April 16, 2013

Boston: Where the Bombs Begin

Two bombs that exploded next to the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday killed three people and injured over a hundred. U.S. President Obama vowed to bring to justice those responsible for this "act of terror".

Egyptian journalist and blogger Nadia El-Awady voiced her reaction to the bombings in her most read worthy post: Boston: Why Arabs Like Me Are Horrified

In it, bravely and frank as is typical of her, she describes her reactions to the attacks on September 11, 2001, and the fears with regard to the new attacks yesterday in Boston. Her courage to tell what others rather keep a personal secret, is admirable. I felt compelled to answer and urge you to first read her post, before continuing here to read my reply.

When I saw the second plane fly into the WTC on September 11 – there was shock on my face and horror. Not, because this happened to the U.S., but because I knew that this happened to humans. The single mother battling hard with her two children after her husband had left her, the young man aspiring to become a scientist finding a cure to diseases, the old woman who had lost her husband and son in a car accident early and been alone and brave for 30 years, the businessman from abroad on a strenuous conference trip, working hard to ensure a living for his family and education for his daughter and son, the over 600 Muslims working in companies in the towers, being unaware of getting killed this very minute by so called 'Muslim' brothers – who were in fact no brothers nor Muslims but cold, pathetic terrorists and murderers.

These were the pictures that flashed through my head in a fraction of a second as I watched the plane plunge into the tower and explode in a fire ball. How could I have smiled, knowing that humans, real living human individuals were pulverised to nothing in this very moment? It wasn't the U.S. that was getting attacked in that very minute, it were humans, humans of flesh and blood, all the humans I had in my mind. And it was visible if the vision was not, for whatever reason, blurred.

I have had more than my fair share of anger over the U.S. (and that is putting it very euphemistically). But when the bombs exploded in Boston yesterday, I only saw the people, the humans torn to pieces and killed. The 8 year old boy, who was so proud that his father had run the marathon and reached the finish line, or the woman who had perhaps managed to fight a terminal illness and was just getting back on her feet, the young man, who had successfully made it through high school and thought his whole life lay before him – how could I see them other than 'humans', how would any other 'label' fit but 'humans'?

Some say: The U.S. was attacked. And to them that is the truth. That was the plan of those who planted those bombs. They wanted to 'attack the U.S.', and sometimes this gives a feeling of satisfaction to people, who do not realise that they are falling for the trap laid out for them by the bomb planters.

No, whatever they tell us or want us to say, it wasn't the U.S. attacked yesterday in Boston but innocent human beings: boys, girls, women and men – humans like you and me. And vice versa it also wasn't 'an Arab' or 'a Muslim' or whoever who planted those horrific bombs, but a coldhearted, pathetic murderer, like you sadly find them in any society around the world. There are murders happening in the Western world by Westerners that, regarding brutality, easily match this bomb attack. Not in numbers, but in ruthlessness. So how can a label of nationality or religion explain anything where inhumane horror is concerned, where we are talking of tearing young children's bodies apart for the sake of power and greed?

We must learn to do away with these labels that never tell us any truths but only help to manifest what the murderers want: That as a human community we fall apart, that our compassion for our fellow humans is halted, that we become divided into labels and camps of 'U.S.' and 'Arabs' and 'Muslims' and 'Christians', of 'Blacks' and 'Whites', of 'good' and 'bad' – into labels of 'them' and 'us' – of 'they' and 'we' – into never making it together.

A mother crying over her bomb torn boy cries the same, whether in Baghdad or Boston. The pain is no different. Why then should we allow the killers, who inflict these pains, to divide us into groups where the same very horrific pain over a dead child becomes a 'their pain' over an 'our pain'? Why play into the hands of those who kill and triumph if we fall for the categories they have decided for a distorted world of hate and power?

It is the categories in our heads that tear us apart. The bombs come later. If we would understand this, there would be no room for smiles, nor now for the fear to learn of the nationality of a bomb planter, of hearing, he might be "one of us", of dreading to "learn how far behind we will fall yet again". Because, no matter what he says and perhaps even believes, he did not plant that bomb as an Arab, or a Muslim, or a Christian, or an American. He planted these bombs as a pathetic, mentally disturbed, sick person full of hatred for himself and others. And he wants us to join him in his madness of thinking so he can feel that he's not alone with his disease.

I won't go along. You were never an Arab to me Nadia, and not a Muslim. You were a human being. The rest was a colourful and wonderful add-on that helps shape your personality. Nothing more. But nothing less. Like my add-ons, you like or dislike. Some we share, some we don't. But your tears are like mine, your smile is too – well, your laughter is a lot louder than mine, I admit it, but hey, there's got to be some difference! – you're a woman, I'm a man, you're a human, and so am I.

If one day – God save us from this – we both should get killed in a bomb blast in a terrorist attack, will you die as an Arab and I as a Westerner? Or won't we both die as the humans we were? Will anyone try to tear us apart even in death, in you 'the good' and me 'the bad' or vice versa? How dare anyone? We are humans. And as such we meet, and if fate wants it, we die.

Let us embrace our heritage, our cultures, our beliefs, our nationalities, as a unique personal gain and a richness of our diverse world. Let us respect and treasure it. But in the end – if we don't remove the labels of otherness from our heads in life and in death we play into the hands of those who plant bombs and horror. And with that we will never be able to stop the terrorists from doing their horrific deeds. Not on the ground. And – much more dangerous – not in our heads.

It's there after all, were the bombs begin.

April 01, 2013

Update: 8 year old Ahlam free from Sinai traffickers – but not yet safe

It can now be said and officially confirmed, that 8 year old Ahlam, the girl held captive with her family by Sinai human traffickers, has been freed after $41,000 ransom was paid to the Bedouin trafficker Abu Omar from Al Mehdia. He and his men had held and tortured them in North Sinai for almost three months – in full knowledge of the Egyptian police that did not intervene.

After the ransom was paid and Abu Omar finally agreed to let them go, the family was brought to Cairo to be received by international and Egyptian helpers on the case. But when they arrived in Cairo deep into the night of 27 March, things went very wrong on the last few metres and almost jeopardised the long sought freedom. For security reasons it is best not to tell that story, but it lasted almost another whole day until the situation could finally be resolved and the family was allowed to be taken into the care of the UNHCR.

While Ahlam and her mother were brought to a safe shelter in Cairo, Adem, the man known to be her father, had to be submitted to hospital for the grave injuries he suffered during the continuous torture inflicted by the Bedouins. He is currently still in medical care but will hopefully be able to join Ahlam and her mother soon.

The heroism of her uncle

In a stunning turn of events the truth about him and Ahlam's father has now surfaced, after the real father of Ahlam contacted the team that has worked hard for Ahlam's freedom. To the surprise of all helpers it was now disclosed that 'father' Adem is in fact not the father of Ahlam but her uncle, who only posed as her father in the hope to protect her from serious attacks by the Bedouins. In posing as Ahlam's father and husband to her mother, Adem also tried to guard the mother from being raped, which is a common practice by the traffickers in Sinai.

Ahlam's real father, who lives in Canada, had phone contact with the traffickers and his daughter and wife while they were held captive in Sinai, posing as a distant relative in Saudi Arabia – while Adem continued to play the role as Ahlam's father and husband to her mother to save both from the kidnappers assaults. For this he was subjected to torture, and one can only marvel at such bravery to protect his niece and sister-in-law.

Ahlam's father now hopes to see both his daughter and his wife and brother in Canada soon, and attempts are underway to secure the travel visa documents needed for this family reunion. It will take a few months until all is processed and the victims of the horror in Sinai will finally be able to regain the freedom they deserve so much. Until then they are in the care of UNHCR and are thankful to those Egyptians who have helped during the ordeal on arrival in Cairo, lawyers and contact persons that for their own safety ask not to be named.

The crimes continue

It must be noted that with her 8 years Ahlam has witnessed months of incredible brutality and even torture killings of other hostages right in front of her eyes. She will need serious trauma counselling in Canada, as Egypt does not provide this to victims of these horrible crimes tolerated in Egypt.

It must also be noted once more that Ahlam, her mother and her uncle were kidnapped by Bedouins in Sudan after they had fled across the border from Eritrea. They were abducted and trafficked over 1300 km to the Sinai where they were sold to Abu Omar and his men and held in captivity and brutally tortured.

The Egyptian government and the army and police in Sinai are well aware of the crimes happening and of the horrific fate of the hostages and were also aware of Ahlam and her family in Abu Omar's hands, but have undertaken no attempt to arrest the traffickers and free the hostages from the torture camps.

Only this weekend amnesty international in a strong appeal has once more urged the Egyptian government to finally act and put a stop to the human trafficking in Sinai which has now been allowed to go on for more than three years, has seen thousands of torture victims and hundreds if not thousands of innocent hostages being tortured to death.

Just two weeks ago, two young girls aged 18 and 19 were tortured to death as their families could not raise the high ransom demanded. Their mutilated bodes were dumped next to a road in the desert of Sinai. The week before, 8 year old Ahlam herself witnessed two male hostages being tortured to death by being hung up from the ceiling.

Up to now the Egyptian government has once more not responded to the international calls to act. The horror continues without any signs that the authorities will finally put an end to this humanitarian tragedy in Sinai.

Egypt remains silent – and thus complicit to these crimes.