Aysha Taryam's books on Goodreads
The Opposite of Indifference: A Collection of CommentariesThe Opposite of Indifference: A Collection of Commentaries
reviews: 3
ratings: 81 (avg rating 3.67)

Monday, 18 January 2016

I never said Je suis Charlie

There was a time before last year’s gruesome attack when not many outside Paris had heard of a satirical publication called Charlie Hebdo. The terrorist shooting that left 11 people dead delivered a harsh blow to those of us who hold freedom of expression to be a birthright. The cold-blooded assassination of the Charlie Hebdo staff sent shockwaves throughout modern societies causing their leaders to flock to Paris and rally in solidarity with the French people in denouncing the attack on freedom of speech. It was also the reason the hashtag #JesuisCharlie trended worldwide with many Muslims using it to reiterate the fact that these monsters in no way represented the views of true Muslims.

The issue following the dark ordeal was published on schedule and in solidarity people, those who had never heard of Charlie Hebdo and those who do not agree with the publication’s opinions or find its “satire” funny, went out and bought the issue. The post-attack issue went on to sell one million copies.

Last week Charlie Hebdo was in the news again, not as a symbol of freedom of expression, but as an example of how racism can be deviously disguised as art. After the alleged harassment ordeal experienced by German women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve at the hands of migrants Charlie Hebdo published a caricature which depicts the body of 3-year-old Syrian migrant Alan Kurdi, which washed up on Turkish shores after his boat capsized while seeking refuge, as growing up to become a monkey-faced rapist attacking German women. The photo of young Alan’s tiny body lying face down on the shore shook the world to the core, it was the physical embodiment of the absolute horror that human greed, ego and lust for power can create. Somehow, while the world tried to make sense of this child’s unfathomable fate Charlie Hebdo’s artists thought it would be “funny” to point at this lifeless tiny bundle of innocence and call him a rapist. Soon social media was abuzz with shocked reactions to this heartless and racist caricature which could not be seen as anything other than a hate-mongering piece of propaganda which has no place in the world we are living today.

I was not shocked at seeing such filth being churned out by Charlie Hebdo, as a matter of fact I was not expecting anything less. Like I said, most people had not heard of Charlie Hebdo before the attack and therefore had no way of knowing how unimaginably vile its work can be. The work being published by Charlie Hebdo is not unlike that of white-supremacist or religious extremists’ propaganda, subjugating any idea which it considers as ‘other’ and inciting segregation. Today, the United States government is considering removing racist terms from great works of literature and is being pressured to take down statues of prominent figures in American history for their involvement in the slave trade. For even though the US amendment lists freedom of speech it specifies that it is not, and can never be absolute.

We are living in a world which is being torn apart by intolerance and hate therefore the utmost care and sensitivity should be taken when approaching issues of great social or political impact. That is exactly why although horrified by the viciousness and unjustness of the attack on Charlie Hebdo and despite the intense fear I felt at the thought of losing journalistic freedoms I never once said je suis Charlie because let’s face it, neither you nor I are Charlie. We would never walk into a room and at the sight of a person who is different hurl profanities at them comparing them to animals. We would never be sat with people from different faiths and insult one’s religious views and idols. And you and I would never in a million years think of a child’s lifeless body as a funny joke to laugh about. 

I never said je suis Charlie because I am not Charlie and will never be. 

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 18 January, 2016
Arabic version of this article appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

It’s time for a law against domestic violence in the UAE

From its inception the United Arab Emirates has dedicated all its resources to the betterment of society and the world in need with one mission in mind, to provide people with security, stability and respect for their rights. This is evident from the birth of this great nation and instilled by its founding fathers. The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, a laudable humanitarian and advocate of women’s rights, is famously known to have said: “No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we build, or how many bridges we raise, all these are material entities. The real spirit behind the progress is the human spirit.” 

The UAE has come so far in so little time yet never lost sight of what it values the most, its citizens and the diverse people who have chosen to make it their home. This year, the UN Happiness Report ranked the UAE as the twenty-second happiest nation globally and the first among Arab countries. This does not happen by chance, it happens through the hard work and dedication of governments under the guidance of an enlightened leadership, which cares first and foremost about the human spirit.

The UAE has never witnessed a women’s rights movement simply because since its establishment the government has seen women as equals and therefore placed them at the forefront of all endeavours. The urgency for the inclusion of women was there from the very beginning with women’s education becoming one of the founding fathers’ first and most persistent priorities. Today the Emirati woman is as intrinsic in the country’s fabric as her male counterpart participating at every level of both government and private sectors, with many gaining international recognition for their achievements.

In a young nation such as this one it is understandable, even expected, to find outdated laws and issues that are not yet recognised under the country’s penal codes but domestic violence should not be one of them. There is no law governing domestic violence in the UAE, a fact that is neither acceptable nor emblematic of the country’s stance on human rights in general and specifically women’s rights. Ministry officials have shrugged at questions on the non-existence of such a crucial law citing that there is no legal definition of domestic abuse. This technicality cannot be the reason to dismiss the rising figures of domestic violence incidents where women have had no legal rights to leave their abusive relationships on the grounds of being physically harmed. Officials have also debated cultural issues stating outdated ideas of privacy among a family unit. If a woman fears for her life then she should be able to seek refuge, knowing that the law will preserve her rights if she wishes to remove herself from harm’s way regardless of what other members of her family believe. 

Another excuse given by officials, who I must mention for the sake of this issue, are all men, is that while Western countries may consider some forms of abuse as domestic violence an Arab community could see it as family discipline. I could not make this up if I tried, officials have actually said these excuses out loud and continue to use them to hinder the process of passing this fundamental law. 
Violence is violence and can in no way be misconstrued as discipline under any circumstance cultural or otherwise. If we are to fight discrimination and injustice against women we must start from the home for if a woman cannot be safe in her own house then she cannot be expected to feel safe anywhere.

The figures do not lie, domestic violence is on the rise and the lack of a law to protect women is not acceptable under any excuse. The UAE does not need the United Nations telling it that this is an infringement on human rights because the UAE believes it to be so and must now act to end the procrastination of the matter because the passing of this law reinforces what the UAE truly is, an avid advocate of human rights. 

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on October 18, 2015.
Arabic version of this article appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Israel is no refuge

The migration crisis that has resulted from the clash of egos and sadistic extremism has reached its peak, with the past months witnessing a great outpouring of people seeking refuge from the Syrian inferno. European countries are now feeling the strain and their faith in human rights is being tested with the docking of every desperation-filled boat on their shores. If history has taught us anything, it is that wars have a way of affecting the whole world and not just the countries waging it. 

The world is hurriedly trying to shelter those fleeing imminent death as the rest of it calls for a more permanent solution, peace talks and compromises instead of drones and beheadings. Meanwhile one government has flat out rejected the taking in of Syrian refugees, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. I would like you now to take a moment and let the irony sink in, for it could not have escaped the invading government of Israel as its Prime Minister went on explaining that “Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees”. As I read those words I wondered if all the whitewashing that this government has done cleaning its bloodstained hands has finally succeeded in erasing the past. Have Netanyahu and the world he was addressing really forgotten the year 1948 when the Exodus (Al Nakba) made refugees out of millions of Palestinians as Israel depopulated and destroyed entire villages establishing its independence on the rubble of homes it pillaged? To this day Palestinians suffer as refugees in many parts of the world as they watch the building of illegal settlements happening at record speeds. So the question is: How can a nation that has made a refugee out of an entire country be expected to speak about, let alone, take in another set of refugees?

Israel took in approximately 60,000 African migrants fleeing civil wars since 2006 and used them to fill the illegal settlements being built but today Israel’s migration record is awash with accusations of racist treatment and the deportation of African refugees while Netanyahu refers to them as “infiltrators” and Israeli right-wing groups claim they have “a right to be racist” to protect their country. Thousands of African migrants have protested in Tel Aviv after a video emerged showing a black Israeli soldier being assaulted by a policeman while Israeli’s NGOs are still reporting that African migrants are being deported to Rwanda with promises of job security of which there is none. With such a dismal migration track record, Israel’s constant disrespect for international law and blatant disregard for human rights why would this ‘democratic’ nation believe that the world expects it to take in those in need of shelter? 

Israel has begun building a fence on its eastern border to protect itself from these so-called ‘infiltrators’ and ‘terrorists’, resurrecting yet another wall to keep people out in the name of security. And proving once again that no government in the world can be as racist in its rhetoric or actions like that of Netanyahu’s. Israeli media reported that Syrian migrants in Italy still believe Israel to be the number one threat to the region. That is because although in dire need of a safe haven Syrians have not forgotten the plight of their Palestinian brethren and despite their desperation will not seek refuge from the government which has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, making a point that although the Arab world is undergoing one of time’s most challenging tests, pulled apart by the hands of greed and ignorance, the injustices of the past will never be erased by the injustices of today.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today 20 Sept, 2015
Arabic version of this article appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper 20 Sept, 2015 

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