Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “United Nations”

She is Malala and I am Crying

For the last month I have been utterly engrossed in the audio book I Am Malala, the story of an incredibly brave Pakistani girl who stood up to the Taliban for the rights of all girls to have an education. She almost paid for it with her life when at 15 she was shot in the head on a school bus from close range, and even had to endure a smear campaign after she survived.

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On Friday, it was announced that Malala has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with the Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi, who has worked endlessly to save children incarcerated in human trafficking and advocate for their rights. That a Pakistani and an Indian have received the award together is a powerful message. Announcing the prize in Oslo on Friday, the committee chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, said it was important for “a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism”

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Perhaps the best quote I saw came from Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General:

“With her courage and determination, Malala has shown what terrorists fear most: a girl with a book.”

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Here was my first introduction to Malala and why she inspires me each day to empower people to realize human rights and eradicate poverty in the developing world. There can be no doubt that the common key to all these problems is education and Malala shines as an example to us all.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and three more novels in the epic fantasy Wycaan Master series. Shalev has also authored three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes and The Accidental Activist. He swears there is a connection. Learn more at: http://www.alonshalev.com.

 

 

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Crossing The Line

I realize that this post is not going to sit well with the audience of Left Coast Voices, and Roger, who already pointed towards the fact that big business is probably salivating at the prospect of making big bucks from another war, presents a scary scenario of those most motivated to crank up the war machine.

I get it and I am pretty sure he is right. But I am not sure that is reason enough to prevent intervention to not step in and stop the Syrian dictatorship from using chemical weapons again on anyone.

In the 1990’s I walked around with a gas mask in Tel Aviv, sealed up a room, participated in the drills, and sat in a shelter wondering if my family and friends were alright – if the missiles landing around us were regular scud missiles or tipped with chemicals.

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As a soldier, I trained with gas mask and in gas released scenarios. I will never forget the labored breathing and the sweat that gathered on the gas mask making it so difficult to see. I remember the sarcastic jokes – no wonder Darth Vader turned to the dark side!

I am not even sure I believe in the – It’s an internal matter, we shouldn’t get involved – excuse. Countries are very artificial entities, especially those carved out by colonialist interests. But people are human beings, whether Syrians, Afghans, Africans or Tibetans. The only thing that seems to differentiate is who sits in a country with oil.

With regard to Syria, I’m not even convinced that the line was not crossed long before the chemical attack.

But I’m also astounded at the United Nations. How we find ourselves in a situation whereby the world movement refuses to do anything but shake its head and wag a finger is beyond me. If the world expects America to police the world, a frightening prospect, why are we pumping money into the United Nations? If the US were to pull out, would the United Nations even exist?

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Brett D. Schaefer, the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom claims that “the U.S. is currently assessed 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget and more than 27 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget” – source. If chemical warfare is a red line that has been crossed why is the US not giving 22% of a UN coalition?

Finally, the fact that President Obama felt he needed more than one man (namely himself) to makes the decision whether the US would strike Syria should not be construed as weakness … rather it is DEMOCRACY. I’m not sure how many 2nd-term presidents would take such a step. I doubt many and I support the President and his decision.

I care less for countries and more for the people who live in them. No one should have to live through a war, whether internal or not. If we truly treasure our freedom, we must understand that we are never free while others are not.

At what point in a war has a country (or faction) crossed the line? Probably when the first bullet is fired. What is clear: once you have fired chemical weapons, you are way past the line and must be stopped.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Morsi and Obama: A Tale of Two Presidents

I recently drove past a demonstration outside the Federal building in Los Angeles. A red stoplight had my car idling next to maybe fifty Egyptians and their allies. They were supportive of the army’s ouster of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their signs showed their anger with President Obama who has called on the army to honor the democratic process. 

I have to admit that I am very torn here. The Egyptians did hold a democratic election. Sure, it might have been flawed with voter fraud, intimidation and other dirty tricks, and this should be condemned, but it was probably no worse than most other countries. Egypt has only just begun to walk the path of democracy. There will be bumps along the way. 

imagesOn the other hand, Morsi has done little to address the major problems facing Egypt such as poverty and the terrible violence on the streets, in particular directed at women, who are then shamed publicly after being raped and beaten. NPR have reported that more than 100 women who were at the demonstrations were attacked and many raped in public. 

President Morsi leads the Muslim Brotherhood, a popular Muslim organization that threatens all who fear religious extremisms and desire to live in a secular country.

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The fundamental question is whether the people (in this case led by the military) can justifiably remove a democratically elected leader if he is not doing his job. President Obama has weighed in and emphatically said no.

I understand his belief that only the democratic process can remove a leader. I think those who suggest that he is supporting a Muslim movement because of his past are being absurd and demeaning.

Many of us are frustrated that countries in Africa, Europe, and most recently in Syria, can destroy and massacre its people, without outside intervention. We draw red lines that are already baffling to the victims and then move those lines when it suits us.

I am not happy with religious extremism in any religion. I am deeply uncomfortable when a religious movement takes control of a country (in any way) and encroaches on the rights of those who do not follow that religion or are not as religious. 

But I am also uncomfortable with our government intervening with the internal affairs of other countries up to a point. I believe the United Nations (I know – I am referring to a fictitious effective organization) should set red lines and intervene when any government crosses that line.

Democracy is important and I believe I would take up arms to protect it. But a democratic government must protect its citizens and allow them to live in freedom, without intimidation or fear.

images-2President Morsi was democratically elected but he failed his people. And this is why he must be replaced. President Obama, who I unequivocally support, should make this distinction. Perhaps there is simply too much gray for us even to get involved.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

Happy Birthday Kiva!

 Dealing with global issues can sometimes seem so overbearing because of the sheer size of the problems -world hunger, AIDS, population explosions, natural disasters…the list is endless, and it involves billions of dollars needed for billions of people. It can be daunting and lead to paralysis.

The solution is really on two levels. We need to lobby our governments to take on such issues. The United Nations, probably best suited for such a task, is in desperate need of an overhaul, but that isn’t going to happen soon.

On the personal level, we can get involved, in a proportion that we can identify with. I have written a number of times about microfinancing, where for just $25, you can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring.

This brings me to KIVA, a non-profit microfinance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. KIVA has just celebrated its 6th birthday and is growing in both scope (different countries) and size. 

You peruse the list of individuals who have been approved and invest by donating small increments of money. These are essentially loans, and you will receive notice as the money is being repaid. When it does, your ‘account’ with KIVA is credited and you could take the money back, though donors often reinvest the money back into helping another person through KIVA. For more on microfinance, click here.

The Jewish teacher, Maimonides, taught of eight levels of giving. The highest level is to offer someone the opportunity to become financially independent. For the last six years, KIVA have been doing just that. With six very successful years behind them, I hope we can go on saving the world together, one person at a time.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

From Stabbing to Soccer

Tomorrow is September 20th, a day billed with controversy as the Palestinians seek a statehood via the United Nations. Those in favor recognize that the Palestinians need a state of their own and are frustrated by the lack of negotiations with Israel. Those against say that a sustainable solution has to come from negotiations between the two sides.

It all looks very depressing as both sides dig in and intransigence seems the order of the day. Perhaps it is best to focus on those organizations that are trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in dialog and the creation of relationships. I have already written about One Voice, still one of the most outstanding examples in my opinion.

So it was encouraging to see this article by Dan Goldberg about co-founder and director of the Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue, Sulaiman Khatib who went to Australia with Tami Hay, director of the Sport Department of Israel’s Peres Center for Peace. They  led a team of 24 Israelis and Palestinians in a unique bridge-building exercise: to compete in an international competition of Australian-rules football. We shall leave  the intricacies of the game, a mix of soccer, rugby, with Gaelic roots, for another time.

Twenty-four Israelis and Palestinians came together as a "Peace Team" to play Australian-rules football. (Jonathan Davis)

Khatib has an amazing personal story. He was born in the West Bank near Jerusalem, and grew up “throwing stones and preparing Molotov cocktails” at the Israeli army.

In 1986, at the age of just 14, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for stabbing an Israeli soldier. While in prison, Khatib was exposed to the writings of the Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. He learned both Hebrew and English and studied history, in particular other conflicts around the world. This provided Khatib with the basis for what became his philosophy.

“I believe there is no military solution to the conflict,” Khatib, 39, said of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interview with JTA while still in Melbourne. “I believe nonviolence is the best way for our struggle, for our freedom and for peace on both sides.”

For the story of how the team came together and became a cooperative group, I would suggest reading the article. The Palestinians who participated were admonished and even threatened, with many seeing them as collaborators. The bravery of these people should be applauded.

One Palestinian participant said: “Many people I know are opposed to my participation in activities with the Israeli side. They do not believe that it can improve the situation or lead to peace. I try to portray the positive things as much as possible.”

Nimrod Vromen, an Israeli player, told one media agency: “For me it’s easy. For the Palestinians, they actually have their lives threatened playing in this team.”

Tanya Oziel, Executive Director of the Australian branch of the Peres Center for Peace, knew there would be massive hurdles when she conceived of the idea of a joint team in 2007. A Sephardic Jew with Iraqi origins, Oziel knew that the Peres Center already had an Israeli-Palestinian soccer team, so she adapted the idea for Australian football and first brought a joint team to Australia in 2008.

“I think because of the power of the story and the impossibility of the story it actually gave me more motivation to make it happen,” Oziel said.

Some of the Palestinian team members are still worried about a backlash once they return home, but Sulaiman Khatib hopes his life experience will help his friends and himself weather such opposition.

“I’ve been in an Israeli jail for 10 years. I do things I believe in and I’m ready to risk my life,” he said. “So I’m not really worried about me.”

During a week when all eyes are on the United Nations, it helps to know that seeds of real peace are still being sown in the Middle East and the real heroes don’t make meaningless speeches but follow a dream. Sulaiman Khatib and his team are heroes.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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