To look or not to look: that is the question

In an old song, Who by fire,  Leonard Cohen lists all the different ways to die. I’ve always thought that “by water” was by far the worst one (which is part of the reason I don’t love swimming in the sea).

The picture of the drowned Syrian boy that has become the symbol of the summer 2015 migrant crisis, and the debate that followed (showing it or not showing… but in the end, let’s just flood social media with it) got me thinking.  I remember that in a book that my primary school teacher had made me read, the lives of two boys who are friends in Nazi Germany take two very different paths during the war.  At the end of the book the Aryan boy leaves the bomb shelter he has been hiding in during one of the last bombings of Berlin and finds his Jewish friend “seemingly sleeping”.  He overcomes the clashes they’ve had in the past to run to his friend, wake him up and run away from falling buildings, but he finds him dead.

The Syrian boy reminded me of Friedrik, the Jewish boy from the book: he looks like any toddler who falls asleep on the beach, in the weird positions only children can fall asleep in.  The Syrian boy, his brother, their father who now wants to bring them back to Kobane, they are a symbol.  They are not more deserving than anybody else, what infuriates me is that over the past summer thousands of people, and children, have died in the small pool that is the Mediterranean, and up to a week ago we had had the decency to respect the dead.

Then something happened, some wanted a stronger image, some more coverage, some wanted to portray ISIS as the one and only killer of the boy – and of the one who preceded and followed- and the picture went viral.

Now my personal consideration is: the picture went viral because people started sharing it, that is the power of social media: each one of us is a small amplifier, every one has equal power and only together we decide what “trends” and what doesn’t.

Unfortunately, over the years and working in underprivileged contexts and developing countries, I have seen a fair number of dead children, and in my experience… it gets easier.  As horrid as it is to say, the first time you vomit, the second you cry, the third keeps you awake at night, but by the fifteenth you think “fuck, I wish we could have done something for this one”.

And the picture of the drowned Syrian boy is only a step towards acceptance.  I’m not gonna start a rant here over whether or not we should be taking migrants into our own countries, I personally think we should and that it’s revolting that we are literally bouncing them from one place to another, have them rot to death in trucks or camp in stations on the border with Europe, but that’s a personal point of view.  But what I am really afraid of is that we, as end users, are shaping the media according to a disgusted morbidity that pushes us to watch through the cracks between our fingers. We have a horror movie playing in front of us and what we don’t understand is that we could stop it anytime we wanted, but we don’t want to.

It is not my intention to have powerful images shut down for fear of upsetting people, but my biggest concern is that by sharing images (and not doing anything about the root causes) we are getting anesthetized and playing the game: the biggest the initial shock the more people get used to it and move on.

And in the meantime people, parents, risk their lives and those of the children at sea, because no matter how dangerous the sea is, it’s still safer than their homes.

A Reply to Lauren Southern’s “Why I’m Not a Feminist”

This is really interesting!

Everyday Geopolitics Houston

Dear Lauren,

In the last couple days, I have seen your video “Why I’m Not a Feminist” pop up a few times. In the video, you describe why you are not a feminist. At the heart of your message is the assertion, “I am not a feminist because I believe both genders should be treated equally.” Setting aside for a moment the problems with your assumption that gender can be reduced to a binary of male/female (here’s a decent introduction to that if you want), I want to talk about the misinformation you offer in your video: misinformation about feminist activism and scholarship, and misinformation about domestic violence and rape. I don’t often find engaging in these types debates online to be the most fruitful use of my energies, since people that produce anti-feminist content generally are not very open to meaningful engagement with feminist thought, however I’ve been stewing over your…

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Being Italian: the art of being spat at and pretending it’s raining

In Italy we have a saying for people who fail to acknowledge the truth: he/she gets spat at and he/she pretends it’s raining.  In the last few months we have really mastered this art.

A few months ago the European Court of Human Rights ruled that, during the G8 held in Genoa in 2001 Italy had not only committed a vicious crime (torture), made more vicious as it was committed by police forces, whose duty is to protect, not torture, BUT had also failed, in the 12 year trial that followed, to punish those responsible for it.

Now, the police are found guilty of raiding a school that the Mayor of the city had given to demonstrators to peacefully camp in, in the middle of the night, beating and abducting dozens of people (including elderly and youth below the age of 18) and holding and torturing them for three days… what happens in a civilized country?  The “arms” would lose their jobs and the “brains”, whoever gave the order, would lose their jobs, refund the victims AND rot in jail.  But il Bel Paese somehow managed to not get anyone suspended, fired or arrested.  All of those involved kept their jobs and have had quite astonishing professional successes after these events.

This in itself is obscene.  Like… Amnesty International would be waaay more vocal about it if this was happening in Georgia or Uzbekistan, Italy is in Europe so everyone raised a brow, as you should, but then nothing happened.

After a trial that takes more than a decade no one is found guilty and the ECtHR is called to rule over this matter and they come up with a double shit show: not only torture was committed BUT it wasn’t punished because Italy doesn’t have a law that criminalizes it.  For the record, if an immigrant held you capitive for three days, naked in a crowded room, and left you with no food and water, forcing you to lick your feces (which is what happened in this case) any Italian judge would find a way to put this mperson in jail and make sure they’d spent a reasonable amount of time there.  If the police does it… well, we don’t have a law that punishes it so it’s technically not illegal…

Other story: three couples of men, in long term relationships ask for their rights to be recognized by the Italian State, as they would if they were married to six women. The request is denied, based on the objective fact that there is no law in Italy that puts same sex marriage on the same level as traditional marriage.  These six men appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and win the appeal a few days ago.

Once again the ECtUR rules against Italy on the grounds that a violation of human rights has been perpetrated and that any couple in a stable, long term relationship should be recognized the same rights, regardless of their sex.

Personally I feel that at this point the judges in Strasbourg, rule against my country any time they see a lawsuit filed against it because they know that 99% of the time they will be right… but jokes aside, does the ECtHR hate Italy?  Or does Italy regularly and invariably fail to protect its citizens?  It looks like it’s more likely to be the latter…

What the post was really about though was the astonishment I feel every time these sentences are made public because I see an impressively high number of (even highly educated) Italians rejoicing at the news.

Shout out to them: the European Court of Human Rights  ruling against the country doesn’t mean that things are changing, it only means that we have been condemned at an institutional level for a violation that has been committed before our very eyes. It means “your legal system wasn’t able to rule fairly therefore we must step in”, it means that we are the weaker player in the team (in this case the team is the EU, in which we are the only major country that doesn’t recognize same sex marriage and civil unions in any form).

The proof is that about the G8 sentence nothing has been done – the perpetrators kept their jobs and walk free.  So please don’t rejoice at this new slap on the wrist, because our great country takes it exactly as that: a slap on the wrist..  The three couples will be refunded as per ruling with 5000 Euro per person and Italy will drag on its law on civil unions as it has been doing for years.

Nothing changes, as always.  So please when the ECtHR spits in your face don’t blame it on the weather, the sun is shining, just not over us!

It’s coming down… I’m yelling “Timber”

And if an imaginary but deadly heavy tree trunk really does come down, I really hope it hits Bill Cosby on the head.

About ten years ago Bill Cosby came up with a (totally unnecessary) statement on parenting done wrong -by black people, I don’t remember exactly what the context was, or what triggered it, but I remember it took me a little bit to understand where he was going.

His statement was pretty blunt, with a mix of sentences like “English is a language, black youth must stop using this language like a chain of sounds that only make sense to them yo bro, ho’zit?, because this will never integrate them into society and will only contribute to keep them outcasts“, which to an extent I may agree with, and “black women must stop giving birth to dozens of fatherless children and hope the system will take care of them”, which I couldn’t agree with in a million years.

As it turns out, that interview was the beginning of the end.  Apparently he had stepped on many -far too many- feet and pointed the spotlight right back onto himself.  My feeling is that he sufferend of the same carelessness of all the serial killers who have gotten away with a crime for many years and now feel untouchable, which is, in fact, exactly what pushed him to step back into the public scene with such a controversal interview.

A lot has been said about how people were less inclined to believe the victims because they identified him with his character, who had trouble grounding his kids, let alone drug-rape a woman! An awful lot has been said about how the accusations were based on the sterotype of black men being more likely to be sexual predators.

Now that the issue is not anymore about whether he has or hasn’t done it, because he has admitted to it, everyone is astonished and outraged.  And if the fact that ten years have passed since the first report and the investigation/lawsuit/trial is the blatant proof that rape culture exists, it is also strangely embarassing for those who wore out their fingers tweeting that #Blacklivesmatter who are now uncertain whether to defend his blackness of the women’s dignity.

They do matter, of course, but is it really necessary to have a scale of categories to defend? Because if it is, black people have to go before or after women, there is no way out…

Our society has unfortunately delegated the thinking process to the media, that up until yesterday ran scenes of the Cosby Show to portray Bill Cosby as he was in fiction, and that, as of today, have started posting pictures of him taken to make him look like a sinister sex predator (which he is, of course, but nothing has changed from a month ago in the almost 80-year old actor…).  Do we really have to generalize and decide what category to defend?  The good news is, we don’t!

We are free to judge Bill Cosby for what he is, a serial rapist, we are free to get angry and frustrated at the fact that he will never serve one day in jail as much as we can still stand up for black people whose lives are endagered by those who are supposed to protect them.

Because the bottom line is: Black Lives matter, not impunity.  In a democratic system based on the equal treatment of all its citizens people of any colour must be tried fairly and given a sentence consistent with the crime they have committed, without discrimination, AS MUCH AS any life must be preserved and respected.

So, while I hope with all my heart that I will hear of no more Eric Garners and Michael Browns, I also deeply hope to see Bill behind bars!

Do #BlackLives really matter, or is it just a nice, catchy hashtag?

Mhhh… I keep being told that being white makes me a weak advocate for people of colour and that being a mostly straight woman makes my advocacy for gay rights hard to believe.

My answer to these haters is a quote from a facebook meme (thank you social media!): I don’t need to be a panda to advocate for the protection of the environment!

So, as it turns out, you can be white and mostly straight and still try and pursue a reality where people who were born without your tons of privilege can lead a happy life… (I’m still a woman, so I can still righteously claim my share of struggle..).

Now, about black lives, and how much they matter… or do they?  Because from what I’m reading it doesn’t look like they do that much…  For instance, how is it that that neither BBC nor CNN report as a headline that eight churches across the southern States of the US have been burnt in the past ten days?  Because, I mean… it’s kind of 0.8 a day… if that happened in the Middle East we would be screaming that Christians are being persecuted.  So why are the headlines of major international media reporting about entirely other stuff (which to be fair in the case of BBC is fairly interesting… the front page of CNN, right now, reports: 1. Supermodel enjoys her crazy car obsession (with picture), 2. Was Paris Hilton in on horrible prank? (with video) and 3. These amazing pictures are made with packing tape (also with video) as BREAKING NEWS).

CNN probably has to rethink what a breaking news is, but the point is that across the United States, that make a point of exporting democracy and being the land of dreams, there are class A and class B citizens.  And even if I may have a million comments on how more or less tactfully TV hosts and guests give anthropological explanations on how black people are statistically more likely to commit crimes (the comment that rises above them all is: WHAT THE FUCK? But everyone knows I’m not pragmatic and have always been crap at anthropology…) I’m surprised that nobody is taking a stand on this.

As an atheist I may not have a say in what happens in churches, but let’s just say I do… underreporting on the burning of “black churches” feels like blaming the victim for a rape.  Not Referring to Dylann Roof as a terrorist (although what he did was not different to what what was done at Charlie Hebdo or the Bard in Tunis) is a punch in the face of those millions of Americans (and non Americans) who want justice.

And justice passes also through semantics.

Eight churches have been burnt, the shadow of racism is more and more palpable in a country whose “leader of the free world” is an interracial man.  What are we gonna do about it? Because at this point the question is racial, not religious, and we do need to address it without hiding behind a distant enemy.

What I’m proud of (and not so proud of)

The LGBT community is killing 2015… seriously!

Ireland voting “yes” on a referendum? SCOTUS making gay marriage an erga omnes right across the USA? Gay prides all over the world counting gazillions of participants (including Vietnam, where the LGBT community has worked hard to see a lot of rights recognized and has done an excellent job at it!).  This I’m proud of.

The T part in the acronym may have something to object, as transgender people are still often seen as freaks.  I’m never too sure what T represents, coz T stands for transgender, but also transvestites, transexual,… and these words, strangely enough ALL have their OWN meaning.  If you then belong to two minority groups (let’s say black AND T) you are pretty much fucked, because human beings, as it turns out, do need a weaker category to pick on -or at least not protect- in order to be happy.  This I’m not proud of.

In the “women’s health” sphere (also my favourite topic) I’m mostly proud of a lot of things…  Here’s a short list of things that have alternatively driven me insane and restored my faith in humanity in the past couple of months that I have spent away from this blog:

1. Some smartass German is flying abortion pills over to Poland with a drone as abortion is still illegal there and this is the only way women have to end their unwanted pregnancy.  If I wasn’t 100% sure to be misunderstood there I’d say “make love not war”  – you take it as you please, what I meant is “stop using drones to fatally injure/kill people who were watching the news in their living rooms because your drone told you that that living room was actually an Al Qaeda headquarter”. (Surprised to hear about Al Qaeda?  Yeah, these days it’s almost forgotten like low waist jeans but hey… it’s still out there!)

2. SCOTUS ruled against the closing of abortion clinics in Texas.  Now, I’m not Texan, not American and have never been close to Texas.  But I’m very happy for Texan women!  Message to my personal heroess Ruth Bader Ginsburg: you are a G and I love you!

3. On a less joyful note: Governor Palin’s daughter is pregnant (again) despite being not married (again).  Since she is a 25 year old with a 6 year old child and a stable relationship -although unmarried- what Christian fundamentalists should do is rejoice at the news of a bundle of joy delivered from the hands of God straight into Bristol Palin’s womb.  What do they do instead?  Slut shame her for having had as second child out of wedlock.  Now, my dear friends, no later than three months ago you sent to jail, not for the night, but for the next 20 years, a woman who claimed to have had a miscarriage.  You -prosecutors of Pennsylvania (yeah yeah, I remember you!)- have arbitrarily decided, on ridiculously weak grounds, that Purvi Patel had  consciously tried to abort the child and watched it die once it was out of her womb.

Where exactly do you stand, because I’m not too clear…  do you want women to have children or not?  Because if you do I think a good strategy is not shaming them into having an illegal (and therefore unsafe) abortion…  Just saying!

4. Girl Scouts of America are my new -tiny- heroesses!!!  Not only you slam the door open to transgender girls a few months ago BUT you give back a 100k USD donation because it came with terms you didn’t agree with -some twat who didn’t want it used on transgender girls-?  Dudettes, I work in development and I know how much every penny is worth, giving back a 100k grant is a pretty big deal!!!  Well done!!!  Next time though, do piss off some of the republican parents too and post it on your website!

Ok well, this is it!  This has been a pretty intense month, mostly for bad reasons, and I wanted to reflect on the good things that have happened!

Stay beautiful and spread the love!

Capital punishment – When all hopes fade

In one of the most challenging TOK classes (Theory of Knowledge, a subject that can be defined as “practical philosophy”, taught as part of the International Baccalaureate programme) my class was split into two groups and given one hour to prepare a debate on death penalty.  Luckily I was asked to advocate against it, which may have not hit the spot in terms of “teaching to see the world from a different perspective” but which was way easier for me as I have always been a fierce opponent of the capital punishment.

To be fair, at the time, death penalty to me meant one thing: America.  I knew it was enforced in other countries as well but all the information, campaigns and petiotions I had come across did come from the United States -it was waaay before facebook and twitter, I lived in Malawi and information was somewhat limited…

Today I am in Bali, it is possibly the worst day of the year to be here.  Because tonight, despite all petitions, marches, appeals, nine men are going to be executed.

Two of them spent the last ten years on the island and the feelings about their executions are really mixed.  In 2005 Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran led a ring of nine people, later known as the Bali Nine, who tried to smuggle 8.3 kgs of drugs from Indonesia to Australia.  Indonesia has a strict drug law, you are told about the risks of smuggling drugs in and out of the country not only at the airport and on the plane but also when you buy your ticket.  And besides, if you decide to take almost 9 kgs of drugs across a border you may want to consider the consequences.  President Widodo has not, so far, even taken into account clemency.  And the clock is ticking, if things don’t change -soon- Andrew, Myuran, Mary Jayne, Martin, Badarudin, Salami, Rodrigo, Sylvester and Okwdili may be corpses before I go to bed.

I personally think that even if mercy was granted it wouldn’t change anything.  Clemency was very vocally advocated for for the two Australians, up until a few weeks ago no one had heard of the other seven and even today if you stop someone on the street and ask about Chan and Sukumaran everybody can tell you something about them, if you mention Rodrigo Guarte or Martin Anderson I’m not so sure people even know who they are.

Of course Australia is Australia and the Philippines are not Australia.  Also, a few of the countries where these people are from still have death penalty and it surely doesn’t seem that cruel to carry it out here rather than back home.

Despite working in a sector where the sad stories of abused children are a daily thing -and despite forcing myself, rather often, to shake the thought of murder off my head when it comes to rapists, pedophiles and people who exploit and abuse children- I still condemn the capital punishment as I did when I was fifteen.  But these weeks of waiting for something that was inevitably coming, all the articles I read, all the interviews I saw proved to me that George Orwell was right, all humans are equal, but some humans are more equal than others.

President Widodo could have in fact suspended the execution as a first step towards abolishing death penalty altogether, he didn’t. And by doing so he showed that Indonesia doesn’t believe in the role of prison for rehabilitation (both Australian prisoners have done incredible things while serving their time in Kerobokan prison) at an institutional level.  This, for such a forward thinking President is a major throwback: he has lost consensus at home and his initial charm with international public opinion is fading quickly.  By granting clemency first, and abolishing death penalty after, Indonesia could go back to the Gotha of those countries that matter, not only from an economic point of view.

And this is Widodo’s mistake.  Our mistake, the highly engaged western societies’ mistake, was to not take action as a whole but rather protect our own people.  The big and powerful Australia has marched, protested, held vigils, started media campaigns and ultimately threatened, other countries like Ghana or the Philippines have barely acknowledged the situation.  But nine people on death row, no matter where they are and who they are, are a problem that concerns us all.

If things don’t change in the next three hours, and permanently, Indonesia is bound to stagnate in the eyes of an ignorant world as a new China: a country the West cannot live without, but that the same West is happy to keep at a distance.  Out of fear, maybe, but also because beyond a certain point the gap in cultural differences seems impossible to merge.

By throwing in a same batch ten people with such different backgrounds (the Brazilian man, Rodrigo Gularte, is allegedly mentally disabled, the Frenchman and the Philipino woman have been caught without knowing why -the Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso was caught at the airport carrying a bag of clothes that someone had given her while promising her a job in Indonesia.  Serge Areski Atlaoui is a mechanic who was caught in a raid in the factory where he was working, allegedly not knowing that the machinery factory was a cover for a meth lab) the Indonesian Government punishes the crime and not the person.  By not acknowledging the differences among prisoners the Indonesian Government tries to wipe out what in other cases are ameliorating circumstances for the sake of a war on drug that not even this draconian law has helped winning so far.

The second that trigger is pulled, and it will be, Indonesia will have lost a great opportunity to show its greateness.