Reaction to World News

Westgate

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Since yesterday and I’ve been closely watching the #westgate situation on Kenyan TV (thanks to live streaming) and twitter. It is proving to be very difficult to focus on anything else at the moment considering there are still some hostages held in Westgate mall for more than 33 (not 38, typo in previous post draft). As I ordered my coffee in Caribou, I thought of those people who ordered at Artcaffe yesterday – some for the last time. As I wiped the coffee stains off the floor, I thought that someone would soon be given the grim task of wiping blood from the floor of the mall. There was nothing I could focus on and so I did the one Kenyan thing I still do; I went running.

I ran until my muscles went sore, thinking of the mother who was devastated even though her child had missed a bullet by an inch because it bounced back and killed someone else’s child. Then I ran some more. I ran until my sides ached thinking of the pregnant woman who died with her baby and the pregnant woman who gave birth under such stress then I ran some more. I ran until I was out of breath, thinking of the man who had the chance to escape yet chose not to because he wanted to protect other’s children, then I ran some more.

As I ran, I thought of how sometimes we wish we can run away from it all, the bloodshed and misery seeping out of the media, the angry questions we ask ourselves, “What is the world coming to? Whatever happened to humanity? How can people do these things then look themselves in the mirror? How can they look at their own children every night knowing they’ve killed someone else’s child?”

It’s hard to wrap your mind around all that happened. These were ordinary people leading ordinary lives, hanging out with friends, shopping for clothes, savoring the different tastes in the mall’s restaurants. Some might not even have wanted to be there, but they had to because of a business meeting or a Nakumatt job that put a roof over their head or the Junior MasterChef competition that was taking place at that time. One second people were taking pictures of themselves and posting them on Instagram and the next second tragedy struck, and those ordinary people suddenly became extraordinary, holding each other’s hands as they escaped, rolling the injured out in shopping trolleys making sure they were propped on toilet paper rolls to cushion their backs, taking care of someone else’s children even when their own were not in sight (because they were hoping that someone out there was like them and taking care of their children).

So after running for a few kilometers, I stopped. I realized that no matter how hard we try to run away from such heartbreaking news, we just cannot. It’s like we’re running on a treadmill where we start and stop at exactly the same spot. Whether the news happens in Baghdad or Pakistan or Syria or Kenya, it will always hurt whenever we hear about innocent lives lost, so maybe we need to stop trying to run away, and instead learn from those ordinary people who had become extraordinary during this incident; those who waited in line to donate blood, those matatu drivers who didn’t charge the passengers who were going to donate blood, those who already raised 11 million KES for Westgate victims in 6 hours, those who volunteered to make sure the police officers, media people, volunteers are well-fed and well-hydrated, and even those children skating to spread the word….

Image from twitter (@RobertAlai), skating kids urging people to donate blood
Image from twitter (@RobertAlai), kids skating urging people to donate blood

My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this barbaric attack and those who are still stuck inside. I pray for peace and a world where this senseless bloodshed would stop and instead people would focus on building a more beautiful world empty of wars. And as the President Uhuru Kenyatta beautifully said (despite grieving his own personal loss during this attack as he has lost his nephew in this attack), “We are as brave as the lions on our Coat of Arms.”

So, don’t let these people divide Muslims from non-Muslims because as Kenyans, #WeAreOne.

A last word, @KenyaRedCross twitter handle announced, “Due to public demand we continue with the #WestGateMall Blood Drive tomorrow (Monday 23rd) at Uhuru Park from 9am.” So if you haven’t donated blood, think of the 175 people wounded, one of whom you could save. To Donate via M-PESA to Westgate Victims paybill number 848484.

#KenyaKwanza

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Image from Human Rights Watch
Image from Human Rights Watch

Some people still have terrible nightmares from such images; people raising a Panga as they stand silhouetted against a raging fire. Some survivors still hear the screams of their families as their villages were razed to the ground. There are many people out there still living with the pain of 2007, when the post-electoral violence made Kikuyus and Luos kill each other just because the president came from one tribe and the other tribe thought that the votes were rigged. It is sad to see how human beings keep on doing this to each other not realizing that the only math of war is subtraction. War represents the only equation where negative multiplied with negative will still give a negative answer.

#Kenyans_on_twitter (AKA #KOT) have been active on social media discussing the campaigns as elections are coming up on March 4. Recently Kenya held first-ever presidential debate which had Kenyans across the world glued to their screens -be it TV, computer, or phone -as it was streamed live online as well. There are 8 tributes, each vying for the Presidential chair. Now for those non-Kenyans, it’s important to note down that one of the tributes- Uhuru Kenyatta – is facing trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. The crime he is being accused of is orchestrating the violence after the 2007 poll.

Now he’s running for president #only_in_Kenya.

But these are only allegations, we are in no position to judge. Let the ICC do their job and come up with a conclusion, and whatever the verdict we would accept it.

And that’s the attitude we have to carry into the elections this time. Whoever wins should be accepted by all. Online, there are many people encouraging Kenyans to learn from the last elections and vote peacefully this time around. There was even a message from President Obama for Kenyans to stand together, as a nation, for peace and progress, and for the rule of law. As a blogger, I’m sending my message out as well; vote peacefully, select the leader who is willing to go the extra mile to solve the issues that the average Kenyan go through, and leave tribalism behind.

You can follow the peace campaign hashtages #StandforKenya #KenyaKwanza #Neveragain among others. Happy voting!

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Blood and Tears from Syria to India

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A friend of mine witnessed a massacre in Syria on Dec 29th, 2012 and this was her comment, “We witnessed a massacre today in Tal Refaat village in Northern Aleppo. A Russian fighter jet from the Assad army dropped a TNT barrel on a number of houses, just 500 meters away from us. The impact was so strong that our windows shattered. It was the most unreal, disturbing, and horrendous thing I’ve been through in my life. Taking the life of 18 civilians and wounding tens others took a matter of seconds. What killed me most, is how the people reacted, like it was so normal. While I broke down from shock, they were the ones comforting me. They continued with their lives, with children playing & laughing in the streets. After two years of hell, it has become nothing for them, picking body pieces from the streets, and burying entire families that were once part of life in this village.
This is just one story out of hundreds happening everyday in Syria, yet the world goes on, watching from afar, and caring less everyday. I am trying to express how I feel right now, but no words can do the job. What I know for sure is that God will not leave those people alone. Their amazing faith, smiles, and bravery will crush any army… and the whole world will owe us a huge apology someday, one which we will never, ever accept.
may the martyrs of Tal Refaat, & all Syria, RIP.”

It’s different when you hear about it on the news and when someone sees the actual thing and relates it to you, even though if you think about it, it shouldn’t be different, because the end result is the same; entire families are being eradicated and there are men, women and children buried underground as people around us are trying to find tickets for the biggest New Year’s Eve parties in town.

On another front, the rape victim in India had died in Singapore. Her story had triggered violent protests in India as people demanded greater protection for women from sexual violence. As the reporter in gulfnews stated, “The tragedy has forced India to confront the reality that sexually assaulted women are often blamed for the crime, forcing them to keep quiet and discouraging them from reporting it to authorities for fear of exposing their families to ridicule.”

But the sad truth is, this problem is not just in India. This reality is present in many Arab countries, where assaulted women are forced not to report the attacks so as not to bring shame to their family. Which brings us to Jordan’s Penal Code Article 308, the terrible law I learnt about upon reading @nuramer’s blog, which allows allows rape charges to be dropped if the perpetrator agrees to marry his victim for a period of at least three years. So not only are attackers allowed to walk free, they are even rewarded by taking a wife home, this is just preposterous!

Another question I’m wondering about is; is the woman’s consent taken even taken into consideration in such cases? Personally, I don’t know.

But article 308 totally takes the ‘post’ out of the ‘post-traumatic  stress disorder’ because the trauma will be continuous as rape victims would relive the attack day-in day-out. A story of a 14-year old rape victim who was being forced to marry her perpetrator caused outrage in Jordan six months ago, but I am left to wonder how the story had ended.

So yeah, as people are trying to figure out which of the 63 new year’s eve parties to attend in Dubai, maybe they need to take a second or two to think about humanity’s downward spiral and how to somehow stop it by bringing out the best in people, spreading kindness, doing good deeds, acknowledging the good being done to us and paying it forward.

Syrian Children are Children Too

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When a gunman entered the school and shot dead 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut, the breaking news was a heart-breaking news. We were all saddened by the story, parents of six year old children hugged them tighter, and people asked one question over and over again, “Why?” Why would anyone want to hurt six year old children? Innocent children who didn’t understand evil until the day they experienced it firsthand that day? To find six-year-olds with multiple shot wounds was so devastating, that the Medical Examiner commented,  “I’ve been at this for a third of a century … but this probably is the worst I have seen or the worst that I know of any of my colleagues having seen,” he said.

But in Syria every news is heart-breaking news. Yesterday, dozens of people have been killed and many more wounded in a Syrian government air strike that hit a bakery where a crowd was queuing for bread. Many of the victims were women and children. Just because there aren’t reporters lurking all over Syria, taking interviews about the children’s favorite color, hobbies, or cartoon characters doesn’t make them any less important.  Their mothers suffered the back aches associated with carrying them around for nine months. Some of them watched their children say the first words, and curl their tiny fingers around an adult hand, and smile for no particular reason. And some of them watched their children die from gun wounds and disappear under the rubble of collapsed buildings, forever gone.

And it’s not just Syria.

19 November 2012: one of the top stories from Gaza was , “Four children killed in single Israeli air strike.”

17 December 2012: 10 Afghan children killed in bomb explosion in eastern province.

And that’s just the stuff that happened in the last one and a half month.

But the thing is , in in Syria, Palestine, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, th0se children are grouped into numbers to reduce airwaves and sound bytes, and any resulting shockwaves that could reverberate across the world. We don’t get to hear their names, and their favorite holiday events, whether they liked to color with crayons or preferred paint. Some of them lose their parents and siblings in the same attacks, and so their names would just remain on the birth and death certificates, if those even existed.

So Syrian children are children too. They are not collateral damage. Palestinian children are children too. They are not future terrorists. In other words, Muslim children are children too. They are not a threat to anybody, especially when they’re carrying their pacifiers. So let’s not forget them.

I wanted an image of a child from Syria and many of them showed dead bodies that were too disturbing. (Image from http://theglobaljournal.net/news/world/unicef-hundreds-of-children-killed-in-syria.html)
I wanted an image of a child from Syria and many of them showed dead bodies that were too disturbing. (Image from http://theglobaljournal.net/news/world/unicef-hundreds-of-children-killed-in-syria.html)