Friday, 12 October 2018

NOBEL PRIZES AS WEAPONS

     The timing of two of the October Nobel Prize awards was perfect and galvanizing. Coincident or intentional?
     The enormous clout of the United States should not, can not, and is not ignored by the rest of the world, so an internal vote concerning a supreme court nomination alerts a worried world:
     Immediately after Brett Kavanaugh’s 51-49 confirmation vote to the 9th seat on the Supreme Court, a vote called in a Toronto Globe and Mail article “a head-long plunge into an ugly past”, Norwegian Nobel prizes were awarded to Dennis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, two activists for women’s rights.
     Kavanaugh’s selection by Donald Trump, backed up in the Senate by all but one Republican and opposed by all but one Democrat has outraged millions because of his partisan views, his lack of appropriate judicial decorum, and a flawed selection process. The deep and dangerous divisions in the country are again exposed.
     Those opposing his selection include the MeToo movement, 2,400 law professors, the National Council of Churches, American Civil Liberties Union, American Federation of Teachers, National Association of Women, NAACP, Jobs With Justice Organization, 73 LGBT, GreenPeace, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Abortion Rights groups, and much of the media, domestic and foreign such as the Manchester Guardian.
     This was all submerged when sex abuse, including attempted rape, was introduced by three women, led by Christine Blasey Ford whose testimony during the hearings I found powerful, delivered calmly, and convincingly compared to Brett’s emotional denials. Yes, it was back during boys-will-be-boys school years when Brett attended a parochial, sex-segregated school that allowed frequent parties with heavy drinking and female guests.
     Classmate tales imply these were character-forming orgies. Brett, like Trump, inherited privileges.
Dr. Dennis Mukwege was born in 1955 in Bukavu, capital of South Kivu on the shore of Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He became a surgeon, gynecologist, and women’s rights activist. In 1999 he founded Panzi Hospital where he has treated, physically and mentally, over 40,000 women who have been raped, often gang raped, by members of a dozen armed militia groups seeking a share of DRC’s mineral wealth including gold and coltan, essential for mobile phones and computers. The UN has had 18,000 troops there to help a government not strong enough to control its vast lands or its own army also guilty of rape.
    In 2009 Mukwege was interviewed by Amy Goodman on her PBS daily show “Democracy Now!” and this was rebroadcast last week. He spoke not only of destroyed genitals, the years needed for recovery, the social stigma for being raped, but also of the enormous potential of women to overcome all this to be contributing members of society. Amy had accepted his 2009 invitation to visit Panzi Hospital where she was appalled at the hundreds of women undergoing genital repairs and hundreds of others in recovery under the loving, radiant care of this unique man, so full of dignity and grace.        Amy admits it was a great privilege to travel extensively with him to warn the world how women were being used as weapons of war.
     In 2004 opponents murdered his driver but he managed to escape.
    The Toronto Globe and Mail of October 8, 2018 reported the Toronto visit of Prince Murhula and his wife, Sandra. He is Leader of Journalists for Human Rights in eastern DRC and is promoting Mukwege’s work plus two new films exposing violence against women. One success was in shutting down a militia guilty of raping girls as young as two years of age.
Nadia Murad is a 25-year-old Yazidi Kurdish human rights activist from Kocho, Sinjar, Iraq, whose life was changed 04 April 2014 when Daesh arrived, committing genocide, killing thousands of men and taking thousands of women and children. Six of Nadia’s brothers and her mother were killed while she and her sisters became prisoners She was held captive as a sex slave for 15 months before escaping. She now lives in Germany, telling the world her story:
     "I was an ISIS sex slave. I tell my story because it is the best weapon I have. Deciding to be honest was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, and also the most important. The slave market opened at night.
     When the first buyer entered the room, all the girls started screaming, doubling over and vomiting on the floor, but none of it stopped the militants. They paced around the room, staring at us, while we screamed and begged.  They gravitated toward the most beautiful girls first, asking, “How old are you?” and examining their hair and mouths. “They are virgins, right?” they asked a guard, who nodded and said, “Of course!” like a shopkeeper taking pride in his product. The militants touched us anywhere they wanted, running their hands over our breasts and our legs.
     It was chaos while the militants paced the room, scanning girls and asking questions in Arabic or the Turkmen language. Calm down!” they kept shouting at us. “Be quiet!” But their orders only made us scream louder. If it was inevitable that a militant would take me, I howled and screamed, slapping away hands that reached out to grope me. Other girls were doing the same, curling their bodies into balls on the floor or throwing themselves across their sisters and friends to try to protect them.
     While I lay there, another militant stopped in front of us. He was a high-ranking militant named Salwan who had come with another girl, another young Yazidi from Hardan, whom he planned to drop off while he shopped for her replacement. “Stand up,” he said. When I didn’t, he kicked me. “You! The girl with the pink jacket!  I said, stand up!” His eyes were sunk deep into the flesh of his wide face, which seemed to be nearly entirely covered in hair. He didn’t look like a man – he looked like a monster.
     I never thought I would have something in common with women in Rwanda. I didn’t know Rwanda existed – and now I am linked to them in the worst possible way, as a victim of a war crime that is so hard to talk about that no one in the world was prosecuted for committing it until just 16 years before ISIS came to Sinjar.
     A militant was registering the transactions in a book, our names and the names of the militants who took us.  I thought about being taken by Salwan, how strong he looked and how easily he could crush me with his bare hands. No matter what he did, and no matter how much I resisted, I would never be able to fight him off.  He smelled of rotten eggs and cologne.
     At the feet and ankles of the militants and girls who walked by me. I saw a pair of men’s sandals and ankles that were skinny, almost womanly, and before I could think about what I was doing, I flung myself toward those feet. I started begging. “Please, take me with you,” I said. “Do whatever you want, I just can’t go with this giant.” I don’t know why the thin guy agreed, but taking one look at me, he turned to Salwan and said, “She’s mine.” The skinny man was a judge in Mosul, and no one disobeyed him. I followed him to the desk. “What’s your name?” he asked me. He spoke in a soft but unkind voice. “Nadia,” I said, and he turned to the registrar.
     The man seemed to recognize the militant right away and began recording our information. “Nadia, Hajji Salman” – and when he spoke the name of my captor, I thought I heard his voice waver a bit, as if he were scared, and I wondered if I had made a huge mistake.”
     Nadia Murad eventually escaped her Isis captors. She was smuggled out of Iraq and in early 2015 went as a refugee to Germany. Later that year she began to campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking.
     “In November 2015, I left Germany for Switzerland to speak to a UN forum on minority issues. I wanted to talk about everything – the children who died of dehydration fleeing ISIS, the families still stranded on the mountain, the thousands of women and children who remained in captivity, and what my brothers saw at the site of the massacre. I was only one of hundreds of thousands of Yazidi victims. My community was scattered, living as refugees inside and outside of Iraq, and Kocho was still occupied by ISIS. There was so much the world needed to hear about what was happening to Yazidis. I wanted to tell them that so much more needed to be done.  We need to establish a safe zone for religious minorities in Iraq; to prosecute ISIS – from the leaders to the citizens who supported their atrocities – for genocide and crimes against humanity; and to liberate all of Sinjar.
     I would have to tell the audience about Hajji Salman and the times he raped me and all the abuse I witnessed.  I shook as I read my speech. As calmly as I could, I talked about how Kocho had been taken over and girls like me had been taken as sabaya. I told them about how I had been raped and beaten repeatedly and how I eventually escaped. I told them about my brothers who had been killed. It never gets easier to tell your story.  Each time you speak it, you relive it. When I tell someone about the checkpoint where the men raped me, or the feeling of Hajji Salman’s whip across the blanket as I lay under it, or the darkening Mosul sky while I searched the neighbourhood for some sign of help, I am transported back to those moments and all their terror.  Other Yazidis are pulled back into these memories, too.
     There is still so much that needs to be done. World leaders, and particularly Muslim religious leaders, need to stand up and protect the oppressed.
     More than anything else, I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”
   Fortunately, Kavenaugh’s transgressions are minor in comparison, but the Nobel committee has made a point:    In spite of amazing and needed progress, our society still has work to do to correct our flaws.
                                                                                                                                        Ye Olde Scribe

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