August 28, 2015

On a bus, train, plane – somewhere in the United States of America


(Man reading the papers, looking up at his neighbour):

– Did you know that Leonard Peltier has been imprisoned now for 40 years for a crime he did not commit? And that he is slowly dying in jail?

(Guy next to him, bored):

– He's just a fuckin' Indian. Who cares?

– Yes, but did you hear about Samuel DuBose who got shot dead by a police officer although he was unarmed and did nothing?

– So? He was a fuckin' black guy. Where's your problem, dude?

– But what about Shaker Aamer, an innocent man who is held at Guantánamo Bay and – even according to the Bush administration – should have been released eight years ago!

– He's just a fuckin' Arab. Get a life. – What's wrong with you?

– You think all of that is ok? – Who are you?

– Me? I'm a freedom loving American. – And proud!

– Oh.

June 13, 2015

Finally: UK, US and EU condemn state terrorist attacks on civilians in Egypt

On Wednesday a suicide bomber blew himself up near the temple of Luxor, killing himself. A second was shot by police. An Egyptian civilian and a policeman were wounded.

In an immediate reaction the allies of Egypt in the West issued statements condemning the attack:

UK, US, EU condemn terrorist attack in Luxor


The European Union, United States and UK condemned a Wednesday suicide bombing near Karnak temple of Luxor Wednesday, expressing their support to Egypt against "terrorism."

Minister for North Africa Tobias Ellwood said in a statement on Wednesday, "I strongly condemn the appalling terrorist attack today in Luxor in Egypt." He added, "The UK continues to stand with the Egyptian government and people in their fight against terrorist violence."

The US embassy in Cairo also commended the police officers and citizens who managed to foil the attack. "We extend our sympathies to those who sustained injuries. We also condemn the attack on the Multinational Force and Observers mission (MFO) base in North Sinai. The United States continues to stand with the Egyptian government and people in the ongoing fight against terrorism."

The EU joined in the condemnations, also asserting their support of the country's efforts to combat 'violent extremism.' "The EU will keep supporting Egypt's efforts to tackle violent extremism and prevent new attacks. We extend our sympathies to those wounded," the EU statement said.

------------------

At the same time, this statement was made, it became known that in the last two months more than at least 163 Egyptian students, activists or random targeted civilians have been kidnapped by Egyptian security forces and disappeared – with the family for weeks frantically and in vain searching for their loved ones in prisons around the country. This was reason for another series of statements by Western Allies that to this day has not been sufficiently reported in world media:


UK, US, EU condemn terrorist attacks on innocent civilians in Egypt


The European Union, United States and UK condemned the disappearance of 163 activists Wednesday, expressing their support to Egypt against "terrorism."

Minister for North Africa Tobias Ellwood said in a statement on Wednesday, "I strongly condemn the appalling attack on innocent citizens in Egypt." He added, "The UK continues to stand with the Egyptian people in their fight against state terrorist violence."

The US embassy in Cairo also commented on the disappeared and rumours of torture inflicted on them. "We extend our sympathies to those who sustained injuries. We also condemn the attack on innocent civilians. The United States continues to stand with the Egyptian people in the ongoing fight against state terrorism."

The EU joined in the condemnations, also asserting their support of the country's efforts to combat 'violent extremism.' "The EU will keep supporting Egypt's efforts to tackle violent extremism by the state security forces and prevent new attacks on innocent citizens. We extend our sympathies to those wounded," the EU statement said.


Several human rights organisations in Egypt, the US, Europe and UK expressed satisfaction that the Western allied powers to Egypt have finally found the courage to speak up for the oppressed Egyptian civilians who are kidnapped, then held and tortured in unknown prisons in the country with the Ministry of Interior and the General Prosecutor refusing to disclose their whereabouts.

"It was about high time", an Egyptian activist said, who did not want his name to be published for fear of disappearing.


May 12, 2015

25 tweets about Omar Khadr

On Thursday, May 7, a judge in Alberta court said the words so many had waited for for years: "Mr. Khadr, you're free to go."

These were no easy words to say to a man who had been held by the U.S. in Guantanamo and then in jail in Canada for 13 long years.

With 15, Omar Khadr, a Toronto born Canadian boy, whose militant father had taken him to Afghanistan, became the victim of the atrocities that began with the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. and continued with the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, where more than 50,000 Afghans were arrested and thrown in jail, many dragged under inhumane conditions to the notorious camp at Guantanamo Bay only to be tortured and robbed of all legal rights.

In Afghanistan the U.S. waged a fierce war against anyone they considered to be in bed with Al-Qaeda. A compound one day in July 2002 seemed suspicious and the U.S. forces attacked it with power. When the dust settled, two were left dead on the Afghani side and one U.S. soldier was seriously injured and would die a week later. In the rubble of the totally destroyed building the U.S. forces found a 15 year old boy that they shot in the back and wounded so horrifically that the soldier bending over the bloodied body suggested shooting him dead. At the last moment though an officer held him back, and Omar Khadr, with gaping wounds in his chest and an eye shattered by shrapnel, was carried off to Bagram Air Base.


What followed was little medical care but continuous interrogations, intimidations, torture and even threats of rape of the boy who was shackled for weeks to his hospital stretcher while his pleas and his tears were ignored. Three months later, though nothing of value had been extracted, the child, hooded and shackled and still in pain from his wounds, was flown to Guantanamo Bay to become the youngest inmate this notorious stain on humanity had ever seen. More torture followed, totally disregarding the fact, that Omar Khadr was a child and subjecting him to torture and solitary confinement for years was a violation of all international laws. But the U.S. under George W. Bush had no respect for international law and Omar Khadr suffered immensely. For two years the boy was not even allowed to see a lawyer.

Canada's atrocities

Canada, though obliged to intervene on behalf of its child citizen, did not object. On the contrary. In 2003 and 2004 Canada sent Security Intelligence Officers (CSIS) to Guantanamo who – despite knowing the child had been deliberately sleep deprived for three weeks – interrogated him in the most vile manner for days, thus collaborating with the U.S. in the torture of the boy.

A harrowing video documentary of the Canadian officers cold-hearted 4 day long interrogation marathon of the dead tired boy later shocked the world and proved, what Canada's Supreme Court would officially confirm: the unlawfulness of the Canadian officers' treatment of the child.

Despite all this, Canada, especially since under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, refused to show any responsibility or empathy for the boy. Omar Khadr was left under harshest conditions to himself in Guantanamo Bay – but for two immensely dedicated lawyers named Dennis Edney and Nate Whitling from Edmonton. Edney had been called to help defend the Canadian boy in the U.S. military trial that was to be held in Guantanamo, accusing Khadr of killing the one U.S. soldier at the compound by throwing a hand grenade just before being struck down by U.S. fire. Proof for this allegation is lacking to this day as it was revealed in 2008 that no one had seen him throw the grenade while the U.S. forces threw grenades into the compound at the time the U.S. soldier was inside. But the narrative conveniently became the official tale told by both the U.S. and Canada to defend the gross human rights violations against this horrifically wounded child.

When Edney first flew into Guantanamo in 2007, he later said, he arrived as a naive, cocky lawyer exited to be one of few to be able to visit there. When, after having paid many visits to the boy – shackled to the floor, sitting handcuffed, shivering in a cold concrete cell, crying – he left the island, he admits, he was in shock. "Guantanamo changed me forever."

It was then that Edney made a promise not to desert the child that had been deserted by the adults of both the U.S. and Canada.

Blackmailed into confession

In 2010, after having spent eight gruesome years in the camp, subjected to incredibly inhumane treatment, the U.S. military made it clear to Khadr that the only way for him to ever leave Guantanamo Bay was by pleading guilty to the murder of the U.S. soldier. A deal would then be struck for Khadr to be deported to Canada, where he should spend another 8 years in jail. It was a hard decision to take but, as Khadr later acknowledged, the only way to ever leave the notorious torture camp. Khadr in the end accepted and pleaded guilty. The U.S. military triumphed. Without proving his guilt beyond reasonable doubt but through sheer blackmail, threatening him to rot forever in Guantanamo Bay, they had achieved their goal – a guilty verdict.

At least they kept their part of the deal and prepared for Khadr to be deported to Canada. But Canada's conservative Harper government showed no mercy and kept stalling the transfer of its own citizen to his home country despite the urgings of Amnesty International, UNICEF, the Canadian Bar Association and other prominent organisations, until finally, in 2012, even Harper could no longer refuse and Khadr was transported to Ontario, where he was held at a maximum-security prison. Later, because of his good conduct and the legal fight by his lawyers, he was transferred to the medium-security Bowden institution in Alberta, where he was held ever since.

With the Canadian government not shy in continuously slandering the former child as a 'jihadist terrorist' who had committed a 'heinous crime', the Canadian public in its majority was hostile towards Omar Khadr. And Harper made sure this was not going to change by Canadians getting to know any truth. A media gag was decided such that no journalist was allowed to interview the former Guantanamo inmate. Ridiculous reasons of security issues or fears of disruption of daily routine at the institution were cited year in and year out to keep the press at bay.

And while the Harper government kept painting Omar Khadr as a horribly vile, aggressive terrorist threatening Canada's security at any given opportunity, the man attacked was refused even the slightest chance to present himself or his side to the story to the Canadian public. To them Harper vowed that his government would ensure that Khadr would not leave prison one single day earlier than the sentence stipulated, for a terrorist had to be punished with full force of the law for his evil deeds.

That Omar Khadr was but a 15 year old boy at the time the U.S. attacked the compound and that compassion and empathy for this horrifically wounded child would have been obligatory, to Harper was irrelevant. No considerations of international laws how to treat minors involved in an armed conflict ever made it into the minds or hearts of the government officials in Ottawa. To Harper and his conservative colleagues Khadr was the ideal boogieman to present to the Canadian public – never in person but always in fear mongering narratives – as proof that only a hard hand against Muslim terrorists would ensure the safety of the country. And since no one ever got to see this young man in person, the public in large parts was willing to buy Harper's story. They developed a picture of Khadr in their heads bigger than life, of a ruthless terrorist who would kill every decent Canadian on sight the very minute anyone would let him out of the cage.

The fight for freedom and truth

But many of the press would not buy it. The fact that no journalist was allowed to ever speak to Khadr rightfully made the media suspicious. What exactly was Harper trying to hide from the public eye? Stories were increasingly coming out of Bowden institution by citizens who had met Omar Khadr on visits, and their tales sounded very different to the one the government kept telling. They spoke of a mild-mannered, friendly young man, keen on learning and listening and discussing all sorts of aspects of normal life. No aggression was ever witnessed, nor extreme ideas or political agitation. Those who met Omar Khadr at Bowden started to become immensely fond of him, started to help him with his urgent need to be educated and enjoyed the pleasure, as they could not tire to point out, of the company of a very friendly, kind-hearted young man. A web-site of support and a twitter account demanding his freedom sprung up and hundreds send him letters from Canada and even the rest of the world, urging him not to lose hope despite all he had to endure.

In November 2013 Edmonton lawyers Dennis Edney and Nate Whitling filed an appeal against the U.S. military verdict of guilt, stating that Omar Khadr had only agreed to the deal as it was his only way to escape the gruesome conditions of Guantanamo Bay, a detention centre, as everyone agreed, outside the realm of law. Such a deal was unlawful.

In the beginning of 2015 the lawyers filed an appeal to release Omar Khadr on bail, as it could be seen, that given the snail’s pace of the proceedings, his appeal, though with realistic hopes of success, would not be dealt with by the U.S. military court before his jail sentence would have ended. This would mean years still in prison that later – once his appeal would be successful – could not be undone.

On the basis of this argumentation, on March 24 and 25, a judge in Edmonton court heard the arguments of the lawyers and the counter-arguments of the Harper government regarding a release of Omar Khadr on bail.

On April 24, Justice June Ross released her carefully crafted ruling, noting that the former Guantanamo inmate had “12 1⁄2 year track record as a model prisoner", arguing that no indication existed that Omar Khadr posed a threat to the Canadian public – and that the Harper government had failed to even attempt to prove otherwise. – Khadr was to be freed on bail.

To no one's surprise the government filed an appeal against this ruling with Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney's spokesperson handing out the well known mantra, that Khadr had admitted to a 'heinous crime' and that the government would "vigorously defend against any attempt to lessen his punishment for these crimes.” Minister Steven Blaney added more ludicrous acid in a statement: “Our Government will continue to work to combat the international jihadi movement, which has declared war on Canada and her allies."

When and were exactly Omar Khadr had declared war on his home country Canada, he failed to explain.

Finally coming free

On May 7, the day everyone had waited for for so long had finally come. In the Alberta Court of Appeal Justice Myra Bielby came to a ruling on the appeal by the government of Canada in the matter of bail for Omar Khadr. Again the court pointed out that no danger could be seen coming from the defendant and that the government had totally failed on showing how his release could pose a threat to the Canadian public. Under the conditions laid out for a release on bail – wearing a tracking bracelet, living with lawyer Edney and his wife, respecting a curfew from 10 p.m. to 7 p.m., enjoying only a restricted access to the internet and conversing with his family only via telephone and under supervision – the judge saw no reason to accept the appeal. Pointing out that this case was undoubtedly unusual, she said the magic words everyone hoped to hear after 13 years of incarceration: "Mr. Khadr, you're free to go."

Lawyer Edney hugged his wife Patricia, who cried with joy, in the gallery people were clapping, laughing and crying – and when Edney walked over to Omar Khadr who sat almost motionless in the dock not able to grasp that it really had happened, his lawyer, after being undeterred and never willing to give up on hope for justice in eleven long years of battle, reached out his hand and said: "We've done it."

Hours later, in the early evening of the day when all the papers had been signed and the truth started to sink in, Omar Khadr gave a brief press conference on the lawn of lawyer Edney's home. Flanked by both Dennis and Patricia Edney, his invaluable guardians throughout this unbelievable ordeal, Khadr charmed the stunned public by being just the way his friends had described him: soft-spoken, friendly, well-mannered, considerate and kindhearted. The boogieman the Harper government had painted on the wall for so many years evaporated as a terrible lie into thin air within minutes of him speaking for the first time ever to journalists and in freedom. Canadians glued to their TV-screens rubbed their eyes in disbelief on seeing not a demon but a young man free of hate or bitterness or aggression and full of compassion and empathy and with a smile so sympathetic to win them over.

And instead of uttering accusations or bitter complaints, this young man actually thanked them for any kindness they had shown and asked them to give him a chance, assuring them that he would not fail them. 

When asked if he had anything to say to Prime Minister Harper, the man who had hunted and haunted him for so long without any reasonable justification, Omar Khadr bore a shy smile, contemplated on this for a moment and then said humbly but with self-confidence: "Well, I'm going to have to disappoint him. I'm better than the person he thinks I am."

The next day, Prime Minister Harper at a press conference expressed just that – his disappointment – that Omar Khadr had come free.

Some things – and evilness – just never change.



http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/07/omar-khadr-guantanamo_n_7233842.html





 




pic.twitter.com/kTBQLf4cSR


http://gu.com/p/4884a/stw


Omar Khadr speaks to media

Omar Khadr speaks to media








http://on.thestar.com/1ALJmV0



The Battle is not over

Upcoming court challenges that must be fought:
  • May 14th – Supreme Court hearing - Federal government appeals Alberta Court of decision regarding Omar’s youth sentence 
    • UPDATE May 14: Court rejects Federal appeal. Omar Khadr was not an adult offender but sentenced as juvenile – and only to 8 years, not 5 times 8 as Harper governments wants to make believe. Quote: "Justice Rosalie Abella wondered aloud whether the U.S. government actually views Khadr’s sentences as being concurrent. The only party that seems to take that view, Abella said, is the Canadian government." – What a disgraceful attitude towards your own citizen, Mr. Harper!
    • Note: It is the third time the Supreme Court of Canada has sided with Omar Khadr against the Harper government.
  • June 2015 – Omar’s first parole hearing scheduled. (was due mid-2013)
Excellent.

Two more to go:
  • September 2015 – Federal government’s appeal of Justice Ross’ decision to grant bail to Omar.
  • Ongoing appeal to the Court of Military Commission Review in U.S. to vacate all Guantanamo Bay “convictions”. 

May you win, Omar. May you win in every possible way.



January 25, 2015

The thoughts are free, Egypt!

On the fourth anniversary of Egypt's revolution, things are not the way they are supposed to be. But don't despair, #jan25. They can arrest activists – but never their thoughts. The thoughts are free – and will always be!

This German protest song, in a wonderful interpretation by Italian singer Milva, has scared tyrants for over 200 years and robbed them of their sleep.

The thoughts are free! – There is nothing they can do against it.

Keep going, Egypt. #jan25 is alive in your hearts and can never be removed anymore from the system.




Here is the translation in full:

The thoughts are free -
who ever can guess them?
They fly by
like nocturnal shadows
No man can know them
No hunter can down them
with powder or lead -
The thoughts are free!

I think what I want
and what satisfies me
In my inner space
and just how it should be
My wish and desire
no one can deny me
It remains a fact to be -
The thoughts are free!

And if they arrest me
and throw me in dungeons
All that will be nothing
but futile attempts
Because my thoughts
manage to tear down
the barriers and walls.
The thoughts are free!


July 30, 2014

Israel's deadly attack on Gaza - A never-ending déjà vu

A few weeks ago I bought the book "The General's Son" by Miko Peled. Peled is an Israeli. His father – Matti Peled – was one of the most respected Israeli Generals fighting in the 1967 Six-Day-War at the side of people like Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon. As a colonel in the preceding 1956 war against Egypt, when Israel conquered the Gaza Strip and Sinai, Peled had been made military governor of the Gaza Strip. As his son writes: "This was a defining role for him, and it influenced his entire life."

In 1953, when Matti Peled was still a young lieutenant colonel, his visions were clear. His army, he publicly said, was preparing for war "in order to complete the conquest of the Land of Israel and to push Israel's eastern border to its natural location on the banks of the Jordan River." It is a view that many right-wingers in Israel's cabinet and society hold to this day.

After the experience as governor in Gaza in 1956 and the bloody, albeit short war in 1967, Peled's views however changed. He had seen too many atrocities not only from the enemy but from his own army too, atrocities that chilled the blood.

A week after the Six-Day-War in 1967 was over, as Miko Peled recounts in the book about his father, an Israeli army officer showed up in the neighbourhood at the Rafah Refugee Camp in Gaza, leading a company of soldiers and a bulldozer. The soldiers ordered everyone to come out of their houses and an inspection began. Finally the women and children younger than 13 were sent back home. The men however – around 30 of them including a 13 year old boy and a 86 year old man – were taken away far enough so that their families could not see. Then the soldiers lined the men up against the wall and shot all of them. As they lay on the ground, the officer went from body to body and shot each person in the head.

As if this crime was not atrocious enough, what then came horrified those who were eye-witnesses from afar. The bodies of the dead men and the dead child were laid in a row on the ground and the bulldozer began driving over them, going back and forth several times until the bodies were unrecognisable. When the families finally were allowed to the scene, they could only tell who was who by the clothes they wore.

When I read this story in Peled's book, horrible pictures of Srebrenica showing torn clothes on badly crushed bodies came back to my mind to haunt me. But more pictures started to form in my mind, pictures of bulldozers shovelling heaps of humans into piles in Bergen-Belsen, when the Allies had freed the concentration camps and were at shock over the amount of killed people they found. While the numbers of dead, both in Srebrenica and Bergen-Belsen, outnumber those of the crime Peled writes about by far, the use of bulldozers on the dead and the incredible vileness of the killing act evoke pictures that are hard to take. How low, I wondered reading this horrible story, can anyone sink to perform such atrocious acts on humans? And how, in anyone's right mind, can one then – as Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu keeps repeating – speak of "the most moral army of the world"?

Matti Peled, the respected Israeli army General and former Governor of Gaza was shocked when he, much later, learned about this "massacre", as he termed it. He personally went to Gaza, spoke to the victim's families, inspected the place were the killing and bulldozing had taken place and was utterly disturbed. When Miko Peled, after learning of this story decades later, confronted his mother with it, her reply came immediately: "Yes, I remember this. Your father was so upset he couldn't sleep for weeks. He wrote to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and to Minister Haim Bar-Lev about it, but they did nothing. This changed him completely."

Egypt refuses medical aid to Gaza

When I had bought Peled's book a few weeks ago, the current war on Gaza was not yet waging. I managed to read a few chapters and then was distracted by the real atrocities currently happening on the ground, where by now over 1300 people, almost 80% of them civilians and including more than 300 innocent children, have been killed in indiscriminate bomb attacks by Israel. I couldn't continue to read about the horrors of the past seeing the horrors that now once more happened day after day before the world's eyes.

One night, worn out by witnessing the attacks going on for the 12th consecutive day, and feeling helpless knowing that yet more children would die in the next hours and I could not do anything against it, I picked up Peled's book almost indifferently at 4 a.m. to find some distraction. A ridiculous notion of course, seeing what his book was about. But what I then came across was more than just a simply distraction.

When I opened the book randomly, it fell open on page 164 and I started to read about an effort Peled undertook in 2008 to get into the Gaza Strip to deliver medical aid.

As Gaza was sealed off from the Israeli side at the time, the only possible way to enter and deliver the badly needed aid was via Egypt. So, after having flown all the way from America via Amman to Cairo, together with a Palestinian-Arab friend with whom he had successfully worked on aid projects for Gaza and the West Bank for years, he set off for the Rafah border crossing, trying to enter Gaza from the Egypt side. He was in for a bad surprise. The border was closed and Egypt refused them entry into Gaza.

The border officials, from the soldier up to the officers, were not only denying them entry, they were also exceptionally rude and assaulting. As Peled writes: "Our (Egyptian) guide and driver were in shock at the lack of courtesy displayed by these officials. They knew we had come all the way from America to help people in Gaza and that we had medical equipment to deliver. They were as appalled as we were by the fact that the Egyptians were no more helpful than the Israelis."

In the end, Peled and his companion, who had both invested enormous amounts of time and money to help the people of Gaza in need of medical supplies, had to give up and fly back to Amman. "As it stood," he writes, "the Egyptian government appeared to be committed, along with Israel and the U.S., to maintaining the siege on Gaza."

This was 2008. Today we write 2014, but what Peled described was nothing short of a déjà vu for me, seeing that on the same day I read this a convoy with Egyptian activists that had left from Cairo for Gaza with medical supply was stopped by the Egyptian army half way across the Sinai and after hours of unfriendly debates was forced to turn back and give up their mission, returning deeply frustrated in the evening to Cairo, while the wounding and killing in Gaza went on and the medical supplies were badly needed there.

It seems, nothing has changed from 2008, and one can't help but wonder, if the stories we hear today are not just repetitions of stories we already witnessed.

What is most striking about this incident that Peled describes from back then is what it tells us about today.

The argument that Egypt is currently so staunchly opposed to help Gaza because they blame Hamas, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood (ousted out of power by the Egyptian army under now President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi), for the terror attacks by Islamists in Sinai, loses credibility in the wake of Peled's report. In 2008 no such terror in Sinai had endangered Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood was banned and had little power in the political, public sphere. What was no different then to today however were the interested parties involved: Israel and the U.S., which paid Egypt's army billions of Dollars over the years to behave like a good boy should. And Egypt only too readily complied.

A true déjà vu. Nothing, as the denial of medical aid into Gaza by activists now again shows, has changed. The Egyptian government appears to still be "committed, along with Israel and the U.S., to maintain the siege on Gaza."

People have nowhere to go and die in hundreds

Three weeks after Peled and his friend had been turned away by the Egyptian army at Rafah crossing in 2008, the war on Gaza, dubbed by the Israel army "Operation Cast Lead", broke out. Within a period of eight hours the Israeli air force dropped 100 tons of bombs on Gaza and caused incredible devastation in the densely populated area. It was the beginning of 21 days of indiscriminate air attacks assisted by ground forces, turning the Gaza Strip into a place of hell and killing more than 1,400 people including hundreds of innocent children and women, wounded thousands and displaced thousands more with nowhere to go. A picture that we see right this day today, as almost 200,000 people in Gaza have fled their homes to seek shelters in U.N. buildings – where they've been repeatedly bombed by Israel with many dead –, and where hospitals – if they have not been bombed into rubble, as has already happened – despair over the incoming injuries they can't cope with anymore at this scale and the immense numbers of casualties – many of them being children as young as 5 months old who die in what Israel's army and government daily describe the "war on terrorists".

With the narrative that Israel had been "dragged into this escalation by Hamas" and the reiteration that Israel was only "defending" itself legitimately against the rockets from Gaza, being "sorry" for the civilian casualties that go with it, Israel currently makes sure that once more the international community finds no decent words for the ongoing bombing of a densely packed, populated strip of land, where people have nowhere to go and no place to flee to when the bombs rain down and can only die in the hundreds. Which they do.

A terrible déjà vu.

Paging through Peled's book describing the Gaza war of 2008, I read: "To make things worse, Israel claimed that notices were given to the local population that the attack was imminent and that people should leave areas that were going to be bombed." The same exact technique Israel uses today knowing full well that in reality this cannot work and has cost more than 1,400 lives during Operation Cast Lead and further hundreds of lives in the following Gaza war in 2012. It keeps costing lives even today, as those 'warnings' ahead of a bombing often only come a few minutes, sometimes not more than 57 seconds before an air strike, making it impossible for whole families, especially old or ill people, to get out of the house in time before the deadly bomb hits. In consequence the death toll in Gaza since the outbreak of this new war keeps rising in harrowing numbers and Israel shows no willingness to do anything to prevent so many civilians getting killed.

Cheering Gaza strikes with popcorn and drinks

When I read on, I once more by chance came across a passage in Peled's book that chilled me, because it seemed to have been written only yesterday.

After returning to the U.S. in 2008, where he lives with his family now, the Israeli Peled was invited to give a talk at the University of San Diego and writes:

"During my remarks I mentioned that the latest assault on Gaza was not isolated but rather part of a continuous Israeli campaign against Gaza, a campaign that by that point had been going on for more than six decades. Every few years, the Israeli army found a reason to conduct a brutal attack on Gaza and leave behind as many casualties as possible, beginning as early as 1953 with the infamous Unit 101, led by Ariel Sharon. What happened shortly after our failed attempt to cross the border was a continuation of an ongoing war, a war that aims to complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestine."

And as if that remark from 2008 did not already seem immensely current seeing what is happening before our eyes this very minute once again in Gaza, Peled added one more sentence of frightening actuality, when he wrote 2008:

"I heard stories of people who drove to the Gaza border to sit on lawn chairs and view the bombing."

A déjà vu of the chilling kind.

The world has just witnessed how Israelis dragged plastic chairs and even sofas up on hills, settle down with drinks and popcorn to cheer every air strike that hits Gaza, making for a spectacular display of colour in an otherwise frighteningly dark night and resembling fireworks rather than the lethalness that kills a child in the very minute the crowd cheers on the hill.

Reading Peled from 2008 is like opening an article of the atrocities of 2014. It happens all over again with all the brutality and unbelievable vile repetitiveness that the world has so often now witnessed again and again. And while we show our outrage over the atrocities happening today we totally overlook the pattern we have been a witness to in so many attacks on Gaza that all left hundreds of civilians, including innocent children, dead, with nothing different now than ever before. And think nothing of a world that has found its own repetitive pattern of shrugging it off as something that can apparently not be changed, only ignored.

International powers meddle

Everyone who thinks, the Israel-Palestinian problem is a local one that just won't stop because of the viciousness of the involved parties, is little informed however about how the U.S. is pumping millions into efforts, to make sure only those who to them are politically acceptable run the place.

When Hamas was democratically elected in 2006, President George W. Bush was not willing to take this lying down. It is one thing if elections within America provide results you have to live with, but outside America the nation dedicated to freedom and peace will hear nothing of it, one must gather from revelations and secret documents that surfaced in 2008. Democracy and democratically elections are supported if they produce the results America is comfortable with. If not – see Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and many more – direct involvement to get rid of the government the people of the country voted into office start almost immediately.

When Hamas won the elections in Gaza and the West Bank, Condoleezza Rice, the then Secretary of State of America, secretly flew into Ramallah with a respectable bundle of dollars in her bag to make sure, this was a short term victory. Promising $1.27 billion in aid Rice demanded from Abbas to oust the Hamas government within two weeks by staging a coup. Abbas was hesitant if the constitution allowed him as president to depose the elected government. But Rice brushed that aside. She was not going to let the Palestinian constitution get in her way. She pressed on. Her counterpart remained uneasy. It was Ramadan. Abbas said it could not be done before Eid, the end of the holy time. He then asked her to join him for iftar, a light meal with which Muslims break their fast when the sun sets. As Rice later got into her armoured SUV she fumed: "That damned iftar has cost us another two weeks of Hamas government!"

Rice should err. It took much longer to get rid of the government the Palestinian people had – to the complete surprise of the U.S. – voted into office. America pumped millions into a military training of thousands of Fatah soldiers and even got Israel to allow the smuggling of thousands and thousands of weapons into Gaza, so that Fatah would be armed and trained and could stage the coup against Hamas (arms that – another déjà vu – later fell into the hands of Hamas and trouble Israel to this day).

As vileness and stupidity often go together, word of this monstrous plan got out. And when Hamas learned that Abbas with the help of both America and Israel was planning to stage a coup – Hamas struck first and fierce battles began, at the end of which Hamas triumphed in Gaza and won full control of the Strip.

America's game had not payed off. And to this day the consequences are felt in the region and both Israel and America keep trying everything in the book to reverse the political facts in the Gaza Strip, now held – not little thanks to the ignorance and arrogance of the U.S. – by Hamas alone.

The current war against Gaza, that Israel, innocently blinking eyes, says it was "dragged into", is a direct reaction to the Government of Unity that Fatah and Hamas finally agreed upon and established in June. The idea that the Palestinians would unite in harmony and become, lo and behold, a strong democratically elected power in the region, send shock waves through Tel Aviv and Washington. With the killing of three innocent Israeli teenagers, Netanyahu got just the pretence he needed to go into the West Bank, kill eight Palestinians, raid thousands of Palestinian homes, leaving most in shatters, and arrest – without charges – more than 500 Palestinians. It was this that triggered off what Netanyahu had hoped for: futile, ineffective rockets fired by a furious Hamas that would give him the possibility to bomb back with high-tech lethal weapons, citing the "right of Israel to defend itself" and stage yet another war on Gaza to avoid having to accept that Palestinians – Fatah and Hamas – agreed on a unity both Israel and America were not willing to allow. As Peled wrote back in 2008: "Every few years, the Israeli army found a reason to conduct a brutal attack on Gaza." The fear, Palestinians, united in one government, would become strong, was the reason found this time.

To think all of the atrocities, the killings of innocent women and children we are once more witnessing on a daily, haunting basis in Gaza, is Israel's work alone, is based only on what Miko Peled describes as the wish to "ethnically cleanse the landscape of Palestinians", would be ignoring the broader picture and interests at stake. It is a fight of international proportions, where next to Israel's very own interests to gain control over all the territory of the Palestinians, America has a very personal geopolitical security interest to defend Israel and a desire to fulfil the unabated wishes of a strong pro-Israel constituency. It is this which makes it so impossible to bring the conflict to an end. The parties involved locally – Hamas and Fatah – had already agreed and established "one government representing the Palestinian people", as is now sternly demanded as an ultimate and only acceptable goal by Israel, the U.S. and its allies. However, as the events after the democratic elections 2006 and the current warfare show, not any "one government" will do. It has to be one that serves the interests of those who meddle in the region and are not short of cash to finance what they want to get.

On Sunday, 20 July, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, that the Gaza war so far has cost the Israelis $585 million. But Israel has no reason for concern. Only two weeks ago, the U.S. Senate approved $621 million to finance Israel's defence system in the sky, the Iron Dome. There is still money left in the till after that, so the war can go on. And it will.

Grab your chair and your popcorn if you have the stomach to handle it. Thanks to international politics denying the Palestinians their basic rights and an indifferent world not wanting to get involved it's déjà vu all over again.

------------------

(A slightly shorter version of this text appeared in the Daily News Egypt, Cairo, on 24 July 2014)

June 17, 2014

Brave Irish historian demands dignity for 796 dead babies of Tuam


Ireland is once more in a mess. After numerous scandals revolving around revelations on abhorrent conditions in orphanages, industrial schools and similar institutions have rocked the Irish society in the last decades – with a hard to read Ryan Report only out in 2009 – new discoveries two weeks ago on 796 children who died in a mother-and-baby-homes in Tuam without getting a proper burial have caused again ripples that by now turned into huge waves. The Irish government, reluctant at first, has decided to establish a full scale investigation into not only this case but all similar cases of mother-and-baby-homes in Ireland, and it is feared that discoveries made there might bring even more shocking news.

The mother-and-baby-homes had the concept of locking away young girls who had become pregnant without being married. Society regarded them, not least due to the harsh teaching of the Catholic Church, as sinful and a shame to their families. For this reason such 'fallen' women were literally dumped by their families at mother-and-baby-homes run by religious Orders, where the girls were hidden away from the curious looks of the neighbours, who were told the girls had gone overseas.

In the homes, the girls, who were not permitted to leave the premises, were kept like slaves, working hard without any pay. They gave birth there, and almost always had to give up their children a year later for forced adoption. Something that the sisters seemed to have made a lucrative trade of, selling the babies off to as far as America, promoting them like a commodity to prospective buyers, as a letter by a Reverend Mother of Roscrea's Sean Ross Abbey shows. The dealings of the nuns was nothing short of human trafficking, consented by society and families who seemed to care less what became of these so called 'illegitimate' children.

Harrowing accounts of maltreatment in these mother-and-baby-homes have come up, of the authoritarian rule by the nuns – in the case of Tuam the Sisters of Bon Secours – and how they deliberately inflicted pain and humiliation on the fallen girls to punish them for their sin. Long times of complete silence or prayers were demanded from them while at the same time doing hard labour in the house or in the gardens. Some of these girls were as young as 15 years and had no understanding of sexuality or the concept of pregnancies that resulted from something where the boy had told them: "Don't worry, it's ok." When however they became pregnant, the boys turned their backs on them, their families discarded them and the nuns had a free hand to punish them in every way they wanted. It is reported that painkillers during birth were deliberately refused so that the women would feel the pain of the sin they had committed. Other witnesses report that babies, when in need of food, were by order of the nuns breast-fed by other women while the original mothers had to scrub floors somewhere else in the building. Another attempt to humiliate and punish the girls for what a deeply conservative society and a Church regarding sex before marriage a crime deemed to be their unforgivable sins.

At the same time, the young men who had had their fun and were the root problem of all this went unharmed and retained their respectable lives in their families.

A story of skeletons

The cause for all this to surface now, decades after these horrific conditions were forced upon 'fallen' girls and their offspring, is the determination of a local historian from Tuam, a small town north of Galway on the west coast of Ireland. Catherine Corless, who, as she herself says, has always led a quiet secluded life, never anticipated that her persistency on getting to know the truth behind the fate of children who died in Tuam would ever lead to a world-wide media storm and a governmental investigation.

It was hearing a story back from 1975 that led her on her path of research. At the times two young boys from Tuam had played on the grounds behind the – by then torn down – mother-and-baby-home of the Bon Secours Sisters, had as so often hopped over the wall to play in a small patch of grass, when they discovered concrete slabs that seemed to hide a secret. As the slabs were broken, the inquisitive boys did their best to push them aside – and froze. Beneath them, in a pit of approximately 3 metres depth, skulls and bones of little children were chaotically piled up right to the top. Scared, as eleven old ones would be at such a sight, they ran off and informed their parents. Other children came to check what the fuss was about, and in the end, the two boys, now grown men and still living in Tuam, report, a priest from the Parish came and held mass over the open pit. Then the slabs were put back in place and no one ever spoke about it anymore.

When local historian Catherine Corless heard this story, at the time not knowing the two boys were still around as grown men to be interviewed on this, she wanted to find out the truth behind the pit "filled to the brim with bones". She contacted the local registrar and asked how many children had died in that mother-and-baby-home of the Bon Secours Sisters, that existed from 1925 to 1961, when it was finally shut down, later bulldozed and replaced by a housing estate now on its grounds.

The registrar needed a week to check up on Catherine Corless' request, but the news she had when she came back for her, was a shock. Almost 800 children had died in the care of the nuns of the Bon Secours Sisters in the time from 1925 to 1961, meaning in average one child died in the home almost every two weeks throughout its existence.

The investigations

This in itself disturbing news, Corless however wanted to know more. She wanted to research the reasons for such a high number of deaths and she wanted to know where these 796 recorded children had been officially buried, seeing that there was a pit behind the home filled with children's skeletons. She asked for copies of the death certificates to these children and learned that each official copy meant a fee of € 4. "Do you really want them all?" the registrar inquired doubtfully.

Corless did. It took her two years until finally, in September 2013, she had spend a considerable sum of money but held all 796 death certificates to the – today on social media dubbed – #tuambabies in her hand.

The reading was hard to take. Most of the often only months old babies had died of infectious diseases, others were said to have been 'idiots' or 'mentally defective' or born with disabilities in numbers, that seemed dubiously high. Besides that, the death certificates listed measles, mumps and other illnesses, that, given the cramped space the children were subjected to, spread like wildfires in the home and led to horrible, painful deaths. A local health board inspection report from April 1947 described the children as “emaciated,” “pot-bellied,” “fragile” with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs” leading to impressions of malnutrition, which even given the hard times Ireland had been through, could only be considered gross neglect by the nuns. After all they received considerable amounts of payments from the Irish state per child in addition to the lucrative income achieved through selling the babies off later to adopting parents. This malnutrition had no doubt a disturbing impact on the immune system of the babies and in itself needed urgent research.

All in all the causes for deaths made for a disturbing read. Yet the most troubling question of all remained: Where were these 796 dead children?

Corless set out to the Tuam graveyard, situated conveniently across the road from the plot, where in former times the Bon Secours Sisters home was situated. She asked to see the cemetery register and compared all names at the given times to the 796 names she had with her. To no avail. None of the babies had been buried there. Catherine Corless is still bitter about this.

"These babies were not buried in the main Tuam graveyard across the road, where they should have been buried in an angels plot in consecrated ground. Why? - They were just illegitimate babies.  Illegitimate children don't matter, do they?"

But the historian did not give up easily. With her list of dead babies she travelled around the region, visiting many graveyards around Tuam in other villages, hoping to find something there. But at the end she had to accept that, but for one boy who she could trace to having been laid to rest in a families plot, 796 babies of the Bon Secours Sisters had vanished without a trace of a decent, proper burial anywhere.

The Archbishop apologises

In January 2014 Catherine Corless wrote an essay about her findings on her Facebook page. She was so engaged with this case by now that she searched for old maps of the Bon Secours Sisters home, only to find that the place, where the boys had discovered the children's remains, was used as a septic tank by a workhouse originally located there and then still in the early years of the home. When public sewage came to Tuam in the late 1930s, the septic pit, just behind the grounds of the home, was no longer needed. Placing the old maps over the current ones shows that the area of the old septic tank was where the skulls and bones of the children had been discovered in 1975 by the two boys.

The findings were reported by local newspapers without stirring any public reaction. Something, that still puzzles the historian to this day. Only when the Irish Mail on Sunday picked up the story at the end of May, did heads shoot up and people started to take notice. And before Corless knew what was happening, the story made headlines all over the world and had been published more than 2000 times in just over a week.

The Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, responded swiftly with a strong statement, the honesty of which Corless finds "admirable".
"I am horrified and saddened to hear of the large number of deceased children involved and this points to a time of great suffering and pain for the little ones and their mothers." Neary said.
 "I can only begin to imagine the huge emotional wrench which the mothers suffered in giving up their babies for adoption or by witnessing their death. Many of these young vulnerable women would already have been rejected by their families. The pain and brokenness which they endured is beyond our capacity to understand. It is simply too difficult to comprehend their helplessness and suffering as they watched their beloved child die."
Neary welcomed the decision of the government to establish an investigation about the fate of the Home Babies in Tuam and noted that, "regardless of the time lapse involved this is a matter of great public concern which ought to be acted upon urgently."

The Archbishop pointed out that as the diocese did not have any involvement in the running of the home in Tuam it did not have any material relating to it in its archives but went on to say: "While the Archdiocese of Tuam will cooperate fully nonetheless there exists a clear moral imperative on the Bon Secours Sisters in this case to act upon their responsibilities in the interests of the common good."

In accordance with the statement of the Bishop the archivist of the Archdiocese of Tuam has tried to find anything relating to the Babies Home that was run by the religious order of the Bon Secours Sisters. To little avail, as Fr. Fintan Monahan, Secretary to the Archbishop, points out.

"In our archives - the only thing we have in my knowledge is a letter from the head of the Bon Secours asking the Bishop of the time to open a separate foundation which turned out to be the Grove Hospital in Tuam. That hospital closed down over 10 years ago to the sadness and disappointment of Tuam people. The only other item we have in the Tuam Parish that might be of assistance to the commission is the baptism register and the death register."

So far at least, no notes have been found by the priest who back in 1975 was said to have held mass over the opened pit containing unknown children's remains. "I have asked the older priests and they genuinely have no knowledge of this as the priests that ministered in Tuam then are now deceased." says Fr. Monahan, ensuring once more that the Archdiocese of Tuam will assist the governmental investigation in all points "and support the memorial committee in whatever way we can."

The Archbishop of Dublin, who is also the Primate of Ireland, put out a statement demanding a full investigation into all mother-and-baby-homes, as in his opinion "there's no point" in just investigation Tuam. "It probably happened in other mother-and-baby homes around the country,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said, acknowledging that "there was collusion between church and State institutions.” The Archbishop added: "We need to investigate exactly what happened... to try to identify the areas of culture that were there, and to make sure they’re all gone."

A few days later Archbishop Neary on his part directly addressed the victims:
"As a minister of the church, I apologise to the people who are hurt and have suffered and who are pained by this. We must think about them at this time. This is a time for transparency. Our diocese is committed to transparency and for that reason, all who have been involved in the management of those homes throughout the country have a responsibility to contribute to the inquiry and ensure that the truth comes out."
The reaction of the Bon Secours Sisters to the revelations so far however have been limited. In a statement the Sisters had said that they welcome an investigation into the matter without letting out, what their position was on the allegations. A little later however, when the media storm grew in intensity, the Bon Secours Sisters made use of one of the best PR firms of Ireland only to let journalists know that from now on the Sisters would not say anything anymore.

A troubling reaction seeing that the Bon Secours Sisters, in whose home these 796 children died without a burial recorded anywhere, have a lot to explain. Credible testimonies have been given to Catherine Corless by mothers who gave birth in the Tuam Homes who state that their babies have been baptised by the local Priest when he came by for holding daily mass at the Home each morning at 7 a.m. The mothers, as they recounted, were not allowed to attend the baptising of their own children, another disturbing aspect of the inexcusable way the nuns treated the 'fallen' women. No governmental inquiry would be needed for the Sisters of Bon Secours to open up on this dark chapter of their own Homes and explain this inexplicable treatment of young mothers during the sacred act of baptising of their children. All it would take is the courage and decency to face the past, in order to help those that were victimised to find healing after all they have been through.

The rejected Home Babies

From "Christ's life in us. Workbook." Dublin: CJ Fallon, 1970s
For Catherine Corless, finding the truth and restoring the dignity of those who perished in the home with no tombstone to their name has become a matter of huge importance. As a child she herself had been in school with children from the home, called by all the Home Babies and subjected to maltreatment and rejection. The Home Babies were considered unclean and fruits of sin. In school they had to sit separately in class and had to leave early when school was over to make sure they would not mingle with the decent children who were encouraged by the nuns not to be nice to the outcasts.

Corless had played a trick once on one of the Home Baby girls, offering her a little stone wrapped in candy paper. She had seen this done by a friend of her and found the reaction of the poor girl on discovering she had been fooled funny at the time. The idea that that girl would never have seen a kindness in her life and the unfairness of the trick haunts her to the day. “Years after I asked myself what did I do to that poor little girl that never saw a sweet? That has stuck with me all my life. A part of me wants to make up to them.”

For this she has gone to great lengths, has been tireless in her research and persistent in trying to find out the truth. She even build a model of the Bon Secours Sisters home using the old plans of the workhouse she had found.

"Building the model kept my mind focused on the mother-and-baby-home and I felt that it might help those who spent time there to see and remember and perhaps find a healing of some sort," says Corless.



The model shows where the mothers dropped off their unfortunate girls in the front house, handing them over to a stern Reverend Mother who would hold them in her possession and at her continued disposal from now on. The horrific insults and accusations hurled at those poor girls on such occasion one can only imagine.

For all this to be known, the historian made huge personal contributions, especially in her attempt to obtain all the records of the 796 dead children. The Irish state should reimburse Catherine Corless for her expenses. Had it not been for her  willingness to invest such a lot of private money and time, Ireland would not know what it knows know and urgently needed to know about. Especially as the mother-and-baby-home in Tuam was only one of many. And even the Archbishop of Dublin fears that this is only the beginning to more gruesome discoveries.

A story of the battle of the Faiths

Not everyone naturally is pleased about the revelations of the historian in Tuam. Denialists in the Church, the media and on social media were quick to refute all findings, denying such atrocities ever happened. Some, calling themselves "Catholic militant" refused to acknowledge the existence of dead babies in the pit or took great efforts to explain that the pit was a burial ground as used in medieval times and not, what the maps showed in fact, a septic tank. Some called it a 'hoax' or spoke of a fake story invented to tarnish the image of the Catholic Church.

The story of the 796 vanished Tuam babies is after all also a story of the not yet buried war of Faiths in Ireland and a troubled relationship with the British. Having gained independence in 1922, everything connected with the former colonial power, including their Protestant belief, was strictly rejected. Many girls were taken up in the homes so to ensure they would not leave for England, while others were brought back from Protestant homes in England under great troubles to make sure they remained in the realm of Catholicism. The war of beliefs over which church is the right one, ignoring the valid question if God cared for such quarrels, has been waging ever since, and even the Ireland of today, having officially a non-religious government, still shows the rift when emotions run high on the comment section of newspapers or on social media where the Catholic Church is defended blindly despite all the scathing reports of the past, or the call for finally separating the Church from the state can be heard loud and clear.

After all, since the Irish Constitution of 1937, the draft of which the then government send twice to the Vatican for reviewing, "the State recognises the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens", a right that is not reserved for the Protestant Church seen as closely connected with the former colonial ruler. And so the battle wages on with every new finding from the past shedding a light on the dubious system of the state paying the Catholic Church to put up institutions, including the mother-baby-homes, where the 'fallen', shameful girls of society could be put away and out of view. The one – the state representing the society – paid and the other – the Catholic Church – offered gladly to do the job. Both will now once again need to come to terms with their horrible past and their collusion on any wrongdoings against children where welfare of the vulnerable should have been the dutiful concern for the parties involved.

The Archbishops with their strong worded statements and demands for full investigations they promise to be part of have set the tone for how the Catholic Church of Ireland has to deal with this new crisis. Stepping back from this would be a great failure. As Archbishop Martin pointed out in response to earlier scandals already in 2009: "There is always a price to pay for not responding. The church will have to pay that price in terms of its credibility. The first thing the church has to do is to move out of any mode of denial." What the denialists in contrast don't see is that with their militancy denying even the facts that are proven they do damage to the very Church they pretend to protect.

Little bodies stacked in shelves

In the meantime more revelations have come up. A media company financed a subsurface radar examination of the plot where the boys said they had found the skeletons in a pit. The results showed two 'anomalies' in the ground of that area – a rectangular shaped plot A and a plot B resembling the former septic tank. At the same time a new witness came forward supporting Catherine Corless and her research.

Mary Moriarty, who lives close to the area, told an Irish reporter that in the mid-70s a child had played with a children's skull and, startled, she had gone to investigate the matter with her neighbours. On crossing the area that contains the two anomalies, the ground over todays plot A suddenly caved in and allowed her to enter what she describes a huge vault with shelves stacked from bottom to top with over 100 children's bodies wrapped in clothes. The witness recalled the conversation afterwards with a woman in her late 70s, called Julia Devaney, who said that she had worked at the Bon Secours Sisters home at the time and repeatedly had helped the nuns carry dead babies through a tunnel to this vault.

Such a tunnel, Catherine Corless had found out in her research, had indeed been build. The Co. Galway Homes and Home Assistance Committee had decided to prepare it as a shelter in case of possible air raids, as was reported by the Tuam Herald in July 1940. The story of Mary Moriarty seemed to make sense against this background, presenting not only for the former septic tank, found as plot B in the subsurface radar examination, but now in addition also for the marked plot A an explanation and a story of a grim discovery of babies' bodies.

How many children indeed are buried in these two places and if all 796 babies who have no burial record are to be found here, only an excavation could establish. As things stand, there are testimonies of witnesses so far and subsurface radar results but no view of the skeletons yet, giving those who want to fight or defend the Catholic Church enough room for heated arguments and accusations in public forums, often coldly ignoring the fate of the children who lost their lives in the Tuam mother-and-baby-home. 

She won't give up

To Catherine Corless the battle of the Faiths and their followers matters little. She demands justice and dignity for the 796 children that died and simply vanished. "All that matters is the truth", the undeterred historian says. "796 children must be accounted for." Surely, she argues, the children had a right to a proper burial, to dignity and respect. In her opinion, the fact that they vanished without an official trace of having been laid to rest is an inexcusable failure of the nuns of the Order of Bon Secours, the Catholic Church and the conservative society of Ireland that needs to be fully investigated. And before anyone should get any doubts on her determination, she insists: "I will not give up on them."

It is not hard to see, the babies of Tuam, wherever they might be buried, have finally in death found a friend they clearly didn't have in their short, suffering life. It can only be hoped that the governmental investigation into the fate of those that perished in mother-and-baby-homes will finally uncover the full truth about sadly yet another dark chapter of Ireland's haunting past. If so, Ireland has no one to thank but a stubborn local historian from Tuam who just wouldn't give up.

May 01, 2014

Why Do The Good Die Young? - R.I.P. Bassem Sabry

Busy with a strenuous move of both house and offices this last week and thanks to a telephone company that mucked up, I was left without both phone and internet. Cell phone connection is slow, so surfing social media sites is not exactly tempting in the middle of such an endeavour. It is for this reason that I had not been on twitter for days when last night I felt a calling that there was something urgent I was missing. Today I could no longer take it and took  the enduring cellphone road to twitter – only to read the shocking news, that Bassem Sabry had died on Tuesday at the age of 31 years and was buried yesterday evening in Cairo. It was a blow. The idea that he won't be around anymore, that I won't see him on my twitter timeline or read his well phrased thoughts in articles ever again, is hard to bear. The devastating side to the word death is the forever. It is this which we cannot take.

I can easily think of how, whenever I applauded him for some excellent writing, he always reacted with thankful surprise, as if he could not believe that anyone could be so impressed by his words. I had yet to see vanity in Bassem Sabry. And I remember when under SCAF's transitional rule that hideous video was published, showing an alleged foreign spy enter a café in Cairo only to be embraced by smiling young Egyptians who innocently fell for his evil tricks – it was Bassem who publicly pointed out that this piece of revolting propaganda was already flawed in that no Egyptian would warmly embrace a stranger like that in a café. "We Egyptians just aren't that friendly, it's a fact", Bassem said. When it came to being honest about Egypt and the Egyptian way, Bassem was the one. My parody of that video he found so amusing, that he asked for permission to put it up on his blog, which he did. He had humour and the ability to accept that one should laugh about oneself too, when necessary.

All these are just bits of memories that linger in the mind and heart but won't alter the fact that he is gone. Egypt has lost a voice of reason, of modesty and responsible contemplation and a great political analyst above all. In times of incredible division and polarisation, Bassem Sabry was a comfort to listen to. As many others, he became less vocal on twitter in the last months, perhaps needing time of quietness amidst the growing insanity, but he became more active again in the last weeks. And his last tweet two days ago was the call to help a girl who was in need of a blood donation.

Now he himself is gone and sorely missed by those who liked and loved him. And while hardly any death in Egypt in the last years – and there were many – ever seemed to make sense, his death seems to be the most senseless of all.

What strikes me heavily, besides trying to come to terms with his irrevocable disappearance, is the age at which he died. 31 years is horrifically young to go and inexcusably unfair to a man who had so much to give, who was willing to invest so much in making a human existence worthwhile. As always the unanswered questions arise: Why does life deal such blows? Why is hope so often crushed? Why do the good die young but the tyrants are never struck by lightning? Is it really too much to ask of life to just once reverse the order and let those who are evil at heart go early and leave us the ones we so badly need to make this world a better place?

Apparently so. Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, who killed his people in the tens of thousands, is spilling his hate still at 90. Bassem Sabry, who never hurt a soul, had to die at 31. If ever we had been in doubt if there was injustice in life, here's a new update. Thanks very much.

So what is left is devastation, loss of hope, fatalism. All the things Bassem would not have wanted us to have. His way, while not denying the negative realities, was optimism. The unshaken determination and belief that Egypt would one day have a future worth experiencing, worth living, and that the road was thorny and full of unexpected backlashes but needed to be walked to finally one day reach a better life for all.

His legacy

When the good die young, our hopes seem to crumble. For the young are the future, the chance for progress, the inspiration for a change for the better. When Bassem Sabry was laid to rest yesterday, to many of those who attended his funeral it must have felt as if hope and future of Egypt received one more heavy blow and died with him. So many wonderful people Egypt so badly needs for her future were either killed or jailed or left the country in the last three years. With such a brain drain, who is still left to do the job? When a voice like that of Bassem Sabry falls silent too, it might feel as if no hope is left anymore.

If Bassem could talk now, I am sure he would tell us that he did not want to go this early. But at the same time he would quickly pass over his personal feelings on this and tell us that losing hope is the last thing that should be on everyone's mind because of his demise. After all – he might have left, but his thoughts haven't. His words are still there to read, his ideas for a better future of Egypt still valid and to be found, his voice of reason still carries on and was not silenced by his death. Would Egypt lose hope now and believe that he was silenced forever, it would say unfavourable things about how serious we took him when we read his words. How can we believe they don't exist anymore? How could we not see that his thoughts, the tools for a better future, are still within our reach? No, Bassem has left, his way hasn't. He left us his legacy of 31 years to hold on to, and hold on we should. The point is not that he died. The point is that he lived. In just mourning his loss we might forget the blessings he gave while he was around. There is so much to remember, so much to think about, so much to contemplate. He left more than one could ask for in such a short time of life. He did not go. His body did. His spirit didn't. If Egypt wants it, it is still there to have and to hold and to make the best of it, as Bassem would have earnestly wanted.

As H. A. Hellyer put it in his very personal tribute to his friend: "If you want to honor his memory, I suggest you do what he did: Start building something beautiful and just put the hate away."

Bassem would have loved this.

Come, stop the mourning. And take the cue.