Meriam’s courage: facing death by hanging

 

Woman stands at a window, silhouetted against curtain.

Meriam Ibrahim. Photo: Amnesty international

 

Hala Al-Kareb

Meriam Ibrahim Yahya is incarcerated and shackled in Sudan’s Omdurman Women’s Prison. Her twenty month old child and her new born baby are with her. Charged with apostasy earlier this month, she faces flogging and then death by hanging.

Meriam’s courage’ is the title of a story that was told in Sudan primary school reading books during the 1970s. It’s about the little girl Meriam who saw the floods coming from a distance towards her village, she ran fast and alerted her people and eventually saved them. I remember that Meriam’s story of courage was an inspiration for girls at a time in Sudan when heroic acts were not boys-branded, and girls could also be heroines and rescuers.

Fast forward to May 15th, 2014 when Meriam Ibrahim Yahya, a 27 year old Sudanese woman from Gadarif in Eastern Sudan, stood in front of Haj Yousif court in Northern Khartoum and rejected, with great bravery, the miserable attempts by the court judge to force her to repent (ÇÓÊÊÇÈÉ – calling the apostate to repent before he is executed).  With audacity Meriam told the court “I am a Christian, I did not convert from Islam”.

Meriam’s solid stance brought back the memory of the execution of the Sudanese Islamic thinker and reformer, Mahmud Taha, who was executed in 1985 in Sudan under the same apostasy charges.

The story began back in 1983 when the miserable dictator of Sudan at the time,Gaafar al-Nimeiry, in his desperate attempt to save his failing regime created an alliance between his regime and the Muslim Brotherhood political organization. Both were engaged in designing what was called at the time, ‘The September Laws or/ Islamic Sharia Laws’ – a combination of the most militant interpretations of religion jurisprudence (Figah), and the accumulative heritage of Dark Ages political repression. The whole purpose was to hunt political opponents and terrorize communities through a blind theological regime with absolute power, assumed to be delegated from above. The core base of the political Islamic state; the criminalization of personal behaviour, control of human interaction, and most importantly, the persecution of women as a source of sin and evil. The punishments in September Laws were mostly corporal penalties – ranging from flogging to death by stoning, amputation, imprisonment, and execution. For a short period following the collapse of Nimeiry’s regime, the September Criminal Laws were suspended, only to be revived again in the same exact format following the 1989 military coup by the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood, and were reproduced again under the Sudan 1991 Criminal Act.

Meriam Ibrahim Yahya’s troubles began in 2013 after she was arrested by Sudanese authorities, when an unknown family member allegedly claimed that Meriam was committing adultery (zina,) in violation of Article 146 of the 1991 Criminal Act. Sudanese officials viewed Meriam as a Muslim cohabitating with her Christian husband, despite Meriam’s insistence that she was in fact a practicing Christian and married to a man of the same faith. But the relationship between Meriam and her husband was nevertheless judged to be adulterous and in violation of Article 146, which forbids the recognition of marriage between Muslim women and Christian men in Sudan. Meriam faces public lashing if convicted of this baseless charge.

In February 2014, an additional charge of apostasy, based on Article 126 of the 1991 Criminal Act, was brought against Meriam. Defined in Article 126 as ‘renunciation of the creed of Islam or public declaration of renunciation,’ Sudanese officials incorrectly claimed that the Muslim [sic] Meriam had, by marrying a Christian man, renounced Islam publicly, and was therefore guilty of apostasy in addition to the initial charge of adultery.  Under the 1991 Criminal Act, a conviction of apostasy carries the death penalty. Once again, the charge is based on the Sudanese official position that Meriam is a Muslim woman. Non-Muslims cannot be charged with apostasy.

Even if Meriam had converted to Christianity, the question of the terrorizing nature of Sudan legal system, and policies that openly oppress the freedom of religion and beliefs to the point of legitimizing execution, remains an immediate and vital concern.

The Sudan regime has been implicated for years in the killing of massive numbers of civilians in South Sudan. Currently civilians in the Nuba mountains, the Blue Nile areas, and in Darfur, are being subjected to mass killing by aerial bombardment and militia hostility, and the official discourse continues to  justify these war crimes against civilians as being against infidels (kofar- someone who rejects Allah and Islam as a religion). However, it’s extremely important to observe here that the Darfur population is Muslim and a considerable percentage of the populations in the Blue Nile areas and Nuba mountains are also Muslims, yet they are not following the Muslim Brotherhood’s version of Islam which breeds on militancy, the repression of freedoms, and the abolition of other religions.

Sudanese civilians across Sudan have been living in this terror for nearly 30 years, consistently intimidated and apprehended by the burden of the oppressive theological regime. The discourse and praxis consistently revolve around forcibly applying the regime’s version of Islam, as they see it, and as it works for them – hence, by default, you become the enemy.

It’s about time the persecution of civilians in Sudan was looked at through the current regime’s ideology which openly justifies serious forms of violation of human rights. Most importantly, it must be understood that the domination of this ideology and praxis will hold back any opportunity for the country’s transformation towards peace, and block any democratic prospects. The conversation about the current legal situation in Sudan must be prioritized, and given the same amount of attention as that given to the issues of war and peace which continue to dominate the conversation in and around Sudan.

In the meantime, Meriam will remain incarcerated and shackled at Omdurman Women’s Prison, along with her 20-month-old child, and the baby girl she gave birth to on May 27th.

While in Sudanese custody, Meriam has been denied regular contact with legal assistance providers, as well as refused medical care, and has suffered torture, beatings, denial of food, and aggressive interrogations. The Sudanese Criminal Code (1991) mandates that Meriam be permitted, while incarcerated, to breast feed the newborn child for a period of two years. After two years have passed, the flogging and execution will occur. Thus, Meriam is facing another two years of prison with the same treatment she has received up to this point, a reality that is faced as well by her innocent 20-month-old child, forced by Sudanese officials to remain incarcerated with Meriam due to the fact that Meriam’s husband is non-Muslim, and therefore not ‘suitable’ to be given custody of his own child.

Meriam must be released immediately and compensated for the humiliation and torture incurred. But is this possible?

Meriam’s case is a test for all who consider themselves to be moderate and enlightened Muslims in Sudan and around the world. It’s an opportunity to raise their voices against this Dark Age dogma and reclaim Islam by condemning these horrific acts.

This case also sends a strong message to the regional and International actors in and around Sudan that unless the issues of religious militancy, discrimination and the campaigns based on persecution of civilians are addressed and recognised as a central part of the political debate, the road for any breakthrough in the chronic unrest in Sudan will remain blocked.

A tribute to the Sudanese people’s poet, Mahjoub Shareef (1943-2014)

 

 

 

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By: Abdulkhalig Elsir

Last month the Sudanese people lost an eminent poet and public figure after a long battle with illness. Mahjoub Shareef got the’ consensus’ from the Sudanese from all walks of life as the people’s poet. Since his poem found its way to the public in the early seventies of the last century. Since then on, a strong intimate relationship between him and the masses have taken place.

Shareef’s poem has strong political tone, but that is not surprising if we knew he was a devout Marxists and a member of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) until he died. Ironically, while politics in a country like Sudan divide people than anything else, Sharif seems the only one got to break the norm, so far. The unconditioned love and respect he used to receive from people despite his political colour is phenomenal.

His simple and direct poem made of Vernacular of ordinary people as well as his focus on political, social and economic injustice gave him the edge of being a ‘true’ representative of them. But the decisive factor of the overwhelming love by the people his humbleness, integrity, honesty and courageous life he lived. In a country like Sudan where elitism and corruption are plague, turning down entice of celebrity and elitism is very rare. During his wretched life, he got everything that could turned him rich, famous and elite, not just by the regimes who always tried that, but also by ordinary people who love him. Voluntarily, he decided to take their side until the last moment of his life.

Shareef was a primary school teacher. But the discontinuity of his career due to his political activism gave his life instability and hardship. He had a very poor and wretched life. He always tried to remind those who try to help him that the majority if people live a worse situation than him. He knew the road to prisons as a political opponent since his first emergence as a promising songwriter in the early seventies. Also, the succession of military regimes in Sudan made him a prominent ‘customer’ to prisons.

He never stops dreaming of for better tomorrow. His poem devoted to inspire people to believe in themselves. He encouraged them to fight for their rights and don’t accept injustice or make it a norm.

We will built the country we always dream about

An inclusive and a huge one with no doubt

A bird in the place of bullet

Hovering around a fountain

…A hospital in place of a prison

In another poem, he insisted that empowering women and recognizing ethnic minorities, is the only way for a stable and sustainable country.

Marry teaches us

Aisha reminds us

That every weapon should be turned it to a trowel

In one of his famous poem aow fa intazir (or… you will see), he berated police and security apparatus for being used by the tyrant regimes to kill and torture the innocent people. Reminding them being used as a tool to serve their agendas is a deadly mistake.

You are not the soldiers of God

Your are not the soldiers of the country

But in fact you are their soldiers

And some of their properties

Their triggers and their protectors

But you are not going to be one of them

…and you are not going to be like them

Or to eat their food

Or to dress the way they do

……………. Have you ever seen them flood the street in the early morning?

Or came out dirty from afternoon shifts? Or with tired eyes after night shifts?

Have they ever invited you to visit them?

Have they ever visited you? No, they will not.

So why you do that?

I know they trained you to crush, burn and kill with no mercy,

….But you have to remember how many dictators flee and left someone like you

Alone with fear of revenge.

Remember that or…you will see.

 

But his masterpiece and the mother of his all poem is (To my Mum Mariam). It is a very long and touchy message to his mum after she visited him in an infamous remote prison located in the western Sudan called Shala’a. It was aftermath of a failed coup carried out by a military faction of the SCP against Nimerie regime in July 1971. The act unleashed Nimerie’s outrage. He carried a very heavy-handed crackdown on the SCP members. Its leaders were executed in brief trials. The country prisons filled with its members indefinitely. Shareef was one of those, and he was sent to this remote and notorious prison. The atmosphere then was very frightening. The regime media ran a hostile propaganda and turned the SCP members as a public enemy, traitors of God and the nation. This tactics of the reputation-tarnishing, freaked out the prisoners’ families. It is very obvious it was one of the regime’s psychological tactics to push families to play a role in facilitating a way-out for their sons from the political arena.

I remember those days very well. It happened that, my father has been through this ordeal couple of times. Between the years of 1975 to 1978 he was in and out of Al-Damar prison – a prison in a small town near our town, Atbara. I was almost 10 years old. I used to go with my late aunt Noura, one of older sisters of my father, to visit him at the end of every month. My aunt and the other members of the family were not happy with his involving in politics. Once we arrive there and catch up with my father, she starts her whinging straight away ‘; “Elsir my brother, when are you going to leave these things and look after your family as anyone else? My father is a short-tempered person by nature, but in this situation he cannot afford to spoil such precious moments he given to catch up with his family. He tries his best to play down her criticism by putting a kiss on her forehead while playing with me and asking about our life and my younger brother. Once that happened, she started to laugh while saying, no hope, I know you are not going to change. 

In this atmosphere came the visit of Shareef’s mother to convince him to abandon politics and come back home safe. It was not clear if she came for this purpose. But the implicit dialogue the poem based on suggests this point.

 My dear mum Mariam

You full of love and kindness

How many mums do I have, no one but you

….I neither disobedient son nor a thief or a traitor.

  I miss you so much but I’ve no regret

The soldier hurdling between me and you

He won’t get what he want

He is the loser

Shareef then went to tell her about his ultimate love and how he kept remembering her bedtime stories in the prison’s lonesome nights. He told her how those memories brushed away any feeling of fear or intimidation, and how he became more persistent and resilient. He reminded her about his mates who went straight away to the gallows rather than dobbing in their comrades. 

You do not know what Wad Alzain had done?

They asked him; where is the hide of your mates?

Tell us and we will grantee your safety

He never shown a crack or broking down

He went to his death determinedly

 

To My Mum Mariam, went viral after it leaked from the prison. The way people received it was unprecedented. Its flow, intense rhyme and magical internal rhythm make it easier for memorising and chanting. It was moving and touchy. It showed a great deal of what is happening in prisons and how the politicians treated. It turned them to heroes at the eyes of the public rather than enemies as the regime’s propaganda wished. Political prisoners through generations embraced it as their bible. They stem from it their courage and persistence.

Belonging to people and inspiring them to solve their problems is Shareef’s life project. This project does not only confined to poem, but it went deeply whereas practicality worked to bond his relationship with ordinary people in their day-to-day life. To do that, he came out with a social initiative called (NAFFAJ). The word itself has no English equivalent.  It is a small door located in the wall that divided two houses’ backyards. It is a mutual decision neighbours used to take in the old suburbs of Omdurman city.  This voluntary decision usually takes place when neighbours after a long time of coexistence got the feeling that they are now one big family. Hence, they do not need to come through the main door as “strangers.”  In their new reformation to their ‘new family,’ the two neighbours sharing solidarity and maintain their privacy and back up each other like any blood-related family. This Naffaj or small door is a symbolic gesture of how people can be closer to the extent that their belongingness is beyond neighbourhood.

Shareef picked up the concept and make the name a rhetoric to revive the faded meanings of altruism, compassion and solidarity that Naffaj used to give. As one who has no faith of the government institutions like the majority Sudanese people, he believed bringing back the old positive values of pre-modern Sudan is the only effective way to tackle the misery of poor people in shanty suburbs surrounding greater Khartoum. The initiative encouraged and urged people to engage interactively in a cooperation of donation and also physical help if it needed during disastrous times, by exploiting the various skills of people, especially the youths for community services.

Rud Aljameel (giving back), is another initiative by shareef. It is a social organization its main concern is to bring homeless children to community and helps them to start a new life. The organization collaborated with many NGOs to provide shelter and literacy classes. It also helps them to explore their potentials and to promote the talented among them to be recognized by the community. It was open for everyone to share and contribute, especially the young people. The enthusiasm and passion people shown is incredible. The children have shown a great response, as well. Their painting, theatre plays, poems, story writings have a continuing exhibitions and festivals throughout the year.

 

The ongoing harassment by authorities was part of Shareef’s life. Depriving him of getting a job was a norm. Nevertheless, he never showed any quitting or surrender. He never lost hope of better tomorrow for him and his people. Despite the appalling situation he lived in, he did not stop writing poems of hope and inspiration. In June, 1989 another episode of the authoritarian regime came to rife the misery of the Sudanese people. This time it took the form of Islamic ideology backed up by the military. A random arrest, torturing, killing and job firing by the virtue of ‘public interest’ was the main features of its rule. Freedom and people wellbeing reduced to almost zero.

Shareef had his portion of appalling moments. He was arrested and sacked from his job, at the time when he was a bit old and suffering from a long-time disease in his respiratory system. Intentionally, he been prevented from getting his medication, the act that deteriorated his health condition until the rest of his life.

His integrity, altruism and devoting his poem to ordinary people, gave him an overwhelming popularity. In turn, this popularity made him a ‘symbolic capital’ and a battleground of intellectuals, elites and political rivals at the same time! It may sound strange, but in a divided country like Sudan, polarization, ethnic tension, dismissiveness and exclusion are way of life. As I said, amazingly, Shareef rose above all these social diseases and became the beat of the masses’ heart or a ‘beat of the street’ according to the Sudanese expression.

The rivalry of who have the right to claim the ‘ownership’ of Shareef was dominant. The government, this time, used a different approach, the carrot instead of the stick. It started to send him, directly or through agents sometimes, valuable gifts came in the form of cars and money. But politely and firmly he turned them down. The ‘national’ elites tried their best to lure him joining their club with no success.

One of those attempt, a controversial article by a well-known Islamist writer, Osman Mergani, calls for a ‘nationalization’ of Shareef, arguing that Mahjoub is bigger than to belong to any minor group, Hence, he should be ‘owned’ by the all Sudanese people. Dr. Hassan Musa, a Sudanese-French critic and international-recognized painter, finds the call for Shareef’s nationalization under the pretext of nationalism, is a dodgy one. He asked sarcastically; what kind of nationalism that doesn’t include the communists?

Dr. Abdullahi A. Ibrahim, An Ex- communist, a prominent anthropologist and political writer, praised Musa’s point of view while he was lashing out on Osman. Dr. Ibrahim argued “What it missed from those who call for the nationalization of Mahjoub Shareef, wasn’t the ‘danger’ of him been a communist, but he was a Sudanese nationalist beyond no doubt. Hence, any attempt of an impulsive nationalization in order of depriving him of from being a communist is just a hollow conclusion…. And the most annoying part of this call its disrespect to Shareef voluntarily existential choice.”

Shareef contracted pneumonia from prison. The illness affected his life great deal, especially in the last 10 years. He never gets cured, and the disease was the main reason of his death. Although his death was a big shock, but it was also a strong statement of unconditioned love and message of inclusiveness. Hundreds of thousands from all walks of life turned to accompany him to his last destination. They walked for almost six miles, the distance from his home to the cemetery, in a symbolic gesture, demonstrated his ability in mobilizing people even when he is dead. Until the end, his integrity did not hinder. He made a clear will that no one of the government officials should attend his funeral.

Shareef will always be remembered as one of those ‘last respected men’ in the country its elites cannot help indulging in corruption, favouritism and opportunism. A person devoted his life and poem to make a difference. He left a legacy of tenth of poems devoted to his people and his country that once described it as his main love, as well as, millions of young people inspired and influenced by his ethics and goodness and who are willing to hold his banner through the same direction.

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Note: I’ve done a rough translation to some verses of his poems for the highlighting purpose. However, this translation lagging so behind from the poetic structure of the original ones. It lacks rhyme, rhythm and internal music of the original poems.

 

Forgotten Region of Western Sudan (Darfur)

By Yahya Arko    

The ongoing crisis in Western Sudan, Darfur began in 2003. This is as a result of fighting between the government of Sudan and its militia, composed of a movable group of fighters mostly of Arabic background known as Janjaweed, and rebel groups, notably the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Rebel groups claim that Arab-ruled government of Sudan is intentionally causing social inequality, political marginalisation and discrimination towards black Africans.

The government refuses to respond to rebel’s demands and instead, armed and supported the Janjaweed militia to carry out a military campaign against civilians. Militias have consistently attacked villages and killed civilians that share the same ethnicity as the rebel groups, steal livestock and poison water supplies, and the government air forces burn the villages to the ground.

The militia repeatedly rape girls and women who live in internally displaced person camps when they go out to collect firewood or water. As a result more than 2.7 million people have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in internally displaced person camps or to neighbouring countries such as Chad. According to non-governmental organisations, it is estimated that over 400,000 people have been killed since the conflict started.

The Darfur conflict has now been going for ten years. On a daily basis men are killed, women are raped and children are dying of malnutrition. The conflict is ongoing, and peace is nowhere near. The government and rebels are not willing to stop the conflict.

The international community has also failed the people of Darfur; the International Criminal Court (ICC) did not follow through with the indictment of the President of Sudan, Omer Al-Bashir, on charges of crimes against humanity. Al-Bashir has made many trips to the states that signed the Rome Statute such as Chad, and the ICC has said nothing.

Darfur is no longer on the international community’s agenda and is no longer in view of the international media. When is the international community going to meet its moral obligation and listen to its conscience, instead of turning a blind eye to the conflict?

Sources:

http://depot.gdnet.org/newkb/submissions/1164057311_Udombana_(HRQ,_Darfur).pdf

www.darfuraustralia.org.

http://worldwithoutgenocide.org/genocides-and-conflicts/darfur-genocide.

Aljazeera shows its hypocrisy

Oh, rebels, flame the revolution by the people’s blood

And sculpt in every soul the salvation of people

….Those who hold their life in their hands

Every victory preceded by tragedy

I wished it to the countries whom their leaders fool themselves

Who think sovereignty can’t be without US troops

The filthy rich countries that their people strives

The countries you sleep as a citizen and find it striped off the next day

Oh, I wish it to the regimes of inherited repression

 

This is a meaning-based translation to a segment of Arabic poem written by a Qatari poet Mohammed Al-Ajami. In this segment, Al-Ajami praised the Arab Spring revolutionists who brought down many regimes in the region. He wished if this revolutionary spirit visits his home and does the same change. Despite it was just a poem and merely wishes, but the cost Al-Ajami was paid is really harsh.

In last November, Al-Ajami was jailed and denied any family visit. Last week a court sentenced him to life! For instance, this case might be seen by many as a kind of injustice normal in this part of the world. However, what makes it unique at this time,  is the Qatar self-image of liberal reformions that is keen to sell to the international community.  Ten years ago, Qatar decided to create a CNN-like media which it resulted in Aljazeera TV news. Aljazeera has got a green light from Qatari authoroties to discuss and intervene in other countries sensitive issues like; political freedom, women and human rights, ethnic minorities’ issues and the record of human rights violation. Lots of money pumped in to make the project successful.

The way Aljazeera has preformed surprised many observers in and out of the region. It has created lots of unrest and tension in the region, especially among the ultra-conservative Arab Gulf States. Many accused Qatar of playing a Western proxy, means to divide the unity of the “Arab nation”. But the Qatari officials insisted they only respond to the wind of change that hit the whole world: the transparency and the right of free expression.

Of course those who are in a close ties with the region and know exactly what happens, don’t buy the Qatari propaganda. To them, It is  obvious Aljazeera was created for two purposes – to spread the influence of Political Islam and to promote the Qatari royal family as the true reformists of the region and the whole Islamic world. It is very interesting to see that Aljazeera has never criticized or came across any Qatari issue, nevertheless, it always praised and valued by the Western politicians and the media alike.

But this time, Al-Ajami’s incident came to act as a big blow to Aljazeera credibility. During the Arab Spring, Aljazeera adopted the uprises of Tunisia and Egypt and acted as a platform to their leaders. Moreover, it covered the event in overwhelming way, to the extent that it builds a permanent studious in some places, like Egypt, for example. It brought political expertise from all over the world to talk about the human right violations in the region and produced documentaries telling the stories  of the ‘prisoners of conscience’.

Al-Ajami in fact did nothing than what Aljazeera used to do during the last two years. He praised the Arab Spring the same way Aljazeera did. He wished a change to his people the same way Aljazeera justified its intervene in others business. But ironically, when Al-Ajami was treated brutally by the Qatari authorities, Aljazeera turned blind eyes. Aljazeera till today didn’t raise the case or even mentioned his case in the news. In contrast,  many human rights organizations criticized Qatar authority and demanded a fair trial for him.

Al-Ajami is a definate prisoner of conscience. Principly, the role of any professional media is to highlight issues  and bring them to public attention.  By denying Al-Ajami this right, questions  Aljazeera’s professionalism and credibility at stake. Apparently, Al-Ajami incident disclosed how Qatari’s claims of democratic reformations are facade and pseudo one.

Talking about early Greek migration with Pipo Sidiropoulos

By Ajak Mabia

Many migrants or refugees who come to Australia have their challenges to settle in.  But it is hard to compare who had it tougher: the ones who arrived in 50s, 60s and 70s or the more recent arrivals. No doubt the older migrants cleaned the back yard for us.

It’s important for new migrants to understand how tough it was for those who came before them and how they overcame their settlement issues: we can learn from them. One knows that it’s always struggle, but in long run, new arrivals will follow the same steps as those before them.

The Australian Government’s post-war migration policies aimed to increase the size of Australia’s population, and especially to provide unskilled workers for its burgeoning manufacturing industries. In 1952 the Australian-Greece Assisted Passages agreement providing a financial incentive for Greeks to leave their unstable, impoverished homeland, and make their way to Australia.

Many from rural areas migrated to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. Because of the turmoil of WWII and the chaos of civil war, very few in this generation of migrants had post-secondary qualifications. Consequently, in many cases, immigrants were illiterate or poorly educated.

By 1961, the number of migrants born in Greece and now residing in Australia reached 77,333. Between 1961 and 1966, 140,000 Greeks immigrated to Australia. Aged in their 20s in the main, they were soon employed in inner Melbourne factories either through family contacts, friends, or through job allocation processes at the Bonegilla migrant centre.

Many Greek migrants worked on assembly lines at Ford and GMH, in breweries and tanneries, in food processing factories like Rosella,  Arnotts, and in sewing machines, textile and footwear factories like Kayser and Pelaco. Many took second jobs cleaning office buildings in the CBD. A smaller number of people went to live in rural and regional Victoria where they worked on farms or in smaller industries and businesses. By 1971 there were 160,200 Greece-born immigrants in Australia. Forty-seven per cent lived in Melbourne.

* * * * * *

Pipo Sidiropoulos came to Australia when she was 24 years old.

She owned small hair dressing salon back in Greece. She met her husband there when she was 16 years old. They had a secret relationship for five years. They were not allowed to marry because her parents were poor and couldn’t afford to pay the dowry, besides she was Orthodox and he was Protestant.

So, his father told him, if you want to marry her you will have to go to a very far away land.

Australia was great option for him. He came to Australia first and in 1954 he sponsored Pipo. One year later she arrived and stayed with another Greek family for two months. They were married in December 1955.

Pipo is sitting at her home in Kew when I asked her how she met her husband. She explained, with tears in her eyes, how romantic it was. She stood up and looked adoringly at a picture of him hanging on the wall. With a handkerchief she cleaned the frame and said, “my darling husband waits for me”. The way she said it was like a Romeo and Juliet love story.

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Pipo Sidiropoulos in her living room

“He was very handsome”, she said. “Darling, wait for me”, she whispered again. “He was the reason I came to Australia. How cruel it was not to allow us to marry and stay in Greece” she said. She was looking after her parents and four brothers and sisters while they were at school using the money from her hair business. “But we were in love and we couldn’t share that with our families”.

“Many hearts were broken when I left Greece. But Australia has been very good to me”, Pipo said.

She said coming to Australia was the best thing that ever happened to her. “Australian people are beautiful, and I had nice neighbours. But when I started working in battery factory, I had no English. When the boss told me what to do, I didn’t understand what he was saying. All I could do is cry and cry. Whenever I was very upset, I cried. I cried so much then”.

“But I was so lucky to marry the man I met in Greece, because many Greek migrants married by photo; families chose girls and sent over their photos”.

She was the first Greek-speaking hair dresser in Australia, and she was earning enough money to live because all the Greek brides came to her.

She had no family here. “My neighbours were my family. You have to create your own family. If you smile at people, they will smile back at you. If you don’t give love, there is no love”.

I asked her whether she was treated differently because she was Greek. She responded: “One day I was in the salon and a person yelled, “Come here, you bloody wog”. And I said, ‘I am not wog, I am Australian'”.

Pipo said, “We all come from somewhere. Your mom might have come from England; whoever comes here comes from somewhere. I came from Greece”.

“This is my story. If you want to live happily, you need to have short memories and a thick skin”.

Racism is silly

A French woman was recently verbally abused by a group of racists on a Melbourne bus, and it was filmed on camera.   Our reporter, Thokgor Reech, comments:

All men are created equal”, said Thomas Jefferson.

No matter our race, colour, descent and ethnic origin, we all human beings.

Racism is silly; it reflects a narrow mindedness and lack of sensitivity toward others.

Human beings have distinguishing characteristics that determines their respective cultures.

Unfortunately, some people think they are superior to others, and are hostile towards members of another race.

There are two types of racism in the world: direct racial discrimination, which happens when a person is mistreated, abused, assaulted because of their race.

Systemic racial discrimination can happen when a policy treats people unfairly – socially, economically or politically – because of their race.

To overcome racism, it is necessary to make friendships with other people from different cultures and communities. Friendships cut all misconceptions between cultures and judges people as individuals rather than as groups.

It is important to live in peace and unity, with respect for other people.

Discourage those who judge others and make racist comments. Stop racist talk. It is important to make them realise how silly it sounds.

See video here

South Sudan-North Sudan: potential conflict over a barrel

By Alpha Furbell

Since South Sudan separated from the north almost two years ago, oil production has stalled.

Although most oil reserves are in South Sudan, north Sudan still has enormous influence on the production of oil. North Sudan controls the oil refinaries, pipelines and transport highways from the inland production areas to the ports, allowing the oil to be exported to major buyers such as China and Europe.

Disputation still remain between the two countries as they have yet to settle the conflict  over their border areas, including the oil-rich Abyei region. The position of the Abyei region was left undecided when South Sudan separated from north Sudan after almost three decades of civil war, which caused the deaths of an estimated two million people, including women and children.

Although South Sudan and north Sudan signed an agreement to resume oil production, both countries are building their armed capabilities in the border areas. The military build-up is a clear indication that both al-Bashir, president of north Sudan, and Salva Kiir of South Sudan are opting to resolve the dispute in the oil rich Abyei region, militarily. Both presidents are warlords, having fought against each other for more than two decades: they understand war better than politics.

It is highly likely that the two countries will return to full scale war if the international community, including the United Nations and other major stakeholders in Sudan, do not intervene to effectively assist the two countries reach a permanent and acceptable deal over border areas and oil production.

Why Malala’s shooting will hinder the credibility of ‘moderate’ Muslims

By Abdulkhalig Alhassan

Several weeks ago Pakistani-Taliban, an offshoot of the Afghanistan Taliban, cowardly shot Malala Yousifzai in the head. Malala, aged 14, is a well known activist for education rights for girls. Her brave stand against the Taliban belief in banning girls’ education nearly killed her.

The tragic accident has brought lots of anger, from within and outside Pakistan. Most politicians around the world raced to show their support and willingness for her to be treated. However, the accident has raised many questions about the moral credibility of the Muslim majority.

Theoretically, the Muslim majorities around the world, who like to define themselves as ‘moderates’, are very keen to distinguish themselves from the fundamental minority. Moreover, they don’t miss any opportunity to assure others of  their attitude of co-existing with people of all beliefs. But in reality, the story is different.

The influence of the fundamentalist minority on them is very visible and undeniable. In fact, they live under ongoing blackmail by them. Whenever something attacks the fundamentalists and is seen by them as insulting to Islam, we find the majority fall in line and take their side, despite their whispering condemnation of the radicals’ violence and overreaction.

Malala’s ‘accident’ is evidence of how moderate Muslims have not yet developed an independent attitude to the one adopted by fanatics. The fact that fundamentalist Muslims all around the world ignored what happened to the Pakistani girl is not a surprise. It’s very consistent with their misogynistic attitudes.

What about the moderate Muslims? What was their reaction to what happened? Why couldn’t they mobilise themselves and protest? Why didn’t they show strong condemnation and make it clear that what happened to Malala is an insult to Islam and Muslims?

The answer is very simple; there is no difference between the ‘moderates’ and the fundamentalists. They dance to the same tune. And if they don’t, it is only in degree rather than essence. Both groups are traditional-minded; nevertheless, the radicals appear more consistent in their theological perspectives. The dilemma of the moderates is that they feel caught in the middle. Most of them are secular to some degree, but at the same time, they haven’t developed a clear cut attitude to make them immune from the influence of traditional-Islam interpreting, which is manipulated by conservatives.

Most have internalised the notion that they are not true representatives of Islam, as if Islam is only one solid version, which in reality it is not. This situation pushes them to shy away from Islamic issues unless invited by the ‘true’ representatives, the salafists. This situation, where they are deprived of their rights to criticise any sort of insults, comes to Islam from within. This vulnerable situation of the moderates has given salifists the upper hand to create exclusive measurements of what insults Islam and Muslims.

It’s well known to those moderates that Malala had done nothing to insult Islam. In fact, she sought her right to education within the traditional paradigm of Islam. However, their lack of confidence as Muslims meant they failed to seize the moment to defend their tolerant message of Islam and at the same time to corner the radicals and embarrass them.

This inconsistency and double standard will hurt moderates and Islam. Any talks from their side, in the future, about the tolerance and peaceful message of Islam won’t be taken seriously as long they can’t respond to the violence and insult to their beliefs from within.

On the other hand, the only winner in this situation is the radicals. They are left as the main player on the Islamic arena. The radicals are gaining legitimacy every day as the only representative of the Muslims. At the same time, their violent brand of Islamism steadily dominates. No wonder then it became more and more difficult for the silent majority of Muslims to defend their peaceful version of Islam.

Australia relied on Africa

By Ahmed Zaroog

Foreign Minister Bob Carr says Australia will have a great deal more influence in international arena after winning a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Richard Marles, says Australia won the seat for a variety of reasons, including its strong historic record in peacekeeping missions around the world. Africa supported Australia to win the two-year Security Council seat, with all African and Caribbean nations backing it.

The Opposition believes the Government has focused too much over recent years on aid programs to Africa, simply to win over these nations in its bid for a Security Council seat. However, it’s a challenge to Australia to keep its promises to send more aid and development assistance to Africa because, as we know, armed violence continues to escalate, the illegal arms trade is having an impact on the everyday lives, especially for people across Horn and East Africa. The region suffers from systematic human rights abuses, including killing, torture, rape, looting and destruction of property.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, needs to think more about international policy and international community its not just Asia. I believe that Carr, with his Asian wife, should help Africa by asking China to stop supplying dictators in Africa with weapons.

In the name of the law

By Fawzi Adam

At half past eight in the morning I was driving from Shepparton to Melbourne to be on time for a course in journalism at Melbourne University.

I needed to fill up the tank with petrol. There is a petrol station on the edge of the Shepparton, about seven kilometres away from where I live. I stopped there. I had $25 in my pocket and I wasn’t paying attention when I was putting in the petrol. My hand slipped and I accidentally put in $7 more petrol than I could pay for.

It was really embarrassing. I didn’t quite know how to deal with this. Anyway, I went to the petrol station attendant and asked if there was an ATM. He pointed one out to me. I tried to withdraw money from the machine but I had forgotten my pin number because I don’t use my card very often.

So I went back to him and asked him if I could try EFTPOS. But that wasn’t working either. So I asked him if I could go to the car and check if there was any money lying around in there. Unfortunately, there was nothing. I came back into the shop I told him I couldn’t find any more money and asked him what I should do.

At that moment, I saw a huge policeman, with his full uniform and gun in its holster. He looked as though he was browsing for a newspaper, but I knew in an instant that he was there for me.

I told the petrol station attendant I would call my wife to ask her to help me. As I was beside my car trying to call, the policeman, who had gone outside without buying anything and seemed to be waiting for me, snatched the eftpos card from my hand. He started to question me about my licence and saw that the surname on my bank card was not the same as on my licence. I tried to explain to him that the Department of Immigration had given me different surnames on different visas because in Arabic countries we have multiple surnames in our passports so they get confused.

I was feeling really annoyed about the policeman because he was treating me really badly. I felt he was very rude. He was treating me like a criminal, as if I had robbed the shop, but I had never tried to avoid paying and it was only $7. He didn’t give me a chance to call my wife or to explain the situation.

The policeman took my details from my licence and my bank card and told me I should change the name on the licence. When he handing them back, he said nothing. I went over to the service station attendant again and told him I would be back next weekend to pay the $7.

Next week, I returned to give the attendant the $7. He seemed very surprised. He thanked me a lot. I apologised to him about what had happened and told him it really was an accident.

I heard no more from the police about this. But I learnt my lesson. Next time I have limited money in my pocket I’ll be using the pre-set buttons on the petrol pump.