Choose Your Outrage Carefully

There is much written about injustice in Haiti and Guatemala, Colombia and Brazil. There is much written about injustice in African countries from Nigeria to Namibia to Angola. Outrage erupts and pictures of starving children are posted on Facebook walls and blog posts. We decide what merits our outrage, and much of what is seen and written does merit outrage.

But rarely is anything written about injustice in Pakistan. Rarely does injustice in Pakistan merit anyone’s outrage. The only thing Pakistan merits is a biased screen production that gets awards. 

Because Pakistan is not sexy.

Pakistan breeds radical Muslim terrorists.

Pakistan is an enemy state.

Pakistan is not a ‘go to’ destination at any level.

Such is the thinking on Pakistan – and injustice doesn’t really matter when we don’t like something or someone.

So let me tell you about injustice in Pakistan today. 

On the evening of March 8th a mob of around 3,000 people attacked a Christian colony in Lahore. More than 175 houses were set on fire. The report goes that this attack was the result of a quarrel between a group of Christian and Muslim men. At the time the fight was not religious but later, one of the Christian men was accused of committing blasphemy of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Here is a report from a group in Pakistan:

“Thank God that no loss of any life took place as people saved themselves by fleeing from their houses before the mob reached.   This incident has left all the inhabitant of this colony homeless as well as deprived of all their life savings. They have lost everything they had.  Though our Government has started to take action against the culprits yet people are still under fear.

Please keep all these people in your prayers that may God be with them in such a difficult time.”

The media has been curiously quiet – you have to search hard to find this on any of the major networks.  There is no outrage. Yet we see hundreds who have lost homes and everything they have.

Because they are minority Christians in a Muslim majority country and frankly, no one cares.

So where it the outrage? 

We in the west are funny about outrage aren’t we? The Susan G. Komen foundation decides to defund Planned Parenthood and we are outraged! Where is justice we cry!



Chick-fil-A president makes a personal statement about gay marriage and we are outraged!

Anne Hathaway smiles too big at the Oscars and we are outraged!

Someone criticizes another someone for writing a book and we are outraged!

And here I will drip with sarcasm and anger – our outrage about these things is just so very important isn’t it?!

Wake up people! Choose your outrage carefully.

And with that I wish you a Happy Monday.

Bearing Witness

English: The Witness Cairn The Witness Cairn.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about surviving these past weeks. The blind rage I have felt for victims who haven’t survived, the incredible respect I have for those that survive and enter into healing – they have occupied my mind, my heart.

And though I have never been raped or attacked, though I can’t begin to understand that deep agony of body and soul – I have learned one thing. When we bear witness to the stories of those who have experienced the wounds of rape and violence, we help in the healing process.

Conversely, when we dismiss them, we become part of the attack, part of the abuse.

When we hear people’s stories, when we are present through listening to events in their lives, we are bearing witness. Bearing witness to the moment that changed their lives. Bearing witness to why they have pain. Bearing witness to the deep struggles of the soul that come out in stories, not in facts.

Bearing witness means that we are showing by our existence that something is true. To listen to the survivor of rape and abuse without judgment but with love is saying to them – “I believe that this happened. I believe that you bear the cost”. To listen to the refugee with their story of losing home, family members, walking miles to safety, finally arriving at a crowded, disease-ridden camp is to validate their experience.

Bearing witness is more than just hearing the stories. It’s entering into stories. Entering in with body and soul. Entering in with empathy and kindness. It’s entering in, and in our entering offering hope and healing.

Bearing witness is a good phrase.

Whose story will you bear witness to this day? To a friend who has tried a hundred times to tell you of their pain, but you have dismissed them? To your child who longs to communicate something about who they are, but is afraid to tell you? To an old woman who once lit up a room with her dance step and her smile? To a paralyzed young man who is dismissed, ignored because he sits in a wheelchair? To an angry coworker?

Who has walked beside you as a witness to your stories, so that you can move forward with purpose and hope?

Blogger’s note: Might I suggest this excellent op-ed piece from the NY Times: After Being Raped, I Was Wounded – My Honor Wasn’t

Just One Click

I see the village in my mind’s eye: There is an open courtyard with a common sitting area where low charpais, covered with beautiful and colorful quilts, are filled with women and children. Women rule this courtyard! They are in charge and everyone knows it.

Off to the side is the pump, surrounded by a low wall for a measure of privacy. Children and moms surround the pump and laughter and talk are loud.  They are speaking village – what’s the price of onions, whose husband has gone to Peshawar for work, why Sadia’s curry isn’t as good as Fatima’s, who’s pregnant, who wants to be pregnant, who’s engaged. Talking village – village stories and village life.  There is the smell of curry, onions, and hot spices permeating the village air. There are cow pies on the outside mud walls; there is smoke from the wood fire; there are chapattis baking, and small silver dishes at the ready for food.

The men are nearby in their own gathering space. A space close by and for men alone but who cares? It’s the women’s area that is alive with activity, with life, with color.

Just one click – and chaos ensues. The baby that was toddling around with a naked bottom, a tawees (amulet) with verses of the Koran around his neck, is suddenly screaming and a mom is rushing to pick him up while yelling to her other children to gather. The curry and chapattis are forgotten – who cares about food when you’ve tasted fear and just the taste has filled you to suffocation.

The chaos comes from an attack drone targeted specifically to this area in Pakistan that borders Afghanistan. The controls sit in a sterile room, far removed from faces and places. The target shows up on a computer screen, much like a video game. All it takes is one click.

Just one click to obliterate life.

Just one click to show who’s the boss.

Just one click to be declared the winner.

Just one click and then a coffee break.

Just one click….

Although it is the men’s area that is hit, shrapnel flies as does mortar, brick, death, anger, and sorrow. What doesn’t fly is the terror and what it feels like to grab your children and run. That sits deep in the psyche and affects all of life for years to come.

In a decade of drone use, 95% of all drone attacks have occurred in Pakistan. 95% of 300 drone attacks. They have killed over 2000 militants and we don’t have a number of civilians. Just one click. No numbers. No accountability. That means that 95% of the unknown number of civilians were from Pakistan.  It’s elementary school math.

Attack drones in the future will be “cheaper, smaller, faster, stealthier, more lethal, and more autonomous, it is harder to imagine what they won’t do than what they will. Whatever limits drones face will be imposed by us humans — not technology.” Micah Zenko from Foreign Policy Magazine Mar/April 2012.

Any country has a right to defend itself from terror attacks. But it must do so with care, with research into minimizing the so-called “collateral damage” factor. It must also do so with accountability and understanding that collateral damage can lead to future, angry aggression.

The question is this: Does the use of attack drones really make the U.S. safer? 

I fear that our love for technology and unmanned aerial vehicles will overlook the obvious (and not so obvious) problems from this type of warfare. Are these drones really “surgically precise” as the narrative would have us believe?

An independent research study “Living Under Drones”  produced by International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School (Stanford Clinic) and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law (NYU Clinic) says this: “Counterproductive’ drone war “terrorizes” civilians in Pakistan. The drone war has given rise to “anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities”

This is the first report of this type that I am aware of and there is a need for more independent reports, reports based on neither bias nor drama. With reports comes greater knowledge around the where, how, and why of attack drones. Theoretically taxpayers can ask for that kind of accountability.

Is it that we don’t think about accountability because it’s “just Pakistan”. Do people honestly care about this small and often struggling country? I come from a tribe of people who care – but we are unusual in our backgrounds and have had the privilege of experiencing Pakistan as our adopted home.

Stories like that of Malala Yousafzai help give a human face to Pakistan, but we are a long way from seeing Pakistan as a place that has a face worth protecting. Are we willing to commit to understanding more about attack drone use, and speaking out on this subject as we learn more?

As someone who sees all life as precious, not just American lives, I write this post and ask these questions. What do you think?  

Choosing to Remember -Remembrance Day 11.11.12

poppies, remembrance dayNovember 11th is Remembrance Day Sunday in Canada (and Great Britain and in several other European nations and throughout the Commonwealth). This is the day Canadians remember those who have died in conflict: in the Boer War, in the Great War and in World War 2, with US forces in Vietnam, under the United Nations in Korea, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in various peacekeeping missions around the world. Americans similarly commemorate Veterans Day. Poppies take the place of profile pictures as we remember and say thank you.

There are other ongoing conflicts around the world where hatred and violence seemingly prevail. And as I approach Remembrance Day, I have to ask aloud: Who’s remembering the victims of those conflicts? Who are the peacemakers? Who speaks out for the innocent? For those who have no voice? For those the world has forgotten?

The persecuted church remains largely undefended and forgotten.

Because of God’s grace, my dad is the survivor of one such forgotten moment of conflict. What lasted only a few minutes has changed the 75 people in attendance forever. The moment was short, but the effects continue, even up until the present.  On November 11th I ask you to join me in remembering. Let this be a token event that calls to mind countless other events happening all around the world. Let us remember.

My parents served as missionaries to Pakistan from 1979 until 2003. They lived out their lives in the tiny desert town of Layyah in the heart of the Punjab. There they raised their two children, my brother, Neil, and me. As a family we grew to love Pakistan: her culture, her food, her people. Pakistanis in return loved us. They accepted us. They welcomed us. We attended hundreds of weddings, funerals, festivals, ceremonies. We celebrated Christmas and Easter with dear Pakistani brothers and sisters, Aunts and Uncles. Even now when Neil and I go home for Christmas with our spouses and our children we sing Urdu Christmas Carols and enjoy Chicken Curry and Mutton Pulau together. Pakistan has become a part of who we are.

In March 2002 my dad was in Islamabad with a Pakistani friend, Rashid. They were there to welcome some new American colleagues who would be flying into the Islamabad International Airport. Dad and Uncle Rashid arrived in the capital city a few days early to run some errands and to take care of some business. While they were there they decided, at the last moment, to attend church on March 17th at the Protestant International Church in Islamabad. The church was located near the diplomatic enclave. It was a safe area of the city. They had no second thoughts about attending.

Midway through the service, after the children had been dismissed to attend children’s church in the basement of the church, two gunmen entered through the back of the building. They began to lob grenades into the congregation. All was suddenly chaotic and smoky. The bombs that went off were loud and horrific. There were screams and scramblings. Instinctively my dad knew to hit the ground. An undetonated grenade had landed right by his feet. Uncle Rashid, didn’t immediately fall to the ground. In the end the shrapnel from his own eyeglasses penetrated his eyes and his vision was lost.

That was a day our family will never forget. Five people died that day. Many more were injured. The nightmare still plays itself out most nights when my dad sleeps. He will likely forever suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He lost both his eardrums that day. Since then he only hears, and even then not completely, when he’s wearing hearing aids. He will always remember.

I will also always remember the story of Mahmood. Mahmood was my dad’s friend. One day he sincerely wanted a Bible to read. He took it to heart. Soon afterwards he came to visit my dad. He had begun to believe in Jesus. He was changed and full of joy and enthusiasm. It was a thrilling transformation.

Less than two months later my parents received word that Mahmood had been murdered. He was driving his vehicle and he drove over the bank and into the canal. It was later revealed that his brakes had been tampered with. His brothers and his father were most likely involved. There was too much at stake for them to have a brother and a son betray his faith. For them it seemed that if Mahmood chose Jesus he was rejecting them, their families, their faith, their traditions. They couldn’t handle the shame. They killed him.

Today I choose to remember.

I remember Mahmood, who died for his new-found faith. I remember the others like him who are persecuted and martyred for simply believing in Jesus. I remember those who died in the Protestant International Church on that fateful day in March 2002. I remember the injured.

On this Remembrance Day will you please join me in remembering those others have forgotten? There are silent victims of persecution that no one remembers. There are conflicts where the victims die quietly, buried in graves without markers. There is no bestseller written about them, often there is not even and article or obituary.

Every day there are those who die for their faith and for their convictions. Let us be the ones who remember. Let us begin today. Let us thank God for their lives. And let us remember their families who yet grieve.

A highly disturbed reader takes a look at a highly disturbing book: Zeitoun!

Fridays with Robynn

Zeitoun Dave Eggers(McSweeney’s Books: San Fransisco, 2009.)

I just finished a book that’s left me shaken to the core. Zeitoun  is a non-fiction account of one family’s experience during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun (pronounced zay-toon) run a professional painting business. Abdulrahman is a sympathetic immigrant from Syria. He is a devout Muslim. He works hard and contributes to his community. He is well-respected and liked.  Kathy, his wife, grew up Southern Baptist and is a convert to Islam. At the time of the Hurricane they had 4 children, one son Zachary and three daughters:  Nademah, Aisha and Safiya. They were tracking the storm’s arrival and decided that Kathy and the children would leave town while Abdulrahman stayed back to take care of their house, monitor their rental properties, business office and equipment. What follows is the story of Abdulrahman’s experiences after the hurricane hit. Using his canoe to paddle around neighbourhoods that he used to frequent, he rescues several elderly residents, discovers and begins to feed dogs that were left behind and happens upon friends that also stayed. The story takes a horrendous turn when Abdulrahman and three friends were forcibly arrested and taken to a makeshift prison at the Greyhound bus station. They were not told why they were being arrested, they were not allowed to phone their families or their lawyers, and they were held in inhumane cages and conditions before being transferred to other nearby facilities.

Abdulrahman’s story is absolutely unbelievable. And yet the author goes to great effort to show the research he did to verify the Zeitoun’s family story. It is certainly true.

By all accounts the agencies in charge of law and order and rescue during the days immediately after the hurricane went rogue. Rumours of terrorist organizations capitalizing on natural disasters, the prevailing chaos, the sheer horrors and numbers of the victims and the displaced distorted the judgment and discernment of normally rational individuals.  The New Orleans police department, the Army Corp of Engineers, the Mayor of New Orleans, FEMA –any of these might have stabilized the situation and brought calm and hope to what was a devastating reality. But they didn’t. They rose up with fear and they abused the power with which they had been entrusted. They bullied, they tortured, they neglected care, they mistreated. They fixated on minor infractions while largely neglecting to rescue innocent victims.

It’s very hard to imagine how all of it could happen in modern-day, 2005, here in the United States of America. What went wrong? How did this happen?

As a Canadian, who grew up in Pakistan,  I remember vividly an encounter I had with a US Immigration Officer in Ontario. I was applying, at that time for an R-1 visa. We were hoping to stay in the US for two years. I needed that visa to be able to temporarily live here.  The officer was looking through my records on her computer screen, “It says here that you said you’d be leaving to return to India in three months time.” I had never said that. I wouldn’t have said it. It wasn’t true. The officer completely shrugged me off. The recorded memo of my earlier conversation with a previous immigration officer was considered the truth about me. My word against theirs. And they were right. I was wrong. Accepting their word though meant that I had lied and over stayed my welcome. I was powerless to defend myself. She didn’t believe me. I was in the wrong.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun was in a far worse situation. He was completely vulnerable. Completely at the mercy of those in authority over him. They were authorities that at that time were not to be trusted.

Here in the U.S. we pride ourselves in our systems of justice and defense. We are innocent until we are proven guilty. Justice rules. She is not influenced by money or by power…but only by truth and proof. In other countries these things seem so tenuous, so fragile, so impressionable….but here justice is solid and sure. It’s what, in our minds, separates us from all that is “uncivilized”. It sets us apart. It gives us voice and confidence.

Reading the Zeitoun’s story leaves you wondering though.

Now seven years later, Kathy Zeitoun suffers with Post Traumatic Stress disorder. She will never be the same again.

“She finds herself wondering, early in the morning and late at night and sometimes just while sitting with little Ahmad sleeping on her lap: Did all that really happen? Did it happen in the United States? To us? It could have been avoided, she thinks. So many little things could have been done. So many people let it happen. So many looked away. And it only takes one person, one small act of stepping from the dark to the light.” (p 329)

It happened here.

And it could happen again.

It takes all of us committed to justice to preserve it. Justice, when left unchecked, uncared for, unguarded, untethered, spoils. We all need to protect it.

It’s a precious commodity.

Thankfully a hero rises up in Abdulrahman’s story. A simple black preacher delivering Bibles to the inmates hears Abdulrahman’s plea and is true to his word. He called Kathy and let her know where Abdulrahman was being held. Admittedly this doesn’t sound very heroic. But he was a man who was willing to listen to his conscience. He was willing to be the messenger.

Kathy goes on to say,

                “But did he risk so much? Not really. Usually you needn’t risk so much to right a wrong.  It’s not so complicated. It’s the opposite of complicated. To dial a number given to you by a man in a cage, to tell the voice on the other end, ‘I saw him.’ Is that complicated? Is that an act of great heroism in the United States of America? It should not be so.” (p 329)

I want to be like that preacher. I want to be “one person” who doesn’t look away, who steps from the dark to the light, who defends those who aren’t being defended, who stands up against injustice. Like Kathy Zeitoun said, “It’s not that complicated.”

Note from Robynn:  

A response to Abdulraham Zeitoun and Kathy Zeitoun’s ongoing story.

I was horrified to discover in a quick web search that Abdulraham and Kathy Zeitoun were divorced in early 2011. More recently Abdulrahman has been arrested for violently attacking Kathy on July 20, 2012. He remains imprisoned at this time.

My heart breaks for this family. They deserve our deep sympathy and our compassion filled prayers. At the time of Dave Egger’s book their marriage was described as solid and happy. They were sweet to one another. There was humour and kindness, deep loyalty and respect. One can only wonder, considering the extent of the trauma they endured, how much of their current situation is in part to blame on the injustices they experienced.

It further grieves me that this type of violent behavior is what the media expects of Muslim men. Abdulraham Zeitoun is now who everyone expected him to be. Yet – he was as Muslim before the hurricane as he is now. And yet now thousands will knowingly nod their heads – “We expected as much” they will say. It makes me angry. We will never know the depth of the damage to this one man’s psyche, to his (now ex) wife’s sanity, to his children’s sense of security that occurred when the raw horror of injustice and cruelty was served.

A man now sits in prison. A family is destroyed. A marriage wounded.

Certainly Abdulraham is responsible for hitting his wife. There’s no doubt he’s responsible for his fierce anger and his uncontrollable reactions.

But what happened inside to turn on that rage? When did he break?

Perhaps those responsible for his post-hurricane Katrina treatment should join him in his jail cell. Perhaps they, in part, share some of the blame for the way Kathy Zeitoun and her children were treated.

“There is No Future Without Forgiveness”

I have a couple of friends who do not believe in Hell. One claims she would mete out justice by taking those who have committed heinous crimes and throw them to the deepest part of the ocean – there they would languish under hot sun, salty water, sharks, storms and more. Death would come but not without fear and fight. When asked about forgiveness, reconciliation or restoration the answer is simple and forceful: there are some things that can never be forgiven, never be restored.

She is not alone – indeed we all have our views of what justice should look like. In the recent Aurora shootings the alleged killer was put in solitary confinement in a jail; he was not safe with the other prisoners who, though breakers of the law themselves, found this to be a heinous crime — one they would have punished.

In recent years International Criminal Tribunals have risen in response to atrocities committed around the world. There is wide support for these tribunals; Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others keep a global eye on tribunals that are held, ensuring that there is justice.

But Daniel Philpott in an excellent article in First Things poses the argument that these tribunals are focused primarily on punishment and neglect reconciliation. One could ask “Does true healing ever take place without reconciliation?” 

And can reconciliation ever take place without forgiveness?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission says emphatically to his fellow country men “There is no future without forgiveness”. 

We are in a world that cries out in pain – a world that desperately needs to have forgiveness and reconciliation modeled. At its core the Christian message is a drama of reconciliation acted out on the world stage through the cross.

Is it a drama we can reproduce, replay, and reenact through our own willingness to forgive – or is it a one time Oscar-winning performance? It’s a question I have to ask myself every day. 

Sold For Fifty Dollars and a Case of Beer

“Somebody who sold you… for fifty bucks and a case of beer! …I’m sorry” These words shouted at Penny Lane, a character from the movie “Almost Famous” would be harsh words for anyone to hear. She was sold by someone who played at loving her to get what he wanted. She was an object, a thing, something that was no more valuable than fifty dollars and a case of beer.

With a single phrase Penny Lane is sold, seen as no more than a commodity, and stunned she replies the only way she can without crying “Well, I hope it was Heineken”.She was reduced to a sophisticated poker chip as her fate was sealed by the actions of another.

While western culture often looks at devaluing women as an external issue, characterized by the sex trade, lack of education for girls, and perceived and real oppression – the line from this movie along with a recent article from Women’s Enews reminded me that these are not just issues from far away places.

The article cited the state of  Georgia, where a law was passed in April imposing higher fines on pimps as well as a 25 year minimum prison sentence for coercing sex from those under 18. The campaign “A Future, Not a Past” in Georgia gives an estimate of 250 to 300 underage trafficked girls in the state and have a concern that most people make an assumption that sex trafficking is an issue across the ocean, instead of one on the doorstep. The Washington DC based group, The Rebecca Project for Human Rights is also concerned that trafficking and exploitation in the United States is largely ignored.

One of the ways the Rebecca Project has addressed their concerns of child trafficking state-side is by taking on the popular Craig’s List. While most of us look to Craig’s List as a great way to find everything from furniture to apartments, the dark side of the site has been an adult services section. The Rebecca Project successfully lobbied to shut down this section. Craig’s List inadvertently ended up being a perfect spot for children to be trafficked under a guise of “Adult Services”. Malika Saada Saar, Director of the Rebecca Project calls this a “Cyber Slave Market” targeting under-age girls, made vulnerable through difficult home and life circumstances.

No one should be owned by another. No one, not Penny Lane sold for fifty dollars and a case of beer to a musician during a card game,  or the 14-year old sold by the pimp down the street.

The two videos I have linked below are clear descriptions of the problem and clear calls to action. Take a look and see what you think!

“No girl in America should be for sale. It is unacceptable and it must stop!” Malika Saada Saar – Founder and Director of The Rebecca Project.