2019

Three Women

This month of March we are celebrating Women’s History Month in the United States as the world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, and as we looked back on all the tremendous achievements and sacrifices that women have made throughout time on behalf of all of us. While it is an occasion for us to be proud of their successes, it is also a time for people all over the world to realize that there is still a long way to go. Speaking up fearlessly and demanding respect and equality are challenges that we have to deal with every hour and continuously. At the end of the day, we are all seeking Justice, which has been very elusive on all levels in our world. Shouldn’t this change? Now?

Amongst the many stories about Women that we all read and hear about, I was recently moved by three of them, mainly because they are symptomatic of much deeper cultural causes and effects than a day, or a week, in the headline “news” could convey. While it is easy to condemn two of them, and celebrate the other, their stories reflect many of the same emotions that young women, the world over, are feeling and expressing. Perhaps it is a quest for adventure, or maybe for making a difference to their own lives, or for a desire and an aspiration to change the world, misplaced as all of these can sometimes be. And, for those of us who have brought up teenagers, it becomes easy to identify with that sense of idealism, or desperation, adventure, or fervor that often propels certain behaviors.

The first woman is Rahaf Mohammed, an eighteen-year old Saudi who, according to her story, which anyone can find with an Internet search, was oppressed by her father and brother, often punished, nearly starved to death, beaten, and isolated in her bedroom sometimes for periods of six months. Amongst her “sins” was that they did not approve of her hairstyle (really?); that she aspired for an education that they did not allow her to pursue; that they wanted to force her into a marriage that she did not want; that she had rebelliously renounced her religion of Islam (dubiously?). Obviously she came from a well-to-do family and had access to a cell phone. That cell phone connection is what ended up securing her freedom, because through her Twitter account (which had about 155,000 followers by January), she had managed to link up with three other women who were supporting and facilitating her hopes of fleeing from her household and country, as they themselves once had. The concocted plan was for her to travel to Thailand and from there to seek asylum in Australia. To make a long story short, and after her passport was confiscated and she barricaded herself in a hotel room in Thailand with journalist Sophie McNeill demanding to speak to representatives from the UN (it was eventually the UNHCR, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, that got involved) she was granted asylum in Canada, arriving to Toronto on January 12. She said: “I want to be independent, travel, make my own decisions on education, a career, or who and when I should marry. I had no say in any of this. Today I can proudly say that I am capable of making all of those decisions.” After making this statement and giving a few interviews, she is now under the radar, adjusting and learning how to survive in a new country and culture. As expected, her family disowned her. My heart goes out to her.

Other than being an emotional and courageous story, Rahaf’s ordeal reveals clearly that the oppression of females by their fathers, brothers and the discriminatory laws of their cultures – as is the reality in most of the Southern Hemisphere of our Planet – is becoming less and less viable, or acceptable in our modern age. As well it should! Moreover, social media, to those who are connected, has provided an opening into the world and its alternative lifestyles and conditions that had been unknown to so many, but that is, nevertheless, not without its perils. Rahaf is a very lucky young female who connected to sincere and honest women who helped and guided her safely towards her goals of freedom. However, there are huge numbers of young women who have tragically been killed by their families when they were caught in similar situations, or who have fallen into the hands of sex traffickers and criminals because they, too, thought that they were seeking another life. Many of those teenagers are non-immigrant American and European girls, not necessarily ones suffering from Rahaf’s same oppressive conditions. They could be any teenager, anywhere.

The other two women are Hoda Muthana and Shamima Begum. They are daughters of immigrant, nationalized parents. Hoda, a twenty-year-old who had been a college student, is an American. Shamima, who was fifteen at the time, is British. Both of these women, like so many others, travelled to Syria and married IS (Islamic State) fighters. Sense of adventure? Freedom? Religious fervor? Who really knows what goes on in the minds of youngsters who have access to social media? While it is easy to condemn them, to be horrified that they would even think of doing something like that, it is definitely not surprising these days when, sadly, many young girls, Western and non-Western, are being decoyed into IS, gangs and other criminal activities. Moreover, I remember myself at the age of fifteen and at the stupid, naïve and senseless things I said and did then. Who hasn’t? These two girls were lured, or brainwashed into becoming the wives of what was portrayed to them as heroic figures and fighters for a noble cause. They have now ended up as stateless women, each with a child (Begum’s son died last week, he is her third one to do so, and I can’t even imagine her internalized distress and psychological damage), living in dismal refugee camps. Here, again, the perils of social media stare us in the face, and challenge us to the realities that the twenty-first century information age is posing to us, as well as to our kids, irrelevant of Faith and Nationality. It is quite a conundrum! While Rafah’s story might be uplifting and inspiring, Shamima’s and Hoda’s circumstances, will be a trauma and a burden for them and for their parents that they will have to live and deal with until they die. It is a very heavy weight to carry!

I do hope that the plight of these three young women will not allow us to forget that women are still the prime targets and victims of most of the crimes in our world. Wars, sex trafficking and rape that endanger all women irrelevant of age, nationality, faith, or ethnicity remain the top crimes that we all have to vehemently protest. For us, females originally from the non-Western world, there are the added crimes we have to contend with of child brides; female sexual mutilation, oppressive male societies and ignorance that keep our women down and that need to change. That change cannot happen fast enough!

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2019

Update That!

Our world has many glitzy and glamourous cities and capitals whether their political structures are Communist, Socialist, Capitalist, or otherwise. Travelling within them in these modern days, a tourist wouldn’t be able to even detect their political differences such as when visiting Moscow, or Shanghai, which are called Communist/Authoritarian regimes, and enjoying their beautiful monuments, museums and high-end stores. It is the same as when visiting the United Kingdom which operates as a Monarchy with a democratically elected Parliament, or France which is a Republic. Both countries are considered Socialist, as are most European nations that, amongst other things, provide universal healthcare, education, and affordable housing to their people. The United States is considered a Capitalist nation where citizens predominantly have to deal with the “market” and, to a large extent, fend for themselves. Think of the different political structures as a modern day Feudal System, around which most societies had historically structured themselves for millennia, and where our Governments nowadays are similar in that they have a Lord (Liege) and the citizens are his tax-paying Vassals (Serfs) with varying degrees of rules, laws, hierarchies and rights amongst them.

In the United States, the Presidential Campaign season for the 2020 election has begun in earnest. Some say: the circus has come to town, which isn’t too far from the truth as the candidates sometimes end up by being caricatures of themselves, and as they indulge in smearing, dirty tricks and exposures of their rivals in order to see who will become the Feudal Liege. It is definitely neither a pretty picture, nor civilized in any way, shape or form, especially considering the nauseating amounts of time and money being spent. Could we Update That formula?

As the list of candidates grows the Labels are now flying around: Socialist, Democratic Socialist, Radical Left and Radical Right, and, of course, the primo Republican/Capitalist contender, President Trump. Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, which is going to be very interesting considering the initial enthusiasm, mine included. I doubt that most of the other Democratic contenders have much of a chance as their hypocritical history of supporting corporations and wars will only ensure a second Trump term. Who, then, will become the Feudal Lord? And, who will decide on the fate of us Lowly Serfs? Will we become more like England, France and the other European nations, or will we continue to be an unequitable, avaricious nation feeding off its citizens and the world’s resources? It will be quite a show!

However, don’t worry! The MSM are on it! Fox News, which has been having convulsions ever since Rashida, Ilhan and Alexandria won Congressional seats (amongst other minority women), will continue their avid efforts to trivialize and demolish them, as well as all the other Democratic candidates, especially Bernie, by portraying them as out to destroy our American way of life! Seriously? As for CNN and MSNBC, they will continue on their wretched path which is dead-set on destroying this President and perp-walking him out of the White House! Disgusting! They continue to blame Trump for the nation’s ugly rhetoric (and he is certainly not above blame), not realizing that their undisguised hatred, name-calling and disrespecting of him has greatly contributed to the despicable behavior and mood that the country is in. Yes, it’s going to be quite a show I tell you! When will we Update That and have them embrace sense, sensibility and real news that affects every one of us?

All of this is occurring (and distracting) people from the dangerous state of our world, whether it is the dire climate change that threatens to annihilate us; the continuing wars that don’t seem like ever ending; the ongoing dangerous rivalries between the Western World on the one hand, and the emerging powers on the world stage of countries like China, Russia, Korea, Iran, and Turkey on the other hand. May we hope that deft and smart leadership would steer all these events towards the most responsible course possible in order to avert bringing disaster on all of us?

Recently, Richard Branson has joined the fray in the Venezuelan tragedy that is unfolding before our very deja-vu eyes. He is one of the Elders, a group of elder international statesmen whose goals are to try and avert conflicts amongst nations and to provide humanitarian solutions for people in dire situations. Unfortunately, the Elders involvement in world affairs has not succeeded in preventing the Iraq-like scenarios from occurring. We have seen, time and again, how easy it is to concoct an “incident” in order to go warring against any nation, and how easier yet it is to find bribable puppets to do our bidding. Invasions and Occupations, as well as Wars of Attrition, in the form of sanctions and starvations, such as what happened to Iraq, Libya, Yemen and what has been happening in Venezuela are still taking place despite their efforts. Did any of them protest the sanctions, for instance, that lead to civil unrest? Of course not. That is not their objective! They, like many other world organizations, conferences and gatherings, seem to furnish their participants with a “feel good” outcome that isn’t really changing any of the acrimonious policies of powerful, resource-seeking, war-mongering nations. Moreover, with Branson’s organizing and funding of a musical concert last week (that barely got any network coverage? Why, I wonder?) right across the Venezuelan border and that is clearly against the Maduro government puts him smack in the middle of what might turn out to be a very bloody situation soon. Branson, is doing what is contrary – so very contrary – to the image of an Elder Statesman trying to calm the waters, rather than enflaming the situation even more. He’s made it very clear which side of the tracks he’s on, and it isn’t peaceful, or humanitarian. Quite disappointing, hypocritical and tragic! Do please let us also Update That formula of politicized charity and self-aggrandizing, especially by billionaires searching to glamorize their legacies at the expense of the shedding of innocent blood. Shameful!

Glitz and glamour stretching from China to Dubai, from Moscow to Paris and all across the world do not worry about labels: Communist, Socialist, Capitalist and what have you. They are all Feudal Lords intent on chasing money and power at the expense of us Lowly Serfs whose every piece of information is being Monetized, and whose every concerning issue is being Politicized, thus removing Fairness and Justice even further away from our reach! Don’t we need to Update That also?