testimony

IRAQ. Baghdad governorate. Baghdad. April 14, 2003. Twelve-year-old Ali Abbas, then treated at the Baghdad Hospital, has lost both arms during the American bombing of the city and has sustained serious burns over his body.

Ali Abbas still remembers the day his childhood changed forever, however much he might wish to forget. It was March 30, 2003. He was 12, “Just a little kid, enjoying my life, going to school, playing football, with lots of friends…”

He had fallen asleep with [pregnant] mum Azhar, dad Ismaeel, and ten-year-old brother Abbas all sleeping reassuringly close to him in the same room. Even now he doesn’t know why the Americans fired the missile. Their home, on the southern fringe of Baghdad, wasn’t near any sort of military base.

“We were farmers. There were cows and sheep outside. They should have seen what was down there. I was woken up by this big noise. All the house collapsed on us. My home was on fire. Then I heard the screaming.”

It was his mum and dad.

“I heard them screaming. Then after a couple of minutes, the screaming stopped. They were gone.”

“I was burning,” he continues. “My arms were basically roasted. After maybe 20 minutes, my neighbour came to try to pull me out of the rubble. He didn’t realise how badly I had been burned. So when he tried to pull me by my left hand, it came off.”

His mother, father, and little brother were dead. So too were 13 other members of his family. Both Ali’s arms had to be amputated. He had suffered burns to 60 per cent of his body. The doctors doubted he would survive.

And yet, he says, “I was lucky. There are thousands like me in Iraq. Or even worse than me. So many innocent people killed.”

His first stroke of “luck” came in the form of a hospital nurse, Karem.

“All the doctors were running away, but he stayed. He brought me food, paid for cream and bandages for my burns with his own money.”

Then the Western journalists came. Of all the images flooding in from Iraq, it was his photo and not that of another child that caught the eye of the picture editors, and the imagination of the British public. There was an outpouring of sympathy, a successful campaign to bring “Orphan Ali” to the UK for proper treatment.

At one charity event, he even got to meet Tony Blair.

“His wife did most of the talking. I just said ‘Hi’. I didn’t know much then. I think I was about 14, still a kid.”

He’s not a kid any more. Ali Abbas is a 25-year-old man now. And on the eve of Sir John Chilcot finally delivering his report into the Iraq War [in 2016], Mr Abbas knows exactly what he would want to ask Tony Blair.

“I would want to know from him whether he regrets what he has done. I would want him to tell me why he did it.” [x]

Photograph: Jerome Sessini/Magnum Photos

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Emory Douglas: The Art of The Black Panthers (2015) — Dress Code

Emory Douglas was the Revolutionary Artist and Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. Through archival footage and conversations with Emory we share his story, alongside the rise and fall of the Panthers. He used his art as a weapon in the Black Panther Party’s struggle for civil rights and today Emory continues to give a voice to the voiceless. His art and what The Panthers fought for are still as relevant as ever.

People who can rejoice and keep their faith in the darkest of hours are a real testimony to others who have the same struggles. … The world is shouting to us, ‘We are not impressed by the Red Sea opening or the blind receiving sight or the lame being healed. No! The miracle we want to see is your faith in the darkest hour of your life. You face hopeless situations with a smile of joy, singing praises to God. That is what speaks to us.’
—  David Wilkerson

I didn’t grow up around Godly people. Out of my entire family? Only my mom is a fellow believer. Out of my friends? Before the last year or two, only two of them. And out of those three people in my life who do believe in God and believe that Jesus is the Son of God and died for our sins, none of them go to church or read their Bibles or even really talk with me (or anyone) about Him. 

So please know, from the very bottom of my heart, that I thank God every single day for all of you. Please know that I want to cry when I think about how, in the past two years, God has placed so many wonderful Godly people into my life. I couldn’t see it at the time, but now? I’m looking around myself at all of you, and at my coworkers, and at my church, and at just all of the people I’m surrounded by, and I can see how every single second of every single minute of every single hour of every single day of the past few years really has been all Him. 

He is so wonderful, and I am so grateful, and my heart is so filled with love. My past isn’t perfect, but He is. My present isn’t perfect, but He is. He is perfect, and He is good. And so I will lean into Him, no matter what happens, and praise Him and glorify Him and help others to know and love Him, and I will be grateful and thankful every single second of every single minute of every single hour of every single day of the rest of this life He has given me. 

If you don’t know Jesus, if you’ve never been to church or read the Bible or if you also, like me, didn’t grow up around Godly people, I’m here for you. And more importantly, God is here for you. He is here for you and He loves you so much and He can and will change your life, one second, one minute, one hour, one day, one year at a time. 

He is the reason I’m still here today. He is everything

Don’t be afraid. 

Come. Come to Jesus. 

He was sleeping in a room full of Muslim pilgrims during the Hajj when Jesus appeared to him in a dream. “He was so much bigger than Mohammed,” he said. He woke up in a sweat, continued on the Hajj, but his hear was no longer in it.

On a trip abroad he secretly read a New Testament and gave his heart to Jesus, but he could not take the risk of taking the Scriptures back into Saudi Arabia. “It’s too risky. If the authorities find a Christian Bible on me, they will interrogate me, and I will not lie, so my new faith would be exposed.”

Saudi Arabia adheres to a hard-line Islamic fundamentalism called Wahhabism, as do other Gulf States such as Qatar. Saudi nationals are strictly forbidden to convert. Due to strict control measures, there is no evidence against Christians, because they rarely, if ever, come up to the “surface” to witness.

The Anarchists vs. the Islamic State

Brace Belden before a battle in Syria in November. Courtesy of Brace Belden

By Seth Harp for The Rolling Stone. February 14, 2017 [x]

On the front lines of Syria with the young American radicals fighting ISIS

On the morning of his first battle, Brace Belden was underdressed for the cold and shaky from a bout of traveler’s diarrhea. His Kurdish militia unit was camped out on the front line with ISIS, 30 miles from Raqqa, in Syria. Fighters stood around campfires of gas-soaked trash, boiling water for tea, their only comfort besides tobacco. “I’ve never been so dirty in my life,” Belden recalls. When the time came to roll out, he loaded a clip into his Kalashnikov and climbed into a makeshift battlewagon, a patchwork of tank and truck parts armored with scrap metal and poured concrete. Belden took a selfie inside its rusty cabin and posted it online with the caption “Wow this freakin taxi stinks.”

The rest of the militia piled into an assortment of minivans, garbage trucks and bulldozers, and rode south into territory ISIS had held for more than three years. Belden was manning a swivel-mounted machine gun, the parched landscape barely visible through the rising dust, when he spotted a car packed with explosives revving across the desert toward the Kurdish column. Before he could shoot, an American fighter jet lacerated the sky and an explosion erupted where the car had been, shaking the earth for miles around.

It was November 6th, 2016. The Kurdish militia known as the YPG – a Kurmanji acronym for People’s Protection Units – had commenced a major offensive to liberate the city that serves as the global headquarters for ISIS. The YPG was backed by U.S. air power and fighting alongside a coalition of Arab and Assyrian militias. Also within their ranks, though scantly reported, was a group of about 75 hardcore leftists, anarchists and communists from Europe and America, Belden among them, fighting to defend a socialist enclave roughly the size of Massachusetts.

Belden, who is 27, started tweeting photos of the front shortly after arriving in Syria in October. The first widely shared image showed him crouched in his YPG uniform, wearing thick Buddy Holly glasses, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, a stray puppy in one hand and a sniper rifle in the other. “To misquote Celine,” the post read, “when you’re in, you’re in.” He has since amassed 19,000 followers under the handle PissPigGranddad, puzzling the Internet with a combination of leftist invective and scurrilous bro humor. Tweets like “Heading to the Quandil Mountains to lecture the PKK about entitlement reform” are followed by “The dude with the lamb bailed so now we’re fucked for dinner.”

Belden had no military experience before joining the YPG. He lived in San Francisco, where he arranged flowers for a living. Before that, he was a self-described lumpenproletariat, a lowlife punk and petty criminal with a heroin habit who started reading Marx and Lenin seriously in rehab. Once sober, he got involved in leftist causes, marching for tenants’ rights, blocking evictions, protesting police brutality. As he prepared for the Middle East, his girlfriend thought he was going to do humanitarian work. She was “not stoked,” Belden says, to learn that he planned to fight alongside the YPG.

The first phase of the Raqqa offensive was a mission to take Tal Saman, a satellite village of 10,000 people 17 miles north of Raqqa proper. “We pushed up to Tal Saman till we had it surrounded on a half circle,” Belden says, “then we just bombarded the shit out of it.” Refugees poured out of the village, seeking protection behind Kurdish lines. “Hundreds of civilians coming across for days in a row,” Belden says. At night, his unit stayed in whatever building they’d just taken, camped out on rooftops in the excruciating cold. “The first week we were out it was awful,” Belden says. The stepmother of a fellow volunteer from the U.S. had gotten Belden’s number. She kept texting to make sure they were eating enough.

The march on Raqqa slowed to a halt after two weeks, as the YPG consolidated its hold over a string of liberated villages. The YPG controls a region of 4 million people in northern Syria known as Rojava. Its tens of thousands of motivated fighters have been battling ISIS for five years. American as well as French warplanes have been covering their maneuvers with airstrikes for the past two, forcing ISIS off the roads and highways and open desert, and back into the urban strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa. Now, the Kurds are kicking the door down in both cities.

But the YPG is not your typical ethnic or sectarian faction. Its fighters are loyal to an imprisoned guerrilla leader who was once a communist but now espouses the same kind of secular, feminist, anarcho-libertarianism as Noam Chomsky or the activists of Occupy Wall Street. The Kurds are implementing these ideals in Rojava, and that has attracted a ragtag legion of leftist internationals, like Belden, who have come from nearly every continent to help the YPG beat ISIS and establish an anarchist collective amid the rubble of the war – a “stateless democracy” equally opposed to Islamic fundamentalism and capitalist modernity. They call it the Rojava Revolution, and they want you.

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LEBANON. July 2006.

Abbas, a chubby young boy, sat on the side of a narrow village road, held his injured mother’s hand and wept. “Don’t leave me, mother, don’t go, don’t go.” “Take care of your brothers and sisters,“ the mother moaned softly, as her eyes closed leaving two white slits. A piece of shrapnel had cut into her chest and almost severed her right arm. Blood stained mother and child.

Abbas, his mother, brother, aunts and a grandmother, 18 in total, were cramped inside a small white minivan, fleeing their village in south Lebanon when an Israeli rocket pierced the roof of the car. Now the survivors were scattered on the road or in the shadow of a building crying, while inside the van lay the headless corpse of an uncle, a dead grandmother and a neighbor.

“Why are you leaving me,” Abbas started yelling at his mother, as her arm fell on the ground. He buried his face in his hands and wept. His brother, 12-year old Ali, stood on the other side of the mother, his hand bandaged and eyes staring into the horizon, as the Lebanese Red Cross started helping the survivors.

Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/Getty Images

Year of Loneliness

I live in a 2-bedroom apartment with a wonderful friend that puts up with my weirdness and respects my beliefs. I have lots of friends in my life who I see on a daily basis and even some I get to enjoy outside our workplace. My parents live across town and I speak to my other set of parents at least once a week, I’ve even gotten to see all of most of my siblings more than once within the past 2 months. The point of this being: I am not alone. My day is filled with faces that I love and am blessed to be around.


But it wasn’t like that this time last year.


I lived alone. I only saw a few people outside of work. I would try to see my parents as often as possible but it still wasn’t as frequent as it is now. Now many of you may have turned your emotional setting to pity after reading that but I implore you to hold off on that. Because looking back that year I spent alone in my ridiculously expensive 1-bedroom apartment was one of the best. In that year I felt so close to God and so near to His heart that every day, no matter how hard, had hope. The year was still a ‘normal’ one, don’t get me wrong, I had really great days and really suck days the same that I do now; but back then I felt so near to God because I had no one else to be near to.  That’s an amazing feeling!


And no I’m not saying that being around people is bad or that it’s damaged my relationship with God in anyway at all. We’ve simply moved on to a point in this walk where I get to be an example of God’s love for people, He is still with me always and I’m still learning of course. There are nights where I miss the balcony I would sit on where I would talk to God all alone. Yet He reminds me in those moments of yearning that He is still just as close to my heart regardless of how I feel.


The reason I felt the need to post this is because I see so many of my beloved brothers and sisters talk about how lonely they are, how they feel isolated, and they feel like there isn’t anyone out there for them. My friends, I know it’s hard, trust me those suck days I mentioned were like super suck; but I can also tell you with confidence that those moments can be the best moments in your life for your walk with God. It might take time and you might feel silly at first but genuinely I want you to try and just talk to Him in those moments where you’re all alone. Just talk. About your day. About your plans. About the things you’re afraid of. About the things you are excited for. About how lonely you feel.
Despite the moments of pain along the way, I can say with confidence that my ‘year of loneliness’ was one of the most amazing and impactful years of my life. I am so grateful to God for that time we spent together and I’m eternally grateful that He is still with me and has blessed me through the season to this one.

Hang in there, my dear friends. The seasons of loneliness aren’t nearly as lonely as you think because you’re never truly alone.

-31 Women (Nan)