HUMAN RIGHTS – A TREASURE TO TREASURE

A Treasure

I had just had my WeetBix with soya milk, fruit salad with yogurt, and as it was a public holiday, (which qualifies as a Sunday), a slice of cake, (OK….two), with some honey-sweetened [i]Rooibos Tea.   Armed with my reading matter, the BlackBerry (a few years ago it would have been the “Sunday Times”), I commenced my favourite breakfast complimentary pastime – consulting the Twitter timeline.  My heart started pounding; it may have missed a beat. The tweets I was reading seemed surreal, [ii]incroyable. I actually started to cry, yes, cry.  @angryarabiya, Zainab Al Khawaja, Human Rights Activist, fighter for democracy and daughter of Bahrain, had been arrested. South Africa had just woken up; ready to celebrate National [iii]Reconciliation Day, 16 December 2011.

Having ascended to the self-coronated thrones of the star-studded, Twitterati, accordingly requires that one surrounds oneself in equally illustrious company.  It must be noted that surrounding oneself in illustrious company is an important exercise of a Princess; she must always have an eye on her potential subjects, especially those err…Arabian Knights. ;-).

Thus, amongst others, I  subsequently added, over the past few months, a good few prominent Twitteratis of the Arab Spring inclusive of Libya (whose Twitterati seemed to have “calmed down” or perhaps they’ve err……excised me due to my scathing tweetacks on the murder of Ghadafi vís-a-vís fighting for democracy, freedom and equality for ALL).

An activist in her own right, and news editor, I sometimes interact with @JustAmira in Bahrain, about her cats, me being a err….. Cougar by Experience, ;-), and equally a cat lover; @BloggerSeif in Lebanon at times has refreshing liberal tweets, sometimes even in French; @ChangeInLibya kept me more updated (and more accurate!) than what AlJazeera could with the battle for Tripoli, and the capture of Ghadafi;  @RevolutionSyria tells me what no one wants to hear, and @Saudiwoman inspires one to believe that one day there will be full gender equality, yes, even in Saudi Arabia.

The under-reporting of the Revolution in Bahrain, on most international news channels, let alone our own SABC or Etv, or newspapers, has over the past 9 months lead me to add additional Bahraini Twitterati to my timeline. However, I had not actually enlisted to follow @angryarabiya, Zainab Al Khawaja, as her tweets often reappeared in several Arab and Bahraini fellow followers’ retweets, ensuing that she always materialised within my actual timeline.

Thus a number of these active Twitteratis, including others from around the globe such as @onemillionfacts, with whom at times I dispute factual accuracy (like the tweet that India in its 10 000 history, had never invaded another country when India, as a country, has only been in existence since 1947); or @SaiRajesh with whom I interact on the cricket scores have, according to me, become [iv]Twiends.  I now understand why some tweets are just a ‘hello’, ‘good morning’ or ‘good night’. (I think mutual followers on Twitter are genuinely interested in each other’s lives, well-being, and interests as opposed to Facebook, where I think most of us just seek the elusive number of boasting 4000 or so err…..friends).

Thus, I found the arrest of a “Twiend” viz. @angryarabiya utterly shocking. This juxtaposed against a “Proudly South African Moment” celebrating the arrival of our 16th Reconciliation Day, declared as such since 1995, since the arrival of our Democracy in 1994. I had earlier, while languorously cutting that second sliced of cake, thought of how far we have come via the [v]TRC – although there’s admittedly still ‘a long way to go’ as a South African Twitterati @chantalgal, reminded us all.

Thinking that the reconciliation process is an undertaking that the Arab Spring would have to commit itself to, once the current battles towards the institution of democracy have been won, (less it plunges itself into a permanent Winter of discontent).

Throughout the Arab Spring, a  ‘season’ that has now lasted [vi]365 days + a bit, I’ve always read or heard, at times, of the arrest of some prominent freedom fighter, a prominent opposition leader or prominent personality.  Yet, news of these arrests, and the subsequent call for their respective release, seemed so far removed. I recall the Egyptian actor, whom his detractors even tried to “discredit” as gay.  (As if sexuality is not inclusive of human rights); the Syrian actress Fadwa Soliman although not arrested (yet?), also comes to mind. Digressing, it often makes we wish that personalities within the arts and entertainment industry in South Africa, could commit themselves to voicing a stand against the injustices that do not belong in our democracy, such as the [vii]Protection of Information Bill (POIB), in its current form. (Excluding [viii]Steve Hofmeyr, please?)

Never had I thought that a Twiend would suffer an arrest. I felt helpless, and angry. Nearly as helpless and angry when @ahmed tweeted about his assault, and trampling of his spectacles, while on a conference in, I think, in a Latin American country (I stand corrected).

When ur in chains, living with no dignity or rights, bowing to criminal dictators, the first step is to forget ur fear & realise that it’s ur right….to be angry.” Angryaribiya

I felt angry at those despots who deny their own citizens their rightful freedom.

I suppose of all the Arab Spring countries, Bahrain, has a special place in my heart. I had the pleasure of visiting this country, or more accurately, its capital city Manama, while in transit on both the departure and the return trip en route to and from Pakistan in 2006/07.  In total, almost 24 hours. [And one hour is all one need to see the entire island Kingdom. OK, perhaps one and a half. ;-)].

HRH The Princess Swan, at the time, was in awe of being hosted in a Monarchy.  If only she had known, she would have sought an immediate audience with the King, , espousing the tenants of the Imperial Jacaranda Palace, the only Absolute Monarchy in the world that affords full democracy towards its subjects. But of course in HRH’s de rigueur style she got side-tracked flirting with the Arabian Knights instead.  (She still vividly recalls the super hot Arabian Knight guarding the entrance to the Mall. Tall, dark and dangerously handsome.   A man of not too many words. Apparently it was forbidden for Knights while on guard duty to entertain Princesses?) – Kindly note: The rest of this paragraph is now protected by the POIB .

I particularly recall the return trip affording me an entire day of sightseeing in Manana. It’s refreshing sea breeze aroma reminiscent of the Mother City, Cape Town.  I was in awe of the amazing skyscrapers constructed, and a few still being constructed at the time, although I must say I do not remember Pearl Square :s.  I had landed late the evening before from Oman. I had planned to spend a week’s holiday in Muscat, and had thus booked flights via Oman to Lahore. Alas those bookings had gone awry, consequently the holiday did not materialise.  My outbound flight to South Africa from Bahrain, via Gulf Air, since discontinued to South Africa :S,  was only due to depart the following evening. The inbound trip five weeks earlier was primarily an overnight stay with a morning departure. It however, afforded me a “night out on the town in the hotel club” and a morning stroll to shake off the morning after the night before cobwebs.

Thus, having just returned from Lahore, Pakistan, where one, in the cities, and some major towns, can easily get away without a scarf covering ones head, and dress in the most vibrant of colours that even the most colourful Spring would be alarmed at, including “Western clothes”, I had intentionally packed bootlegged black trousers, a matching black sleeveless mini flared dressed, and a black billowing-metres of a  chiffon scarf; to be drapped á la Benazir Bhutto – but with extra added length á la a Bollywood trailer.  This was my “to fit-in-look”; an improvisation of the traditional black Abaya, with a hint of sex appeal through chiffon draped flesh.  Yes, I too thought at the time that I was pushing it a bit.  However, much to my surprise, I discovered that I could have just as well have worn the mini-dress on its own, (OK, that’s now really pushing it, even now) as the “Western Girls” were flaunting it in their jeans and tops. (I often wonder why the resident “Westerners’ do not at least assist the Bahrain revolution by vocalising their disdain for such oppression and citizen abuse.  I mean now really, how can one, brought up in a democratic country, silently sit and watch undemocratic processes in the making without voicing ones scorn :s?  Doctors being  arrested and incarcerated for treating wounded protesters!? And the “Westerners” stay mum? Or is their support for the Revolution also under reported?).

Returning to the Fashion Parade, I was even more surprised at the Bahraini girls flaunting it even more in what I call “The Half Abaya”. A sort of coat it seems ,styled to appear from behind as if it is a full Abaya, but seen from the front, it ‘exposes’ glittery jeans, kitsch tops and over the top jewellery.  I felt “naked”, but at least I could now drape the black billowing chiffon scarf á la pashmina, off the shoulder style.

Image

If Bags Could Talk 😉

Having just learned the art of bargaining while in Pakistan, strolling through the souks was an experience. I picked up a few bargains. My star buy however, came not from the souks but, the Mall. One of my most treasured possessions to date.  Ridiculously priced.  Fortunately marked down.  Luckily I had arrived during sale season.  Strange…. my treasure buys in France were also during the Solde. Seems sales have some funny way of following me? But, let me not digress…again. The Bag, a treasured piece of accessory that seems to match with most of my saris, Punjabi suits and even my favourite magenta, princess, velvet ball gown dress. It, (the bag) often to this day, still receives gasps of “where did you buy it” as well as compliments. [And if that bag could talk ;-)……….]

That bag, to me, symbolises angryarabiya.  A human rights treasure; the bag a treasure.   A favourite Twitterati from Bahrain; the bag a favourite from Bahrain (besides the memory of that Arabian Knight with not too many words). I’d be mortified if that bag ever gets damaged.  I am mortified at the indignation and assault this Human Rights Activist had to and have to suffer at the hands of her oppressors. (Not even allowed soap to wash her bloodied face and clothes. Not even allowed her spectacles I believe). I’d be mortified if that bag is ever lost. I shudder at being mortified if the world should loose more angryarabiyas.

I’m not really one to add my voice to the global calls on governments to free Human Rights Activists.  I often feel that so many are doing it already. However, this to me was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I felt I could no longer be silent. I had to add my voice to the global call to “Free Zainab Al Khawaja” and all other Human Rights Activists!  All she wants is Freedom, Democracy, Equality and Justice for the citizens of Bahrain. The time of despots, dictators, monarchs et al (except HRH The Princess Swan of course) denying Liberté, Egalité et ‘Fraternité’ to all humankind, had reached its sell by date on the 14 July 1789……Did the others not get the memo?

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed

Martin Luther King Jr.

Zainab Al Khawaja since her arrest, is being held in detention for 7 days………(and counting………)

Post Script: Zainab Al Khawaja was freed on Tuesday  20 December 2011.  


[i] Rooibos tea is cultivated in South Africa and loosely translates as Red bush Tea. It is caffeine free, and a healthy alternative.

[ii] French for unbelievable

[iii] National Reconciliation Day commemorates two definite historical moments of South Africa. The Battle of Blood River in 1838, and the founding of Umkhomto WeSizwe (the armed wing of the ANC, 1961). Opposite political agendas now commemorated on the same day thus lending itself to…… reconciliation.

[iv] There are numerous others too from around the globe and in South Africa too.

[v] Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

[vi] Mohamad Bouazizi of Tunisia set himself alight on the 16 December sparking the Arab Revolt

[vii] The Protection of Information Bill (POIB), is currently hotly being disputed by organisations such as Cosatu and the Nelson Mandela Foundationas an attack on South Africa’s democracy and freedom of speech by the ruling ANC. Cosatu, the Human Rights Commission and South African History Archive are amongst those who have threatened a Constitutional Court challenge.

[viii] A South African primarily Afrikaans singer who over-indulges in politics. His most worldwide famous feat was tossing his ticket into the Jukskei River in protest at perceived support by U2 for banned hate speech RSA struggle song loosely translated as “Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer”..