For Every Inhuman, There’s a Muslim

Earlier this week, Brussels was attacked. Two blasts at the Brussels International Airport and another explosion just 7 miles away at a metro station. Over 30 dead. Hundreds wounded.

Istanbul, Ankara, Paris, San Bernardino, the list goes on. ISIS claims responsibility over and over and over again. And every single time, Muslims as a collective group are blamed. We get hashtags like #StopIslam followed by something about how we all need to be exterminated.

Is it strange then that I turn to comic books and superhero shows to try to escape it all?

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#MalalaDay and #GIRLWITHABOOK

MalalaDay

This past Friday was Malala Day. Malala Yousafzai visited the United Nations and addressed the UN Youth Assembly to advocate for peace and education. To see this girl standing at the podium speaking with such grace and confidence only 9 months after she was shot in the head by the Taliban was beyond incredible. Before that, UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown introduced her to the podium in the best possible way. He said something along the lines of “The Taliban never wished for you to hear these next words: Happy 16th Birthday!”

Malala talked about the need for peace and access to education for every single child. There should be no excuses for us not to work towards that goal. I felt tears sting my eyes when I heard this part of her speech:

Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.  I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.

Malala UN speech

If you missed her speech, not to worry! You can watch it here. And you can read the full text of her speech here.

Besides hearing Malala’s speech, we at #GIRLWITHABOOK received some phenomenal news from the UN! After several attempts of trying to get in touch with the Pakistani consulate in the UK and sending copies to the consulate, we were finally able to deliver our photo book to Malala! On Malala Day! We sent an additional copy to the UN a couple weeks ago after learning that Malala would be visiting the UN on her birthday, and then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave the book to her himself.


MalalaBook1MalalaBook2

You can see more pictures of Malala Day through the UN flickr account.

I think I’m still freaking out by the fact that Olivia and I actually managed to get this photo book into Malala’s hands. And none of it would have been possible without the support from hundreds of people from all over the world. #GIRLWITHABOOK would be nothing without the love that our followers shared through their pictures.

As for what our next plans are for #GIRLWITHABOOK…well we realized that we downright suck at fundraising. So we are working on building those skills and we’re hoping that eventually we can properly learn how to effectively bring in/contribute money to girls’ education, a cause we care about deeply.

Meanwhile, we are also in the process of creating a website/blog where we hope to establish an online community that is devoted to talking about women’s rights, the basics of feminism, the importance of education and the immense difference it can bring to a girl’s life. We haven’t gone public with it yet, but Inshallah (God willing) we plan on doing so within a couple weeks!

Stay tuned. This movement is just beginning.

What the Hell Just Happened in Egypt?

I like how there were some people who just kept fireworks at hand. You know, in case there's a revolution or something.

I like how there were some people who just kept fireworks at hand. You know, in case there’s a “revolution” or something. (via The New York Times)

Let’s recap. Egypt had a revolution in 2011 where the people kicked out a dictator (Hosni Mubarak) who had been ruling for about 30 years. The entire world was watching at the edge of their seats and cheering the Egyptians on. I myself attended several rallies/protests in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, DC and the White House. I joined twitter during this revolution so I could get breaking news faster. I couldn’t have been happier when Mubarak finally stepped down.

But WHAT on earth was this?! Don’t get me wrong. I am not a fan of Morsi. He has made a lot of unfortunate and disappointing political decisions. Nothing he did was pretty. But kicking him out of office?

This was no revolution. The people have just ousted a democratically elected leader. No matter how you phrase it, Instagram it, Vine it, whatever, this was a military coup.

On top of that, the military has recently arrested several top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. There are Egyptians on twitter and elsewhere who are under the impression that the Brotherhood has been dissolved. No. They are nowhere near dissolved as a political party. But congratulations. You’ve managed to turn the group you hate a.k.a. the Muslim Brotherhood into martyrs. If you don’t like what they stand for, then don’t vote for them next time. That’s how a democratic system works. You try to vote out the people you don’t like, because that is how every person, from every city, from every district gets represented. It’s not a flawless solution, but it’s better than a military coup any day.

By the way, I am astonished by the blind support the people have for the Egyptian military all of a sudden. After numerous atrocities that the military themselves have committed, I am floored by this complete 180 degree turn in their reputation. Have we all forgotten what happened to the girl in the blue bra?

Moreover, what makes me incredibly frustrated is the fact that it started off so well. A grassroots protest movement called Tamarod (which means “rebel” in Arabic) claimed to have collected 22 million signatures in a petition. That was a good first step. The fact that the petition demanded for Morsi to step down was not so good, but a petition in general was a very good step. Instead of demanding him to step down, they should have demanded Morsi to work WITH the people. That petition gave them power and it provided proof that the people were unhappy with his policies and constitution so far. And now that power to the people is gone.

I am a huge fan of protesting, petitioning, and assembling the people to stand up for their rights and fight against injustice. Those are all rights that are even listed under the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. But after everything they fought for, all the rights they gained two years ago, Egypt’s newly formed democracy just lost its legitimacy on the global stage. Who’s to say there won’t be a “revolution” every time Egypt gets a new leader?

These are the kind of actions that lead to civil wars. I’m praying for you, Egypt.

For a more articulate version of what I just wrote, check out this article from The Economist.

Chasing Malala’s Dad

I am finally writing my first post of 2013! It’s been difficult to write anything, not because of a lack of subjects to write on, but because my brain has been feeling overwhelmed lately by the number of topics that I want and should write about. Everything from the gang rape of the girl in India to gun violence to the chaos in Syria to a whole bunch of other things. But those posts will have to be for another day.

Instead, I just want to focus on an update from #GIRLWITHABOOK: the photo book for Malala has been published at last.

Photobook coverIMG_1842

We were able to get in contact with someone working at Shutterfly and they very graciously offered to donate 50 copies of the books to #GIRLWITHABOOK for free! Needless to say, Olivia and I were literally jumping up and down from excitement. And so we placed the order and about 4 days later, the books arrived on my doorstep.

Photobook boxes

They actually arrived a few weeks ago and since then, we have already sent copies to the United Nations as a thank you for their ongoing support.

However, we are still having trouble getting the book to Malala. That’s why the title of this post is “Chasing Malala’s Dad” because we want to try to get in contact with either her father or someone working at the Pakistani consulate in the United Kingdom to confirm with us that the book reaches Malala’s hands safely.

We’ve tried emailing and calling the consulate, but no one seems to be responding. So maybe all of you can help out. We’re turning to our trusted friend, Twitter, and we’ve created the hashtag #chasingMalalasdad to maybe draw some more attention to this incredible photo book (that could not have been possible without the support from hundreds of people around the world) and get Malala’s dad or someone from the consulate to respond to us.

Before I go on, I must give credit to my cousin, Fiza, since this was all her idea. She also came up with the brilliantly creative title and hashtag: chasing Malala’s dad.

#GIRLWITHABOOK started off with a desire to stand with Malala and show our support through pictures. And now this project is about doing what we can for girls’ education, whether it is through creating awareness or raising money.

We want Malala to see just how many boys and girls she has inspired worldwide. It would be a shame if she never got to see the photo book. Help us out and tweet about it using the hashtag #chasingMalalasdad. It’ll be fun either way!

Flipping through

By the way, we will be making an announcement soon about starting a fundraiser for girls’ education. If you haven’t already, like/follow us on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with the adventures of #GIRLWITHABOOK!

How Many Shootings Will We Endure?

I didn't want to put up one of the heartrending images that I'm sure we have all been seeing on the news. So instead I'm placing this picture of a beautiful quote from Hafiz, a 14th century Persian poet. If only we could all read this and feel the same way towards each other.

I didn’t want to put up one of the heartrending images that I’m sure we have all been seeing on the news. So instead I’m placing this picture of a beautiful quote from Hafiz, a 14th century Persian poet. If only we could all read this and feel the same way towards each other.

I’m supposed to be working on personal statements for grad school applications, but that seems so small compared to everything else that has happened today. My mind keeps going back to the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. 27 people died. 20 kids, 6 adults shot and killed. Before that, the shooter killed his mother and afterwards, the shooter turned the gun on himself.

I can’t possibly understand why or how anyone would do this, nor do I want to. There is something particularly tragic when a child loses his or her life this way. To attack innocent children is beyond despicable. What’s worse is we can all feel that pain of losing a child or at least try to imagine the intensity of that pain even if we are not parents because we all have brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins, friends. I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy.

It’s not fair for kids anywhere have to go through violence like this. It’s not fair that these kids will now constantly worry about their safety, instead of what gifts they will get for the holidays or finishing their homework on time. President Obama said many things in his statement that I agreed with including, “As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown or a shopping mall in Oregon or a temple in Wisconsin or a movie theater in Aurora or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

The time to talk about gun control in the U.S. is now. How can anyone watch the news today and think that we need more guns in this country? We already have 300 million firearms. And it keeps getting worse. Michigan passed a law TODAY that allow gun owners to carry weapons in places like schools, bars, churches, day care centers and stadiums. I don’t even know how to formulate my disgust into proper cohesive sentences.

There are children dying every single day in Syria, Pakistan, and almost every other developing country, all for reasons that are usually out of their people’s control. They have to fight poverty, civil wars and corruption in their countries. So passing laws in the United States, supposedly the best country in the world, for gun control? That’s a no brainer. This should not be something that divides us. Making sure to have a convenient way to buy a gun for hunting season should not be put before the lives and safety of children. I know that every American agrees with that because today our hearts were broken.

“We have been through this too many times.”

November 10: A Day for Malala

I don’t know if you heard but UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, has declared November 10th to be a global day of action for Malala Yousafzai and 32 million other girls. In about a week, it will have been one month since the assassination attempt on Malala and Gordon Brown is traveling to Pakistan on that day to deliver a petition that’s got over a million signatures to President Zardari. This petition is proof that the people want education to be treated as a priority and that keeping girls out of school is not an option. If that interests you, you can sign the petition here: http://educationenvoy.org/petition

In a recent Huffington Post article, Gordon Brown wrote,

“When I hand him the petition I will ask the President to lead governmental changes in policy to ensure the delivery of girls’ education in Pakistan. I will also submit our petition to the United Nations to galvanize international support for the right of every child to go to school. I will announce in addition a new foundation in Malala’s honor as just a few weeks before her shooting she told her friends that her aim was to set up the Malala foundation to campaign for the 32 million girls around the world who are not at school. I am now appealing to the international community of global citizens to lead this day of action.

Well, #GIRLWITHABOOK is going to help. On November 10th, we invite everyone to submit another picture. This time though, we ask you to write a sign that says, “I stand with Malala” and take a picture of yourself holding it. On that day, we want hundreds of these pictures to flood our inbox, Facebook page, tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, you name it.

So what do you say? Will you join us?

Olivia and me

You can also email your pictures to girlwithabookmovement@gmail.com.

The pictures we received beforehand, as well as the ones we hope to receive on November 10th, are all going to be included in the book we are compiling and eventually sending to Malala. By the way, the deadline to submit pictures to us for the book is November 13th!

Update on #GIRLWITHABOOK: Haters Don’t Stand a Chance

I think I’ve been in shock this whole week. I am simply blown away by the support that we have received at #GIRLWITHABOOK. When I wrote my last post, the whole thing still felt like an idea for a high school project. And now it feels like a real movement.

I had promised that I would update everyone on our progress with this movement so here goes. Since we started (which was about 10 days ago), three major things have happened.

1. Organizations have supported us. Some major ones to report are the National Women’s History Museum and Half the Sky Movement. Within the first couple of days, they had posted about us, tweeted about us and sent us pictures. After one particular Facebook post last Saturday from Half the Sky Movement, we got 400 likes on Facebook. All on that same Saturday. And just today, they tweeted a poster that lists 5 ways you can help girls like Malala. Submitting a picture to us is listed as one of the 5 ways.

2. I received an email from a WordPress editor congratulating me on having been picked to be “Freshly Pressed.” I was completely shocked. As you can tell, I have barely written/posted anything on my blog (it’s been a slow start). The editor wrote in the email, “We really enjoyed [your post], and we know the rest of the WordPress.com community will too – this movement is a wonderful idea, and I’m glad we can help spread the word!” I was amazed and frankly, just touched by the support we received from WordPress. Not only was it cool to finally get some comments on my blog, but their promotion of #GIRLWITHABOOK increased our momentum by tenfold.

We reached 1000 likes on Facebook! Of course, now we’re past that 🙂

3. Two days ago, we got an email from the UN. That’s right. The United Nations. I’m pretty sure I had to read that email 3 times before it all sunk in. They congratulated us on our initiative and stated that they would like to join us on our call to action. Since then, they have tweeted about us, sent in pictures, and even blogged about us. In return, we are spreading the word about Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Education First initiative that he launched on September 26, 2012, as well as the work being done by Education Envoy Gordon Brown, especially about this petition.

Just a little over a week ago, neither Olivia nor I would have been able to predict any of this happening. I don’t think I, personally, even had expectations about this getting popular let alone becoming a movement. We started this because Malala inspired us to act, to do something for her and girls like her. For a while though, I started thinking to myself, “This is all gonna die out. People are going to move on and forget about Malala and girls everywhere fighting to learn.” But everything that’s happened this past week proved me wrong. People do care. They’re not afraid to stand up for what’s right and best of all, they’re willing to help each other up and stand together. We’re going to win this fight. Against the Taliban, against extremists, against bullies, against haters. No matter how long it takes, we’re going to win in the end.

On a lighter note, Eid Mubarak everyone! May all my fellow Muslims out there have a lovely and blessed Eid ul-Adha. I’ll be getting some of my little cousins together and taking photos of them holding/reading books. Keep an eye out for the pictures on our Pinterest, Facebook, and tumblr! And all of YOU can do the same! I think Malala and girls all over Pakistan would love to see other families showing their support for them on Eid.

****If you want to join the #GIRLWITHABOOK movement, please submit a picture of yourself with a book to girlwithabookmovement@gmail.com. Make sure to include the title of the book and the city, state, country that you took your picture****

Feel free to post on our Facebook page or tweet at us @_girlwithabook as well. We invite submissions from girls, boys, men and women, because a cause like this needs support from everyone.

#GIRLWITHABOOK

Last Monday, my friend Olivia and I decided to launch this idea called #GIRLWITHABOOK. At the time we were venting to each other about how horrified and utterly disgusted we were by the Taliban’s sick attempt at killing Malala Yousafzai on her school bus, and we wanted to do something about it. We wanted to do something for Malala, and at the same time stick it to the Taliban. So Olivia says to me “Let’s get people to post pictures of themselves with books! A favorite book, a random book, a school book, you name it. And we’ll post it on facebook, twitter, etc. to show Malala our support.” My reaction: THIS IS AWESOME.

The Taliban showed what they are most afraid: A GIRL WITH A BOOK.

So that’s exactly what we did. We created a Facebook page, Pinterest board, Twitter account and a tumblr. It sounds excessive, but can you blame us? We wanted the whole world to show their support for Malala. And as they say…a picture is worth a thousand words.

The first thing we did was message and email our own friends. Anyone we knew, we told them about our idea. Slowly but surely we started receiving submissions from our friends and family. They took pictures of themselves holding books, reading to people, reading with their pets, or reading together with someone else. They sent them in and we posted them. The number of likes on Facebook increased from 10 to 40 to 120 to 200. We were getting supporters from all over the world, and including other organizations like the National Women’s History Museum. And then something even more amazing happened.

Half the Sky, a book written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, tweeted and posted on their Facebook wall about us. As a result, we got over 400 likes on our Facebook page in a single day. Half the Sky is now also a film, a game, and a movement. All of which are about “raising awareness and inspiring action to turn oppression to opportunity for women worldwide.” The outpouring of support after their post was incredible.

Within a single week, we managed to launch a movement of sorts. It all began with a 15 year old girl named Malala Yousafzai, but now she has come to symbolize the hope that education can bring to both girls and boys. She is the one who inspired and touched everyone’s hearts with her courage. My friend and I simply wanted to find a way to thank her and show her that we stand with her. We stand with Malala, we stand with all boys and girls who are fighting for a chance to learn. Education is everybody’s right, and I truly believe it is our duty to do whatever we can to make sure that everyone gets their chance.

As of today, on Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 9:44 PM, we have 811 supporters on Facebook, about 51 followers on Twitter, 72 followers on Pinterest, and 17 followers on tumblr (our tumblr is fairly new compared to the others). With the help of other people who believe in Malala and what she fights for, we can achieve this. We can stop extremists from taking away our education, our freedom, our rights. In the end, they won’t win. We will.

Here’s some more exciting news. After we receive a significant number of pictures, Olivia and I plan on compiling all of them into a book and sending it to Malala. All of us are praying and wishing for her full recovery, and we thought this would be a great way for us to show just how much she has come to mean to us.

If you want to join the #GIRLWITHABOOK movement, please submit a picture of yourself with a book to girlwithabookmovement@gmail.com. Make sure to include the title of the book and the city, state, country that you took your picture

Feel free to post on our Facebook page or tweet at us @_girlwithabook as well. We invite submissions from girls, boys, men and women, because a cause like this needs support from everyone.

Here are some of my favorite pictures.

Malala Yousafzai: A Girl Worth Fighting For

I haven’t been this angry in a long time. Maybe I’ve never been this angry. On October 9, 2012, Taliban militants stopped a school bus filled with girls returning home from school and asked for a girl named Malala Yousafzai. Malala is a 14 year old girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan. From the age of 11 years old, she has been an activist demanding for her right to have an education. She was forced to do that because the Taliban had been taking over Swat and blowing up girls schools and committing other atrocities. Whoever resisted, they beat them, humiliated them, shot them, beheaded them, and then left their corpses out in the streets for everyone to see. Despite all of this, Malala had the strength and courage to fight back by learning wherever she could whether it was at school or at home. Last year she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize by Yousaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister of Pakistan at that time.

So you can understand my horror and my fury when it was reported that these Taliban monsters hunted down a 14 year old girl and shot her simply because she wanted to go to school. Thankfully she is still alive and the bullet was retrieved when she underwent surgery, but she’s still fighting for her life. I’m amazed by her bravery and shocked that there are girls who are literally risking their lives just so they can read books and learn math. I doubt that many Americans think twice about how precious an education really is while riding their bus to school. I know I never did. I never had to fight for the right to learn because it was always a given in my life.

A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, justified their actions by saying, “She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it,” Mr. Ehsan said, adding that if she survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again. “Let this be a lesson.”

All day I’ve been cursing in my head at these disgusting creatures who dare to call themselves men. No, they’re not even human. I hate them. I actually hate them. Who does shit like this, let alone justifies it? And I’m even more frustrated at the fact that I feel completely helpless. For everything that the Taliban has done, for all the lives they have destroyed…I hope they get what’s coming to them. Something far worse than death. I thought I would only read about such brutality in history books, not the news.

Please read and watch this video by Adam B. Ellick and Irfan Ashraf about Malala and her father Ziauddin, who is a schoolteacher and a huge advocate for girls’ education. My ‘Small Video Star’ Fights for Her Life

For anyone who wants to help Malala through her recovery and her family, please donate here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/250706

A Senate Hearing on Hate Crimes

Senator Dick Durbin leading the hearing

Yesterday I attended a senate hearing on the rise of hate crimes in the U.S. The most recent hate crime event took place   last month in Oak Creek, Wisconsin when a shooter shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple. Senator Dick Durbin was the subcommittee chairman holding this hearing and he made sure to point out the increase in amount of violence towards minorities in the past three years. He also made sure to list all the groups that have lately been targeted, including Latinos, Jews, Christians, African Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, and the LGBT community. Those who provided testimony were from Homeland Security, The Justice Department, the FBI, a professor from NYU and a young man named Harpreet Singh Saini who lost his mother at the Oak Creek attack. His testimony was powerful and very moving. I have no idea how he was able to deliver it while keeping himself together because almost every other person in the room (and there were over 400 people in attendance) had tears in their eyes. I was definitely one of them.

I was amazed and glad that the room was packed. This is something that our government and the entire country (heck let’s just say the entire world) needs to understand that hate crimes are no joking matter. It is not something to be taken lightly. Furthermore, this hearing was a breakthrough for the Sikh community. Although they are a significant minority in the U.S., hate crimes that have ever been committed against the Sikh community have never been categorized as hate crimes against Sikhs. It was always thought of as a case of “mistaken identity,” which basically means that our justice system just thinks that crimes against Sikhs and Muslims should just be lumped together because that is probably what the perpetrators most likely thought. That was messed up and Senator Durbin went on to question the men from the FBI, Homeland Security and the Justice Department why that was the case, as well as, what measures they will now be taking to prevent such heinous acts in the future.

The professor from NYU (and I am completely blanking on his name..sorry) brought up an interesting argument. He suggested that hate crimes should not be a separate category at all. A murder is a murder after all and the U.S. already has laws for punishment against murder, so why create a separate class? While I understood the claim he was trying to make, that by creating another group seems to divide us and make minorities stick out more, I ended up disagreeing with him. My father made a crucial point to me that the motive for a murder, kidnapping, robbery, etc. is very important. It is one thing to kill someone because you want their money or if they betrayed you, but it is quite another if you kill someone simply because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. A crime that has roots in something as hateful as that, which has triggered world wars in the past, deserves its own category.  

In Harpreet’s testimony, he mentioned how a little over a month ago he never could have imagined being in Washington, D.C. let alone speaking at a senate hearing. At that time he was simply a guy about to go off to college. There was no reason he could have had to be at a place like this. One of the things that he said, that touched me personally was, “So many Sikhs say to just blame Muslims…but we won’t blame anyone else. An attack on one is an attack on all.”

If a young man who just lost his mother can have the courage to say something like that and mean it, why can’t the rest of us?