While editing a commentary on the persecution and imprisonment of Baha’is within Iran, I happened upon this interview with Roxana Saberi. The American journalist, who was accused of espionage by the Iranian government, talks about the time she spent in an Iranian prison and the relationships she developed with Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, two of the seven Yaran (“the Friends”), who are sentenced to 20 years in prison because of their faith:
"I think the lessons that Mahvash and Fariba taught me in prison are universal. And they can apply to anybody, anywhere in the world. You don’t have to be in prison. We have our own prisons, are own adversities, and we can try to turn those adversities into opportunities."
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"It’s better to find the way out than to stand and scream at the forest."
~Wolof proverb, as found in Aimee Malloy’s excellent book, However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.
Photo by Lucinda Lovering / Flickr (cc by-nc 2.0)
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
To make a revolution, people must not only struggle against existing institutions. They must make a philosophical/spiritual leap and become more ‘human’ human beings. In order to change/transform the world, they must change/transform themselves.
A Universal Human Rights Logo Delivers a Message and Meaning Inside the Image
by Susan Leem, associate producer
The Human Rights Logo Initiative chose Serbian artist Predrag Stakić's entry as the winner of its competition to design the Universal Human Rights Logo.
"Free as a Man" evokes the peace dove and the five fingers of a hand reaching up to be counted and acknowledged. Have a look at the other finalists’ entries for more great concepts around this project.
I’m wondering how having a logo to represent universal human rights changes the way we think about that complex issue? What gets lost in translation when reducing an international struggle to one logo? Is this image able to function, as Utne Reader suggests, as “a new peace symbol?”
Wangari Maathai: A Remarkable Woman for All People and Places
by Krista Tippett, host
I am so glad I experienced Wangari Maathai in person, in her time on this Earth. She had a wonderful voice and an infectious whole-body laugh. You will even hear her sing if you listen to the end of this hour of "Planting the Future." I experienced her as immensely gracious but rather subdued until she started speaking about her work. Then, sitting across from her, it was not hard to imagine that this woman had stood up to a dictator and won, and that she had fought off encroaching desert by leading thousands of people to plant tens of millions of trees.
Wangari Maathai was born in colonial Africa in 1940. She excelled in science and trained as a biologist. She became the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a Ph.D. and the first woman to chair a department at the University of Nairobi. In the mid-1970s, she started planting trees with rural Kenyan women who were feeling the consequences of soil erosion and deforestation in their daily lives. They walked far distances for water, had too little firewood and fodder for animals, and lacked nutritious food and sources of income.
Planting trees was both a simple response to their crisis and a dramatically effective one. It restored a simple link that had been broken between human beings and the land on which they live — the kind of link that we often take for granted until, as Maathai said, we move away from the world we know — spatially, economically, or spiritually. For several years before her environmental work began, Wangari Maathai had been away from Kenya. When she returned, she saw with fresh eyes that “the earth was naked,” and continued, “For me, the mission was to try to cover it with green.”
For a quarter century, Wangari Maathai and the women of her Green Belt Movement faced off against powerful economic forces and Kenya’s tyrannical ruler, Daniel arap Moi. She was beaten and imprisoned. Nevertheless, the movement spread to more than 600 communities across Kenya and into over 30 countries. After Moi’s fall from power in 2002, Wangari Maathai was elected to her country’s parliament with 98 percent of the vote.
My curiosity, of course, always drives towards the spiritual and ethical questions and convictions that drive human action. And though I could find few interviewers who had asked Wangari Maathai about this, she was happy to talk about the faith behind her ecological passion — a lively fusion of Christianity, real world encounters with good and evil, and the ancestral Kikuyu traditions of Kenya’s central highlands. She grew up there, schooled by Catholic missionaries, and she remained a practicing Catholic. But life taught her to value anew the Kikuyu culture of her family’s ancestry.
The Kikuyu traditionally worshipped under trees and honored Mount Kenya — Africa’s second highest mountain — as the place where God resides. That mountain, as Wangari Maathai only later understood scientifically, is the source of most of Kenya’s rivers. And the fig trees considered most sacred by the Kikuyu — those it was impermissible to cut down — had the deepest roots, bringing water from deep below the earth to the surface. The volatility of the environment across the Horn of Africa now is compounded by the fact that those trees have been cut away systematically for decades, along with millions of others, by colonial Christians as well as African industrialists.
We in the West are in the process of relearning something that Wangari Maathai, from the vantage point of Africa, realized long ago: ecology is a matter of life and death, peace and war. In awarding her the Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel committee noted that “when we analyze local conflicts, we tend to focus on their ethnic and religious aspects. But it is often the underlying ecological circumstances that bring the more readily visible factors to the flashpoint.” In places as far flung as the Sudan, the Philippines, Mexico, Haiti and the Himalayas, deforestation, encroaching desert, and soil erosion are among the present root causes of civil unrest and war. Wangari Maathai cited a history of inequitable distribution of natural resources, especially land, as a key trigger in the Kenyan post-election violence in 2008.
As our conversation drew to a close, I asked Wangari Maathai a religious question I rarely pose directly, because it is so intimate and so difficult to answer directly. I asked her, rather baldly, to tell me about her image of God. She told me that she had often revisited two concepts of God that stood in some tension, side by side, in her upbringing — the Christian God who was painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome and the God of Kikuyu culture who lived on Mount Kenya. “Now where is God?,” Wangari Maathai asked me in response. Here’s how she answered her own question:
"I tell myself that of course now we’re in a completely new era when we are learning to find God not in a place, but rather in ourselves, in each other, in nature. In many ways it’s a contradiction, because the Church teaches you that God is omnipresent. Now if He is omnipresent, He’s in Rome, but He could also be in Kenya. His shape, His size, His color … I have no idea. You are influenced by what you hear, what you see. But when I look at Mount Kenya — it is so magnificent, it is so overpowering, it is so important in sustaining life in my area — that sometimes I say yes, God is on this mountain."
Intimate Violence as an Issue of Social Justice at the Carter Center Forum on Religion, Belief, and Women’s Rights Forum (video)
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Today and tomorrow in Atlanta, the Carter Center is convening human rights leaders and religious scholars “to discuss the key challenges that women’s rights activists face and effective ways to bridge the gaps between religious, traditional, and formal state institutions to advance the protection of these rights.”
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay kicked off the morning sessions. But there so many more voices present in the panel sessions: Ratna Osman of Sisters in Islam, Molly Melching of Tostan, Pauline Muchina, and many other women.
From 2:00 – 3:30 pm Eastern today, we’ll be paying attention to a discussion that navigates the topic of intimate violence as an issue of social justice with Sindhi Medar-Ghould of Nigeria; Rana Husseini, a journalist and expert on honor killings from Jordan; Timothy Njoya, Men for the Equality of Men and Women in Kenya. And, interestingly enough, Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Church will be wrapping it up.
These are issues and voices that we are considering for future interviews. Please let us know what you learned and who spoke to you. And, of course, why!
Many Angles to Reporting on Foreign Workers in Israel
by Mary Slosson, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
Expert on the politics of the Middle East and USC professor Laurie Brand pointed me towards some interesting reading on immigration and Israel recently — namely, that the tension between Israelis and immigrant workers began in the late 1990s, when the Israeli government began allowing foreign workers in order to replace Palestinian labor.
This Guardian article from 2003 details how one contingent of Chinese workers were “forced to agree not to have sex with or marry Israelis as a condition of getting a job” and were “also forbidden from engaging in any religious or political activity.” Their work contract “states that offenders will be sent back to China at their own expense.”
Preventing assimilation into Israeli society was clearly the intended effect of such contractual stipulations. The Guardian further writes that “advocates of foreign workers, who also come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania, say they are subject to almost slave conditions, and their employers often take away their passports and refuse to pay them.”
Do such contracts still exist today?