On World Humanitarian Day, I think of all the remarkable people who risk their lives to save the lives of others. I celebrate their contributions, and mourn the violence, imprisonment, suffering and loss of life many of them have had to endure while trying to make the world a better place for all of us. I think of their family and friends who love and admire them so greatly, they tirelessly support them, fight for them, defend their human rights, and often suffer grave consequences to their own health and lives in doing so.
I think especially of family and friends of Dr. Tarek Loubani and Prof. John Greyson, arrested by Egyptian authorities on Friday, August 16, 2013. They are experiencing a horror, far too similar to the horror I experienced almost exactly four years ago, when my precious friends Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, were captured by the Iranian regime. Dr. Loubani is an emergency room physician in London, ON, and John Greyson, an associate professor at York University and director of York’s graduate program in film, in Toronto, ON. Both have long-standing admirable records of global humanitarian work.
I have worked with Dr. Loubani, and Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care to advocate for health care for refugees in Canada, collaborating in a National Day of Action just two months ago. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care released the following statement:
“Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care is deeply concerned by news that one of its members, prominent London, Ontario emergency physician Dr. Tarek Loubani has been arrested in Egypt. Dr. Loubani was in Egypt providing volunteer health services and was arrested along with a colleague, York University Professor John Greyson. Egyptian authorities should be aware of Dr. Loubani’s extensive work providing medical treatment to people in need in the Middle East. He is also well respected in Canada for assisting refugees — including refugees from the Middle East — in securing public health care in this country.”
York University has released this statement:
“York University is extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of John Greyson, an associate professor at York University and director of York’s graduate program in film, as well as Tarek Loubani, an emergency room doctor from London, Ontario, who have been detained in Cairo, Egypt.”
According to the Facebook group launched by family and friends, “Tarek and John were in Cairo on their way to Gaza, where Tarek was to participate in a medical collaboration that has been established between the University of Western Ontario and the Emergency Department of Al Shifa Hospital (Gaza’s largest hospital), and where John, a professor at York University’s Department of Film, intended to conduct preparatory work for a film project.”
Justin Podur, a close friend and colleague of Dr. Loubani and Prof Greyson, elaborates that Dr. Loubani was traveling to Gaza as part of a group of Canadian doctors “to train physicians there in advanced cardiac and trauma life support.” Prof. Greyson joined him to “explore the possibility of a film project about the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza.”
On World Humanitarian Days 2010 and 2011, I fought to build global support for the freedom of humanitarians Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, held hostage by the Iranian regime for 2 years and 2 months. As WHD 2013 approached, I was preoccupied with the fourth anniversary of the day Josh, Shane, and Sarah were captured. Though I was not always conscious of it, my body, mind, and spirit felt the anniversary approaching. My trauma symptoms increased, I felt a sense of foreboding…my body remembered what I went through four years ago, and each annual anniversary of their captivity.
Now, I am experiencing a déjà vu I would prefer not to. I am compelled to campaign to prevent Dr. Loubani and Prof. Greyson, and all their loved ones, from experiencing the unnecessarily protracted and painful detention we did. I call on Egyptian authorities to free them and enable them to continue their critical humanitarian work. I call on the Canadian government to ensure that happens without further delay. And I call on you to keep up the global call for their freedom.
Please sign this petition, and join this Facebook Group to stay informed of progress, calls for action, and a Facebook Page and website coming soon. Every action you take makes a difference to their spirits, the ability of their loved ones to keep fighting, and ultimately to their freedom. I know from experience.
Note: A website has just been launched for the latest news and calls for action. Please share it far and wide.
Re-posted from Huffington Post
Happy Canada Day! Today is Canada’s national holiday marking the enactment of the British North America Act, which officially united the country. Towns throughout Canada, as well as communities of Canadian ex-pats around the globe, will be celebrating their country’s nationhood with parades, carnivals, fireworks, and more! Canada is known for producing some amazing things – from maple syrup to amazing hockey teams to Frank Gehry. What we love most, though, is the country’s majestic, unbridled beauty, as captured by these stunning photos. Enjoy!
What do you love most about Canada? Will you be celebrating Canada Day?
On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old Pakistani student and education activist, was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Like people around the world, I was stunned. My shock quickly turned to outrage at such horrific violence against a young girl courageously speaking out for girls’ right to education.
I thought about the significance of education in my life, and my very early recognition of its significance. When we migrated to Canada from Kenya, I missed my nursery school so much, I begged my mother to take me to school. I was below the cut-off age to start Junior Kindergarten, so my mother was unable to enroll me. That didn’t stop me. I kept pleading until my mother begged the principal to let me start. He did. I wouldn’t be the person I am without that opportunity; without my right to education being honoured.
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Gardiner Museum for a preview of “Bullets to Butterflies”, an interactive art exhibit by Canadian artists Unaiza Karim, Saba Syed, and Huma Durrani, inspired by Malala Yousafzai. I was deeply moved by the artists’ passion for the issues underlying Malala’s story, and their determination to transform violence into peace and positive change.
I felt strongly that the exhibit was an ideal fit with the mission of my agency, Farahway Global, that engages the global public in action for human rights and mental health. In the process of planning with the Centre for Social Innovation – Regent Park, where Farahway Global is based, Artscape requested that we host the exhibit in the Daniels Spectrum South Lobby for Asian Heritage Month. In anticipation of our Closing Reception on Thursday, May 30, 2013, I interviewed Huma Durrani about the show.
FNM: What inspired you to create this exhibit?
HD: After the shooting of Malala, there was a strong desire to do something more about the education problems in Pakistan. Saba and Unaiza have children who go to Sunday school together, and while their children were in class, they discussed putting together an art show about Malala’s courage, to raise awareness and funds for schools in Pakistan. When Unaiza told me about the project, I immediately asked to join forces with them.
FNM: Tell me about your professional backgrounds that enabled you to come together and create such a beautiful, powerful exhibit.
HD: All three of us are artists, and were referred to each other by other friends who insisted we needed to connect.
Saba Syed is a Canadian artist specializing silk screening based in Port Perry, Ontario. Saba completed her Fine Arts education at York University in Toronto, Canada. She runs her own silk-screen printing studio and teaches art to local children.
Unaiza Karim graduated with her Masters degree from The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London. She has specialized in the Art of Illumination from the Islamic tradition and was professionally trained in Turkey.
I am a Canadian artist based in Mississauga. My work is inspired by Islamic art, geometrical patterns and a modern contemporary aesthetic. The majority of my work is done by hand cutting delicate Japanese papers into intricate and precise designs.
FNM: How does your exhibit address girls’ right to education?
HD: All of our pieces address different issues related to the story of Malala Yousafzai – her courage, her mission to speak out for all children to be educated – and also to the education crisis that currently exists in Pakistan. Many people, including Pakistanis who are living abroad, are not even aware of how serious the situation is. We wanted to bring attention to this emergency, and do something about it. The beauty of this exhibit, is that all three artists have different specializations that they are bringing to this show. With the combination of detailed illuminations, silk-screen prints, and delicate paper cuts, the show brings together different art forms and ideas addressing a single issue.
FNM: Can you tell me more about each of your unique pieces in the exhibit?
HD: In Saba Syed’s piece, ‘See Me’, the young veiled child provokes ideas of gender and religion. ‘See Me’ challenges our assumptions that this is an image of a veiled girl but is in fact of a veiled boy. Saba explains, “I wanted a piece that would remind us that we should always question our ‘truths’. Often understanding only comes when we are open to the realization that all may not be as it seems.”
In relation to the Taliban, the veiled boy represents their inability to see themselves within the feminine. Encumbered by this mindset, this creation of ‘The Other’ creates a separation that justifies the use of violence on those who are ‘different’. The butterflies symbolize metamorphosis; that although Malala’s was shot down for her views on the rights for girls to an education, she survived. Her message actually spread and has gathered many supporters.
Unaiza’s piece, ‘The Invitation “Dawat”‘ is based on traditional book arts. In this style, each page is carefully decorated to prepare the reader for what is written on the page they are looking at and what is to come. Many medieval Qurans begin with the ‘garden page’ – a visual feast of natural world themes, symbolism and geometry that sets the tone and serves as an invitation to continue.
Unaiza elaborates, “I offer a similar ‘dawat’ (invitation) in this traditionally ornamented page, inviting the onlooker to read, to learn and to grow – every child’s right.”
My piece, ‘The Butterfly Effect’, is made from hand cut Japanese paper. It speaks to the importance of education for all, regardless of gender. The first revelation of the Holy Quran is this verse: “Read, in the name of your Lord” – Qur’an (Chapter 96, Verse 1). Reading is an act of worship and has been encouraged in Islam for all people. The holy verse is hand cut into the wings of the butterfly. This piece presents that when the feminine power takes hold and implements the command to read, the power that she will hold and share with the world will have an impact on all that surround her. The extent of the effects of women having knowledge is boundless.
FNM: How have you made the exhibit interactive?
HD: We wanted to engage people coming to the exhibit, and make them a part of the art. Our bullet-ridden wall was designed by Saba Syed. In our first exhibit, we invited attendees to answer the question “If you could trade all the bullets in the world for something else, what would you trade them for?” and insert their responses in the bullet holes.
One of the most thoughtful responses was from 7 year old Zain Rashid:
“I would trade for more schools. Because if there are more schools, people will learn more, and when people will learn more about peace. When there is more peace, there is less fighting.”
FNM: You say you wanted to “do something” about the education crisis in Pakistan. I am sure that your exhibit inspires the same desire in others. How are you integrating the potential for such action into your exhibit?
HD: At the show, we sell prints and other items of merchandise to support schools in Pakistan. For our first show we supported Developments in Literacy (DIL) Canada, and for our second show we are supporting the Hope Uplift Foundation. Both of these organizations are doing incredible things to address the education crisis in Pakistan. In December, we were able to raise $500 for DIL Canada. We have also set up an Etsy page where people can buy prints with partial proceeds going towards schools in Pakistan.
Schools, museums, libraries, and other organizations and spaces can host the exhibit to continue reflection, discussion and action on these critical issues.
FNM: Thank you so much for sharing your powerful work and thoughts. I hope this piece will encourage people to join us at the Bullets to Butterflies Closing Reception: May 30, 6-8pm, South Lobby, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E., Toronto, ON. I also hope people will participate in the exhibit on Facebook and Twitter.
UPDATE: The exhibition has been extended to June 10
Reposted from The Huffington Post
“Inclusion is the art of ensuring that people feel welcomed and celebrated for exactly who they are. This means that all differences (e.g. age, sexual orientation, class, faith, ability, gender identity size, ethnicity, etc), are viewed as unique gifts that an individual can offer to a group or community.” ~ Serena Belliveau-Townend, Grade 10, Carihi Secondary School, British Columbia
So many of us around the world fought so hard for so long for Josh, Shane and Sarah to have the FREEDOM to do things that most of us take for granted; like the FREEDOM to get married. And now they have that FREEDOM.
Having spent years speaking for them, fighting for them, because they did not have the FREEDOM to even do that, it has been difficult for me to absorb that they now have the FREEDOM to do so much more. It was difficult for me to believe that Shane and Sarah’s wedding was not just a dream, like many FREEDOM dreams and visions I held onto to get me through the darkest days of their captivity.
But I did everything in my power to drink the dream in, to feel the FREEDOM coursing through my veins. There are still cracks and fissures in the FREEDOM dream that I struggle to understand. One thing, however, was very clear to me over the wedding weekend. Sarah, Shane and Josh are moving forward with their FREE lives. I no longer need to speak for them, fight for them, be there for them. I no longer have to have my ‘Free the Hikers’ identity consume all other parts of my life, all other aspects of who I am. I can finally live my life and speak for myself. I can BE myself.
During the campaign, I was a Muslim woman calling on what Shahla Khan Salter of Muslims for Progressive Values refers to as the ‘un-Islamic’ regime of Iran to FREE my friends. Now I find myself defending the human rights of my fellow Muslim women in Canada. On December 12, 2011, Canada’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced a new federal policy banning Muslim face coverings from Canadian citizenship ceremonies. I participated in Huffington Post Canada’s first of their Great Debate series, stating:
“Completely banning Muslim face coverings is a very simplistic response to very complex issues. Rather than addressing the issues Kenney raises of “isolating and separating a group of Canadians,” such drastic policies, that don’t take complex contexts into account, further isolate and separate already marginalized groups. Rather than honouring “commitment to openness and social cohesion” such policies demonstrate a lack of commitment to openness and social cohesion.”
In an article I wrote in The Mark, I highlighted the mental health consequences of such exclusionary policies:
“This kind of discriminatory practice in Canada – sanctioned by, and, in fact, originating from, the government – has real and worrisome implications. Evidence from around the globe indicates that immigrants and refugees who experience racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination are at increased risk of developing mental-health issues and illness.
My own extensive research shows that this is especially true for immigrants and refugees who experience systemic discrimination at the hands of the Canadian government. This risk is magnified for those who have already been persecuted by governments in their countries of origin, as they may be re-traumatized by the experience of discrimination in Canada – especially when they reasonably assume that they have fled danger to settle in a safe new home.
It is not difficult to understand how the experience of being forced to remove a veil might impact a Muslim woman seeking citizenship in Canada. We know that Muslims face distinct risks in the context of the increasing Islamophobia around the globe since 9/11.”
I highlighted the incongruence of the discriminatory policy with the vision of inclusion of diversity outlined in the framework for Canada’s first mental-health strategy, released by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) in 2009. Now I can further highlight the incongruence with the Mental Health Strategy itself, just released on Tuesday, May 8 2012.
Michael Kirby, Past Chair, David Goldbloom, Chair and Louise Bradley, President and CEO of the MHCC state:
“The publication of this document represents the fulfillment of a key element of the mandate that was conferred upon the Mental Health Commission of Canada by the Government of Canada in April 2007.”
The Strategy, “developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, in close consultation with people living with mental health problems and illnesses, families, stakeholder organizations, governments, and experts” states:
Policy and approaches—on everything from child and youth services, to housing and social benefits, to the criminal justice system, to workplace health and safety— need to incorporate an understanding of what works best for the mental health of the population. Working to promote mental health and prevent mental illness should become an everyday activity across all sectors of society.
I hope that Canada’s federal government, particularly it’s Immigration Minister, heeds this call from a Commission it created to develop a Strategy it mandated.
This post is fifth in a series of seven posts to mark 7 months of FREEDOM for Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us who fought so hard for their freedom. Each post features one cause that I am currently working on and encourages you to support the cause with concrete actions. Stay tuned for the rest of the series focused on human rights and mental health issues.
Farahway Global, my initiative inspired by my Free the Hikers experience, is a non-profit organization that engages the global public in action for human rights and mental health. Now that I have spent such a significant part of my life fighting for freedom and justice, while not feeling free myself, I am compelled to continue my efforts to restore balance to the world through Farahway Global.
“Truth triumphs over untruth. Love conquers hatred.” ~ Gandhi
I started this 7 Causes in 7 Days blog series last week to mark 7 months of FREEDOM for Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us who fought so hard for their freedom. The number 7 is significant in many cultures around the world, often considered lucky. My birthday falls on November 7 and I was always told that being born on the 7th day of a month was considered very lucky in my community. So passing the 7 month of FREEDOM feels like an especially significant marker. It feels additionally significant because this past weekend, I attended the wedding for Sarah and Shane, with Josh as their best man.
Witnessing the realization of the vision Shane and Sarah had more than two years ago, while still held hostage in Iran, was as surreal as their capture and captivity. The contrast to their captivity was dramatic: ALL outdoors with their ceremony and reception in a field surrounded by mountains, followed by brunch the next day on a beach overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific ocean.
It was surreal but synchronous, foreshadowed by a blog, “Synchronicity Gives Me Strength”, I posted in November 2010:
“There are so many parallels between the experiences and feelings of Sarah, Shane and Josh on the ‘other side’ of those seemingly insurmountable walls and ours on ‘this side’. There are so many examples of us knowing what they are feeling and vice versa, so many examples of us communicating across the abyss. We are two rivers of life, with intertwined tributaries, flowing alongside each other. Our rivers will meet and converge into the crashing waves of an ocean of collective emotion when Shane and Josh are freed.”
The crashing waves of emotion were certainly present within me. Unbelievable joy celebrating their FREEDOM to finally realize the vision they desired in January 2010, when it seemed like an impossible dream, crashing against deep pain over the absence of people who were central to the fight for their FREEDOM and their final release. I felt additional pain over the inability of others facing grave injustices to engage in similar celebrations of reunion and union.
I thought of Hamid Ghassemi-Shall , a Canadian citizen wrongfully imprisoned in Iran for four years this month, and his wife Antonella Mega, who are unable to see each other let alone celebrate together. Marina Nemat, former political prisoner and author of Prisoner of Tehran, connected me with Antonella, who I discovered was a neighbour of mine in Toronto. We have now spoken over the phone a few times and plan to meet in the near future. When we first spoke, I was struck by the kindness, compassion and sensitivity in her voice. I was amazed to hear that come through despite her suffering an unimaginable heartbreak for an unimaginably long time. I felt an immediate and deep connection with her because I can imagine her suffering and she can imagine mine more than most. Anyone overhearing our conversations would assume that we have been close friends for many years. When I told her how I felt about our connection, she agreed right away, referring to it as “simpatico.”
When I told her I was going to be away for a few days for Sarah and Shane’s wedding, she gushed “Oh, that’s lovely! Please pass on my very best wishes to them. I am thinking of them as people around the world are thinking of them.” I am in awe of her ability to be so genuinely thrilled for them when she has been denied the ability to be with her beloved husband for so many years. Perhaps she knows, more than most people ever will, just how precious love is.
Please speak out for justice for Hamid and support Antonella in her long fight to bring her husband home where he belongs.
Take Amnesty International ‘s recommended URGENT ACTION and urge Iranian authorities to stop the execution of Hamid Ghassemi-Shall.
A friend was in great distress, describing in an email how she and her husband had just lost 80% of their retirement nest egg. By the second sentence, the tone of her email had shifted. She then described the process of letting go of the tsunami of fear that had washed over her. How she stayed focused on each emotion, asking: “What is the message here?”
I saw my friend at a party last night, with her husband. She came up behind me while I was dancing, and gave me a quick hug. As she and her husband moved in beside me to dance, I noticed that her husband was giving her a shoulder massage at the same time that they danced to the African beat of a band from
Shake out that stress! Or as a poster Kevin wrote, in response to a Judith Warner article on Being and Mindfulness: “Let go/don’t let go. There’s an asteroid out there that could care less. Eat what you want, dance, zone, scream….”
One thing that those of us who are not caught up in the financial meltdown mess can do for our friends, and others, is to stay open and hopeful.
As humans, we can’t imagine all the possibilities that could evolve out of a single situation. We can, however, lend a little positive energy by imaging the best possible outcome for those under stress. For example…:
Today, hanging out at my favorite Saturday morning coffeehouse with friends, I learned about a new home foreclosure ruling. The ruling allows people who have received a foreclosure notice to stay in their home, even if they can’t pay the mortgage, until the bank produces the original mortgage document.
“The family may have to hire a lawyer to send a formal request to the bank,” she advised. In
For those enduring the stress of the financial meltdown, we can pray: “May all have shelter. May all be fed. May all be free of fear.”
Then we could suggest they consider a move to