Free Sheikha Latifa

There are some sick, twisted people in this world, but ones who hold their daughters captive, just because they can, are right down there in the deepest part of the scummiest of ponds, as far as I’m concerned. You’d think I was talking about something in the distant, ignorant past; some dark age custom that we can look back upon and shake our heads. But no, this is going on right now.

According to a recent article in the New York Times entitled, A Princess Vanishes. A Video Offers Alarming Clues, Sheikha Latifa, a princess from the United Arab Emirates, has not been allowed to leave her emirate in 18 years. During that time, at various times, she has been beaten, she has been held in solitary confinement for years on end, she has been deprived of medical care, she has been drugged, and even deprived of a tooth brush. She is escorted everywhere, cannot go to private residences, and is prevented from furthering her education.

Recently she escaped, but days later she was abducted again and returned home, kicking and screaming and begging to be killed. Such is her life. She’d rather die than be with her family. It’s horrifying. It’s heartbreaking. It’s criminal.

This is not the first time, nor the first country, where such atrocities have been exposed. Back in 2014, it came to light that 4 Saudi princesses had been locked up on the brink of starvation, and as recently as 2017 the situation has not changed for those poor women, despite the fact that their father has since died. But you hardly hear anyone talking about them anymore, because it’s so hard to get new information, and even harder to keep our attention, despite a movement for them, created by their mother, called Free the Four.

And make no mistake, this doesn’t just happen to royals. For example, according to this article, if you don’t have a benevolent male relative in Saudi Arabia, your life can be a living hell. You cannot travel without that relative’s permission. Your passport is confiscated. You can be forced to marry. Your salary can be confiscated. You can be abused, starved, and imprisoned. In fact, you cannot be released from prison without the permission of a male relative. And honor killings do, in fact, exist, and are a constant threat.

This situation devastates me. Here I have a guest room, sitting empty, that many of these women would kill for, and there’s nothing, nothing I can do to share this good fortune with them by obtaining their freedom. Except blog.

Sheikha Latifa

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The Last Thing I’ll Ever Write

I read a heartbreaking opinion piece in the Washington Post the other day. It was by Jamal Khashoggi, and it was entitled, What the Arab world needs most is free expression.

It was the last thing he ever wrote. We now know he met an outrageous and brutal end in the Saudi Arabian Consulate. We also know that Trump has absolutely no intention of holding the Saudis accountable for it, because whatever type of compass he has, it’s not a moral one. It points directly toward dollar signs. Which is even more outrageous.

But I digress.

Of course, Khashoggi didn’t know it would be his last piece when he was writing it. Very few writers do, I suppose. In fact, very few of us, in general, know what the last thing we’ll say or do will be. That adds extra weight to one’s actions, doesn’t it?

If I die while I’m still writing this blog, whatever my last post happens to be is going to seem more important than I’ll probably have intended it to be. I hope it’s not one of my lazy days when I’m rambling about stuff and nonsense. I also hope it’s not one of those days when I’m predicting the end of civilization as we know it. I hope it’s one of my positive posts where I end with words of encouragement. Because that would be a lovely way to go out.

Khashoggi’s last piece was appropriate, given his demise. In it, he says, “Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate.”

Wow. Yeah. What he said.

Rest in peace, Jamal Khashoggi. You wanted the best for your country, but its government had other plans for you. May we never forget.

Last Writing
Poet Fernando Pessoa’s last writing: 29-11-1935 “I know not what tomorrow will bring”.               He died the next day, November 30, 1935.

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Money Trumps Morals

It sounds like the beginning of a really bad joke. “Jamal Khashoggi walks into the Saudi Arabian Consulate…” But the punch line isn’t very funny. He never walks out again.

The Saudis tried to claim that he did leave, but there is no evidence of this happening on any of the cameras in the area. And Khashoggi’s fiancé was waiting outside for him. It’s not like he’d wander off and leave her. Not willingly. I mean, come on.

Khashoggi entered the consulate in Istanbul simply to get the proper paperwork to marry his Turkish bride to be. But he had also been in self-imposed exile in America, because he was a reporter that had been critical of the Saudi government. He had been working for the Washington Post.

Apparently that same day he went to the consulate, 15 Saudi operatives flew into town and wound up there. Their cohort included one autopsy expert, who was, according to NPR, complete with (shudder) a bone saw. Then these 15 men flew away again, with several new suitcases in tow. Khashoggi has not been seen or heard from since. I hope that in this case one plus one doesn’t equal two, but I have my suspicions.

In light of all this, Trump says we’ll be looking into it, but that he thinks stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia is a bad idea, because it would hurt a lot of American jobs. Maybe we can do some other type of sanctions. We’ll see. But not arms.

What does it take, exactly, for morals to trump money? I mean, it was Saudi citizens who where the main players in 9/11, and yet they remained our allies. Now they can play a very sketchy role in the disappearance of a reporter who currently works for an American newspaper, but hey, let’s not stop selling them arms. Oh, no. We can’t do that. Perhaps a slap on the wrist is what’s needed.

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi

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Travel Restrictions

Travel is my reason for being. Due to finances, I haven’t been able to leave the country in several years, but I have been to 19 other countries, and these experiences have been the high points in my life.

I strongly encourage everyone to travel. It’s the only way you can truly have an open mind. It’s the only way you’ll learn that “our” way isn’t the only way and in fact it may not even be the best way. Until everyone truly understands that concept, there is no chance for any type of peace on earth.

Having said that, as people become more financially desperate, the world is becoming an increasingly scary place, with kidnappings, incarcerations and crime on the rise. And Americans are becoming, if anything, more hated by segments of the international community.

Does that mean we should stop travelling altogether? On the contrary. Now, more than ever, we need to eschew isolation and make more of an effort to be part of the global community. Not only to spread our wealth around a bit, but also to foster as much good will as we can.

But it is very important to travel intelligently. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that it might be a good idea to avoid war zones. But it’s also important to understand the human rights philosophy of the government in question. When making travel plans, my first stop is always the State Department website, where you can read up to date reports on travel advisability and news for each country. Many countries are safe to travel in, but contain regions to avoid, and this is always good information to have. And if you fall into a particular minority group, you may want to extend your research even further afield.

As sad as it makes me to say this, I know that there are certain countries which I realistically will never visit. North Korea, for example. But also, as an outspoken woman who refuses to be treated as a second class citizen, I don’t see myself ever visiting Saudi Arabia, either. While I’m willing to respect customs related to clothing, no one will ever tell me I can’t drive. Full stop. Sadly, as a woman traveling alone, there are many parts of the world I should think twice about visiting.

My nephew has reached an age where he’s looking forward to exploring the planet, and I’m thrilled for him. I remember what that’s like, that feeling that you have endless possibilities for adventure. I love him to pieces, so it nearly killed me to have to ever-so-slightly rain on his parade.

He was talking about going to Egypt, and that’s someplace that I’ve always wanted to see myself. But I had to tell him that as the laws stand in that country at the present time, he can be incarcerated simply for being gay. He told me he didn’t plan on doing “gay things” while there, and while, yes, that would greatly reduce his risk, it doesn’t eliminate it entirely, and this is a young man who, try as he might, would not be able to “fake it”. Unfortunately there are many countries in the world that would pose a risk for him. That breaks my heart, but it’s a fact.

Americans seem to be under the impression that they have some sort of immunity when traveling abroad. They think that if arrested, they will simply be able to call their embassy and be set free. Au contraire. All the embassy can or will do for you in the vast majority of cases is make sure your relatives are notified, deliver your mail, and give you the occasional red cross package. So the best thing to do is be aware of the laws of the country in which you travel, and strictly adhere to them. I’ve never found that to be particularly hard, but apparently some people do. If you plan to go somewhere with several kilos of cocaine taped to your inner thigh, well then, you deserve what you get.

So travel, yes, but do your homework first. Knowledge is power. Bon voyage.

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[Image credit: outlookmaps.com]

Why I Vote

I used to work with a woman who had never voted, had no intentions of ever doing so, and was quite proud of that fact. She hated this country and everything it stands for, and did not want to participate in it in any way. She dreamed of moving to the Australian outback, where she felt her family would be left alone. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that voting is compulsory in Australia.)

But I have to say that whenever an election would roll around, I couldn’t stand to be in that woman’s presence. It took everything in me not to try to slap some sense into her. The very palm of my hand would ache to do so.

Yes, politics in this country (probably in all countries) is corrupt, and our elected representatives seem to have no desire to represent us. Yes, it’s annoying to have to choose the lesser of two evils rather than the best person for a job. Yes, it’s hard to sift through all the lies to figure out what is the best choice.

As much as I love Russell Brand and his activism, he has become the poster child for a movement that encourages people not to vote as a form of protest because of all of the above. Brand is an extremely intelligent guy, but on this one subject he’s being idiotic. Yes, it’s a broken system, but by not participating in it, you’re not going to make it go away, and you’re not going to fix it. You’re simply giving your power to others.

Here are a few reasons why I vote:

If you do not vote, as far as I’m concerned, you forfeit the right to complain, because you have made no effort to even try to be part of the solution. And believe me, I am as willing to complain as the next person.

If you don’t vote, the majority opinion is not properly reflected, and that causes policies to be enacted that most of us really don’t desire.

The act of voting is the act of reaffirming your democratic freedom, a right which Americans have been fighting and dying for since the Revolutionary War.

People still can’t vote in Brunei or the United Arab Emirates, and women can’t vote in Saudi Arabia. Elections in North Korea are only for show. China is not a democracy, and they are currently trying to roll back the rights of the Taiwanese. As long as there is even one person in this world who wants to vote and can’t, how can I choose to not take advantage of this privilege?

One of the last things my sister did before she died was take her son to vote in his first presidential election. She knew it was an important lesson to teach him. It was important enough to focus on even though she was dying, so your manicure can wait.

But most of all, I am a woman. Women did not get the vote in the US until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. It took 70 years of struggle to make that happen. Women died for it, went to jail for it, and had tubes rammed down their throats and were force fed when they went on hunger strikes for it. After all of that, what right do I have NOT to vote?

So if you’re not voting, you might want to tell me that from a safe distance. I take this very seriously.

Russell-Brand

See, to me that’s a reason to use your celebrity to get MORE people involved. Sigh.

[Image credit: openyoureyesnews.com]

Countries are Artificial Constructs

One of my friends applied for a high level federal job many years ago and put me down as a personal reference. Some guy in a suit showed up at my door to interview me about her, and one of his questions was, “Is she a good American?”

That made me blink. Uh, what does that mean, exactly? I suppose one could agree that the Unibomber was not a good American, but did that turn him into a good something else?

I’ve always found it rather absurd to judge people based on the nationalities that are placed on their shoulders simply by virtue of birth. Cultures know no borders, and I’ve yet to meet a single human being who agrees completely with the actions of his or her government.

That’s why I can’t get worked up about immigration or buying American. What makes me so special? I’m only a second generation American myself. Why do I have more of a right to be here than anyone else? And why is it better to support a hard working American who is producing a product so much better than supporting a hard working person from Bangladesh? Do they not have families to support as well? I suppose the fact that I have traveled has given me more of a global perspective.

In many places, national boundaries run right down the center of city streets. How different are you from the person who lives just across the way? Are you more different from them than from the person who lives right next door?

In Istanbul you can walk from Europe to Asia and still be in Istanbul. What does that mean to the people who do that every single day? Do the Istanbullu-Europeans distinguish themselves from the Istanbullu-Asians?

When the Berlin Wall was constructed, we considered this barbaric, and watched as people desperately tried to escape their confines. Prisoners, too, do not want to be where they are. What does that make them? Some countries have border disputes with their neighboring countries. What does that do to the mindset of the people who are living in those disputed areas?

In Saudi Arabia the crowds must applaud at public beheadings. Can we really believe that not a single person in that crowd is not inwardly horrified, inwardly too terrified not to applaud? Are those people less or more Saudi than the guy who did the beheading, or for that matter, from the person being beheaded?

In many areas of the world groups of people wish to break away from the country of which they are a part, but are not allowed to, usually because the real estate in question or the industries are too valuable. It’s not that those countries necessarily want to keep those people who don’t want to be there. But they want those property values and that gross national product.

When children in Iran are made to chant “Death to America”, they are quite often as disaffected as their counterparts in America who are required to say the pledge of allegiance every morning at school. They are just going through the motions to make it through the school day. At least that was the case with me. I didn’t feel a surge of patriotism during my chant. If anything, that forced chant about the death of total strangers probably has the opposite effect. It does not make them hate us. It makes them sick and tired of all the stupidity.

If someone in a democracy stages a protest, are they not being even more democratic and therefore more patriotic than the person who sits idly by and doesn’t question anything?

In many parts of Asia, cohesive tribes exist that straddle borders. The Hmong people live primarily in China, Vietnam and Laos. Do they relate more to the people of their own country, or to fellow Hmong from other countries?

We tend to think of the Aborigines in Australia as one cohesive group, but they actually consist of more than 400 groups, each with its own culture and language. Still, I’m sure they feel more like each other than they do those descendants of criminals which seem to have moved in, from their perspective, just yesterday.

If you know you are gay and your country decides that that is a crime, do you feel less of a citizen, or do you just have less respect for those who are in charge of your country?

When China stole Tibet from its people, the Tibetans did not wake up the next day feeling Chinese, and I’m sure they still don’t.

We all have more in common with each other than we do with our governments. We live, we laugh, we love, we struggle to survive, we take care of our families. Politicians, governments, walls, and checkpoints do not define who we are. The more we all realize that, the less we will feel the need to wage war.

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Have we Overstayed our Welcome?

Aw, jeez, I need to stop surfing the internet. I just came across a website called Recent Natural Disasters, and it gives you all the reported disasters all over the world, 24 hours a day. I have a hard enough time avoiding my tendency to anthropomorphize nature, especially when it seems as though the planet is becoming more and more pissed off.

Typhoon Haiyan has certainly displaced thousands of people, but it’s only the latest in what seems to be an increasing number of natural disasters, from the expected to the downright bizarre. I mean, who expects flooding in Saudi Arabia? But that’s been happening, too.

And I’m stunned by how many of these events have escaped my notice up to this point. Here are but a few of the headlines from the past few months:

Massive landslide in Denali National Park, Alaska – Could take 10 days to clear

Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung volcano eruption prompts evacuation of 3,300

Mudslide traps 20 in Cross Rivers, Nigeria

Very severe cyclonic storm Phailin: India’s biggest evacuation operation in 23 years, 43 killed

Eurasia’s highest volcano Klyuchevskoi spews ash up to 3.7 miles

40,000 evacuated amid Gujarat flooding

7.7 magnitude earthquake in Pakistan kills 400, Awaran declares emergency

Flooding in Bunkpurugu, Ghana kills 1, displaces 6,000

Shanghai heat wave 2013: Hottest temperature in 140 years!

Spanish Mallorca forest fire: Worst fire in 15 years evacuates 700

Namibia African Drought: Worst in 30 years

Yarnell, Arizona Wildfire 2013: 19 firefighters killed

Central African Republic gold mine collapse kills 37, national mourning declared

Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand flood 2013: At least 5,500 killed

Colorado wildfires destroy 360 plus homes, 38,000 evacuated

Whether you believe in Global Climate Change or not, don’t you sometimes get the feeling that we as a species are no longer wanted on this planet? And if so, who could blame Mother Nature? I mean, we take and take and take, and what we give in return is pollution, destruction, and devastation. If a guest in my home were behaving this badly, I’d kick him out, too.

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