Archives for posts with tag: middle east

Today, I had the unique privilege, thanks to my work, of attending the “Baghdad eye: Human Rights Film Festival” at the University of Baghdad. In an auditorium full of eccentric and enthusiastic students, we watched quietly as filmmakers presented their work from around Iraq and the around the world.

The morning started off with Cory Taylor’s film on the Czech Republic’s Velvet Revolution of 1989, “The Power of the Powerless;” and though it might seem odd to some that films from other countries would be shown in a place like Iraq which has plenty of contemporary examples of human rights issues, I realized that by showing these films from around the world to all these passionate young intellectuals, one might hope to inspire them by giving them an outside view and new ideas to follow or emulate. The film showed the power of nonviolent resistance, something which could make all the difference in the lives of these students and in making changes within their own country.

The films that followed, “Speak Your Mind” by Emad Ali and “Sing Your Song” by Omar Falah, were great examples of the obstacles, often violent ones, faced by musicians and journalists in Iraq. Stories of death threats, dead friends, local censorship by provincial counsels but despite all that there is a will to bring back the culture and heritage being smothered by ignorance and bigotry. And despite the risks there is a will to continually work towards transparency and true freedom of speech.

In my line of work and past experience there is a part of me that is cynical about the resolve of many people in the developing world to improve their lives and those of others, but during these few hours I did see a few who are willing to meet the challenge and hold out hope for a better future for themselves and those around them.

 

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It is common to see an article related to women’s rights, or a lack there of, in the news and rss feeds today; so-called “honor” killings, female genital mutilation, sex trafficking, and child marriage are all common place in regions such as the Middle East, Africa, Southern Asia and Eastern Europe. Some of these horrible crimes are also prevalent within Central and South America along with the heinous crime of rape, incest and child molestation. Often such crimes are kept quiet or swept under the family rug.

Even in developed nations there are individuals and groups of people that still adhere to such “traditions” as if their beliefs gave them rights over the law. It is pitiful to see such prevalence of abuse of women and girls and the detrimental effect it has on entire societies and nations. Time and again a key factor in the advancement of a nation or its people depends so much on the status of women and girls within that society. Or one could say that a key indicator of an advancing nation or an advanced nation is the status of women and girls within it.

But within states where the subjugation of women is written into law as it is practiced, how often do we make an excuse such as that it is their “culture” or “religion” or “tradition” or simply “their country”? Is it really the choice of the women and girls involved in such practices? The answer is a resounding NO. There are so many movements and so many causes that we do not give direct support to, that fight for the emancipation and equal rights of the female sex within these cultures and societies. Only recently has there been a focus on law enforcement against sex trafficking and a much needed increase in funding to fight the traffickers in some parts of the world. Thanks to heroes, such as Siddharth Kara whose efforts to expose the prevalence and weaknesses of the sex trafficking business, I believe, have been vital to combating it.

What about the “honor” killings, the lack of education, and child marriage when it comes to young girls? Why would we support nations that make allowances for, or barely prosecute men who would kill or imprison a woman for the “crime” of being gang raped? I believe that we, the citizens of the developed world, have as much an obligation to promote and fight for the freedom of all women, not just all men.

This is one of the reasons I served in the military, and fought in Afghanistan; the freedom of women throughout the region and the world should be considered as noble a cause for intervention as the freedom of ethnicities and tribes from the oppression of a regime. If we have stood idly by as millions of women have been brutalized in the name of culture or religion and yet supported small militant groups of the marginalized minorities in the name of freedom, then I am ashamed.

So often I look at what we have sacrificed for so many years and yet the same horrible abuses of women and girls goes on. Many of these abuses or even a secondary status for women are written into the laws even of the very countries that we went to free from “oppression.” We cannot allow ourselves the excuse that it is their culture any more than abolitionists of mid 19th century America could make the excuse that it was the culture of the plantation owners to keep slaves.

It has been shown time and again that for a country, a society or a people to advance, women and girls must be given equal status, control over their bodies, access to education, and must be protected under the law from the abuses of men and the “cultures” that would enslave them.

-Mike