Tuesday, 6 June 2017

British Public Need to Know How Theresa May is Supporting Terrorism

On 26th March 2015, a Saudi led coalition, supported by BAE Systems and backed by the British government, began an aerial bombardment of Yemen. Day and night, almost without pause, the bombardment continued for over 2 years and is still ongoing to this day, 6th June 2017.

It has seen the obliteration of entire areas, destroying schools, hospitals, factories, food warehouses, farms and thousands of homes. They have targeted weddings, funeralsmarket places, refugee camps, an Oxfam storage facility, and one night an airstrike even hit a center for the blind.

"I saw people scattered on the floor. They were dead. I saw only half bodies…my clothes were burnt, my hands, my legs, and my face. I was completely burnt." 13 year old boy explains to Save The Children

The bombardment has resulted in thousands of people killed, a large percentage of whom are women and children, many of whom were buried in their own beds. Even paramedics have been targeted as they have tried to save the injured. Thousands more have sustained horrific injuries. I know this because I followed this tragedy from the day the bombardment started. I attempted to document some of the crimes on a blog but soon there were too many to keep up.

These children were from a poor family who were hit by an airstrike. Their parents and siblings were killed outright, however they sustained terrible burn injuries, and suffered on their own for hours before help could reach them. Later they sadly died in hospital. This is not an isolated incident, there have been many similar such tales of horror.

I don’t often tweet these graphic images and I avoid tweeting the never ending stream of the dead, out of respect for the families, but also to not provoke too much anger. Some people cannot tolerate seeing such images, they feel angry and helpless. Some of our vulnerable youth feel outrage at our society for supporting such war crimes and may be pushed towards an extreme reaction that could result in further acts of violence, and I don’t want to see any more lives lost. I want the killing to end.

UK weapons are being used by the Saudis to attack the people of Yemen. More than 80 companies across the UK  have applied to export military equipment to Saudi Arabia.  BAE has been supporting the Saudi regime not only through the sale of weapons and jets, but also they also have 5,300 employees working in Saudi Arabia supporting the Saudi air force and navy. Approximately 100 British military personnel are based in Saudi Arabia assisting Saudi Arabia's armed forces, our own military train the Saudis in targeting and are said to be sat in the targeting control rooms with the Saudi coalition as airstrikes have been launched. Theresa May has stood shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi regime, defending their actions, despite repeated calls from Oxfam, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and many other organisations, calling for the arms sales to stop and for an independent investigation into war crimes– our own government’s response has been to ask the Saudi regime to investigate themselves. Not only is Theresa May not planning on stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia any time soon, she is actually planning on deeper military ties.

Not only have thousands been killed through British made bombs being dropped on Yemeni homes, our government has supported a resolution at the UN which has seen the implementation of a land and sea blockade over Yemen, which means the only planes or ships getting into Yemen are the ones that the Saudis authorise. For a country that imported 90% of its food and 80% of its medicines, this was inevitably going to drive the country towards starvation and disease. To speed up the process, the Saudi led coalition them bombed a key port, which was essential to import aid, destroying several cranes that were crucial for lifting cargo ashore.

Now more than 2 years into this tragedy we see the results of these actions, as the country falls into famine and the health service collapses. Millions are in need of aid. Hundreds of thousands are suffering from acute malnutrition and people are now literally dying from starvation. To make matters even worse, Yemen has recently been hit by a cholera epidemic that has so far affected hundreds of thousands of people and is resulting in people dying every day. The level of mass destruction, forced famine and disease that could have been avoided is now bordering on a genocide.

This is one little girl that we helped to save from starvation in Yemen. Many others don't get help.

This is currently the world’s biggest tragedy that the UK public is largely unaware of. When questioned regarding our support for the Saudi regime, the British government frequently argue that we are helping fight terrorism. But what they fail to tell you is that the Houthis in Yemen, who the Saudis are fighting, are actually the enemies of AlQaeda and the so called Islamic State. The coalition bombardment of Yemen has even seen  Al Qaeda fighting alongside the Saudi led coalition, enabling them to grow in strength.

So British support for Saudi actions in Yemen is not fighting terrorism at all, but we are actually supporting and helping breed terrorism. In addition, we are strengthening the Saudi regime, which is known to export extreme ideologies around the world that most Muslims worldwide disagree with. British support for the Saudi regime and their war on Yemen is not only wrong, it is a clear risk to our national security.

In addition, the bombardment of Yemen is displacing millions more people. We haven’t yet seen huge numbers of refugees from Yemen reaching us here in the UK, largely because it is so difficult to get out of the country, but eventually they will come, and we will have our government to blame for that.

So why does Theresa May and her government continue to support the Saudi regime, and continue to allow the sale of British weapons to the Saudi government? Apparently, it is good for our economy. Since the bombardment of Yemen began, BAE profits have increased. Thousands die in Yemen, but BAE shareholders make profits. Which, apparently, results in creating more jobs for the British public. Is this right? If you are fine with this, then vote for Theresa May, vote Conservative. If you want change, vote for Jeremy Corbyn, because he is frankly the only politician who can and will stand up to the Saudi regime. He is someone who will not sacrifice all ethics for BAE shareholders to get richer.

This complete disregard for all ethical and moral values displayed by Theresa May and her Conservative government is not the kind of British values that my grandfather fought for. I am not a Labour party member. The last time I voted Labour was before the Iraq war and I honestly thought I would never be able to vote for them again after that. But Jeremy Corbyn is a man of great integrity who has stood up against injustice, and for peace, all through his career, despite huge criticism for doing so.

The issue of the UK general election will have implications on the state of world affairs for generations to come. It is not often that we have the opportunity to vote for someone like Corbyn. I really do see this as a lifeline for humanity, for our children, and I desperately hope we don’t waste it. Please don’t be swayed by idol promises to make you richer. This election is about something much bigger than your bank balance. Please vote for humanity.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Rohingya campaign commitment to peaceful action

On 2nd April 2017, the #WeAreAllRohingyaNow campaign put out a statement condemning violence, in response to Ata Ullah allegedly stating that if 1.5 million Rohingya needed to die, if they didn’t get their rights, then all would die.

Since then, it has come to light that this he may not have said that at all but this may have been a false translation. If this is the case, I hope that the Ata Ullah will contact Reuters to insist they issue a statement to correct any misunderstanding.

As a result of our own statement, our Rohingya co-ordinator Nay San Lwin has left the campaign, his reasons explained here: https://twitter.com/nslwin/status/848891220185231360  I apologise for putting him in a difficult situation regarding our press release, which I should have consulted with him beforehand. Nay San works tirelessly for the Rohingya cause and is also a good friend, I hope perhaps he may reconsider, but I do understand and respect his reasoning.

Our campaign remains committed to peaceful activism and condemns violence. I am not Rohingya, I am living comfortably abroad, and have no right to tell the Rohingya people how they should take their struggle forward as they fight the constant threat of genocide.  However, I feel I owe it to my Rohingya friends to be clear of my serious concerns regarding what would likely happen next, should an approach of supporting such an insurgency become the consensus.

I fully support the right to self-defence, but believe an insurgency approach in the case of the Rohingya is not self-defence but putting the lives of many in extreme danger. Already we have seen perhaps 1,000 people killed, hundreds raped, hundreds arbitrarily arrested, many tortured, thousands of homes burnt, and tens of thousands of people displaced, as a result of an attack on a border guard post. The military have an 11 point plan to get rid of the Rohingya, written in 1988, but as far as we are aware still in existence today, where point 1 is to label the Rohingya as insurgents in order to justify their elimination. It therefore seems like mass suicide to go down that path.

Of course it is the Rohingya people themselves who will decide what route they take, but I must at least offer my concerns for consideration. To say nothing, knowing well how the military are looking for the slightest excuse to further clear the Rohingya from their land, would be irresponsible on my part.

If the Rohingya did decide to embrace an insurgency, this campaign would be wasting its time. Whilst multinational corporations will, with some encouragement, support the rights of the Rohingya who have embraced peaceful means to resolve their situation, they will not support any groups linked to any insurgency, and we would be faced with no option but to close this campaign.

In addition, my own type of activism, would do absolutely nothing to change the outcome, and I would therefore be better devoting my time to where I can make a difference. This does not mean to say I would not, of course, be supportive of the Rohingya’s plight, but it would mean I would not be actively campaigning with the same devotion as there are other pressing causes that I would be more effective working on. I have also heard from others who support the Rohingya campaign who have said the same. I am explaining this just so that my Rohingya friends might consider this fact as they move forward.

However, I am encouraged by several messages that I have received from Rohingya people living in Arakan, in the affected area, in addition to some Rohingya from outside Myanmar, who have expressed support for our statement urging people to condemn violence and commit to peace, and on this basis feel we can push ahead with our campaign.

We are busy now working on our next actions, drawing up a shortlist of multinational companies that we will be approaching next, and also meeting with potential partners to work with us on this cause, and we very much hope you will join us in our actions.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Real Shahid King Bolsen

He first contacted me to ask about the Rohingya, specifically what had been done so far in regards to multinational corporations. It was one twitter DM, that I could easily have missed or overlooked, I do get quite a lot, but I took the time to reply, as best I could, without checking who it was that was talking to me.

I told him that there had been an action to lobby shareholders of Chevron, and found him the link, but that was all. I agreed that more need to be done in that area, really much more. That I had briefly started work on a Boycott Burma campaign back in back in 2012/13, but I had got cold feet on that and backed down. But if we were to start lobbying companies it needed more people to help. I was working flat out just trying to log data of the atrocities taking place, and although lots of people do offer help, few really manage to put in the hours it requires. He might be able to help, he told me, over the next month he had some flexible time. And then I don’t know what he said next, but whilst discussing the concept of the power of corporations, after just a few sentences, it was like a lightbulb had suddenly been turned on.

Anyone who has been working on the Rohingya issue over years will tell you just how incredibly frustrating it is to try and get any results at all. Aung San Suu Kyi has no power, we are told, she is controlled by the military. The military don’t care what the UN says, the UN does nothing. Our politicians visit and whisper gentle words of concern, but they are constrained by business interests. Really Myanmar for the international community is mostly just one huge business opportunity. The Rohingya are an unfortunate happening, but business opportunities must take centre place for the good of every country’s own self-interest.

It doesn’t matter how much you shout, how much evidence you provide, nothing stops the military from eventually going about its plans. We may at times halt some massacres, we may at times stop the burning of some homes, but slowly and surely this genocide unfolds, and nothing it seems is going to stop it. Because the military hold the power, and the military own the business investments, and new developments are all that really matter.

So if it is only business that the military cares about, why are we not going straight to the businesses themselves to call on them to act? They have far greater leverage than any politicians do. They are the ones negotiating terms and conditions for developments. It makes perfect sense to call on them to use their powers for good.

This writing is not about the Rohingya campaign, it is not about lobbying multinational corporations, it is about Shahid Bolsen, and I am explaining here something of the insight he passed on to me, in literally less than one minute. I got it. And I knew instantly this would change everything.

I actually sat at my desk stunned. “Wow!” was going through my head, “Just wow!”. I tried to tell Shahid that he didn’t need to explain any more, really, I totally got it. In today’s world, we spend our times lobbying governments, when increasingly it is not our governments who hold power, it is corporations: so why not lobby them instead?

Ok, so if I’m going to work with this guy, I better check out who he is, I said to myself. So I’m asking him via Twitter, “Can you tell me a bit about your background?” as I’m Googling it anyway. And that was when the next “wow” hit me, and it wasn’t in a good sense. “I served 7 years in prison in the UAE for manslaughter” he said… “Ok” I said, trying hard to keep an open mind as I started reading report after report of all the terrible things he had apparently done … “Yeh, I’m just googling you now,” I told him, but I knew he knew I already was.

What I read actually made me feel almost sick, mostly with fear. In fact, my instinct told me to run a mile: to stop talking to the man, to delete him from my conversations, even to remove him from the history on my browser, and that is exactly what I was doing even whilst talking to him. And yet, there was something that compelled me not to run but to listen.

He tried to explain that a lot of what has been written about him isn’t actually correct, which I imagine he has had to try and explain over and over again to different people. He told me about his following on Facebook, his ideas that became of interest to young people especially in Egypt, and the subsequent slurs on his character he received in the media, who tried to link him to acts of violence. Well ok I thought, I can believe that, I’ve seen it so many times; when a person is being effective in activism, powers will often launch vicious media attacks to destroy a person’s character, so this wasn’t of huge concern to me. But if you do know want to know more about that then I recommend you read what Shahid had to say about that himself, rather than pay attention to the fear mongering media.

But on a personal level, the issue of his past crime was troubling me, and then he explained how he was sentenced to death, and had no legal help, so had to defend himself, and somehow managed to save himself the punishment of execution. He had been through a lot, that was for sure. Guilty or not, he had paid a heavy price for whatever it was that he was involved in.

Over the next few days I resisted the urge to flee and continued the discussion with Shahid as I debated in my mind if I could work with him or not.

Now the matter of the death penalty has always been of concern to me, ever since I saw a documentary as a young teenager, regarding a man that was sentenced to death. The lawyer in the documentary was Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, who massively impressed on me his commitment to humanity. Here’s one of my favourite clips of Clive talking, you might take a minute to listen:

His message is, “anyone is worth more than the worst 15 seconds of their life”. I’d previously listened to this video over and over again. Something about it really touched my heart, but I wasn’t exactly sure what. It was during this time of internal conflict, regarding what to do about Shahid, that this video came back to my mind. And I realised then, if I couldn’t live by the standards of my name (Hanan = compassion), then I was just another hypocrite, no different from all those that I criticise. Whatever had happened in Shahid’s life in his past, he had paid a heavy price for that, and it was between him and God, and who was I to judge? (even more so that I had so few facts – and for certain had also read a pack of lies).

I put it behind me. What was done or was not done was decided by a court of law and he served his sentence; finished. All that actually mattered to me now was the person he is now. And what I had come to understand through our conversations was that he is a man of exceptional insight, as well as someone that was happy to be debated with, and someone of incredible honesty.

I came to learn that he had been advised to change his name when leaving prison so that he could build a new life, but he refused. He told me that what happened was a really, really horrible event. It happened, and he can’t change that, and he can’t change who he is, and he prefers people know who he is and he will face the consequences of that, instead of him pretending to be someone else that he is not. I respect him for this.

It’s not all I respect him for. Really I could write pages on how inspirational he is, from our time working together on the campaign, and the little stories he shared regarding his time in prison, but already I have written too much. Shahid is someone that provides not only exceptional insight and guidance on strategy, but understanding, wisdom, patience, perseverance, and great humour. He commands respect from people who have known and worked with him for years. He is genuinely loved by a lot of people.

He proof reads all our media releases and communications for the Rohingya campaign, advising on how to not sound aggressive. His biggest fear he says is that someone might try to hijack the movement to use it to provoke violence – of this he is extremely cautious and takes every opportunity to ensure we do all we can to avoid such a thing. It really is absurd that the media tries to associate him with inciting violence, when everything he has been saying over the years (should you take the time to properly listen and not latch on to short phrases taken out of context) is to encourage people to try other more peaceful means of protest as an alternative to violence. Perhaps it is having seen what happened in Egypt, and the manipulation that took place, he has become all the more wise to ensure the Rohingya campaign is protected from any such interference. Our objective is to keep this a positive campaign: one of reaching out to organisations to encourage them to do right, rather than anything aggressive, and we would much rather avoid boycotts even, if they can be avoided.

What is it that energises the people who work with Shahid? I believe it is something to do with his clarity of thought, his vision for a solution to the problems in this world, and his commitment to justice. It is rare I meet somebody who wakes up in the morning for the struggle against injustice, as do I, and works through the day to achieve something towards that better world for which we strive, and then can’t sleep at night for thinking things through on how we can and must do better. I can honestly say it has been a  privilege to have had the opportunity to work with Shahid on the Rohingya campaign and his impression on my own work in a short space of time will stay with me for a lifetime.

And I know I am not the only person who feels like this. Recently I have been able to connect and work alongside some of his inspirational friends, one being his colleague Radha Stirling who is extremely well respected in the UK (and beyond) for her excellent work as CEO of Detained in Dubai, for whom Shahid has been working the past two years.

When I go back now and read again some of the reports written about him, knowing much more about him than I did then, I see what a grave injustice the media has done to him. Once they trash someone's name, for whatever reason, the damage that can do to a person and also their family is immense and can last a lifetime, as Google now makes it near impossible for people to rebuild a life and move on from one's past. The 'right to be forgotten' I believe is an important one that I have come to learn has now been granted to people in the EU, and here's a handy tool that can help people with that: https://forget.me/ but outside the EU there is currently no such right to move on in your life.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Tips to Cope with the Stress of Activism

A beautiful place to help heal the troubled mind.

As an activist, there's no avoiding that the stuff we deal with is horrible, and will hurt, at times a lot. If we weren't sensitive people we wouldn't be acting in the first place, so in a way the pain is unavoidable. But developing coping mechanisms is essential to not burning out.

Here's some of my tips on how to deal with the stress, and to not let the horror get you down (for too long):

  1. Set objectives, actual tasks to do. It helps to focus on the task rather than dwell too long on the atrocity. Keeping busy really does help! Try to allocate specific time slots to work on specific tasks, this way you will not feel like you are wasting your time and you will still be able to cope with the rest of your life. If the task is something you can do methodically, without too much thought (like at the moment I spend a lot of time data logging of atrocities), then putting on some music in the background whilst you are working can help keep your spirits up and stay calm.
  2. Force yourself to take real breaks. Easier said than done. My secret here is having a husband that really hates my activism so forces me to do other things when he is here, like watch some TV series about some far out world. This I would never dream of doing myself, I would think of it as a waste of time, but really it is exactly what I need, to turn my mind off the campaign work and then I come back to it refreshed.
  3. Try to keep physically healthy. Eat healthily rather than drink gallons of tea and eat chocolate when stressed - I'm still struggling to achieve this, trying hard though! And take exercise. I got to the point where I was going for a short daily run in middle of the day which was a wonderful way to distress - but I have to say recent events with the Rohingya did take over when all kicked off in October - I thought it was just going to be for a few weeks so I stopped the exercise and hardly left the computer, but now realise this is going to be a very long battle, like with Yemen, so am getting back to my exercise routine. On a Monday I go out for a run with a group of ladies to talk about kids and 'normal' things (plus I let off a little bit of letting off steam to a close friend whilst running) this brings me back into the 'other'(real?) world. It's so important to keep the balance.
  4. Do other leisurely activities. Gardening I love, digging a hole, connecting with nature. Taking photos. Walks on hilltops. Walks in woods - the colour green is very healing. Breathe deeply. Listen. The sound of a river running renews my spirit. I spend time with my children doing really daft things. Even housework helps. Pegging the washing out is a chance to listen to the birds. Taking the bins out at night is a chance to gaze at the stars. Don't beat yourself up about happy moments, focus on them, concentrate on them, and during those times, don't think about the bad things, but appreciate your blessings more. This will make you even more determined to work hard for those who have been denied peace and security in their lives.
  5. Do other work. I do actually have another job, my web development. It's really difficult to keep on doing this alongside my activism, but I think it does help me to keep balanced. Stopping sometimes to bury myself in code I think does help stop me going crazy/crazier. It also helps me to come back to a problem with a fresh mind and new ideas on possible paths to solutions.
  6. Rejoice when you get the successes. They may seem small, but recognise them and always remind yourself that what you are doing is making a difference (even if not apparent at the time).
  7. Pray or meditate. For me praying really helps. As I am a Muslim I stop 5 times a day for a short pause. It's a little like a meditation break, and a time to say what is on my mind, and what I need some help with. These timely breaks help me to remember the time too and so not get lost on just one issue, which might be something really awful that wants to stick in my head.
  8. Don't carry everyone's problems on your shoulders. One tip I was given early on in campaigning that I feel was excellent advice and something I always recall: Remember that the problem you are dealing with is not actually your problem. Although you feel empathy, that's not actually your dead child, it's someone else's. In a way, don't indulge in the misery, be strong, for that person. This was told to me by a campaigner I once worked with. She told me the story of how her son was beaten up really badly and it was  traumatic to see him like that, but the way she got through it was by telling herself, even when it was her own son, it wasn't her pain, she didn't need to feel what he was feeling, she just needed to be strong. So it's that kind of mindset I try to develop, without becoming cold hearted, but to remind myself: this isn't actually my pain. It's like a pain limitation coping mechanism.  
  9. Cry sometimes. Of course all these points are great in theory; I've got stronger over the years. At the beginning I used to cry a lot, maybe that's a process we just have to go through. It does get easier, you do learn to cope, if you persevere. But sometimes a few tears brings some relief, so don't be afraid to let it out when you need to.
  10. Talk. Talking (or texting/chatting) always helps. If you feel terrible, maybe have a chat with someone else working on the campaign, they might have been feeling the same, and together you can give each other the support you need.
Here's a little blog I put together, Pictures for Peace, of some of my favourite photos that I have taken over the years. It is a place I sometimes go to, to focus on something beautiful, after looking as so many terrible images. Every now and again I add a new photo, when I feel inspired. I hope it may bring you some healing too.

If anyone else has any tips to share on dealing with the stress of activism, please post as a comment, I would love to share your experiences too. My apologies to all those living in places of insecurity, or under oppression or war; my little struggle is so insignificant to what you are facing every day, and I am constantly amazed at how you manage to cope living under the pressures you do.