Neo-Nazism, Roma, and the Baby in the Middle

roma anti-segregation demonstration In budapest, hungary, 2013, photo by brell stewart

roma anti-segregation demonstration In budapest, hungary, 2013, photo by brell stewart

MAKO, Hungary - In America, racism is identified primarily as a ‘black’ and ‘white’ issue. It is considered a systemic problem that evolved out of slavery and continues to be promulgated by people on both sides through ideology, lack of education, and plain hatred.

Increasingly, with the explosion of extremist groups divided along religious and ethnic lines that transcend color; xenophobia has become the norm in response to the other and the concept of racism breaks down as understood from an American vantage point.

The rise of Neo-Nazism, White Supremacists, and Aryan Nations movements continues to plague America, but to a less dangerous degree than the far-right political parties gaining prominence and power across Europe. These groups, like the violent Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have harnessed the power of the internet and social media to disseminate their messages of hate and to gain ill-informed followers.

These seemingly respectable political parties and their leaders present an appearance of civility and nationalism, when in fact their rhetoric has fomented a resurgence of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-African immigrants, and anti-Roma. Anti-Roma? Most would ask, “What is that?”

For people and organizations with a focus on fighting against human rights abuses, and who are very familiar with the usual players, both victims and victimizers, the Roma or Travellers as they prefer to be called, or derogatorily referred to as ‘Gypsies,’ are a known persecuted group. From 1939 to 1945 the Nazis instituted a policy to eradicate the Roma.

“While exact figures or percentages cannot be ascertained, historians estimate that the Germans and their allies killed around 25 percent of all European Roma. Of the slightly less than one million Roma believed to have been living in Europe before the war, the Germans and their Axis partners killed up to 220,000 in the Holocaust.” (Source: Holocaust Encyclopedia)

In the seven decades since, the Roma have rebuilt their lives and their culture, albeit one that continues to be at odds with the more traditional lifestyles of modern societies. They have been maligned as ‘evil,’ ‘dirty,’ ‘thieves,’ and ‘murderers’ because of the actions of a few, and perhaps even more than a few. Just as America has been grappling with an alarming rate of young black men being murdered by police simply because of their skin color, and thus bore the burden of the bad acts of other men who happened to be similarly hued; the Roma are being targeted because of the bad acts of their brethren.

But, why is this news worthy? Because people believe in the mystical power of a new year, that it will bring change, good fortune, peace and happiness. So, on December 31st, despite history to the contrary, the world once again rejoiced one minute past midnight as 2015 began. It was also the beginning of Rikardo Racz’s life who was born in Hungary to Roma parents Peter and his wife Sylvia.

As traditional in many communities across the country, and apparently across Europe as well, the first baby born in the New Year is afforded fanfare and publicity for having arrived at such a propitious hour. But, Rikardo’s birth has now been heralded as anything but, since a photo of the proud parents holding their son, elicited a vitriolic response from Elod Novak, deputy leader of the far-right Jobbik party who posted a picture of his ‘pure white’ Hungarian family on Facebook inciting his followers to express such sentiments as "They're breeding like rats, like parasites," and that they were going to dilute the purity of the Hungarian bloodline.

“Elod Novak, the Parliamentary deputy, has refused to apologise for his comments and even suggested that Peter should apologise to him. Far-right media are still full of allegations of an "explosion" of Roma births. They maintain its Hungary's biggest problem. They don't seem to realise that Roma are Hungarians too.” (Source: BBC)

Prior to Rikardo’s birth, BBC reported that the Racz family lived a quiet life in their community working and sending their two daughters to kindergarten, and despite the fact that they were the only Roma living in the small village, they never experienced any hostility or racism. Now they must confront a new reality, one in which Peter laments, "All that differentiates us is the colour of our skin. We have the same hearts and blood and souls." (Source: BBC)

And why should any of this concern us? In these days and times of intolerance and fear, of apathy and myopia, we would do well to remember the perils of not standing up to injustice as captured in poetry by Protestant Pastor Martin Niemöller who was subsequently sent to a concentration camp.

“In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Socialist, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Socialist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me — and by that time no one was left to speak up."

 

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

Islamic New Year 2014 | The Prophet and Kaaba

dubai 2014 new years eve fireworks, photo by robin appleby

dubai 2014 new years eve fireworks, photo by robin appleby

DUBAI, This year, the new Islamic New Year fell on October 24. The date will mark the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad's journey from Mecca to Medina in year 622. He led his followers over 200 miles across barren desert to escape persecution. At the time, Mecca was a polytheistic city which was viewed by many different religions as a holy center.

The frequent migrations of these many religious practitioners was to visit the Kaaba, which is a sacred stone structure that was once used to house effigies of gods and goddesses and its presence subsequently changed the city into a prosperous trade center.

When the Prophet insisted that there was only one God people were quite resistant to this credence. At that time theKaaba wasfilled with false idols and, furthermore, in the terms of all the Abrahamic religions it is required that a percentage of one's income (if possible) be given to charity. People worried that this new religious edict would harm the economy as well as their pockets.

As the Prophet Muhammad started his life as a merchant and didn't turn to religion until he was in his 30s -- people questioned both his authority to preach and his sincerity in proselytizing these new values. Consequently, he was threatened and began to fear for his life. The Prophet had heard that the city of Medina would be a sanctuary for the new followers of Islam and thus moved to there.  The first groundswell of converts to Islam were rapidly growing, and thus he found Mecca to be more welcoming.

The year of this journey, called the Hijra marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar. While the Prophet's birth and the founding of the Islamic religion are important, it was decided that the show of devotion in the face of adversary that a more powerful symbol representative of Islamic value should be adopted as the first of the calendar year.

Eventually it became safe for the Prophet Muhammad to return to Mecca. This pilgrimage, called the hajj, became required for all Muslims to make at least once in their lifetime during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.  However, exceptions are made for those unable to travel. As well as being a personal journey, it is also a way to encourage solidarity amongst Muslims and people from all over the world from all backgrounds came and continue to gather together to give allegiance to Allah.

The Muslim calendar is on a lunar cycle versus the Gregorian calendar used by much of the West. Thus, the start of a month is marked by the first sighting of a crescent moon, and each new day begins at sundown on the previous, versus a new day starting at sun up in the West. Because the 12-months of the calendar differ in length from the more widely used Gregorian calendar, Islamic dates and holidays vary in comparison from year-to-year.

The New Year is recognized in relatively quiet way, with prayers and reflections, but as with the other major religions and in honor of their holidays, we wish our Muslim readers Sana sa'eedah!

Melkam Addis Amet 2014 | Happy Ethiopian New Year!

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 00:00 AM EDT, 09 September 2014

Young Ethiopian Girl with Flower, Photo by Tiffany

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – The Ethiopian New Year, which in Amharic is called Enkutatash, commences on 11 September 2014.  The name of this festival harkens back to the revered Queen of Sheba, who upon her return from Jerusalem where she visited King Solomon, brought with her a wealth of gold and precious stones.

In addition to these gifts, she received jewels from the Ethiopian priesthood to celebrate her safe return. These jewels are known as ‘enku’ hence the eponymous name of the holiday.

The spring festival has been celebrated since Queen of Sheba's times, as it marks the end of the rainy season and the rebirth of the year.  Like the blowing of the Shofar which is a powerful symbol of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, which translates as the ‘head of the new year’ and begins about two weeks following; bouquets of yellow flowers symbolize Enkutatash as a holiday that marks springtime and renewal.

The rituals of both holidays include prayers and sermons, but also warm family celebrations replete with food, singing, and joy.

Ethiopia still retains the Julian calendar, in which the year is divided into 12-months of 30-days each and a 13th month of 5 days and 6 days in leap year. The Ethiopian calendar is 8-years behind the Gregorian calendar from January to September and 7-years behind between September 11 and January 8.

Though Enkutatash originated as a primarily religious festival celebrated over a period of three days, and was predominantly characterized by spectacular religious processionals; it is no longer an exclusively religious holiday. Today’s Enkutatash is also the season for exchanging formal new year greetings and cards among the urban professionals, though some in the Diaspora still exchange the traditional bouquet of flowers.

For those travelers able to visit the country during this festival, it is an experience not soon forgotten, especially if invited to celebrate in the Entoto Mountains, which is the region of the country that is resplendent with yellow flowers which have come to symbolize this holiday.

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias

Body Art for the Modern World

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Paul Van Hevel, Guest ContributorLast Modified: 21:12 p.m. EDT, 8 September 2014

Medusa, Body Painting, Photo by One Step 2 FarSAN DIEGO, California -- Photography and art are prominently featured in The Report. The website is anchored by photography, but artists by virtue of their unique and at times revolutionary view of the world are also presented.

Today, we feature a brief post about body art in its historical and modern equivalent, as well as how you can enjoy this art form on a more personal level.

Reasons Why People Love Body Painting

The art of painting the body is not as new as some people may think. For centuries, people in every culture have found ways to add to their natural features in either a temporary or a permanent form.  Body painting differs from the more permanent art of tattoos in the fact that they are only temporary.

According to Bella Volen, "body painting with clay and other natural pigments existed in most, if not all, tribalist cultures.  Often worn during ceremonies, it still survives in this ancient form among the indigenous people of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, and parts of Africa, India, Japan and more.”

The art still practiced in much of the world today often represents a rite of passage in either their social or spiritual life and is an integral part of the wearer’s advancement through the years. There are several different reasons why someone may choose to have their body painted.

Traditional Significance

When you’re considering our history, odds are that you’ll find body painting was a significant part of our past. Most often, it was one of the customs of our ancestors and was done to represent some major rite of passage in life. In many cultures it was a common practice for weddings, reaching adulthood, to celebrate new life or to mourn a death.

Religious Significance

It also has a religious or spiritual representation in many cultures. The Hindi, for example use body painting in many of their festivals and celebrations to honor their gods and goddesses with the beautiful henna designs.

It’s Art

No matter what your culture, people will always be able to enjoy true art in the world around them. Body painting is a way to transform the human body into a living, breathing, walking work of art that is not limited to distant lands.

For those who truly appreciate this type of living art, the idea of providing your body as a canvas for true artists at their best can be an exhilarating experience. Whether you enjoy this type of art form for its beauty or for the skill of the artist, there is one thing for sure. Having your body painted will bring you positive attention by offering you and those around you a unique experience that everyone can appreciate.

According to Sean Avram, who is featured on the show Skin Wars, “everyone deserves a chance to feel beautiful and to be treated special and told how good they look…. It is a very inclusive art form that generates a positive atmosphere as people enjoy the creation of the art in awe.”

As Oscar Wilde famously said, “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.”

Follow OneStep2Far on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Guest Contributor: @OneStep2Far_DM

Belo Monte | World's Third Largest Dam Construction Threatens Kayapó

Semana Dos Povos Indiangenas, Photo by Governopara

Semana Dos Povos Indiangenas, Photo by Governopara

PARÁ, Brazil -- Despite environmental and humanitarian protests, the Brazillian government plans to build five hydroelectric dams on the Tapajos River. The river is an important tributary to the Amazon and if built, the dams will flood the area displacing both people and animals and destroying land considered sacred.

"The first Indian Park in Brazil was created in the river basin by the Brazilian government in the early 1960s. This park marks the first indigenous territory recognized by the Brazilian government and it was the world's largest indigenous reserve on the date of its creation.

Currently, fourteen tribes live on the reserve surviving with natural resources and extracting from the river most of what they need for food and water." (Source: Wikipedia)

Over the past few months, 13,000 people from the Munduruko tribe have protested the project which would threaten their land, livelihood and culture.

Their fight involves battling through new laws and ordinances saying indigenous people don't have a right to control what happens on their own land. It is disturbingly reminiscent to what happened to American Indians in the 1800s.

The government's claim is that the Amazon has enormous untapped hydroelectric potential which would provide needed clean energy for the country. To this end, the government is trying to circumvent the constitutional clause protecting native people and their land.

In terms of cost, hydro-power is Brazil's top alternative energy solution. Other viable options include wind, solar and fuel made from sugarcane.

Disputes over the Amazon are nothing new. Since the 1890s, loggers, ranchers, miners and more have been trying for a share of the Amazon's resources. In the past, warriors fought back with organized and sometimes violent protests, including forcible eviction from the territory.

Official governmental red tape is hard to handle, but this isn't the first time an Amazon tribe has fought the dam fight.  In 1989, with international support and the help of conservationist groups, the neighboring Kayapo tribe successfully prevented the building of the Kararao dam, which would have flooded the Xingu River.

They weren't as successful with the Belo Monte reservoir, also chosen to be built on the Xingu River, and slated to be finished by year 2015.

While some predict Belo Monte will lead to needed jobs and ease the nation's energy burden, others foretell the drying of the forest caused by the diverted water, the displacement of thousands of people whose homes are now underwater and the pollution and inevitable destructive influence roads and workers will have on the previously undisturbed forest.

Chiefs from over 60 villages have submitted a letter demanding the government consult and receive permission from native people before constructing the new dams. However, it is still unclear whether the campaign will be successful or if the Tapajos dams will become the next Belo Monte.

Ramadan: Airplanes, Athletes, and Reality TV

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ACCRA, Ghana -- Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and contemplation, began on June 28th.

Until recently, the concept of this religious event was distant to me as there isn't a large Muslim population in my North Carolina home.  However, since coming to work in Accra, the capital and largest city of Ghana, my interactions with Muslim people has increased.

I work next to a lovely Muslim village full of women in brightly colored Hijabs, and have witnessed demonstrations of peaceful coexistence, when in every conference that I attend, the opening prayer is done by a Christian and the closing prayer given by a Muslim.

Under terms of Ramadan, Muslims must fast from sunrise to sunset. This fast means no food and in some cases no water, but it's also a time of restraint for other things, such as personal vices, unkind thoughts, and angry actions.

While I am not partaking of the fast myself, but out of respect me and many non-Muslims choose not to eat in public during Ramadan. Until I restricted my public eating habits, I never realized he availability of food. Vendors in every corner, sales ladies walking through traffic jams balancing baskets of bread or fruit or candy on their heads and selling their wares to people in cars, bicyclers pushing ice-cream carts.... All forbidden during Ramadan.

Even though it clearly requires a great deal of restraint, at least it seems pretty straightforward -- a time of self-sacrifice and re-devotion to Allah, a time to cut out the bad and nurture the good. However, the blessed month can come with some unexpected twists and hurdles.

For instance, while traveling. Technically, the Quran gives a pass to travelers, suggesting they keep up their strength for he journey and make up the missed days later. However, many Muslims continue adhering to as many guidelines as possible.  Timing is important during Ramadan, and a hassle for anyone flying through time zones. There is a time for prayers, a time for fasting, and a time for Suhoor (pre-fasting meal) and Iftar (meal to break the fast.) In places with a heavy Muslim population, there are public announcements or alerts reminding Muslims of the time.

I was caught off guard while watching TV last week when my regularly scheduled programming switched suddenly to play Arabic music and show a passage from the Qur'an. However, those mid-flight have a bit more trouble than those at home watching TV.  Luckily, airlines are usually sympathetic.  Recently, Emirates announced that along with providing traditional Muslim sunrise and sunset meals, with items such as vegetable samosas, dates and baklava, it would also be using a special tool that calculated latitude, longitude and altitude to provide the most accurate possible timing for the ceremonies.

Back on solid ground, athletes may also have problems.  This year, Ramadan coincides with the World Cup, which causes some Muslim players extra difficulties.  On the other hand, the Qur'an does give an exemption to warriors about to go into battle, so perhaps Football is covered in that fine print.  Ramadan's timing may even have affected betting odds on teams, as some suggested teams from Muslim regions might have performance issues.  France, Germany, Belgium, and Algeria all had prominent Muslim players and, in my humble opinion, they all played admirably, fast or no fast.  That may be thanks to a special team of nutritionists FIFA provided to advise the fasting players.

As well as lack of food and hydration fears, disrupted sleep schedules (for nighttime prayers) may result in athletes not being up to par. In the past, some coaches held nighttime practices so the players could be well nourished during practice, so at least the nutrition issue would be solved, if not the disrupted sleep issue. Especially in hotter regions, it isn't uncommon for any Muslim to burn the midnight oil during Ramadan, which unfortunately can lead to an increase in car accidents during the month.

On the other hand, in Brazil sun up to sundown is only 12 hours, so if athletes make sure their sunrise meal is adequate and they start the day hydrated, it shouldn't be a problem.  In the Netherlands, however, Muslims would have to be much hardier, as a day lasts almost 20 hours there this time of year. Australian Muslims have it easiest, with only ten hours of fasting.

Perhaps one of the more bizarre results of the clash of modernity and Ramadan is its recent mingling with Reality TV.  Though not without its share of controversy, as some think the TV personalities don't present the proper air of modesty and good taste representative of the faith.  However, some shows are better than others, and such idiosyncrasies vary from show to show.

For example, one where teens try to recite the longest passage from the Qur'an to win prizes, or shows where gifts of charity are awarded specifically to those less fortunate, to the "ever popular" cooking shows that in this instance, focus on Suhoor and Iftar -- each with the apparent intent of declaring that even the oldest and most sacred traditions can keep pace with changing times.

If you are not partaking in Ramadan, please be considerate to those who are.  Know that employees may need time off and it's not a "holiday" or "vacation" -- it requires dedication, commitment, and adjustment.  Extra attention to charity or one's family life, as well as daily prayers, require a more flexible schedule and understanding colleagues.  If in a Muslim neighborhood or workplace, be discrete in your dress and eating habits. And try to eat an Iftar feast if you get the opportunity.

To our Muslim readers: Ramadan Kareem!

Libyan Human Rights Activist Brutally Murdered | Salwa Bugaighis

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 18:15 p.m. DST, 26 June 2014

"LIBYA/" Photo by: BRQ NetworkBENGHAZI, Libya -- The progress in Libya took a hit yesterday, 26 June, when Salwa Bugaighis was shot dead in her home. Bugaighis was a successful lawyer in Libya and she also was a prominent advocate for human rights. She was a vocal opponent of totalitarian rule of Muammar Gaddafi.

Since the ousting of Gaddafi, Bugaighis had played an important role in the process of political transition in Libya. She served on the National Transitional Council, which was an acting political body in Libya in the years after Gaddafi's rule. Bugaighis also oversaw a council to encourage national discussion and synergy. Essentially, Bugaighis was an important and powerful woman helping Libyans to discern their identity in the aftermath of the Gaddafi regime.

She is also credited with bringing greater democratic feelings to the transitional government, and also acting as a tireless advocate for the women of Libya.

The attack took place in the hours after Bugaighis casted her vote in the Libyan national election. After she voted, Bugaighis proudly posted images of her at the general election to social media. Seemingly, the assassination was an attempt to silence her political voice, as well as create a culture of fear in which other people will be afraid to champion human rights and political progress.

Also troubling, Bugaighis' husband has been missing since the assailants stormed the couple's home yesterday. According to reports, the activist's husband was at home with her when the invasion occurred.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom