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.

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?

Fires and Danish Cartoons All Over Again

Bodies were carried out of burning factories in Karachi and Lahore
Photograph from the New York Times

Yesterday was an unbelievably tragic day. Over 300 Pakistanis were killed in factory fires in Karachi and Lahore. Most of the people were trapped inside. The buildings did not meet up to safety regulations. Many of the windows were barred and the doors were shuttered. Some people miraculously survived by jumping out of windows that were open. Others did not. I can’t even put to words how incredibly sad I feel. But I hope it doesn’t even compare to the shame that the factory owners and the corrupt leaders of Pakistan are feeling right now. My heart goes out to the families of those who died. Not just to those in Pakistan, but also to the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, along with three others were killed in Benghazi when the U.S. embassy was attacked. A mob of extremists did this because of….a movie. Not even a movie, but a rather amateur attempt at a movie, more like a really long video, that was basically trying to warn its audience of the dangers of Islam. Blah blah blah. As if we haven’t heard that rhetoric before. While it saddens me to hear about people having such strong anti-Muslim sentiments, I am more enraged by the fact that these criminals think they have the right to storm an embassy and kill innocent people who had absolutely nothing to do with the production of this video. WHY? I don’t understand. Why do these terrorists have to be so dumb and dangerous? Why would they do such a thing merely months after the U.S. helped them to overthrow their cruel and (literally) insane dictator? This whole reaction is the same exact way extremists reacted when the Danish cartoons were published. American flags were burning, buildings and vehicles were set on fire and FOR WHAT? I don’t care what people say. No matter how offensive, insulting and racist these sorts of cartoons and videos are, it does not justify killing innocent people.

I am so tired of this. When does it end? When will these extremists just learn to shut the hell up and stay at home? When will Islamophobes learn that anti-Muslim images are just as appalling and derogatory as anti-Semitic and blackface images? It’s complete madness. On the one hand, the Islamophobes are ever so subtly campaigning to either deport people like me or put us all in concentration camps. And on the other hand, there are the Islamic extremists who claim to act in the name of Islam, but all they do is drag my religion in the dirt.

We need more water if we’re going to put out all these fires. The fires of corruption and extremism.

People protesting against the criminals who attacked the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya
Photograph from the New York Times