Invisible Children: Uganda’s child soldiers

A former child soldier - Northern Uganda (photo: Richard Wainwright)
A former child soldier - Northern Uganda (photo: Richard Wainwright)

Yesterday was the first day of hot weather for many of us in the Northeast United States. Like everyone else in the city, I headed outside to take advantage of the sun (though I was the only person in my group truly happy about the temperature soaring above eighty degrees!).

We stumbled upon a well-organized and peaceful demonstration. Youth in their late teens and early twenties were asking for help, rescue, protection, and representation as “victims” of abduction. As it turns out, they were not seeking any assistance themselves – rather, they were speaking out on behalf of Uganda’s child soldiers. Further, they were asking passersby if they knew  of “anybody” who could help spread the word about the plight of these children. The young man we spoke with had just begun his 21st hour of demonstrating for children on the other side of the planet.

So, if you’ve got a platform, use it – right?:

In Uganda, children are regularly abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (or LRA) and forced to fight in a bloody civil war that has been raging since the 1980s.

Children in Gulu, Northern Uganda (source: Dateline)
Children in Gulu, Northern Uganda (source: Dateline)

Africa and other parts of the world have complicated and disastrous histories involving the abduction and use of children in war. It is estimated that some 10,000 + children have been forced to fight in Uganda, often placed at the front lines of individual battles.

What can you do?

1 – Learn more about child soldiers and how to help them by visiting the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. There, you can learn about the plight of child soldiers in various regions of the world – including, of course, Uganda.

2 – Once you’re informed, click here for ways to take action.

3 – Learn about survivors like Grace Akallo  , the war in Uganda, and the Invisible Children Movement here.

4 – Host an awareness-raising event in your community, on your campus, or at your local civic center. Click here to learn more.

5 – Stay tuned to this newsfeed for the latest, including ways you can help.

6 – Check out Amnesty International’s comprehensive guide to human rights concerns in Uganda.

Roohi Tabassum: deportation may be her death sentence

Roohi Tassabum
Roohi Tabassum (photo: Aaron Harris / Toronto Star)

Roohi Tabassum is a 44-year old Muslim woman currently residing in Canada, slated for deportation to her native Pakistan in just 7 days.

While many deportations occur without much attention (if any) being paid to individual cases, Ms. Tabassum’s story has ignited a campaign to halt her removal from Canada.

Why? Well, Ms. Tabassum’s deportation, she claims, may very well be a death sentence. She alleges that her estranged husband, outraged by her work at a coed hair salon in Canada, is determined to slay her in an honor killing. Ms. Tabassum has already filed unsuccessfully for refugee status. A subsequent appeal has also failed.

It is unclear exactly why her application to remain in Canada has been rejected, especially considering that the threatening letters she has presented as evidence in her claim would seem to qualify her as a “person in need of protection” under Canadian immigration law. Should her husband truly intend to kill her, even the option to seek refugee status on humanitarian grounds would not be enough to save her, as she’d have to leave Canada for Pakistan while her case is reviewed.

Should her fears be legitimate, Canada would be in violation of its very principles by deporting her to imminent death. If it has been determined that her fears are unfounded, those trying to aid Ms. Tabassum should be told why. To help, please contact the following with a request to have Ms. Tabassum’s case reviewed; and in the meantime, to halt her deportation to Pakistan.

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship/Immigration/ Multiculturalism:

The Canadian Embassy in the United States:

The Embassy of Canada
501 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC, USA 20001

Phone: 202-682-1740 or 202-682-1755
Fax: 202-682-7726 or 202-682-7738
Immigration Fax: 202-682-7689
Public Affairs Fax: 202-682-7791

**(Not in the United States? Contact your country’s Canadian embassy by clicking here.)

Case Processing Center, Ontario:

2 Robert Speck Parkway,
Suite 1200
Mississauga, ON
L4Z 1H8
Fax: 905-803-7392

Featured video: Mona Eltahawy on “happy Muslim men and women who confuse you”

with Mona Eltahawy, April 2009
with Mona Eltahawy, April 2009

Egyptian journalist (and very cool sister) Mona Eltahawy has just released a new video commentary of her piece  “happy Muslim men and women who confuse you.” For an enlightened and even witty commentary on the coverage of Muslims in the media (no pun intended) watch Mona’s video here.

Introducing “Most Hated” – with much love

With Roi in New York City - April 9, 2009
With Roi in New York City - April 9, 2009

This past week, I attended a seder at the home of my good friend, Israeli journalist Roi Ben-Yehuda. (Read about the multifaith, modern seder Roi prepared here).

Roi’s gotten a lot of love on this blog, but also deserving of some major props is his brother, Yoni – aka “Sneakas”, a very talented rap artist. He’s not your average lyricist or performer – he turns his time on the mic into action for positive social change. I met Sneakas two years ago, when I learned that he’s hard at work using his music to promote constructive dialogue between Jews and Muslims.

Me with Sneakas - April 8, 2009
Me with Sneakas - April 8, 2009

But Sneakas has taken his message of understanding a step further: he’s collaborating with Mazzi, another young rap artist. Mazzi’s an Iranian Muslim, and together they are “Most Hated” – a smart, powerful rap duo that’s set to change both the music scene and the minds and hearts of Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and others the world over. Their single “Tug of War” tells the story of a young Israeli soldier and a would-be suicide bomber from Palestine meeting face to face. Watch the video by clicking here. Please watch through to the end – Sneakas and Mazzi explain the video in a behind-the-scenes commentary you shouldn’t miss.

Remembering Du’a

Du'a Khalil Aswad
Du'a Khalil Aswad

Du’a Khalil Aswad was a 17-year old girl living in Iraq. A Yazidi of Kurdish descent, she was publicly stoned to death two years ago today.

Some of the details surrounding this young woman’s death are unclear: was she killed for converting to Islam? Was her relationship with a boy the reason the crowd decided that she should die?

Other details we know with bone-chilling clarity: Du’a was stoned by a throng of her own community members. She was then tied to a car, dragged through the streets and buried with the remains of a dog. The video of the stoning, recorded on cellphone cameras, was widely distributed on the internet and even broadcast on major news networks.

We also know that some of Du’a’s immediate family members have been connected to her murder; and that the onlookers recording the barbaric act certainly felt no compulsion to help her. Instead, they recorded her final moments – perhaps proud of what their values had led the crowd to “achieve.”

Unthinkable. Yet, an estimated 8,000 + people – mostly women and girls – lose their lives every year to “honor” killings. While these deaths occur mainly in Muslim-majority countries and communities, they are certainly not exclusive to Muslims. The difference this time is that people the world over have seen the barbarity of the practice – exposing illegitimate tribal customs  to the world’s scrutiny. Ironically, those individuals so proud of their own cruelty have helped to fuel the movement against them by filming and releasing the murder of Du’a Khalil Aswad.

And we’re responding. Muslims and non-Muslims alike have headed into the streets to protest “honor” killings, including in Iran, where 2000 individuals stormed the streets against the practice  after the murder of an 18-year old girl there. Women are taking an especially vocal stance against honor violence and extremism.

Non-Muslims in Europe are responding too  – read about Finnish activist Raija Ala-Lipasti here. I’ve shared this with you before: in the UK, a helpline has been started to assist those at risk for honor-based violence.

While we have not won the fight against honor violence, strides are being made against it – and Du’a’s memory must propel us forward in this most important battle. As I’ve said in previous posts – may we not let these innocents die in vain. While Du’a’s death was an unconscionable display of human evil, it must also be a call to action for those with just hearts.

* Please support the International Campaign Against Honour Killings here.

* Learn about Stop Child Executions here. SCE works not just to combat honor violence, but against all executions of children.

* Check out Muslimah Media Watch regularly. These sisters represent a wide variety of opinions – and keep us up-to-date on the latest happenings in the Muslim world.

* Stay informed with the help of Women Living Under Muslim Laws.