Monthly Archives: June 2013

Story of Love, Reconciliation, and Healing – Preemptive Love Coalition

I “liked” Preemptive Love Facebook page after I watched its founder’s – Jeremy Courtney’s – heartwarming, optimistic TED talk at TEDxBaghdad2011. Every now and then PLC Facebook page would post personalized photo-stories about their patients with blogs entries talking about things range from meeting the patient to after-surgery celebration. I came across a photo-story today about love, hope, and kindness in their finest and purest forms (pictures below, or can be viewed here.) Because we hear about suffering, disasters, misery all the time, it aches me to say that sometimes people’s pain becomes mere background noise. Not for the Courtneys.

Beautiful Nivar

Jeremy walked the extra mile to change the sad, sick, helpless realities of Iraqi kids. “Dissatisfied with mere sympathy, Jeremy started looking for solutions,” to alleviate some of the suffering in Iraq. After their visit to Iraq in 2006, the Courtneys decided to “love and serve the poor” and starting PLC. (Here’s a little bit of a bio about them here.)

Nivar’s echocardiogram

Anyways, today as I was going through my usual, religious duty of Facebook-ing, I came across a touching photo-story about Nivar – the girl with congenital heart defect. Iraqi Nivar was transported to Istanbul for a much-needed heart surgery to fix her Tetralogy of Fallot that is most debilitating and potentially life-threatening, thanks to Preemptive Love Coalition staff and surgeons. I initially had a gut-wrenching feeling about Nivar but as I read her story, and scrolled through her photos, I was filled with feelings of optimism, love, and hope. Why PLCers do it? It’s because “we work because we love, and we hope that love can be shared with everyone who donates to a child.”

Nivar Prepped & Ready For Surgery

Read one of PLC’s staffs experiences in Nivar’s home before she was given surgery. http://preemptivelove.org/2010/06/27/revisiting-nvar-helped-plc-family-advocate-refocus-on-plc-goals/

Nivar made it through surgery!

I strongly urge you to donate to help PLC taking on more cases. Or simply, talk about PLC’s work. Bring to people’s attention the plight of Iraqi kids.

Click to go to [PLC] blog and read about our excitement when Nivar made it out of surgery with total correction!
http://preemptivelove.org/2010/07/21/nivars-surgery-results-in-total-correction/

More pictures and short photo-stories can be found PLC Facebook page.

PLC twitter page: @preemptivelove
Looking for summer internships with PLC click here.

Video: Four Iraqi Children Arrive in Istanbul for Lifesaving Heart Surgery

Taken from Preemptive Love Coalition website: http://preemptivelove.org/2010/07/20/video-four-children-arrive-in-istanbul-for-lifesaving-heart-surgery/

Please donate, help, or simply share/talk about PLC. You might be the cause of saving some kid’s life.

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Fuss Over Section 4 Overruling?

So, I’m genuinely confused about the fuss over Section 4 overruling by the Supreme Court. I’d like to know how would this piece of legislation disproportionately disfranchise some? I’m well aware that there are clear as the sun cases where people are still fighting for their right to vote (which can be addressed on the state level, I suppose); but in the grand scheme of things I feel like we are segregating, tailoring laws to address challenges faced in the last century and abused today by politicians.

The important question, I think, is will the repercussions be as dramatic as those portrayed in the media? While I understand why we may be hesitant and distrustful of talking about race, identity, and privilege, but I think we need to be more comfortable addressing these questions and thinking about them critically.

Regardless, I did my homework about the topic and I concluded the following:

1) The legislation was introduced in 1965 for obvious reasons and was one of great many achievements brought by the civil rights movement;
2) The law – Sec. 4 and 5 specifically – does not reflect contemporary data and trends. Our demographics, etc. have considerably changed;
3) It is imperative that republicans and Tea Party-ers predominately support the legislation (and argue for smaller government intervention), while Democrats are divided between actively opposing it vs. remaining quite;
4) I still do not understand what prompted this law to be re-examined after it was ratified by the House, the Senate, the President, and ultimately the people. Maybe the recent election? Polarization of the political system?

Comments are free! I’m always eager to learn something new.

How We Lost the Syrian Revolution [Al-Monitor Article]

DisclaimerI have not written or contributed to this somber yet heartwarming Al-Monitor article from May 28, 2013 about the prospects of the Syrian uprising. I’m sharing it here for it provides substance and valuable insight into the underpinnings of the crisis.

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Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad carry their weapons as they move during what they said was an operation to push rebels from the road between Dahra Abd Rabbo village and Castello, in Aleppo, May 27, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/George Ourfalian)

By: Edward Dark

So what went wrong? Or to be more accurate, where did we go wrong? How did a once inspirational and noble popular uprising calling for freedom and basic human rights degenerate into an orgy of bloodthirsty sectarian violence, with depravity unfit for even animals? Was it inevitable and wholly unavoidable, or did it not have to be this way?

The simple answer to the above question is the miscalculation (or was it planned?) of Syrians taking up arms against their regime, a ruthless military dictatorship held together by nepotism and clan and sectarian loyalties for 40 years of absolute power. Former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford specifically warned about this in his infamous visit to Hama in the summer of 2011 just as the city was in the grip of massive anti-regime protests and before it was stormed by the Syrian army. That warning fell on deaf ears, whether by design or accident, and we have only ourselves to blame. Western and global inaction or not, we are solely responsible for our broken nation at the end of the day.

Nietzsche once said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” That has proved to be very prophetic in the Syrian scenario. Away from all the agendas, whitewashing, propaganda, and outright lies of the global media stations, what we saw on the ground when the rebel fighters entered Aleppo was a far different reality. It hit home hard. It was a shock, especially to those of us who had supported and believed in the uprising all along. It was the ultimate betrayal.

To us, a rebel fighting against tyranny doesn’t commit the same sort of crimes as the regime he’s supposed to be fighting against. He doesn’t loot the homes, businesses and communities of the people he’s supposed to be fighting for. Yet, as the weeks went by in Aleppo, it became increasingly clear that this was exactly what was happening.

Rebels would systematically loot the neighborhoods they entered. They had very little regard for the lives and property of the people, and would even kidnap for ransom and execute anyone they pleased with little recourse to any form of judicial process. They would deliberately vandalize and destroy ancient and historical landmarks and icons of the city. They would strip factories and industrial zones bare, even down to the electrical wiring, hauling their loot of expensive industrial machinery and infrastructure off across the border to Turkey to be sold at a fraction of its price. Shopping malls were emptied, warehouses, too. They stole the grain in storage silos, creating a crisis and a sharp rise in staple food costs. They would incessantly shell residential civilian neighborhoods under regime control with mortars, rocket fire and car bombs, causing death and injury to countless innocent people, their snipers routinely killing in cold blood unsuspecting passersby. As a consequence, tens of thousands became destitute and homeless in this once bustling, thriving and rich commercial metropolis.

But why was this so? Why were they doing it? It became apparent soon enough, that it was simply a case of us versus them. They were the underprivileged rural class who took up arms and stormed the city, and they were out for revenge against the perceived injustices of years past. Their motivation wasn’t like ours, it was not to seek freedom, democracy or justice for the entire nation, it was simply unbridled hatred and vengeance for themselves.

Extremist and sectarian in nature, they made no secret that they thought us city folk in Aleppo, all of us, regime stooges and sympathizers, and that our lives and property were forfeit as far as they were concerned. Rebel profiteer warlords soon became household names, their penchant for looting and spreading terror among the populace inducing far more bitterness and bile than what was felt against the regime and its forces. Add to that terrible fray, the extremist Islamists and their open association with Al-Qaeda and their horrific plans for the future of our nation, and you can guess what the atmosphere over here felt like: a stifling primordial fear, a mixture of terror and despair.

So who was “us,” and why did we feel that we were any different or better? Well, by “us” I mean, and at the risk of sounding rather elitist, the civil grassroots opposition movement in Aleppo, who for months were organizing peaceful protests and handing out aid at considerable danger and risk to our own lives. “We” truly believed in the higher ideals of social and political change, and tried to emulate them. We tried to model ourselves on the civil rights movement of the US in the 1960s, Mandela’s struggle against apartheid, and the teachings of Gandhi: precisely what similar civil movements in other Arab Spring countries such as Tunisia and Egypt had done before.

For “us,” a revolution was a slow, deliberate and committed struggle for change. Like water drops repeatedly beating down on a boulder, eventually we would break it. But for “them,” well, their idea of change was throwing a ton of TNT at that boulder and having it, and everything around it, blown to smithereens. “We,” well, we mostly came from the educated urban middle class of the city. We came from all walks of life, all sects and all areas, and we didn’t care.

We never asked where that guy or girl was from or what they worshiped. Each one of us gave and contributed what we could, in the capacity we could. The leader of our group was a young Christian lawyer, a very active and dedicated young woman. The rest of the volunteers in our group were a microcosm of Syrian society; veiled girls, Shiite boys, rich kids and poor working class all working together for ideals we strongly shared and believed in.

Over the course of our activist work, some of our group were jailed and injured, one was even killed. That is why it never hit home so hard, and never have I felt as sad as when, shortly after Aleppo was raided by the rebels, I received messages from some of those people I used to work with. One said, “How could we have been so stupid? We were betrayed!” and another said, “Tell your children someday that we once had a beautiful country, but we destroyed it because of our ignorance and hatred.”

It was around about that time that I gave up on the revolution, such as it had become, and saw that the only way to Syria’s salvation was through reconciliation and a renunciation of violence. Many felt this way, too. Unfortunately, that is not a view shared by the warmongers and power brokers who still think that more Syrian blood should be spilled to appease the insatiable appetites of their sordid aspirations.

Even as activists, intellectuals, businessmen, doctors and skilled professionals fled the city in droves, others remained and still tried to organize civil action in the form of providing aid and relief work to the countless thousands of families that were now internally displaced inside their own city in desperate conditions. But it was clear that it was becoming futile. Everything had changed; it would never be the same again.

This is what it has come down to in Syria: It’s us versus them everywhere you go. Opposition versus regime, secular versus Islamist, Sunni versus Shiite, peaceful versus armed, city versus rural, and in all of that cacophony the voice of reason is sure to be drowned out. Whatever is left of Syria at the end will be carved out between the wolves and vultures that fought over its bleeding and dying corpse, leaving us, the Syrian people to pick up the shattered pieces of our nation and our futures.

Do we have recourse to blame anyone but ourselves for this? Was this our destiny, or the cruel machinations of evil men? Perhaps a future generation of Syrians will be able to answer that question.

Edward Dark is a pseudonym for a Syrian currently residing in Aleppo. He tweets at @edwardedark.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/syria-revolution-aleppo-assad.html#ixzz2VUJ8l1uZ

Crashing Stereotypes

If you watch Crash, at first you would think the movie is racist. But what is racist, and how do we judge it? While the movie throws many racial language and images, it does not really tell us what is racist. It does, nonetheless, draws an interesting picture of what racism is. Racism stems from ignorance.

Typical stereotypic images presented included white district attorney buys off a black cop, Hispanic man with shaved head and tattoos, and Persian woman wearing hijab are prevalent in the movie. It is up to the viewer to judge who is racist among them. As the movie unfolds one finds interesting twist: those we thought were victims turn out to be offenders, and vice versa. For example, a Persian man is pictured trying to buy a gun. The all-proud American shop owner, irritated by the man’s inability to speak well, refuses to carry out the transaction and asks him to leave. The man is upset because he thinks he was discriminated against by the shop owner. Later, the Persian man tries to commit a murder. And he failed. Initially, I had a clear picture of who is the victim, but later in the movie that changed. Now, it is not just black and white. I’m not justifying the actions of either men but simply saying that I’m more aware of the circumstances that not only allowed the American dude to refuse the Persian the transaction, but also that made the latter almost commit a crime. I think being aware of these complexities helps us better understand people, ourselves and our biases.

Another example is a white male policeman pulls over a black couple in a Cadillac Escalade. The cop searches the affluent couple, touches the wife inappropriately in a defying gesture, waiting for the couple to react so he can arrest them, or to apologize for something they have not committed – humiliate them. The cop’s white partner protests initially but submits eventually. The movie establishes two things here: institutionalized racism and white supremacy. Clearly, it was race of the couple what prompted the cop to stop and humiliate them. So, I developed a negative attitude towards this cop. I made assumptions based on that one incident. Later, however, the cop almost lost his own life saving another’s of a black person during a car accident. Ironically, it was that same person he searched, touched inappropriately earlier. So, I think these conflicting notions made me slightly at unease calling the cop racist. I mean he IS racist for pulling over the black couple, but he is also NOT racist because he saved the life of a black person..?

Apart from that, in the movie, men are depicted as leaders, whereas women as servers. Examples range from a black secretary and white district attorney, to a Hispanic cop as black detective assistant. Movie starts with a scene of two women in a car accident: Asian and a Hispanic. LA officer writes a report and talks to victims, trying to calm them down and control the situation. Sitting in the car, next to the Hispanic women, is a police detective who investigates a crime scene. He gives orders to cops – who appeared to be mostly women work under him. Furthermore, I noticed that women are generally silenced and unheard. For example, the district attorney’s secretary spoke only a line or two in the movie; district attorney’s wife was often ignored. I believe that the movie not only address these issues in an impartial way, but also helps us examine ourselves from an outsider perspective. Do we think of women like that when we go on our daily lives? Is that how we view women at work, school, etc.?

I think this movie really helps us examine racial and social complexities from afar and so we can educate and correct ourselves when we err. I don’t know, just thought this is something we can ponder.

Book Review: The Price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs

Just finished reading Jeffrey Sachs’s awe-inspiring The Price of Civilization.

I picked up Jeffrey Sachs’ The Price of Civilization mainly because I opted for economics this time as opposed to science and philosophy (what I read, mostly). I had to decide between the Nobel-prize winner in economics Paul Krugman’s End This Depression Now! and this book. I picked Sachs’ for 1) his substantial experience in macroeconomics and shaping/reforming economies abroad (though I disagree – or does not know how I feel – about shock therapy as a solution to hyperinflation); 2) his background in development, sustainability, and developing political economy/economic theories; 3) being a globalization guru when talking about economy and politics; and, lastly 4) where he stands politically, socially, and environmentally (I did not sense any glaring biases in his analysis towards any party – he equally criticized both as argument demands).

In part one of the book, he diagnoses the economic crises, addresses Washington’s disconnect from the public, dissects “the free-market fallacy” in light of globalization and its effects on American society, politics, and good citizenship. Part two of the book is titled “The Path to Prosperity.” Prosperity that is lost in today’s economy. He argues that it is only with a mindful society, informed citizenry, and politically active public that we can move forward. He is very optimistic with the change our generation, The Millennial generation, will bring about. One that I personally look forward to.

Apart from that, he brings up an interesting point that the government, or various administrations, is not the only one to blame (though it’s got the lion’s share) for the economic mess we inherit; the public also shares some responsibility. The public has long lost its trust in the government, disengaged and polarized politically and socially; one argues for more government while the other argues for little to none. This left us fragmented, distracted, and simply unaware of powerful lobbing at work. Corporatocracy has distractedly and wrongly told the public that over-commercialism, over-consumption, low taxes, and short-sightedness are the solutions to our problems. These “solutions” augment our problems rather than remedy them, and he explains why.

The not-so-economics-savvy me found this book enlightening on so many levels. While I recognize America’s economic plight, I did not know, or was simply oblivious to, the core problems that spiraled us down (aside from those on the surface such as Wall Street market collapse of 2008, housing bubble, etc.). In a nutshell, the book strongly argues for a mixed-economy (the middle path as one may put it), one that has the private sector as well as the government wheeling the economy forward. Sachs recognizes, however, that the current government and political system, corporatocracy as he puts it, are not only incompetent but greatly corrupted by lobbies vested interests. It is imperative then that the reforms he puts forward include reforming the government through “honest, open, and transparent problem solving,” taking money out of politics, etc. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to move from short-term planning with little execution, to long-term planning and actually execution. America’s infrastructure is deteriorating, so as its healthcare system, science and engineering sectors, and its standing as the world’s leading economy. I think it is important to note that Sachs is not socialist, but a hardcore capitalist who believes that economic forces are not sufficient to run a marketplace.

My views resonant with those of his in that in order to live a healthy, sustainable, and happy life we need “to be ready to pay the price of civilization through multiple acts of good citizenship: bearing our fair share of taxes, educating ourselves deeply about society’s needs, acting as vigilant stewards for future generations, and remembering that compassion is the glue that holds society together.” He beautifully explains the challenges, and solutions, surrounding taking this route.

So, all in all, Sachs’ book gives us a clear, honest, and socially-responsible diagnosis of our political and economic crisis. It also provides a road-map, if you will, that walks us through how to get out of the pit.

Strongly recommended!