Blog Archive

Blog Archive – June, 2014

We do not want to send our children

June 30, 2014

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“I’ll go anywhere, even to America.”

It was 1994 when I heard these words, spoken by an Iraqi lad, Yasser. Yasser was  barely 20, plodding sadly from embassy to embassy. He was in Jordan when the vicious US-led world embargo, only four years into reducing that country to shambles, was forcing Iraqis to escape waves of disease, deterioration and death generated by the siege. Several million mainly young and educated Iraqis would follow this despondent young man through the embargo. Many more left after the US invasion in 2003. Today, with new instability threatening the entire country Iraqis continue that reluctant quest.

“Even America”. !! Not a statement anyone, least of all Americans, wants to hear. In those two words, Yasser uttered so much about his dilemma. What haunts me until today was his tone:--deep lament.  They are not words we can associate with those silent boatfuls of refugees, lines of women and men at visa offices, human trafficking, and UN camps. Yasser spoke to his sadness, his reluctance, his anger.

American citizens, the majority of whom are themselves descendants of emigrants, are currently debating the fate of tens of thousands of children stumbling across their southern borders. Yet how many can comprehend Yasser’s sadness? How does the United States so rapidly become a hallowed and privileged goal to those of us now comfortably lodged here?

We should remember that U.S.A is a goal only when one’s own homeland is wracked by insecurity, where parents are unable to see any future for their young. As Alexandra Early observes of an ongoing Salvadorian exodus: “The vast majority of Salvadorians, like other Central Americans, don’t want to migrate to the U.S. They love their families and communities and would much prefer to stay … in their own countries”. This same applies to Iraqis, etc.

For Salvadorians, Iraqis, like Syrians, Hondurans, Vietnamese, Sudanese and countless other petitioners at our borders, migration is not a first choice, neither for youngsters nor adults. But parents, year after year, seeing such bleak prospects in their homeland, reluctantly apply all their energies and funds to sending away their children.

Speaking to a colleague in Syria only yesterday, she informed me her daughter is now in The Emirates (UAE). She sighed: “At least our children may be safe”. But then, reflecting, she added, “Look how we seem happy that our children are not here beside us”.

This is repeated in millions of homes across the world. War, persecution, poverty, and exploitation are the source. Often, whether in Honduras, Vietnam or Palestine, we know it’s a product of ongoing self-interested, heartless U.S. policies and unholy alliances, and America’s search for unlimited economic gain.

In the case of Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, places I’ve written about, émigrés depart thinking it’s a temporary move. Then strife at home, and in neighboring countries where other family members fled, continues. A decade on, they find themselves sponsoring loved ones to join them. A generation later, the process continues. Yasser ended up in Australia and I wouldn’t be surprised if, at 40 now, some of his brothers and sisters and their families are with him there. Yet, for every family who secures resettlement, thousands of others remain—because they can’t leave, or to secure their home and their homeland, somehow enduring, rebuilding, hanging on and believing it is worthwhile, that conditions might… somehow, improve.

The holy month of Ramadan has arrived—a time, alongside the prayers, contemplations and breaking-fast when families feel so much joy being together. I doubt if there is one among Muslims worldwide who doesn’t feel the absence of our children or our parents, our husband, our wife, our mother, our beloved brother and sister, during these days.

[ We do not want to send our children ]

Voting in Syria

June 04, 2014

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

What could be the point of Syria’s presidential election? 

Why would anyone watch the voting in Syria yesterday? If I were a refugee, waiting on tables in Lebanon, would I? If resettled in Boston, would I? If on an extended visit with my daughter’s family in Kuwait, would I? Would the main candidate, incumbent Bashar al-Assad, himself even follow the polling?

Globally millions line up outside voting stations to elect a new president, members of parliament, local councils, party candidates. Some contenders run unopposed; some come from behind to surprise everyone. Some are first timers, some veterans fighting for a tenth term. Elections happened in fractious Ukraine, another was just completed in post ‘Arab spring’ Egypt. We watched Indians choose a new leader a fortnight ago. Newark, New Jersey had its mayoral election last week.

Syrian citizens should have their chance too, shouldn’t they? Surely they watch what others do across the world and want to have a go. Capable women and men who know something about governance and who dare to challenge an incumbent should get a crack at leadership, shouldn’t they? Their supporters need the thrill of a hard-fought campaign, of rallying together for something new, of believing their representative can do better than others.

But nothing of that sort is happening in Syria. Rather than this election making a real difference, it seems to be what analyst Fawaz Gerges suggests: -- a coronation of Assad. “It’s a celebration of his ability to survive the violent storm and basically go on the offensive," said the London-based professor.

Although a few Syrians are listed as opponents in yesterday’s presidential election, everyone knows they pose no challenge to al-Assad. Surely there was no one waiting earnestly for polls to open, and later watching anxiously as ballots were counted late into the night.

All that we outside observers— perhaps those inside the country too-- can ask is: why? Why bother with all the fuss; why invite the international scorn this exercise will likely elicit?

Perhaps the Syrian regime is looking at Egypt where the chief candidate, ex-general Abd el-Fattah el-Sisi, after winning handily with 96.1 % of votes cast, was assured by Washington that it would continue to work with him. It surely makes the US and its allies, all rabidly anti-Assad, look disingenuous about their concern for democracy. Whereas president Obama long ago arrogantly told the Syrian leader he must go, he takes a radically different position about the Egyptian commander–in-chief. That Bashar al-Assad, newly anointed, can use this election to quell unrest and unite his people, as his counterpart el-Sisi probably will do in Egypt, is doubtful.

El-Sisi has managed this election as a sanction for militarily acquired power, and he may succeed… with international support. Al-Assad cannot play the same game. This election is no cause for the Syrian leadership to enjoy any confidence, and no reason for Syrians to expect some respite from their war.

[ Voting in Syria ]


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