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Home Security And Safety Modifications For Domestic Violence Survivors

Very important guest post by Nora Hood at Three Daily.

For many domestic violence survivors, finding a way to feel safe and move forward is especially difficult. It takes a lot of courage to leave an abusive situation, and even more to strike out on one’s own into a new living situation where they can feel safe and comfortable. In some cities, there are support groups and shelters that will help a victim of abuse during that transition period, but they can be overcrowded or extremely short-term.

Untitled         Photo via Pixabay by Stux

If you or a loved one have recently left a violent situation and will be living alone (or are the sole caregiver for children), it’s important to take steps that will facilitate safety and a feeling of security. Whether the residence is a home or an apartment, there are several things you can do to make sure the new place is as safe as possible.

Here are a few tips on how to get started.

Let technology work for you

Technology has come a long way in the past decade, enabling the use of advanced features such as surveillance in a private home. Where home security in the past might only have consisted of a motion sensor, according to Angie’s List, “Today’s home security systems are far more advanced, and homeowners can now choose from a wide range of security options such as around-the-clock monitoring and video surveillance.” Taking into consideration your budget, do some research to find the best security option for your needs.

Pile on the locks

If you live in an apartment building, there may only be so much you can do to deter an intruder. One of the most important steps is making sure the locks on your door are secure; if it makes you feel safer, add a couple more, or reinforce the door with a steel chain. Remember to show sliding patio doors some attention; a sturdy broomhandle or steel pipe laid in the track will prevent the door from opening on the outside. If you live on the ground floor, ask the landlord if you can plant thorny bushes beneath your windows to prevent someone from getting too close.

Location is everything

If possible, do some research before you move. You want a home or apartment that is not isolated and has at least one neighbor. Moving too far away from town could be a mistake, especially if the area isn’t well populated. When moving into an apartment complex, talk to the landlords about not having your name on the mailbox, and let them know that you don’t want any strangers to have information about you.

Have an escape route planned

No domestic violence survivor wants to think about the worst possible scenario, but it’s important to be prepared in case an abuser does find out where you live. Have an escape route planned; keep your cell phone charged at all times and in a place where you can easily reach it, along with your car keys. Talk to your children about what you’ll do in the event of an emergency so they’ll know exactly how to react.

It’s always difficult to think about taking safety precautions, because it brings up unpleasant memories. It’s imperative to make sure you feel safe and secure, however, and the best way to feel in control is to make sure your home is a place where you can relax. Garner support from friends and family, if possible, or consider joining a support group where you can get help should you need it. Remember that you are not alone, even if it feels that way sometimes.

Teen Romance

imagesCindy was a mature woman of sixteen. I was an immature man of eighteen. We met in the afternoon at a teen drop-in center, gazed hopelessly into one another’s eyes, like puppy dogs, and within hours were talking about hooking up. That night we slept together for the first time and I was in heaven. I’d had several previous relationships, but none had ever been this intense or instantaneous.

Within a week Cindy had her mother’s permission to live with me and my grandmother said we could rent her trailer. Everything was set. Life was good. Cindy taught me the joy of sexual freedom and living in the moment and I obediently followed her every wish and whim to “make her happy”. I was so enmeshed in the sensations of the relationship that I failed to recognize my co-dependent and needy behavior. In my mind sex and love were one and the same.

I continued working at a counseling center and Cindy finished up her last year of high school. I studied Eastern religions on the side and she enjoyed drawing and working part-time at a florist shop. The only “minor” issue was that I couldn’t “make her happy” or give her the answers she was seeking. We were two young teenagers growing up together who had no idea what we were doing, what we wanted or where we were going.

After two tumultuous years we figured the answer to our dilemma was to get married. Why not? Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do? And even though it didn’t mean much to us at the time, we figured the worst that could happen is that we’d receive a lot of cool presents! Getting married was “just a piece of paper” we reasoned. Both of our parents had divorced and we knew we’d “always be together” regardless of any societal contract we may sign.

The wedding turned out as planned. All of our friends and relatives showed up at the reception, we got plastered and received a lot of money and presents. But after the money was spent and the wedding hangover wore off, the realities of what we had done creeped into our daily lives. We didn’t know what being married meant. I thought it implied getting a “steady job” and having children. So, I obtained a nine to fiver at the local phone company and we talked about having kids and buying a house. Lukily, neither the house nor the kids worked out because a year later it was splits-ville, as in divorce, finale, kaput, the end.

Screaming was the only thing that finally got my attention. Slamming the door shut behind her, Cindy entered the living room late one evening and yelled at the top of her lungs, “I can’t live with you anymore. I want a divorce!”

“Why,” I pleaded. “What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Why don’t you stand up for yourself? Will you be real with me just once?”

“OK,” I replied, “What do you want me to say?”

“You don’t understand do you?” she replied. I sat silently with my head in my hands. After a deathly silence she quietly said, “I just need some space to be by myself. I moved in with you right from home. I’ve never been on my own.”

“So it’s nothing I’ve done or said?” I asked, my lip quivering.

“No, its not you,” she said.

In fact, it had a lot to do with me. She moved out a few days later and in a month was living with another guy.

Her decision to leave was not entirely out of the blue. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, she had been trying to separate for months. Other than running away, she had given me every clue possible, but I was blind. Her anger and judgments were an attempt to alienate me. She had thrown every name in the book my direction, at one time or another, assuming I’d leave. But like a faithful lap dog I had kept coming back for more.

At one point she insisted I sleep with her friend Lewellen and that we have an “open relationship”. I tried to do as she wished and acted like it was all cool, but it wasn’t. It turns out that the reason she had wanted me to be with other women was because she had already been having affairs with some of my best friends and I assume would have felt less guilty about her own behavior if I’d done the same.

When she left my bubble burst. I thought it was the end of the world. My dependence on her “being happy” as an indicator of my well-being had been total and complete. In the process of making her “OK”, I’d forgotten about myself; my wishes, desires, joys, ambitions and dreams. I had no sense of who “I” was or what made me happy.

Time didn’t heal anything, but it did give me some perspective. Clearly, I had sacrificed what little sense of my self I had ever had for Cindy. As long as I left all decisions to her it would be “her fault” whenever something didn’t work out. I was absolved from all wrong doing. I could blame her for everything. I could wallow in my self-pity and externalize all my troubles. “She did it, not me. She lied to me. She left me. She hurt me.”

I slowly recognized that I had made decisions by not deciding. I had lied to myself. I was equally responsible for our breakup. She tried to force me to be honest and state my needs, but I had cowered from the task. Shock tactics and reasoning never worked. Getting a divorce was what it finally took for me to wake up. It was the brick wall I needed to run into. If Cindy had not had the courage to leave I may have been lingering in a false identity for eons.

Like a snake that sheds it’s skin but still longs for its security, I kept aching for Cindys return. Even though I learned many things about myself since the divorce, images of us getting back together still lingered with sweet agony. Intellectually, I understood such images were fantasy, but my dependence on her for my well-being had been so complete that it took constant reality bites to loosen my grasp and let go of her as my emotional crutch.

Attachment is a strange thing; it can cause bliss and joy or pain and sorrow and you can’t have one without the other. When I grasped for love with Cindy I actually pushed it away with my wanting and neediness. She lost respect for me. The thing I wanted most didn’t want me. There was no substance or core to who I was. I decided to never put all my cookies in one jar. Until I knew who I was and what I wanted, I would not become involved with another woman. I silently swore that I’d never become so dependent on another for my happiness and well-being.

Such self-promises proved to be fruitless. Three more women entered my front door over the next three years and sooner or later left out the back porch. Each time I “knew” it was different than before. But sure enough, as each relationship ended and I had some perspective, it become clear that I couldn’t hide a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No matter how much I wanted to think I had changed, my basic behavior in response to each situation had been the same. They decided when to do what and when the relationship was over; not I. It wasn’t until a conflicted eight-year marriage ended, that I took responsibility and made a painful choice to leave.

After many years I believe I’ve finally figured out how to love and be loved, but I know that isn’t the most original idea that’s ever been planted in my head. I’ve been known to tell myself the most wonderful stories; and they always have happy endings. Every woman I met was the girl of my dreams. It wasn’t until I became more of who it was I was looking for, that I woke up and found the partner I’d been seeking in all my fantasies.

Help Women In Nepal

Dear Gabriel,

Providing high quality livestock and agricultural training to poor farmers has proven exceptionally effective in Nepal where two-thirds of the people depend on subsistence agriculture for a living. This has truly created a revolution in Nepal, where families living in poverty can procure economic security in one generation.

Now, you have the opportunity to become part of this revolution. Add your name to the pledge showing you support these women as they learn, train, and work their way to economic freedom.

NepalChild200x160

The program helps provide goats, vegetable seedlings and training in animal care and small-scale agriculture. In many cases this has given women the means to support their families and provide their children with the opportunity to pursue their dreams. These are amazing accomplishments for women in a country where chronic gender discrimination has historically prohibited them from owning animals, property or even holding jobs.

Let’s be part of this incredible transformation. Sign this action to support 25,000 families in Nepal.

Thank you for taking action,

Sharanya P.
Care2 and ThePetitionSite Team

Non-violence In Syria

From Nation of Change and Yes! Magazine
by Michael Nagler
31 July 2012

Syria: Lamp in the Storm

During the climactic “Quit India” campaign launched by Gandhi in 1942, there were outbreaks of violence. Earlier, in 1922, similar outbreaks had led him to suspend the non-cooperation movement. This time, however, he said, “let our lamp stay lit in the midst of this hurricane.”

This is very much the precarious situation of nonviolence in Syria today. A bit of background:

In the Quranic version of Cain and Abel, Abel says to his jealous brother,: “If thou dost stretch thy hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against thee to slay thee, for I do fear God, the cherisher of the worlds.” (Quran 5:28) In other words, the first murder is accompanied by the first act of nonviolence, a refusal to kill, even in self-defense, through mindfulness of a God who stands far above partisan conflict.

Islamic scholar Sheik Jawdat Said based his book, The Doctrine Of The First Son Of Adam, apparently the first book in modern Arabic to proffer nonviolent solutions to the region’s problems, on this verse. Said’s ideas were well received in some intellectual circles in Syria but did not lead visibly to any appreciable change the political or social environment. The wave of agitations touched off by the Iranian revolution (though it itself had, and still has, some nonviolent character)—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, to a limited extent Syria itself—were in one way or another nationalistic but not particularly nonviolent. But a group of young men (shebab) who had fallen under the influence of an open-minded teacher at a school that was soon closed by the regime were receptive to the ideas of the distinguished sheik. With the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2001 they began to take some modest actions that were, particularly in one case, provocative to the regime. They began to clean up the streets of their respective neighborhoods. This may not seem very revolutionary to us, but in Syria people did not feel that they owned their country. Inside they lived in clean, orderly houses, but the public streets belonged to the state—which did nothing about them. In other words, while it’s doubtful any of them knew this, it was a perfect example of a Gandhian “Constructive Programme:” taking matters into your own hands in a way that puts the regime in a bad light if, as often, they interfere. Which they did. There were arrests. The regime knew these shebab were giving the people back ownership of their country.

Then came Arab Spring. Protests began in Syria in late January of 2011. In the early months Opposition forces were creating defections among military and government—critical for the success of non-violent insurrections—but many of the defectors and others turned to armed struggle in the face of the repression. According to Erica Chenoweth, the author, with Maria Stefan, of the highly influential study, Why Civil Resistance Works, such movements usually require two and a half to three years to take hold. There have been cases of nonviolent campaigns persisting in the midst of armed elements on both sides, and sometimes even rising to capture the legitimacy of the opposition from those armed elements, usually with some international recognition behind them, and going on to win the struggle: South Africa, the Philippines, and at some point (inshallah) maybe Palestine. This is crucial because, as Chenoweth and Stefan point out, nonviolent insurrections are twice as likely to succeed and vastly more likely to lead to conditions of real liberty (yet to happen in Egypt). In Syria, however, the fledgling movement was rather quickly overwhelmed. Extreme violence creates mobilization challenges that fledgling movements may find difficult to overcome. Some movements manage to maintain—or even increase—participation in the face of extreme violence (the Pashtun Khudai Kidmatgars in 1931, Iran in 1977-9), whereas others find themselves in disarray.” As Bsher Said (Jawdat’s son) informed me, when people are arrested and questioned they generally tell their captors what they want to hear—“Oh, yes, it was armed gangs that did the killing.” It has prompted Bsher to comment, pointedly, that “If we could stop the lying we wouldn’t need a revolution.” So far the wall of fear has not cracked, so we are lacking the sine qua non of successful insurrection—or successful almost anything.

Yet, as Donatella Rivera posts in her recent blog, “The young people I met—including those who had been injured—said they have no intention of stopping their protests.” And while the state actors of the “international community,” even if they resolve their differences, feel that they can do nothing, or worse, global civil society is not so inhibited. There is more going on than I am free to describe here, unfortunately, because of security concerns and the delicacy of some issues, but nonviolence training, badly needed visioning of a future for Syria, reconciliation work, and weekly discussion groups across borders are all going forward. As for higher level operations, we all know that the UN has sent in some 300 monitors, the so-called “blue berets” (joined by a smaller number from the Arab League). But this is the main point.

Summing up the failure of the nonviolent movement of Syria so far, Bsher succinctly says, “we were not ready.” Well, neither were we—the watching world. Three hundred monitors? When it comes to blue helmets the UN is ready to field 16,000. These unarmed monitors are a great step in the right direction, but they should have been at least ten times more numerous and ‘armed’ with a more robust mandate. As Mel Duncan, founding director of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, shared, they must be ready to protect Alawites as well as Sunnis: anyone under threat. They should set up cross-sectarian teams who can call in international help to forestall retaliatory violence when the transition takes place. Duncan should know. Nonviolent Peaceforce and other Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping groups have been doing this successfully, and with almost no casualties to speak of, around the world since the 1980s, and have recently made highly successful contacts with offices of the UN.

Read entire Op-Ed at Nation of Change or Yes! Magazine.

NDAA Trashes US Constitution

From Nation of Change and Truthdig
by Chris Hedges
3 April 2012

Someone You Love: Coming to a Gulag Near You

The security and surveillance state does not deal in nuance or ambiguity. Its millions of agents, intelligence gatherers, spies, clandestine operatives, analysts and armed paramilitary units live in a binary world of opposites, of good and evil, black and white, opponent and ally. There is nothing between. You are for us or against us. You are a patriot or an enemy of freedom. You either embrace the crusade to physically eradicate evildoers from the face of the Earth or you are an Islamic terrorist, a collaborator or an unwitting tool of terrorists. And now that we have created this monster it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to free ourselves from it. Our 16 national intelligence agencies and army of private contractors feed on paranoia, rumor, rampant careerism, demonization of critical free speech and often invented narratives. They justify their existence, and their consuming of vast governmental resources, by turning even the banal and the mundane into a potential threat. And by the time they finish, the nation will be a gulag.

This is why the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was contested by me and three other plaintiffs before Judge Katherine B. Forrest in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Thursday, is so dangerous. This act, signed into law by President Barack Obama last Dec. 31, puts into the hands of people with no discernible understanding of legitimate dissent the power to use the military to deny due process to all deemed to be terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers, and hold them indefinitely in military detention. The deliberate obtuseness of the NDAA’s language, which defines “covered persons” as those who “substantially supported” al-Qaida, the Taliban or “associated forces,” makes all Americans, in the eyes of our expanding homeland security apparatus, potential terrorists. It does not differentiate. And the testimony of my fellow plaintiffs, who understand that the NDAA is not about them but about us, repeatedly illustrated this.

Alexa O’Brien, a content strategist and information architect who co-founded the U.S. Day of Rage, an organization created to reform the election process and wrest it back from corporate hands, was the first plaintiff to address the court. She testified that when WikiLeaks released 5 million emails from Stratfor, a private security firm that does work for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Marine Corps and the Defense Intelligence Agency, she discovered that the company was attempting to link her and her organization to Islamic radicals and websites as well as jihadist ideology.

Last August there was an email exchange between Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice president for counterterrorism and corporate security and a former deputy director of the counterterrorism division of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and Thomas Kopecky, director of operations at Investigative Research Consultants Inc. and Fortis Protective Services LLC. In that exchange, leaked Feb. 27 by WikiLeaks, Kopecky wrote: “I was looking into that U.S. Day of Rage movement and specifically asked to connect it to any Saudi or other fundamentalist Islamic movements. Thus far, I have only hear[d] rumors but not gotten any substantial connection. Do you guys know much about this other than its US Domestic fiscal ideals?”?

Burton replied: “No, we’re not aware of any concrete connections between fundamentalist Islamist movements and the Day of Rage, or the October 2011 movement at this point.”

But that changed quickly. Stratfor, through others working in conjunction with the FBI, soon linked U.S. Day of Rage to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

In early September, U.S. Day of Rage, which supported the Sept. 17 call to occupy Wall Street, received Twitter messages that falsely accused it of being affiliated with terrorist groups. The messages came from a privately owned security and intelligence contractor, Provide Security, managed by Thomas Ryan, who works for U.S. military and government agencies, and Dr. Kevin Schatzle, a former FBI, Secret Service and New York City Police Department counterterrorism agent who is on the advisory board of a private intelligence firm that sells technology to profile and interrogate terrorism suspects. On Sept. 1 U.S. Day of Rage received three private, direct Twitter messages that read:

“Now you are really in over your head with this. Muslims from an Afghanistan Jihad site have jumped in. …”

“You seem peaceful, but Anonymous will tarnish that reputation and FAST! They plan to hack NYPD and Banks for OccupyWallStreet with RefRef.”

“Just a heads up. I watched your training videos, but do you realize the Anonymous relationship/infiltration will cause you MANY problems.”

On Oct. 14, 2011, Provide Security’s Ryan published an article—“The Email Archive of OccupyWallStreet Movement,” on the Andrew Breitbart Presents Big Government website page—that tied U.S. Day of Rage to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. Ryan said in the article that he had “recruited other people to help U.S. begin the collection of data” from social media sites that included U.S. Day of Rage. The article goes on:

On August 10, 2011, the hacker group, “Anonymous” announced that it would join the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. That’s what sparked my interest in monitoring OccupyWallStreet.

I reached out to a colleague and asked if he would be interested in studying the protest with me. At first, it seemed disorganized, and we believed it would only be a few hundred protestors.

As we engaged in monitoring its growth, we recruited other people to help us begin the collection of data available via social media. We began mapping out key players, and monitored Anonymous’s efforts to organize protests in the San Francisco Bay area public transportation system (BART) in order to detect patterns of key influences.

Then, at the end of August, we were alerted by a fellow researcher that information about USDoR (U.S. Day of Rage, to which Occupy Wall Street is connected) had been posted on Shamuk and Al-Jihad, two Al-Qaeda recruitment sites. We began to take the “Occupy” protest more seriously, and dedicated more time to researching and monitoring.

Days later, Anonymous announced that it would be releasing its new DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) tool. Because of the Al-Qaeda posting, we contacted the New York Field Office of the FBI so they could investigate the potential threat. From that point on, we decided we needed to include the Human Element of Intelligence (HUMINT), and to infiltrate the protestors to map their ties to Anonymous, and to the postings on Shamuk and Al-Jahad.

Though all this sounds like the delusions of the mentally imbalanced, or perhaps mentally impaired, it was enough to trigger a response within the twisted minds of those who work from the shadows of our security and surveillance state. O’Brien, who was working at the time as a digital media architect for a publicly traded energy efficiency firm, was told by the company’s director of federal programs, a former interrogator and foreign language specialist with the Massachusetts Army National Guard, that he had been asked about her by U.S. government agents numerous times. She was pulled off several projects and then pushed out of her job.

Now the engine of conspiracy, which feeds the machine, was in full gear. On Jan. 11, Australian Security Magazine published an article titled “Radical Islam: Global influence in domestic affairs” that directly tied U.S. Day of Rage to radical Islamic groups. It read, in part:

More recently we found the same types of activity by radical Islamists during the planning of the U.S. Day of Rage that was scheduled for September 17th 2011. While it certainly did not take root and there were none of the violent clashes that took place during the UK riots, none the less the same types of people were there seeking to influence proceedings. Those aiming to influence the U.S. Day of Rage followed a similar pattern as the group and individuals we found trying to influence groups for CHOGM [Commonwealth Heads of Government]. Most were looking to promote violent confrontation, while some were spreading low level jihadist propaganda.

One of the plaintiffs in our lawsuit, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, an Icelandic parliamentarian who has advocated transparency laws that would clear the way for WikiLeaks to operate in Iceland and helped produce a video about the 2007 Baghdad airstrike that killed two journalists and nine other civilians, did not appear in court. Author Naomi Wolf, who, along with Cornel West, has offered to join me, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, the Icelander and three others as plaintiffs, read Jónsdóttir’s affidavit to the court.

In January 2011 Jónsdóttir, although she is not a U.S. citizen, was served by the United States Department of Justice with a subpoena demanding information “about all [her] tweets and more since November 1st 2009.” The demanded information, which she has refused to provide, includes all mailing addresses and billing information, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, and all known email accounts, as well as the “means and source of payment,” including banking records and credit cards. The Justice Department subpoenaed records for the period from Nov. 1, 2009, to the present. The foreign minister of Iceland advised Jónsdóttir not to travel to the United States for the court hearing on Thursday, fearing she might be detained, especially after the Justice Department refused to issue a statement in writing stating that she would not be held if she appeared on American soil.

Perhaps the most chilling exchange on Thursday took place between government lawyers and Judge Forrest. The judge, who will probably rule in May, repeatedly asked for assurance that the plaintiffs would not be subject to detention under the NDAA. It was an assurance the two government lawyers refused to give. She asked U.S. Assistant Attorney Benjamin Torrance whether the government would see a book containing the sentence “I support the political goals of the Taliban” as providing “material support” for “associated forces.”

Torrance did not rule out such an interpretation.

“You are unable to say that [such a book] consisting of political speech could not be captured under [NDAA section] 1021?” the judge asked.

“We can’t say that,” Torrance answered.

“Are you telling me that no U.S. citizen can be detained under 1021?” Forest asked.

“That’s not a reasonable fear,” the government lawyer said.

“Say it’s reasonable to fear you will be unlucky [and face] detention, trial. What does ‘directly supported’ mean?” she asked.

“We have not said anything about that …” Torrance answered.

“What do you think it means?” the judge asked. “Give me an example that distinguishes between direct and indirect support. Give me a single example.”?

“We have not come to a position on that,” he said.

“So assume you are a U.S. citizen trying not to run afoul of this law. What does it [the phrase] mean to you?” the judge said.

“I couldn’t offer any specific language,” Torrance answered. “I don’t have a specific example.”

There are now 1,271 government agencies and 1,931 private companies that work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States, The Washington Post reported in a 2010 series by Dana Priest and William M. Arken. There are 854,000 people with top-secret security clearances, the reporters wrote, and in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2011. Investigative reporter James Bamford wrote in the latest issue of Wired magazine that the National Security Agency is building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah, as part of a secret NSA surveillance program code-named “Stellar Wind.” Bamford noted that the NSA has established listening posts throughout the country to collect, store and examine billions of email messages and phone calls.

Read entire article at Nation of Change.

Muslims Help Stop Riots

Excerpt from story by Robert Lambert on 12 Aug 2011 in AlJazeera.

Muslims tackle looters and bigots

British Muslims’ reaction to the riots should dispel any continued demonisation in the media.

There is a lively debate taking place in the UK media between left and right wing commentators as to the causes of the English riots, in which hundreds of shops and businesses have been looted. However, both sides agree that the looting has been inexcusable. I hope both sides will also agree with me that Muslims have played an important role in helping to tackle the looting and preserve public safety. This would be an especially important acknowledgment if it came from those Islamophobic commentators who consistently denigrate Muslims.

“When accused of terrorism we are Muslims, when killed by looters, we become Asian”, a Muslim student explained to me. He was commenting on the media reportingof the death of three young Muslims in Birmingham on Tuesday night. Like many other Muslims, they were bravely defending shops and communities as rioters went on a violent rampage of looting.

In recent days Muslim Londoners, Muslims from Birmingham, and Muslims in towns and cities around England have been at the forefront of protecting small businesses and vulnerable communities from looting. Having worked closely with Muslim Londoners, first as a police officer and more recently as a researcher, for the last ten years this commendable bravery comes as no surprise to me. But their example of outstanding civic duty in support of neighbors is worth highlighting – especially when sections of the UK media are so quick to print negative headlines about Muslims on the flimsiest of pretexts.
Pro-active response

On Monday evening when London suffered its worst looting in living memory I watched as a well marshaled team of volunteers wearing green fluorescent security vests marked ‘East London Mosque’ took to the streets of Tower Hamlets to help protect shops and communities from gangs of looters. This was the most visible manifestation of their pro-active response to fast moving and well co-ordinated teams of looters. Less visible was the superb work of Muslim youth workers from Islamic Forum Europe who used the same communication tools as the looters to outwit and pre-empt them on the streets.

While senior Westminster politicians started to pack and rush back to London from foreign holidays I watched Lutfur Rahman, the Muslim mayor of Tower Hamlets, offering calm leadership and support in the street as gangs of looters were intercepted and prevented from stealing goods in his presence.

Most important to emphasize is the extent to which everyone in Tower Hamlets was a beneficiary of streetwise, smart Muslims acting swiftly to protect shops, businesses and communities against looters. It is often wrongly alleged that Muslims lack any sense of civic duty towards non-Muslims and especially towards the LGBT Community. I wish peddlers of that negative anti-Muslim message had been present to see how all citizens in Tower Hamlets were beneficiaries of Muslim civic spirit and bravery on Monday night.

I am not sure if the Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan was robbed of his bike by looters in Tower Hamlets or in another part of London as he cycled home from Hackney to Greenwich on Monday night, but even his incessant negative reporting of Muslims associated with the East London Mosque would not have excluded him from their neighbourly support had they been in the immediate vicinity to help him.

Gilligan reports that police were unable to offer him any advice other than to go home when he finally received an answer to his 999 call as a victim of a violent street robbery. London policing on Monday night was stretched as never before and Gilligan was one amongst hundreds of victims who had to fend for themselves as looters ran amok around the capital city. In these unique circumstances the street skills of Muslim youth workers, who are routinely helping police to tackle violent gang crime and anti-social behaviour in Tower Hamlets, Walthamstow, Brixton and in other deprived neighbourhoods, were a key ingredient in filling the vacuum created by insufficient police numbers.

I first saw East London Mosque and Islamic Forum Europe street skills in action in 2005 when they robustly dispatched extremists from Al Muhajiroun who were in Whitechapel attempting to recruit youngsters into their hate filled group. I saw the same skills in action in the same year when volunteers from the Muslim Association of Britain and Muslim Welfare House ousted violent supporters of Abu Hamza from the Finsbury Park Mosque. More recently, Muslim bravery has been seen in Brixton when extremists spouting the latest manifestation of Al Muhajroun hatred were sent packing out of town. In all these instances, and so many more, the brave Muslims involved have received no praise for their outstanding bravery and good citizenship, and instead faced a never ending barrage of denigration from journalists such as Gilligan, Melanie Phillips, Martin Bright…. sorry I won’t go on, it’s a long list!

Sadly, many of the brave Muslims helping to keep their cities safe have not only grown used to denigration from media pundits but also faced cuts in government funding for their youth outreach work with violent gangs. This is not as a result of widespread economic cuts caused by the recession, but because the government adopts the media view that they are ‘extremist’. Street in Brixton is a case in point. Yesterday Dr Abdul Haqq Baker director of Street was forced to close a Street youth centre in Brixton as his reduced team of youth of workers struggled to keep pace with the task of tackling gang violence and its role in rioting and looting.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE AT: ALJAZEERA

Beautiful Rwanda

Rwanda is becoming increasingly noticed for its environmental policies, gender equality, stable government and breathtaking beauty. Positive internal and international support for infrastructure, education, security and eco-tourism has made it an attractive African destination.

The friendly greetings, bustling city and countryside belie reminders of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. There are an increasing number of tourists descending upon this beautiful lush land of national parks, mountain gorillas and terraced hillsides. Contrasting styles of traditional mud huts and dress are interspersed among paved roads, modern amenities and comfortable accommodations.

I traveled to Rwanda with my wife and son primarily to work at The ROP Center for Street Children. However, we take advantage of the opportunity to explore Kigali, the nation’s capital, and discover a modern city center. MORE

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Rwanda’s Children

Rwanda has made incredible changes and strides in the last 17 years, since the 1994 genocide. Most people who lived in the country previously, would not recognize the advances now made in education, health care, the environment, reconciliation, security and work. They still have a lot to do and have not always had completely fair open elections, but what the government and people have accomplished after having to start from scratch (in just 16 years) is remarkable. A lot of people don’t realize it is also a beautiful country (landscape and people).

I’ve been to Rwanda twice and worked at an orphanage there called the ROP Center for Street Children, which provides shelter, food, water, education, vocational skills and health care to homeless children. There are now over 100 kids at the center (age 5 to 18). It is run entirely by Rwandans, with a sister organization in America called The Rwandan Orphans Project, which helps raise funds to keep the center going. They pay for the water, food, teachers, nurse, clothes, rent, utilities, transportation and some secondary and college costs for the children.

These children are the future of Rwanda, East Africa, the African continent and thus the world. Please consider making a donation to this non-profit organization, which started out taking in children who had been orphaned from the genocide. 100% of the money raised goes directly to the center in Kigali (the capital of Rwanda). The administrative costs by the Rwandan Orphans Project in the US are completely done on a volunteer basis. READ MORE

There is a book I put together from stories the children at the center told me. It is called The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales. All of the royalties from its sale go to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project. TAKE A LOOK

Begging in Tel Aviv

Years ago, I went to Israel to interview Leah Rabin, wife of the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, for my book Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. The following events took place after I’d been thoroughly searched by Ms. Rabin’s security guards, completed our conversation and had some free time before going back to the funky one-light hotel room I was staying in until the morning flight home.

In the middle of modern, bustling, downtown Tel Aviv, a man in worn clothes meanders along on the back of a long, horse-drawn cart, yelling out in broken Arabic German, “Old stuff. Anybody got old stuff?” Behind his tall dark body, with the stubble face, is a pile of books that look as if they’ve been in someone’s basement since Moses parted the Red Sea.

The gentlemen sitting next to me at the sidewalk cafe, in his meticulous three piece suit and tie, explains, “He’ll get whatever used stuff he can find and sell it at the flea market in Jaffa.” He takes a breath, lifts his nose and chin skyward and says, “Scavengers. Human scavengers.”

It seems as if every third person walking by has a cell phone stuck to their ear in some private, yet public, conversation with a friend, business partner, alien or God. Who knows what lurks on the infinite satellite waves pouring into their heads?

Four out of every five women seem to have gone to identical fashion and fitness training with shapely bodies, tight black pants, one inch high heels, dark black hair and eyes to match. The other most popular outfit is army fatigues, with coordinating boots, cap and automatic weapon.

Across the street, under the Hebrew letters for The Grand Hotel, a life-size wooden cutout of Barney, yes THAT Barney, leans happily against the wall, waving merrily with his outstretched purple clubbed hand, inviting all within sight to enter the small boutique at the corner of Ben Yehuda and Fischman.

A tall, vacant-eyed man, approaches three smartly dressed elderly women sitting on the other side of me and asks them for change. I’ve never heard someone beg in Hebrew before. One of the women scrounges in her purse as the others look away and hands him some Shekels. Without a word he walks on. The women move closer and whisper with raised eyebrows as he moves down the street, shuffling from one person to the next.

I get up quickly, follow him down a side street and hand him the equivalent of about ten US dollars and say “Shalom”. His eyes come to life and a smile adorns his face from ear to ear.

He tries to hand the money back and says, “Too much. Too much.” but I insist and tell him to keep it. As I’m trying to figure out if he’s Arab, Jewish or some other nationality, he says, “Come. Come with me.” I hesitate, then follow him around the corner.

As we turn the bend a woman in a long robe and a child meet him. He says something in Arabic and turns my way. “This is my wife, Jehan and my son Ahmad.” He rubs the boys head lovingly. “Come,” he says, motioning for me to follow. “Come to our home for dinner.”

“No,” I say, sure they have little for themselves as is. “I couldn’t impose, but thank you.”

I turned and started to walk away, but he grabbed me gently by the arm and turned me around.

“It will be our blessing to have you as our guest.” He bowed slightly. “Please.”

I could have stayed put at the sidewalk cafe, ordered a big meal and sat around to enjoy the rest of the evening, but then I would never have met Omar and his family. Meeting them was by far a vast improvement to staring at women in black pants, soldiers with guns and people talking grimly into their cell phones.

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