Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Andre Brink and white contribution to anti-apartheid movement

Most heroes and heroins of the anti-apartheid movement who bravely opposed a brutally racist system of government that oppressed nonwhite people in South Africa were mostly black South Africans, many of whom were members of the African National Congress (ANC). But black South Africans weren't alone in the struggle against apartheid. Some white South Africans also stood up against racial segregation and discrimination, although they're not always recognized and widely celebrated for their contribution to the cause.

South Africa lost a white critic of the apartheid regime on 6 February 2015. Andre Brink was a South African novelists and writer who, according to the BBC, was one of the most outspoken critics of the apartheid regime. He died at the age of 79 on board a flight to Cape Town after he received an honorary doctorate degree in Belgium.


According to The Guardian, Brinks used Afrikaans (described by some at the time as the "language of the oppressor") to speak against Apartheid, and he is best known for his book A Dry White Season, which focuses on the death in detention of a black activist. The novel was adapted for a film, and is among some of his books that were banned by the apartheid regime.

In my view, Andre Brinks was a Boer who opposed Boer oppression of black South Africans. The way I see it -- after reading his letter to Madiba published by The New Yorker after Nelson Mandela's death -- the writer was a brave man of good will who wasn't afraid to express himself; he was a white individual who fearlessly opposed white domination in his country. Andre Brink could have taken the easy way out by simply supporting apartheid since he was white, but he didn't. He chose a more difficult path which at the time was less traveled by white South Africans - a path that made him a dissident at a time when, according to The Telegraph, to sympathize with the anti-apartheid movement was to be labelled a traitor to his race. That's what heroism looks like.

Andre Brinks was definitely not a traitor to his tribe or to his race. In my view, he was a traitor to oppressors, and being a traitor to an immoral cause it nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, he deserved a batch of honor for speaking truth to power at a time when it was inconvenient and dangerous to do so. Apartheid was a racist system of government that oppressed people of African descent from 1948 to 1994. Any form of nonviolent opposition to a system of racial segregation enforced by a government is an honorable act.

Brink wasn't the only white South African who opposed apartheid. Heroes of the apartheid movement had whites in their ranks, including people like Denis Goldberg, Helen Suzman, Joe Slovo and Ruth First. The list, I believe, is incomplete. Many other non-black South Africans contributed to the anti-apartheid movement in perhaps other less significant but important ways.

Although apartheid was designed to favor white South Africans, not all white South Africans supported the inhuman system of government. The contribution of whites to the anti-apartheid movement is testament to a cliche that is worth reiterating: not all white people are racist; not all white people support racist discriminatory policies. However, it's clear, in my perspective, that not enough white people actively oppose apartheid-like ideas designed to maintain the disillusioned idea of white "supremacy," that's why racism is still a problem decades after the collapse of apartheid and other blatantly racist systems around the world.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Pakistan's blasphemy laws endanger religious minorities

Blasphemy is a hot potato in Pakistan and has claimed numerous lives, including the lives of two prominent politicians who spoke out against the country's blasphemy laws. Despite the danger involved in speaking out against the archaic laws the struggle to have them taken off law books or repealed must go on.

A Christian family victimized by a blasphemy charge recently appealed for help, and once again put Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws in the spot light.


Asia Bibi, a woman from Pakistan's Punjab region has been on death row for almost five years. According to the BBC, the poor, illiterate woman was accused and sentenced to death for insulting prophet Muhammad after an argument with a group of Muslim women. She was beaten by a mob before her arrest and crowds took to the streets after her conviction calling for her death. Others threatened to kill her if she ever got out of prison. She denies the charges, and her family has been in hiding since after her arrest.

Pope Benedict XVI called for her release in 2010.

The story of Asia Bibi is not unique.

Many other Pakistanis have suffered grave injustice as a result of Pakistan's blasphemy laws which, according to the BBC, prescribes life imprisonment for desecration of the Koran, and death or life imprisonment for blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad. Pakistan's blasphemy craze has claimed numerous lives.

In 2010, two Christians were gunned down outside a court in Faisalabad. A year later Punjab governor Salman Teseer who opposed the blasphemy law and tried to reform it was killed by his bodyguard. Some hailed the killer as a hero. Religious Minority Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, who spoke out against the law was killed a month after the governor. In 2014, a young Christian couple was beaten and burned to death by a mob in a village in Punjab province after being accused of desecrating the Koran.

It is my opinion that Pakistan's blasphemy laws embolden Islamic extremists and endanger religious minorities. Opposition to the law should continue albeit life-threatening danger involved. After all, no civil rights struggle has been without danger. The law, the way I see it, is designed to force non-Muslims to comply to Islamic standards -- and this violates a catalog of human rights including the right to free expression and the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Unspeakable things happen in the name of religion.

Non-state actors like ISS, Boko Haram, other terrorist groups and so-called "lone wolves" are mostly responsible for atrocities in the name of religion - from Peshawar to Punjab in Pakistan to Kobani and Raqqa in Syria and from Paris to Sydney. But some state actors like Pakistan contribute in spreading religious intolerance through archaic blasphemy laws that could be used to settle scores against religious minorities.

The government of Pakistan, in my opinion, should repeal the blasphemy laws and take a tough stance against people who carry out mob killings and assassinations in the name of Islam. Pakistan has seen too many mob killings related to the country's blasphemy laws. Even the police cannot be trusted with enforcing the blasphemy laws. Last year, an axe-wielding Pakistani policeman killed a suspect of blasphemy. Impartial enforcement of the controversial laws is not be guaranteed.

The laws should be eradicated from law books and extrajudicial killers should be reigned in. Only then would Pakistan's religious minorities, including Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus feel some degree of safety from persecution sanctioned by law; only then would religious minority families in hiding, such as the family of Asia Bibi come out of hiding and feel safe in their country. Until then, Pakistan remains an unpredictable place for members of religious minority groups - a place where accusation of blasphemy or criticism of blasphemy laws can be a death sentence.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Field research opportunity in Sri Lanka for Master's students

In this competitive age, numerous students in many fields of studies face limited opportunities to showcase their knowledge and skills through practical work. Qualified applicants are numerous and chances of being selected are limited. Nonetheless, opportunities are there for the taking by qualified applicants who dare to apply. Those who do not apply stand no chance.

Shalin Finland, an NGO that, according to information on its homepage, networks on environmental, social and economic justice issues with focus on local solutions to challenges presented by environmental change and development-induced poverty, is looking for 6 students (preferably Master's level students) in the fields of Geography, Forestry, Biology, Development studies or other relevant subject to conduct field research in a project titled "Community participation for improved forest governance in Sri Lanka."

According to information in an email I received through a mailing list I am subscribed to, the proposed research areas are:
  1. GIS mapping
  2. Biodiversity and ecosystem services 
  3. Livelihood in the project sites
According to the email, the field research positions are self-financed (2000 euros for a three-week field trip, including flights, accommodation, meals, logistics in the field, translator and other supporting services). The research will ideally be conducted between April and May 2015 and the final report is expected to be submitted within 3 months after the field trip to Sri Lanka.

Shalin Finland offers selected students support in planning and conducting the research by the Finnish project management team, local partner in Sri Lanka supporting the field work and the opportunity to work with local students. In order to facilitate the research, the organisation also makes practical arrangements in the field, such as accommodation, logistics, translation services, research permits, etc.

It is stated in the email announcing the research opportunity that interested candidates should express interest by emailing their CVs, academic transcripts and motivation letters of not more than 200 words - indicating which of the three aforementioned research areas you are interested in, and preferred timing of the field research - to srilankaforest@gmail.com. Applications will be screened until the required number of students is reached.

More information can be obtained via email: srilanka@gmail.com or from the Sri Lanka project webpage.

It is worthy to mention that I am not affiliated with Shalin. Sharing information on my blog about the research opportunity in Sri Lanka is a personal initiative designed to help interested students and to show support for the sustainable development work Shalin is doing. I believe there is a link between human rights - a cause I am passionate about - and development.  

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