Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Women were among first to respond to Beirut bombing - By Evita Mouawad

Friday’s tragic bomb incident in Beirut is a sad reminder of Lebanon’s increasing vulnerability to the ongoing crisis in neighboring Syria. The murder of Wissam al-Hassan, head of the intelligence branch of the Internal Security Forces and outspoken critic of the Syrian regime, triggered a wave of fear throughout the country that had been relatively stable since 2008.

Soon after the explosion, the two main political coalitions, the anti-Syrian March 14 and pro-Syrian March 8, immediately began accusing one another, inciting sectarian tension in a country that is already hanging on a thread.

It must be said that behind this agitated and irresponsible political discourse, the real victims of Friday’s incident were quickly forgotten by our politicians: residents of Achrafieh (the neighborhood that was targeted) whose homes were completely destroyed and loved ones injured by the blast, employees of the banks and shops located on the street where the bomb was triggered, university students who were walking by looking forward to yet another weekend with friends and family… they were the immediate victims, and yet their injuries and losses were immediately sold out for yet another day of rage and political accusations.

It was not surprising that the first to respond to the victims’ needs was the active network of Lebanese NGOs, including blood donation NGOs, crisis response groups and women’s rights organizations. Hotels in the area immediately opened their doors to the victims of the blast, Facebook and Twitter were also flooded by messages from young men and women declaring their houses open for those who did not have a place to stay for the night. It was not long before Nasawiya, a collective of feminists working on gender justice in Lebanon, also began to collect water, food and clothes for the families who had lost everything. 

These young men and women are solid proof that this vicious plot designed to pit us against one another was not successful among a great number of people. Many of us young Lebanese are tired of the same political and religious discourse based on sectarian hate and mistrust, and are ready to build a new national identity rooted in tolerance, peace and stability.

Last but not least, this quick and selfless response to the bombing is also a reminder that women are not only capable of preventing conflict and restoring peace, they are also often the first ones to react in times of crisis, by setting politics and religion aside, and providing relief to all victims of violence on a much-needed ‘human’ footing. 

- Evita Mouawad

Thursday, October 18, 2012

New details on Malala's case, giving an insight into Pakistan's lose Taliban policies

While Malala Yousufzai’s condition is stabilizing, details on the attack last week are slowly emerging. According to Reuters, one of the two gunmen involved in the shooting has been identified by his first name. Attaullah, a young man, was arrested in 2009 during the Pakistani military campaign that pushed the Taliban out of the Swat Valley. Due to a lack of evidence of connections to terrorist groups, he was released after only three months. However, a senior security official is refuting this statement, indicating that authorities reputedly did gather enough evidence to arrest Attaullah when they raided his house in the Swat Valley. According to officials, Attaullah organized the attack on Malala on orders of one of the Taliban's most feared commanders, Maulana Fazlullah, who operated from Afghanistan after the 2009 military raid before returning the Pakistan this past June. Critics say Pakistan's low conviction rate of militants, even high-profile individuals who carried out major attacks, is one reason why extremism has spread in the South Asian nation. Public fury over the shooting has increased pressure on the Pakistani military to mount a major offensive against the Taliban, which has close allegiances to Al Qaeda and a host of other militant groups. The Taliban, fighting to topple the government and impose a radical theocracy, have blown up hundreds of girls’ schools in recent years in Swat and other areas to further their opposition to the education of women.

- Lea von Martius

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"In Our Country There are Three Threats: Terrorism, Poverty, and Ignoring the Fundamental Rights of Our Daughters" --President Zardari

Her fearless commitment to her cause—girls’ right to education in the Taliban-infested Swat Valley in Pakistan—has made Malala Yousafzai famous around the world, setting an example of peaceful resistance against a hateful and violent regime. When she was awarded the Pakistani government’s Peace Prize in 2011, her purpose gained public exposure and global attention – making her a thorn in the Taliban’s flesh. If there is one thing the Taliban despise, it is educated women and girls who claim their rights.

Last week, Malala barely survived the attack of a Taliban gunman, who shot her in the head on her way to school. After receiving treatment in a military hospital in Islamabad, Malala was transferred to a hospital in Birmingham to receive further treatment on Monday. However, the hopes for her recovery are accompanied by the fear of yet another attack on her life. According to senior physician David Rosser, alleged relatives attempted to gain access to Malala in the hospital several times.

Her case has received immense international attention, and has resulted in an outpouring not only of sympathy but also new levels of understanding for Malala’s cause and the danger she has been putting herself into, from the grassroots to celebrity voices and the highest political levels. Yesterday, the Daily Beast published an article by Angelina Jolie in which the actress, who has been an advocate for women’s rights for many years, emphasizes the power of education and the imperative for people around the world to stand up and keep on fighting Malala’s battle.

Jolie writes: “As girls across Pakistan stand up to say “I am Malala,” they do not stand alone. Mothers and teachers around the world are telling their children and students about Malala, and encouraging them to be a part of her movement for girls’ education. Across Pakistan, a national movement has emerged to rebuild the schools and recommit to educate all children, including girls. This terrible event marks the beginning of a necessary revolution in girls’ education.”

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the attack on Malala on Tuesday as a crime against humanity. “In our country there are three threats: terrorism, poverty and ignoring the fundamental rights of our daughters.” Meanwhile, the Taliban have defended the attacks, saying that Malala ignored their warnings and left them “no choice”. In an official statement released by the Taliban, the group now says that Malala was not attacked because she had campaigned for education, but because she acted against God's warriors and their war. "The Shariah says that even a child can be killed if it is against Islam."

Although much remains to be done in the fight against violent extremism, Malala is the first step toward a new model of inclusion, public resistance to radical ideologies, and recognition of the vital role women and girls can play in creating a safer world. “Malala is proof that it only takes the voice of one brave person to inspire countless men, women, and children.” 

- Lea von Martius

Friday, October 12, 2012

Remembering Bali

By Lea von Martius
The terrible images of the October 12th,  2002 Bali bombings are imprinted on the collective memory of the world: burnt-out buildings, dead bodies piling up on the streets, and the wan face of Umar Patek. Not only do they bear witness to one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in recent history, which took place just one year after 9/11, but represent the rapid expansion of global terrorism. 202 people from 23 different countries lost their lives in the attacks, including Indonesian, Australian, and British nationals. This morning, on the 10th anniversary of the Bali bombings, a commemoration ceremony was held in Kuta, the southern Balinese town where the attacks happened. Both family members of victims and survivors who barely escaped the horrors themselves attended the event. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose country mourned the most deaths after the attacks, was also present to show her support for the ones left behind. Anggie Dewirini, the SAVE Indonesia representative, attended the ceremony this morning:

Placing flowers in a reflecting pool at the ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Kuta bombings
“This morning, on my way to the event, there were police everywhere. When I arrived, I was amazed at how many people were there—family members of victims, survivors, NGO representatives, journalists, security guards, and politicians. The choir that sang touched the hearts of everyone there—I felt like they were singing to each one of us individually. I felt so much empathy with the family members of the victims there that I am among them now. It was as if I too had lost a loved one. I found myself crying as I put flowers in the small reflection pool. I held one of the victims, and my heart went out to her. I can’t even describe how it felt to see all the faces and photographs of the victims on the memorial wall.” Her words reflect the devastation that still holds family members firmly in its grasp even ten years later.

Family members of victims walk past the boards with photos of all the victims

It is easy to forget that that Bali, an extremely popular tourist destination, belongs to Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic nation. Although the island is geographically far removed from the Middle East, Al Qaida and a number of jihadist splinter groups who have strongholds there have recently begun exerting influence in Indonesia, which has traditionally been recognized as a very moderate Muslim country. The end of the Suharto autocracy has created a political vacuum which extremist groups are strategically filling with their ideologies of hate and vengeance.

The commemoration ceremony’s messages of peace and progress come in the wake of terrifying news from Pakistan—the attack on Malala Yousafzai last Tuesday. The 14 year old girl, known internationally as an advocate for the rights of children and women in her country and who, at the age of eleven, was awarded the national Peace Prize by the Pakistani government, was shot by Pakistani Taliban. While she is struggling for her life in the hospital, her courage and commitment set an example for individuals around the world to challenge extremist rhetoric and stand up for their rights. Malala, a young girl, almost a child, managed to unsettle the powerful Taliban and draw the attention of the global media to their tactics. Even more importantly, the attack has led to dissension within the ranks of the Taliban: terrorist leaders worldwide have condemned the attack as "barbaric" (source: www.spiegel.de).

Anggie Dewirini adds: “I hope that the terrorists and extremists can see that all humans around the world have the same rights, especially the right to live our lives in peace. Let us see that we are one family—we don’t want to hate each other, we want to be at peace. Let us hold hands, and not see differences as a barrier to peace.”

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Malala Yosufzai: A Ray of Hope for Pakistan, by Arshi Hashmi

The courageous young girl Malala Yosufzai* is the ray of hope for most Pakistanis, especially girls. She not only stood up against Talibanization, but through her writings and speech convinced other girls that they can also dream of education and freedom of expression without any fear. It is so unfortunate that the Taliban attacked her while she was on her way back home from School. They confirmed her identification and then shot at her, which shows that it was clearly a targeted attack. Soon after the attack, Taliban issued a statement and sent it to the media saying that Malala "provoked" the people against the Taliban, which is why she is targeted. The attackers were successful in targeting her, but they had perhaps not realized that their act would create huge resentment and protest in the country. TV channels, newspapers, and the highest authorities, including the chief of army staff Gen Kiyani, visited her at the hospital condemning the attack. Major political parties, both conservative and liberal, held huge prayers for her recovery. School, colleges and universities all had a moment of silence and prayers for her. The more Taliban wanted to create fear in the society, the more people have come up against the act. In Swat,where the attack occurred , common people who were interviewed by private TV channels spoke against the attack. Pakistanis are sad , they are ashamed of not having protected the girl who is confident, full of hope and action for change. This is an important moment, if we as a nation let this pass without any stern action against the Taliban then nobody will ever be able to stand against violent extremism and terrorism in the name of God. Let's hope that the society will continue to speak up against this insanity and break the culture of silence that has been benefiting the extremists. 

*Malala Yosufzai is a 14-year-old women's rights and counter terrorism activist from the Swat Valley who advocated for access to education for girls in the region. Malala's writings have been featured on the BBC and she was the focus on a New York Times documentary; in 2010, Malala was awarded Pakistan's first National Peace Prize.

On October 9, 2012, Taliban shooters boarded the bus carrying her home for school, asked for her by name, and then shot her in the neck and head. She survived the shooting and is currently recovering in a hospital.

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS