June 16, 2016

R.I.P. Jo Cox – "Unite to fight against the hatred that killed her."

I can't believe that after just four days I have to write another obituary on a wonderful woman shot dead by a maniac with a gun.

Another dark day for us all. Today Labour MP Jo Cox, mother of two little children, was shot and stabbed to death in broad daylight when she left a library in her constituency in Yorkshire. Britain is in shock and the flag on Parliament has been lowered to half-mast. Tributes pour in from all political sides.

Voted into the parliament only a year ago Jo Cox fascinated everyone with her sharp mind, clear cut rhetoric and determined engagement for those in need. As one of the very few in Labour, MP Jo Cox was on the side of the people of Syria, stood up for Aleppo and fought for refugee children to be allowed into Britain. I cannot hail her enough for her unwavering solidarity with the victims of Assad‘s and Russia‘s atrocities in Syria.

Just six weeks ago in parliament, MP Jo Cox held a passionate speech regarding Syria demanding answers from the Minister on many questions still vital and valid today. Watch her speak and be inspired by her determination, her compassion and her energy.

It breaks the heart to know she is gone. But she leaves a legacy that demands from us to fill her place wherever we can and continue on her path of love vs. hate.

Think about the refugee children from Syria who have gone through hell and remember the words of Jo Cox:

Only yesterday, Jo Cox was on the Thames to campaign for Britain to stay in the EU, something she was as passionate about as the children from Syria. Together with her husband Brendan she took her own lovely two little children on the boat ride and it is impossible to comprehend how these two angels will survive that their mother won't ever kiss them again.

The death of Jo Cox is a tragedy on a very personal, family level. – But it is also a tragedy for Britain, losing one of the most energetic and compassionate MPs she had.

It poses question too whether the hate spewing of those, who – like Jo Cox's killer – shouted "Britain First", has not seriously paved the way for the unspeakable crime of today that robbed a young woman of her life, a husband of his wife and two children of their mother.

In his piece A Day of Infamy, Alex Massie today puts the problem in a nutshell:
"We know that even lone lunatics don’t live in a bubble. ... When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. ... If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

We can’t control the weather but, in politics, we can control the climate in which the weather happens. That’s on us, all of us, whatever side of any given argument we happen to be. Today, it feels like we’ve done something terrible to that climate.

I cannot recall ever feeling worse about this country and its politics than is the case right now."

It is time, Britain, to take a deep breath and alter course. The murder of Jo Cox today is a warning sign if ever there was one.

Two hours after Jo Cox was pronounced dead, her husband Brendan issued a statement, saying:
„Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people.

She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.“

Let‘s honour Jo Cox by fulfilling her wish. It is the least we can and the thing we must do.


June 12, 2016

R.I.P. Christina Grimmie – Sing to the Delight of Angels in the Sky

On Friday night I was performing with a choir and a Shakespeare Company in a wonderful open-air venue in front of an audience that showered us with applause. Today I learn the shocking news that Christina Grimmie (@TheRealGrimmie on twitter) was shot on the same night after her performance in Orlando. While we revelled deep into the night in our bliss of an audience being happy, on the other side of the ocean Christina was killed when she signed autographs after her concert, by a man they presume was a deranged fan. She welcomed him with arms open for a hug – and he responded by shooting her.

I am shattered. I have admired her for years for her voice, her talent and her beautiful, friendly, natural ways, ever since I discovered her doing this amazing duet with Sam Tsui:

It was just a dream

Today, after hearing the news of the death of 22 year old Christina Grimmie, the words develop a haunting tone, speak of sadness and grief over the senseless killing of someone so young, so willing to give beauty to the world, caring for others and sharing her amazing talent with all. No words can describe the devastation to learn that once more beauty is ruthlessly destroyed by a man unable himself to give beauty to this world. And that obtaining guns in America is so easy and once more leads to a horrific shooting.

Many who knew and worked with her have expressed their shock over her killing, saying how heartbroken they are that this beautiful human being has been denied the life she deserved to possess.

Sam Tsui took to music as the only possible way to pay tribute to Christina Grimmie, unable to put into words the grief that fills the heart.

It was just a dream

We say: R.I.P. Christina. But in our soul we know that you never wanted to rest in peace but sing forever to fill homes, halls and the sky.

When we performed last night once more Shakespeare and music, the sky had this time turned grey at our venue and it began to rain softly. The mood, suddenly so different to Friday, was sombre and the atmosphere inexplicably strained. Now that I heard the news, I think the sky wept over Christina Grimmie‘s killing the night before. It can only have been that.

The sky has her now but it also knows what mortals down here miss. Her voice. Her face. Her smile. Her naturalness.

May you sing to the delight of angels in the sky now, Christina. Music will never stop. Bullets can never achieve this.

No one will accept that this was just a dream. You will be unforgotten by and forever real to those who loved and admired you.



Post scriptum: Only one day later, last night, another deranged man stormed a gay night club in Orlando and fired into the dancing crowd killing at least 50 and injuring 53. The sadness is of unspeakable dimension. May Sam Tsui‘s tribute to you, Christina, be a tribute too to those who were allowed to live only one day longer than you. May you all know that you were loved and will never leave the hearts of your families, friends and admirers. My prayers are with those who miss you all so terribly.

January 13, 2016

German Journalist's Open Letter to Syrian Refugees who are Ashamed over Cologne Attacks

After the events of New Years Eve in Germany's city Cologne, where groups of men from North Africa sexually harassed and assaulted women and stole their cell phones and purses, an anonymous report by a German policeman insinuated that some of the culprits were from Syria. There was no proof for this – in fact now we know that only one 20-year old Syrian was involved, the rest are from Algeria and Morocco and apparently pretended to be from Syria. Nevertheless the right-wingers in Germany, at the forefront the Pegida-Movement, slammed refugees from Syria accusing them of raping German women.

To many Syrian refugees who were never involved in the shameful attacks in Cologne, this was a shock and deeply hurtful. To show that they did not condone such actions they initiated a Facebook event and called for a protest on January 16 under the motto: Syrian refugees say no to the assaults of Cologne.

Many Syrians have since commented and posted on this Facebook page and expressed disgust and shame about what happened in Cologne and apologised to the German population.

A German journalist now has responded to these posts, assuring the refugees that there is nothing for them to be ashamed of, nothing to apologise for and explains the reasoning behind his thoughts. In the end he urges the Syrian refugees to be strong and proud and not fall for the trap of the right-wingers who want to sow hate and division in German society.

Here is the letter that is worth a read:


I am a German. And a journalist. And I am deeply ashamed that so many of you get the feeling that you should be ashamed and have to apologise now. So let me say this:

I am ashamed that so many of my journalist colleagues have used the attacks in Cologne to produce sensational headlines serving their greed for more reader – and totally ignored facts, known numbers – and that they deeply inflict damage with this on all refugees and especially refugees from Syria in Germany. I apologise for these shameful actions.

I am ashamed that in the last year alone Germans have torched over 400 refugee camps and homes, have beaten up refugees, frightened women and children, attacked their buses – even shot at refugees sleeping at night in their beds and wounded them. Those actions are criminal and disgusting and not what Germany is about. I apologise to all refugees for these attacks and especially to those who have been wounded, frightened and robbed of their peace after all they endured fleeing here.

I do. – But at the end of the day – you and I apologise for crimes we did not commit.

And as much as I understand the urge to do something, to say something to make this shame go away, neither you can with your apologies nor I can with mine.

We have to face the fact that in every basket of good apples there are rotting bad apples that ruin it for us all if we don‘t watch out.

Germans are not a pure, innocent breed. We are humans like you with all the good and the bad that comes with it. While right-wingers now produce a huge uproar over the ugly attacks on women at New Years Eve – they never speak up for German women being attacked by Germans, sexually assaulted by Germans or even raped by Germans. And they ignore that we have special institutions in this country where women can and do flee to to save themselves from the brutality of their male companions, husbands or lovers.

No, we Germans are humans like all, and we have terribly bad apples amongst us, men who do not respect women, who assault them sexually and act criminally and disgusting.

We just don‘t talk about it. We don‘t want to point the finger at ourselves.

You however come in handy. If we can point the finger at you – whether rightfully so or not – we can ignore how much bad apples we have amongst ourselves and make you the scapegoat for everything. Then we don‘t have to think about our own actions. And before you know it, everyone is talking about refugees sexually assaulting innocent German women – and no one notices anymore that we do so much bad things ourselves.

It is true – men from North Africa and Arab states, so witnesses tell us, have attacked women on that night and shown shameful aggression. Some men. Some 40, 50 or 60, perhaps 70 men – out of way over 1 million refugees.

If we had so few criminals within our 80 million German population we could be happy. But sadly not. In 2014 we had more than 7,200 reported cases of rapes and sexual assaults on women in Germany, in the vast majority commited by Germans. A shocking number. – We just don‘t talk about it.

The bottom line is that those men who attacked women on New Years Eve where brainless, shameless criminals. It doesn‘t matter where they came from. And the truth is too, that those men who rape and sexually assault women in such horrific numbers in Germany in one year are also brainless, shameless criminals. Their nationality doesn‘t matter a bit. You find criminals all over the world. It is part of the human race, not of one a nation or people.

I am not ashamed as a German when some who call themselves German torch refugee camps. Because I don‘t consider such people Germans in a way that I am German. They are standing outside of any civilisation, and you sadly find such sick people all over the globe. So, I am not ashamed – but I am outraged. Incredibly outraged.

And so you should be. Don‘t be ashamed as refugees or Syrians or Syrian refugees for the action of some sick people who may or may not (we still don‘t know all the facts) have come from a region near you. It means nothing about you as a Syrian, nothing about your dignity, your pride and your decency – and it is not your doing. You did not attack women on New Years Eve and I don‘t torch refugee homes or rape women. These people are not us, they are outside our sphere of civilisation. They simply don‘t belong in this world, but we sadly have to face the fact that they exist. But they are neither Syrian nor German – they are just a sick breed of people we could not manage to heal with education and civilisation.

Besides working as a journalist I took up teaching refugees in northern Germany in October last year because I feel we all have to do something to get you integrated as fast as possible, to give you back a life that will enable you to have a future and be strong and proud and able to support yourself. If we help you to help yourself, you can make it. And you will make it, I am convinced of that.

I have a large number of Syrians in my class. They are the finest people I could possible have come across. Decent, well-mannered, polite, interested to learn, eager to shape their future and find a place in German‘s society. I am blessed to be allowed to teach them.

Last week we talked about the events of New Years Eve. They were outraged, disgusted – and as I could see: hurt. Hurt to get blamed for something they not only did not commit – but something they would never commit. If you are a decent person there is nothing worse than if people insinuate you could do such shameful things. I really felt sorry for them. They did not deserve this.

Here‘s what I told them: Stay proud, stay strong, don‘t let this get to you personally. And if people on the streets now in Germany occasionally look at you with a grim face because of this – just ignore it. We have idiots in our society just as every nation has. But they are not the society. They are just a tiny minority that lacks any compassion, any humanity and any decency. I could apologise for them but I shouldn‘t. They are not me and I am not them, and luckily they are not Germany.

And I gave my ‘pupils‘ this advice: always stay friendly and walk away. And learn German to the best of your abilities, because the better you speak German, the less these idiots will be able to brand you as refugees and will have to accept the fact that you are here and welcome to stay.

Build your future, build your life. The stronger you become the better for us all. In the end we can fight these idiots in societies only if we stick together. Because in attacking you they mean nothing else but to attack us all – the Germans who welcome you, who show humanity and compassion and who treasure this democracy that you are now beginning to be part of. We are not going to give them the pleasure and hand over this democracy and the values of civilisation we have achieved. No such luck. But it is nothing less they hope for when slashing you with insults and accusations for crimes you did not commit.

Let‘s not play their game. You don‘t need to feel ashamed and neither do I. You don‘t have to apologise and I don‘t have to either. In the end we can only win if we keep our heads up high, stay proud and strong and not get deterred by those who want us to fall and fail.

You are here and you will stay here. So are we. Then let‘s do it together and it will be win-win. And the triumph that those idiots had nothing in their helpless little hands but hate – useless, idiotic hate – will give us the strength to build the future. Because what they do not want to understand is this: Your future is ours too. While we help you to build your future, we build our own.

For this reason we need you to be strong. Don‘t hang your head in shame. Keep it up high and proud on your shoulders where it belongs. Only then can we shape a future that will be a gain for us all.

Wishing you all the very best in your new life. Never lose hope. Just never.


The letter has been widely read now on Facebook and commented, with many Syrians expressing gratitude for these words. It can be found here.