Sunday, January 11, 2015

Will my #CharlieHebdo tribute kill me one day?

Many a time I have followed criticisms of satirical caricaturists as a student, discussing who's right and who's wrong in painting a picture because freedom of speech allows it or those who are offended by it from an academic point of view. When I engaged in the topic that is the Charlie Hebdo shooting yesterday, the point of view had changed drastically: I am no longer an onlooker; today I am a journalist myself. This morning I was haunted by the thought that should religious extremism lead to actions like that in Egypt, it would be me and my colleagues who would be the target. And yet, I have never been more inclined to stand with Charlie Hebdo because today I know what that freedom they now lost their life for is worth.

The type of journalism we practice at my job is very much one that religious extremists would condemn. We speak openly about homosexuality, pornography and other ideas that are alienated in Egyptian society, yet part of every country's reality. I enjoy that we are standing for a society that has not been thoroughly accepted in Egypt. As a result, we very much stand for the "evil West" whose influence is not all together wanted. I, however, prefer that society. Despite being willing to adapt to the foreign culture I believe in the values I come from and refuse to adapt to some of the values common in Egypt. Freedom of Speech is just one of them!

It never occurred to me that I might one day be affected by not being able to speak my mind. Now I live in Egypt and I am not free to speak my mind in this private blog or the publication I work for in fear of being shut down by the government. One of my colleagues has been arrested before which wasn't all that surprising, the threat of yearlong prison sentences, however, was. Never before did I think I would ever find myself in the shoes where my expressions could get me in trouble. Unsurprisingly, solidarity for the slain Charlie Hebdo journalists is naturally a different matter for someone of my profession because it could easily have been me.

To me, expression of any kind should never be a brave act, it should be self-evident. If someone feels the strong need to tell the whole world that I am a nasty person it will of course insult me but I would never take any action to stop that person from doing so by force. Voltaire famously said "I don't like what you have to say but I would die for your right to say it." Truer words have never been spoken! Even though I sound ignorant and offensive saying what I'm about to say, but I don't give a crap who got offended by a caricature. Nothing, and I repeat it, nothing, justifies murder and I refuse to accept a religion that would rather see murder than offensive behavior. Luckily, I believe that these individuals are misinterpreting what Prophet Mohamed preached although I personally find no use for the application of such doctrine in my life.

I expressed my solidarity on the only output accessible to me despite being a journalist of a major Egyptian publication and posted a Facebook status. The next morning one Egyptian friend of mine posted a comment that was very much offensive to me and the killed journalists. However, I am glad I have the chance to not delete his comment, engage with him on the platform and point out that I thought his opinion and choice of words was horrible in my eyes. Being able to have this exchange is no longer a right I have on the bigger scale. We may not see eye to eye but I come from a country that is able to have this discussion while my Egyptian friend is not. And when he said he wants more freedom but not at the expense of ridicule about the Prophet, other friends rightfully pointed out that part of freedom of speech is freedom to criticize. I'm happy I get to both speak freely and criticize abundantly where I'm from. Being offended is a price I would gladly pay for freedom of expression.

I am sorry Muslims are offended by actions that are the direct result of people from my part of the world expressing themselves. I don't need to agree with the behavior of Charlie Hebdo to be able to thoroughly stand behind the ideas they stand for. I would never draw a religious caricature because I have a personal interest in not offending Muslims but I am glad France was executing the right of liberty to do so if one so wished. There will never be universal understanding on some topics and I will never understand why Muslims freak out about a picture despite the fact that the same rule applies for the Christian God. I can therefore whole-heartedly stand behind solidarity to Charlie Hebdo and condemn the terrorists' actions. I have no ounce of understanding handling conflict that way and I don't want to try. It is unmistakable to me who is in the wrong here and it's hard stopping delusional extremism. But I'm proud that the fear of such maniacs doesn't stand between us and our freedom because, in the end, that freedom is worth it!

Friday, January 9, 2015

How Egypt made me sick... literally!

On the past three weeks I was battling every sickness there is. Living in Africa, I can't even count how many times someone suggested I have Ebola. Instead I knew exactly what had cause this misery: my body is finding an output to stop me because I don't listen to it asking to take a break. My body has never been sick because it caught a bug; my immune system has been doing a good job. The only thing that has the power to knock me out is my brain. If I was a romantic novelist I would have chosen to say it's my heart that makes me sick. Either way, I know what caused my body to fail and me refusing it to do so didn't help either.

First I had a UTI, sadly brought about by reasons that didn't even sexually satisfy me, but I ignored it. Then I got the cold. I ignored it. When I started coughing like a 60 year old motorbike, had a heartrate of 180, a fever of 39 and lost the ability to walk while I was on Christmas vacation I thought it had become time to do what I hate most: call a doc! Minutes later I found myself getting an infusion and three different types of medication. What followed was three days of complete inability to do anything. Thankfully the next day I moved in with my boy of choice who had the ungrateful task of making me feel better as it was simply not happening. My bad conscience about leaving everyone at the job hanging saw me return to the job when I was still feeling like hell, and it just never got better since.

As I read about the Charlie Hebdo shooting and started realizing with force that I no longer live in a free society my body started itching. It reminded me of a time nine years ago when I saw 8 different doctors in the US to find out what this invisible rash on my body was. Nobody had found anything. Curiously, the day I moved out of the house I was living in with the most emotionally abusive woman I have ever met, the rash disappeared. Evidently, the itching had been brought about by my complete and utter discomfort living the way I was. The same thing was happening this week. Realizing the human rights you grew up with are no longer part of your life has caused me tremendous discomfort in the last few weeks. With terror looming, however, the effect it had on my body was increased.

My body just needs a way to express it's not ok with how I'm feeling. I should be super happy because everything in life is going great for me and yet I struggle with rejoicing because I feel so restricted in the society I live in. Now I'm not living a dangerous life but I am living an uncomfortable one. Being a blonde girl on the metro won't cause obvious harassment but it will cause me to not want to be there. Giving a guy I'm talking to a slap on the shoulder is unacceptable. Laughing out loud and being merry isn't forbidden but will raise eyebrows. Everyone who knows me knows that I can't possibly be myself in this country without having at least all eyes on me. Despite what people may think I don't like attention, at least not bad attention, and although I don't care about being judged, being the victim of raised eyebrows doesn't make me feel good.

I understand that I can't just come to the Middle East and do whatever the frick I want. However, accepting to acclimatize to a society you you have a hard time being part of is infinitely harder than making an effort with a crowd you like. I have no desire to be accepted by people who don't accept individuality, freedom of expression and secularism, all of which are principles my short life has taught me to love. I don't believe this part of Egyptian culture is not worth engaging with but I will refuse for it to have an influence on me. In a way it's a mutual feeling because to many people over here I am living a less righteous and therefore correct life. I, on the other hand, prefer my life big time. This might make me ignorant but if it does there is nothing I can do about it because I love freedom and despise hypocrisy, both of which are toxic to each other in this country. You can't have one without the other.

All this has contributed to the fact that I have not enjoyed to witness the life I'm living here. After all it is an experience and I'm learning a lot but first and foremost I'm realizing that I can't live without freedom. Being restricted is not in my nature and my body has picked up on it. Because I'm not giving my body the chance to fight the feelings of discomfort it got worse and worse to the extent where my impatience with this country found a way to express itself through my health. I'm still happy about being here and being here is the easiest way to get experiences that are essential for an easier life in the future but I have come to the boundaries of my existence accepting the unknown. I also had to realize that I am more ignorant than I thought as I whole-heartedly believe that a European life features the better quality of life and I can't wait to leave this lifestyle behind me one day in the distant future. When they say I should leave my comfort zone to make better experiences I never knew I had an area outside my comfort zone. I guess I found it!