Try to Imagine Spending 1 Hour in Solitary Confinement. Albert Woodfox Spent 43 Years

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LOUISIANA, United States - What comes to mind when people think about solitary confinement? Society depicts prisoners in locked cells with little or no contact with the outside world. This is the reality of thousands of prisoners throughout the penal system in America, but what makes this subject topical and visceral is the recent release of Albert Woodfox. He was charged along with Robert King and Herman Wallace, for allegedly killing a guard during the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana riots in 1972.

Much can be debated about the guilt of these three black men, especially about the cruel and unusual punishment of having to serve their entire sentences in solitary confinement. Thus, the "Angola Three," as they have come to be known, are a prime example of the abuse of the incarcerated in solitary confinement also known as administrative segregation which condemns prisoners to a veritable living death.

Until his release, Woodfox was the longest-standing solitary confinement prisoner in the history of United States, having served 43 years in solitary confinement. The next most famous personage to survive a long prison sentence in solitary confinement was Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison. He had received a life sentence in 1964 for conspiring against the apartheid regime, and spent the first 18 of those years on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town. (Source: Solitary Watch).

We, the public, can conceptualize solitary confinement, but everyone who has visited decommissioned cells in the administrative segregation section of prisons remarks on the fact that they couldn't imagine spending more than a few minutes in such an environment. Even this brief amount of time adversely impacted them, so one can extrapolate, though not really comprehend the magnitude of spending almost half-a-century in a small cell locked up for 23 hours a day.

The practice of administrative segregation needs to be reviewed much like the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) some states across the nation are choosing to legislate the discontinuation of capital punishment, and many states and even the federal government need to also reexamine the potential human rights abuses of prolonged isolation of prisoners.

Solitary confinement is often used to separate dangerous prisoners, protect inmates from other inmates, or put a stop to illegal activities outside of the prison, according to the National Institute of Corrections (NICIC). The problem with this method of punishment is that confined inmates are at risk for mental health problems. Inmates in solitary confinement are not engaged in stimulating activities such as work, friendship, volunteering, religious worship, and more. In fact they are isolated for 23 hours a day, which is proven to have a deleterious affect on mental health. Studies show that living alone is positively linked to mental health problems, and while this is not typical for everyone, isolation and seclusion can lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm, hatred or other psychological and physiological concerns.

These health effects are especially greater in solitary confinement because prisoners spend everything but 1 hour of each day locked up and alone.

“In 2014, 13 years after being set free, Robert King told CNN that he still suffers from confusion, saying that he often gets "confused as to where I am, where I should be." He also said he started experiencing problems with his vision soon after entering solitary confinement. In addition, King told CNN that depression was a constant (though expected) symptom.”

The effects of solitary confinement on a prisoner’s well-being have been debated since the first half of the 20th century, according to Peter Scharff Smith, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights in Copenhagen. For reasons earlier noted, solitary confinement is a necessary component of the penal system, but its efficacy is in doubt outside of isolating violent inmates who pose an immediate danger to other incarcerates and even the guards. Prolonged and forced isolation of prisoners who have no recourse nor outside representation is one of theissues that needs to be debated as part the overall reformation of prison system.

To that end, small things can be changed to immediately improve the lives of those inmates who are locked up for long periods of time. This may include granting them the privilege of engaging in daily tasks as well as maintain meaningful social contacts that can be monitored and reviewed by the Prisoner Review Board. These contacts may involve writing letters and making phone calls to family members, friends, and mental health professionals, all of which are afforded to mainstreamed prisoners, but denied to those confined in solitary.

Additionally, attention to the mental health of prisoners being held in solitary confinement needs to be a top priority. They should have frequent access to social workers, clinical licensed psychologist, or even psychiatrist so that they can share their feelings, find an outlet for their depression through therapy, and if necessary receive proper medicine to manage any preexisting or confinement induced mental illnesses. No human being can exists successfully in isolation, as our ability to remain human and hold onto our humanity is through our relationships with other people and participation with the community, even if that community is an incarcerated population.

This does not negate the necessity of the penal system, nor the necessity of incarcerating violent felons such as murders, rapists, pedophiles, or robbers from time-to-time in solitary confinement; however, to keep inmates locked up continuously for decades at a time is a clear human rights violation. For the families of victims of violent crimes, no punishment could be too harsh and since we have not walked a 'mile' in their proverbial shoes we don't know exactly how we would react. But, the empirical evidence is clear that when and if solitary confined prisoners are released back into society without proper mental health treatment, they pose a greater danger than when they went into the system.

While incarceration is intended to strip inmates of certain rights, not addressing mental health problems which are the result of solitary confinement will ultimately result in extra costs and impose a greater burden upon a system that is currently stretched to its limits. But, these costs are minimal when compared to the expense of having to hire extra guards to manage volatile situations which may arise because of having mentally ill inmates in general population.

The case for or against solitary confinement is a complex one; however, it is clear that the system of isolation and administrative segregation poses a greater risk to society by creating a class of individuals who are mentally unstable, either because of genetic disposition or prolonged isolation, and therefore are incapable of successfully reintegrating into a society into which they are thrust without support, medication, or life and job skills upon completion of their sentences.

Contributing Journalist:  @SophieSokolo

Savita Halappanavar | Denied Abortion Dies from Septicemia

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The ‘War on Women” became a seminal issue of the 2012 United States presidential election. Never before had women’s issues been at the forefront of a political contest in which many men openly revealed their utter ignorance of how women’s bodies functioned, while waging an all-out campaign to eliminate the legal statutes that guaranteed the right for women to seek and secure safe abortions.

While Americans were discussing abortion rights in the abstract, last month an Indian woman living in Ireland, Savita Halappanavar, 31, died because she was not allowed to receive an abortion.

Her tragic story began when she presented to University Hospital Galway because at 17 weeks pregnant she was experiencing unusual back pain.

By all accounts Mr. and Mrs. Halappanavar were happy with the upcoming addition of a child to their family, so this sudden development was worrisome. Savita, a dentist, and her husband, an engineer, waited for the results of her internal examination, but when the doctor returned with the prognosis it was devastating. She was fully dilated, her amniotic fluid was leaking, and the child would not survive.

Doctors told her that she would miscarry in a few hours, but instead according to a report in the Irish Times today, she “died of septicemia a week later because, even after doctors confirmed that her baby would certainly die, they refused to perform a life-saving termination of the pregnancy citing the fact that Ireland is a Catholic country.

This is a clear case of when the religious beliefs of attending physicians outweighed their Hippocratic Oath. Though, the Halappanavar repeatedly begged the doctors to induce labor since it was clear that the fetus would not survive, but each time doctors refused to perform the life-saving measures required to save Savita’s life, asserting that as long as there was a fetal heartbeat they would not terminate the pregnancy.

Over the next few days medical personnel seemed to take inordinate care of the fetus, checking every few hours to see determine if its heart was still beating. Meanwhile, Mr. Halapannavar had to watch Savita deteriorate as poisonous blood course through her body. Once it was clear that they could not save her baby, Mrs. Halappanavar once again begged for the doctors to induce labor to end the pregnancy, as before, these requests by all accounts were assiduously ignored.

Mr. and Mrs. Halappanavar are Hindu and thus believed that they were not subject to the prohibition against abortions which governs the religious lives of Irish Catholics. Even when Mr. Halappanavar explained that they were neither Catholic nor Irish and that under the Irish law, a woman has a “legal right to an abortion where there is a ‘real and substantial’ risk to her life,” the doctors still refused to save her life.

Two months prior to Savita’s death, on 13 September 2012, more than 140 Irish medical professionals from the fields of obstetrics and gynecology, mental health, and molecular epidemiology attended a symposium to discuss abortion as a tool to save a mother who has a problematic pregnancy that is life-threatening.

At the conclusion of the conference the symposium issued ‘the Dublin Declaration.’ Drafted by leading medical experts in maternal healthcare the document asserts that “abortions are not medically necessary, and thus abortion has no place in treating women and their unborn children." (Source: Zenit)

Thus, Savita perished after a week of suffering and with the knowledge that she had already lost her child and that she would most certainly die.

Meanwhile, across the pond, America pro-choice supporters mounted a vigorous defense of Roe vs. Wade while combating ignorant beliefs about pregnancy espoused by many far-right conservatives like former Representative Joe Walsh.

The Illinois Rep. proclaimed that because of "advances in medicine and technology, you can't find one instance" in which an abortion would be necessary to save a mother's life. It was also his belief that the health of the mother has become a tool for abortions any time for any reason ... there's no such exception as the 'life of the mother.'

When women’s freedom and the right to self-determination is held hostage by religious beliefs, cultural bias, or patriarchal dominance, death is sure to follow. Whether by stoning or honor killings or medical neglect, the net result is women everywhere remain at risk as long as a few people can impose their will and belief system about women’s bodies on society at large.

Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias
LinkedIn: Ayanna Nahmias

Mother Kills Daughter with Acid

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Acid attacks, are a heinous crime in which the perpetrator seeks to deliberately maim or kill their victim with acid so that they suffer horrendously in the short-term, and if they survive, must suffer the further indignity of being horribly disfigured.

These attacks are most common in Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other nearby countries. Globally, at least 1500 people in 20 countries are attacked in this way yearly, 80% of whom are female and somewhere between 40% and 70% under 18 years of age. (Source: Wikipedia)

The recent assassination attempt of the Pakistani heroine, Malalai Yousafzi, galvanized Pakistanis who took to the streets in an unprecedented demonstration of support for Malalai. The nation and the world was swift and vociferous in the condemnation of the perpetrators, and this watershed moment seemed to mark a desire by the citizens of the country to stand up for the rights of Pakistani women and girls.

It was therefore disconcerting to learn of the murder of a young Pakistani girl who was targeted simply because she was speaking to a boy. Unlike Malalai, who was targeted by the Taliban for advocating for access to education for Pakistani girls, the young 16-year old girl who lost her life today, was victimized for no other reason than she happened to speak to a boy in front of her home.

She was the victim of an 'honor killing,' which is the murder of a girl or woman by relatives, because they perceive her actions as having brought dishonor to the family.

According to Reuters, the girl’s parents poured acid on her face and body. In this case, as in others, the mother was the main perpetrator, though usually it is a male relative who initiates and carries out honor killings.

Unlike the acid attack victim pictured above, the young 16-year old did not survive the ‘third-degree burns on her scalp, face, eyes, nostrils, arms, chest foot and lower part of legs.  According to the doctors who tried to save her life, even her scalp bone was exposed.’ (Source: Reuters)

The parents in this case have been arrested, which is unlike many cases in Asia in which the perpetrators often escape justice. In many cases the murder is viewed as a private family matter and in some conservative communities the practice is tacitly condoned.

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KKK Burns Black Woman Alive

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SHREVEPORT, Louisiana – The Western media often portrays terrorists and extremists as a unique manifestation of Islam and the cultural clash between modernity and religion that is occurring throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia.

However, less vigorously reported, but no less prevalent, is the increase of hate crimes in the United States.

Most recently, a group which was thought to have perished in ignominy has once again exhibited its extreme hatred of African-Americans, perhaps as a result of the United States’ 2012 Presidential election.

There are some in America who are virulently opposed to President Barack Obama not as a consequence of political, economic, or social differences, but simply because he is a man of color who had the ‘temerity’ to think that he could be President of the United States.

This type of xenophobia and hatred was regularly displayed post-9/11 when many Sikh men, who are not Muslim and wear turbans, were targeted and in some instances killed because their assailants thought they were Arab.

On Sunday, 21 October 2012, a young black woman by the name of Sharmeka Moffitt, 20, alleged that members of an American hate group called the Ku Klux Klan attacked her while taking a walk in a park in Winnsboro, Louisiana. According to her statement, she was attacked by three men wearing hoods who then doused her with a flammable liquid and ignited it. She is listed in critical condition.

Thanks to one of our readers, we have been informed that Ms. Moffitt now admits that she made up the story in an apparent attempt to obfuscate the circumstances surrounding her burning which was the result of a failed suicide attempt.

However, the reason this story resonated with so many people, including me, is the fact that the 2012 U.S. election cycle has provided ample opportunity for members of the 'far right' and 'white supremacist' like the man wearing the tee-shirt above, to espouse their views openly in various media outlets without fear of sanction or reprisal.

These bad deeds in no way justify Ms. Moffitt's actions, but the fact remains that racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and homophobia are on the rise in this country. Thus, even the spectre of the Ku Klux Klan evokes an immediate deep-seated visceral response in even the most reasonable people.

For Americans, the KKK is a dirty secret, a racist group that terrorized and killed thousands of African-Americans because members of this organization espoused white supremacy. In 2008, Americans hoped that this painful era of our history was successfully banished with the election of the first African-American President, in 2012 sentiment has proven otherwise.

"The Ku Klux Klan is the name of three distinct past and present far-right organizations in the United States, which have advocated extremist reactionary currents such as white supremacy, white nationalism, and anti-immigration, historically expressed through terrorism. Since the mid-20th century, the KKK has also been anti-communist.

The current manifestation is splintered into several chapters with no connections between each other; it is classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is estimated to have between 3,000 and 5,000 members as of 2012." (Source: Wikipedia)

Ms. Moffitt has become the unfortunate symbol of the ascendance of racism in America. At a time when America hoped to present itself and view itself as a nation of equality and 'post-racialism,' the rancor and hatred exhibited in the 2012 election serves as a stark reminder that racism and other areas of discrimination are resurgent.

American terrorist groups like the KKK should be added to the list of international extremist groups like Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and as such, should be vigorously pursued, targeted, and eliminated for the good of all.

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The Sexual Hyprocrisy of the Taliban | Bacha Bazi

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 15:11 PM EDT, 6 April 2012

Young Afghanistan Boy Sex Slave (Bacha Bazi) Seated, Photo by Martin Von Krogh - Expressen

AFGHANISTAN - When the book "The Kite Runner” was made into a movie many people, including me, were shocked at the scene where a Taliban leader rapes a boy in the story. I thought that this must be aberrant behavior peculiar to the individual portrayed in the film because I know that the Qur'an strictly forbids homosexual relations.

To be clear, we are not accusing homosexuals of being predatory pedophiles; as the two are not the same, the former being consensual, the latter a sick and aberrant abuse of children, which is also practiced by straight people with this predilection. Pedophilia is an incurable proclivity which even chemical castration does not correct.

In fact, many pedophiles justify their behavior with the delusional assertion that the children they sexually abuse and rape enticed them and are willing participants.The men and women who seek out children to abuse can mentally cripple their victims for the rest of their lives.

Such is the case of with the Bacha Bazi of Afghanistan. A little known scourge, it involves older men seeking out and enslaving young boys to gratify their own sexual desires. This practice has been on the increase since the Taliban no longer controls the populace’s behavior through fear and threat of death. Instead, the moral excesses the Taliban accused and executed others for, is now openly engaged in as these once 'moral arbiters' select young boys to forcefully sodomize and enslave.

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Prior to this, when the Taliban was in control of certain regions of Afghanistan, women were stoned to death for what they perceived as the slightest infractions against the moral code of conduct and men were at risk of punishment or death for homosexual relations or disrespecting the religious edicts of the Taliban's version of Qur'an.

However, in many cases the Taliban's codes of conduct were not found in the Qur'an, and the men who foisted unduly restrictive guidelines upon women were egregious human rights offenders at least, and misogynist at worse.

Currently, the Taliban is either engaged in the war against America, or trying to survive in a leaderless world now that Osama bin Laden and many of his closest military advisors have been killed in targeted drone attacks and ISIS has filled the void.

Since the unraveling of Al-Qaeda's strict religious hierarchy, many Taliban are now engaged in a gross human rights violations because the energy that was previously directed at the West has dissipated. Now, this hatred and religious fervor has found expression in the abuse of the weakest members of their society.

Child sexual slavery in Afghanistan is on the rise as men groom young boys, many who are in their preteens, to be their sexual slaves until they tire of them. Many of these men are married but in fact are pedophiles. Now they can openly flaunt their preference for young boys because this type of behavior can be practiced without fear of reprisal.

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Published: 6 April 2012 (Page 2 of 2)

In this Eurasian country young boys are often sold by their impoverished families to abusers because of the handsome fees they can garner. If the boy is an ‘unsoiled’ virgin and very beautiful, meaning they are androgynous and can easily pass as a woman, they can be quite expensive. However, these sunk costs are easily recouped by their masters by hiring the boys out as entertainers at men only parties or as prostitutes.

The Bacha Bazi, which means 'boy for pleasure' are sometimes kidnapped, but just as many are homeless and hungry and will do anything to get off the streets. Normally, when one thinks of sexual abuse, in particular rape, the focus is on women and girls.

Because of my personal experiences, I am passionate about informing readers of human rights abuses, with the hope that others can feel that their stories are worth telling and that they are not alone in their suffering. It is also a core mission of The Report to reach exploited and abused people world-wide to provide them with topical and relevant knowledge which will hopefully encourage them to put their experiences behind them to live fulfilling and productive lives.

One of the most powerful statements about moving past old hurts and wounds is by Aldous Huxley. “Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.”

However, these Bacha Bazis who are sexually abused by the Taliban had little to work with in the beginning and once discarded because they are too physically mature, have nothing to turn to other than dancing and prostitution.

The most heinous thing about this epidemic of pedophilia, rape, and child abuse is that it is under reported. Perhaps it is easier to think of women as victims because we have been powerless for so long and continue to be abused in certain societies. But, these boys’ stories needs to be told; and America, a country that is raging war in Afghanistan should be on the front line, vociferously condemning this practice.

The U.S. should at least try to fund NGOs so that they can build shelters, educate, provide health care, and facilitate the punishment of the men who engage in this practice. Because Taliban members flaunt this behavior by regularly parading their Bacha Bazi in public, the U.S. has no excuse for not addressing this visible and obviously pressing human rights issue.

America is already at war with Afghanistan and is trying to root out Al-Qaeda and other radicals in the country. It would be but a short step to at least intervene to make it difficult for these men to engage in this type of aberrant and religiously prohibited behavior.

So much aid money is wasted on military effort, weaponry and outright larceny, a small portion of these funds would go a long way toward saving thousands of children.

If India can implement such a program, SCRP (Street Child Rehabilitation Project) as well as Pakistan to which the U.S. gives $1bn annually and where various NGOs like ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) operate; it is reasonable that the U.S. could fund an NGO to implement a similar program in Afghanistan to help these boys who are suffering.

Please share this post because even though you may think that it may touch only a few people, one never knows the positive impact your actions may have on someone you don't know. The movie “Pay It Forward” proved that. Though it was not a true story, the ideas inspired by the book and film are easily implemented and incredibly rewarding. Think about what you could do to help all abused children throughout the world, and tell everyone you meet about the continuous rape and abuse of the Bacha Bazi.

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This post was inspired by award winning photos of the Bacha Bazi taken by Martin Von Krogh. He is the 2012 1st Prize Winner of the Photographers Giving Back (PGB) contest. PGB is the only contest in the world that gives monetary charity to the depicted people in the awarded pictures.
 
Photos reprinted for this article with permission. If you are interested in publishing any of the photos included in this post you will need written permission. Per the photographer, photos can only be used for stories written specifically about 'Photographers Giving Back' and for no other purposes.
 
For permission send email requests to: jonas@thepgbphotoaward.com

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The Fallacy of Western Love | Meriam Al Khalifa

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 02:12 a.m. EDT, 15 June 2011

BAHRAIN - This post is about Meriam Al Khalifa who is a young Bahrani woman who eloped with an American serviceman and left her home in Bahrain during the night without the consent or knowledge of her family.

The picture to the right is of another beautiful Arabic woman Fathima Kulsum Zohar Godabari, who unlike Meriam Al Khalifa, has comported herself with the dignity expected of a woman of her station within the confines of her society and Islamic faith.

Her photo is used to both illustrate the nature of the wealth, lifestyle, and religious nuances that doomed Meriam and Jason Johnson's relationship from the beginning, as evidenced by their divorce filing on November 17, 2004 after five years of marriage. Several news programs featured the story of her 'escape' from Bahrain with her loving boyfriend when his tour of duty ended. As I watched the interview and how they interacted together, waves of emotions came over me.

First, the American media glorified the enormous disrespect Meriam displayed toward her family in allowing the exuberance and headiness of new love override common sense and propriety. The portrayal of this story was subtly propagandist in the assertion that despite the odds Western ideals can vanquish Middle Eastern tradition. Ultimately, their story demonstrated nothing more than youthful naiveté and indiscretion.

We have all been young and even as adults we can become intoxicated by the powerful and euphoric feeling of new love. During this time we can't bear to be separated from our new romantic partner, in our eyes they can do no wrong and the exuberance that we feel seems as if it will never dissipate.

Second, it didn't work for Romeo and Juliet, and in general it doesn't work in real life either. As I watched the interview during which they chronicled her journey to the States and her subsequent meeting with her in-laws, it became almost unbearable to watch. Meriam came from a very privileged background and as she sat a picnic table in a tiny back yard it was clear from her reaction that this was not the life that she thought she would have when she fled Bahrain.

In Bahrain, Meriam lived in an extremely affluent neighborhood that is home to families associated with the Royal Family and other high-ranking government officials. Her family's compound as depicted in the interview was a mansion worthy of a Palm Beach estate. Although, some would classify her existence as that of a beautiful bird in a gilded cage; she was nonetheless cared for like a bird whose wings have been clipped. Because of this and other reasons, it became apparent that she was ill-equipped to live as the wife of a hardworking, family-oriented, blue-collar serviceman.

Finally, there was the issue of faith. Unfortunately, in all faiths the pull of the world is often too strong to resist and thus religion becomes loosely worn by many of its practitioners. Unlike Islam, Orthodox Judaism and Christianity with which most people are familiar, Jason is an observant Mormon.

The fact that he is Mormon was less emphasized in the interview than the fact that Meriam is Muslim. Having grown up within a very patriarchal Islamic family, I know that the formative years and the nuances of culture, society, and faith which are inculcated at that time are not easily sublimated. I suspect that this may have also played a part in the demise of their relationship.

In Orthodoxy it is the responsibility of the a wife to take her husband's family as her own and to accept their ways as her ways. This would be nearly impossible for an Islamic woman to do, especially if the faith to which she would be subject is vastly different in its understanding and core beliefs. For a Muslim one of the basic tenets is that there is only one true God, and there were no other prophets after Muhammad.

This would, from a Muslim's perspective, disqualify members of "The Church of Christ Latter Day Saints (LDS)," who believe that the true, restored church was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr., who is considered a prophet. Through religious revelation, he embarked upon the literal restoration of the early church, which included the re-establishment of the Church of Christ and later propagated by Brigham Young who is also known as the Modern Moses. (Source: Wikipedia)

I am not normally in favor of divorce, nor am I happy at the dissolution of someone's marriage, but in this case I differ. I feel that this marriage should have never occurred, and I believe that by its dissolution a whirlwind affair was revealed for what it was, a Western fairytale.

Though fairy tales often dispense cautionary wisdom, the lesson here is that illicit love adversely impacts more people than intended, and in the end little more than sexual pleasure is gained and often with regret and recrimination.

I could glean nothing more about the outcome of Meriam Al Khalifa's life upon her return to Bahrain, but I hope that this youthful indiscretion does not mar her life forever, nor render her unsuitable for a future marriage or motherhood.

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Combating Racism Against Africans

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief

Last Modified: 00:52 a.m. EDT, 27 September 2010

UNITED STATES - My son was 10 years old the first time I had to have the talk about "race" and "racism." This was when he began to feel different and although he couldn't articulate it, he had already embarked upon the nuanced journey of life as a person of color, albeit biracial.

Specifically, we have had several discussions about Africa and African people. He understood that I had grown up in Africa and that I was 'brown,' but he couldn't comprehend why he was fair and had straight hair. So he chose to identify as 'white' which was at odds with how his Caucasian classmates viewed him. At that time he attended a strict religious school with a homogeneous population. It was very difficult for him because of the isolation and ostracization he experienced.

One day my son came home in tears because the children teased him when he told them his mother had grown up in Africa. It was particularly disturbing to me when my son recounted what the children in his school said about Africans and the cuisine I cooked. I recognized in large part these children were only repeating what they heard at home since children are intrinsically innocent, and must be taught to hate, disparage, and disrespect. It is the responsibility of the parents to train them otherwise.

Sometimes we think our children don't listen to us, and if they do hear, that they won't act upon what we teach them.  However, in this instant, my son obviously heeded my admonition and forcefully told these children that they could not make fun of Africa or his mother.

I was and continue to be proud of him, and how he had the courage to follow my instructions to never let anyone put Africa or Africans down. I told him that though he is biracial German, his heritage is also African, and that all life on earth started in Africa. I emphasized that he needs to be proud of his African heritage, and that his grandfather, my father,  lives in Harare which is a major city in Zimbabwe, Africa.

At the time when my son told me what happened, I was angry that racism remained perniciously prevalent in America.  I was incensed that my son had to experience it at such a young age. That is when I decided that it was important for me to expose him to Africa, if not in person, then through the next best medium of video. I wanted to communicate to him the importance of becoming a global citizen because xenophobia is bred from fear and lack of exposure.  I searched a long time for something that I could show my son to communicate the modernity of Africa.  Luckily, someone who is a follower of the blog sent me a link to this video.

It is a generally accepted fact that genetically human beings are 99.9% identical. "When researchers completed the final analysis of the Human Genome Project in April 2003, they confirmed that the 3 billion base pairs of genetic letters in humans were 99.9% identical in every person. It also meant that individuals, are on average, 0.1 percent different genetically from every other person on the planet." (Source: National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH)

My son, a science buff, understood this much more easily than my telling him that we are all the same. What he couldn't understand was much more personal.  He wanted to know why the food I prepared for him was vastly different than what the other children in his class ate.  I explained to him that we eat organic foods, but also that some Europeans preferred diets rich in dairy, sugar, very little spice. By contrast, I cooked the food that I grew up eating which is very spicy foods made from fresh, organic vegetables and legumes.

I will address the moniker of organic vs non-organic and GMO in another post, but for the purposes of explaining the type of foods I prepare for my son, I take great pride and care in cooking fresh food for him everyday. So, when he came home with his Sambusas (which in other parts of the world are called Samosas) in the bottom of his backpack I was concerned. Then when his teacher told me that my son was hungry at school because he had no food, I was understandably chagrined.

I asked him why he wasn't eating his food, and he told me "because the other children say that my food stinks like Africans." That conversation then apparently segued into a discussion about how Africans live, and more stereotypes were presented about Africans as fact.

I remember when I came back from Tanzania, East Africa in 1979, I vividly recalled some of the ignorant assumptions that children had then about Africa.  If one more child asked me about "lions running down the middle of the street, naked women with their breasts exposed, cannibalism, or what it was like to live in the jungle", I might have screamed.  But to hear my son repeat such comments nearly 30 years later, was unfathomable.

I never thought I would see a person of color elected to the highest office in America in my lifetime. Yet, in 2008, a biracial African-American, the son of an African Kenyan father and a Caucasian American mother, was elected as the President of the United States.

There are any number of characteristics and reasons why President Barak Obama is one of the most famous persons alive today; but most transformative for me is his African heritage, and the fact that his election at this time in history, changed the paradigm for all children. Especially, for my son who views President Obama as a hero and someone who looks like him.

Though at seven, my son was more interested in competing in the Olympics as an equestrian, or playing Polo, or growing up to be scientist who builds space ships, robots, and rockets, for him the question of ever being President of the United States is but one more option in a panoply of choices.

President Obama, through his life, his family, and his leadership, is demonstrating that we do not have to dwell in the realm of pigmentation, but should elevate ourselves to the heights of our intelligence. I am not naive nor idealistic enough to think that his election would eradicate racism in this country, but I did hope that it would die with my generation and those who came before me.  Sadly, this is not the case, and so, I fight the fight, one interface and interfaith dialogue at a time.

Recently, I was speaking with my mother about the difficulties of raising a biracial child of African/European descent in a largely European environment. We are privileged to have access to my mother's wisdom and insight. She is a world-traveler, former Peace Corp Desk Officer responsible for all of the countries in the Horn of Africa, a former educator, and a phenomenal human being..

As we discussed the challenges associated with communicating to my son the value of his heritage, and how I might demonstrate in a tangential manner short of traveling to Africa, that the Continent is more than what is portrayed in the Western media. My mother suggested that I go to the library or bookstore and get some large picture books with photos of Africa and its cities.

Nothing takes the place of actual experience, but until we have the opportunity to return to Africa, this was going to have to serve as a satisfactory alternative. As expected, my son responded much more to the video than the books that I provided to him because the music is superb, the images clear and powerful, and it is so evocative.

Like me, it pulled him in and provided him with a visual reference for him to embrace and share. The continent of Africa has many countries, each with major cities and sprawling metropolitan areas that rival, if not outstrip many in the West.

It is my hope that others will view this video and share it with friends, family and acquaintances. The producer of this video has done a great service to humanity in promoting greater understanding and knowledge of Africa. We can't all be "rock stars" like President Barak Obama, but each of us can contribute to making the world a better place for our children's today and tomorrow.

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Editor: @ayannanahmias

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