Jacques Beres is a 71-year-old surgeon and co-founder of the Medecins Sans Frontieres group. He has just returned from the besieged Syrian city of Homs where, in a makeshift clinic, he managed to treat dozens of people wounded during weeks of bombardment. He told the BBC News website what he saw.
"I spent 12 days in Homs, arriving via Lebanon. We planned the trip for several weeks. It was very dangerous to enter illegally so I made the journey with the help of a chain of intermediaries.
"One met me at the airport in Beirut. I landed in the evening and by 09:00 the next morning I was already in Syria. I had a rest at a farm and then progressed to Qusayr [three miles (4.8km) south-west of Homs], where I worked for a few days before making the journey into Homs.
"I was scared. It is only reasonable to have some fear. Bombs are never normal. I can’t really compare Homs to any other war zone I have worked in though - apart, perhaps, from Chechnya.
"Grozny is small and the town has a mixture of rural and urban areas. The houses in Homs are built in a similar way - there is no protection and, when they are hit, they collapse completely. Also, the ferocity of the attack and the repression are comparable.
"I was based in a makeshift operating theatre. Everyone is too scared to go to the state-run hospital - they are terrified of having a limb amputated, or of being kidnapped. Only the Syrian army soldiers go there now.
"It was just one operating theatre, in someone’s home. It was badly lit, the electricity was frequently cut. It was minimal, very basic. Marie Colvin came to visit us three days before she died.
"We did have running water but, as it was a private hospital, there was only water in some rooms - the bathroom and kitchen. There were no proper sterilisation facilities either - we just had to rinse our hands with alcohol and put them straight into our gloves.
"There was a Syrian team and a Syrian doctor who ran the hospital, who slept there and treated patients and kept everyone’s morale up. There were other surgeons who came and helped when they could.
"I operated on 90 people. We couldn’t help those who had been injured in the chest and the head, only those with wounds to the abdomen and below.
"The people there are convinced that they will win. They are very brave but they are also desperate at having been bombarded for so long. They think they have been abandoned.
"They are always watching television. The TV is always on, the news flows and they communicate via Facebook and Twitter. They know what is going on.
"I travelled there because it had to be done. It’s an emergency. It helps them a lot to see someone from abroad helping them. Plus, I’m very experienced in this field. You can gain a lot yourself from such an experience too - these people are immensely brave. They just want their freedom, they want to get rid of the tyrant. I’d like to return if I can."
“To be a young woman in our culture means that you exist, from an alarmingly young age, for the appreciation of others. Therefore, your every feature is fair game for public appraisal. It means you become accustomed to a certain kind of gaze: a cold survey of your merits and deficits. It means you tense up when you walk past a group, any group, of men, because you know they’re going to say something, it may or may not be positive, and either way it’s not going to leave you feeling good about yourself.”—
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“This is not just about dishonoring the Koran, it is about disrespecting our dead and killing our children. They always admit their mistakes. They burn our Koran and then they apologize. You can’t just disrespect our holy book and kill our innocent children and make a small apology.”—
Maruf Hotak, commenting about the recent protests in Afghanistan in reaction to its largest U.S. base burning Qur’ans and referring to an episode in Helmand Province when American Marines urinated on the dead bodies of men they described as insurgents and to a recent erroneous airstrike on civilians in Kapisa Province that killed eight young Afghans.
Meanwhile, the protesters themselves continue to be shot, although most American media accounts favor sentences like these which whitewash who is doing the killing: “running clashes with the police that claimed the lives of another five Afghan protesters” and “in Nangarhar Province, two Afghans protesting the Koran burning were shot to death outside an American base in Khogyani District” and “protesters angry over the burning of Korans at the largest American base in Afghanistan this week took to the streets in demonstrations in a half-dozen provinces on Wednesday that left at least seven dead and many more injured.” Left at least seven dead: as As’ad AbuKhalil observed, “notice that there is no killer in the phrasing.”
It’s comforting to believe that these violent protests and the obviously intense anti-American rage driving them is primarily about anger over the inadvertent burning of some religious books: that way, we can dismiss the rage as primitive and irrational and see the American targets as victims. But the Afghans themselves are making clear that this latest episode is but the trigger for — the latest symbol of — a pile of long-standing, underlying grievances about a decade-old, extremely violent foreign military presence in their country. It’s much more difficult to dismiss those grievances as the by-product of primitive religious fanaticism, so — as usual — they just get ignored.
“At this time, many young Iranians all over this world are watching us, and I imagine them to be very happy. They are happy not just because of an important award, or a film or a filmmaker, but because at the time, in talk of war, intimidation and aggressions exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture — a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics. I proudly offer this award to the people of my country. A people who respect all cultures and civilizations, and despise hostility and resentment.”—Iranian film director ASGHAR FARHADI, on accepting his Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, A Separation (via lotus-eyes)
“A safe life for a woman comes from men choosing not to attack her. If a man wants to hurt a woman, it doesn’t matter how much is covered or uncovered. Just ask the women in Afghanistan who wear burqas who are raped. I think we should be very careful about making it sound like we are blaming women if they are victims of assault. How I dress is about me and God, not me and men.”—Susan Carland.
“Always use the word ‘Sand’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Whispers’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Islam’, ‘Jihad’, ‘Desert’, ‘Dawn’, ‘Struggle’, ‘Oil’, ‘Orient’, ‘Arabia’, ‘Calling’, ‘Veil’, ‘Allah’ or ‘Anger’. Also useful are words such as ‘Terrorists’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Fundamentalism’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that you must always refer to Arab people as the “Arab Street”. If you must include an Arab, make sure you get one in a veil or burning an American or Israeli flag. Under no circumstances should you have a picture of a well-adjusted Arab on the cover of your book, or in it; sometimes you may make mention of certain well-rounded Arabs, but only to highlight their differences with the West. Suicide belts, an AK 47, a mosque, the desert: use these.”—
How to Write about the Middle East is such a brilliant, hilarious read that it passes off as a good, fine beating-of-the-ass for “opinion makers” like Thomas Friedman and Co. This part is even better:
In your text, treat the Middle East as if it were one country, and constantly refer to it as ‘Arabia’ or ‘The Muslim World’. It is hot and dusty with rolling sand dunes and huge herds of camels, because they are the only animals that are strong enough to live in such a harsh climate. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. The Middle East is big: twenty-two countries and 300 million people who are too busy fighting and dying and warring and bombing themselves to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, forests, highlands and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions mysterious and exotic and unparticular. Also, make sure that you mention that Turkey, Iran, Pakistan or Afghanistan are not Arab countries, but then continue to refer to them as if they were. Because, although you are worldly and realize the differences, they all sort of look the same so it doesn’t matter.
“When your mother hits you, do not strike back. When the boys call asking your cup size, say A, hang up. When he says you give him blue balls, say you’re welcome. When a girl with thick black curls who smells like bubble gum stops you in a stairwell to ask if you’re a boy, explain that you keep your hair short so she won’t have anything to grab when you head-butt her. Then head-butt her. When a guidance counselor teases you for handed-down jeans, do not turn red. When you have sex for the second time and there is no condom, do not convince yourself that screwing between layers of underwear will soak up the semen. When your geometry teacher posts a banner reading: “Learn math or go home and learn how to be a Momma,” do not take your first feminist stand by leaving the classroom. When the boy you have a crush on is sent to detention, go home. When your mother hits you, do not strike back. When the boy with the blue mohawk swallows your heart and opens his wrists, hide the knives, bleach the bathtub, pour out the vodka. Every time. When the skinhead girls jump you in the bathroom stall, swing, curse, kick, do not turn red. When a boy you think you love delivers the first black eye, use a screw driver, a beer bottle, your two good hands. When your father locks the door, break the window. When a college professor writes you poetry and whispers about your tight little ass, do not take it as a compliment, do not wait, call the Dean, call his wife. When a boy with good manners and a thirst for Budweiser proposes, say no. When your mother hits you, do not strike back. When the boys tell you how good you smell, do not doubt them, do not turn red. When your brother tells you he is gay, pretend you already know. When the girl on the subway curses you because your tee shirt reads: “I fucked your boyfriend,” assure her that it is not true. When your dog pees the rug, kiss her, apologize for being late. When he refuses to stay the night because you lived in Jersey City, do not move. When he refuses to stay the night because you live in Harlem, do not move. When he refuses to stay the night because your air conditioner is broken, leave him. When he refuses to keep a toothbrush at your apartment, leave him. When you find the toothbrush you keep at his apartment hidden in the closet, leave him. Do not regret this. Do not turn red. When your mother hits you, do not strike back.”—“Unsolicited Advice to Adolescent Girls With Crooked Teeth and Pink Hair,” Jeanann Verlee (via clavicola)
“When I was growing up, it was ‘Communists’. Now it’s ‘Terrorists’. So you always have to have somebody to fight and be afraid of, so the war machine can build more bombs, guns, and bullets.”—Cindy Sheehan.
Claim that giving up almost all food for one or two days a week can counteract impact of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Fasting for regular periods could help protect the brain against degenerative illnesses, according to US scientists.
Researchers at the National Institute on Ageing in Baltimore said they had found evidence which shows that periods of stopping virtually all food intake for one or two days a week could protect the brain against some of the worst effects of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other ailments.
"Reducing your calorie intake could help your brain, but doing so by cutting your intake of food is not likely to be the best method of triggering this protection. It is likely to be better to go on intermittent bouts of fasting, in which you eat hardly anything at all, and then have periods when you eat as much as you want," said Professor Mark Mattson, head of the institute’s laboratory of neurosciences.
"In other words, timing appears to be a crucial element to this process," Mattson told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.
Cutting daily food intake to around 500 calories – which amounts to little more than a few vegetables and some tea – for two days out of seven had clear beneficial effects in their studies, claimed Mattson, who is also professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Scientists have known for some time that a low-calorie diet is a recipe for longer life. Rats and mice reared on restricted amounts of food increase their lifespan by up to 40%. A similar effect has been noted in humans. But Mattson and his team have taken this notion further. They argue that starving yourself occasionally can stave off not just ill-health and early death but delay the onset of conditions affecting the brain, including strokes. “Our animal experiments clearly suggest this,” said Mattson.
He and his colleagues have also worked out a specific mechanism by which the growth of neurones in the brain could be affected by reduced energy intakes. Amounts of two cellular messaging chemicals are boosted when calorie intake is sharply reduced, said Mattson. These chemical messengers play an important role in boosting the growth of neurones in the brain, a process that would counteract the impact of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
"The cells of the brain are put under mild stress that is analogous to the effects of exercise on muscle cells," said Mattson. "The overall effect is beneficial."
The link between reductions in energy intake and the boosting of cell growth in the brain might seem an unlikely one, but Mattson insisted that there were sound evolutionary reasons for believing it to be the case. “When resources became scarce, our ancestors would have had to scrounge for food,” said Mattson. “Those whose brains responded best – who remembered where promising sources could be found or recalled how to avoid predators — would have been the ones who got the food. Thus a mechanism linking periods of starvation to neural growth would have evolved.”
This model has been worked out using studies of fasting on humans and the resulting impact on their general health – even sufferers from asthma have shown benefits, said Mattson – and from experiments on the impact on the brains of animals affected by the rodent equivalent of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Now Mattson’s team is preparing to study the impact of fasting on the brain by using MRI scans and other techniques.
If this final link can be established, Mattson said that a person could optimise his or her brain function by subjecting themselves to bouts of “intermittent energy restriction”. In other words, they could cut their food intake to a bare minimum for two days a week, while indulging for the other five. “We have found that from a psychological point of view that works quite well. You can put up with having hardly any food for a day if you know that for the next five you can eat what you want.”
Charlotte McDonald-Gibson in Damascus talks to an activist who survived 21 weeks’ interrogation by Syria’s security forces.
It was a single egg that made Jolan, a 28-year-old activist, realise he was going to survive Syria’s notorious torture chambers. He was blindfolded and locked in what he describes as a metal coffin, and each morning his tormentors would push a small piece of bread and a hard-boiled egg through a narrow opening by his head. But his cramped box – so short he could not straighten his legs – was tilted and his hands were bound, so for five days the egg would simply roll away and drop to the floor through a hole by his feet.
Days earlier, Jolan had been sitting in a park in Damascus on a sunny morning, waiting for a friend from the burgeoning protest movement aimed at forcing President Bashar al-Assad from power. Instead, about 30 regime security personnel surrounded him. Before he could even think about fleeing, a rifle butt to the back of the head knocked him out cold.
Trussed and forced to relieve himself where he lay, Jolan did not know how long he would be there. He did not know how he could survive. But he knew that somehow he must eat the egg. “So the fifth day,” he says, “I put my heel in this hole and I stopped the egg rolling out. I managed to push the egg all the way up my body to my mouth. It was filthy, it still had the shell on it, but I ate it and, when I did, I knew I was going to live.”
Jolan, who gave a pseudonym because he remains active in Syria’s protest movement, is one of thousands of political prisoners who human rights groups say have been thrown in jail by a regime determined to use its full force to crush the biggest threat to its rule since the Assad family took power 41 years ago.
From a secret location in Damascus, Jolan gave a detailed testimony to The Independent on Sunday of his torture during 21 weeks in detention. Although his full account is impossible to corroborate independently, Human Rights Watch, the international watchdog, confirmed that many of the torture techniques he described are commonplace. Many Syrian rights groups have also documented Jolan’s time in detention.
The regime has denied the allegations of torture in its prisons. Its spokesmen say they are fighting an armed uprising sponsored by Islamist groups. But Human Rights Watch has interviewed more than 100 people detained since the protests began in March last year, and the group has collected harrowing testimony of torture against children as young as 13 and of deaths in custody.
For Jolan, his seven days in the metal box was the first of dozens of humiliations and torments. Next, still blindfolded, he was put in a tiny room just one metre high, where he was forced to stand, bent double, for another seven days. Then his captors finally started to interrogate him.
"For eight hours a day they asked me everything about co-ordination, about the people of the revolution. They wanted to know how they worked, how they take the injured from place to place," he says.
Jolan refused to talk, causing the torment to become even more cruel. He was given 50 lashes with a metal cable in the morning and 50 in the evening. He was then subjected to what Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch describes as the “dulab” method. A tyre is forced over the victim’s neck and his legs so he is folded forward. He is then tipped on his back, immobile, and beaten. Another day, Jolan says, he was suspended from the ceiling by a cable. On his 45th day in detention, they finally took the blindfold off. But Jolan was not prepared for the sight that greeted him. “When I opened my eyes, I could see two girls who were taken from the demonstrations. They were religious girls – usually they would wear the veil – but they were totally naked: the only item they were wearing was a blindfold,” he says. “From this moment, I started crying.”
With this image etched on his mind, he was taken back to the interrogation room and told that unless he talked, his mother and sister would be hauled in, also stripped naked and tortured in front of him. The UN report details similar “psychological torture, including sexual threats against them and their families”.
But still Jolan refused to talk. Exasperated, his captors transferred him to the Adra civilian prison in Damascus, where he was kept in filthy, cramped surroundings. Over the next few months he was called before a court to answer a litany of charges, including attacking the standing of the state, encouraging problems with minorities, going to a protest without a permit, and setting up an unlicensed field hospital. He was allowed a lawyer, but says his statements were ignored in the court. Jolan says he was saved only by pressure from some international human rights organisations. Eventually, towards the end of December, he was freed with a 1,000 Syrian pound (£11) fine.
Since then, he has continued his work, moving around by night to safe houses to collect supplies, trying to gather more crowds for the weekly demonstrations after Friday prayers. There are physical signs of his time behind bars – he is gaunt, and is missing four front teeth from the beatings. He chain smokes nervously. But he is determined to fight on. Fifteen days ago, the authorities told his uncle that Jolan must stop his activism or face “a bullet in the head”. So he switched mobile phone numbers and went underground for 10 days.
Mr Houry says: “Syria’s torture chambers belong to the Middle Ages. The security forces believe that by torturing people, including children, they will reinstate the wall of fear in Syria. But these torturers should know that their methods have only served to energise the protesters and that it is only a matter of time until they face accountability.”
Syrians flee to Jordan as violence escalates
Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan have described a dramatic escalation in violence and a mounting toll of dead and wounded in the southern city of Daraa and the country’s battered central region. Activists said 26 civilians were killed on Friday, many of them in the central city of Homs.
The fighting in Homs, coupled with fresh violence in Daraa, has triggered a new wave of wounded refugees crossing into Jordan. In the past two days, 170 families – around 850 people – have fled to Ramtha, seven miles from the border. Most were from Daraa. At the hospital in Ramtha, newly installed gates protect hospital rooms where wounded Syrians are being treated, guarded by Jordanian security police.
Syria has seen one of the bloodiest crackdowns since the wave of Arab uprisings began more than a year ago. The United Nations says that more than 5,400 people were killed last year, and the number of dead and injured continues to rise daily. In addition, 25,000 people are estimated to have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and more than 70,000 are internally displaced.
David Cameron has said Britain is sending food rations for 20,000 people and medical supplies for those affected by fighting in Homs and elsewhere. AP
“Look how your children grow up. Taught from their earliest infancy to curb their love natures — restrained at every turn! Your blasting lies would even blacken a child’s kiss. Little girls must not be tomboyish, must not go barefoot, must not climb trees, must not learn to swim, must not do anything they desire to do which Madame Grundy has decreed “improper.” Little boys are laughed at as effeminate, silly girl-boys if they want to make patchwork or play with a doll. Then when they grow up, “Oh! Men dont care for home or children as women do!” Why should they, when the deliberate effort of your life has been to crush that nature out of them. “Women can’t rough it like men.” Train any animal, or any plant, as you train your girls, and it wont be able to rough it either.”—Voltairine de Cleyre (via liberationfrequency)
Are you fluent in Arabic or possibly Urdu? I know that one doesn't have to of Middle Eastern/North African descent to be Muslim; I was wondering since your title appears to be in Arabic and I've always wanted to learn.
I’m not fluent with either, although I can read and write Arabic flawlessly. To speak and comprehend I can; but with very little confidence.
I took a 2 year course then dropped out after my first.
Urdu on the other hand is the opposite. I can speak and understand -basic sentences but my reading and writing is so so. Urdu reading was self taught, my lesson only lasted a day… (I get bored easily) The alphabets are very similar to Arabic so it was easy to pick up.
And yes, you are right, Islam is not limited to any one nationality or race.
Fun fact: There are over one billion Muslims in the world and over 200 million Arabs. Of that estimate 10% are not Muslim. Therefore Arab Muslims constitute only about twenty percent of the Muslim population in the world.
Emirati love guru Widad Lootah is not your typical marriage counsellor. She is an ultra-conservative Muslim who wears the full veil and talks a lot about sex, often quoting the Muslim holy book the Koran.
On Valentine’s day, Lootah is calling on Muslim and Arab women everywhere to “embrace love and love making.”
“Don’t shy away from it, don’t feel ashamed by it. Enjoy it, you’re supposed to,” she said, adding that she is trying to break common misconceptions that sex in Islam is only about conceiving children.
“It’s also about having fun,” she said.
Dressed in a shroud of black revealing only her eyes – a choice, she says, that allows her to emulate the Muslim prophet’s wives – Lootah was frank and explicit about the importance Islam places on a healthy sex life.
“It’s at the core” of a happy marriage, she said.
Lootah noted that her 11 years as a marriage counsellor at the Dubai courthouse made her realise that “what happens (or doesn’t happen) in bed” is the main source of marital problems in the United Arab Emirates.
Public, and in many cases private, discussions about sex are still taboo in much of the conservative Muslim world, a reality she says contradicts Islam’s approach to the subject.
There are only two simple rules for sex in Islam: you must be married “and anal sex is strictly forbidden,” Lootah said.
“Everything else, including all sexually intimate acts below the belly button, is allowed. Feel each other, touch each other, kiss each other all over … it’s OK.”
The problem is, “there is so much shame and disgrace” associated with the enjoyment of sex in the Arab world.
Lootah is an adamant believer in bringing the discussion of sex out into the open, although at times doing so has proven it can be a risky business.
In 2009, she published the much-debated Muslim sex guide Top Secret: Sexual Guidance for Married Couples.
Her book, and her comments in interviews on the subject, initially triggered a slew of insults, condemnation and even threats against her life.
“They called me all sorts of things: crazy, vile, immoral, criminal,” she said.
“Some even called me a traitor and spy for Israel and America.”
Today, Lootah is probably the UAE’s most prominent marriage counsellor, known by her clients as “Mama Widad.”
Lootah has also vigorously lobbied her home government to introduce sexual education in Emirati schools.
For older teens, “it’s very important that we educate them, both males and females, about sex … we have to prepare them psychologically and emotionally for it, and we have to teach them about the act itself.”
But first, we must “educate the teachers so they can educate the students,” said Lootah, adding that such education would also help protect young children from sexual predators.
They have to be “taught what form of adult-child interaction is appropriate and what’s not,” she said.
“We need to teach them so they know to recognise the danger when it’s there.”
She said the taboos surrounding sex have also contributed to high divorce rates in the Emirates and to generally unhappy marriages.
In about a month, Lootah plans to submit her second book, Top Secret Volume Two, to the government censors, and in traditional Lootah style, its pages will contain a lot of sex talk.
But this time, the topic of discussion is forbidden sex under Islam.
“It’s about homosexual and lesbian relations and their effect on the institution of marriage,” said Lootah, adding that she had to tread carefully given the sensitivity of the subject and intense emotions it stirs in the Muslim world.
When asked why she has taken on the cause of love and sex in Islam, Lootah argued that it was an issue of “women’s rights.”
“I can’t fix everything … but I can try and fix the role of women (in sex and marriage) in the Arab world.”
As for her opinion of Valentine’s day, she says Islam forbids the celebration of non-Muslim holidays.
“But if you consider Valentine’s day as a mere reminder to show one’s love to another, then why not? I don’t object to it,” she said. But “if that’s the case, then every day should be Valentine’s day.”
Any last words of advice?
“Experience love … even before marriage, that’s OK. But don’t do anything forbidden by Islam.”