Aysha Taryam's books on Goodreads
The Opposite of Indifference: A Collection of CommentariesThe Opposite of Indifference: A Collection of Commentaries
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Sunday, 14 June 2015

Israel does not kill children

The United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has revealed the 2014 list that names governments and insurgent groups whose actions lead to children’s rights being violated. This list is the result of the Security Council resolution established in 2009 to “take action” against those that continue to violate international laws on the rights and protection of children in armed conflicts.  It is a crucial resolution indeed considering the unfathomable abuses that children deal with as an immediate result of wars, therefore when one goes through the list which includes groups in Afghanistan, Africa, Iraq, Syria, Yemen to name a few and does not find Israel among them, one is compelled to question this ludicrous decision. 

In 2014 alone the Israeli government’s seven-week bombardment of Gaza under the guise of ‘Operation Protective Edge’, according to UNICEF, has resulted in the deaths of 557 children, leaving 4,249 injured of which more than 1,000 were permanently disabled. Israel’s ruthless attack on Gaza civilians had seen 22 schools destroyed and 200 others damaged. The chief of UNICEF’s Gaza field office, Pernilla Ironside, had said in a press conference during the bombardment “there isn’t a single family in Gaza who hasn’t experienced death, injury, the loss of their home, extensive damage or displacement.”

Considering the staggering documented facts of injustices and abuse that the Israeli government has inflicted on the children of Gaza in the past year alone it is nothing but logical to question the non-inclusion of this brutal government on the UN list. UN officials have cited the reason for Israel’s exclusion from the list was due to “difference of opinion among those on the ground.” How can opinions differ when faced with facts?  How can they have more weight than lives? 

Political issues, which involve Israel, are always shrouded with a universal hypocrisy that sees the world blind to all that it otherwise stands for. Human rights are addressed everywhere but in Israel, international laws take severe effect everywhere except with Israel, humanity responds to all disasters except when they are committed by Israel. Why?

Because the Israeli government’s victim mentality maintains its same tired excuse that its actions are always a response to attacks, dodging accountability and whitewashing facts. The scale of these attacks does not matter for even if said attacks constitute a few aimless rockets, it warrants a magnificent Israeli retaliation with the most advanced military weaponry in the world and the death of children and civilians is nothing but collateral damage.

It has been reported that Israel supporters have done some intense lobbying before the report’s release, which seems to have paid off because all those Palestinian children who were killed in the world’s largest open-air prison have not been counted, it is as if they had never lived.

Crucial as it may be to name and shame those groups and countries who mercilessly massacre, traffic and abuse children but if it is to be influenced by outside powers then it is meaningless. What use is it for the parents of those children that their names have been erased, what “action” is to be taken when the government committing these heinous acts is unequivocally immune to international laws? For every damage the Israeli government has caused, for every life it has taken we hear the excuse that it was a mere unintended consequence of a military action, but does intent excuse death, and does it undo law?  

All this list has done is prove once more that some lives matter more than others but we are here to say to the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki Moon, and to the world that the blood of Gaza’s children and the people of Palestine is the blood of the entire Arab nation and it shall never be erased or forgotten.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 14 June, 2015
Arabic version of this article appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Dying to escape death

In the past year the Mediterranean Sea has once again borne witness to the atrocities that mankind has committed against its own race. Thousands upon thousands of people fleeing abuse, poverty and impending death chose to cross the Mediterranean despite the unsafe and overcrowded boats, for the uncertainty of the sea seems more comforting than the certainty of their land’s future.

The UN Refugee Agency reports that more than 219,000 migrants have reached European shores in 2014 and considering the deteriorating situation of their region it is likely to double in the future. The majority of migrants come from corrupt or war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East. The Arab Spring whose seeds failed to bloom anything other than a chaotic mess that requires only blood to grow has contributed immensely to the rising numbers of these migrants. These perilous journeys have seen thousands die at sea and many abused on these boats. The European Union is now being faced with the powerful wave of people approaching its shores and the human rights issues involved in their refusal of granting them entry. Predictions show that this problem is likely to escalate taking into consideration that this great migration has made a profitable business for human traffickers.

The powers that be must realise that the instability and destruction their actions have caused are bound to spill over. Geography should be the ultimate deciding factor for every political dilemma, for proximity to an ailing land is bound to result in one’s infection. It is the natural human survival instinct that drives a person out of a burning building and so when political decisions fail to foresee further into the future and choose to burn entire continents in the process, scours of people will flee and head towards the safety of those nations immune to man-made disasters. When an entire segment of the world is burned and reduced to a lawless battleground for thugs and mercenaries, a land where government does not exist, where the slate of history is being wiped out and hope has drowned in gallons of innocent blood, the only respite comes in the form of the open seas and what lies beyond the horizon. So ships are boarded and pain is tolerated just a little while longer.

The EU is looking to increase the number of migrants/refugees granted entry to their countries yet although this is the immediate humane response to the crisis it is another example of governments seeking band-aid solutions based on reactionary decisions rather than long-term ones taken out of a more future-oriented outlook. Taking more people in will not end the increasing flow, as it is the EU is suffering from an ailing economy where bankruptcies and bailouts have become common. Those governments suffering from the war overspill must put pressure on the world to tackle the problem at the source. Taking effective measures to end these raging wars and help these people rebuild their lives is the only permanent solution, for only when the suffering of these nations is lifted these boats will cease to sail.

It is said that for legal purposes governments must distinguish between a migrant and a refugee, the difference being their “motivation”. If one flees a country with the intention of improving their future then he is considered a migrant, if he flees in order to survive then he is a refugee. Governments must label to distinguish, but migrant or refugee, one must not lose sight of the fact that they are people. Men, women and children who board those boats, whatever their motivation, they carry with them hope and considering the risk they are willingly taking it is hard to believe that even one of them does not have the “motivation” of improving their future.

Those 800 who perished when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean were not migrants or refugees, they were not a mere number flashing on our television screens, they were 800 people whose lives were determined for them by a group of politicians whose severing, dissecting and reattaching of their lands has turned their world into a monster that not even its creator can control. Coast guards watched them drown because they were not legally bound to help them and as their bodies sank slowly into the depths of the Mediterranean, the sea took them in knowing that there will be many more to come.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper June 7, 2015 
Arabic version appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Judgment Before Justice

In 1973 India, a young nurse was brutally attacked, raped and left for dead at the hospital in which she worked. This monstrous attack left her in a vegetative state after being strangled by chains which cut off the oxygen supply to her brain. Her struggle began on that day and lasted 42 years. Aruna Shanbaug was 25 years old and engaged to be married, she was a bright nurse who cared for patients as if they were her own family. 

This crime was not registered as a rape by the doctors at the hospital for fear of it bringing shame to Aruna, it was a case of robbery and attempted murder as far as the courts were concerned. The monster (for no other word comes to mind) who committed this heinous attack was sentenced to seven years in prison, meanwhile, Aruna was sentenced to a lifetime of suffering. She remained in the hospital in which she used to work, cared for by the nurses who were once her colleagues. Every seven years or so the hospital would suggest freeing her bed only to back down after these nurses held a protest on Aruna’s behalf. The juxtaposition of this story reflects human nature at its best, the monsters that dwell among us and the angels who are there to ease our suffering, humanity is an ironic thing.

Aruna Shanbaug died last week. Forty-two years her fragile body lay on that bed, eyes open through the pain, silent, ageing. Those years should not be dismissed, Aruna survived to remind us that rape is not a crime like any other, rape is murder. The violation of one’s dignity and the vile inhumanity of the act leaves its victims alive yet dead inside and Aruna was the physical embodiment of that feeling. For 42 years she remained in order for us to witness that the scars these ‘crimes’ leave behind never fully heal. They never go away. 

Societies have a peculiar way of relating, or more accurately non-relating, to rape maybe because it is so vicious, they choose to live in denial about it. With no other crime do people associate shame to the victim except with rape, why is that? Forty-two years on people are still debating this question. Society’s view of rape must be altered in order for laws to be enforced and severe punishment implemented. To this day, all over the world the victim of rape is not seen as just a victim. Questions linger around how the rape victim brought it upon herself, dissection of her background and attire takes place as if to look for any evidence that will assign a shared responsibility for the crime. There is nothing being shared, there is only something being taken, forcibly and without mercy. There is no rhyme or reason for such monstrosity, such darkness. It is all around us and it must be eradicated not excused.

There is no point of relaying statistics on rape because for every figure given there are thousands missing, unreported. It is a shameful state we have created where a victim chooses to endure the pain and suffering, silenced by fear that judgment will come before justice.

For every Aruna story we hear there are hundreds of thousands that will never be heard, swept under the great rug of shame societies have so eloquently woven. It is up to us to speak up, to lift this heavy rug and reveal the ugliness it conceals. It is up to us to teach our children not to be afraid and to defend instead of condemn. Governments must be forced to take great measures in ensuring that this pandemic is wiped out through stricter laws, education and awareness campaigns. 

Viciousness is part of the world we live in, some of us choose to ignore it with the rationalisation of wanting only positivity to flow our way. How selfish we have become! That the pain of others has become a hindrance to the fulfilment of our positive selves. Turning one’s head away from the world’s darkness does not make it disappear, facing it head-on does.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on May 24, 2015
Arabic version of this article was published in Al Khaleej Newspaper

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Cyber Cemetery: A virtual headstone for each one of us

IF you can imagine a world before the Internet you would picture a place where your thoughts belonged to you alone, a world that is governed solely by your physical presence. To be heard in this world you were required to prove you had something worth listening to and only if you were talented enough, well versed enough and committed enough would your thoughts garner an audience. Through this meticulous journey towards making your voice heard you must have weighed and measured every word before it was uttered, every action before it manifested. Through this examination of one’s self you would’ve eventually etched your legacy, one that will remain long after you have gone. 

If this virgin world seems more like fiction than reality, you are probably one of the many who have grown accustomed to the ease with which sharing your every passing thought with the world has become. These thoughts will never know the struggle of being caged and your voice will never feel the strain of continuous shouting. This schizophrenic world requires us to live in two separate spaces, one physical and the other cyber. Many of us fail to make the connection between the two, losing ourselves in this newly formed identity we choose to project. In this world where I sit at my desk writing these words, people die, they pass on, people are mortal. In the cyber world we inhabit they do not. The immortality of one’s social media persona is real, for we leave behind years of comments, images and interactions that can never be taken back.

According to a report recently released by the research firm Internet Monitor, dead users of the social media world will soon outnumber those of the living. It estimates that at the moment there are some 20 million Facebook profiles that belong to people who have passed on. Through social media one becomes immortal, he continues to be. 

These sobering figures are worth reflecting upon if only to reassess our online footprint. Does the social media persona you control reflect how you want to be remembered? 

The spontaneity with which we tend to share our musings with the world makes our online person more prone to spreading hasty generalisations and at times even hateful comments. The false security the glaring screen provides allows us to let our ugliness through. And the fact that this haste, hate and ugliness will remain floating through cyber space long after you are able to defend it is reason enough to make us take a step back from our keyboards and smartphones. 

After meeting many of my social media friends in the world of the tangible I can safely say that for some, their online personas do not do justice to their real life selves. I have come to realise that the most critical of the social media accounts are the least verbal in real life and I can assure you that most social media trolls have no physical troll land to dwell.

As this cyber cemetery grows bloated with people’s endless thoughts, existing in a virtual limbo, we must do ourselves justice and try as best we can to be true to who we are. We must find a balance between our real selves and our cyber ones for, like it or not, it is the legacy we will leave behind. Make it one that you wish to be remembered by, one you would be proud of for it will be the shrine your loved ones will visit when their longing for you becomes at its heaviest. 

Your words will continue to live, make them count. 

This article was first published in The Gulf Today Newspaper, March 10, 2015
Arabic version of this article was published in Al Khaleej Newspaper

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The World Cup: A weapon of mass distraction

Most of us might know Albert Camus as the French-Algerian novelist and philosopher whose arguments on existentialism transcended his time. We know him for his ability to force readers into facing the harshest questions and looking morality dead in the eye. One would find it somewhat strange to classify Camus as a sportsman as well, but that he was. Camus was a goalkeeper for his university team in Algeria who was inspired by football and the sense of responsibility it bestows on each player. Standing solitary between the goalposts Camus reflected on his absurd position of being at no fault if his team scores but fully to blame if the opposition did and is quoted to have said, “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”

I can relate to Camus’s appreciation for football for I too am an avid fan of the sport who revels in the poetry and artistic intellect of the game. I find the camaraderie that football brings to people from all walks of life inspiring. But every four years, when the biggest celebration of football takes place in the form of the World Cup, the true lover of the sport is no longer necessary and the football connoisseur feels outnumbered. Because for one month every four years, regardless of your passion for the sport or even your knowledge of the game’s rules, you find yourself entranced by the events unfolding as nations compete for one title. 

It is quite frightening to be able to create an event that transcends cultural and religious barriers, speaks to all ages, and overcomes gender differences. An event, which has the ability to keep the whole world captivated, one that is designed to be a psychological weapon of mass distraction. 

As the hypnotised masses have their heads turned towards television screens and their voices raised to cheer on their favourite teams, they would like to believe that there is no world outside the borders of the cup-hosting city, yet the world still moves.

The first World Cup was held in 1930 and has been played every four years ever since. As far as the history books have recorded there has been a great political movement shaking the world while these World Cups were being held. For the sake of this argument I wish to go back thirty years or so and bring to your attention the events that have unfolded in the Middle East during these cups. 

In 1982 the World Cup was being held in Spain and in that same month the Lebanon War began. As the fires raged in Lebanon the world screamed and hollered, not at the sight of the Israeli forces invading Southern Lebanon or at the sheer injustice and agony, they cheered for Kuwait’s team appearing in the World Cup for the first time and hollered as the Algerian team was knocked out from the first round. In 1982 Lebanon was at war and Italy won the World Cup.

In 1990 the World Cup was being held in Italy and I recall this one vividly for the United Arab Emirates team was making its first appearance in the World Cup. That year Iraq invaded Kuwait and the seeds of war were planted in the Gulf, changing the way we view our region forever. West Germany won the cup and the Arab world lost the war.

In 2002 and on the first day of the World Cup being held in South Korea and Japan Israeli troops entered the West Bank through Nablus as the Arab world cheered for the Tunisian and Saudi Arabian teams and the rest of the world fixated on the excitement they have been waiting for for four years. Brazil took that cup.

In 2006 Germany hosted the World Cup and Israel launched Operation Summer Rains as it hailed attacks on the Gaza killings and injuring innocent Palestinians in its wake, Italy won.

In 2010, South Africa hosted the World Cup, meanwhile the United States was backing Iranian protests against then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad where hundreds of protesters fell victim to military violence. Iran was being represented in the World Cup as their team wore green wristbands in solidarity with the opposition movement, the world complained about the annoying sounds of the vuvuzelas. Spain won that title.

And here we are today, 2014 and Brazil is hosting this World Cup. We find ourselves once again being held captive by the exhilarating atmosphere and the great football being played. We got caught up cheering our only Arab representative in the World Cup, Algeria, meanwhile Iraq is being swallowed up by the worst case of extremism we have seen yet and succumbing to vicious sectarianism that is ripping it to shreds. 
Israel is on the offensive once again threatening to bomb Gaza, the reasons are many, proof is optional and the result is one.

Who will take this World Cup is yet to be seen but the one thing we know for sure, if history has anything to teach us, is that some huge political plan is being hatched to be deployed four years from now as we settle in to watch the next World Cup hosted by Russia.

This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 6 July, 2014
Arabic version published in Al Khaleej newspaper