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AZIZ

It wasn’t the noose, it was the bullet.

I looked around the flat for meaning. It was sparsely furnished, with only a couple of side chairs, a table and a sofa, three seat, blue in colour, with a warm yellow woollen blanket and a pillow on it, it served as his bed. Together it barely filled an otherwise empty space. A chair lie overturned in the middle of the floor next to the broken coffee table, oak, matching the parquet floor. The length of rope dangled ominously across the chair and table. On the floor I found two pictures in wooden frames. I had seen them before, Pictures of his beloved family. Aziz showed them to anyone who came to visit, but few ever came.

The day tried to peek its way in through the windows, casting what seemed a cruel light upon what lay on the floor. As I set the telephone back into the charger, I thought back to our conversations. They often revolved around his family. How his father had taught him to be a handyman, but also pushed him to become a doctor, and he did, a very good doctor in fact. His father told him that if a man is good with his hands, if he can find the patience to work well with wood, then he has the mindfulness to do anything. He had intended to pass that along to a son but was denied the chance.

Aziz never finished telling me what happened on August 27th, 2012, around noon. They knew about the fighting that had started but it hadn’t reached Damascus yet… The unrest in the poorer areas had grown and gross violence was becoming the norm. He told me the shelling started on the other side of the city at around 8:00 a.m. They started to grab what they could quickly. Aziz went downstairs to secure the transport when the mortar hit. His eyes filled with tears when he told me about his wife and two daughters, who did not survive, and all he could do was to wave me away, unable to say more.

In the ensuing days, he tried to use his considerable skills as a doctor to help the injured but realized he had to leave Damascus when a colleague of his was kidnapped by the fighters for a 100,000£ ransom. This is not an uncommon occurrence, he tells me. He left his office, his practice, everything behind for the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. The camp had been established about a month earlier and was already overpopulated. Protests were held daily about the lack of food and accommodation. Not long after his arrival he met a man who claimed that for a substantial fee he could offer him passage to Europe.

Unable to put the loss of his family behind him, Aziz was hoping for a new life here. Raised in an upper class environment in Damascus, he had never been subjected to racial harassment before. His Muslim beliefs simply did not allow for such thought, he believed. The fact that he was still waiting for his immigration paperwork to finalize when he first heard the taunts didn’t help, he knew he couldn’t react in any way or risk being sent immediately back to Damascus, which would mean certain death. This once proud man became only a shadow of his jovial, funny, intelligent self. I often wondered what his life had been like earlier in Damascus, but now he rarely left his apartment.

One Tuesday, about a month ago, he ran across a flier on the bus seat advertising a rally in support of refugees from Syria, although he didn’t speak Swedish, he was able to understand the meaning. In a rare moment, he decided to attend. It was an October afternoon, a Sunday, when the rally was held at Medborgarplatsen here in Stockholm. About 350 showed up and speeches were made, in Swedish. Although Aziz couldn’t understand, it moved him to see this. Perhaps he was misjudging Sweden, perhaps it was the open minded country he had heard about after all. Then everything changed. A group of about 25 skinheads decided to show up. What started as shouting and fist waving soon turned very violent. Aziz tried to get away, but was stuck in the crowd. Bottles and rocks were being thrown and Aziz went into a panic. Visions of his homeland overcame his logic as he started to fight back. Grabbing a stick, he swung at two of the Nazis, hitting one, Ole, across the back. Ole turned and they stood almost face to face. Fortunately, the police arrived, Ole turned away to avoid another arrest, and Aziz ran to safety. Ole made a permanent memory of Aziz, however, vowing to revenge.

Aziz was devastated. I had no idea, until I read his notes, just how deeply his sorrow rooted itself. He told of the nights of darkness, nightly visions of the explosion and the loss of his family. The aloneness and isolation he felt here in Sweden made so much worse by the fracas with Ole. He had no way out. He couldn’t practice medicine. It would take seven years to become certified, and he felt completely trapped. He had decided to end it all.

The police arrived and the ambulance, no one could understand the noose around his neck or the bullet hole in the window. What was the connection?

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Confessions of a Secret Muslim

This is an excellent article!  The author is a young Muslim woman who grew up in the US. At age 8, when the planes hit the twin towers, even at that age, her life and her self-perceptions changed forever, because of the bigotry she now faced, and still does, on a daily basis. AT AGE 8, one of her classmates, who on the previous day had been a friend, now screamed at her calling her a terrorist! This article tells of her sense that she needed to hide who she was, and what she believed, until she couldn’t do it anymore and spoke out. I salute her bravery and wish her well, I hope to read much more from her!

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Europe – 14:06, 08 July 2013 Monday

Thousands begin “death march” to mark Srebrenica
Commemorators started backtracking the wooded route through Bosnia that massacre survivors took 18 years ago when they fled the single worst act of genocide in Europe since the Holocaust.

World Bulletin / News Desk
Thousands of participants in the annual “death march” in Bosnia began treading in reverse the steps of 3,500 people who escaped Srebrenica, where the invading Serbian troops killed 8,000 Muslim men in 1995 civil war.
Thousands of people from Turkey, Spain, US, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Germany and Austria gathered in Nezuk town early on Monday morning and kicked off the “death march” along marches and with flags in their hands.
Despite the heat, participants continue with their three-day-long walk. The walk from the city of Tuzla in the north-eastern region to the eastern town of Srebrenica takes about 112 km.
Participants from all around the world state that their aim is to contribute to remember Srebrencia victims and not experiencing such pains again.
“I think about those painful days when I walk”
Attending the walk from Spain, Sonia Pares told Anadolu Agency that her brother was serving in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war and then she decided to attend the traditional walks after the war. After her brother’s death, Sonia Pares decided to keep the memories of all victims alive.
Another walker, Emina Cavan from Sweden said she felt debted to attend the walk, despite her old age.
35 km of walk each day
The march will end on July 11 at the Srebrenice Genocide Memorial, known as Potocari Memorial Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide, within the scope of the memorial events of the genocide.
Participants will walk about 35 kilometers each day for three days long in order to reach Potocari.
Walkers will rest overnight in the woods where survivors of the genocide who used the “death march” route to escape will share their experiences.
The massacre, recognized by two international courts as an act of genocide, took place on July 11, 1995 when the Serbian troops under the leadership of Ratko Mladic invaded Srebrenica and killed 8,000 men above the age of 14 in the city.
Mladic was extradited to The Hague in 2011 on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide. His trial formally began in May, 2012.

Taken from this link   http://www.worldbulletin.net/?aType=haber&ArticleID=112679

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In Pictures: Guantanamo, a decade later – In Pictures – Al Jazeera English.

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Today marks the 10th year anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. There are so many others writing about it, I almost didn’t want to, but I feel compelled to write SOMETHING! So here it goes….

I decided that I should examine my own feelings about 9/11 and my own memories of that dreadful day and the days that followed.

I was still in bed, trying to ignore my alarm clock. Actually, it wasn’t my alarm, it was my phone ringing, a rare occurrence, and I of course had to find out who would dare ring me so bloody early or what the earth shattering event was or who had just died. It was, in fact, a friend, sounding very shook up. She asked me if I was watching the news because the U.S. was being attacked. I immediately turned on the news just in time to see the second plane hit. The images of that day, the planes hitting the buildings, the people jumping out from the buildings and then the buildings falling down are burned into my memory forever.

I remember the total shock, the disbelief, and the horror of the moment. What was I watching? How could this happen? Who on earth could do this? I felt like someone had stomped on my stomach, for a moment my mind was totally shut off, I couldn’t think, my emotions were ripped inside out from my depths to my skin and everyone could see them.

I stumbled, quite literally, to the bathroom and began, only on instinct, to get ready for work. How I longed for it to be April fool’s day. How I wished it were just a bad movie I was watching, or a trick, something like Orson Welles performance of War of the Worlds a few decades earlier.

Like a drunk without a memory, I had almost no idea how I made it to work, but I will always remember the feeling that day. The town and in fact the whole world felt like death. This was a death you couldn’t bargain with, couldn’t escape, couldn’t cheat or trick in a game of chess. This was ruthless, cruel and complete in its brutality.

There was an enormous hole in the world and it pulled me and everyone else in the world into it. It ripped my insides out. I couldn’t and wouldn’t believe that anyone could be so cruel, but the evidence was inescapable. I thought of my maternal grandmother who was from Brooklyn, and my many friends who had lived or still do, in New York City, I thought of the families of those who died, of the overwhelming sense of loss.

It seemed that everyone I came into contact with felt a similar grief. I also remember there were so many questions. The ones that journalists are trained to ask, I would suppose, who what when were why etc. but no answers.

Over the next few days, the Bush administration started to “explain” who did it, and started the war of words and propaganda to support its’ position and intentions to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq without support of the international community or the United Nations, setting off a sequence of events that I will, and it hurts me deeply to say this, never forgive my country for. (I will write more on this in another blog, dear reader, so if you’re curious stay tuned.)

Of course I felt tremendous anger about those events. There will never be a place in the civilized world for such brutality, but I also realized that it was a huge protest against much more than the United States. I will always believe that.  It saddened me that so many of my countrymen didn’t see that. I realized that people from all over the world, INCLUDING PEOPLE OF THE MUSLIM FAITH died on that day.

I thought then, and still do, that we need to figure out the true reasons why they felt it necessary to do this and what they felt they could gain. We need to take steps to deny them their power, to change the way we relate to the issues facing the Middle East so that they have no basis for recruitment. The United States needs to ensure that its actions in the Middle East are based solely on humanitarian purposes, without the intention of profit or the furtherance of imperialism.

I can say that I certainly feel I’ve changed from that day, as have so many. My view of the world around me has grown, my awareness of prejudice in America against Muslims has definitely heightened, and that prejudice saddens me deeply, especially when I realize that this anniversary will almost certainly fan those fires again.

When my Swedish friends ask me if I might want to move back to the States, I say, “No, it’s not in my plans”, then I smile and walk away. What I don’t say is that due to the dreadful actions of the Bush administration, the continued illegal holding of people in Guantanamo, the torture of prisoners of war, the rise of such idiots as Sarah Pahlin and the neo religious fascist Tea Party, and most of all the environment of hate and fear that the attacks have brewed in the U.S. I don’t want to live there.  I can’t be a part of that any longer because I no longer believe in the dream.

That is what I lost on that day, 10 years ago. Perhaps I’ll find it again. It would be nice.

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Dateline Sarajevo 29/05-10 Beginning in the year of my birth and continuing throughout my youth, America was involved in what can best be described as a controversial war, perhaps the first truly “controversial” war in its history, Vietnam. The advent of television brought to moms and dads and the families back home the harsh reality of war right into their living rooms and dinner parties. Over the years, as the war dragged on and on, and the death toll continued to climb, the youth, pressed into compulsory service, began to question what they were dying for. This was the dilemma staring me directly in the face as I approached my 18th birthday. I was literally only one week away from being drafted into military service, or more likely forced into an illegal flight to either Canada or Sweden when the draft was finally stopped. America had lost the war, peace with honor was only a dream (or a lie depending on your perception) and the soldiers who did fight and survive came home to much less than a heroes welcome. Until today, this was as close as I had ever come to war. Now we move to Sarajevo, a beautiful, culturally diverse jewel in central Europe, and the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city, formed as we know it by the Ottoman empire in 1450 but with origins dating as far back as the Neolithic Age, is flanked by the Dinaric Alps on both the North and South sides, and the Miljacka river which flows through it winding like a snake. The city lies in a deep valley, the Alps rising like beautiful lush green monoliths on either side. When you see it from the plane it’s wondrously beautiful. Lush greens accompanied by tile rooftops looking down on a tranquil oasis of cooperation and community. When you ask the residents about their city one of the first things they point out is the broad cultural diversity. Religious diversity is especially important to these people with adherents of Muslim, Catholic, Judaism and Orthodox faiths peacefully coexisting for centuries. The minarets rise up joyfully proclaiming the presence and devotion. On our first day here, after checking in, my wife, Inger and I left our hotel to begin to explore the city. We hear the chants wafting down in multiple directions, surrounding us and calling to all. The cab ride from the airport is very revealing. New buildings flank ancient ones as the city continues to grow. The diversity, that word pops up again and again, of the architecture is striking. For this observer, however, my eyes are drawn to something else, something moving, something echoing a painful past. Sarajevo is also a city torn apart and almost destroyed by a dreadful war. The damage to the buildings is still painfully visible, although you don’t see as many buildings lying in rubble as you would have 10 or 15 years ago, there remains still many buildings that reveal their scars from mortar fire or shrapnel from the mountains around them. You realize immediately that you can’t escape the war, not yet, not easily. After the breakup of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Serbian forces, which had aligned themselves with the Yugoslav Peoples Army which was made up of members of the army of the former Republic and very well armed, had begun a build up to capture part of Bosnia and combine it into Serbia, including Sarajevo. They fortified positions in the mountains on both sides and waited. In Sarajevo at this time there were peace demonstrations, which were quite large, and it was during one such demonstration that the siege began. Serbian militants, guards of a Serbian politician, opened fire on a peace demonstration from the top of the Holiday Inn, killing 3 and wounding 50. Thus began one of Europe’s darkest times. The Serbian forces had total control of most of the mountains on either side of the city traffic in and out was impossible. The residents were helpless and easy targets for artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs, and sniper rifles. The roads in and out were cut off and the airport was closed down. About 450,000 residents were helpless and cut off from the world. If they needed to shop food or go outside at all, they were a target for sniper fire from the hills. Their buildings, offices, hotels, churches, markets, homes, hospitals, schools were targets and most buildings were either damaged or destroyed. Electricity and water were cut off, for days or weeks on end, making even preparation of food or heating their house almost impossible. Most of the trees in the city were cut down for firewood. Parks, of which there were many here, were used for cemeteries, with fast services done at night so that the snipers didn’t see them and open fire. The main cemetery lies on a lovely hillside overlooking the Olympic Stadium, however it was in the Serb controlled hills. Access was, of course, impossible. Over the course of almost 4 years, the residents of Bosnia were subject to almost every abomination imaginable, ranging from ethnic cleansing to mass executions, rape and starvation. Residents in Sarajevo came very close to complete starvation, and their only chance for survival weighed in the balance on the success of UN airlifts from the Sarajevo airport that was opened in late June of 1992. On June 1, 1993, at least fifteen people were killed and 80 more were wounded as a result of a mortar attack during a soccer game. Red Cross trucks, which were given clearance to enter Sarajevo, were raided and destroyed, and maternity wards were hit killing mothers and newborns alike. On July 12, 1993, twelve people were killed while in line for water, and on February 5 of the following year mortar shells killed 68, and wounding 200 others in the Sarajevo market place. The ONLY way the city and its residents survived, quite literally was via a tunnel, some 800 meters long running from Bosnian controlled territory to the airport, which even though it was controlled by the UN was still under attack. The tunnel became known as the “tunnel of life” and indeed it was. The more I hear about life here during that time the more I admire the people for their bravery. They are strong people, who have been through something so horrible that I simply can not even begin to comprehend and yet they welcome strangers with a smile. Obviously I am deeply moved by what I have found here. I look out my window now, I see the minaret, hear the chanting, and see the lush green hills. About 2 minutes walk from here is a large cemetery filled with graves, directly outside my hotel window is a small cemetery sitting next to the mosque filled with graves, all of them from the war and I realize that land may have been a park or a garden or a place where children played. In this city almost all of the parks are now cemeteries filled with names of the 11,000 people who died, around 1,400 of them were children. One of the joys of life, for me is to run up into the hills, kick off my shoes and feel the grass on my feet, but here in the hills of Sarajevo that could be deadly as the hills are, to this day, filled with land mines and no one has any idea of how many. There is of course work going on to find them, but it’s painfully slow and dangerous. Obviously the citizens of Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina have a very painful legacy. The Serbs who once lived within the city are now living outside it in a separate area “Republika Srbska” with their own police force, schools a separate nation almost and there is little social or personal contact between them and the rest of the Sarajevans, as our tour guide said on Monday as we drove through a part of their territory “ There is no contact, it would be too dangerous, no social contact and if one were to get out of the car and attempt it that would be very tense”. The wonderful diversity is almost gone in the aftermath. There are 5,000 euro forces (EU peacekeeping forces) here still and our guide expressed the hope that they remain indefinitely. The Dayton Agreement, which while it brought an end to the violence, is weak and there have been no further negotiations to ease the situation or bring any attempt at unity. This is the city which I find myself so drawn to. Is it because of the war or despite it? Perhaps I’ll never know, but I do know that I am taken by it, by the warmth, my wife and I have experienced almost the beginning, the friendliness of the people we met, by the beauty of the city itself. It is with some sense of sadness, that I start to pack my suitcase and head to Mostar tomorrow, eager for another new city, but very sad to say goodbye to Sarajevo. So it won’t be goodbye, it can’t be. It will be vidimo se, see you!

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