Resilience: Nurturer and Warrior. 


Happy International Women’s Day! I’m thinking of the brave women fighting Isis on the front line, the women whose work is never done, the ones who never sleep or get a day off, to those fighting oppression and lack of equality, the women who struggle to be heard, those who are silenced, the mothers, the sisters, the daughters, the wives, the ones who make sacrifices every day, the ones who got a say in life and the ones the ones who didn’t.

Photograph by Veronique de Viguerie, September 6, 2014: A Kurdish combatant breast feeds her child. For me its one of the most memorable and striking images from the fight against daesh which had circulated on social media, highlighting the resilience of women and their innate ability to be both nurturer and warrior.

Stand Up For Kobane.

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In the sweltering summer of 2014, I and tens of thousands of others from all backgrounds took to the streets of London to march in solidarity with the Palestinians. As innocents lost their lives, a feeling of utter helplessness led me to stand up and be part of a collective voice which called for an end to the bloodshed.

Now as Autumn befalls London, I feel a familiar sense of horror stirring in my gut. As the so called ‘Islamic State’ leaves a trail of death and destruction across Iraq and Syria, their advance has showed an utter disregard for humanity. Their brutal ‘convert or die’ method has been absolute; there has been no mercy.

During the infamous London Riots, London’s Turkish / Kurdish community were almost alone in seeing off troublemakers from their doorsteps. This, I have come to know, is the Kurdish mentality – you stand together honourably in the face of trouble.
As Isis besieges Kobanê and other parts of Rojava, it seems the YPG and YPJ are not fighting alone; queues of Kurdish civilians have joined the resistance in a bid to defend their land and people. But their tired weapons and sense of honour may not be enough. Angry citizens just over the border in Turkey who want to help are held back, pitilessly dispersed by water canon spray from the Turkish authorities. A slaughter looms on the horizon and the people desperate to prevent it watch helplessly from a no-mans-land as the Turkish military idly get into position. Coalition strikes may not be enough to save Kobanê as Isis fighters engage in street battle.

With anger amongst Kurds at boiling point, explosive protests have spread across Turkey where more than 20 protestors have lost their lives at the hands of the Police. Simply dismissed as ‘supporters of the PKK’ by the government, the protestors message is lost. A right to defend is their main objective. Shouldn’t a right to survive should be everyones objective? As other protests take place by Kurdish diaspora in Europe, I don’t see diversity in the crowds. I can’t see the ‘Not In My Name’ placards, or people of all faiths with a common love of humanity. I want to scream and shout because I feel cheated at the lack of awareness, support and because Isis has been allowed to arrive on Europe’s threshold. Moreover I cannot sit back and watch another slaughter. I am angry at the apparent lack of empathy by the Turkish government, a NATO member, and the hushed British MPs, media and other influential people who had so much to say about other conflicts. I am not Kurdish but as a compassionate human being it is my duty to stand up in solidarity with the brave resistance in Kobanê, and inthe name of humanity.

Today thousands of protestors gathered in Westminster in solidarity with Kobanê and as I suspected non Kurdish protestors were but a handful. I did however speak to one, Aubrey, who said he was absolutely horrified at the lack of support from outside the Kurdish community. For me its not about supporting what the YPG / YPJ / PKK stand for, its about inaction when innocent people are faced with a massacre. Without urgent action, Kobane and other towns and villages in the region are destined to become the modern era Srebrenicas; we can only pray history does not repeat itself.

Hope for Humanity?

Gaza

As I navigated my son through the Saturday shoppers on Kensington High Street, I cursed the impending downpour. As we neared Kensington Gardens I could hear collective murmurs rising above the noise of traffic, then I began seeing placards and chequered scarves; another protest outside the Israeli embassy, a regular occurrence in the Royal Borough and one I have witnessed on many occasion in my 30 something years as a resident.
As we crossed the road to avoid the protest, I caught my son’s little face looking up to me for reassurance, his wispy hair blowing in the wind. I scooped him up and patted him on the back. Passing the barricade of police officers, my son innocently gawked at the protestors across the road, mouth wide open in amazement. To a toddler, the ruckus must have seemed terrifying. I too stopped, trying to capture the gist of what this latest protest was about; sure I keep up to date with current affairs and had some idea, but I didn’t know that by simply observing this time round would have such an emotionally profound effect. A group of Orthodox Jewish men stood on the front line of the protest, participants I really didn’t expect to see. Proudly holding placards and Palestinian flags, they politely refrained from hollering. Seemingly at ease, they appeared fearless in the face of what potentially could be perceived to the ignorant eye such as mine, not only an anti-Israeli rally, but an anti-Semitic one too.
I took a photo of the group and tweeted it assuming that it would be lost amongst the social media giants. Little did I know that within hours my photo would become viral; retweeted, shared and liked hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of times all over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
With the rise of social media, distressing images are at every log-in even if you do not seek them, images so shocking and terrible that you have no choice but to feel sickened, helpless and angry. They continue to divide people at a time we so desperately need to be unified. As a mother, evidence of murdered children turn my stomach. Seeing raw sufferance moves me to tears and I often ask myself
‘Who is responsible for this?’                                                                                                                                              Bombarded by hateful captions and comments, the finger of blame is pointed this way and that. Entire creeds and faiths are vilified and perceptions are embedded into the psyches of those seeking answers. Hate is voiced and in other cases retaliation is actively sought. Yet it is massively important not to tar everybody with the same brush for regular civilians cannot control the actions of their own government.
For the average person such as myself, I cannot fully understand the horror that enrobes the people of the region. For me, hardships were few and fixable. There was always hope.
It’s easier to bury my head in the sand and believe it doesn’t affect me. So why then was a lump forming in my throat? Why was this protest having an impact? We had only gone out to feed the ducks! I look at my son who is still engrossed by the protest; I care because of him. I care that he should know compassion and injustice. I care that my son is accepting and shouldn’t dwell on differences spurred on by an age of rage riddled social media. I care for the sake of humanity and all the sons and daughters who are suffering. I care because I am human; I cannot see would be refugees with nowhere to turn, barricaded by land and sea. Nor innocent men women and children at best impoverished, at worse wrapped in shrouds, victims to a sky which rains bombs and bullets.
The protest was an emotionally charged collective voice with an urgent message. There is a terrible thing happening at this moment; the heart of the Mediterranean is bleeding. There are lives being needlessly spent in a crisis of humanity, one we all can no longer ignore. I saw them standing shoulder to shoulder in Kensington, Muslim, Jew and Christian and I was deeply moved, not as an activist, but as a mere observer.
For hours after the protest, I received messages from friends telling me that my photo had been shared by various people, some very well well-known. Some speculated it to be a fake, others were crying out for the rest of the world to see it. Why was one photo so massively relevant? Because it shows that humanity dwells in the heart of everyone, regardless of religion and race. People have had enough of an eye for an eye. With an eye for an eye everyone went blind. We may not have the immediate solution for the peaceful co-existence of Israelis and Palestinians, or for chipping away layers of hate stretching back for generations, but if we begin to stand together there is at least some hope for humanity.

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One week on and there is another protest outside the Israeli embassy with supporters numbering near thousands. A helicopter circles the area and the press is out in force. An iconic London double decker is at a standstill just metres from Kensington Palace and protesters climb aboard and out onto its roof, waving Palestinian flags victoriously. One determined reporter is pushing through the crowd, I see his eyes fixed on the bus and sure enough within minutes he is balancing precariously on its roof. There is a huge roar from the crowd as an Orthodox Jew, rumoured to be a Rabbi, also climbs on top, placard in hand. The collective voice is gaining strength and they’re begging the world to listen.

Not-So-Modern Ideas For Today…

Mevlana

 

One of the most basic human needs is to feel accepted. In London, where diversity is abundant and individualism embraced, we are blessed to be able to express ourselves.

So why, even in this liberal society do we continually strive to adhere to perceptions of normality and shy away from revealing our own differences for fear of being judged? Society’s expectations of how we ‘should’ be, or what we ‘should’ be doing, or what we ‘should’ have achieved by a certain age plays on our subconscious. Perhaps we are not as modern or free as we like to think.

We’re bombarded by media reports of horrific hate crimes from every corner of the globe. Their motivations may be as menial as a difference in creed or faith, sexual orientation or political view, the ‘daring’ act of dressing as one pleases, for refusing to conform. Genocide, honour killings, random attacks; all point to the refusal to accept or embrace difference. There are alarming levels of intolerance in this ‘modern’ era.

I was in Istanbul when I discovered an idealistic concept of acceptance and tolerance in the most ancient of thoughts, mounted on my sister in law’s wall.

Dilek, the eldest of Murat’s five sisters, lives in an apartment block amongst the extended family of her husband. I immediately identified her as she waited for us outside her doorway on our first meeting; she has the same wiry raven-coloured hair and deep brown eyes as her brother.

“Welcome! Hoşgeldiniz!” She led us inside, past a huge evil eye charm, up a crumbling staircase and into her modest home.

“Please.” She motioned to sit down and disappeared momentarily to prepare Turkish coffee.

“What is that?” I asked, pointing to a stone plaque on the muted pink wall.

“Ah…That’s a Mevlana quote. You may know him as Rumi.”

Amid delicate strokes of calligraphy twirled a Dervish, turning blissfully with his eyes closed. He seemed utterly content.

“I’m not sure how to translate what is written…Look,” Murat searched on his iPhone and showed me a translation.

‘Come, come, whoever you are.

Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.

It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.

Come, yet again , come , come.’

I looked at Murat. “Acceptance?”

“Exactly.” We both smiled.

Jelal ad-Din Rumi was a Persian philosopher, born in the 13th Century. After his death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Sufi order which uses his poetic prose as inspiration for its teachings.

It seems we can look to the not-so-modern wisdom from the heart of the Middle East for ideas of acceptance, tolerance and contentment.

In the final weeks of my pregnancy, I couldn’t help but notice another of Rumi’s poems in which he addresses the unborn, whether it be the physically unborn or spiritually is a matter of interpretation.

‘The world outside is vast and intricate.

There are wheat fields and mountain passes,

and orchards in bloom

At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight

the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.’

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