Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Zaina Erhaim

Syrians oppressed by dictators, jihadists, and bombed by the West: Who is the terrorists?

At first we didn’t recognise our friend. He had lost more than 10kg and had trouble standing up. His face was the colour of a ripe lemon, his clothes as filthy as if he had just climbed out of a tomb. Could that really be Mohammad?

Syrians have been oppressed by a dictator and jihadists, and bombed by the west – and you call us terrorists?

A week ago the 30-year-old pharmacist had been abducted in an Aleppo suburb by Islamic State. Most of his friends had assumed that Mohammad (not his real name) was gone for ever.

“No one goes into ISIS prisons and comes out alive, especially those who are accused of being secularists,” his friend Rand said. Mohammad is a devout Muslim, but for Isis a secularist is simply anyone who dares stand up to them.

Barrel bomb aleppo province

The aftermath of a barrage of barrel bombs dropped by forces loyal to Syria’s President Assad in Atareb, ia town in Aleppo province. Photograph: Abdalghne Karoof/Reuters

The irony is that while Mohammad is a dangerous secularist in the eyes of Isis, the west sees him as a dangerous Islamist.

After Isis occupied some Aleppo suburbs (Eastern part), Mohammad and many other medics decided not to leave their home town but to continue helping local people – despite the risk and personal sacrifice involved. Yet they now find themselves treated as terrorists wherever they go, simply because they have come from Isis-occupied territories.

Last month Mohammad and a group of doctors were not allowed into Turkey, although their passports are valid. A border guard told them to “go back to your Islamic State”.

In a way Mohammad is lucky. Not only did he manage to run away from an Isis prison, he also doesn’t have to travel abroad, where the entire world would treat him as a terrorist until proved innocent. “You are all terrorists to the Americans,” the manager of a bank in the Turkish city of Gaziantep told me yesterday, explaining the new ban of US dollar transfers to Syrian-held accounts

At least she bothered to explain. Last summer I received a call from the American consulate in Istanbul telling me that my two-year visa was cancelled. Apparently they were not authorised to give me the reasons why.

I travelled to the US twice last year with an organisation that is registered there, and I have an international press card, a valid visa to the UK and a track record of working for the BBC: all that didn’t save me from the suspicion of being a potential terrorist.

A friend who works in the US told me that I probably wouldn’t have faced these problems living in Turkey. “But you live inside Syria, so you are most probably a criminal in one way or another.”

When my flight landed at London’s Heathrow airport last December, police came on to the plane and called for a woman with an Arabic-sounding name. I panicked and started deleting unveiled pictures of myself on my phone. It took a few seconds to remember that I wasn’t at an Isis checkpoint in Syria.

So I closed the photo gallery and went on to delete some of the patriotic anthems on the device, in case their Islamic messages could be taken as proof of me being a terrorist. Then another reality check: the name called out wasn’t mine. Later, in the terminal, I cried my eyes out.

Well, maybe they are right, maybe I am a terrorist?

A terrorist who decided to leave her work as a broadcast journalist in a highly respected media outlet to go back home and help people under attack from Assad’s barrel bombs. I am a terrorist who is attached to life yet chose to face death on a daily basis, in the name of freedom and human rights.

I have 7  friends in Isis prisons, kidnapped long before the rest of the world took notice of this terrorist group. I lost others who were fighting Isis in January 2014, trying to kick the militants out of Edlib and Aleppo provinces.

Abo Younis, the sweetheart doctor of Bustan al-Qasr medical centre, was executed with 40 others in Aleppo’s eye hospital after it was taken as a base by Isis in 2013. In addition, there are all the great friends who have died under torture in Assad’s prisons, or while resisting his tyranny.

And now, with our city divided by warring factions, the skies above our heads are filled with terror too. An 11-year-old relative of mine was recently killed by a coalition air strike in Ein Shib, a suburb of the city of Edlib.

Ahmad had lost his father last year, so he and his sister were living with their grandfather, who is a high-level member of the al-Nusra Front. Since the coalition strikes started, 35 fighters from Aleppo and two big battalions from Edlib have joined Isis.

Amid all the geopolitical wranglings and fear of returning jihadists wreaking terror in Europe, it is the stories of ordinary Syrians that are being forgotten: people who were terrorised first by a dictator who wanted all those who didn’t support him dead, then by foreign jihadists coming from all over the world to occupy our country, and now by the “collateral damage” of coalition air strikes. And you call us terrorists?




Inspirational Women from Middle-East

1. Zaina Erhaim is a Syrian journalist who was living in London before she returned to Aleppo to risk her life under barrel bombs to cover the Syrian conflict. This year she won the Reporters Without Borders freedom prize.

The Paris-based media rights group singled out Erhaim for her “determination and courage” in covering the conflict in Syria, deemed to be the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

“After living in horror for all these years, it is normal to feel abandoned and forget there is someone listening or reading our stories who actually cares,” Erhaim told RSF in August.

“Such initiatives make me feel that my Syrian colleagues and I do matter, and that our hard work is appreciated. It gives me power to go on in my daily surviving battle,” she added.

2. After Israeli settlers and the army stormed the al-Aqsa site in October a group of Palestinian women took it upon themselves to defend al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

The group of women, commonly referred to as Murabitat [“steadfast fighters”] were banned by Israel from Islam’s third holiest site.

“Many Muslims abandoned it, so the women decided to defend it,” Halawani, one of the women, told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

“Women became the primary defence line at al-Aqsa, which disturbed and intimidated the Israeli police,” she added.

“We are subjected to violence on a daily basis, be it verbal or physical. But suffering is nothing new to Palestinian women. We have always been wives, daughters, sisters or mothers of prisoners or martyrs. We suffer all the time.”

3. Mahienour al-Massry is an Egyptian human rights activist and lawyer and one of 51,000 political detainees imprisoned in Egypt.

“Not a single struggle was off limits to Mahienour: human rights, student rights, women’s rights, labour strikes, legal aid, anti-police brutality, housing for the poor, corruption, anti-military trials, heritage preservation, right to public space, state-led land reclamation from the poor, climate change, street children’s rights, Syrian refugees; the list goes on,” wrote Egyptian academic Amro Ali.

“Mahienour would rush to defend victim’s rights—regardless of their affiliation—and she attended the funerals of people she had never met. Her presence sent a message that an issue really mattered and raised protestors’ morale.”

Other prominent female activists released from Egyptian prisons this year include Sanaa Seif, Esraa al-Taweel and Yara Salam.

4. Nudem Durak is Kurdish folk singer and teacher who was imprisoned for ten years in Turkey for singing in her native language.
She was charged with promoting Kurdish propaganda.

“Singing in our mother tongue and passing the music down through the generations honours us,” she said in an interview to al-Jazeera plus, shortly before she was detained.

“I am in trouble for following my dreams,” she said.

Durak is from the town of Cizre near the Syria border where clashes between Kurds and Turkish security forces have escalated this year.

(A terrible year for the Kurds in this town, suffering consecutive security shut down and blockades. Erdogan ofr Turkey claimed that he killed 1,300 Kurds this year)

“You either go to the mountains and join the guerillas, or you go to prison,” she said. “I don’t think I will do either of them.”

5. Radhiya al-Mutwakkol

Radiya is a Yemeni human rights activist documenting atrocities on both sides of the Yemeni conflict that has claimed thousands of lives.

Her father, a politician and academic, was assassinated by unknown gunmen last year.  However, that has not deterred her from continuing to advocate for human rights in Yemen.

She is married to another human rights activist and founded Muwatana Organization for Human Rights.

Amidst the conflict, she also emphasizes the particular oppression that women have faced from the warring parties.

6. Zeina Daccache

Daccache is a Lebanese woman who sought to give a voice to those who have been excluded, marginalised and silenced in a divided society through drama therapy.

Working alongside female prisoners, they produced the play Scheherazade’s diary, and Daccache created a second documentary depicting daily life in prison and women’s place in Lebanese society.

This followed her successful documentary “12 Angry Lebanese“, concentrating on male prisoners.

“Nobody understood what I wanted to do… I think they thought I’d give up trying to get permission, and in the end, they were the ones who gave in,” Dannache said, commenting on the difficulties of gaining access to the prison.

She focused on issues such as rape, forced marriage, drugs, adultery, and murder. Her documentary looked at those things never spoken about by those who have experienced them.

Daccache later continued her initiative in Iraq.

7. Meherzia Labidi
Labidi is an Ennahdha MP and the first woman to hold the position of deputy speaker of parliament in Tunisia.  She has become known for running parliamentary sessions with a firm hand.

Before the revolution, Labidi lived in France and worked as a translator.

“I’m indebted to the revolution, the youth and the martyrs who scarified their lives for me to be able to return to Tunisia, after living in exile for many years,” Labidi said.

Since her return and involvement in political life, Labidi has taken time to speak to the people. Her conclusion is that they have found “a degree of freedom to voice their concerns, as the former regime had denied them the right to express themselves”.

“You cannot imagine the injustices they try to convey to me,” she said.

Last year she helped introduce a clause to protect women’s rights into the new Tunisian constitution and in 2015 lead the government’s committee for women, children and the elderly.

Labadi was one of many Tunisian women, of differing political and ideological backgrounds, who are prominent in the political life of the country.

8. Sara al-Drees

Sara al-Drees is a lauded Kuwaiti novelist and teacher who isn’t afraid to speak her mind.

This year she was issued with an arrest warrant for tweets insulting the prophet Mohammad.

Drees, commented in a tweet saying that she was returning to Kuwait and that she had done nothing wrong.

In 2013, a Kuwaiti appeal court upheld a 20-month prison sentence on Drees for posting political comments on Twitter.

She was described as Kuwait’s “first political detainee”.

9. Niloufar Ardalan

Ardalan, the captain of the Iranian national football team, missed the Asian Cup because her husband refused to let travel, which is allowed under Islamic laws enforced in Iran.

Later the same year her husband also refused her to go to the world championships in Guatamala.

Ardalan fought her case court, and the judge allowed her to go to the world championships.




January 2023

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