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World Press On Laws Against Interfaith Marriages, Sexual Violence And Thanksgiving: New Age Islam's Selection, 27 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

27 November 2020

• In India, States Ruled By Modi’s Party Are Enacting Laws Against Interfaith Marriages

By Zafar Aafaq

• Sexual Violence Is An Emblem Of Patriarchy In The Guise Of Tradition

By Tasneem Tayeb

• Turkey On The Brain

By Gail Collins

• Thanksgiving Is A Celebration Of Freedom

By Judge Glock

• Pope Francis: A Crisis Reveals What Is In Our Hearts

By Pope Francis

• Trump’s ‘Favorite Dictator’ Imprisoned My Husband — To Test Joe Biden

By Jess Kelly


In India, States Ruled By Modi’s Party Are Enacting Laws Against Interfaith Marriages

By Zafar Aafaq

26th November 2020


This week Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, enacted a new law making religious conversion for marriage a punishable offense, with imprisonment for up to 10 years. The objective of the law is to put a curb on interfaith marriages involving Muslim men and Hindu women.

The law comes days after the announcement by the Chief Minister of the state Yogi Adityanath that he will bring an end to “Love Jihad” – a bogus term to describe a conspiracy theory that Muslim men hoodwink women into love and marry for conversion to Islam.

He had threatened Muslim men with violent consequences if they “hide their name and identity and play with the honour of daughters and sisters.” Adityanath is a firebrand Hindu monk who comes from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which currently rules India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While the law, titled Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance-2020, does not mention the “Love Jihad”, it says that marriages found be solemnised for the purpose of conversion of women will be declared void. The government says the law will bring “justice to women”. While issues of forced marriages and forced religious conversions are a grave offense, there is something more sinister to this new law, however.

The law is a result of years of campaigning by Hindu right-wing groups based on unsubstantiated claims that Muslim men are taught to seduce Hindu women into love for the purpose of converting them to Islam. In 2013, months before the general elections, the followers of BJP led by Amit Shah, now India’s Home Minister, went door to door in the western region of the state to alarm local Hindu women about “Love Jihad”.

The campaign sowed seeds of religious discord and the result was bloody – more than 60 people, the majority of them Muslims, were killed in the communal riots in the district of Muzaffarnagar.

The BJP swept the elections and Modi ascended to power. Subsequently, in 2017, the party won the elections in the state, and Adityanath was chosen as the Chief Minister.

In 2019, Modi was re-elected as the Prime Minister and the country’s drift toward the right has assumed frightening speed. Since his start of the second term in office, he has revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, passed a controversial citizenship law that discriminates against Muslims, and laid the foundation of a grand Hindu temple at a site where a historical mosque once stood.

Two more states ruled by the BJP have decided to emulate Adityanath. On Wednesday Madhya Pradesh decided to extend laws against conversions for marriage. Haryana, another state ruled by the BJP, on Thursday announced the formation of a panel to make a law regulating interfaith relationships. Moreover, two more BJP-ruled states, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, have enacted such laws in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

The law regulating interfaith marriages is the latest push to Hindu majoritarianism. This week Netflix was drawn into legal trouble when Hindu activists filed a complaint in the BJP ruled state of Madhya Pradesh in central India against a series “Suitable Boy” over a scene depicting a Hindu woman and a Muslim man kissing with a temple in the backdrop. The activists complained the scene hurt their religious sentiments.

Similarly, weeks ago a jewelry brand was forced to pull down a TV commercial showing a happy Hindu daughter-in-law being welcomed into a Muslim family. Followers of Hindu political groups launched an online campaign calling for a boycotting of the brand for “promoting Love Jihad”.

But a recent investigation by the police into the alleged cases of  “Love Jihad” in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur city found that in most cases, the decisions of Hindu women to marry Muslim men were consensual. An anonymous police official quoted in a report by The Wire said that the issue has been “exaggerated” by the state government.

Such laws have evoked criticism from liberal sections of society and members of opposition parties and minority communities, and the law is likely to be challenged in court as experts say that it violates the right to equality, personality, and nondiscrimination enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

“The law goes against the rights given to the women to lead their private lives granted by the Indian constitution,” said Kavita Krishnan, who joined Love Azad or “Love is Free”, a campaign launched on Wednesday by activists to counter the “Lies of Love Jihad”. “Such laws stoke hatred and deepen the communal divide”, Krishnan stressed.

Two weeks before the law was enacted, the state High Court overturned an earlier ruling which had declared marriage for the sake of conversion as illegal. The court said that state intervention into the personal relationship “would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals.”

Krishnan, however, appealed to the people to not wait for court intervention and instead join the “Love is Free” campaign and “fulfill their responsibility to protect the freedoms enjoyed by the people.”


Sexual Violence Is An Emblem Of Patriarchy In The Guise Of Tradition

By Tasneem Tayeb

November 26, 2020


To truly end sexual violence against women and girls, we have to break the cycle of patriarchy masquerading as tradition. Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo


A Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (Banbeis) report from last year suggests that in 2018, girls formed 54 percent of the total number of students at the secondary level. In 1999, it was 43 percent. In another indicator of progress in women's life, maternal mortality has also reduced significantly. According to World Bank, the country's maternal mortality was 434 per 100,000 live births in 2000, which plummeted to 173 per 100,000 live births in 2017. The World Bank data further indicated improvements in female labour force participation, which in 2020 stands at 36.42 percent, up from 24.73 percent in 1990.

While these are successes worth acknowledging, our development is severely hampered by violence against women and girls, especially sexual violence, which has intensified in recent times. According to an estimate of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP), sexual violence against women doubled between 2010 and 2019. Let's take the number of rape incidents for example: in 2010, the number stood at 940, which more than doubled to 1855 in 2019. Rape is just one of the many forms of sexual violence women and children are forced to endure every day.

Marital rape, meanwhile, is an unacknowledged form of sexual violence unleashed on women, and unfortunately on girls too. Hundreds and thousands of women are forced to endure rape by their own husbands. And why? Because Section 375 of the Penal Code states, "Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 13 years of age, is not rape."

But why would a girl be married at 13 in the first place? "… if a marriage is solemnised in such a manner and under such special circumstances as may be prescribed by rules in the best interests of the minor, at the directions of the court and with consent of the parents or the guardian of the minor, as the case may be, it shall not be deemed to be an offence under this act." This is clearly stated in Section 19 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which fails to specify which scenarios qualify as "special circumstances." So, with no clear indication on what special circumstances mean, our girls remain vulnerable to the curse of child marriage and sexual exploitation at the hands of their husbands, who have been taught that wives are their possessions to do with them as they please, and to whom the concept of consent is alien.

Often these young girls are subjected to forced coitus and sexual perversions, leading to significant damage to their reproductive health, not to mention the mental trauma they endure. The tragic story of 14-year-old Nurnahar, who died in October this year, after suffering from gynaecological complications following sexual intercourse with her 34-year-old husband and subsequent lack of treatment, is a case in point. When the teenager reported that she was suffering from genital bleeding, instead of immediately consulting a gynaecologist, the husband kept having sex with her, causing injury and agonising pain. She was given medicine from a local kabiraj, and only when it was too late did the family decide to seek medical help. The girl succumbed to her injuries. The mother-in-law suggested that she was possessed by demonic spirits which caused the bleeding. Despite being a woman—who must have understood what the little girl would have endured—the mother-in-law chose to overlook Nurnahar's trauma, and instead blamed her for her misfortune. Although the girl's family has reportedly filed a complaint with the local police station, chances of justice being served in this case are slim. She was 14 after all—meaning she wasn't raped by legal definition, even if she was.

There are men—fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, in-laws, cousins, friends, acquaintances, strangers—who inflict sexual violence on girls and women every day. And then there are women—mothers, sisters, aunties, grandmothers, female relatives and friends—who discourage other women and girls from raising their voice against such brutality. It is this systematic suppression of women's voices by their own family and close associates, and sometimes by other women, that is emboldening the perpetrators of sexual violence.

The archaic and myopic definition of rape remains another major enabler of this heinous crime. The definition of rape in our law is confined to penile-vaginal penetration. So, if a man forcefully inserts an object into a woman through the vaginal opening, it would not be considered rape, because it has not been a penile penetration. But we have seen incidents of women being subjected to sexual abuse with objects. And how are those cases classified?

Although the government has increased the highest punishment for rape to the death penalty, it is not expected to result in significant change, as the rate of disposal of rape cases remains extremely low. An Amnesty International report citing data from the government's One Stop Crisis Centre suggests that between 2001 and July 2020, only 3.56 percent of cases filed under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 have resulted in a court judgment, and only 0.37 percent of cases have ended with convictions. The Amnesty International report further added, "Local women's rights organisation Naripokkho examined the incidents of reported rape cases in six districts between 2011 and 2018 and found that out of 4,372 cases, only five people were convicted."

While these statistics and realities portray the problems that are enabling sexual violence against women, the bigger problem lies in our perspective.

Sexual violence against women is symptomatic of a patriarchal society refusing to act in its best interest. It is happening because of a lack of empowerment, because in an equitable society, this cannot happen. We are living in a society that, unfortunately, still sees a woman as an object that can be dominated, sexually and otherwise. And it is through this sexual dominance over women that the men in our country portray their power and ego.

And this should be a major concern for the policymakers, because this is a reflection of a fundamental disequilibrium: women's empowerment. The ties between economic growth and women's empowerment merits broader discussion, but suffice it to say, their connection is well-established. If we cannot empower women with sovereignty over their own bodies, how do we hope to give them control over their own destiny and that of the nation?

To truly end sexual violence against women, we have to break the cycle of patriarchy masquerading as tradition. We have to rise above the petty urge of the ego that wants to dominate, not just for vanity or the slogan of an equitable society, but for our own growth as a nation.


Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star.


Turkey on the Brain

By Gail Collins

Nov. 25, 2020

So, what do you think Donald Trump is giving thanks for this year?

A) Peace and good fellowship throughout the land.

B) His thrilling campaign to overturn the election.

C) Melania’s new blond look.

I know, you’re hoping it’s going to be C. But the man is obsessed with his re-election resurrection.

“One thing has become clear these last few days, I am the American People’s ALL-TIME favorite President,” he wrote to his mailing list, a very large group of citizens who’ve gotten hundreds of missives along these lines since Election Day.

The all-important bottom line of this correspondence is that everyone should send Donald Trump $5 right away. And, of course, more is OK.

In his real outside life — the one he’ll be returning to in just a few weeks — Trump is definitely in need of those fivers. He owed tons of money when he first ran for office. Now a $400 million bill is coming due. And his prize customer, the Republican faithful, is looking a bit shaky. Republicans spent over $23 million at Trump-owned businesses since he started his campaign for president five years ago. That’s more than 100 times as much as in the five years prior. And not necessarily a sum that will continue through his Mar-a-Lago exile.

Something needs to be done! And you cannot help but notice that currently, Trump’s one absolute prize Guernsey of a cash cow seems to be his postelection re-election campaign, “Save America.”

“Friend,” he asks in another mass email, “Will you allow the CORRUPT Democrats to try to STEAL this Election and impart their RADICAL agenda on our Country? Or will you step UP and DEFEND your Country?” It’s both a plea for cash and a reminder that when the nation looks back on the Trump era it will see a time when capital letters ruled the earth.

But if an eager reader decided to send “Save America” a donation to “protect the integrity of this Election,” it’s hard to know where it’d go. According to an email sent under Eric’s name, the money is earmarked for “legal teams in each critical state.” Which is certainly possible. Although experts say the money could also pay consulting fees for the kids. Or even the kennel fees for the family pet, if only Trump didn’t hate dogs.

(This last bit of information has nothing to do with Save America. It’s just a sneaky way to work in another reminder that Joe Biden has two shepherds, Major, who came from a rescue center, and Champ.)

Back to the money.

Our president does have trouble hanging onto cash, whether it’s his or ours. The guy who vowed to eliminate the national debt if elected is leaving office in a fiscal year that recorded the biggest one-year debt figure ever, $3.1 trillion. And during the entire glorious four years, the national red ink went from $14.4 trillion to $21.1 trillion.

The return of Trump to his business empire is not going to solve its problems. First, because he seems very bad at handling money, and second, because he doesn’t really intend to go back to a civilian life. If he did, history suggests he’d only succeed in building another tower of overdue bills.

While the alleged Trump agenda right now is overturning the national election results, clearly the real plan is to gear up for a comeback in 2024. It’s a pretty dramatic goal. There has been only one president in U.S. history who lost re-election and then ran and won four years later. That would be Grover Cleveland.

If you’re ever talking about Trump’s political ambition, be sure to refer to it as “pulling a Grover.”

Almost everything Trump does to challenge the election returns or raise money for his next presidential campaign can trickle over to something more personal and short-term. For instance, is he going to try to collect cash for a presidential library? That’s normal for a person in his position. Even though the first noun you connect with Donald Trump is not “contemplation” or “scholarly research.”

Or even “book.”

It’s become expected for former presidents to raise money for a place to display their memorabilia, host gatherings and sponsor research. But if you get a request for a Donald Trump Library contribution, do not feel compelled to follow through. Even if they offer you a free copy of Ivanka’s “Women Who Work” or Donald Jr.’s magnum opus on “How the Left Thrives on Hate.”

Short-term, of course, it’s perfectly OK to blot this out. Spend the holidays on the easy stuff. Biden’s dogs. Don Jr.’s career options. And the inauguration — how do you think Trump will behave? Defeated presidents usually go to see their opponent get sworn in. Even Herbert Hoover, who really, really resented Franklin Roosevelt’s victory, rode with F.D.R. from the White House to the Capitol. Didn’t talk much, just sort of sulked and stared. F.D.R. found other ways to keep himself busy as he rode through the rapturous cheering crowd.

But Hoover-Trump is not a great comparison. Unless you can imagine Donald spending his post-presidential career working on famine relief projects.

Trump certainly regards himself now as a once and future candidate, and a recent Politico poll showed 53 percent of Republicans are ready to vote for him in the 2024 presidential primaries. Twelve percent prefer Mike Pence and 8 percent opt for Donald Jr.

I hope Pence is aware that only 4 percent of his party regards him as a better potential president than Junior. Really, if you want to invest in the future of any Trump minions, I’d go for a line of Rudy Giuliani hair products.


Thanksgiving Is a Celebration of Freedom

By Judge Glock

Nov. 26, 2020

As with so much in our lives, Thanksgiving has become a cultural battleground. Politicians and pundits debate whether we should use the day to memorialize the tragedy of the Indians or to celebrate the new liberties of the Pilgrims in America.

Yet the true origins of Thanksgiving have little to do with the Pilgrims and the Indians, and everything to do with the American triumph against slavery. Far from being divisive and outmoded, Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday for our modern era, demonstrating how we can both uphold and renew our traditions. Most important, Thanksgiving reminds us of how America took its earlier promise of freedom and used it to end the stain of slavery.

In early America, colonies set aside special days of thanks to “Providence” or “Almighty God.” Such days of thanksgiving were usually for good harvests or military successes, like the one proclaimed by the Continental Congress in December 1777 after Gen. George Washington’s victory at the Battle of Saratoga.

But the idea of a regular and national Thanksgiving Day was the work of one woman. Sarah Josepha Hale had already ensured her everlasting fame by composing the rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” when she decided to make a campaign for a thanksgiving holiday. Beginning in 1846, Mrs. Hale wrote letters to every president asking for an annual day of thanks to unite the nation. Her magazine articles spread the campaign across the country.

President Abraham Lincoln finally took Mrs. Hale up on the idea. It was October 1863, just after the Battle of Gettysburg, when Mr. Lincoln declared a national “day of Thanksgiving” to celebrate the Union’s victories in the Civil War. His proclamation said it was “fit and proper” that the country should give thanks for success in a war that would eventually mean “a large increase of freedom.”

The timing of the first Thanksgiving is important. Earlier in the year, Mr. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had turned the Civil War into a battle against slavery. Exactly one week before the first Thanksgiving, the president delivered a speech to commemorate soldiers who had died in that war.

In the Gettysburg Address, Mr. Lincoln argued that the Declaration of Independence had created an America “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He said it was “fitting and proper” to consecrate the battlefield to those soldiers who had fought and died for that ideal. Mr. Lincoln knew that the ideal had not been fully realized, but he hoped that the Civil War would ensure a “new birth of freedom” for those for whom the promises of the declaration had not yet been fulfilled.

Sarah Josepha Hale would have appreciated her Thanksgiving holiday’s being turned into a celebration of the battle against slavery. Her first novel, “Northwood: Or, Life North and South,” published in 1827, was one of the earliest denouncing the sins of slavery. In it, she explained not only how slavery destroyed African-American lives, but also how it corrupted the life and morals of the masters as well.

Mrs. Hale spent years writing other articles and stories about the baleful effects of slavery. Like Mr. Lincoln, she also wrote about how the Civil War could reunite the nation on a new and higher plane of freedom.

After the war, white Southerners remained suspicious of the “Yankee abolitionist holiday.” When early Reconstruction-era governors proclaimed Thanksgiving Days in the South, white people ignored them, even while Black people and Republicans feasted. It took decades before Thanksgiving became a truly national holiday. It also took decades before most of the country layered on the tradition of the Pilgrims and Indians as part of that holiday.

A Thanksgiving celebrated by former slaves and abolitionists is one that we too can embrace. Those of us exulting in the day don’t have to ignore our nation’s sins. Yet we can remember that our nation was founded on a peerless ideal, one that promised the expansion of freedom to ever greater numbers of people. For the long and difficult struggle to achieve that ideal, and for our many successes along the way, we can and should be thankful.


Judge Glock is an economic historian and senior policy adviser for the Cicero Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.


Pope Francis: A Crisis Reveals What Is in Our Hearts

By Pope Francis

Nov. 26, 2020

In this past year of change, my mind and heart have overflowed with people. People I think of and pray for, and sometimes cry with, people with names and faces, people who died without saying goodbye to those they loved, families in difficulty, even going hungry, because there’s no work.

Sometimes, when you think globally, you can be paralyzed: There are so many places of apparently ceaseless conflict; there’s so much suffering and need. I find it helps to focus on concrete situations: You see faces looking for life and love in the reality of each person, of each people. You see hope written in the story of every nation, glorious because it’s a story of daily struggle, of lives broken in self-sacrifice. So rather than overwhelm you, it invites you to ponder and to respond with hope.

These are moments in life that can be ripe for change and conversion. Each of us has had our own “stoppage,” or if we haven’t yet, we will someday: illness, the failure of a marriage or a business, some great disappointment or betrayal. As in the Covid-19 lockdown, those moments generate a tension, a crisis that reveals what is in our hearts.

In every personal “Covid,” so to speak, in every “stoppage,” what is revealed is what needs to change: our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected.

When I got really sick at the age of 21, I had my first experience of limit, of pain and loneliness. It changed the way I saw life. For months, I didn’t know who I was or whether I would live or die. The doctors had no idea whether I’d make it either. I remember hugging my mother and saying, “Just tell me if I’m going to die.” I was in the second year of training for the priesthood in the diocesan seminary of Buenos Aires.

I remember the date: Aug. 13, 1957. I got taken to a hospital by a prefect who realized mine was not the kind of flu you treat with aspirin. Straightaway they took a liter and a half of water out of my lungs, and I remained there fighting for my life. The following November they operated to take out the upper right lobe of one of the lungs. I have some sense of how people with Covid-19 feel as they struggle to breathe on a ventilator.

I remember especially two nurses from this time. One was the senior ward matron, a Dominican sister who had been a teacher in Athens before being sent to Buenos Aires. I learned later that following the first examination by the doctor, after he left she told the nurses to double the dose of medication he had prescribed — basically penicillin and streptomycin — because she knew from experience I was dying. Sister Cornelia Caraglio saved my life. Because of her regular contact with sick people, she understood better than the doctor what they needed, and she had the courage to act on her knowledge.

Another nurse, Micaela, did the same when I was in intense pain, secretly prescribing me extra doses of painkillers outside my due times. Cornelia and Micaela are in heaven now, but I’ll always owe them so much. They fought for me to the end, until my eventual recovery. They taught me what it is to use science but also to know when to go beyond it to meet particular needs. And the serious illness I lived through taught me to depend on the goodness and wisdom of others.

This theme of helping others has stayed with me these past months. In lockdown I’ve often gone in prayer to those who sought all means to save the lives of others. So many of the nurses, doctors and caregivers paid that price of love, together with priests, and religious and ordinary people whose vocations were service. We return their love by grieving for them and honoring them.

Whether or not they were conscious of it, their choice testified to a belief: that it is better to live a shorter life serving others than a longer one resisting that call. That’s why, in many countries, people stood at their windows or on their doorsteps to applaud them in gratitude and awe. They are the saints next door, who have awakened something important in our hearts, making credible once more what we desire to instill by our preaching.

They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference. They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves, not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service.

With some exceptions, governments have made great efforts to put the well-being of their people first, acting decisively to protect health and to save lives. The exceptions have been some governments that shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths, with inevitable, grievous consequences. But most governments acted responsibly, imposing strict measures to contain the outbreak.

Yet some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions — as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom! Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.

It is all too easy for some to take an idea — in this case, for example, personal freedom — and turn it into an ideology, creating a prism through which they judge everything.

The coronavirus crisis may seem special because it affects most of humankind. But it is special only in how visible it is. There are a thousand other crises that are just as dire, but are just far enough from some of us that we can act as if they don’t exist. Think, for example, of the wars scattered across different parts of the world; of the production and trade in weapons; of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing poverty, hunger and lack of opportunity; of climate change. These tragedies may seem distant from us, as part of the daily news that, sadly, fails to move us to change our agendas and priorities. But like the Covid-19 crisis, they affect the whole of humanity.

Look at us now: We put on face masks to protect ourselves and others from a virus we can’t see. But what about all those other unseen viruses we need to protect ourselves from? How will we deal with the hidden pandemics of this world, the pandemics of hunger and violence and climate change?

If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain. There’s a line in Friedrich Hölderlins Hyperion that speaks to me, about how the danger that threatens in a crisis is never total; theres always a way out: Where the danger is, also grows the saving power.” That’s the genius in the human story: There’s always a way to escape destruction. Where humankind has to act is precisely there, in the threat itself; that’s where the door opens.

This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.

God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labor. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. We need to slow down, take stock and design better ways of living together on this earth.

The pandemic has exposed the paradox that while we are more connected, we are also more divided. Feverish consumerism breaks the bonds of belonging. It causes us to focus on our self-preservation and makes us anxious. Our fears are exacerbated and exploited by a certain kind of populist politics that seeks power over society. It is hard to build a culture of encounter, in which we meet as people with a shared dignity, within a throwaway culture that regards the well-being of the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled and the unborn as peripheral to our own well-being.

To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.


Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church and the bishop of Rome. This essay has been adapted from his new book “Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future,” written with Austen Ivereigh.


Trump’s ‘Favorite Dictator’ Imprisoned My Husband — to Test Joe Biden

By Jess Kelly

Nov. 25, 2020

LONDON — I missed the first call from Karim. I was watching TV, and my phone was on silent. The previous day, one of my husband’s colleagues from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights — one of the last remaining human rights organizations in Egypt — had been arrested. But Karim reassured me: He was taking a few days’ break on the beach; he said there was no need to worry. He always tells me that.

Two months ago, Karim Ennarah and I were married in a short ceremony at Cairo’s Ministry of Justice. Whenever Karim enters government property, he gets nervous — which is understandable. He is a human rights defender in a country where some 60,000 people have been arrested as political prisoners. The wedding had taken months to arrange, and this was the final bureaucratic hurdle. Just as we were about to sign the marriage contract, the I.T. system went down and a Justice Ministry official warned us that it could take hours or days to get it running again. My Egyptian visa was going to expire the next day; a long delay would have sent us back to square one. When the computers rumbled back on a few minutes later, it felt like a sign. We walked out of the building as husband and wife, ready to start a new life.

When I finally returned Karim’s call on Monday, Nov. 16, that life rapidly fell apart. He told me that a team of police officers had just been at his mother’s house to arrest him. “I’m so sorry, I should have left Egypt sooner, I love you so much,” he said, his voice breaking. I felt my stomach twist and started shivering. Two days later, state security forces arrived at a beachside restaurant where Karim was eating — it was one of his favorites, on account of the coconut ice cream — and took him away. The news hit me while I was cycling home from the dentist. I slumped over my bike crying.

It was only later that evening that I realized that there was a direct connection between the American presidential election and my sobbing by the side of the road in East London. As the director of the Criminal Justice Unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Karim has spent years documenting arbitrary detention, state torture and mass executions carried out by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a former army general who came to power in a military coup. Karim did this work at the same time as the United States offered Mr. Sisi aid, arms and political support.

It is no coincidence that Karim has been arrested just as President Trump — who once called Mr. Sisi his “favorite dictator” — is on his way out of office, and the Biden administration is preparing to assume power.

Karim’s arrest is a deliberate and provocative attempt to “move the goal posts” ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration. Mr. Biden has vowed: “No more ‘blank checks’” for Mr. Sisi. The Egyptian government, which receives $1.4 billion a year from Washington — more than any other country bar Israel — is trying to call his bluff and prove that these threats won’t stop it from arresting even the most prominent activists in Egypt.

Karim, along with his colleagues Mohammed Basheer and Gasser Abdel-Razek — the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights’ director and a father figure to Karim, who lost his father when he was young — are being used as pawns in a game of geopolitical brinkmanship.

All are being held at Tora, one of Egypt’s most notorious prisons, where Amnesty International warns, the conditions are “cruel” and “inhumane.” But for their partners, their children and their many friends all over the world who have mobilized to demand their freedom, this is not a game. On Monday, Gasser was briefly allowed to see his lawyers and informed them he was being kept in solitary confinement in a cold cell without winter clothing, and sleeping on a metal bed with no mattress; his hair had been forcibly shaved. Since Karim entered Tora last Thursday, we have yet to have had any contact with him.

Brave, compassionate and deeply committed to the freedom and welfare of his fellow citizens, Karim is the kind of person Egypt should be building its future around. Instead, he and his colleagues face trumped-up charges, including the ludicrous accusation of being members of a terrorist group. We are terrified that they may soon join the ever-swelling ranks of those who disappear into Egypt’s jails indefinitely.

The work that the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights does is praised internationally, and earlier this month the organization hosted diplomats from 13 Western countries, including Britain, France and Canada, to brief them on the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. Karim tried to downplay the significance of the meeting to me, but I could tell he was excited; that morning he sent me a picture of the suit he was wearing. It now seems like that meeting was the trigger for the subsequent arrests.

The Egyptian government wants to send the message that despite paying lip service to human rights concerns, its international allies — including Mr. Biden and his new administration — would never dare to actually fight for them. The moment has come to prove them wrong.

Next year, Karim was planning to move to London to live with me. I couldn’t wait to have him by my side. In three weeks, Congress will vote on whether it should continue funneling American taxpayer money toward a dictatorship that uses it to jail innocent people like my husband and separate them from their loved ones. I urge them to do the right thing. When facing criticism for cozying up to tyrants, politicians often defend themselves by insisting that this is the price of being able to exert influence when it matters. It matters now.


Jess Kelly is a documentary filmmaker focused on the Middle East.



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