Not All Deaths Are Created Equal

TW: violence, rape, blood

I don’t know if this is the right time to publish such a post, or if there’ll ever be a right time but my thoughts have become too big and too muddled for my head, especially after yesterday’s events and they’re screaming to get out. If you’re not sure what I am talking about, let me bring you up to speed.

On the 24th January, 2015 (a day before the 4th anniversary of the 25th January Egyptian revolution) a number of activists from the Socialist Popular Alliance group held a peaceful stand to commemorate the martyrs of the 25th January revolution near Tahrir Square. One of those activists was Shaimaa El-Sabagh. Shortly after, the stand was attacked by security forces who fired at the crowd. Shaimaa was one of those hit. She died in the hands of her colleague who tried to rush her to safety as the security forces continued to fire at the activists.

Within minutes of the news and images coming out, details of this heinous attack were shared far and wide by activists, journalists and citizens. Almost everyone was unanimous, and rightly so, in their condemnation of Egypt’s repressive police. The name ‘Shaimaa Sabagh’ became a trending topic across Egyptian social media and several articles on the incident were published by many prominent news outlets. 

Only a day before, Egyptian student Sondos Abu Bakr was killed in an almost identical manner to Shaimaa after security forces started shooting at a demonstration she was attending in the city of Alexandria. Sondos was only 17.

The weapon and method used to kill both women was the same, and so were the culprits yet the coverage of both incidents could not have been more different. The killing of Sondos, once confirmed, received little to no coverage, whether on social media or on news outlets. There were no condemnations or special tributes, no major articles or investigations. I can’t help but think, had Sondos been protesting under a different (read “liberal”) banner, her death would have received more sympathy and certainly more coverage. It’s true that that the killing of Shaimaa was more well-documented than that of Sondos’ and it’s also true that it took place in an area and time of great significance to the Egyptian revolution but does that really justify the disparity in coverage? 

I am not here to “compare” deaths or claim that the killing of one was more outrageous than the other. That would frankly be quite repulsive and counter-productive. I am simply trying to point out the sheer hypocrisy in our principles and stances that deem some lives more worthy of mourning than others. The fact of the matter is, the majority of people only started caring about the death of “Islamist” Sondos when it was linked to the death of “liberal” Shaimaa. Sondos was just an afterthought. These reductionist labels are not what I would use to describe these courageous women and if it were up to me, I would get rid of them all together but it is these very same labels that, depending on the person’s affiliation, are automatically stamped next to the names of those who are detained, tortured or killed in Egypt. Had it been under different circumstances, perhaps this small detail would not have mattered but alas, the events taking place in Egypt today do not exist in a vacuum. All the connotations associated with both labels are immediately attributed to the individual in question so that the issue is no longer about the injustice suffered but rather how compatible a certain set of views is with our own and whether the person who holds those views is worthy of our sympathy or not as a result. These labels have also been used as a sort of benchmark by many, consciously or unconsciously, to gauge the amount of attention and support they should give to a particular individual or cause with the underlying message being this: if they’re an ‘Islamist’, it doesn’t matter but if they’re a ‘liberal’ it does. The term ‘Islamist’ has also been used as a tool to diss and dismiss the activism of certain groups in relation to others, with the term often being used to paint a wide swath of opposition groups with the same brush. There’s no malicious intent or grand conspiracy behind this, of that I am sure. But the level at which we have internalised these labels and they way in which we project this in our activism and general discourse is disturbing to say the least.

Last year whilst researching a number of Human Rights violations in Egypt, I came across one particularly significant case of minors being tortured in dentition which I was told needed urgent attention. I called the parents of the detained children, some of them as young as 14, to get more details and I was pelted with one harrowing story after another. Many of the children had been verbally and physically abused, beaten by the prison guards and made to share cells with adults. They had food and water taken away from them and their personal items were confiscated. One of the children had allegedly been raped but was threatened that should he speak out, he would be raped again. His father denied this when I asked him but all the other parents told me that he was staying silent to protect his son. The parents of the children had been trying desperately to get some coverage of these violations. They didn’t understand why no one seemed to care and I didn’t either. That is until I contacted a number of Human Rights organisations and media outlets to ask them to report on this case. They all showed interest to begin with, asking for more information but then they would ask about the background of the parents and their political affiliations, completely forgetting about the children who had been tortured. Once the answer came back as Muslim Brotherhood, they all seemed to lose interest and their correspondences would eventually stop. The detention, torture or death of Islamists was old news to them. In fact, violence against Islamists has become so normalised that it no longer registers when we hear about it. This means that at least 1000 Islamist protesters have to be killed before anyone takes notice. It also means that the Egyptian regime can go on repressing and killing those Islamists without anyone challenging them or holding them to account for their crimes.

This selective outrage/activism whether it be in favour of ‘Islamists’ or ‘Liberals’ needs to stop and it needs to stop now. I could go on giving countless other examples but it won’t change anything unless we really start questioning our values and stop disdain and contempt from hardening our hearts and clouding our judgements. The bullets of our common enemy and the cells of our oppressor don’t distinguish between 6 April, MB, RevSoc, Salafi etc. we create those differences and distinctions ourselves but we are also capable of dismantling them and we have to begin that process soon, before it’s too late.

“First they came for the Islamists…”

here’s how it works

  • when brendon and sarah are together, they are my parents
  • when it’s just sarah, she is my wife
  • when it’s just brendon, he is my son
  • does this work? yes
  • why wouldnt it

Shaimaa Alsabbagh, a girl who protested for the martyr’s rights, got killed today by the Egyptian Internal forces while she was holding a flower, yes, a flower not a bomb!
The girl below her, Sondos Reda, a 17-year-old girl that also got killed yesterday and guess what, she wasn’t holding an RBJ either!

For what sin were they killed?!

Filho, Eu estou aqui! Tudo tenho acompanhado, embora não possas me ver, mas sempre estive do teu lado. Não consegues entender, que o meu silêncio é pra ouvir a tua alma e colocar tua fé em prova. No silêncio Eu te conheço, sondo os teus pensamentos. Posso até ouvir palavras que não foram pronunciadas. Eu ouço teu clamor, tuas lágrimas enxugo e Eu abro o céu inteiro só pra te ouvir. Filho, Eu estou aqui! Tua lágrima eu vi. No silêncio Eu vou assim, vou abrindo os caminhos. No silêncio Eu vou fazendo o impossível acontecer. Teu silêncio não é o meu e tudo que eu faço você pode ver. Você não ouviu, mas a muralha caiu, você não viu, mas uma porta se abriu. No silêncio Eu trabalho, a tua benção Eu preparo, e agora eu entrego tudo pra você. Filho, Eu nunca te abandonei. Filho Eu estou aqui, sinta minha presença te envolver, sinta o meu abraço te aquecer. Ouça o meu silêncio se romper, filho eu tô aqui!
—  O Silêncio De Deus
Reading Bhanu Kapil

In honor of the publication of Bhanu Kapil’s newest book Ban en Banlieue, just published by Nightboat Books, the writers Amina Cain, Douglas A. Martin, Sofia Samatar, Kate Zambreno, and Jenny Zhang gathered together in a conversation to talk about the work of the British-Punjabi writer, who teaches in the Department of Writing and Poetics at Naropa University. The conversation will be published in three parts. 

Day One

Day Two

Day 3: Collectively reading Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue

SOFIA SAMATAR: “A girl lies down on the sidewalk.” The repetition of this: Ban killed in a riot, Bhanu lying down at an anti-rape protest in Delhi, and then the woman who leaps into the water during suttee, who lies down there. While I’m reading Ban, the socialist activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh is shot and killed during a peaceful demonstration in Cairo; two days earlier, Sondos Reda Abu Bakr, a seventeen-year-old student, was killed in a demonstration in Alexandria. Two women on the sidewalk. “It is so excruciating to write about these subjects that I take years, months: to write them.” For me Ban is about women in demonstrations, in public, in politics. “The role of sacrifice, patriarchy, fire-water mixtures,” Bhanu says. And she says: “Write what never ends.”

KATE ZAMBRENO: It feels almost impossible to express the psychic energy in this book, the grief and wit and rage. In it the narrator circles around the story of a woman remembering a race riot in London in the 70s, while tracing, in a visceral way, through notes on performances, blog entries, notebooks, various errata, other bodies deemed as disposable, primarily Nirbhaya, “The Fearless One,” the young woman gang raped and beaten to death on a bus in New Delhi in 2012.  

On the first page Bhanu holds a ceremony with Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, and that text is the only one that comes close to me with what Bhanu performs here. Her own Joan of Arcs (like Nibrhaya, like the photograph at the beginning of Blair Peach, the antiracist activist killed by police in a 1979 London demonstration).

JENNY ZHANG: The excruciation of writing about these distortions and mutilations and traumas and displacements creates a safe space where goals don’t really matter, where having a product at the end of production doesn’t really matter. I kind of lost my shit when I saw Missy Elliott sing and dance at the Superbowl for two minutes yesterday. I felt the temporary pleasure of being connected to pop culture. After her performance, her single “Get Ur Freak On” became the most downloaded song in iTunes or something like that. Everyone wanted this to mean she was finally going to release a new album (her last one came out in 2005). It was like the performance wasn’t enough, it didn’t count towards making her a success, someone historic, one of the greats.

So much of Ban is composed and collected of things that don’t count—the acknowledgments page given as much weight if not more than the actual text itself. The actual text itself being the notes around and for and erased from the intended story. The intended story never materializes or becomes important enough to be more than a footnote, or a prologue that appears off stage. Performances that have already happened. So much of Ban is about acknowledging that someone like this can never be considered historic or great. Is creating something that isn’t an obvious success the only way to resist the ugly commodification of succeeding? Is Ban’s laziness the highest form of resistance? Resisting work, yearning to be in the ground, to sink into something, to be lazy, to keep some thoughts so personal that they only exist in the thinker’s mind—is that a protective gesture? Is that what decolonized writing does?

Keep reading
What We Know About the Victims of the Istanbul Airport Attack
They were teachers, translators, and children.
By Danielle DeCourcey

The attack on the Istanbul airport killed at least 44 people from across the globe. They had varied ethnic backgrounds and worked as teachers, airport employees, translators, and caterers. Some victims were parents and some victims were young children, according to the Associated Press.

The White House called the attack an assault on global unity. “Ataturk International Airport in Turkey, like Brussels Airport which was attacked earlier this year, is a symbol of international connections and ties that bind us together,” wrote White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

These are some of the victims of Tuesday’s attack on Ataturk International Airport in Turkey:

Rayan Shraim, 3

Sondos Shraim, Rayan’s mother (age unknown)

Sondos Shraim and her 3-year-old son Rayan died from injuries in the attacks. They were from Palestine and had traveled to Turkey for a vacation during Ramadan. Shraim’s husband was also injured, according to the Associated Press.

Ozgul Ide, 21

Merve Yigit, 22

Merve Yigit was a caterer at the airport. She died from injuries she received after one of the bombs went off. She was a public relations student, according to the Associated Press.

Abrorjon Ustabayev, 22

Abrorjon Ustabayev was from Uzbekistan but frequently traveled to Turkey for business. When he died in the attacks, he had $12,000 worth of textiles with him.

Serkan Turk, 24

A Facebook post from United World Wrestling indicates Serkan Turk was a wrestler and physical education teacher. He went to pick up his mother from the Istanbul airport on Tuesday. After the first explosion, Turk ran to help victims, but the second explosion killed him. He graduated from Toksoz of Trakya University last year, according to the Associated Press.

Abdulhekim Bugda, 24

Muhammed Eymen Demirci, 25

Caglayan Col, 26

Caglayan Col was killed while waiting for the bus to go home. He had worked at Ataturk for two years.

Gülşen Bahadir, 28

Gülşen Bahadir was an airport employee. She wrote a lengthy post on her Facebook page about nonviolence just days before she was shot and killed.  

The BBC translated part of it.

“I have never got into a war in my life, never. Not because I’m weak but because I chose so. My choice was resisting. Because I know that war is futile. There would be no winners in any war, only losers. I’m resisting against the injustices of the state. I’m only asking for the deserved welfare of the people. I resist against evil.”

Nisreen Melhim, 28

Nisreen Melhim worked in Saudi Arabia with her husband. They stopped in Turkey for a few days on their way to vacation at home in Palestine for Ramadan. Her husband found her bleeding after one of the explosions and she later died in the hospital.

Umut Sakaroglu, 31

Umut Sakaroglu, a customs officer, died while shooting back at the attackers. He was killed when one of them detonated his suicide vest.

Yusuf Haznedaroglu, 32

Yusuf Haznedaroglu died from his injuries in the hospital. He was an airport employee and was waiting for the bus to go home, according to the Associated Press. He and his fiancee, Nilsu Ozmeric, were two weeks away from their wedding day.

Adem Kurt, 32

Adem Kurt worked at the airport for nearly two years before he died in the attacks. He went home every weekend to visit with his family. They had a service in front of the family home for Kurt before burying him in a mosque on Wednesday, Associated Press reports.

Ertan An, 39

Ertan An was a translator who came to the airport to send off a group of tourists.

Ercan Sebat, 41

Larisa Tsybakova, 46

Mustafa Biyikli, 51

Ferhat Akkaya (age unknown)

Murat Gulluce (age unknown)

Col. Fathi Bayoudth (age unknown)

Col. Fathi Bayoudth was meeting his son, who had defected from the Islamic State, when he was killed. They were supposed to go back home to Tunisia together. The son was placed in police custody, according to the Associated Press.