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Posts Tagged ‘exile’

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Photo: Barbara Crossette/PassBlue
Fathiah Zakham studied tuberculosis in Yemen until a bomb destroyed the university where she was working. Through the Scholar Rescue Fund, she received safe haven in Helsinki, Finland, to study.

Scholars and scholarship are generally endangered in authoritarian countries and in war zones. Fortunately, there are activists determined to keep the search for truth alive among all nationalities. The Scholar Rescue Fund was established to place refugee scholars in safe institutions where they can continue their work. Even in today’s isolationist America, refugee scholars are getting a future.

Deborah Amos reported on international placement efforts at National Public Radio (NPR) last fall.

“Around the globe, more scholars are now threatened and displaced than since World War II began. In response, U.S. universities have sponsored endangered scholars and recently created a consortium that offers a broader academic community to refugee scholars threatened by war and authoritarian governments.

” ‘There is a moral obligation to do something,’ said Arien Mack, a psychology professor at New York City’s New School for Social Research, who launched Endangered Scholars Worldwide in 2007 to draw attention to the threats facing academics. She now oversees the New University in Exile Consortium, which will bring exiled scholars together over the next two years for seminars, workshops and conferences. The New School has recruited 10 other universities to the consortium, and is urging more to join. …

” ‘We are trying to nurture intellectual capital, we are saving brains,’ Mack said at a Sept. 6 event in New York City to launch the project. ‘Even when [refugee scholars] are safe, what is painfully absent is that they don’t get integrated, they are isolated, they suffer from estrangement.’ …

“Syrian academic Mohammad Alahmad, a specialist in Arabic literature, had to negotiate with Islamist radicals to continue teaching at Al-Furat University’s campus in Raqqa. In 2014, the militants declared Raqqa the capital of the Islamic State. …

“He escaped the city with his family, smuggling them across a dangerous border into Turkey after ISIS shut down his university. He was awarded a fellowship by the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, an organization that helps arrange emergency placement and funds for academic figures at risk. He was matched with Georgetown University where he is now a lecturer at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. …

“The Scholar Rescue Fund, established in 2002, has helped more than 700 scholars find academic placements in 43 countries. About 40 percent have been placed in American educational institutions.

“Indian activist and academic Binalakshmi Nepram says her work advocating for gender rights and a women-led disarmament movement in her home state of Manipur, in northeast India, led to threats and intimidation. … Now she is a visiting scholar in residence at Connecticut College.

” ‘We have all left everything behind,’ she said. … Her placement in Connecticut is a lifeline. She has continued her activism, giving a recent lecture on how the women of Manipur state worked together to confront violence in a decades-old armed conflict between insurgents and the Indian military.

‘Before I got this job, [American] people told me I could be a bartender or a babysitter,’ she said. ‘Every job has its dignity, but we have our skills.’

More at NPR, here.

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Radio Lifeline for Syria


Photo: Amandas Ong
An Alwan radio producer in the station’s recording studio. The broadcast lifeline to Syria is located in an apartment complex in Turkey.

Where people struggle to carry on their lives in the midst of war, radio can provide comfort and hope. This is a story about Syrians in exile who broadcast news and normalcy to people back home.

Amandas Ong writes at Slate, “I push my way out of the metro station in southwestern Istanbul where Sami — not his real name — and I have agreed to meet. …

” ‘It’s not far from here,’ he says, directing me down an overhead bridge through a number of serpentine streets. …

“The hive of activity inside forms the Istanbul operations of Radio Alwan, (Alwan means ‘colors’ in Arabic) an independent Syrian news station broadcasting into that devastated country every day. Alwan provides much-needed news updates to information-starved Syrians and also runs popular entertainment programs and controversial discussions. …

“Three bedrooms have been converted into a meeting room, a recording studio, and an office. … Most of the staff had no prior training in radio journalism before joining Alwan. Sami describes himself as having ‘come from a regular, boring HR job in Dubai.’ …

“ ‘The point of Alwan,’ he had told me in a prior conversation over FaceTime, ‘is not just to report the news. Radio is also a form of activism, and through our programs, we try to do our part by encouraging people to engage with civic organizations within Syria, and to inform them on what’s really happening both around the country and outside of it.’ …

“A law student named Ahmad al-Qadour started Radio Alwan in 2014 in the northern Syrian city of Idlib. … They decided to relocate Alwan’s central office to Istanbul after a series of threats from Islamic radical groups such as the al-Nusra Front, which had been part of the Syrian wing of al-Qaida before splitting from the group in 2016. …

“A typical day at Alwan begins at 6 a.m. in the Istanbul office, where the team of about 15 staff members assembles for a variety of Syrian and international news segments, followed by talk shows and short radio skits, some educational, others comedic. …

“Sami is especially proud of Oh, Grandma, a program presented by a woman from Idlib who is identified by her initial, N. She has a day job as a teacher, but in her role at Alwan, she visits the houses of women in the city and interviews them about their lives, their daily struggles, and discusses salient issues with them, such as the legal age for marriage for Syrian women. …

“Maram, a 24-year-old in a slouchy sweater and jeans, comes to talk to me. She graduated from a media school in Damascus and decided to come to Turkey to seek better job opportunities, before stumbling upon an open position at Alwan. …

“I ask her what she likes most about Alwan, and she doesn’t hesitate: ‘I learn a lot every single day, but most of all, it’s taught me so much about how to deal with uncertainty.’ …

“Sami [has] a philosophical approach to the objective of radio itself.

“ ‘We have a program called Acute Angle,’ he says, ‘that encourages people to accept the idea that there is no such thing as true fact. In each segment, we talk about different personalities like Michael Jackson, Ataturk, and even Walt Disney, and how these people have been represented both positively and negatively. I want our listeners to know that there are no taboos, and also no perspective on any one issue or narrative that should be taken for granted.’ …

“[It’s staff member] Dima who has perhaps the most poetic vision of her work at Alwan. ‘What I’ve learned is that the people who listen to us aren’t just suffering day in and out. They want to live, love, dance, laugh. Sometimes we draw courage from them, other times they are comforted by us, hundreds of miles away,’ she says. ‘That’s the beauty of radio: It has soul.’ ”

More here.

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At National Public Radio, Rachel Martin reported recently on Music in Exile, an initiative that is providing a certain comfort to displaced musicians and other refugees.

“Alex Ebsary, a member of the Music in Exile team, explains that its mandate is straightforward: ‘What we do is go around, either to refugee camps or to places that we know there will be refugees or internally displaced Iraqis, and try to find musicians,’ he says. ‘They can be anyone, from somebody who knows how to sing a few songs to professionals.’

“One of the musicians featured in the project is Barakat Ali, a Yazidi man who fled from ISIS attacks on his home of Khana Sor. He says the past few years have changed the way he approaches music.

” ‘Sometimes, I feel very sad about what happened to Yazidis,’ he says. ‘So I’m just playing this music and singing to forget myself, to not be so worried and cry about these things. And sometimes I’m crying while singing.’ …

“Hear the full interview at the audio link,” here.

According to Wikipedia, “Yazidism is linked to ancient Mesopotamian religions and combines aspects of Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism.”

I wish I could learn about these unfamiliar cultures through less tragic events, but I do like to learn something new. A colleague at my old job enlightened me about his Assyrian relatives, who were suffering the same dangers as the Yazidis at about the same time period, 2015.

Assyrians are mainly Christian (Wikipedia again) and speak a modern version of Aramaic. Amazing! Now I am completely confused by Byron’s energizing lines, “The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold …”

History is written by the victors.

Photo: Sasha Ingber
Barakat Ali is a Yazidi refugee and musician who has contributed to the recording project Music in Exile.

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