Paintings by Lin Ching Che
Repeating in the head. Repeating in the head.
Unlike Malala Yousafzai, Nabila Rehman did not receive a welcoming greeting in Washington DC.
Nov. 1 2013
On October 24, 2012 a Predator drone flying over North Waziristan came upon eight-year old Nabila Rehman, her siblings, and their grandmother as they worked in a field beside their village home. Her grandmother, Momina Bibi, was teaching the children how to pick okra as the family prepared for the coming Eid holiday. However on this day the terrible event would occur that would forever alter the course of this family’s life. In the sky the children suddenly heard the distinctive buzzing sound emitted by the CIA-operated drones - a familiar sound to those in the rural Pakistani villages which are stalked by them 24 hours a day - followed by two loud clicks. The unmanned aircraft released its deadly payload onto the Rehman family, and in an instant the lives of these children were transformed into a nightmare of pain, confusion and terror. Seven children were wounded, and Nabila’s grandmother was killed before her eyes, an act for which no apology, explanation or justification has ever been given.
This past week Nabila, her schoolteacher father, and her 12-year-old brother travelled to Washington DC to tell their story and to seek answers about the events of that day. However, despite overcoming incredible obstacles in order to travel from their remote village to the United States, Nabila and her family were roundly ignored. At the Congressional hearing where they gave testimony, only five out of 430 representatives showed up. In the words of Nabila’s father to those few who did attend: "My daughter does not have the face of a terrorist and neither did my mother. It just doesn’t make sense to me, why this happened… as a teacher, I wanted to educate Americans and let them know my children have been injured."
The translator broke down in tears while recounting their story, but the government made it a point to snub this family and ignore the tragedy it had caused to them. Nabila, a slight girl of nine with striking hazel eyes, asked a simple question in her testimony: “What did my grandmother do wrong?” There was no one to answer this question, and few who cared to even listen. Symbolic of the utter contempt in which the government holds the people it claims to be liberating, while the Rehmans recounted their plight, Barack Obama was spending the same time meeting with the CEO of weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
It is useful to contrast the American response to Nabila Rehman with that of Malala Yousafzai, a young girl who was nearly assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban. While Malala was feted by Western media figures, politicians and civic leaders for her heroism, Nabila has become simply another one of the millions of nameless, faceless people who have had their lives destroyed over the past decade of American wars. The reason for this glaring discrepancy is obvious. Since Malala was a victim of the Taliban, she, despite her protestations, was seen as a potential tool of political propaganda to be utilized by war advocates. She could be used as the human face of their effort, a symbol of the purported decency of their cause, the type of little girl on behalf of whom the United States and its allies can say they have been unleashing such incredible bloodshed. Tellingly, many of those who took up her name and image as a symbol of the justness of American military action in the Muslim world did not even care enough to listen to her own words or feelings about the subject.
As described by the Washington Post's Max Fisher:
Western fawning over Malala has become less about her efforts to improve conditions for girls in Pakistan, or certainly about the struggles of millions of girls in Pakistan, and more about our own desire to make ourselves feel warm and fuzzy with a celebrity and an easy message. It’s a way of letting ourselves off the hook, convincing ourselves that it’s simple matter of good guys vs bad guys, that we’re on the right side and that everything is okay.
But where does Nabila fit into this picture? If extrajudicial killings, drone strikes and torture are in fact all part of a just-cause associated with the liberation of the people of Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, where is the sympathy or even simple recognition for the devastation this war has caused to countless little girls such as her? The answer is clear: The only people to be recognized for their suffering in this conflict are those who fall victim to the enemy. Malala for her struggles was to be made the face of the American war effort - against her own will if necessary - while innumerable little girls such as Nabila will continue to be terrorized and murdered as part of this war without end. There will be no celebrity appearances or awards ceremonies for Nabila. At her testimony almost no one even bothered to attend.
But if they had attended, they would’ve heard a nine year old girl asking the questions which millions of other innocent people who have had their lives thrown into chaos over the past decade have been asking: "When I hear that they are going after people who have done wrong to America, then what have I done wrong to them? What did my grandmother do wrong to them? I didn’t do anything wrong."
Murtaza Hussain is a Toronto-based writer and analyst focused on issues related to Middle Eastern politics.
Follow him on Twitter: @MazMHussain
J Mase III, October 2013
Brooklyn, New York
QTPOC Portrait and Prose series in-progress
entitled “The Treacherous Felicity in Relentless Dissent”
She asks if she can talk to me about Jesus at 3 am on the C-train
Because something about my queer face means I am on a sure path to
Hell I have come to expect this behavior at least once a week
from strangers since I was first exorcised at 16
So today I’ve decided it’s my turn to proselytize
Have you heard the good word about
Joseph of Genesis?
I use to hear this story
But never the cries for help
Told holy books
Were meant for anyone except me
Jo of Genesis
Favorite child of Jacob
What you wanted
You desired one thing
A kethoneth passim
Pastor called this a royal coat
I had never read a Bible before
But found you
And kept reading
I got to 2nd Samuel
And realized your coat of many colors
Was a princess dress
Your father really loved you
He got it for you
You wore it with pride
Your brothers saw you
In your flowing dress
And became enraged
Sorry for the beating
Sorry they destroyed your dress
And smeared it with the red paint of your swollen veins
Did you know they told your father you were dead
So he’d never come looking for you
Never knew your brothers
Sold you as a slave into Egypt
And once you were stolen from your home fields
The earth dried up
The ground on which you walked
Mourned the loss of its genderqueer child
And all the plants died
And the animals no longer had the will to live
Your family nearly starved
Began to see the formation of ribs
Where once grew flesh
And belly fat
Hungry and desperate
Traveled to Egypt
And what must they have seen Jo?
See in Egypt people discovered you
Not as fag
Not as tranny
Saw you in totality
Went from slave
To a leader over lands
There you were Josephine
You looked magnificent
Your brothers couldn’t recognize you through the glare of divinity
You saw them shivering in fear
Waiting to hear what this regal leader
Wondering if the spirit would move you
To grant them grain
Needed to survive
Love broke through
The darkness of resentment
And for the first time
Your family saw you
For it was your word
That saved them from starvation
Dear Joseph of Genesis
I am claiming your story
For every queer kid told
They are unholy
For every queer told
In order to love
We must let our faith die
I am going to put it in a pocket
Over my heart
Next to Ruth & Naomi
Next to David & Jonathan
Next to Haggai & Deborah
And seat them at the last Passover
With Jesus and Lazarus
Yes I am taking Jesus with me too
Wherever these stories go I will go
These are my people their stories have been allowed to die
And my spirit was once buried there
To you who claims your words are from God
But whose book is pledged to King James
Know what allegiances you keep
You’ve been lying about my people for too long
J Mase III says:
I wrote this piece for a few reasons. Firstly, as a young child, even before I had language for what it meant to be gay, or trans or queer, I had a pretty strong conviction that whatever I was dealing with in regards to my crushes and my gender meant I was going to Hell. Before I even had words to talk about my experience, I had gotten the impression that I was in some way evil. This belief made me hate myself for a long time and then when I did come out I had still heard almost no good words coming from the religious communities I was a part of, so I left them behind. I felt I had to. Which is different than not believing. I was forced to let go.
Secondly, I wrote this piece, because as someone who has worked with medical professionals, teachers, students, lawyers, detention centers, group homes, faith communities, etc…the number one question I get about whether or not someone will choose to be an ally to the LGBTQIA community is “Well, what does my religion say?”. For many, that is a question that must be answered in order to move forward and many of us as queer activists are afraid to answer it, even if that is the question everyone is asking in regards to whether or not we deserve rights.
Finally, I wrote this piece because of 5 people. The first being Peterson Toscano, a theologian, an actor and playwright. Peterson wrote a play called Transfigurations which looks at trans* people within biblical text. When I saw that play, I nearly fell out of my chair!! (The interpretation of Joseph’s coat comes from that play.) There are actually queer people in the Bible?? I had to do more research! It changed the way I looked at religious text because until that moment, I had just been trying to refute the “clobber passages” instead of finding affirmation.
The other four people that made me write this poem, was my slam team for the National Slam 2013. When they heard me prepping for a talk at a church and sharing these affirming passages, they were like, “Mase! You HAVE to make that a poem! That poem needs to be heard!” So, I wrote it, they helped me edit it. And here, but for the grace of all things in holy poetry form, it is.
J Mase III a Black, Queer, Trans* poet, educator, and activist. He is the creator of the national performance event, Cupid Ain’t @#$%!: An Anti-Valentine’s Day Poetry Movement. He teaches workshops in various youth facilities, universities, and community organizations, and also does educational outreach within communities of faith with people of all ages. Check out his website at: http://www.jmaseiii.com/
I’ve been on a Nina Simone kick lately and
I’m feeling good.
World AIDS Day, December 1st
World AIDS Day, observed on 1 December every year, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. Government and health officials observe the day, often with speeches or forums on the AIDS topics.
Screenshots from Interactive World AIDS Day 2013 Infographic by CNN
Source: UK’s National AIDS Trust, WHO, UNAIDS, amfAR, CDC
EDITORIAL: BRYONY JONES
GRAPHIC: CNNI DESIGN & DEVELOPMENT
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