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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

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

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"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

"It’s better to find the way out than to stand and scream at the forest."

image~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

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Excellent Infographic Breaks Down Gay Rights in U.S. by State and Region
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The coolest part about The Guardian's dynamic graphic on gay rights in the United States may be its Facebook integration. The infographic illustrates the level of rights — from adoption and schools to same-sex marriage and employment — granted by each of the 50 states, grouped by region, and then proportionally breaks it down by the states in which your Facebook friends live.
Interestingly enough, this matters. The reconfigured breakdown is more relevant to one’s life because it personalizes the issues to a degree, giving one a sense that these issues matter differently depending on where many of the people you care about now live. (Mine’s heavily weighted with North Dakotans and Minnesotans considering I’m a Midwestern boy, but who knew I had friends in four-fifths of the country.)
A small quibble, though. The circular shape of the graphic inherently weights the importance of an issue depending upon which concentric circle it occupies. In this case, the more proximate the issue type is to the circle’s center, the less area it takes up and, therefore I wonder, seems less important. One way to balance this might have been to assign bolder, more aggressive colors to the more interior circles: schools might be assigned the red now designated for marriage and marriage be assigned that Columbia blue.

Excellent Infographic Breaks Down Gay Rights in U.S. by State and Region

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The coolest part about The Guardian's dynamic graphic on gay rights in the United States may be its Facebook integration. The infographic illustrates the level of rights — from adoption and schools to same-sex marriage and employment — granted by each of the 50 states, grouped by region, and then proportionally breaks it down by the states in which your Facebook friends live.

Interestingly enough, this matters. The reconfigured breakdown is more relevant to one’s life because it personalizes the issues to a degree, giving one a sense that these issues matter differently depending on where many of the people you care about now live. (Mine’s heavily weighted with North Dakotans and Minnesotans considering I’m a Midwestern boy, but who knew I had friends in four-fifths of the country.)

A small quibble, though. The circular shape of the graphic inherently weights the importance of an issue depending upon which concentric circle it occupies. In this case, the more proximate the issue type is to the circle’s center, the less area it takes up and, therefore I wonder, seems less important. One way to balance this might have been to assign bolder, more aggressive colors to the more interior circles: schools might be assigned the red now designated for marriage and marriage be assigned that Columbia blue.

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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.
- Grace Lee Boggs, from her autobiography Living for Change
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Wangari Maathai: A Remarkable Woman for All People and Places

by Krista Tippett, host

Condolences for a great lossPer Ludrig Magnus, the Norwegian Ambassador to Kenya, signs a condolence book for Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai in Nairobi. (photo: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)

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."
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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!

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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?

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?

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Thank You, Eleanor Roosevelt Trent Gilliss, online editor
A sleepless night wandering about the Web delivered this 1949 photo of Eleanor Roosevelt holding a poster of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she considered her greatest legacy:

"Where, after all, do universal         human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so         close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps         of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual         person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or         college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he         works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and         child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal         dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have         meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without         concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we         shall look in vain for progress in the larger         world."

After the act was passed on December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly urged all nations “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions.”
I don’t recall a poster of the Declaration ever hanging in one of my classrooms. Ashamed to admit it, I know I’ve never even read the full text of this historic document — even though I’ve watched these videos from Andy’s 60th anniversary post. So I did, and it took me less than five minutes. Five minutes! And I’m 40 years old.
I’m struck by the richness of its language — “human family,” “universal respect,” “spirit of brotherhood,” “security of person” — as I read the news about Haiti and its people, the tumultuous debate about the rights and privileges extended to homosexual couples, or the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here are a few articles that especially resonated with me:

Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Article 15. Everyone has the right to a nationality. 
Article 16. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. … The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Article 26. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Article 29. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full   development of his personality is possible.

 Eleanor Roosevelt, chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission, visits with Nasrollah Entezam, president of the fifth session of the General Assembly and Marian Anderson, American contralto, on Human Rights Day in 1950. (United Nations)

Thank You, Eleanor Roosevelt
Trent Gilliss, online editor

A sleepless night wandering about the Web delivered this 1949 photo of Eleanor Roosevelt holding a poster of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she considered her greatest legacy:

"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."

After the act was passed on December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly urged all nations “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions.”

I don’t recall a poster of the Declaration ever hanging in one of my classrooms. Ashamed to admit it, I know I’ve never even read the full text of this historic document — even though I’ve watched these videos from Andy’s 60th anniversary post. So I did, and it took me less than five minutes. Five minutes! And I’m 40 years old.

I’m struck by the richness of its language — “human family,” “universal respect,” “spirit of brotherhood,” “security of person” — as I read the news about Haiti and its people, the tumultuous debate about the rights and privileges extended to homosexual couples, or the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here are a few articles that especially resonated with me:

Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 15. Everyone has the right to a nationality.

Article 16. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. … The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 26. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Article 29. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

Human Rights Day, 1950
Eleanor Roosevelt, chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission, visits with Nasrollah Entezam, president of the fifth session of the General Assembly and Marian Anderson, American contralto, on Human Rights Day in 1950. (United Nations)

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Portraits of Women from Kandahar
Trent Gilliss, online editor

The Behind the Veil project from The Globe and Mail got its start with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s endorsement of “a law that, among other things, allowed some men to demand sex from their wives.” What’s come of it is a compelling six-part series of multimedia reports exploring Afghani women’s issues, which they’re rolling out over the next week.

The timeline and reporter’s notebook are helpful and give you a glimpse of what it’s like to be a female journalist reporting in restrictive conditions. But, watching ten women from Kandahar, ranging in age from 15 to 50, share their perspectives on their lives and the changing state of society is the real highlight. The overwhelming idea, despite the texture of the many ideas shared, is the basic need for safety and security. Without that sense of protection, all the aspirations and hopes for women’s rights and education falls prey to pragmatism of carrying on a daily existence.

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Yet these kinds of abuses — along with more banal injustices, like slapping a girlfriend or paying women less for their work — arise out of a social context in which women are, often, second-class citizens. That’s a context that religions have helped shape, and not pushed hard to change.
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— —Nicholas Kristof, from his latest column, "Religion and Women" (January 9, 2010)

(via Never Be Silent)

Trent Gilliss, online editor

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The Human Scale
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer

This December, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) turns 60 years old, and the video above was released in preparation for that celebration. The UDHR (listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Translated Document” in the world) was drafted by the United Nations in response to the Second World War as a means of clearly defining what the UN hoped to protect — namely, the “equal and inalienable rights” that “all members of the human family” are entitled to.

I thought it was worth mentioning on the blog because the issue of human rights is a pretty important one at SOF; so much of what we do here is about taking larger ideas and bringing them down to the level of individual lives. Often issues that seem irreconcilable in their abstract form seem more managable when you hear the stories of those affected.

Case and point: our recent feature "Between the Polarized Extremes of Abortion." Looking through some of the thoughtful and heartfelt responses we received on this topic, I realized that for all of the rhetoric I’ve heard on this subject, I’ve rarely seen it dealt with on such a personal level. Your responses turned out to be refreshing and much-needed antidote to the political and cultural battling this issue tends to invoke.

It seems that if there is going to be any reconcilliation on the issue of abortion, it will probably come through an understanding of the individual lives that are affected by it. And while the UDHR has its critics (I imagine anything claiming to be “universal” would), to me it’s an important step in the right direction — a larger way of acknowledging the need to understand the world on a more human scale.

While doing a little research on this, I discovered that there is also an older (much longer) animation about the UDHR, sponsored by Amnesty International. The tone seems a little different in Amnesty’s video, and I thought it was worth including because, while it is pretty dated, it also strikes me as being a little bit more … well, human.

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