The True Red

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in

~ Graham Greene

November 6, 2014

On Tuesday night, the Empire State Building turned red to symbolize a midterm win for the Republican party.

On Thursday, thanks to US air strikes in Northern Syria, the desert turned red as well – with blood. More blood. This time, two children are expected to have died, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (a UK-based organization). You won’t read about the children on CNN, however. There, you’ll read about how the strikes probably, maybe, sorta, we think, killed a suspected French jihadist and bomb maker working for Khorasan, David Drugeon (who changed his name to Daoud after he converted to Islam at the age of 14).

You can learn all about his radicalization in the CNN article. The “key” jihadist bomb maker was born in 1989. He was a year younger than me. You can learn about his parents’ divorce and how he took odd jobs driving to pay for trips to Egypt to learn Arabic and then slipped off the radar when he went to Afghanistan to fight Americans there.

What you can’t learn about is the identity of the two children who died in pursuit of ending David/Daoud’s life.

Who were they? What did they want to be? Did they aspire to be bomb makers too, or were their childhood dreams for more peaceable things – a doctor, a teacher, a mother? What were their names and what were they doing there? Who were their parents and what choice did they have about where they lived or where they just happened to be passing through?

The more cynical among us may say that it is “collateral damage” and that if they were hanging out near a bomb maker they were likely already radicalized or well on their way and maybe we did the world a favor by snuffing their little lives out.

I disagree.

Innately, I believe that we are all children of God. We all deserve a chance to overcome the obstacles thrown in our way. None of us is perfect. We are all dealt a hand that we must play. It isn’t right to push the hand down and force a fold because someone else has played their cards wrong.

Although I doubt 25 year old Daoud thought he had played his cards wrong. He obviously thought we, the United States, are wrong.

And maybe we are. It’s not like our society couldn’t take a good, hard, long look at itself and find some room for improvement. As a whole, we’re material, we’re selfish, we’re vain, we don’t listen, we’re arrogant, egotistical, divisive, combative, and not always bright. Of course there are some gems among us, a lot of them, shining brightly and hopefully they will eventually outshine the lot of carbon beneath, but every society is the same at its core in this fact. Every society has its problems but there are always, always gems. That’s what makes humanity so beautiful. And those two children that were murdered – were they gems? Could they have been? Does anyone care about them or to even ask who they were or what they wanted out of their lives? Could they have grown to be a better person than any of us?

I guess we’ll never know. That’s the real tragedy. The true red.

 

Happy Halloween but Don’t be a Racist Asshole

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former

~ Albert Einstein

October 31, 2014

I’ll admit it. I have been invited to “Too Soon” parties in my day. I have even contemplated going. But I never did. Because it actually is “too soon” for some things. For a lot of things, it’s always going to be “too soon.”

But Halloween seems to be a time when people think it’s funny to be an idiot at best, a racist at worst. Don’t be one of these people.

I’ll never forget Halloween at UNC. Halloween, for those who don’t know, at the University of North Carolina is a big freaking deal. I mean, BIG.

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Source: https://plus.google.com/+JesseWojdylo/posts/eGTH6pWFnzA Crowd on Franklin Street at UNC on Halloween, 2012

Basically every college kid from North Carolina shows up. It’s the only time of the year that you will see Duke students (who are drunk, also probably for the only time that year) brushing shoulders with Chapel Hill kids. NC State is there, UNC Asheville and UNC Wilmington and all the other branch campuses are there. App State and Eastern Carolina are there. Everyone, who is anyone, is there.

And in October of 2007, when I was a sophomore, I was dressed as a slutty schoolgirl (just as classic as it is classy, I know). My boyfriend at the time was one of the bad guys from the 300, the Ninja fighter people. Anyway, we were pretty tame compared to the 1,238,402 people I saw dressed in blackface as Michael Vick, dragging a stuffed dog behind them on a chain.

I’m very involved in animal welfare. I wasn’t then to be fair, but even then, I thought: Wow. So not cool. As a Catholic, I didn’t really think the slutty nuns were very cool either, or the people cleverly dressed as pedophile priests.

There are so many actually clever costumes you could wear, and so many different ways to wear as little clothing as possible that it doesn’t make a ton of sense to be offensive. Unless you’re just looking to be noticed. But for anyone with half a brain, it’s the wrong kind of noticed. I promise. I’m proud to say I have half a brain (most of the time).

But this year, I saw a Halloween costume that really just took the offensive prize. The grandaddy of all offensive costumes. It combines a lack of tact, a lack of consideration, islamaphobia, and immodesty  and ratchets them up to a whole new level.

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Photo by Twitter/@ForeignPussy

Oh yeah, sexy ISIS members. Fan-f-ing-tastic. For the record, this was NOT taken at UNC, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if there are some people at UNC running around in this costume this evening, because Halloween is, like I said, a big deal there, and some people just can’t help but be offensive idiots.

There is nothing sexy about ISIS and in fact, ISIS would likely crucify and/or behead someone who even DARED to wear something like this in their “territory.” I read an article recently (which you can read here) detailing all the horrible things ISIS is doing to its female “slaves” including many of the Yazidi people. They’re housing hundreds of women in buildings where ISIS militants can come and pick out a few to take home for the evening. The lucky winners get a day or a weekend or several weeks of beatings, torture, and of course, rape. Lots of rape.

Very sexy. Because you know what ISIS screams to me? Hooker boots and fishnet stockings. Nevermind all that mass murder, torture, beheadings, crucifixions, ethnic cleansing, forced conversions and rape camps. No, it’s all about the hooker boots and fishnets. And bonus! When you wear a jacked up version of a niqaab you have less makeup to worry about. Man, those Muslim women living under ISIS have the life.

So if you were planning on being a sexy ISIS militant, or a sexy Ebola nurse or do a couples Ray Rice and his black and blue wife for this Halloween, here’s a tip – just don’t. Be a Playboy bunny or something. I would rather see your ass than see your ass AND be massively offended at the same time.

Happy Halloween! And remember, don’t be a racist asshole.

Naming the Bones

In Bosnia, I remember, they spoke about a holocaust. I went to Bosnia to see. I felt, if it is, I must move heaven and earth.

~Elie Wiesel

October 21, 2014

When I was in school studying creative writing at the University of North Carolina, my obsession with the Bosnian War sprang back to life. I wrote half a dozen short stories based on accounts that I’d read and heard. I spent dozens of hours in the massive Davis Library, researching the war. I wrote down quotes and cites and made notes in my neat, small handwriting which I filed away in a tabbed three ring binder. Some of the tabs were names: “Milosevic”; “Mladic”; “Tito.” Some of the tabs were places: “Srebrenica”; “Sarajevo”; “Tuzla”. And some of the tabs were atrocities: “Rape camps”; “Siege of Sarajevo”; “Genocide at Srebrenica.”

The library research was much different than it had been when I was eight. The internet made things easier, but harder too. The amount of information we can take in quickly using the internet makes it easier to become scarred. I watched videos. In the videos were Muslim men wearing ragged, dirty clothing, lined up next to one another. And Serb soldiers walked up and down the line and shot them all in the head. One by one they fell into graves they’d dug for themselves.

Nightmares, which I’ve always been plagued with, got worse. I would wake in the middle of the night screaming and sweating, grasping at my chest, sure that I’d just been shot. I was starting to experience symptoms of post traumatic stress from a war which I’d never lived through. But I pushed on, because I wanted to tell these stories and because I felt weak and guilty. I shouldn’t be affected like this, it wasn’t my war. I was just a passerby. These weren’t my horrors to suffer from. I was just telling the story. Or trying to.

The following is one of the many stories that would follow. It was written after I’d graduated college. It was the first story I’d written about Bosnia since I graduated. When I wrote it, I thought I’d put my pen down. I thought I was done writing about war, especially this war, but as it turns out, I’m never really done.

July 9, 2012

I’m naming them now, the bones, that is. I didn’t do that before, but now I think I hear them speaking to me.

This one over here, this is Fatima. We have her femur and a couple broken pelvis bones. I estimate she was about 12 when she was killed. She suffered trauma to her pelvic region, suggesting a violent rape. Because we don’t have her skull, we don’t have dental records to identify her. We’ll have to send some DNA from the bones to the lab, which could take months, maybe years, maybe forever. For now, I call her Fatima and dust the dirt off.

This is my sixteenth summer in Bosnia. Each year I tell myself I won’t go back, that I have done enough, but there are still more bones being found, so every year, after the snow and the ice has melted in the hills, I get on a plane in Philadelphia and fly to Sarajevo, to take a bus to Tuzla to dig through the bones found around Srebrenica.

I’m working on Amir now. He was most likely in his mid to late thirties. He’s unusual because we have almost a complete skeleton and some shreds of clothing. I am proud of Amir. He will be identified quickly as long as he still has family coming here, looking for him, as long as he still has family at all. When I have him cleaned up, we will put an identification number on a yellow piece of cardstock. My assistant will write it in his big, blocky lettering and carefully attach it to the body bag. When he is done, he will create another identical tag, and we will lay out the scraps of clothing along with the Swiss army knife, the silver chain from a pocket watch, and the lighter we found around Amir. My assistant will put the tag on the top of the blanket we assemble the items on. The blanket will be in a room the size of an auditorium, and the families of the missing will walk up and down the aisles of shreds of clothing and items and tags, searching for something that sparks a memory from nearly two decades ago.

Amir was a smoker, I can tell by the state of his teeth. If we had found him sooner, we may have been able to find the brand of cigarettes he smoked, which would have led his family to him quicker. But the years have worn away the paper cartons, taking the fibers back into the earth and leaving the bones behind.

One day, the bones are going to disappear like that paper, and I will never have to come to Bosnia again. But if the bones disappear before I am done, that means I have failed, so I force myself to work faster, longer, harder. Every year there are still more bones found, but less people to tend to them. The unidentified line the catacombs of Tuzla, waiting.

The site that has brought me to Bosnia this year was found like many others. A Serbian man, who was a boy then, came to us, no longer able to bear the guilt, and led us to The Place. The Place was not much different in appearance than many places in Bosnia. It was forested and green, the trees just beginning to bud after the frost. The soil was rich and smelled wet. A tree had fallen nearby but had not yet begun to rot. The Place was just inside the forest, bordering a field which had to be swept for land mines by a canine unit before we went in. Our man’s eyes darted, and he wrung his hands while he waited for the dogs to finish their patrol, insisting that there were no mines, that these fields were farmed and that the mines had been tripped long ago, not by dogs, but by people. Still, there are codes and procedures that need to be followed. The living must always come before the bones.

When we came to The Place, he pointed to the ground and said one word, “Dig.” And so we called in the excavators and began to turn the soil. It didn’t take long for the bones to show up, this grave was shallow, and it surprised me that it took so long to find; we found the shallow ones first, years ago. I told the excavator to stop and examined the bone closely. I shook my head, tossed it aside and told the excavator to continue on. It wasn’t a human bone, but a pig bone, a common occurrence. The Serb commanders told men like our man to cover the graves with slaughtered pigs to hide the bones, which were bodies then. Our man shifted his weight and looked around and wrung his hands while the excavators began to dig again.

Eventually, we found the bones we were looking for, and when we did, we sent the excavators away and proceeded with shovels and brushes. The first thing I teach all of my assistants is that they must be respectful of the bones.

That’s where we found Amir, who would be close to fifty now, had he not been shot in the back of the head, buried in The Place and covered by stuck pigs. As I brush the dirt out of Amir’s eye sockets, I wonder if our man had killed Amir. I used to stop myself from thinking these things, but now I let the thoughts wander. I have found that if I do not let them have free reign during the day, they come back to torture me during the night.

While I prepare Amir, my assistant comes in for Fatima. He asks me if this is it, and I nod without looking away from Amir. I can hear him placing the bones in the bag. The noise of the hard calcium hitting the metal table is muffled by the body bag, so I have to strain to hear it. I know he is being gentle. The zipper slowly creeps its way up the length of the bag. It zippers smoothly, because there isn’t much to fill the bag. I’ll miss her.

My hands no longer twitch to do the sign of the cross when I hear the zipper. In this place, my religion is the enemy, so I give the bones the respect they deserve and still my habitual hands. At first it was difficult, now it isn’t.

My assistant exits almost as quietly as he came in. I like this one; he doesn’t bother me with useless questions and philosophical blather. Perhaps that’s because his English isn’t very good. He comes from Rwanda, which confuses me, because there are many bones there, but I don’t ask him why he’s here. I leave him to his thoughts, because he leaves me to mine. What’s important is that he is gentle with the bones, and he gives them something I cannot – prayer. Before he sets them on the truck to be delivered to the catacombs, he says a prayer over each one. Sometimes, I stop my work to listen to his deep voice mumbling the Muslim prayers, but not today. Today, there is too much work to be done, and I cannot break, not even for Fatima.

When I am finished with Amir, I move onto Halim. I have a skull, four ribs, a femur, assorted foot bones and both lower arm bones, though the radius is missing from one. I estimate Halim was about 13, one of the younger boys from The Place, though not younger than the youngest, my Fatima.

Years ago, when I first came to Bosnia, I asked how so many girls ended up in these graves. I was just out of medical school, and when they briefed us, they told us to expect many men and possibly boys. The women and girls had been separated out and put on buses to Tuzla, they told us. It was just the men who were left behind. But it didn’t take long for girls to start appearing in the graves. When all of the stories were sorted out, we learned that the mothers of the bones tried to disguise their girls as boys to protect them from rape. They cut their hair and smeared their faces with mud. They removed their headscarves and put them in their sons’ clothes and watched while they boarded the buses with their fathers and brothers.

Sometimes, on the way to The Place, the girls would cry or speak, and the soldiers would discover them, and they would end their days like Fatima. Other times, they stayed silent, and they would end their days like Halim, who was beaten and then shot through the temple. An example killing – held up in front of the other prisoners and executed in plain sight. He was most likely not killed at The Place, but before, to keep the Muslims in line, flocked like the sheep they used to tend.

I smile and pet Halim’s skull. What a brave boy. He must have been a fighter, or he tried to escape. The mammalian instinct to survive never ceases to amaze me. I cannot gaze on Halim for long, I have to hurry, there are many more bones to get to before the morning.

Tomorrow, the auditorium will fill up with the sound of wailing. Many will come, and some will leave clutching a yellow tag that will allow them to collect their bones from the catacomb. Mothers, wives, siblings and children will line the room, supporting grandmothers and more mothers and more siblings and wives. A few will not cry. A few will touch the things gingerly, then pick up the tag and bring it to my assistant, who will use a translator to get the story and try to match the bones.

It won’t be long now before the three day march begins, where buses carrying the bones will flood out of Tuzla and descend upon Srebrenica. Those who are able will walk over 60 kilometers. The army will follow behind as the Muslims enter the Serbian territory. Some tourists will come and some reporters, but not many, not like the first five years. Only those like me still come. Those like me, and those who have no choice.

They will say prayers and bury the bones that I have cleaned for them, whatever we have been able to give back to them. And their hatred and their screams will shake the once Bosnian, now Serbian city so that not even the bravest of the Serbs will leave their stolen homes. Some will go back to the homes that they remember their fathers building. They will go back and confront the Serbs who live there now, who eat off of their dishes and sleep in the bed they shared with their dead husbands. But most won’t. Most will just go to Srebrenica to bury their bones and then get back on the buses like they did seventeen years ago, headed for Tuzla once more.

On that day, July 11th, when the bones reach their final destination, I will sit at a Serbian bar in the center of Srebrenica and drink the sweet wine until I can’t stand up. And then I will yell at the bartender, a Serbian who is barely eighteen, who was only a baby when it happened, and I will blame him for what has happened here, in slurred Serbian fragmented with English. At first, he will tell me that he hasn’t done anything, but eventually, he will just listen to me and pour me another drink, because he really doesn’t care what I say as long as the money keeps coming. Srebrenica is a very poor city now. When I can no longer remember the language, the bartender will help me out the door and walk me as close to the buses as he dares, and I will board the bus and sit next to my assistant who doesn’t drink because he is Muslim, and I will speak more words to him than I have spoken all summer.

And the next day, I will give myself back to the bones.

Five Reasons To Love the Peshmerga

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why

~ Mark Twain

October 17, 2014

It’s recently come to my attention that the Kurdish Peshmerga are the most bad ass people around. And I want to be friends with them. I can’t believe it took the US so long to become friends with them. They’re super bad ass. And here are just five of the many reasons why:

1. The Peshmerga stayed to fight when the Iraqi army totally bailed

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(c) 2014 Reuters

How seriously bad ass is that? An entire army, which was trained and equipped by the most powerful and largest army in the world (ours) bails, and the Kurdish Peshmerga say whatevs, we didn’t need them anyway. We got this whole ISIS thing.

2. The Peshmerga helped out the Yazidis despite their religion

yazidi-stretcher_3002606k

(c) 2014 Rodi Said/Reuters

Okay, to be fair, the Yazidi people are technically Kurdish, because Kurdish is an ethnicity, not a religion. However, a lot of the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are Muslim, and the Yazidi faith is a little bit dodgy with just about everyone else. Probably because the sacred angel that they worship, Melek Taus, has some striking similarities to…you know, Satan. He’s not Satan, for the record, but he did some bad stuff for which he was kicked out of Heaven and eventually repented and that’s part of the reason ISIS was trying to wipe the Yazidis off the face of the earth. Well, that and ISIS is pretty much just evil. But despite their somewhat questionable angel, the Kurdish Peshmerga stepped in and saved the Yazidis from what would unquestionably have been a genocide. And that’s pretty freaking fantastic in my book.

3. They have an all-female fighting force which is super awesome at what they do

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(c) 2014 Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Cosmic justice anyone? I love the fact that the Peshmerga has a female fighting force battling it out against ISIS, a group who recently “justified” enslaving women they’d captured and selling them or marrying them off as sex slaves. This elite group of women are known as the Women’s Protection Unit and are informally called “lions.” The reason, you ask? Because there is a common Kurdish phrase which translated means, “A lion is a lion – be it male or female.” Boo ya.

4. Even non-Peshmerga want to be Peshmerga

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(c) 2014, Leftenis Pitarakis/AP

While Kobani still remains under siege, Turkish Kurds are looking for a way into Syria to help join the Kurdish fighters there in their battle against ISIS. They’re stalled by Turkey right now because Turkey is afraid of their bad-assery, I mean, afraid they might be going to join ISIS and not the Kurdish fighters.

5. In some ways, they’re a little bit like us, in the beginning

Think about it, they’re a militia, a banded together with duct tape and bailing twine type of army. But they’re tough as nails. They’re forward thinking, relatively moderate, and they want the same things we wanted when we were just a bunch of colonies the British could steal shit from – a home. They want a state that they have control of. They want to be free from exploitation. They want liberty. But they also recognize that they first have to kick ISIS’ ass. And after they do that, maybe we should all sit down and have a civil conversation about giving them their state. Because if they keep on keeping on, they will have more than earned it.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Gay Marriage

Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?

~ Sandra Day O’Connor

October 13, 2014

To be fair, gay marriage really has nothing to do with war and may not have a place on this blog…unless you’re one of the conspiracy theorists who think that gay marriage will tear this country apart. That being said, so many people are talking about it, I don’t think it’s fair not to. Except for the Supreme Court. They’re not talking about.

I guess I should profile myself here, because profiles seem to be so important in this whole debate. I am 26 years old. I am female. I am heterosexual. I am a semi-practicing Catholic who wishes she would get up and go to Mass more often. I am a registered Republican, but the older I get, the more liberal I get. It’s normally the opposite, I understand, but as the Republicans try to cling onto the older voters, they lose touch with my generation.

I don’t speak for my generation, but I do know a lot of people in it. We don’t give a shit about who one loves or who one marries. We care about finding jobs and paying off crippling school loans. We care about the fact that we don’t know if we’ll ever be able to afford a home of our own or if landlords will continue to take half of the entirety of our paychecks, which money we will never see again. We care about ISIS. We care about Ebola (at least enough to know we don’t want to get it). We care about our celebrities more than our soldiers, which is shameful. For those of us who identify as heterosexual, we don’t really care about who ones loves, and we take the fact that it’s easy for us to love and get married and get divorced and get married again for granted. I know a lot of people who are complete “rednecks,” who sport the Confederate flag on their diesel truck, who will talk until they are blue in the face about how they hate Obama and terrorists and maybe-Obama-is-a-terrorist (for the record I think this is ridiculous, but I entertain it) who when you ask them about gay marriage, rather surprisingly say, “That’s between them and God.” Their guns are a different story. That is between them and them and if you try to take them…Lordy.

It’s not about gay couples and the state. And people realize that. Do these above-mentioned people think homosexuals are going to hell? Maybe. But it doesn’t matter to them because it isn’t their deal and, in their opinion, separation of church and sate should matter. These gun-toting, conservative, mostly white Christian men, believe in the Constitution that separates church and state. They believe in it because they have to. Because of the guns (have I mentioned them?)

Oh right, church and state. That used to be important. I remember reading about that somewhere, a long time ago.

Recently, Pastor John Garlow of Skyline Church in California announced to his 2,000 plus person congregation that he would not be backing the Republican candidate for the 52nd congressional district of California, Carl DeMaio. DeMaio is Republican, Roman Catholic and openly gay. Garlow is quoted as saying, “I know enough that you cannot have the advancing of the radical homosexual agenda and religious liberty at the same time, in the same nation.”

Gee, I didn’t know that wanting a semblance of equality for yourself was a “radical” agenda. I kind of just thought it was what this nation was founded on. Liberty for all and all that. I must have missed something in history class.

And another thing – how does Carl DeMaio or any other gay person loving who they love infringe on your religious liberty? I didn’t realize that gay people being able to marry made me any less Catholic. And apparently, the Catholic Church didn’t realize it either. Nor did Mr. DeMaio, who identifies as Catholic. I had no idea that love and supporting people who are in love, brought me further away from God. Because I was pretty sure that it was supposed to bring me closer to God. But once again, I should be attending Mass more frequently.

You know who else should have been attending church with more regularity it seems? Mr. Garlow. Or he should be attending some church not his own. Or maybe he should pick up a bible. John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 1 John 4:20: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Romans 13:8: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

I could keep going, but I won’t. I think that sums it up nicely. “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” It doesn’t say the man who loves a woman or the woman who loves a man or the husband who loves a wife or the wife who loves a husband. It says “the one who loves another.” Love is love.

Moral of the story, get with the times Mr. Garlow. Keep religion out of the state and while you’re at it, maybe you should pick up a bible and reevaluate your own religion before you start spewing hate all over the pulpit. The God I grew up knowing and loving, taught us to love one another, above all things. That’s why He sent His son, to reeducate us and remind us that despite our differences, we are all in this together.

 

Kobani, a Lesson of History Repeating

The tragedy of Srebrenica will forever haunt the history of the United Nations

~ Kofi Annan

October 10, 2014

Kobani is a small town on the border between northern Syria and southern Turkey. In 2004, according to the Syrian census, it had a population of 44,821. Now, Kobani’s population is unknown. It has been estimated that approximately 700 elderly citizens are still trapped inside the town while the Kurds take on ISIS and another 12,000 civilians have fled but have not made it across the border into Turkey.

Kobani is going to fall.

In 1992, during the Bosnian War, thousands of refugees fled outlying villages and towns in eastern Bosnia. They fled to a city called Srebrenica, on the border between eastern Bosnia and western Serbia. Srebrenica was declared a UN “safe zone.” The population of the small city swelled to 50,000 or more. In early July, 1995, while UN peacekeepers looked on, Srebrenica fell.

Beginning on July 11, 1995 and the days that ensued, over 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were systematically slaughtered by Bosnian-Serb forces. Not because they had done anything wrong, but simply because they were Muslim. Thousands of women and girls were loaded onto buses and sent to neighboring Tuzla. The roads were filled with landmines. Some never made it.

I knew a survivor of this massacre. He and his four other brothers (one an infant at the time) made it. Their father, grandfather and uncle did not. Their mother died shortly after seeking asylum for herself and her children in the United States. He was not any different than you or me, except he had lived through this. He was handsome, charming, charismatic; he liked to dance and go to the beach. He had a penchant for odd home remedies, including gurgling vodka for a sore throat. He loved his family, and they were all he had left. His prized possession was his second-hand Mercedes Benz, and he used to tell me his father once drove a Mercedes for Tito, the old Yugoslavian dictator. He cooked amazing food and for a time, he loved me, and I him. He was a hard worker who put in massive amounts of overtime, lived in a small apartment with his brother and didn’t own a bed frame, because he thought they were a waste of money. He appreciated American life, especially fashion, but he missed Bosnia. He identified as Muslim, but he didn’t believe in God, not anymore, not after Srebrenica.

Now UN staff members are calling on this history, the history of genocide, to urge us all that Kobani must not fall. We must not allow another Srebrenica.

Do you remember Srebrenica? We do. We never forgot and probably we never forgave ourselves.

~ UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura

When I was at school at UNC, I had a friend who was studying international law in the US for a semester. She was from Holland, and she was Muslim. She was older than me, and she kindly snuck me into a bar one night with some of her other international law friends. After we closed down the bar, dancing all night, one of her other friends, a second generation Arab immigrant to Holland, escorted me home. While he tried to woo me, I explained to him that I had a boyfriend. I loved him. He was from Srebrenica.

The wooing immediately stopped and the man’s eyes sharpened. The melancholy seemed to darken his already dark eyes and the frown lines cast a shadow over his olive complexion, “Tell him we are sorry. We are so sorry for standing by and doing nothing.”

I smiled and pet his hand and said thank you, I would tell him. I later found out from my friend that the man who had been trying to win me over was actually won over by me, “That girl has the most integrity of any American I met while I was here, and she’s only 20 years old.”

That stays with me. It meant a lot to me, and still does. What also stayed with me was the guilt that the Dutch still feel over the events of Srebrenica, an occurrence most Americans don’t even know about. It has stayed with the Dutch people. Neither they, nor the Bosnians, have forgotten.

If the same results in Kobani, I fear the Turkish will be imposing the same guilt on their future generations.

Because ISIS is as brutal, if not more brutal, than the Bosnian Serbs. They will not stop at simply winning the city. They will execute anyone there who remains, a punishment for their rebellion. Hundreds, if not thousands, will die, and Turkey, with its tanks and its army sitting on the border, will stand by like the UN peacekeepers in Srebrenica, bearing silent testimony to the atrocities that will likely follow.

Turkey believes that we should intervene; they say that they will not go it alone. They want us to target Al-Assad as well as ISIS, but we are leery of another war in the Middle East. We could not stand by and watch the Yazidis murdered, so we began to strike. We are trying not to stand by and watch the Kurds in Kobani be murdered, but who better to defend Kobani than the Turkish? It is, after all, their doorstep that ISIS is creeping up on. Fighting for Kobani would be a good political move as well, it would help to solidify the tense relationship between Turkey and its own Kurdish minority, who feels that they have been subjected to rampant discrimination and have protested Turkey’s reticence to act. The Turkish Kurds feel an ethnic alignment with their Syrian brethren and the failure of the Turkish government to act makes the Kurdish feel abused, unwanted, mistreated. They feel like Turkey wants ISIS to execute them.

It’s hard to blame them.

For the United States, it’s a precarious balance. We cannot be expected to be the world’s peacekeeper. Turkey is a NATO member as well. It’s not reasonable for Turkey to say to us, “Don’t worry, ISIS is knocking on OUR door, but you got this, right?” We should all be in this together, to prevent another massacre.

At the end of the day, people are people. And those people trapped in Kobani could have been you or me, or your grandfather/grandmother/mother/father/sister/brother if only they had been born in a different part of the world. If Turkey does not act, however, it cannot be said that the blood of the citizens of Kobani is on our hands.

Turkish soldier on top of a tank, with the Syrian town of Kobani in the background, stands guard near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc

A Turkish soldier sits on top of a tank, with the Syrian town of Kobani in the background (c) 2014 Reuters/Umit Bektas

 

Oh Yeah…North Korea

The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

~Charlie Chaplin

October 8, 2014

When I was growing up, North Korea was scary. North Korea was perhaps scarier than Russia. There were some places that were bad in my mind. I don’t know if they were bad because the media told me so or my parents did, though I suspect it is because the media told my parents. North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Russia, they were all lumped together in this giant group of places “that might nuke us.”

To my young imagination, Kim Jong-il looked more like a raving mad scientist than a leader of a country. I visualized him as someone like Mr. Hyde. Whenever I heard anyone talk about him I saw a hunchback figure in a black cape hovering over his cauldron of boiling puppies and laughing maniacally. I should also note that he was never Asian when I pictured him. So I got some things wrong.

When Kim Jong-il died and Kim Jong Un took over, I remember being told by someone that Kim Jong Un was worse. While Kim Jong-il just presented a threat of nuclear attack on the United States, Kim Jong Un would do it.

Apparently though, whoever told me that was wrong and Kim Jong Un is not actually doing much of anything, either to attack the United States or to improve the terrible quality of life his people face. [Side note: to read more about this, check out this blog by someone who visited North Korea. I will add that it’s humorous but there is some foul language].

As a matter of fact, no one really knows where Kim Jong Un is right now. Huh?

In this age of technology and information buzzing by us at one million miles per second, how can the leader of an entire nation go missing and us not have any idea where he is?

Well, as it turns out, North Korea is super good at one thing – hiding.

There’s a lot of speculation about what is really going on with him. I’ve heard the word “coup” come out a few times. His number two and three in command recently popped over to South Korea for a little chat about “talks” and still the leader of the country is nowhere to be found. He’s been missing for over a month. In North Korea, where the media lies far worse than they do here, he is apparently suffering some “discomfort.”

I wonder though, if Kim Jong Un has been overthrown – what does it mean for his country? Life can’t possibly get any worse, right? And talks with South Korea have to be a good sign. But then again, if he dies, there is no one to replace him because he doesn’t have an heir, which could send the country into political turmoil. War could result and then, well, us being us, we’d be right back where we were in the 50s.

Good times. In a world where Ebola is raging through Africa, ISIS is marching onto new territories, Russia is invading Ukraine, Palestine and Israel are at a tentative (but likely short-lived peace) and we are stretched too thin, is it wrong of me to say I hope Kim Jong Un really is just undergoing some “discomfort”?

North Korea at night

The bottom half which is lit up is South Korea at night, the top half is North Korea. (c) Department of Defense, 2011, source: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/dprk/dprk-dark.htm