Monday, October 29, 2012

A Nobel Peace Prize for Malala and Hina

Pakistani teenagers Hina Khan and Malala Yousafzai
When two teenagers take on the might of the fundamentalist Taliban in a conservative and poor area of Pakistan in the name of education and girls’ and women’s rights, they need all the support they can get.
That’s why I back the global appeal to the The Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, Hina Khan and girls’ education.
While 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai is recovering from being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman earlier this month, the Taliban are threatening to target another Pakistani teenager, 16-year-old Hina Khan.
After the Nobel Peace Prize going to U.S. President Barack Obama (2009) and the European Union (2012) -- shocking choices in both cases -- what better way to encourage peace than through education generally and girls’ education specifically?
Malala recovering in Birmingham (photo via
On October 9, a Taliban gunman shot Malala while she was returning home on a school bus after taking an exam in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. She is now on the long road to recovery in a Birmingham hospital in the UK.
On her being identified, the Taliban gunman shot her twice, once in the head and once in the neck. Two other girls, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, were also wounded.
Malala is a pupil from the town of Mingora in the Swat Valley. She is known as an education and women’s rights activist in the area, where the Taliban have banned girls from attending school.
She drew attention when, in January 2009, she posted her first anonymous entry to the BBC Urdu blog that would later make her famous. She used the pseudonym "Gul Makai" -- meaning "corn flower" in Urdu -- so as not to be targeted by the Taliban. She wrote about her life under the Taliban regime, their attempts to take control of the valley and her views on promoting education for girls. Later that year, the Pakistani military intervened, culminating in the expulsion of the Taliban from the Swat Valley.
Hina in front of the family home painted with a red "X"
Last week, a red “X” was painted on the gate of Hina Khan’s family home in Islamabad. Hina is also known as activist for education and women’s rights.
A Nobel Peace Prize for Malala and Hina will send a clear message that the world is watching and will support those who stand up for gender equality, universal human rights and the right of education for girls.
After removing the graffiti, the red “X” reappeared the next day and the Khan family got a phone call warning that Hina is the Taliban’s next target.
Hina at a press conference with her mother and father  (via daily
The Khan family is originally from the same Swat Valley area of Pakistan as Malala. It was under complete Taliban control from 2007 to 2009. Hina and her family were forced to move to Islamabad in 2006 after publicly criticizing atrocities committed by militants.
Her father, Raitullah Khan, said: “A few days ago when I came out of my house I saw a red cross on my gate, which I removed, assuming it might have been drawn by some kids. But the very next day it appeared again, which really terrified me. We [then] received a call that Hina will be next after Malala. We have already been fighting death threats for many years when my wife started speaking for women rights and girls' education.”
Hina first attracted the wrath of the Taliban in 2008, when she held a press conference after militants started bombing schools in a campaign of intolerance against girls’ education.
Her mother, Farhat, is a social worker and was already a target of the fundamentalist Islamic group after organizing a handicraft exhibit for Swati women in 2006 and supporting women rights and girls’ education.
Malala is joined by her family in Birmingham for Eid (via
Malala, who cannot speak at the moment, was in a medically induced coma on arrival in Britain on October 15, but has since regained consciousness and has stood for the first time since the shooting.
She was struck just above the back of her left eye, with the bullet travelling down the side of her jaw and damaging the skull. It went through her neck and lodged in the tissue above her shoulder blade. University Hospitals Birmingham said Malala “remains in a stable condition.”
The road to peace is walked one step at a time, one educated person at a time. Malala and Hina have taken the first steps, at a very high cost. By supporting them, keeping them safe and honoring them, we can help make the world a better place to live.
Related post:
The Power of We… for education – October 15, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Beirut, murder, Proust and champagne

My friend Alexander McNabb (@AlexanderMcNabb) has gone and done it again. This month saw the publication of a second novel in which I was somewhat involved -- albeit as a beta reader -- and I’m feeling like the mother of the bride.

After the first, Olives, I couldn't wait to get my PDF version of Beirut -- An Explosive Thriller. It's dynamite! And now I look forward to the third, Shemlan.

Instead of the usual book review, I sent Alex a few questions about one of the characters in the book – Leila Medawar. Alex gave me the answers in a post published on his blog, Fake Plastic Souks on Friday (October 19):

Beirut And The Disposable Character
Lynch called across to Leila. ‘Where’s Deir Na’ee?’
She uncurled and came to him, looking over his shoulder at the screen, her blouse opening to show the warm brown mound of her breast. ‘Deir Na’ee? The lonely home? Sounds like something up in the Bekaa. Never heard of it. Try Googling it. Might be a village somewhere.’
‘And “Spike”?’
She paused, then turned to regain her place on the sofa. ‘No idea, habibi. I’m not a phone book.’
Lynch chuckled, the search phrase ‘Deir Na’ee’ for some reason returning the Irish poem A bhonnán bhuí, The Yellow Bittern. He read it out loud, the Irish words coming back to him from the mists of distant childhood, the disinfectant reek of the Sisters of Charity’s classroom. ‘A bhonnán bhuí, is é mo léan do luí, Is do chnámha sínte tar éis do ghrinn, Is chan easba bidh ach díobháil dí, a d'fhág i do luí thú ar chúl do chinn.’
Leila was laughing at him. ‘What are you saying?’
‘It’s Irish. Deir Na’ee gets that in Google. Christ alone knows why.’
‘That is not a language. It sounds like dogs fighting.’
‘Póg mo thóin.’
From Beirut -- An Explosive Thriller

Today brings a treat -- a guest post and quizzing from Micheline Hazou, patroness of genteel blog Mich Café, friend and Beirut wandering companion as well as beta reader of Beirut – An Explosive Thriller...

It is quite exciting to be a beta reader. It is also something I take very seriously.

I had the privilege to beta-read Alexander McNabb’s first novel, Olives – A Violent Romance. I was even more flattered to be offered the chance to beta-read Beirut – An Explosive Thriller a couple of months ago.

It’s not as easy as it seems, because you often get sucked up in the story and forget to keep an eye out for anything that might be wrong, from proofreading to translations and anything you don’t quite like. So I had to re-read many a chapter with that in mind.

From the first few pages of Beirut I felt Alex had come into his own. I got caught up in the “explosive” thriller and rediscovered the main character, Gerald Lynch, in another light. Whereas he had seemed pompous, uptight and unlikeable in Olives, here he is chasing the bad guys with a conscience and sexy on top of it.

As with Olives, I was drawn by the local female characters in the books. I can identify with them. And I wonder why they are so disposable. As most of you have read Olives by now, you must know Aisha Dajani’s fate. But Leila Medawar? Why, Alex?

As described in the book, Leila Medawar is the “student activist, dissident, blogger and poet to the leftist anti-sectarian intelligentsia. Born into wealth and privilege she was heartrendingly idealistic… beautiful dark haired Leila, lover of freedom, equality and British spies. Well, spy.”

Without giving too much away, here are a few questions I would like to ask about Leila Medawar, Gerald Lynch’s lover:

I like Leila Medawar. She humanizes Lynch. Why is she so disposable? That's partly why she's there. And partly it seals her fate. It's odd but I seem to have this habit of killing the characters I love the most, from the delicious Kylie in my first book, Space, through to a number of characters in OlivesBeirut and, yes, Shemlan

I often recall an incident involving The Niece From Hell. We were on a walk along the Thames when I was pulled up by the realization I recognized a particular bench on the towpath. ‘Wow,’ I exclaimed. ‘I killed a guy on this bench!’

The niece glanced carelessly at the bench and shrugged. ‘Whatever.’

I know I am involved in murdering a number of attractive Arab women, but don't take that personally -- I'm an equal opportunities killer. I do for a number of occidental men in my books too. And some of them are quite ugly.

On the bright side, it's probably a good thing I'm getting this stuff out of my system. And anyway, there are a thousand and one Leilas...

I sound like I’m gabbling guiltily. I probably am.

How come she knew he was in Intelligence? It's how he met her -- when on a surveillance job involving a student protest. In fact, that’s not mentioned until much later in the book in the 'beta' MS but part of the feedback from readers made me bring that history right up front.

Lynch isn't really very good at observing some of the traditional modalities of Intelligence, he's far too Arabized for that. Leila is very much into his 'home life'. They live a cocooned existence together -- she has his key, they keep their relationship secret (she leaves the room when Palmer comes from the embassy with Lynch's ticket because they have agreed discretion is the way to go for both of them) and Lynch knows who she is. She trusts him not to spy on her and he, I rather think, trusts her not to use her relationship with him in her activities.

Where is Leila’s family? How is it that she was able to live with Lynch, and then in the flat he provided her?
She doesn't actually live with him, just has a key and comes around a lot. He was hoping the flat in Hamra would be a bolt hole for them both but was surprised by the strength of her reaction to the news he would be shacking up with another spy type. 

Her family is living in Dubai, as it happens -- but she's got away with going back to Beirut to study at AUB. That gives her independence beyond reason -- and the freedom to go out with a man over twice her age.

And no, it's not one of my secret fantasies sneaking into a book. There's a certain journalist living in Ain Mreisse who might be influencing some of Lynch's lifestyle...

What is the story of the Orrefors tumblerI've long been a huge fan of Orrefors glass and have a number of those beautiful pieces with the blue teardrop.  It just seemed natural that it should sneak into the book -- and tells us that Leila's moneyed, incidentally. That stuff's hideously expensive.

Leila being particular about how she takes her whisky is a mannerism I stole from a rather lovely Lebanese friend...

I also let my personal preferences sneak in with the Lamiable champagne later in the book, which is a stunning single grower extra brut -- a hard champagne to make well as it has little or no 'dosage' and is therefore incredibly dry. I have a nice chap called Charles who ships it to me in the UK. One has a literary agent and a vintner, don't you know...

Why the choice of Proust? And which of his works was she reading? Remembrance of Things Past of course, silly! Probably The Prisoner, a reflection of Lynch’s ardor for her mixed with a desire to control her, perhaps why he offers her the flat in Hamra. Leila’s not Albertine, of course -- but she is enjoying casting herself in the role. 

Leila is possibly reading it because she likes Proust, or because she likes to be seen to be liking Proust -- that’s a very Lebanese dilemma. She was reading it in the original French because, of course, she speaks French like a native. And she likes to tell friends she finds the Moncrieff translation sloppy.

Why did Lynch only try calling her? Why didn’t he go over to see her? And why didn’t she have protection? He was scared of finding some ape from AUB in her bed. He was also rather busy saving the world and flying to and from Europe. He talked to the concierge, too, which just confirms his worst fears. 

Lynch had checked with the concierge and yes, she moved in to the flat in Hamra. Yes, she had indeed taken male company, the old crone told Lynch, laughing dirtily and pocketing the fifty thousand lire tip.

There was no protection -- Lynch operates as a lone wolf most of the time, he's not often part of the 'framework', but a maverick operator Channing uses for the messy stuff. His approach to intelligence is 'go local, go low-key' rather than bringing in the Keystone cops every time. It's one reason why he prefers to use a servees rather than an embassy car.

Part of Lynch would also let her cool her heels, perhaps even be angry at her and take an 'Youse know what? F youse too' approach to her flouncing off like that. And yet she's under his skin. Not quite as much as Michel gets under hers, though...

Does Lynch fall in love again in Shemlan? Please say yes…
 No, but Shemlan is very much a love story -- although not a very straightforward one.

To find out how to get a copy of Beirut – An Explosive Thriller shipped to your doorstep or downloaded instantly to your reader, please visit the Beirut website.

Related posts and reading:

Alexander McNabb’s blog Fake Plastic Souks

The Olives website

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Will “binders full of women” sink Romney?


As of October 1, 2012, the United States had a total resident population of 314,592,000, according to Wikipedia. It is the third most populous country in the world, after China and India.
More importantly in 2009, there were 155.6 million females compared to 151.4 million males. At age 85 and over, there were twice-plus as many women as men.
In his second presidential debate with Barack Obama on Tuesday night, Republican candidate Mitt Romney chose to categorize this female population as “Binders Full of Women.”
Will he get away with it when American women go to the polling stations on November 6?
Every three years, we spend a fourth waiting and trying to guess who will be the next president of the United States. With just 18 days to go until we find out whether it will be Obama or Romney at the White House, Tuesday night’s debate was the coup de grâce for the GOP and their candidate, or at least I hope so.
Anyone who has access to the Internet is by now aware of the “Binder” boo-boo coming from the man who could become the leader of the “Free World.”
Romney was responding to a question about inequalities in the workplace and fair pay for women. He talked about his time as Massachusetts’s governor and how he wanted to hire some women for his cabinet:
“And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”
You need help to find women for top posts -- in the U.S.?
His patronizing went even further: “Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort. But number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible.”
He explained his chief of staff had two kids that were still in school and that she couldn’t work late because she had to be home “making dinner” and “being with them when they get home from school.” Romney added, “Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.”
So, for Romney, the “binders” can be opened for women to get out and go into the kitchen to “make dinner.”
The GOP put its foot in its mouth on a number of occasions during his election campaign, even before this new “Binders Full of Women” blunder.
For instance, Missouri Senate Republican candidate Todd Akin in August said on national TV that in cases of “legitimate rape,” pregnancy is rare because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
And vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan supports a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in all instances, including in the case of rape and opposes abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger.
Romney’s ignorance of the region was disclosed in September by Mother Jones, which published exclusive video footage of him speaking to donors at a May 17 fundraiser. Romney pontificated that peace in the Middle East is not possible and a Palestinian state is not feasible, telling donors Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."
With so much riding on the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections in our region, and with everyone waiting to see what effect, if any, the new U.S. administration will bring to bear on the Syrian revolution, it is frightening to think of Romney at the helm.
As an Arab woman, I have been categorized in many different ways, but never yet put in a “binder.”
Again I wonder, will America’s women accept to be put into binders, or will they make Romney and the GOP pay for such out of date, patronizing, sexist and unacceptable thinking?
Good luck ladies.

Related posts:

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of We… for education

It's Blog Action Day, the annual event when bloggers worldwide unite to write about one important global topic on the same day.
The theme for 2012 is, “The Power of We.”
Topics since the Day’s foundation in 2007 covered the environment, poverty, climate change, water and food. In 2010 and 2011, Mich Café participated in the latter two  (see links below).
Blog Action Day chose The Power of We because of the popularity of such subjects as community, equality, transparency, anti-corruption and freedom in a theme poll they ran via Facebook and Twitter. It also reflects the ever-growing movements of people working together for positive social change in the world.
The Power of We, or the lack thereof in many cases, keyed me up. I dragged my feet over the past few weeks in picking the angle to cover. But because I can only relate to equality and freedom of thought and expression through the power of education, that had to be my focus.
This choice was confirmed by two events over the past week: the dramatic shooting on October 9 of 14-year-old Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai for going to school and advocating for girls’ education; and the first International Day of the Girl Child on October 11.
Both events, through their reach and ripple, confirm that empowering girls means empowering societies as a whole. I would add that through proper education, boys would grow up to be equal partners on that journey.
Under Article 1 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Furthermore, Article 26 proclaims:
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Education is the only way we might see a fall in the number of child brides, the eventual abolition of Female Genital Mutilation, gender equality in the workplace and at home and hopefully racial and religious tolerance.
Malala Yousafzai
On October 9, a Taliban gunman shot Malala Yousafzai in the head and neck while she was returning home on a school bus. She remains unconscious and in critical condition.
I first heard about the attempted assassination, and indeed about Malala, from our Pakistani driver at work, who comes from that region. He rushed in to ask me to check on the Internet about the teenager’s condition. All of the community in Dubai was outraged and saddened by the attempt on the young girl’s life. And although a conservative, the Pakistani driver was full of admiration for what Malala stands for and what she is trying to achieve.
The Taliban gunman shot Malala as she heading home on the school bus after taking an exam in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The masked gunman shouted, "Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all." On her being identified, the gunman shot her twice, once in the head and once in the neck. Two other girls, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, were also wounded. They are both stable and were able to provide details of the outrage.
Malala being airlifted to a military hospital after the shooting
Malala was airlifted to a military hospital in Peshawar where she was operated on after swelling developed in the left portion of her brain damaged by the bullet. After a three-hour operation, doctors successfully removed the bullet that had lodged in her shoulder near her spinal cord.

Today, Monday, Malala was airlifted with the help of the UAE to the UK, for further treatment.
Ehsanullah Ehsan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the teenager "is the symbol of the infidels and obscenity," adding that if she survived, they would target her again.
Malala Yousafzai is a pupil from the town of Mingora in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. She is known for her education and women’s rights activism in the Valley, where the Taliban have banned girls from attending school.
Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, a poet, school owner and an educational activist himself, encouraged Malala in her education and pursuits. He runs a chain of schools known as the Khushal Public School, also named after a famous Pashtun poet, Khushal Khan Khattak.
In January 2009, she posted her first anonymous entry to the BBC Urdu blog that would later make her famous. She used the pseudonym "Gul Makai" -- meaning "corn flower" in Urdu -- so as not to be targeted by the Taliban.
The idea for the blog came from her father. She wrote about her life under the Taliban regime, their attempts to take control of the valley and her views on promoting education for girls. Later that year, the Pakistani military intervened, culminating in the expulsion of the Taliban from the Swat Valley.
In 2009, Malala began to appear on television and publicly encourage female education. After her BBC blogging identity was revealed, she was recognized by several organizations for her courage.
In December 2011, she was awarded Pakistan's National Youth Peace Prize. This January, the Government Girls Secondary School on Mission Road in Swat was renamed Malala Yousafzai Government Girls Secondary School in her honor.
Responding to concerns about his and his family’s safety, Malala's father, Ziauddin, said, "We wouldn't leave our country if my daughter survives or not. We have an ideology that advocates peace. The Taliban cannot stop all independent voices through the force of bullets."
Girl Child
As Malala Yousafzai fights for her life because of her strong belief in education, the world honored the “girl child” through an international day to raise awareness about enduring discrimination and to mobilize stronger action for human rights.
Education, particularly that of girls and women, aids progress and promotes development.
Worldwide, more people than ever before are benefiting from an education, according to UNESCO. It says over 1.5 billion children and youths are enrolled in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools and universities. From 1999 to 2008, an additional 52 million children enrolled in primary school. The number of children out of school was more than halved in South and West Asia. Enrolment ratios rose by almost one-third in sub-Saharan Africa.
Access to education is steadily expanding. Enrolment in higher education has risen sharply across developing countries, and innovative literacy and adult education programs are transforming the lives of the disadvantaged.
But, UNESCO notes, a number of obstacles, including poverty, still keep 67 million children of primary-school age out of school, 53 percent of whom are girls and almost 43 percent of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa.
Enrolment rates are slowing and being eroded by dropout, particularly in countries affected by armed conflict where over 40 percent of out-of-school children live.
Gender disparities continue to hamper progress in education. Around 17 percent of the world’s adults -- 793 million people, of whom two-thirds are women -- still lack basic literacy skills.
Millions struggle to learn in overcrowded classrooms, without textbooks or qualified teachers. An additional two million teachers will need to be recruited by 2015 to achieve universal primary education, more than half of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
Across the world, girls carry the heaviest burden of poverty, marginalization and violence. “Their rights are violated through early marriages, active discrimination and lack of opportunity. For far too many, being born a girl remains a lifelong sentence to inequality and injustice. This violates basic rights and holds back communities and societies from sustainable development.”
In her message on the occasion of International Day of the Girl Child, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said, “Education is the most powerful way to break this vicious circle. Education gives girls tools to shape the world according to their aspirations. It can delay early marriages and help with family planning. It provides strong medicine against disease and ill health. There is simply no better investment a society can make than in the rights of girls. The impact ripples far beyond individuals to take in the health and wellbeing of societies well into the future.”
UNESCO estimates that 32 million girls who should be are not attending primary school today. This must change. It is committed to ensuring every girl has access to quality education. “We must get girls into school and make sure they stay the course, from primary through secondary and onto higher education.”
Bokova adds: “The rights of girls are a key issue for social justice. Governments everywhere must do far more to protect them, to bolster girls’ capacities and to create conditions for the fulfillment of their aspirations. This requires stronger legalization and policies of protection and inclusion. It calls for targeted work to break stereotypes and promote new models.”
“The Power of We” is thus dedicated to promoting education.
“The Power of We” is dedicated to building for the future.
“The Power of We” is dedicated to Malala Yousafzai with my prayers for her recovery, so that she might continue her courageous battle for education and carry on being an example to her peers.
“The Power of We” is dedicated to the Girl Child to fulfill her potential, enrich her society and the economic growth of her nation.
“The Power of We” is also dedicated to the boys who will grow up to be men and walk hand in hand with their women partners.

Related posts:
Food for thought -- October 16, 2011
A bucket of water -- October 15, 2010

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Two Syrian roaming roses honored

Clockwise: Razan Zaitouneh, Ibn Rushd, Samar Yazbek and her book

The international community has lately honored two Syrian women, one in hiding and the other in self-exile. Both prizewinners are shunned and persecuted by the regime in their native land.
Syrian lawyer and human rights activist Razan Zaitouneh was awarded the 2012 Ibn Rushd Award for Freedom of Thought by the Ibn Rushd Fund for Freedom of Thought.
Syrian author Samar Yazbek is to share this year's Pen Pinter literary prize with Britain’s Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
The Ibn Rushd Award for Freedom of Thought will be presented to Razan at the Museum for Islamic Art in Germany on November 30.
The Ibn Rushd Fund has since 1998 been recognizing people who have sought to stimulate change with their thoughts and who have suffered the consequences of imprisonment and torture. It recognizes those who broke new ground for many others and who are fighting for freedom.
For the Fund this year, “it was essential to call explicitly for a young activist of the Arab Spring, who fights peacefully for a democratic state.”
Razan committed to the struggle for the rights of political prisoners in 2001 and co-founded a society for human rights in Syria. 
She has been reporting on the violation of human rights since 2005 on Syrian Human Rights Information Link, a database for human right violations committed by the Syrian regime. The 35-year-old activist supports families of political prisoners. In April 2011, she also co-founded the local coordinating committee of the revolution in Syria. 
According to the Ibn Rush Fund, “Syrians have been suffering under totalitarian rule, the negation of freedom and the smothering of even the smallest attempts to build a civil society for decades now. It is difficult to take a stand in the name of freedom if the absolute deprivation of freedom is merely the least grave of the personal consequences that may follow. And yet, young Syrian women and men have begun calling for reform publicly, and have been doing so for 18 months now.”
Razan Zaitouneh, forced to go into hiding
Since the outbreak of the revolution in Syria in March 2011, Razan was forced to go into hiding.
In May 2011, Air Force Intelligence broke into her house in Damascus. Many of her documents and personal belongings were seized. Additionally, her brother-in-law, Aburrahman Hammada, who was just visiting, was taken hostage in exchange for the fugitive couple.  Air Force Intelligence then arrested Razan’s husband, Wa’el Hammada. The brothers spent three months in solitary confinement before they were released. 
Since 2004, Razan has published dozens of articles and reports in the press and on the Internet about the human rights situation and the freedom of speech in Syria.
She received the European Parliament’s Anna Politkovskaya Prize for the defense of human rights and the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought -- together with renowned Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat.

Ali Ferzat: Cartoonist for Freedom – December 11, 2011

The Ibn Rushd Fund says Razan’s commitment to human rights and her non-violent opposition make her a true representative of a young generation that is prepared to risk personal freedom, security and even life for social change. She is also representative of women in the Arab Spring, who -- especially in Syria -- are often at the forefront of the struggle for freedom and democracy but ignored by most Western media.
An independent jury chose Razan from a sizable number of Arab nominees. The jurors included Taoufik Ben Brikof Tunisia. Aref Hijjawi of Palestine, Gisele Khoury of Lebanon, Miral al-Tahawy of Egypt/USA, and Samar Yazbek of Syria/France.
The Ibn Rushd Fund for Freedom of Thought was set up on December 10, 1998, in commemoration of the 800th anniversary of Ibn Rushd's (Averroes, 1126-1198) death, and on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights. It is an independent organization registered in Germany. Its founding members are mainly of Arab origin living in Germany.
The annual prize is a citizens' award, which is exclusively financed by membership fees and donations. Its focus varies from year to year. It has so far covered literature and film, women's rights, the reform of Islam, Arab enlightenment, economics, blogger/Internet platforms and journalism.
Pen Pinter Prize winner Samar Yazbek
Juror Samar Yazbek is a prominent, self-exiled Syrian novelist and activist. And has been a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime
She is to share the Pen Pinter Prize with poet Carol Ann Duffy.
Samar is being recognized for her book, A Woman In The Crossfire. The book is based on diaries she kept during the early stages of the Syrian revolution. It details how her outspoken views against Assad's regime led to persecution and her decision to flee Syria with her young daughter.
Duffy, who became the first female Poet Laureate in 2009, was named the winner of the main prize in July.
The annual award -- in memory of the playwright Harold Pinter -- is given to a British writer of outstanding literary merit. The winner then chooses a recipient for the Writer Of Courage Award, which recognizes an international writer who has been persecuted for being outspoken in her or his beliefs.
Duffy was given a shortlist by the English Pen Writers At Risk Committee, and made her announcement at the British Library on October 8.
Samar said in response, "I am grateful to English Pen, and to Carol Ann Duffy, for selecting this book, and through it, for supporting our cause."
Lady Antonia Fraser, Harold Pinter's widow, added: "Carol Ann Duffy's recognition of Samar Yazbek's courage in writing about Syria's revolution from the inside could not come at a more appropriate time".
Born in 1970, Samar comes from the same Alawite denomination as the Syrian president
Prior to the uprising, she wrote extensively on women's issues in newspapers and journals, while challenging taboos in her novels.
Her second novel Salsal (Clay) cast a critical eye over the power of the military, while Cinnamon -- which is due to be published in the UK in November -- looks at the social divide in Syria through the prism of a servant who enters into a lesbian relationship with her employer.
When protests against the Syrian regime began in mid-March last year, Samar voiced her support online.
She received hate mail, her family disowned her and, eventually, she was arrested and shown the cells she would be kept in, if she continued to support the rebels.
After further intimidation, she fled to Paris in July 2011. A BBC article quotes an interview where she has said: "I return all the time, but in secrecy. Undercover."
Woman In The Crossfire tells the story of the first few months of the uprising, via her own story and testimony from ordinary Syrians. Filled with snapshots of exhilarating hope and horrifying atrocities, Samar’s book offers a wholly unique perspective on the Syrian uprising. Hers is a modest yet powerful testament to the strength and commitment of countless unnamed Syrians who have united to fight for their freedom.
In an interview with David Ignatius for the Washington Post last month, Samar revealed, “The constant talk of sectarian war ‘is only a game that the regime plays,’ to make the Alawites feel they will all be slaughtered unless they hang together around the regime and its thugs.”
Samar says the pro-regime thugs known as the shabiha are the enforcers of the sectarian mindset. Many of these young men are from Assad’s own tribe, she says. They have perpetrated some of the worst massacres in Sunnite villages, but they also intimidate Alawites who think of defecting from the regime.
Ignatius writes: “What moved me most about Yazbek was when she voiced her fear that secular revolutionaries like her -- who refuse to play the sectarian game -- are being swept aside in the darkening tempest that is Syria. She said the opposition must fight on three fronts -- against Assad, against the Salafist Sunnite extremists who want to capture the revolution and against the germ of sectarianism that is infecting Syria as the violence continues.
“When I go to Syria, I talk to the fighters about pardon and forgiveness,” she says, but she wonders how long this message can prevail. “There is a sentiment of hatred that the regime has succeeded in spreading through the country.” She understands that the United States fears the rise of the jihadists. But she says the longer America lets this fire burn, the more likely it is that the haters and killers will own the future.”

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why not ‘Garbage Art’ for Dubai?

Muna Awad's Garbage Art in Amman
Sometimes, one thing leads to another on Facebook and we join our voices across borders in support of an idea.
This happened a couple of weeks ago through a posting on Facebook by my friend Ali Dahmash.
Ali shared a photo by I care for Jordan of a garbage skip painted by Muna Awad and her family to beautify the part of Amman where they live.
Countless comments later, I got to “meet” Muna online.
She told me, “We need to highlight issues or problems in our city by creating solutions -- something like ‘lighting a candle instead of cursing the dark.’”
Muna Awad set about her solution by painting the ugly iron wheelie in the street. She told her family, “We should all care about how we pack our garbage and thrown it away and how it can be picked up in style, so to speak. It is our responsibility even in the streets.”
From the many messages tagged on the photo, we all agreed it was a trend that would help make cities look better and raise awareness to keep the streets clean, especially if the project were approved and sanctioned by municipalities.
Muna Awad's step-by-step to painting a garbage skip
While Muna set out to get the community involved in Amman, I started thinking it would be a great idea for Dubai as well. If the community were involved, people would maybe be more careful about how they treat trash and not just toss it out.
One of the first things that struck me about Dubai when I arrived in 2006 was the city’s cleanliness. It must be one of the cleanest cities around the world. Recently though, I noticed there was more litter, tossed out of car windows, scattered around street bins, despite innumerable garbage collectors and street cleaners, always standing out in their orange overalls, trying to keep Dubai spotless.
What if a project were launched, in coordination with Dubai Municipality, to paint all these garbage bins street by street? This could revitalize communities, counteract graffiti vandalism and engage new and established artists, local and foreign.
A project to beautify the city
The “garbage bin project” could be launched in schools and universities. Each one would take responsibility for the garbage bins in the streets of their area. Pupils and students would be involved and become aware of such responsibilities at a young age.
This could be extended to the many recycling bins littered around the city too and encourage recycling.
Apart from pupils and students, the idea of painting the ugly silver garbage bins could extend to galleries, restaurants and malls. Shops and businesses could participate too.
Local and foreign artists would be invited, through the municipality, to participate in beautifying the city with their art.
Could such a project be launched at Art Dubai in March 2013? Would Dubai Municipality approve?
This could all be part of a “street art” program to develop, support, promote and increase awareness to cleanliness and recycling while adding beauty and character to neighborhoods and counteracting graffiti vandalism.
One of the men in orange, who I see every morning, keeping Dubai clean
The “Garbage Art” I propose would be government- and/or municipality-supported and sponsored.
By John Fekner’s definition of street art as “all art on the street that’s not graffiti,” the thousands of garbage bins on the streets of Dubai, every 50 meters in some streets, could really benefit from an overhaul and additionally encourage residents to throw their trash inside the bins, rather than around them.
Imagine if the project attracted Banksy to participate?
“Garbage Art” would allow artists, amateur and professional, to reach a much broader audience than exhibiting in art shows and galleries.
Many street artists have earned international recognition and displayed their works in museums or galleries as well as on the streets. Some street artists achieve commercial success doing graphics for companies or starting their own merchandising lines. Others have transitioned away from street art to traditional gallery and museum exhibitions.
While practically all large cities in the world, and some of the bigger regional towns, host some form of urban art or graffiti, there are a few locations that are considered to harbor forerunners of particular mediums or foster a pioneering street art culture in general. Such locations often attract internationally renowned artists who travel to these locations to exhibit their works. Dubai could become one such destination.
Bristol, in the UK, is probably the best known for its share in the street art scene, due in part to the success of Banksy. London too has become one of the most pro-graffiti cities in the world. Although officially condemned and heavily enforced, street art has a huge following and in many ways is embraced by the public, for example, Stik's stick figures.
Imagine what fun it would be to have bus tours to view Dubai’s garbage bins.
Thanks Ali and Muna for the idea. Maybe we could twin Amman and Dubai…
So who has wasta (connections) at Dubai Municipality?
Who can get the idea to the attention of our beloved Sheikh Mo, as we affectionately refer to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai?
Related post:
Trash meets art on Dubai streets – June 2, 2012
Beirut paint-up -- Jenny Gustafsson Blog - October 8, 2012