Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No rides with strangers, even Abu Dhabi Crown Prince!

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed waits with the schoolgirl

If you were offered a ride by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, I think you would be in pretty safe hands!!

Not so the little girl in the picture above.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed spotted her sitting in front of a school in the UAE capital while driving by. He stopped to find out whether anything was wrong or if she was lost.

The schoolgirl said she was waiting for her parents to pick her but they were late.

When the Crown Prince offered to drive her home, she said she was not supposed to speak to strangers and not to accept rides from them either.

When Sheikh Mohammed introduced himself, she still refused. So he sat down with her on the pavement to wait for the parents to show up. I hope they are very proud of her.

I saw the story on Facebook yesterday but I can’t remember where and that's why I haven't been able to give credit for the photograph.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

From Angels to Amazons to Assad-esses

Assad's Lionesses

Charlie had “Angles,” the late Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi “Amazons” and now Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “Lionesses” (a play on his name, Assad means lion in Arabic).

The new brigade of women is said to be recruited to man checkpoints and carry out security operations and are part of a new paramilitary force.

The “Lionesses for National Defense” have already been deployed in Homs, where they have been spotted guarding areas where residents still largely support Assad’s regime.

“The Amazonian Guard” was the unofficial name to Gaddafi’s all-female elite cadre of bodyguards also known as “The Revolutionary Nuns,” and “The Green Nuns.”

Gaddafi's Amazons
The group was formed in the early 1980s, after Gaddafi's official resignation as Libyan head of state in favor of the title of "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya."

In the 1970s, American crime drama television series “Charlie’s Angels,” the never-seen Charlie recruits three women to work for his private investigation agency. It was one of the first shows to showcase women in roles traditionally reserved for men.

Charlie's Angels
“Charlie’s Angels” was broadcast in the United States on the ABC Television Network from 1976 to 1981 and was one of the most successful series of the 1970s. In 2000, it was turned into an action comedy film and followed with the 2003 sequel, “Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.”

But back to Assad’s Lionesses, I wonder how they reacted when they heard or read that rape was a significant feature of their government’s war on its own citizens.

What will the Lionesses do when they see elderly Syrians and Syrian women and children being killed?

What will the Lionesses do when they witness warplanes dropping barrel and cluster bombs on their compatriots’ homes and bread lines?

Will the Lionesses’ security duties be to kill more Syrians?

Back to you Lionesses -- we are watching.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Have you tried horsemeat?

Horsemeat burger anyone?

The current uproar in the UK about horsemeat made me recall the mindset of my younger self.
I grew up in Tunisia, where my parents were posted until 1973. That’s where I went to school and started university.
When I was at the French Lycée in La Marsa, opposite the train station there was a sandwich shop we used to often pass by after school. It served horsemeat, as did many other such outlets.
The best were the salami sandwiches that were my top pick and I can still remember as delicious.
When I told my parents, they were a bit shocked. My dad investigated further on his weekly market run. He reported horsemeat was widely available at butchers’. He got some steaks to cook for our dogs. But when our housekeeper and gardener saw them, they were surprised that it wasn’t for our own consumption. So their share of horsemeat steaks was added to dad’s weekly shopping list to their great delight.
Horsemeat salami
I went down memory lane after reading about horsemeat being found at Tesco and other supermarket burgers in England and the Irish Republic. Tesco placed full-page ads in UK newspapers apologizing.
Irish food inspectors had found almost 30% horsemeat in one brand sold by Tesco. Iceland, Lidl and Aldi and Dunnes also found smaller amounts in sold beef burgers.
Officials said the adulterated products posed no risk to human health but were removed from shop shelves.
A total of 27 burger products were analyzed, with 10 of them containing traces of horse DNA and 23 containing pig DNA. In addition, 31 beef meal products, including cottage pie, beef curry pie and lasagna, were analyzed, of which 21 tested positive for pig DNA.
All those years ago, the world was a different and more isolated planet. We were less exposed to news, opinion and political correctness.
Rather than Google everything, we relied on common sense. I have long since moved away from meat and certainly chicken that I only eat if I have to.
More of the uproar is due to the lack of labeling of the products. It is not illegal to sell horsemeat in the UK but it is illegal to sell ingredients that are not listed on the label of the product you are buying.
The sale of horsemeat in supermarkets and butchers is minimal, and most of the horsemeat consumed in the UK is imported from Europe, predominantly the South of France, where it is more widely available.
Historically, horsemeat is major meat in only a few countries, notably in Central Asia. But it forms a significant part of culinary traditions elsewhere -- in Europe, South America and Asia.
The top eight countries consume about 4.7 million horses a year. In 2005, the eight principal horsemeat-producing countries turned out over 700,000 tons. In the same year, the biggest horsemeat-consuming countries were China (421,000 tons), Mexico, Russia, Italy, and Kazakhstan (54,000 tons). In 2010, Mexico produced 140,000 tons, China 126,000 tons and Kazakhstan 114,000 tons.
I don’t really remember the taste, but horsemeat is said to be slightly sweet, tender, low in fat, and high in protein. However, because of the role horses have played as companions and as workers, and concerns about the ethics of the horse slaughter process, it is a taboo food in some cultures.
In many parts of Europe, the consumption of horsemeat continued throughout the Middle Ages until modern times, despite a Papal ban in 732.
Horsemeat butcher in Languedoc, France (Wikipedia)
France dates its taste for horsemeat to the Revolution. With the fall of the aristocracy, its auxiliaries had to find new means of subsistence. It was during the Napoleonic campaigns, when the surgeon-in-chief of Napoleon's Grand Army, Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, advised the starving troops to eat the meat of horses.
In 1866, the French government legalized the consumption of horsemeat and the first horsemeat butcher's shop opened in eastern Paris, providing quality meat at lower prices.
Despite the general taboo, horse and donkey meat was eaten in Britain, especially in Yorkshire, until the 1930s, and surged in popularity in the United States in times of post-war food shortage.
The killing of horses for human consumption is widely opposed in countries such as U.S. and Britain, where horses are generally considered to be companion and sporting animals only. But Europe takes exception. In Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and other states, it is commonly found, sold in most supermarkets and many butcher shops.
Maybe the French introduced horsemeat in Tunisia when it was under French protectorate from 1886 to 1956…
Have you had horsemeat? Where and in what form?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Will Pussy Riot’s Maria walk free today?

Today, January 16, is International Day of Solidarity with Pussy Riot’s Maria Alekhina.
Will the 24-year-old single mother be freed and reunited with her small child, or continue serving the rest of her two-year sentence in a Russian prison camp?
The verdict is due out later today.
UPDATE: Russian court decides not to release Maria

A Russian prison court has ruled not to release Maria Alekhina until her young son comes of age, according to Amnesty International USA (AIUSA).

"Today's ruling is yet another example of injustice compounded in the Pussy Riot case,” said Jasmine Heiss, AIUSA’s individuals at risk campaigner. "From the initial unjustified arrests, to the questionable trial, to an outrageous verdict, each step in the case has been an affront to human rights and freedom of expression."

Maria Alekhina's attorneys had petitioned the Russian court to defer her sentence until after her child turned 14, as she is a single parent.

"The persecution of Pussy Riot has become a global symbol of President Putin's shameless intolerance for criticism and determined crackdown on freedom of expression and association," said Heiss. "These women have been sentenced for the crime of performing a song. Amnesty International calls for Maria and Nadezhda's unconditional release so that they may return to their art without fear of reprisal."

Maria is one of three Pussy Riot members jailed for two years in August 2012 for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and “crudely undermining social order” after staging a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral to take exception to the Russian Orthodox Church leader's support for Putin.
Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Ekaterina Samucevich offended the feelings of Orthodox believers and showed a "complete lack of respect," the court ruled.
From left: Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samucevich
Maria Alekhina is a poet and student at the Institute of Journalism and Creative Writing. She has a five-year-old son.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, is a visual artist and fourth year philosophy student. She has a four-year-old daughter.
Ekaterina Samucevich, 30, is also a visual artist with a degree from The Alexander Rodchenko School of Photography and Multimedia in Moscow.
The police were instructed to arrest the group’s known members a week after an edited video of the one-minute performance appeared on YouTube.
Seven members of Pussy Riot (photo Igor Mukhin for Wikipedia)
Their website describes Pussy Riot as an anonymous Russian feminist performance art group formed in October 2011. “Through a series of peaceful performances in highly visible places, they have given voice to basic rights under threat in Russia today, while expressing the values and principles of gender equality, democracy and freedom of expression contained in the Russian constitution and other international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).”
Punk Prayer
The feminist punk-rock collective gained international attention and notoriety last year when on February 21, 2012, five members of the group staged a performance on the soleas of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Church security officials stopped them. By evening, they had turned it into a music video entitled "Punk Prayer -- Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!"

Pussy Riot has a variable membership of approximately 11 women who wear brightly colored balaclavas. Their lyrical themes include feminism, LGBT rights, opposition to Putin, whom they regard as a dictator and links between the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin.
Kirill I, Patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus', openly supported Putin's 2012 re-election, calling him a "miracle from God," who had "rectified the crooked path of history."
On appeal last October, Ekaterina Samucevich was freed on probation, her sentence suspended because she had not actually entered the church. The sentences of the other two women were upheld. In late October, Maria and Nadezhda were sent to prison camps.
The trial and sentence attracted considerable criticism, particularly in the West. The case was adopted by human rights groups including Amnesty International, which designated the women as prisoners of conscience, and by a wide range of musicians including Madonna, Bryan Adams, Mark Knopfler, Sting and Yoko Ono.
While acknowledging the outpouring of support, Pussy Riot distanced themselves from Western artists and reiterated their opposition to the capitalist model of art as commodity. "We're flattered, of course, that Madonna and Björk have offered to perform with us. But the only performances we'll participate in are illegal ones. We refuse to perform as part of the capitalist system, at concerts where they sell tickets," they are quoted as saying.
Amnesty International called the conviction "a bitter blow for freedom of expression." Hugh Williamson, of Human Rights Watch, said the "charges and verdict... distort both the facts and the law... These women should never have been charged with a hate crime and should be released immediately." ARTICLE 19, Freedom House, and the International Federation for Human Rights also issued statements condemning the sentence.
Last September, Yoko Ono awarded the band the biennial Lennon-Ono Grant for Peace, saying she intended to work for the group's immediate release.
Public opinion in Russia was generally less sympathetic towards the women. Putin said the band had "undermined the moral foundations" of the nation and "got what they deserved."
Pussy Riot has not released any conventional albums. However, their songs are freely available for download on a number of Internet sites, collected together under the title Ubey seksista ("Kill the Sexist").
Their first public performance as members of Pussy Riot was in November 2011. Several masked women performed Osvobodi Bruschatku ("Release the Cobblestones") atop a scaffold in a Moscow subway and from the top of trolley cars, while tearing apart down feather pillows, showering feathers onto the train platform below. The song recommends Russians protest upcoming parliamentary elections, by throwing cobblestones during street clashes.
The January 2012 performance in Red Square (Photo by Denis Bochkarev for Wikipedia)
In January 2012, eight Pussy Riot members performed on the Lobnoye Mesto in Red Square. Their song, Putin Zassal, urged a popular revolt against the Russian government and an occupation of Red Square. According to a Pussy Riot member identified as "Shayba," the song was inspired by the events of December 24, 2011, when nearly 100,000 people attended anti-Putin rallies in central Moscow. 
Penal colonies
The defendants pleaded not guilty, saying they had not meant their protest to be offensive. "We sang part of the refrain 'Holy shit'," Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said in court. "I am sorry if I offended anyone with this. It is an idiomatic expression, related to the previous verse -- about the fusion of Moscow patriarchy and the government. 'Holy shit' is our evaluation of the situation in the country. This opinion is not blasphemy."
The women asked to serve their sentence at the pre-trial detention facility in Moscow. Their request was denied. Nadezhda and Maria were sent to penal colonies in Mordovia and Perm Oblast respectively.
Will Maria Alekhina walk free today?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

U.S. women, the Hill and Anonymous

America, Land of the Free… Or at least that’s what it was meant to be. But is it?
When developing nations are expected to look up to “democracy” in the United States, and when many of them are fighting to pass legislation to protect women and minorities, Republicans in the U.S. Congress have done it again. For the first time since 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been scrapped!
Republicans claim the bill -- co-written by a liberal Democrat (Vermont's Pat Leahy) and a conservative Republican (Idaho's Mike Crapo) -- is too supportive of immigrants, the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community and Native Americans.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the Democratic point person on VAWA, said in a statement: "The House Republican leadership's failure to take up and pass the Senate's bipartisan and inclusive VAWA bill is inexcusable. This is a bill that passed with 68 votes in the Senate and that extends the bill's protections to 30 million more women. But this seems to be how House Republican leadership operates. No matter how broad the bipartisan support, no matter who gets hurt in the process, the politics of the rightwing of their party always comes first."
Back in August, President Barack Obama had to go on TV and denounce Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks about rape as “offensive.’
 “Rape is rape,” Obama told a White House press briefing on August 20. He called the comments by Akin, a Republican candidate for Senate in Missouri, “way out there.”
Akin said in cases of “legitimate rape,” pregnancy is rare because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Although Akin lost his seat, he hung in there, offering a controversial explanation for why he is against abortion. He said he believed pregnancy from rape was rare because of biological reactions to "legitimate rape."
"It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," he said. If pregnancy did occur, he added, there should be repercussions for the rapist, but not the unborn fetus. "Let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment. But the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
Photo via
Adding insult to injury, Akin’s congressional peers have now derailed VAWA!
It will be up to the 113th Congress to revive the law, but that will take time and thousands of rape victims will be vulnerable because of the GOP’s actions.
The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a U.S. federal law  (Title IV, sec. 40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, H.R. 3355) signed as Pub.L.103-322 by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994.
The Act provided $1.6 billion toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted.
The Act also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.
The office of Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) drafted VAWA, with support from a broad coalition of advocacy groups. The Act passed through Congress with bipartisan support in 1994, clearing the House by a 235-195 vote and the Senate by a 61-38 ballot, although the following year House Republicans tried to cut the Act's funding.
Congress reauthorized VAWA in 2000, and again in December 2005. The Act's 2012 renewal was fiercely opposed by conservative Republicans, who objected to extending the Act's protections to same-sex couples and to provisions allowing battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas.
In April 2012, the Senate voted to reauthorize VAWA, and the House subsequently passed its own measure (omitting provisions of the Senate bill that would protect gay men, lesbians, American Indians living in reservations, and illegal immigrants who were victims of domestic violence).
On January 2, 2013, the Senate's 2012 reauthorization of VAWA was not brought up for a vote in the House -- effectively ending the Bill after 18 years in effect.
Since its original passage in 1994, VAWA's focus has expanded from domestic violence and sexual assault to also include dating violence and stalking.
It funds services to protect adult and teen victims of these crimes, and supports training on these issues, to ensure consistent responses across the country.
One of the greatest successes of VAWA is its emphasis on a coordinated community response to domestic violence, sex dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services, and the private bar currently work together in a coordinated effort that had not heretofore existed on the state and local levels.
VAWA also supports the work of community-based organizations that are engaged in work to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, particularly those groups that provide culturally and linguistically specific services.
Additionally, VAWA provides specific support for work with tribes and tribal organizations to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking against Indian women.
The GOP has put all this is in limbo for now.

In the meantime, will rape victims be defended and supported by hacktivist groups and the online community, as is happening in the Ohio town of Steubenville?
Online hacktivist group Anonymous (@KYAnonymous on Twitter) has been holding rallies in Steubenville to protest what it called a conspiracy by some town members to protect local football stars accused of raping a 16-year-old girl last August.

Related posts and articles:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Call for zero rape tolerance in 2013

Protests in New Delhi
Has it started at last?
Has the devastatingly poignant death of the “India Gang-Rape” young woman dubbed “Nirbhaya” -- or fearless one -- let the rape genie out of the bottle in India and other countries around the world?
Is 2013 the year when rapists are punished rather than their victims? Will it be the year when governments, politicians and people join together to abolish this beastly act?
I certainly hope so, and not only in India.
One Indian woman was inspired by the recent gang rape death to speak out.

Sonika Bhasin's tweets
Sonika Bhasin, ‏@sonikabhasin wrote December 29 on Twitter: “Have decided, I am going to call out the guy who abused me when I was just 13. My friend's father, my dad's friend. I'm going to tell everyone.”
Sonika, a media professional from Mumbai, so rightly added: “It's going to take a lot of courage and strength, but I will do it. And I wish all girls do, so that sexual abusers don't get away.”
I am of course talking about the student gang-raped and brutally beaten on a bus in India's capital New Delhi on the night of December 16. The Times of India refers to the woman, whose name has not been released to the public, as “Nirbhaya,” or the fearless one.
Nirbhaya's body beings its sad journey home from Singapore
Lilies surround Nirbhaya's body in the ambulanceas it is driven home in Delhi
She died on Saturday, December 29, at a Singapore hospital where she was airlifted two days earlier, after three operations in a Delhi hospital. She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body.
There are mounting appeals to the family to release her name, allowing the general public to honor and remember her.
The 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist was with her boyfriend, who she was due to marry in February. They had just been to see the blockbuster movie “The Life of Pi. They were attacked when they boarded a bus in the Munirka area of Delhi, intending to travel to Dwarka in the city’s southwest.

Police said men on the bus gang-raped the woman for nearly an hour and beat her and her male companion with iron rods as the bus, with curtains shut, drove through the city for hours, even passing through police checkpoints. The assailants eventually stripped the pair and dumped them on the side of a road.

"Rapist are like cancer, crush them!!" sign on the streets of Delhi
The Indian government has tried to halt rising public anger by announcing a series of measures intended to make Delhi safer for women. These include a greater number of night police patrols, checks on bus drivers and their assistants, and the banning of buses with tinted windows or curtains. The government has also said it would post the photos, names and addresses of convicted rapists on official websites to shame them.
Protesters in Delhi call for the death sentence for rapists
But the protesters say the government's pledge to seek life sentences for the attackers is not enough. Many are calling for the death penalty, including for the six suspects who were arrested by police following the attack. Some of the protesters carried placards reading "Save women. Save India" and "Hang the rapists."
Rape victims, in India and most other countries, rarely press charges because of social stigma and fear they will be accused of inviting the attack. Many women say they structure their lives around protecting themselves and their daughters from assault.

But in India, as elsewhere, it is often the women who are blamed after a rape, not just by ordinary people but by politicians and other influential figures who claim women are at fault because they go out wearing clothes that might be perceived as provocative.

This is the attitude that needs to change.

It was clearly illustrated on December 28, when lawmaker Abhijit Mukherjee, the son of India's president no less, apologized for calling the protesters ''highly dented and painted" women, who go from discos to demonstrations.

''I tender my unconditional apology to all the people whose sentiments got hurt," he told an Indian TV station.

Official figures in India -- the nuclear weapons state, the seventh-largest country by area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people and the most populous democracy in the world -- show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year in the country were against women. The real figure is thought to be much higher as so many women are reluctant to report attacks to the police.
The Legally India website quotes The State of World Population Report suggesting that in India:
  • A Rape is committed every 54 minutes
  • Molestation every 26 minutes
  • Kidnapping or abduction every 43 minutes
  • Eve-teasing every 51 minutes
  • Dowry death every 1 hour 42 minutes
  • A criminal offense against women every 7 minutes.
The Times of India quotes Home Ministry data showing there was only one conviction out of 635 rape cases in Delhi last year. As many as 754 accused were arrested in the 635 cases reported to Delhi Police between January and November 2012, the highest in past five years, Home Ministry data confirmed.

Statistics compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau show that between 1953 and 2011, the incidents of rape in India went up by 873 percent.

In a survey conducted by Thomson Reuters' Trust Law Women, a hub of information and support for women's rights, India ranked with Afghanistan, Congo and Somalia as one of the most dangerous places for women. 

Amongst the metropolitans, it said Delhi topped the list of rape incidents. From 2007 and 2011, Delhi saw 2,620 rape cases. Comparatively, Mumbai had 1,033, Bangalore 383, Chennai 293 and Kolkata 200 cases.

Rest in Peace Nirbhaya
Will “Nirbhaya’s” death, brave actions like those of Sonika Bhasin, and the protests taking place in Delhi lead to the much-needed sexual revolution in India and spread elsewhere?

How many more victims must rapists claim? How many more rapists will go unpunished?

Would 2013 be the year where we move from victim blaming to rapist naming, shaming and punishing?

Rest in Peace “Nirbhaya.” We won’t forget you and your death won’t be in vain.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dubai welcomes 2013 with a bang

What a way to start 2013!

The fireworks all around Dubai were spectacular (above at Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world).

Happy New Year!