Monday 14 March 2016

Spaces of Blue Week Seven: Contemporary Expressions of Humanity

"We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”  
"One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
 Malala Yousafzai  I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
"Everything falls apart. I lost all my friends....My marriage fell apart. I suffered my second identity crisis. I'm very, very lucky to have been able to get through it." 
― Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of the think tank Quilliam

Book review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai by Marie Arana October 11, 2013 from The Washington Post 
Ask social scientists how to end global poverty, and they will tell you: Educate girls. Capture them in that fleeting window between the ages of 10 and 14, give them an education, and watch a community change: Per capita income goes up, infant mortality goes down, the rate of economic growth increases, the rate of HIV/AIDS infection falls. Child marriage becomes less common, as does child labor. Educated mothers tend to educate their children. They tend to be more frugal with family money. Last year, the World Bank reckoned that Kenya’s illiterate girls, if educated, could boost that country’s economy by $27 billion in the course of a lifetime. 
"Whether an emerging nation likes it or not, its girls are its greatest resource. Educating them, as economist Lawrence Summers once said, “may be the single highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
Nowhere is that lesson more evident than in the story of Malala Yousafzai, a Pashtun girl from Pakistan’s Swat Valley who was born of an illiterate mother, grew up in her father’s school, read Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” by age 11 and has a gift for stirring oratory.

And nowhere did that lesson go more rebuffed than in the verdant Swat Valley, where hard-line jihadists swept out of the mountains, terrorized villages and radicalized boys, and where — one muggy day last October — a Taliban fighter leapt onto a school bus, shouted, “Who is Malala?” and shot her point-blank in the head for speaking out about her God-given right to attend school. 
Malala tells of that life-shattering moment in a riveting memoir, “I Am Malala,” published this past week even as she was being cited as a possible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Co-written with Christina Lamb, a veteran British journalist who has an evident passion for Pakistan and can render its complicated history with pristine clarity, this is a book that should be read not only for its vivid drama but for its urgent message about the untapped power of girls.

The story begins with Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, the son of an imam (a preacher of Islam), who was instilled from boyhood with a deep love of learning, an unwavering sense of justice and a commitment to speak out in defense of both. Like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, Ziauddin was convinced that aside from the sword and the pen, there is an even greater power — that of women — and so, when his firstborn turned out to be a bright, inquisitive daughter, he raised her with all the attention he lavished on his sons.
Ziauddin’s greatest ambition, which he achieved as a relatively young teacher, was to establish a school where children could be raised with a keen sense of their human potential. As a Pashtun, he came from a tribe that had migrated from Kabul and settled on the lush but war-weary frontier that separates Pakistan from Afghanistan; as a Yousafzai, he was the proud inheritor of a rich legacy that could be traced to the Timurid court of the 16th century. But he was also a poor man with high ambitions and not a cent to his name.

Malala was born in 1997, as her father was struggling to found his school against a sea of troubles: a deeply corrupt government official to whom he refused to pay bribes; a mufti who lived across the way and objected to the education of girls, a practice he denounced as haram, or offensive to Islam; and the vicissitudes of a fierce jihad, visited upon them from time to time in Taliban raids that evolved from harsh rhetoric to outright killings. By the time Malala was 10 and the top student in her father’s surprisingly flourishing school, radical Talibs had penetrated the valley all the way to the capital of Islamabad and were beheading Pakistani police, holding their severed heads high on the roadsides.

“Moniba and I had been reading the Twilight books,” Malala recounts, and “it seemed to us that the Taliban arrived in the night just like vampires. They appeared in groups, armed with knives and Kalashnikovs. . . . These were strange-looking men with long straggly hair and beards and camouflage vests over their shalwar kamiz, which they wore with the trousers well above the ankle. They had jogging shoes or cheap plastic sandals on their feet, and sometimes stockings over their heads with holes for their eyes, and they blew their noses dirtily into the ends of their turbans.”

That was when the school bombings began and Maulana Fazlullah, a young extremist who had once operated the pulleys at a river crossing, became known as the Radio Mullah, a direct arm of the Taliban, installing a systematic rule of terror over the Swat Valley. Fazlullah announced the closing of girls’ schools; he lauded the killing of a female dancer; his goons killed a teacher for refusing to pull his trousers above the ankle the way the Taliban members wore theirs. “Nowhere in Islam is this required,” the teacher had cried out in his defense.
“They hanged him,” Malala relates dryly, “and then they shot his father.”

But for all the terror around them, Malala and her family were hardly cowed into submission. Ziauddin continued to rail at his country’s Talibanization in government offices, to the army, to anyone who would listen, gaining a name throughout Swat for his rectitude and courage. And although Malala learned to go to school with her books hidden under her shawl, she continued to study and excel, eventually giving public speeches on behalf of education that her father would help write. By 12, even as she pored over “Anna Karenina” and the novels of Jane Austen, she was writing a BBC blog about her experiences under the pen name Gul Makai.

When, in 2009, the family was forced to abandon the increasingly violent border area in “the biggest exodus in Pashtun history,” the Yousafzais made their way to Peshawar, where Malala did radio interviews, met Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, turned 13 and continued to speak out for girls’ education. Passing through Abbottabad as they made their escape, the family could not have imagined that Osama bin Laden himself had found refuge there. Finally winding their way home, they discovered that their beloved school — in a metaphor for their own defiance — had become a holdout against the Taliban for the Pakistani army.

We know how this story ends, with a 15-year-old child taking a bullet for a whole generation. It is difficult to imagine a chronicle of a war more moving, apart from perhaps the diary of Anne Frank. With the essential difference that we lost that girl, and by some miracle, we still have this one. Disfigured beyond recognition by her assailant’s gun, Malala was rushed to Peshawar, then Rawalpindi and finally to Birmingham, England, where doctors reconstructed her damaged skull and knit back the shattered face. But her smile would never be quite the same.

Resolute, Malala has never hidden that face — not when the Taliban insisted on it, and not when she emerged from her battle for survival to stand before the members of the United Nations in July and deliver her message yet again, a little louder.

“There is good news coming from the U.K.,” the head of military operations in Swat had told Malala’s desperate parents as they awaited word of their child’s condition. “We are very happy our daughter has survived.”

“Our,” Malala points out, because she had become the daughter of a nation.
But she is ours, too, because she stands for the universal possibility of a little girl.

When Maajid Nawaz was growing up in Essex, England, in the 1990s, the son of Pakistani parents, he first found his voice of rebellion through American hip-hop.

"It gave me a feeling that my identity could matter — and did matter — growing up as a British Pakistani who was facing racism from whiter society," Nawaz tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "but also confusion about where my family was from and not really fitting into either culture."

"I began to join the dots and think, 'My God, if these guys that I'm here with ever came to power, they would be the Islamist equivalent of Animal Farm," Nawaz says.

He says he began to see that it's "impossible to create a utopia."

"I'm living up close and seeing [the radicals'] everyday habits and lifestyle, I thought, 'My God, I wouldn't trust these guys in power,' because when I called it, back then, and said, 'If this caliphate, this theocratic caliphate, was ever established, it would be a nightmare on earth,' " Nawaz says.

A year after his release, at the age of 24, Nawaz left the Islamist group and its ideology. He later co-founded the think tank Quilliam, which is dedicated to countering extremist beliefs.

"Now, when we see what ISIL [the self-proclaimed Islamic State] is doing in the name of this theocratic caliphate, I believe I have been vindicated that these guys, any of them, if they ever got to power, they would be committing mass atrocities," Nawaz says.

You may wish to read my review of Nawaz's memoir Radical

Angela Merkel

For anyone who believes that Angela Merkel's position on power is in doubt should read this piece in the Washington Post

One Turkish town has done so much for Syrian refugees it’s up for the Nobel Peace Prize


February 17, 2016 by Richard Hall

The town of Kilis, a busy little place just a few miles from the Syrian border, is where many refugees fleeing the horror of war are first able to breathe a sigh of relief.

In the courtyards of its cafes and restaurants, they drink tea without fear of bombs raining down. In the shops, they buy cellphones to use to call relatives and plan their next steps.

For most, it is a stop on a longer journey: farther into Turkey or beyond, to Europe. But for more than 100,000 Syrians, it's the final destination — or at least the place where they will wait out the war.

“The people in this town have been good to us Syrians,” says Maher, a businessman who has lived in Kilis for the past two years. “Many of them have helped me in the past.”

Syrians outnumber Turkish people in Kilis. Around 120,000 have settled in the town and surrounding area, 35,000 of them in camps. One of those camps hosts some 15,000 refugees. It has a school, health care facilities and well-built container shelters.

Those kind of numbers could easily wear on a local population. Indeed, in many towns in Turkey and Lebanon, refugees are seen as a burden. But here, the locals have remained strikingly charitable.

It's enough to motivate the deputy head of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Ayhan Sefer Ustun, to nominate the people of Kilis for the Nobel Peace Prize. (The Greek island of Lesbos was nominated for the same reason a few weeks earlier.)

"People share their jobs, houses, trades and social spaces [with Syrian refugees]. I suppose that such an example of an act of mass peace does not exist in the world,” he wrote in his letter to the Nobel committee. 

"What would happen if 2.5 million refugees, who fled the war, would come to Paris where 2.5 million people live? What would the British think and do if 3 million refugees, who fled the war or natural disaster for shelter, came to London, which has a population of more than 3 million? What would their criteria for tolerance and understanding be in such a case?” he wrote.

But how do the residents of this town, which has changed so dramatically in character since the beginning of the war, really feel about their new neighbors?

“There is no difference between us,” says Halil, the owner of a cafe frequented by Syrians. “We serve them here like everyone else and some of them work for us.”

Standing next to him, a young Syrian boy holds a tray of tea. He’s one of the few Syrians on staff here. 

“I like it here. People are good. No one bothers me,” he says, before darting off to serve more customers. 

One of the reasons refugees have been given a generous reception may be because they have helped fuel the local economy. Most business owners in Kilis have benefited from the influx of people and money. But even those who haven’t are largely supportive of the refugee community.

In the early days of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Kilis was a quieter place. The refugee crisis had yet to fully take hold. Kilis was better known for being the last stop for foreign fighters going into Syria without too much difficulty. Journalists and young men of fighting age would cross paths in the same hotels before heading toward what was then a porous border. When the war next door intensified and more refugees began to flood over the border, aid workers followed. The town grew again.

Today, the streets bustle. On the main road that runs through the town, Syrians buy from Syrian-owned shops and stalls and eat in Syrian cafes. Children work in the streets, shining shoes and selling food. The atmosphere has changed. And it’s hard to find many people who will talk ill of the Syrians in their town.

Bushra, a teacher who works in a school for Syrian and Turkish children, said there is an understanding here about what is happening to the Syrian people.

“They are running away from a war, they are running away from problems, so they aren’t trying to make problems here,” she says.

But that kind of tolerance could soon be stretched to its limit. Some 50,000 Syrians have amassed on other side of the border, close to Kilis, fleeing a fierce, Russian-backed government offensive on the city of Aleppo and the surrounding countryside.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he would let them in “if necessary,” but warned of the prospect of an even greater crisis.

"There is a chance the new wave of refugees will reach 600,000 if airstrikes continue. We are making preparations for it," he said in a speech to a business forum in Ankara on Thursday. 

There are a few in Kilis who don’t like the idea of admitting more refugees. It’s the younger generation, those who are looking for their first jobs. 

“It’s not good for the Turkish people for more people to come,” says a high school student who does not wish to be named. “Look at these women over here,” he says, pointing across the road, “every day they beg for money. It’s too crowded here.” 

The burden of the Syrian refugee crisis has weighed on Turkey more than any other country. It has taken in more than 2.5 million Syrians and spent billions of dollars building refugee camps and providing care. 

The crisis has become a sore point in relations with the European Union in recent days, as the bloc has pressured Ankara to seal Turkey's borders to Europe, while at the same time opening its borders with Syria. The EU has promised 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to help Turkey deal with the crisis, but Turkish officials suggest the country is reaching its capacity, and have accused the EU of hypocrisy and self-interest. 

Film review by Roger Ebert

Screenshot from Le Havre
Le Havre (by Finnish Director, Ali Kaurismaki) is set…in the French port city where many of the cargoes are human: illegal immigrants arriving from Africa. The police find a container filled with them, and a young boy slips under their arms and runs away. This is Idrissa from Gabon, solemn, shy, appealing. The cops announce a manhunt. The film's hero, Marcel Marx, is fishing near a pier and sees the boy standing waist-deep in the water, hiding, and mutely appealing to him. He returns, leaves out some food and finds the food gone the next day. And so, with no plan in mind, Marcel becomes in charge of protecting the boy from arrest.

The movie's other characters are all proletarians from a working-class neighborhood, and in Kaurismaki's somewhat sentimental view, therefore in sympathy with the little underdog and not with the police. We meet Marcel's wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen, long the director's favorite actress), who joins her husband in his scheme. Their dog, Laika, is also a great help. Marcel, probably in his 50s, is a hard-working shoeshine man who knows everyone, including a snoop, a woman grocer; a fellow Vietnamese shoeshiner, Inspector Monet, and a local rock singer named Little Bob, whose act is unlike any you have ever seen.

Marcel and Arletty are long and happily in love. They cherish each other. Childless, they care for the boy and enlist others in the neighborhood to hide him from Inspector Monet, who perhaps is not looking all that hard. The snoop is a throwback to informers during the Resistance. Idrissa is resourceful and clever, and moves in and out of hiding places like a figure in a French farce. The dog fully deserves its listing by name in the film's credits.

Early in the conspiracy, Arletty falls ill and is rushed to the hospital, concerned only that her sickness will make Marcel worry. In a priceless scene, she meets Idrissa for the first time when Marcel dispatches him to the hospital on a mission. Note her perfect acceptance of any emissary from her husband, even an inexplicable young African boy. Note, too, the precise sequence of events during which Marcel believes his wife has died and discovers otherwise. Even Kaurismaki's miracles are deadpan.

This movie is as lovable as a silent comedy, which it could have been. It takes place in a world that seems cruel and heartless, but look at the lengths Marcel goes to find Idrissa's father in a refugee camp and raise money to send the boy to join his mother in England. Le Havre has won many festivals, including Chicago 2011, comes from a Finnish auteur, yet let me suggest that smart children would especially like it. There is nothing cynical or cheap about it, it tells a good story with clear eyes and a level gaze, and it just plain makes you feel good.


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