As the late Elie Wiesel said, “As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true.”
As a Jewish American, who as a small child grew up attending demonstrations protesting for the right of Russian Jews to flee the tyrannical Soviet Union and to immigrate to Israel, I was raised with the principle that if human rights abuses occur anywhere, it affects the freedom of each and every one of us everywhere. For as the late Elie Wiesel once said, “As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true.”
I was first exposed to the plight of minorities in the Muslim world when I studied the plight of Iranian Jewry during my Model UN class in high school and read Roya Hakakian’s “Journey from the Land of No” when I was a teenager. As an enthusiastic and politically active teenager, I attended one of her book launching events in Maryland and vowed then that fighting for the rights of Iranian Jews to live dignified lives would be one of my important life missions merely because not enough people were paying attention to what was happening in that region of the world. With the time, as I grew up and matured politically, I dedicated my career not only to fighting for the rights of Iranian Jews and other Jews across the Muslim world to live dignified lives but also that of other minority groups such as Bahais, Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, Druze, Yezidis, Hindus, Kurds, Baloch and others who seek to do the same thing.
In a continuation of this life mission of mine, I decided to create the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights in the Middle East. Named after Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi, a Jewish heroine of the Renaissance who fought against the Spanish Inquisition, our center is dedicated to fighting against the human rights abuses that occur on a daily basis against minorities in the Muslim world under the motto of “standing up to tyranny.”
Just as Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi stood up to the Inquisition in favor of the depressed and downtrodden Jews of Spain, we seek to assist the wretched plight of minorities across the Muslim world who continue to suffer just as the Jews of Spain suffered. I started the process of forming this center after dedicating 6 years of my life as a journalist focusing on violations of women’s rights, minority rights and human rights in the Muslim world. As a journalistic center, we seek to raise awareness about the plight of minorities in the Islamic world within the media and on social media.
There is a great need to have a center exposing this very issue. To this day in Syria, minorities are being ethnically cleansed from the country. Last July, 270 innocent Druze civilians were massacred in Swaida. Around the same period of time, 30 Druze women and children were abducted. Recently, one of the Druze women was executed. While it was widely reported that ISIS was the culprit, Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights claimed that the Assad regime was the true culprit and ISIS was merely utilized as a cover, as demonstrated in a video clip of the execution of the Druze woman.
“The uniforms that they wore was a uniform of the Syrian regime, not ISIS,” he proclaimed. “ISIS members who want to execute invest in a landscape of desert or mountains. It is not in a room of the Syrian intelligence services. The women that ISIS holds and executes dress in black clothing. They are not left in colored clothing. It is clearly seen in the video that the murderers covered the floor with nylon and a sheet so as not to dirt the floor with blood. ISIS does not do so.”
Safadi claims that the Syrian regime has a reason to go after the Druze: “The Syrian regime tries to punish the Druze because most of them refused to participate in the ethnic cleansing and destruction of Syria. On the other hand, they want to present themselves in the international community as the exclusive guardian of the minorities in Syria.” For this reason, Safadi believes that the Syrian regime went after the Druze while shifting the blame for the attack onto ISIS.
However, numerous media outlets such as the Guardian, the BBC and Reuters blamed ISIS for the Swaida attack as well as the subsequent abduction of 30 Druze women and children, and not the Syrian regime. I was among the first journalists to report on the ISIS-Assad connection but even though the association between the two is well-established fact by now, the mainstream media still fails to recognize the cooperation between the Syrian regime and ISIS. The lack of exposure of the ISIS-Assad connection in Western circles is what enables Russia to continue to prop up Assad without any sort of real interference by the United States and Europe.
Aside from Assad’s horrific atrocities against the Druze, which in recent years have been ignored in order to advance Russia’s interests, the Hindus of Bangladesh similarly suffer from a lack of publicity for the human rights abuses that they suffer on a daily basis. In recent days, a Hindu schoolgirl was kidnapped and 7 idols in two Hindu temples have been vandalized. Hindu students in Bangladesh have been served beef. For them, being served beef is like Jewish and Muslim students being served pork. It is religiously forbidden in their faith. Cows are holy to Hindus.
Sadly, the Muslim persecution of Hindus has a long history within Bangladesh. It started with the 1930 Dhaka riots. In 1946, during the Noakhali riots, Hindus were massacred, raped, abducted and forcefully converted to Islam. And today, the Bangladeshi government is trying to finish off what they did not succeed to do then by massacring, raping, abducting and forcefully converting Hindus while looting and stealing their property in addition to vandalizing and desecrating their holy sites. Yet not many in the international community are critical of how the Bangladeshi government has been mistreating minorities.
In recent years, I have suffered immensely because I am someone who decided to take a stand and not to sit back silently. I have been slandered. I have been harassed. There are individuals waging smear campaigns against me online on multiple fronts. And furthermore, my anti-virus all the time blocks numerous hacking attempts. And yet, despite all of this, I refuse to stop standing up for the rights of minorities in the Muslim world to live dignified lives because it is my reason d’etre for living. It is why G-d placed me on this earth. And for this reason, individuals who write against me online only empower me more to continue my struggle for the rights of the minorities in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Balochistan, etc. to live dignified lives.
While dictatorial regimes rely upon having scapegoats in order to survive and the minorities of the Muslim world together with the State of Israel offer these regimes such a scapegoat, these horrific Muslim regimes are not preordained to last forever. Even as a teenager, I knew that the peoples living in these dictatorships will wake up one day and want a better tomorrow. In the wake of the Arab Spring and the Iran protests, I am convinced that they have now woken up and are willing to fight for a better future. While there are regressive forces trying to keep the peoples of the Muslim world in a horrific situation, one day, the voices of freedom and justice will prevail. These horrific regimes will be replaced by more democratic governments, who will respect minority rights, women’s rights and human rights. And we in the West should do everything in our power in order to assist them.