holster on his person — Trayvon was unarmed. Zimmerman outweighed Trayvon by some 100 pounds, and at the time he noticed Trayvon, had another distinct advantage: he was not directly involved with the young man. But as the 911 operator soon found, Zimmerman chose to follow Trayvon, despite being warned not to.

It is here that the course of events becomes both blurry and bloody, yet there have been too many cases in the course of this country’s history for me to not try and fill in the blanks myself–the end result is the same: Emmett Till comes to mind, or the countless unnamed and unacknowledged in the mainstream media. The result, however, is all too predictable — Trayvon Martin is dead, and George Zimmerman, the known shooter, is free and not charged with a crime. The beautiful state of Florida, it would seem, has a telling loophole of a law — “Stand Your Ground”: use of deadly force is allowed in cases of self defense. Despite that Trayvon was a minor, unarmed, and it is under a now federal investigation, it was Trayvon’s dead body that was tested for drugs, not Zimmerman — for a man who was apparently active in his neighborhood watch and had called the police numerous times, he went against a 911 operator’s imperative to stand down and not pursue this “suspicious” young man. Zimmerman himself has priors.

And yet it is not my interest to paint Zimmerman as evil, or even racist. It is our system that is in need of change; it is our system that is guilty and has blood, both dried and old and fresh and new staining its workings: as the saying goes, “blood alone turns the wheels of history.” Oh, that we would seek alternative forms of energy… Furthermore, Trayvon’s death is not the only one on the airwaves, unfortunately — Iraqi immigrant mother of five in California, Shaima Al Sawadi, was bludgeoned with a tire iron in her own home; the assailant leaving a note: “Go back to your home, terrorist!” Al Sawadi died a few days later.

I look back at my own days in school, and I look at the students with whom I volunteer now: they wear hoodies, hijabs, jeans that sag, tight shirts, short skirts, and baseball caps to look cool. Do any of these items of clothing provoke suspicion in and of themselves? Or is it only when certain ethnic and racial groups don them that we clutch our handbags closer, our eyes darting around more frequently? Why is it, in 2012, that I look at the kids I volunteer with, the people I went to school with, some of whom have their own children now, and realize that some of them, simply for the color of their skin, their ethnic and religious background, they have to be told that they need to watch themselves even more? To be careful of where they walk, how they look and hold themselves, how they talk and with whom they talk, to check in with their parents after certain times of the night — and yet, even if you play by all these rules and toe the line, that still won’t mean you won’t get shot some day, by either a watchful neighbor or an officer in uniform? Or even if you stay alive, that you won’t be harrassed by both civilians and law enforcement alike?

A Boy Reflects

A young boy reflects on a poster with pictures and text about Trayvon.

It angers me to no end, but I’ve realized that anger is okay. I had the chance to hear renowned photographer Chris Jordan speak, an environmental activist at heart, and he stated along these lines: that we are taught to always return to this state of being okay, to be just fine. But if we love, anger is a valid response, a valid emotion — if we love something or someone enough, we will get angry, we will be afraid, we will be upset. Well, I love my community, and I love my country – the good things about it, at least. I love my friends, in all their colors and cultures — and I am angry and upset that these sorts of things still happen. I used to think, how cool would it be to live through the civil rights era of the 1960s and 1970s? And yet I cry in frustration that these days are not done — they are nowhere near being done.

In closing, I return to my inspiration for this blog’s title: I don’t recall when I first realized that I had an issue with saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I know that first I had some issues with stating my loyalty to simply a flag, but as I began to see more of the world around me, within my own city, even, and especially my own country — the words “liberty and justice for all” were merely an echo of an ideal, but a slap in the face for those who have it denied. Furthermore, it is a slap in the face to those of us who believe that we can pursue a better future for this country, and yet have to face these daily injustices, inequalities, and to live with such a blood-stained system. Our history has many deaths and injustices; this we cannot change. What we can change is how we live, and the future.

For your final words of inspiration, I turn to a quote from friend, fellow activist and poet Mark Gonzales: “In a supremacist world, hijabs and hoodies affect your life expectancy.” All I can say is this: fellow Americans, this should not be so.

(For further reading: an excellently-written editorial to the Seattle Times can be found at this link; I highly recommend it.)

Also, you can see my pictures from Sunday’s event here on my Flickr page.

Inspiration In All Its Forms

Or, how I learned to start worrying — and do something about it.

OK, I’ll admit — I had intended for this next post to be about Occupy Wall Street, or at least my involvement in it – and maybe I’ll eventually get around to that, too. But I got to thinking, what was the thing that I wanted to share the most about my experiences? In today’s age of technology, consumerism and materialism, socio-political apathy and economic struggle,  what is the message I want to share, both from my own experiences and from my own beliefs?


Nina Protesting in NYC

Nina Protesting in NYC (in the green shirt & orange scarf)

Technically, that’s about all to it — but I’ll expand a bit. Before I get on my little social justice and activist soapbox here, I’ll include a disclaimer: I wasn’t always like this. I definitely wasn’t always like how I am in the photo to the right, haha. Though admittedly I have learned quite a lot on the road that has led me to this. However, I had a very normal childhood — public school from kindergarten through college, and in my city (Seattle) that meant a pretty diverse school population. I didn’t think it anything out of the ordinary to have friends from more countries than I could probably name, and didn’t bat an eye at the statistic that my high school was the most diverse in the district, or how many languages were heard in the hallways — it’s just the way my community was, and I was just a typical high school student. Halfway through, I did a history project on Eastern Europe, and I thought, “Hey, I know a couple of people from Bosnia – I’ll do something about Bosnia; easy grade.” Oh, if only I knew what I was getting into.

Granted, I was pretty clueless myself about what had happened in Bosnia in the 1990s, but as I learned about it, about the region and its conflict, I was agitated — pissed off, actually — when I would tell people and they had little to no idea, or didn’t really care. So began my self education of the Balkans, studying it over the next two years, and when graduation came and most people were partying it up, I was packing up — Sarajevo was my destination not even two weeks after finishing high school, and I fell in love with the city. I came back and began to study Serbo-Croatian language at the University of Washington, and threw myself into my studies. I thought that was it — me, the Balkans; it made sense.

But then I got into Turkish — well, it had influence in Bosnia and the Balkans. And Arabic and Persian influenced Turkish, and had also influenced Hindi and Urdu, and even Swahili….well, seven tattoos later, you can tell I’m a language person. But I soon realized that if you learn a language, you’re learning a lot more than just that — you’re learning a culture, a history; you’re learning about people. And while it took a while to sink into my stubborn, self-conscious head, what I realized as I traveled more was this: people are what matter the most. If I’m not doing something to help people, then what am I really doing?

These days I’m studying Portuguese before I move to Sao Paulo this fall, but it’s not just me learning a language –sure,  I’m passionate about communicating with people; I love learning more about their cultures and music — but it’s a hell of a lot more than that. Sitting next to my grammar book is Eduardo  Galeano’s “The Open Veins of Latin America“, and some printouts of social issues in Brazil: rural land right struggles, urban poverty, the worries of future sex trafficking with the upcoming World Cup and Olympics…and the question that goes with it — how can I be involved? While I am excited to try something new for a year, a new home, a new place to live, I realize it’s accepting all of it in its entirety: the good, the bad, the ugly. And that’s what really inspired me to get involved in my own country, my own community.

I’m inspired by young people finding that thing which inspires them, which motivates them to become engaged and involved global citizens. I’ve started volunteering at my old high school, eager to do what I can, perhaps even be involved in someone’s experience of finding or realizing that thing. I’ve started volunteering with the local office of a national and global organization that combats hunger, responds to natural disasters, works in refugee resettlement and other issues. But honestly, between all that and my travels, you don’t have to even do that  – one of the most, if not the most, important things you can do is be the change. Live as the person you want to see other people strive to be; live in even the little ways that you want to see something better.

The people whom I have met and about whom I have read inspire me to believe that we can create a better future, and if we’re not doing things to better ourselves and others, then I am also inspired enough to speak out against those things. I am inspired enough to care about people whom I don’t even know. I’m inspired enough to look for the humanity in everyone, no matter how much I may disagree with them. I am inspired enough to persevere and keep working for something better, even when times are difficult.

I know all of this can seem kind of heavy, so I’ll close with some positivity and share something with you – one of the many ways I stay inspired is through my photography, through poetry, and music. One of my favorites these days which tops my social justice soundtrack is a song I randomly came across, and am glad to share. I hope the words resonate with you, even if the genre doesn’t. (The rapper is Nate out of the United Kingdom, ft. Cyclonious).

“…I ain’t afraid to start the change; it only starts with one…it only takes a single thought to start a revolution – all it takes is one word, one event, one verse to change peoples’ mentality so we can heal the earth / no more war, no more hurt, no more fire, no more curse, no more killing, no more humans living in reverse / all is takes is one action to cause a mass reaction / how can you live in this world and show no compassion…we need a new world of justice, peace and righteousness…”

Find your inspiration. Pursue peace. Seek justice. ~Nina

In Which I Meet a Nobel Prize Winner

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee

“The world is upside down; your society is upside down—it’s time to turn it right-side up.”  

It might be ironic to some that these words were uttered by a woman from a country which was ravaged by civil war from 1989-1996 and then again from 1999-2003–and stranger still that these words were directed toward the West and the United States specifically. Ironic indeed, that this country is that of Liberia, the very creation of which is quite solidly linked with the United States — Liberia was mostly colonized by freed slaves from the U.S., and the structure of its government was inspired by that of the United States’.

Irony, I’ve found, has its uses. The woman who spoke these words had a captive audience, riveted to her words. She is a formidable lady and a phenomenal speaker, and I had intended to hear her talk about her book (which is quite an amazing read). The course of events that day shifted in perspective when I awoke to check my email that morning: the woman who I was planning to hear that day had just been announced as one of the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Leymah Gbowee, it would seem, was quite a popular person.

She’s the type of woman who would shrug this off, and I found myself – along with many others – entranced and amused by her candidness, and hanging onto her every word. She is by no means alone in the world for the work she has done, promoting peace in Liberia and the world around us. She is the subject of Abigail Disney’s riveting documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”, along with many other amazing women, named and unnamed who relentlessly strove for peace in the war-torn country. (Sidenote: this documentary was featured in the U.S. as part of a five piece series called “Women, War & Peace”. Please do check out the links and episodes!) She is a relentless organizer, and formidable enough that she earned the nickname “General Leymah” for organizing her ‘troops’ — hundreds upon hundreds of women in Liberia who repeatedly stood in rallying for peace, calling for then-president Charles Taylor to go to negotiations in Ghana, talk with the leaders of rebel groups, and seek peace for Liberia.

It has been a long journey, for both Leymah and Liberia. The country has finally escaped from the dismal grip of warfare, and elected Africa’s first woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (the second of the trio of women to win the Nobel Peace Prize this last year — she, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, another peace activist). Leymah’s own life has not been the easiest or most glamorous – hardly that. (You can read more about it in her book, Mighty Be Our Powers – quite an excellent read.) Her latest undertaking is heading up Liberia’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission, to deal with the stories and reports of what happened during the war.

And so it was with much excitement that I headed over to upper eastside of Manhattan that October morning, arriving early to the Interchurch Center near Columbia University and finding a close seat. I spied a friend of mine, Susan, and sat with her and her friend. Susan was keen to hear Leymah speak, as she herself had lived in Liberia in the 1990s as a mission worker with the Episcopal Church. She met her husband there, actually–David was an aid worker in Liberia at the time, but both of them were forced to leave due to the civil war. I smiled as Susan was happily caught up to speed about the morning’s turn of events — that we would be hearing not just an author and peace activist, but a Nobel laureate at that. Susan in turn informed her friend of my own activities — not a week before I had been arrested at a protest in New York City, a controversial mass arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge October 1st. (Don’t you worry; blog about that to come soon enough). Amusingly enough, at one point later in Leymah’s talk, Susan and her friend pointedly glanced over at me — I was busy snapping photos and jotting down quotes, and Leymah looked out over the crowd and stated firmly: “Libya has activists, Liberia has activists; what they lack is resources. The U.S. has resources, and lack activists.”

Nina and Leymah Gbowee

Nina and Leymah Gbowee

I had a chance to hear Leymah speak again in New York City a couple of months later, and even spoke with her for a few minutes. But it was the comments I noted down from her thoughts in October (the link is given in the above paragraph) that stuck with me the most, and I would like to share a few of them with you all.

  • “We wanted to do justice in our communities; we didn’t set out to conquer the world, but transform our societies.”
  • “[People are] going to Uganda to teach kids to read when down the street in the Bronx, children don’t know how to read.”
  • “[Peace comes from] tearing down all the walls of division and coming to the place…worth looking at…[we must] tear down the walls of demonizing the other.”
  • “No matter how comfortable we are, things we do affect people adversely.”
  • “[The] problem of the world is the world’s problem because one day the world’s problem will be at the doorstep…[we must] bring discussion to the doorstep.”
  • “Bring it home; touch their daughters, sisters, mothers.”
  • “[There is] nothing comfortable about the objectification of young people in media as sex objects, rape victims or beaten women…the media is killing your young people.”
  • “No way in the world that violence has ever solved any problems.”
  • “When people decide to ignore intelligence of a whole  continent and conduct their own business, something is wrong”
  • “Use local experiences for global peace.”

There are a number of topics, and sentences I could have made in which to incorporate these quotes, but they inspire me enough by themselves that I wanted to share them with you as they were. I also invite you to listen to her speech in its entirety in the Youtube link given earlier. I am ever inspired to have heard such a woman speak in person twice, and to have had the pleasure to have met her. She has inspired me to persevere in this task of peacebuilding, peace-seeking, and to not give it up. I am thankful for her and the countless other women and men, known and unknown, who fervently strive for such great things. May we all be so inspired. ~ Nina

Countdown to IWD: Empowering Girls Everywhere for Tomorrow’s Strong Women

Tomorrow is the 101st International Women’s Day and around the world, many girls and women do not have their basic rights. However, even in the developed nations, we are still far from being fully equal – we are bombarded with messages about womanhood, femininity, sexuality, behaviour, and this has an impact on the way we see ourselves and our individual and collective self-esteem. Many girls live in poverty, but it is often hidden and ignored because poor bashing is easier than having meaningful solutions for social issues that impact not just individuals but families and communities. A lot of this is so common sense that will probably be redundant. But in a place where I grew up and in many parts around the world – a strong girl is a radical idea.  So I invite you to challenge sexism and misogyny by empowering the girls in your life to be strong and resilient and here are some obvious ways to do it.

So today, here is my do and do not do list for girls’ empowerment that you can start doing right away.


  • Teach her critical thinking skills.
  • Teach her self-advocacy skills
  • Teach her that her body is not shameful and dirty.
  • Teach her that making mistakes is okay – constructive feedback should not be punitive criticism
  • Show her what healthy relationships look like
  • Encourage a love of learning and reading
  • Spend time with her
  • Listen to her dreams and goals and help her figure out her path in life
  • Encourage her to be a leader
  • Demonstrate and teach her empathy and compassion
  • Encourage independence
  • Listen to her feelings and validate them
  • Encourage her to explore and use her talents
  • Respect that her views as she gets older may differ from your own
  • Teach her equality and demonstrate it
  • Talk to her about what’s going on at school and in her life
  • Get help from local women’s and youth centres if you don’t know where to start
  • Talk to boys about respecting women
  • Support organizations that empower girls globally (after of course, checking out their work and development model!)


  • Call her names and diminish her
  • Value boys and men over her
  • Silence her if she tells you she has been abused (she may use different words for that)
  • Tell her she will never be (insert career/profession/choice here) because she is a girl
  • Teach her that all or most her energy must be spent on physical appearance and/or acquiring a mate
  • Punish her if she prefers to play with Legos rather than dolls
  • Ignore her when she needs your support
  • Tell her that there is only one way to be a woman
  • Abuse her if she has different goals from you
  • Criticize her for not being perfect
  • Ignore her questions about sexuality: being informed will go further than if she  information from porn culture
  • Think that she isn’t watching what you are doing: you are a role model and she does take hints

This is only a short list of things we can do right now. We can listen, we can nurture, we can offer love and support and help girls become strong women, leaders and decision-makers in their communities because without strong girls and women – the world suffers and alienates half of its most valuable resource.

Photo credit: Imago Dei Fund Website

Happy International Women’s Day!

Unrecognized, Unjustified…being Native in your own country

(Disclaimer: the following views are the author’s alone. She acknowledges that she is not of Native/Indigenous background and merely is weighing in on this issue based upon her experiences, research and thoughts on the issues. Also, terminology may differ from region to region; in some places, ‘indigenous’ or ‘first nation’ may be used more often; the author here uses ‘Native’ but means no disrespect to anyone who may use another term—should the word choice bother anyone, apologies in advance).

I was born in Montana. Granted, I grew up in Washington state; but there’s something about being a Montanan at least in some way that sticks with you. I’m not sure if this makes sense to non-Montanans, but it is what it is. Despite growing up in another place I still felt an odd attachment to the place, the culture and history of the state in which I was born. That history has a lot of native histories interwoven with it, not all of them pleasant—Custer’s Last Stand ring a bell? However, I grew up also with stories that brought a smile to my face: like hearing about how my friend’s father, originally from Thailand, had even learned some of the traditional dances from local tribal members. (The city I was born in and the town my parents are from falls within the territory that was historically inhabited by the Crow nation, though not too far from the Sioux and Cheyenne). Similarly to my Montana connection, I’ve always felt some connection to aspects of Native cultures and spirituality—in today’s culture of consumerism and materialism, I admit I envy that importance of nature and earth, a deeper connection to community, belonging and many of the things from which our society generally cultivates such a disconnect…I think there is much which can be learned.

Growing up in Seattle was a different story in some ways, but I still had that connection with local Native history. Our city is named after perhaps the most well-known of chiefs from the local Duwamish tribe (though his father was from the nearby Suquamish tribe), and the high school I attended was also named after him: Chief Sealth. I grew up with a sense of pride that my city and my state had such native roots, and I still am immensely proud of it. What I am not proud of is the many ways in which the government and others have abused, neglected and committed so many injustices against our Native communities. The impoverished communities we call reservations, the force which was applied to make people live there, the crime rates upon them, the increased likelihood of women being raped…and even when they’re not on reservations? As much as I love my city being named for a member of the Duwamish, it shames and angers me to know that the same tribe is not even recognized by the federal government! In fact, its status as such was revoked two days after it was granted. The Duwamish have subsequently been trying to regain its status, but so far to no avail.

And then enters into my mind the case of John T. Williams of the Ditidaht nation. A Seattle resident and woodcarver, a man who struggled with homelessness, alcohol, had some cognitive issues and was deaf in one ear. In broad daylight, he was shot and killed by then Seattle Police officer Ian Birk, 2010, in Seattle. Birk had been part of the police force for two years by then, aged 27. He felt that Williams posed a threat, and did not respond adequately to his calls to put down his knife, and shot him. Furthermore, in the investigation to come, it would seem that Birk’s testimony was disputed by witnesses, and the waters muddied with claims and qualms. Furthermore, Birk escaped charges for his actions, though the shooting was later ruled unjustified—Birk resigned shortly thereafter.



I can’t think of how many people in this city don’t even know about the Duwamish tribe or its struggle for recognition, or could even state that Chief Seattle came from the Duwamish tribe. I can’t think of how many people don’t know the story of John Williams’ unnecessary death and the unjustified shooting which killed him. And it bothers me that there is probably a number of people who aren’t really concerned with or bothered by either one. Some feel that a community is only as strong as its weakest members, or its most disenfranchised. The majority of us in this country are here because people from other countries came here; and yet we have heavily disenfranchised those whose descendants were simply here first. There are people who profit off of other peoples’ disenfranchisement, disempowerment; who profit off of other peoples’ oppression. It happens in this country, it happens in other countries; it happens worldwide. It’s a sad fact of life I grudgingly have to admit. It makes me incredibly upset, and I yearn for something to do about it.

And then, while I’d love to simply change the world in one night, I realize that despite all the frustration, the anger and the pain I see and feel around me sometimes, that there are so many amazing people who live through these things and then do something about them. Sunday I was fortunate enough to join hundreds of others to escort and carry a thousands-pound heavy totem pole from the Seattle waterfront to the Seattle Center. Not just any totem pole—one carved in memoriam for John T. Williams. His brother, Rick, spent over 2,000 hours working on it, and it took nearly two hours to move it from one place to another, but all of it was done by hand. I stood near Rick as the pole was raised, and his eyes shone with happiness. The weather in other parts of the city and outer lying areas was less than pleasurable that day, but in our part of Seattle, the sun shone and the rain stayed away. As the totem went up, the sun came out brighter than ever, and Rick looked up to the clouds and said, “Thanks, John.”


  Rick Williams, brother of slain Native woodcarver John Williams, oversees the moving of the totem pole to the Seattle Center.

The issues aren’t gone; not by a long shot. But I admire the enduring and creative spirits of so many people, to find a way to heal at least some of the wounded hearts, to deal with the grief and turn it into something positive. It is no replacement for justice or recognition, not by a long shot. But it is a hopeful marker that we are marching towards it, one step at a time.

(You can find some of the photographs I took on Sunday here on my website: ~Nina)

Reducing the Gender Gap in Muslim Societies: A Lecture Reflection

In the past few months, I have been involved with a project which aimed to look at reducing the gender gap in Muslim majority countries, with a focus on Pakistan which is usually near the bottom of major reports and indicators, such as the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report. This talk was sponsored by the University of British Columbia International Relations Students’ Association and the Maria Helena Foundation (MHF). Along with Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, UBC Professor Emeritus and President/Founder of the MHF, Ana Komnenić, Eliana Chia and I have spent a few months preparing for this presentation which was held on February 23.

The Gender Gap report lists Muslim majority countries as being the worst in terms of gender equality. The bottom 20 countries have a Muslim majority with Belarus as an exception. The report doesn’t penalize countries based on their economic development, so it measures gaps rather than levels, and it quantitatively looks at four useful dimensions where we would expect to find measurable gender differences. Namely, those categories are economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. So what did we mean by equality during this presentation? Using the  definition from Human Development Report (2006), equality is defined as equal access to “opportunities that allow people to pursue a life of their own choosing and to avoid extreme deprivations in outcomes”.

Globally, across all income levels, the gender gap in Muslim majority countries is the highest. On Thursday, we wanted to look at why the gender gap was so high and what we could do about a problem that impacts a large segment of the world’s population. Culture (both pre-Islamic and contemporary) and religion are foundations for institutions which shape people’s lives. This is not exclusive or unique to Muslim majority societies, but it seems to be more notable in non-secular societies, where a combination of religious and cultural forces controls every aspect of women’s lives, especially in areas where extremist interpretations of religion exist (Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia). Moreover, in many areas religious and cultural practices are immune from criticism to the point that they may even be punishable by death or at least result in social exclusion and violence.

Culture and religion have an enormous impact on values and how they are expressed and institutionalized. In Pakistan for example, especially in rural areas, parents do not always send their daughters to school and due to structural and cultural barriers, and many Pakistani girl are not literate and do not work in professional fields. Prevention from equal participation in society seriously impacts their personal growth, health and their and childrens’ health, families, and communities.

Varying levels of socioeconomic development also help explain a high gender gap: rural areas are generally less developed, women may have less access to health services, education, and employment.  This is especially true in war-torn countries where in addition to poor infrastructure, existing infrastructure was damaged or destroyed. According to the 2011 World Population Data sheet, most of the population growth occurs in the less developed countries where high fertility rates could mean that families may not be able to educate all their children, or have to choose, where preference is often given to boys.

Muslim societies also have varying levels of women’s social programs and opportunities which support and encourage girls and women’s development and participation in their society. For instance, girls and woman in Afghanistan may face violence for attending school, while women in Bosnia although not fully equal to men have achieved a certain degree of equality. For instance Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia, has elected a female mayor, and women have a greater degree of freedom than women in societies with a Muslim majority (and those gaps will be addressed in future posts). Such differences can partially be attributed to differences in local cultures and governance structures as well as external political factors. In many societies, religion is a mandatory way of life which cannot be separated from government and morality and as such, addressing religious fundamentalism is a key aspect of fighting for women’s rights.

A woman in the audience asked a very interesting question: she said, given that a lot of these numbers are not giving an optimistic picture [because of slow and sometimes backward progress], and given that women in Iran and Saudi Arabia have attained high levels of education, how can we be sure that any of this will work if they still are oppressed and cannot do much without male permission and control?

My response to her was that although the numbers seem discouraging because social change happens very slowly or sometimes takes a step back,  we have to keep fighting. I remain optimistic because if we look at the history and women’s place in it, there was a time where it was unimaginable that women would be able to vote, work, or be considered persons rather than property. I reminded her that I was encouraged by history and progress which we know is not linear, but is still there. I was encouraged by the brave women of the Arab Spring, and I remain optimistic that there will be a chapter in history where women in the Muslim world  (and elsewhere) would also be equal to men.

Remembering the definition I used above, it’s important to note that I’m not referring to an illusion of equality based on a social contract where women are protected in exchange for obedience, or separate but equal in their duties to someone higher up on the hierarchy. I remain convinced that it is the women in these countries that must lead their own movements  and that men must support this struggle. Naturally, when we offer our support, we should be respectful of their goals and ideas because no woman is free if the control of her life only changes hands, rather than remain in her own.

I’ll digress here and I welcome your comments, suggestions, and ideas and ask: How do we achieve gender equality?  Post your comments below, or get in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter!

You can view the presentation slides here:

Note: This post does not necessarily reflect the views of the Maria-Helena Foundation or any of the participants in the February 23rd lecture. This is a broad personal reflection on the subject and should be treated as such.

Hungering for Justice & Freedom…or at least basic rights

Disclaimer: The views in this post are those of the author who posted them. The author is aware that the Israeli-Palestinian issue can be a sensitive topic with multiple and varied opinions upon it, which are welcomed in discussion so long as they are respectfully presented and are in accordance with The Peace Blog’s Rules of Engagement (see here). Likewise, the author also acknowledges the sensitivity of the issue of northern Ireland. Worthiness of comparisons and conclusions drawn from them are again, the author’s opinion.

I think it’s easy for people to realize there are many situations in which hunger and conflict are linked—conflict over resources, or conditions which can contribute to lack of food can also affect factors leading to conflict. Lately I’ve been mulling over another type of connection—hunger striking—and a few names pop into my mind: Bobby Sands and Khader Adnan. The latter name has been in the news the last few weeks and belongs to a 33-year-old Palestinian baker and economics student who has been detained by Israeli forces since December 17, 2011. Adnan is believed to be affiliated with the organization Islamic Jihad, a group considered to be a terrorist organization and security threat to the state of Israel. The Israeli military has commented that he was “arrested with an administrative arrest warrant for activities that threaten regional security.”

Israeli forces investigating security threats or detaining Palestinians is nothing new, with some 4,000+ Palestinians currently in custody. What is notable in Adnan’s case—notable, albeit not new, either—is that he is one of more than 300 prisoners currently held in administrative detention. In much of the world, if one is to be imprisoned, it is after due trial, or at the very least, after being accused of a specific offense; even the American hikers imprisoned in Iran were accused of espionage. The United States, Israel and a number of other countries have had many instances where this process is not followed. In Israel, this period of detention sans charges can last up to six months, and this period can be renewed multiple times. In the case of Khader Adnan, he has been detained since December and no charges have been brought against him.

But if as mentioned earlier, Adnan is one of some 300 in this particular position, what’s so unique about his case? He has thrust himself into the international spotlight because until quite recently, he was on hunger strike since the beginning of his detention, a strike which lasted 66 days. The length of his strike was poignant to me, as after having looked it up, I realized that Irishman Bobby Sands lasted exactly 66 days on his hunger strike in 1981, and died at the age of 27.

I am admittedly no expert on Irish history, but I will summarize the issue briefly for those unfamiliar with it: the early 20th century saw a tumultuous period begin for Ireland, with the Easter Rising of 1916 and the ensuing Irish War of Independence (1919-1921, culminating in the termination of British rule in much of Ireland). The majority of conflict in northern Ireland since this period has largely been about the question of independence from England. A fair overview of the main events can be found here, with additional information in timeline fashion of the latter half of the 20th century, the era known as the Troubles found here.

Bobby Sands was born in northern Ireland and arrested twice for possession of weaponry during his active involvement in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (which is still considered a terrorist organization by the British government, despite adherence to a ceasefire and subsequent disarmament). He was sentenced to prison time, during which he participated in the hunger strike in protest to the retraction of special privileges which had previously been allowed to prisoners arrested related to The Troubles.

Now, this post could easily go in many directions—treatment of prisoners in general, indefinite detention (the United States was certainly in the news about that recently—and certainly continues in its practice of detaining certain individuals), but I’ll let my thoughts out as they come: I’m aware the Geneva Convention specifically refers to the treatments of victims of war, and that outside of the parameters of warfare, these such provisions need not necessarily be adhered to. It kind of bothers me that while we have rules on how people ought to be treated in wartime (though clearly these rules are not always followed), we will find all sorts of loopholes in order to not treat people well, or to not have to play by the rules, so to speak. Israel is not necessarily at war with Palestine; it is simply mired in conflict—not technically war, so no need to abide by the Geneva Convention. The Troubles were not a period of war, but ethno-political conflict.

I’m not going so far as to defend or justify anything Bobby Sands or Khader Adnan did or may have done, but it boggles my mind that our systems of ‘justice’ allow and uphold detention of someone without charges or evidence brought against them. Or that even when someone is in custody, they are at times held in such conditions that their only form of protest is to abstain from food even to the point of death. Last time I had checked, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights—in which it is stated that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”—is not retractable; it is universal. (It’s unnecessary to sidetrack into technicalities; I understand it’s not a binding document, nor does it have signatories). But as with this entire post, I hope it is food for thought. Each headline, each incident, each conflict or war is another chance for us to reflect on our humanity.

Each prisoner is still a person—that’s my conclusion.