“A Person and/or Small Group Cannot Represent A Country, A Nation Nor A Religion”

I am struggling to even find a starting point for this blog post because when I think about the topic so much anger fills my brain. This past week has brought a lot of unfortunate circumstances that can make it very hard to see positively. Between the Boston Marathon, West Texas explosion, the Senate failing 90% of the country on gun background checks, and more…it is a very frustrating time. However, it seems to be made worse by just how people are choosing to take out their frustration, and the media is not helping.

The victims of the Boston Marathon have been on my mind, as they have been for most of the country’s I’m sure, constantly. Yet despite how awful we feel because of this violence and hatred that has been inflicted on innocent people, there are still those who turn around and add more violence to the picture in the name of it. Throughout the news coverage, I had been hoping that the suspects would not turn out to be Muslim because I knew it would reinforce stereotypes in this country that people fail to see past. Right off the bat it was assumed that they were Muslim and “non-white”, probably Arab even by members of our government and the media who plastered the name of an innocent Saudi student and another 17 year old who were also victims of the awful events that had just occurred. Within the same day of the attack there instances around the country of people who “look Muslim”, which is a completely ignorant thing to say, being violently attacked. In the Bronx a man was beaten up outside of a restaurant he was having dinner, a woman in Boston was shoved in front of her child just walking home. Rumors spread like wildfire that the Saudi who had been highlighted in the media was being secretly deported by some shady deal that Obama was making. The 17 year old who the New York Post put on their front page was getting threats via social media. Their names and faces tainted on top of the pain they were already feeling just like anyone else who was in or watching with Boston that day.

It infuriates me how irresponsible the media has become when they know the influence that they can have on people. Is getting the story out, being first, or even getting the highest ratings more important than a person’s safety? The reporting has been despicable and very difficult for me to watch. Before we even knew anything about the two suspects the focus of their identities rested on things such as their social media page saying Islam as world view, or the fact that Chechnya is primarily Muslim. These things were reported as if they were the true answer, when in fact there was absolutely nothing that said this was the reasoning behind the attacks. Therefore only causing people to spin into more ignorant comments about Muslims and people of Chechnya, that they really knew very little about. Was it worth it? Was it worth it to get that reporting out to cause people pain? I have friends who were in and around NYC who just “looked” Muslim, whether they were or not, who felt terrified to be in public due to the negative attention and even abuse toward their safety because people cannot see past this color blind vision that continues to be drilled into their minds. There has been no trial, we have not even heard directly from the suspect any details for a motive, everything is only speculation, yet it is being reported as though it is fact and therefore people are taking it as so. Even it does turn out that they did act in the name of Islam, it is a radicalization that is not a characteristic of the religion, but of their minds and demeanor. They are no different, and quite possibly may have even acted in similar unfathomable reasoning, as the recent mass shooters. All of these mass shooters were white male. Can you even think of one of their religions? Probably not, because the media did not report the information as they did the two Boston suspects.

I watched Bill Maher yesterday, where a point was brought up that of course not all Muslims are violent, but it is only fact that radical Muslims are the most violent today. This point was awful to hear because it will only reinforce what people are already thinking. I don’t see this as the case. There are terrible acts being done in the name of many religions that have been radicalized, or in some cases not. In Africa, groups based off of Christianity such as the LRA have abducted millions of children, murdered, raped, and maimed millions of African citizens using a perverted version of the 10 Commandments in their work and to brainwash others, for example. It can happen anywhere, it just depends on the person and the circumstances, NOT the religion itself. To bomb innocent people does not take one particular religion that billions of others follow as decent human beings, it takes a person whose brain has been tarnished for other reasons or an understanding of that religion that is coming from the results of that already tainted brain. Just how much of the Taliban are uneducated and deciphering the Quran in ways that the majority of other Muslims would never. Just like the Westboro Baptist Church translates the Bible into a tool of hatred. This translation of the Bible used in the name of much violence and death including toward the LGBT community. And now here we are disgusted with the violence in Boston on Monday, and in some cases acting out by creating more instances of violence and hatred.

We live in a country that is extremely diverse. I think that makes us fortunate. We can get to know and learn from people that have roots throughout the world without even leaving the United States. In fact, we all have roots, of course varying how far back these roots are, that stem to a different nationality. Diversity is a beautiful thing. So many different minds and views trying to make sense out of this world and bringing fun traditions (and food!) to our door steps. But yet, all we have is anger for people who don’t “look American”. Whatever that means. I’ve also seen some reports come out trying to get the similar points out that I am here, but use terms such as “white folks” are color blind. As someone who is white, this is just MORE labeling and assuming. It never seems to end.

Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leonne and a Muslim himself tweeted an important reminder to the world.

“A person and/or a small group cannot represent a country, a nation nor a religion.”

Do Something also shared a thought that wraps this entire message up very well:

“Heads up: Saying Al-Qaeda is an accurate representation of all Muslims is as stupid as saying the Westboro Baptist “Church” is an accurate representation of all Christians.

There are 2.2 BILLION Muslims in the world. To think that an incredibly small group of fundamentalists is a fair representation of that many people isn’t right.

We’re all human, let’s start acting like it towards each other.”

Yes there are terrible things that have happened this week. Yes they may or may not have been committed in the name of something as seen through the killers head. But everyone, no matter where they are from, or what religion they are, as innocent decent people (as the majority of the world is) are feeling the hurt and sympathizing with the victims. Let’s not create even more hatred and violence because of something we do not understand or because of what is being drilled into our heads by the media. Open your eyes, think for yourself. If more prejudice and violence stems it is only the evil minded who are continuing to win this battle.

It Doesn’t All Have to be Black or White

Gun control? Mental illness? Less gun control? Religion? Media? In the wake of a tragedy, there seems to me arguing than coming together and appreciating anyone. It is infuriating. No matter what the opinion is, we’re all really trying to get to the same solution-less violent and tragic deaths. That seems like a pretty good thing to want, right? So why are we all fighting with everyone else who really just wants the same thing? 

Has it occurred to people, that perhaps there is more than one solution? And that fighting over which is better, we can actually discuss how to compromise and combine to make an even better end result than any one could ever have? In my personal opinion, I believe our country desperately needs stricter gun laws, better mental health education, and the media has got to get ahold of themselves. Here is why:

  • Gun control-There is absolutely no need for people to just have semi-automatic weapons. I mean really, why? These are weapons that are only used in war for the most part, why would you ever need one in your house? You don’t. Most of the mass shootings across the country have happened by people who have  obtained guns legally. It’s terrifying.
  • Mental Health Education-Our society doesn’t seem still to handle people who have health issues that aren’t worn on their sleeve. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If you grow up with a mental illness, your environment can truly affect how you react to it. You might be bullied, taunted, ignored, etc. The more people understand about mental illness, hopefully the better society can react, and the lives of those who must live with this can be better overall. As someone who has anxieties of my own, it can be truly inhibiting and also embarrassing to talk about. But why? It’s not embarrassing if you broke your leg, or have cancer. This is also something out of your control. We need better programs for those who have the illness, and education for those who don’t as well.
  • Media-What is wrong with the picture of forcing a microphone down the throat of a 5 year old in the most traumatic moments of their life? Is it really worth it to get the story? Is that what’s most important? And, do people really believe it’s a coincidence that once these tragedies occur more and more stories like them come out of the woodwork. Already they had threats in Oklahoma, Indiana, and even a church in Newtown, CT. If you make the suspects famous, it puts ideas into the heads of others. If they are already delusional, here’s a way they can go out with everyone knowing who they are. I spoke with a friend in Canada who said that their media refuses to report the name of the person who commits these crimes. Therefore, less people will try to copy the action with the idea of seeing their name become famous in all the headlines. All the media seems to care about is being the most successful in reporting. How about showing a human side and maybe even making a difference?

I do not believe less gun control is the answer, nor do i think religion is. Here’s why.

  • Less gun control-I have seen tweets saying that the solution would be to have 5 year olds carrying weapons. What? I personally would never want a gun, and as someone living in NYC, I would be terrified every single day knowing the millions around me have them. One argument for this solution is that if good people had guns, they could stop the bad people. The flaw? Not everyone wants to carry guns. For this theory to even have a chance of working, it’s almost like you would have to make a law obligating everyone to have to carry guns. Second, a gunman has never been stopped during a mass murder by someone with a gun to date…so why would it start now? Third, people panic.  I think that more people would be shot by racially profiling, missing the target, or jumping the gun (no pun intended) in a year than the amount of people who actually die in these tragedies to begin with. I also don’t think I would even trust my child’s teachers to have guns in the classroom. Accidents happen, kids get a hold of things, and teachers are people, some people make bad decisions.
  • Religion-I keep seeing posts saying that the reason this is happening is because we have taken God out of our classrooms and out of our laws, therefore letting evil in. These things have always happened. And if there is a God, I would surely hope that he would not cause harm to innocent people and children just to prove a point. That would make me very angry with him. 

Those are my personal thoughts. I think there are many things we can do to make a difference. Instead of arguing “gun control must change” “no mental health must be addressed”, why not both? Not everything is black and white, but our country has become so partisan that even during a crisis when we all really want what’s best for people, we are still viciously attacking each other. Can anyone have a rational conversation? And how do we look at Congress and get angry with them, when our country is doing the exact same thing: irrationally arguing and fighting wasting all our energy on negativity, and in the end coming up with nothing good so that we keep dealing with the same problems over and over.

I’ve seen it on my page. I am so sensitive to other people and all I want is to create a better world, a more fair world, for everyone. Yet on the way friends and family viciously attack what I post you would think that I was trying to actually make the world turn for the worse. I accept different opinions, and I even take time to think and consider them. But I do not accept rude attacks, especially at a time when we are all feeling sad and have the best intentions.  How can we expect to make a more peaceful world and country, when we are all so vicious with our words toward each other, especially when people just want to make things better, that will only discourage everyone. And what kind of example is that?

I even saw one post saying that “Liberals have no right to be sad about these deaths because they are fine with death through abortion.” How can we label people like that? We are all people. And maybe someone, like me, who is Liberal, only feels comfortable with abortion as a well-thought solution. You never know what is going on with people and why they decide what they do. Isn’t judgment supposed to be the worst sin? So why are people using religion as a means to judge everyone, including people like me who may have beliefs different from theirs, but still wants what’s best for everyone and even take their words into consideration. That is incredibly hateful and hurtful, how is that getting us anywhere?

Politics have become black and white, but they shouldn’t be. Not everyone who identifies with a party is exactly the same as everyone in that party. It has gotten ridiculous, and I think these past few days have really brought this to light. Learn to educate yourself, learn to listen, learn to discuss instead of argue, and please, respect people no matter what their opinion. We are all hurting during these difficult times. Being cruel to each other will not help anything.

The Fine Line Between Self Defense & War Crimes

Throughout the last several years most of my studies have focused on issues going on around Sub-Saharan Africa. However, becoming more involved with Amnesty International in the city and meeting people from around the world I became anxious to learn about more and more cultures around the world. The Israel-Palestine conflict has never been one that I personally have been as informed on as I would like, and it still is not. However, I do know the difference between right and wrong and after spending the last week researching it as much as I could I have very mixed feelings.

I know the history is extremely complex. However, within recent months the casualties of Palestinians have been extremely high and the Israeli government seems relentless. After seeing media report after report come out with higher numbers of children and civilian casualties I cannot grasp how people through social media and even President Obama are so heavily backing the government of Israel. Both sides, meaning the Israeli government and Hamas should be held accountable. I understand that Israel is an ally to the U.S., but I also know that Benjamin Netanyahu is known for committing war crimes and standing behind atrocities in the Gaza Strip where people are basically refugees in their own land with no freedoms or human rights granted to them at all. I don’t understand how people in the world or the U.S. can look at them getting murdered with more plans coming out to increase the violence and not want to help them. I agree, the extremist groups like Hamas are also killing Israelis, and those should be condemned as well. People seem to not understand that there are families, children, husbands and wives that are not in these militia type groups that can not have the world turn their back on them so that Israel can murder them in self defense to Hamas. I read today that 44% of Gaza is under the age of 15. That’s nearly half, and explains why the child causality rate is so high. How is this right and how can people not care?

I also understand that because of the complexities that Israel may be on the defensive in feeling that if they back down that the violence will switch. So where does it end? Will it always be whoever is the weaker will be the victim of the defensive attacks of the other and so forth? It’s been going on for years–what is the solution? All I know is I do not agree with the U.S. standing so firmly behind Israel. Allies or not, they are murdering people and planning a ground attack that will increase these numbers even further. I feel concerned for what will happen in the coming days for these people. It amazes me, as usual, that this much suffering and fear is going on for other humans and so many people can easily go about their daily lives and the news reports spend a total of 3 minutes reporting anything. I feel strong emotions knowing that at this moment that is going on. I’m continuing to learn more so if you have any resources or things you think would be good to know I am open for discussion.

As I was typing this, I saw protestors on the news that are currently in Time Square. They were orthodox Jews that were protesting in support to end the suffering for the people of Gaza. Gave me a little bit of hope to see interfaith work in action for good to go to sleep with. Reminded me of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization I’ve been following very closely lately and I strongly recommend. It’s been a rough weekend. Between this conflict and the M23 rebels approaching Goma in DRC makes me feel very fired up again to do something to help and try to find a way to change. A friend of mine posted this today, and it fit in pretty well.

UN Declares Contraception Universal Human Right-What Does This Mean for The World?

Yesterday, the United Nations declared access to contraception and family planning a universal human right stating:

“Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women. Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive. Women’s increased labor-force participation boosts nations’ economies.”

This is a huge step for so much of the world. I don’t consider myself a major “feminist” by any means, however, it is just common sense that women make up roughly half the world. Therefore, if half the world is left behind or oppressed there is no way that the rest of society can effectively move forward. The unfortunate part remains that people immediate associate contraception to mean sex and irresponsibility. It is completely the opposite, well, the irresponsible party anyways. First of all, women have the right to choose their lifestyle. So even if it is solely to protect themselves for sexual reasons, they are being safe. Then there are those who are in committed relationships or married. Having this lifestyle should not mean that having sex with your partner could always lead to the possibility of a child. By planning in your relationship how many children and when you will have children allows the woman to pursue her career and achieve leadership positions that will benefit society. This also benefits the children that the couple will have since they will be in a healthier environment.

In developing countries, there are unfortunately circumstances that come up against women where contraception is needed to avoid the results that danger and violence can often cause. Many girls must travel great distances to get to school which often makes them targets of abduction and rape. Whether rape as a weapon of war, forced into child marriage, sex slavery/trafficking, etc., these crimes are often focused primarily on women and girls. Access to contraception can help them keep some power and control over their lives. When I was in Ghana, I saw first hand that many schools had no bathrooms, making it difficult for girls to come to school during that time of month. Contraception provides an opportunity to regulate this and control symptoms that may otherwise keep them home, eventually causing them to be so far behind that they drop out. Mothers in developing countries who have multiple children would now be given the chance to control the spacing between children. Therefore, delaying pregnancy, finishing school, succeeding in jobs, saving money, and lifting themselves and their family out of poverty.

In the U.S., Obama’s affordable care act is known to have access to free contraceptives. Many people are disturbed by this thinking that the government is forcing to pay for something that may not believe in. However, there is no way everyone’s tax dollars will go 100% where they agree. It’s not possible to make everyone happy. Secondly, if your concern is your religion, religion is personal. Religion is not the law, and not everyone has the same beliefs as you. Therefore, you can not harm the health and quality of lives to others because you believe in something that works for you. I’m still unsure why religion has so much control over laws and policy when it should be a personal relationship. There are so many different religions in the United States. Law must focus on the well-being of people overall and not give in to a few religions that may hinder others. Another issue in the U.S. that is extremely popular to argue on is the economy. But it has been proven that by having money go into providing family planning services for women will gain revenue as an end result. The money that is put in then goes back into society as these women succeed into leadership postions and careers that allow them to establish and support themselves, rather than not finishing school or moving ahead in work causing them to sink into poverty relying on government assistance programs. Again, if you leave behind half of your society because they are women and therefore have reproductive health issues that must be addressed, there is no way to move forward. Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition, and should not be treated as such. Men certainly aren’t going to stop wanting sex, and neither will women. So the fault should not fall on women who are trying to be responsible so they don’t fall behind by using methods that are much less reliable.

I will never forget the 14 year old girl we met in Ghana, who was so intelligent and inspiring to speak with. On the last day we found out she was pregnant, would have to quit school, and work to support her family instead. That was her life. No responsibility was even considered to be put on the boy. It was heartbreaking. These are things that could so easily be avoided. People often put a stigma on the issue that causes it to slow down rather than moving forward and succeeding. It is a shame, and I am thrilled to see the United Nations take this important step forward to push the world to take action in supporting women and therefore supporting the world.

To learn more, the UNFPA released a full report here: http://www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/swp/2012/EN-SWP2012_Report.pdf