The “Story” of Suha Omar Ali

“I can’t follow the news anymore, it’s too much.” Over the last two years, I’ve heard this sentence over and over again from friends and family who no longer live their lives to the soundtrack of Arab satellite channels, from local variants like Libya Al-Ahrar to the pan-Arab channels Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera. It has become too much. When they say this, they’re talking about car-bombings in Iraq, drones in Yemen, militias in Libya, the “second revolution” in Egypt, and most of all these days, the tragedy in Syria. The accumulated bad news has become overwhelming so they’ve consciously deafened themselves to everything. “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. It’s all a big mess.”

They don’t even get their news digitally, as all the social media gurus tell us “we” are increasingly doing. To mangle Henry Reed parodying T.S Eliot, these people have “turned off the wireless/And sit in Stockholm or Manchester listening appreciatively to the silence.” This is the other side of the coin to the news-obsessed state of an Arab world described in Tamim Barghouti’s poem, In the Arab World You Live, which ends with these depressing lines:

In the Arab world you live,

One eye on your watch

Afraid that you’ll miss the news

To see people in the Arab world die.

Once in a while though, something cuts through that deliberate deafness: a “story.” The human interest, in media terms. And it’s almost always a story about one person and their inconceivable loss. Like the story of Suha Omar Ali.

Suha Omar Ali (at right). [Source].

I heard about Suha’s story first from someone whose only remaining contact with the news is a radio alarm. Half-asleep and half-awake, she heard something on a Swedish radio broadcast about a Syrian woman who had lost three daughters to the sea, and who was being detained in Egypt with her one remaining daughter. I heard another fragment of the story from two women on the bus, one an older Iraqi woman, established in her adopted country, and another a newly arrived young Syrian who called the older woman “Aunt” and asked about bus routes. They spoke about Suha. One of her daughters was disabled. She’d been hoping to come to Sweden, where the daughter would be treated, where they would “become human.”

These women on the bus, they had arrived. [Read more...]

“Do You Dream?” – A Police Campaign against Honour-Related Crimes

The “Do you dream” poster. [Source].

As the summer vacation begins in Sweden, so does a campaign against a broad variety of crimes that the police have been addressing under the category hedersrelaterat våld och förtryck – “honour-related violence and oppression.” In particular, the police have focused on forced marriage, which they believe to be a “seasonal” crime, as the risk of people being forced into marriage are greater during the summer with the long leave.

As one article covering the campaign put it, summer vacation is “not only associated with sunbathing and swimming. For some children and young people, forced marriages are on the schedule, something the police seeks to redress through a campaign against honor crimes.” Dalarna police chief Stefan Dangart comments that “it is especially important that this knowledge is out there for people when school closes,” as children can be left with no access to adult authority figures outside the family.

The bright pink poster, directly addressing “you,” poses the question: “Do you dream about playing football, going out with friends after school, or escaping a forced marriage?[Read more...]

Smultron for Suhur: Nomadic Memories of Ramadans Abroad

Nothing says summer in Sweden like smultron.

I like the long dark winter months in Sweden. This is something that tends to make people question my sanity. But even I will admit summers here are special, as everything seems to burst into exuberant life, Mother Nature in a hurry to her work done before the cold weather returns. Though the summer is short, the days are long: in the north, the sun never sets. Where we live, there were about four hours of night on the first day of Ramadan. That is hardly enough time to fit in two meals, so I tend to skip the “Scamble for Suhur,” which occurs at about 2 am in our home. One night though, I discovered a bowl of freshly-picked smultron in the fridge – smultron being the tiny wild strawberries that grow everywhere in Sweden and abundantly in our garden. They proved irresistible, the perfect suhur snack.

So far in my life, I’ve lived in two countries in the Arab world where Ramadan announces itself with neon lights, empty streets at sunset and everyone staying up till dawn. Otherwise, we have been living “barra” as people say in Libya – abroad, in the diaspora, or, to translate barra literally, “outside.” There is a proverb I heard constantly growing up: “Ya bani fi gheir bladak, la leik wa la li awladak” – you who builds in a country not your own, it is not yours and it won’t be for your children. This was the wisdom offered by elderly women, full of life and wrinkles, who commandeered the tea ceremony in my grandmother’s home. Along with my glass of tea and almonds, I would get the chiding question: ”When are you all coming home?” [Read more...]

The Case of Södertälje: “Immigrants Can Be Racist Too”

On the 3rd of June, four Assyrian teenagers were sentenced to probation and community service for attacking a Somali Muslim woman in Södertälje, Sweden. The attack happened on November 17, 2011. The woman, who wears a headscarf, had been out to buy some milk from a shop in Hovsjö. On the way home, a group of teenagers kicked a football directly at her back. When she tried to get away they caught up with her, and for the next ten minutes screamed racist insults, spat at and slapped and punched her. One of them then forced her mouth open and spat in her mouth. [Read more...]

Revelations As A Result Of Hidden Cameras in Sweden’s Mosques

The post was written by guest contributor Maheen Nusrat.

In the latest episode of Swedish television channel SVT’s investigative news programme Uppdrag granskning, ten Swedish mosques were visited, and in six of them, imams were caught on camera giving advice harmful to women and contrary to Swedish law.  (An unofficial subtitled version of the episode, thanks to MMW writer Tasnim, is available here.) Using a hidden camera and recording equipment, two women, one posing as an abused wife and the other as her supportive friend, went to ten of Sweden’s largest mosques and asked questions relating to polygamy and wife-beating.  Imams were then caught on tape telling the wife not to report the husband to the police, even after he had beaten her and not to deny him sex under any circumstance.

In reference to polygamous husbands, six of the mosques said not to deny the husband sex, and also advised against reporting abusive husbands to the police. Nine out of the ten mosques said that men had a right to multiple wives under certain circumstances. Two mosques gave advice to report abusive husbands to the police and one mosque said that men didn’t have a right to marry several wives under Swedish law and their husbands need to follow Swedish law. [Read more...]

Nadia Jebril and the Eurabia Cassandras

Nadia Jebril was once known as “that Muslim girl with the Skåne accent.”   With her new show Rena Rama Arabiskan (“Pure Arabic”) Jebril has both moved beyond that simplistic label and inadvertently added to the clamor and the clangor of the bells of doom tolled by Eurabia cassandras in Sweden.

Nadia Jebril, from the Gothenburg university site

Like comedian (and now TV and radio show host) Gina Dirawi, Jebril began her career as an internet celebrity. At the age of 15, she created a site about Islam in Swedish, which was discovered by the editorial team of the TV program Mosaic, who then invited her to participate in a studio debate on (what else?) the veil. Jebril,  whose Palestinian parents moved to Sweden in the 60s, had decided to veil for herself; her sisters did not wear hijab. That, and her pronounced Skåne accent, brought her into the media spotlight as a figure who could take the Islam/West discussion beyond the usual binaries.

In 2000, she began to write for the online magazine Sourze; a year later she wrote columns for Sydsvenskan, and the year after she was offered the job of being a presenter – until she learned that presenters on TV were not allowed to wear anything which was deemed to indicate bias, which included the veil. In this 2003 article she was asked “How do you see the criticism that the veil makes you seem biased?” to which she responded:

the important thing is that I do my journalistic work as objectively as I can…[it was] a bit disappointing that it was so hard to see me as an individual beyond the veil, it was as if my identity would be hung on a piece of fabric.

Instead of being a presenter, Jebril worked as a reporter for six months, wearing a cap to cover her hair, which she describes as “a stepping stone to get the veil accepted on TV.”

Jebril, who has since “de-hijabed,” now has a new series on SVT2. Rena Rama Arabiskan began in November, but Jebril has been blogging about her journey around Europe since February, including talking about meeting Joumana Haddad,  discussing culture and music and posting trivia, from the use of numbers in Arabic internet chat to why Gaddafi’s name can be transliterated so many ways.

The series is a journey through Arabic as a language, as well as an actual journey through nine countries to answer questions about how Arabic  entered Europe, who speaks it today, and what the future of the language will be. At one point, Jebril comments “There is an Arabic-speaking parallel world in Europe. You no longer have to go all the way to the Middle East to experience Arabic.” The first episode is set in Sweden, beginning with Jebril describing her own sense of having “a Palestinian aunt and a young Skåne woman” in her head, dreaming in Arabic and speaking in Swedish. Jebril carries a sign with “Do You Speak Arabic?” written on it in Arabic through the streets of Stockholm, and soon meets Fredrick, a Swede who learnt both Arabic and Turkish from friends, as well as half-Egyptian half-Swede goal-keeper Rami Shaaban, whose grandmother is the actress Sherifa Maher.

"Do You Speak Arabic?" from

[Read more...]