Monday, February 23, 2009

An Eye For An Eye

Ever since I saw this story last week I cannot help but think about it and the ramifications. The story is here:

The story is about a young woman named Ameneh who lives in Iran. She was unfortunate enough to have a young man sit next to her in college. He purposely brushed up against her and she was outraged. It was then that he began a two year pursuit of her. He harassed her and threatened her and even asked her to marry him. She however refused his advances.
One day after work she was approaching the bus stop when she heard someone behind her as she turned around she saw him and the next thing she felt was intense pain. He had thrown acid on her face. It immediately burned her entire face, her eyes, her arms and hands. Her mother kept the clothes she was wearing which shriveled and burned too. She was left permanently scarred and blind.

She has asked her government to blind her attacker with acid in the Islamic law tradition of "an eye for an eye" known as qisas. My understanding of qisas is that when used the punishment cannot not exceed that done by the perpetrator. Recently the courts in Iran have denied her attackers appeal and he could at any time be blinded. It is my understanding that he would have acid dropped into his eyes not sprayed on him in keeping with what qisas demands. She says her request is not one of vengeance but so that he can never do the same to another person and basically to show men that they cannot get away with this type of behavior. Human rights activists are outraged. I for one have been sitting on the fence quietly digesting the facts of this case and trying to come to some conclusion, none of which appear very satisfactory to me.

In researching this issue I was stunned to find out that in Bangladesh alone there have been over 2,600 acid attacks since 1999 against woman and young girls. According to IRIN, The UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs most of these were a result of land disputes, refusals of love declarations/proposals or problems with dowries. According to human rights groups these sorts of attacks are common in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iraq and India. Often times women who take their cases to the courts find that they are met with disdain in which they are told that if they had only agreed to what the man had wanted they never would have had this problem.

In many countries women who have failed to dress modestly, meaning that their legs or heads may not have been covered or improperly so according to an arbitrary set of standards; have also been victims of acid attack.

Especially chilling is the story of the 11 girls and 4 teachers attending the Mirwais School for Girls in Afghanistan. On November 14, 2008 three men on motorcycles sprayed them with acid. The act was meant to intimidate the girls of the valley to remain uneducated and to stay away from school. In an incredible show of bravery almost all have returned to school refusing to be intimidated.

In 2002, parliament enacted two laws against acid violence: Under the Acid Control Act of 2002, the unlicensed production, import, transport, storage, sale, and use of acid can result in a prison term of 3-10 years. Those who possess chemicals and equipment for the unlicensed production of acid can get the same prison term.

One doctor sounded an optimistic note: "Since then, acid violence has been showing a rapid decline," said Shamanta Lal Sen of the burns and plastic surgery unit at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).

According to ASF, 221 and 192 people were subjected to acid violence in 2006 and 2007 respectively. In 2000 and 2001 their number was 234 and 349 respectively.

Combating the crime of acid throwing is not easy as it appears to be a fairly common occurance in some countries. And little is done to the perpetrators except for them being ordered to make a minimal financial payment as a form of restitution. Two thousand dollars hardly begins to compensate for the intense medical care required when skin is melted and burned to the bone. Further, in a country in which beauty means so much and disability renders one invisable and obsolete, permenant disfigurement is tantamount to sentencing one to death because eventually there will be no one or no system to take care of the victim. First the victim is victimized by the attacker, then often by the courts and finally shunned by society as a whole. And the offender knows all of this and delights in it.

If it is true that prison terms have reduced the number of acid attacks then perhaps it is possible that even tougher mandatory sentences would help to decrease the number of incidences. But then again,perhaps, if Ameneh Bahrami is right, the blinding of her perpetrator may have more of an effect on stopping acid attacks than any laws presently on the books. Furthermore,if she does nothing and he attacks again her refusal to take action will make her accountable to the next victim for their injury.Lest we try to forget the man who is to be blinded is not an innocent man being used to advance a cause but he is the man who knowingly plotted and planned to disfigure and rob an innocent young woman of the life she knew and loved. He succeeded.

According to a story in the Washington Post... More than two weeks ago, Movahedi was led into court by two policemen. He showed no remorse when the court ruled on the case. When the judge asked whether he was ready for his punishment, Movahedi said that he still loved Bahrami but that if she asked for his eyes to be taken out, he would seek the same punishment for her.

"They must also completely empty out her eyes, since I'm not sure that she cannot secretly see," he said. "The newspapers have made this a huge case, but I haven't done anything bad."

Ameneh Bahrami has the right to ask for an eye for an eye and has sound reasons for doing so. First and foremost her attacker STILL doesn't believe he has done anything bad as quoted in the article by the Washington Post.

Preventing harm to others is Bahrami's goal and it is a noble one in a country where there is no justice for women. May her goal of eliminating acid attacks be the outcome of her quest and may women everywhere never have to fear such a barbaric act being perpetrated on them or their loved ones.

As John Stuart Mill has expressed, "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Friendship At It's Best

I have a small group of friends that know me pretty much inside and out...and bless their hearts... they are still my friends. We were brought together by virtue of some shared characteristics of our children. The bond that we have gone on to form transcends our original purpose of providing support to one another. Our relationships are now based not so much on our children's issues but on our real concern and love for each other. We now enjoy a Friendship that begin with a capital F even if it is mostly virtual.

Many of these friends I have met in "real" life. A few I have yet to meet except out in cyberspace. We have shared our joys and concerns. We have lived each others ups and downs. We have been there for the little victories and some major defeats. We have watched each others children grow and been there when a diagnosis threatened to overwhelm. As a result of sharing such intimacies over the years we read each other fairly well.

Recently, I found myself at a crossroads... a low point so to speak. My friends gave me the encouragement that usually brings me to my feet again. Most important they took the time to give me ideas and options that they thought might make my life just a little brighter. Yet, I remained on my knees and they knew it. Then yesterday I went to our group and found that a member had posted the start of the most beautiful and meaningful gift I have ever been given. She started a list entitled 25 Random Things We Love About You. The list was sincere, uplifting and once again reminded me of who I am and who I want to become. Some things were funny, some serious and some were eye opening but all the things on the list were written with love. When I read the list I laughed and cried. I was truly touched and beside myself with delight. Because of that list I am standing on my feet once again.

A present that affirms you for who you are...warts and all... only comes along once or twice in a lifetime. It is a gift are as rare as the most precious gem. It's a gift that teachs, stirs, and allows you to remember yourself as you were at your best. It restores confidence, grants healing and puts you back on the path to yourself. It is a gift that everyone should give to at least one other person in their lifetime. Everyone should be so lucky.

I have yet to comment to my friends how I feel about such receiving such a treasure. I mean it is truly like winning the lottery. I find it hard to contemplate about what was said without feeling such a overwhelming sense of gratitude that I have such a group of wonderful women watching my back...I almost dissolve in tears. So lacking any real gift that could compare in return I just wanted to say thank you my dear friends. I want to thank you for giving me your time when I had none to give back and thank you for giving me your strength when I was too weak to support myself much less you. Thank you for giving me your love and your truth. You have given me your best over the years even when I fell short. I am truly blessed to have known each and every one of you. All of you have taught me so many things but most of all you have taught me the true meaning of friendship and for that I will always be grateful and in your debt.Someday I hope I can give back to you what you have given me over the years. For now....all you get is this IOU.

The Intruder

I am guilty. Probably most mothers of autistic children are guilty too. We talk about our children and their difficulties and then add something to the effect, "But K wouldn't be who he/she was without their autism." Pretending that having autism is somehow okay. Almost sounding desireable. But it is not. Autism is not okay and I for one am tired of pretending that it is okay in any way, shape or form.

Too often I have heard the old cliche that adversity builds character. That I should be somehow thankful that my child is lucky to be learning character building at such a young age. Well thank you very much but my child has enough character all ready. He doesn't need any more. And he certainly doesn't need life's hard lessons to be pounding at his door at such an early age. Frankly it isn't fair that his door is pounded on while others just get a tap. Which brings me to my next point...Life Isn't Fair.

Growing up I remember getting the "you weren't born with a fairness guarantee in life" spiel from my parents. Well, fairness applies if you have a level playing field. Autism distorts that field. Everything that neuro typical persons know about the game is understood and it defined in the play book. For the person who has autism there is no rule book and their is no team. There is just them standing on the sidelines trying to "understand" the game. Like all parents everywhere I don't expect that everything should or will be fair for my son. I just want him to be able to have the chance to get into the fairness game and I want the same rules that other kids play by to apply to him.

I also think that the old saying "Life Is Not Easy" when applied to our kids is wrong. Yes, life is not easy but who says like should have to be so hard? A middle of the road approach by society to my child would be nice.

But what I hate the most is the kind of unspoken belief that children who are "different" are put on this earth to teach others character traits such as compassion. While it is wonderful that some (and I say some) children will be able to recognize and develop these traits as a result of knowing my son, it is not his primary purpose in life to help others gain their moral grounding. His purpose is to bring his best person forward both in society and within himself. And autism robs him of his whole self and his ability to achieve his full potential. Even if the only thing missing from his full potential is just to be able to tell and understand a joke.

Autism is not my son's friend nor mine. It is heartless and cruel. Autism has no compassion and shows no remorse. It just walks in our door and into our lives and makes itself at home. But it is an outsider who doesn't belong and I refuse to forget that. Just as we would fight off an intruder trying to get past our front door so we must fight autism. We must find the causes, discover better treatments and offer more to those who find autism at their front door. And as hard as autism tries to fully push open our door I will continue to try and shut it out. I will NOT let autism take my son and I will not let it take me. Until my last breath I will push against that door trying to keep autism and all its idosychrocies at bay. It is a fight that I intend to win.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I will NEVER understand

Today I was driving listening to NPR. THe story was about Iraqi Security Forces. You can view it here

During the story they were talking about how the security forces in Sammara distrusted one another. Then this:

Capt. Waleed Abdul Rahman is the head of the major crimes division at the local police station.

"One girl claimed that the police commandos violated her. In another case, a girl was kidnapped, and her family claimed that she had been forcibly abducted by a national policeman as well and taken to Baghdad," he says.

Abdul Rahman says the first case was never investigated. The second girl was slain by her family in a so-called honor killing when she returned home.

The captain says they generally don't take the complaints of assault and rape seriously.

But without an investigation, it's hard to determine the truth of the allegations or how widespread the problem may be.

Frankly, I tend to try to look at things outside of my own personal cultural biases and try to understand why some things are done in some areas of the world and not others. I really try not to force my ethnocentric cultural beliefs on others. But I will NEVER comprehend the fact that a young woman is abducted off the streets and then slain by her own family in an honor killing due to no fault of her own. I won't get it and I refuse to get it. And I think that women everywhere should refuse to get it too. Women everywhere should be damn mad about this young innocents death. We should all be working to help change laws that allow for this type of senseless murder and betrayal. Betrayal by the men involved, by the family and the belief that woman's lives are essentially worth nothing. Women need to halt any talk that a woman is somehow responsible for men being unable to control themselves. Instead they must demand that men recognize and show respect for the humanity that resides within every human being. Women are not disposable. Women are not "less than." Women are not merely objects to show off and put away as a man sees fit.

Further, to add insult to injury, in the NPR story the person who is the head of the crimes divison states that they generally don't take the complaints of assault and rape seriously. You would think that when a young girl could be killed by her family or stoned to death by her neighbors because she was abducted or raped that the complaints would be taken very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that the local police would be required find a safe haven for the girl. Unfortunately that is not the case.

I wish all the women in the world could comprehend the power that they have. They only have to turn to the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo for inspiration. While millions of Argentine youth were being kidnapped and slain by their own government the mothers of the victims demanded answers. For thirty one years these women have marched every Thursday to insist that the government provide an accounting as to what happened to their children. Some of these brave women ultimately lost their lives for their struggle but ultimately the group was responsible for the downfall of the military government. I was honored to walk with the women when I visited Buenos Aires. The Madres are getting older now making the trip to the Plaza difficult. But still they come. As one mother explained, "We cannot let the world forget the sorrow we have endured. No mother should have to wonder what has happened to her child. We do this to show other women that women are powerful and that they can enact change. We do this to try and halt further injustice in the world."

Or how about the fight of the "Jersy Girls." These four skillful women, made widows after the attacks of 9/11; applied pressure, worked the media and forced the United States government to create the 9/11 Commission to find out how and why the attacks happened that killed their husbands. And they would not take no for an answer until their question of "Why?" was answered.

And when discussing the change that women can bring about lets not forget the women of Latin American who during the past several years have demanded legislative access within their government. Argentina, Mexico and ten other Latin American countries now have quotas in place which require that women hold 20-40% of the seats in their country's legislatures. The United States should be so forward thinking!

Women can and do make a difference. Women are entitled to make that difference without having to give up their lives to do so. They are entitled to educate their daughters. But it is very simplistic for me to speak of what should be done. I have the luxury to encourage women who live in countries where honor killing occur without having to worry that my life would end should I speak out in an attempt to silence my oppressors and create change. I have never been faced with these types of situations. If I were, would I be so brave as to openly defy those who would think nothing of taking my life? One can only hope that I will never have to find out. Extremism in any form is dangerous. But it is especially deadly for the women of the world whose voices have been stolen. As free women we must speak for those who can't, march for those who are missing and attempt right the wrongs of those who those who would abuse us.

If you don't know about women's rights (or lack thereof) in some areas of the Middle East here is a good article. and another

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In His Eyes

I don't seek perfection for I know I will never reach it. Like the brass ring it will always be beyond my reach. But I do try to seek my sense of perfection through your eyes. I don't always try my hardest. There are times when my get up and go got up and went. Sometimes I succeed when I least deserve or expect it. And sometimes I fail myself and others. Often I try again. But whatever I do I know that it is alright if I am with you. For you accept me for who I am and who I am striving to become.You know me and love me anyway. You teach me about patience, contentment and happiness in your quiet loving and just "being". If love is indeed "two people leading each other onto themselves" then lets keep walking on our journey together. I will walk alongside you discovering who I am while you discover who you are meant to be both in our relationship and outside of it. Together we will find our way to ourselves and each other in a way that is beneficial for both. Yet, although we walk along the same path during our journey we will each see the pathway differently. We will notice different things along the way. I see moss and yellow roses. You see the mountains and the trees. And when we put the pieces together of what we makes up the whole picture and me.