CHECKLIST: Do you believe in Patriarchal ideas?

We talk a lot about patriarchy, but do we know what it is? Patriarchy as a system colors our understanding of gender, sexuality, power, family, religion, education, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and workplace norms. Though a certain kind of man reaps the most benefits and rewards of patriarchy, both men and women uphold patriarchy through their behaviours, beliefs, relationships, and discourse.

One of the core ideas of patriarchy is that gender occurs “naturally” on a binary– meaning that there are only “natural” men and women– and that there is a “moral” imperative recognizing this “nature.” Furthermore, men can only be masculine and their masculinity can only occur in a specific way under patriarchy. Women can also only be feminine and feminity is interpreted as less powerful than masculine traits. Part of this binary hinges on anatomy being the defining factor for gender expression.

This belief is so tightly held, that in all countries around the world the LGBTQIA community is shunned from society and criminalized to varying degrees. Around the world, there are policies in place to limit women’s participation and access to resources in society. Both secular and religious institutions benefit greatly from patriarchy. Both Western and Non-Western countries are guilty of this.

Most conversations regarding gender justice are still limited to uplifting only a certain kind of woman into visibility. But to truly combat patriarchy and achieve gender justice, we must include the LGBTQIA community in our discourse. In fact, some of the most valuable work on combatting toxic masculinity is already being done by the trans community, but their work is hardly visible from mainstream straight, heteronormative conversations.

Patriarchal ideas are so embedded in our culture, that recognizing and unlearning it can take years. Here is a checklist of some common patriarchal ideas to help you along that path:

  1. Marriage is only between cisgender, straight men and women.
  2. Men can only be masculine in a way that asserts power and dominance over others
  3. Women can only exhibit feminine traits, otherwise, they are a slew of derogatory terms
  4. Men and women each have a certain defined, predictable physical anatomy.
  5. Men are hairy and women are not.
  6. Blatant cases of sexual assault will be perceived as “hard to understand why a man would do that.”
  7. “Ugly” women do not get sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped
  8. “Ugly” women who allege rape or sexual assault did it to trap the man and ruin his career
  9. A woman cannot get raped by her husband because he is her husband all sex in marriage is consensual
  10. Women outside the United States need feminism, but American feminists are crazy and are making a fuss about nothing.
  11. Women must cover up their bodies to indicate modesty
  12. Women who are not covered up enough are loose, immodest women
  13. Women who cover their bodies too much are brainwashed and oppressed by men
  14. Women who don’t dress in revealing clothing are not sexually attractive
  15. Men are only sexually attracted to women who reveal their bodies, therefore if a woman covers up she will prevent a man from having “feelings.”
  16. If a woman dresses a certain way, she is asking to be disrespected.
  17. In the family, men always work while women don’t have to or should not work at all
  18. In the family, if a woman has a job or career outside the home she must also take care of the home when she gets off work.
  19. In the family, the man’s opinion is the ultimate decision.
  20. In work meetings, being the loudest and speaking is more important than listening
  21. In work, being the one to start a new venture is more important than being the teammate who supports operations and makes sure the work continues
  22. In work, men will ask why there are not that many women in the room without questioning or understanding patriarchy and their own role in limiting women
  23. A woman cannot leave her family’s home unless she has a respectable reason to: a prestigious work/education opportunity or marriage. A woman is discouraged from taking risks and finding her true passion through trial and error, but a man can in the same family.
  24. In arguments, a man will hit the woman and it will be both their faults (or maybe just her fault).

Links to Mental Health articles in Arabic | روابط لمقالات بالعربية تتحدث عن الصحة النفسية

Last week, an acquaintance on Facebook posted a status saying “يبدو أن ما أجيده فعلاً نهاية المطاف هو الانتحار.. كمن سبق” or “It seems that what I can do best is to commit suicide after all..”

People noticed, checked in on him, and he posted an update. He explained that psychological pressures caused him to make that comment. For some background, this person is Syrian and survived a brutal siege under heavy bombardment, and is now living as a refugee in Turkey. He later posted another update saying that he was getting better.

The vast majority of people left supportive comments, but I was disturbed by how others (Syrian and non-Syrian) publicly reacted. One person told him to stop being selfish and to “be a man.” Another tagged him in a post that said: “My crazy friend just posted that he wants to commit suicide” complete with a side-eye emoji.

When someone expresses that they want to commit suicide, you should:

  1. Listen
  2. Make a supportive comment, do not be dismissive.
    • An example of a supportive comment is “Hi, I am here to talk if you want. I care about you.”
    • An example of a dismissive comment is “Come on, are you serious? That’s selfish!”
  3. Know Your Resources
    • The first resource is knowledge so that you can better take care of yourself and others. I’ve listed some resources below in Arabic that cover suicide and other topics.
    • The second resource is knowing what services are available. I found a suicide hotline link in Lebanon and Jordan, but not an Arabic-language one in Turkey that an Arabic speaker might use. If you know of one, let me know and I’ll add it to the list. Other resources to know are who the mental health providers are in your area and how to get an appointment with a doctor.
  4. Know Your Limits
    • You can provide listening and support, but there are other things that only a clinician can do.
  5. Get Support
    • Build a community where it’s normal to talk about mental health care.

More information on common mental health issues:

Resources in Lebanon

Resources in Jordan

  • Suicide Prevention Hotline number | الخط الساخن الوطني للحد من الانتحار

    Amman: 0096 262 508 900

                0096 262 508 902

                0096 262 508 903

                0096 262 508 904

                0096 262 508 939

                0096 262 508 941


REPOST: Mazen Darwish’s Comments, UN General Assembly 72nd Session

I think this piece is so important, I reposted it from the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom. Follow them on FB here.

21-9-2017. New York 
United Nations Headquarters Conference Room 3
Mrs. Catherine Marchi-Uhel, the Head of International Impartial Independent Mechanism.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Foreign Ministers, Ambassadors and Attendees;

I sincerely hoped that Mr. Staffan de Mistura, the peace envoy to Syria or any of his team, would be present here today, but his interest in the reconstruction meetings seems to be much greater than those about justice in Syria. Which is understandable, as long as his approach to the peace process in Syria is based on the facts of victory and defeat in the military field, while we, the ordinary Syrian citizens who have not and won’t be involved in any military conflict; our approach is based on justice and respect of human dignity and legitimate aspirations for freedom, democracy and peace.

Over the past three days, my colleagues at the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression have been working in Geneva with the missions of UK, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Canada and New Zealand on a draft resolution at the Human Rights Council on Syria.

In parallel, SCM is working on 9 legal cases before the European courts against war criminals in Syria: 7 of them are against the Syrian regime, and 2 against armed opposition factions.

And By the time we have strengthened our cooperation with the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, we had already begun the practical preparations for cooperation with the new International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM).

Through our work, we always face the question: whether all what we are doing is driven by the desire for revenge? In fact, all this work is for the sake of making a genuine and viable peace in Syria, as there is no peace without justice.

Peace for us as Syrian citizens is not a comfortable job with a good salary, nor a fragile political agreement between warlords who will one day qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Peace in Syria is the future of our country and our children. Therefore, any peace without justice will be only a short break to prepare for a new war fueled by revenge that will take away any possibility of coexistence, stability or diversity in Syria.

Any peace without justice will demolish the hopes of hundreds of thousands of Syrian families who look forward to the day when their loved ones will return from prison, or the day they can know the fate of those who have been forcibly disappeared. Some of the mothers with whom I met simply want a grave they can visit.

Any peace without justice will not allow the safe and voluntary return of refugees. Just a few days ago, a senior officer of the Syrian regime on national television threatened Syrian refugees who are thinking of going back to Syria with retaliation and advised them not to return.

If the international community is really serious about funding reconstruction projects before a genuine political transition in Syria that ensures a just solution to humanitarian issues, and to the rights of victims from all sides within an integrated path of transitional justice, then it is better to allocate the huge sums to build new camps to receive new waves of refugees in Europe.

Any peace without justice will only produce new generation of terrorists. Hundreds of thousands of young Syrians who feel anger, pain and oppression as a result of injustice and abandonment. The moment we tell them that justice is not possible in Syria, and that impunity is a gift for criminals, we practically push them to become “lone wolves” or volunteers with terrorist organizations.

We must not forget our previous experiences in the fight against terrorism. Military actions can destroy terrorist organizations such as Daesh and al-Nusra Front, and give us a declaration of victory. But an ultimate defeat of terrorism and extremist ideology requires justice, democracy, and sustainable development.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

At the time when the Security Council is unable to fulfill its responsibilities towards civilians in Syria, many Member States, including those present here today, have succeeded in presenting an advanced and bold model of collective moral political leadership by adopting a UN General Assembly resolution establishing the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM).

Today, we look forward to you to pursue efforts to adopt a UN General Assembly resolution establishing a special tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria. We are fully aware of the difficulty of this matter, but we believe that only moral political leadership can make peace.

What’s the Full Value of Students Organize for Syria?

Syrian Americans, like the majority of the Arab American community, are horrible at investing in their youth. We want our children to grow up to be doctors, engineers, and lawyers so that they can then use their weekend time to volunteer for nonprofits, donate money, or maybe if they are an exceptional person, serve on a board.

The problem is, our community is in crisis now. The region has been in crisis for over a decade. And still, it’s hard for youth to find an entry point into human rights organizing work.

Not only is it difficult to navigate within a community that is in conflict, but it’s also difficult to navigate between other conflict communities. And then there is the racial element of White Supremacy to deal with in the workplace: most “professional” human rights work is done by white people.

All of this to say: if you see a young Syrian person doing good work, it’s your duty as someone who is older to support them by any means necessary. It’s both insurance for the future and a reflection of our principles.

Which brings me to this: Students Organize for Syria is the brainchild of Zana Alattar, who started the organization with Nada Hashem, Kenan Rahmani, Omar Baliony, and others to be that entry point into human rights organizing for students. SOS is the only student organization that focuses both on human rights violations in Syria and fundraising for humanitarian relief for the country. Some of their work has involved mobilizing to support the Caesar Bill, which calls for an investigation into war crimes in Syria, and fundraising tens of thousands of dollars for humanitarian relief. Students Organize for Syria also launched the Books Not Bombs campaign to create scholarships for Syrian students in higher education.

Right now, SOS needs our help. They are putting together the first national conference at Loyola from Nov. 10th-12th for students on Syria, and have a variety of speakers and workshops planned. The guests of honor will be the White Helmets, who will be coming from Turkey.

What’s the full value of Students Organize for Syria? To me, it’s immeasurable. Without them, there still wouldn’t be a space to organize for Syria across college campuses. There wouldn’t be an entry point for young students to work on human rights issues related to Syria. And youth in our community wouldn’t get the experience they need that might help them pursue a passion for human rights and political organizing.

If you’re Syrian American and out of college and working, join me in supporting SOS with a financial donation towards their conference here.


An Update: Back to Blogging

It’s been over a year since I’ve posted an update on this blog. When I started writing, I was in Houston. My last blog post was published right after I moved to DC. Now, I live in NYC.

I never publicly wrote about just how difficult it was for me to be in Houston. I’ve told people in private conversations, about the difficulties my entire family was facing at home, and the depth of my sadness and depression. I don’t really feel like writing about it now, but I mention it because this is a blog about human issues, and things are really bad right now, and it’s normal to feel despair.

I’m coming back to blogging because it’s time to start writing again.

On Identity: Performance and Privilege in the Arab Diaspora.

Identity is inherently performative, and the theaters of the Arab diaspora are just another testament to this truth. Our identities are performed for ourselves and for each other, in a handful of co-existing theaters, that narrate the story we tell ourselves concerning our Arab-ness and its authenticity. Some of us have corporate jobs and come home to rooms decorated and furnished with sentiments of Arab grandeur and charm. Others turn 18 and take mission trips back to our ancestral lands, but our  missions are poorly defined and too often voyeuristic on local communities. Some shun any association with Arab culture for a set of reasons all anchored on inferiority, and absorb themselves into mainstream white culture. Conversely, some enter the industrial-complex of MENA work: think tanks, humanitarian aid, and journalism.

Most of us have felt stuck grasping for authenticity between the deeply racist West where we live and a Middle East where we are no longer locals. And our theaters are not constant or linear: each person has probably been a passive actor on stage before switching to a more deliberate narrative.

No doubt, non-Arab readers living in their own diasporas will relate to these realities of performance. But one aspect of Arab existence does make our diasporic identities worthy of a special, reserved critique: That we have seen and continue to see war.

There is a difference between seeing war and experiencing war. There are two realities for the Arab in MENA and the Arab in the West. And our privileges as Westerners need to be put in check.

The Arab in MENA can take a selfie with incendiary bombs falling in the background. Their schools are bombed, their soccer games end in mass funerals, hospitals are attacked, and one destroyed neighborhood in one country is often mistaken for another.

The Arab in the West sees the war on TV, and experiences ideological war at the grocery store when a random customer shouts at them “to go home.” I personally have a long list of memories like this growing up through the public school system in Sugar Land: Of teachers who refused to call on me in class for the year, teachers who stayed silent when I was publicly called a terrorist, teachers who refused to let me use class equipment, and teachers who advised me against wearing hijab. We all know it used to be very bad, and know that its gotten bad again, and yet…

Arabs in Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, and Libya live in war and post-conflict zones. The West isn’t perfect, but it is a huge privilege not to live in a war zone.

Experiencing ideological war and experiencing physical war are two different things.

All of this brings me to the main point: That Arab Americans (and overlappingly, Muslims in the West who who engage in and comment on conflict countries in part because the majority of the population is Muslim) need to be mindful of the space we take up in conflict abroad.

All in the Diaspora wish to remain connected to the meta/physical “home.” But when “home” is experiencing war in different contexts (from the occupation of Palestine to 2003 Iraq, to Post 2011 Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, etc.), it requires that we take varying positions on each of those conflicts that are in favor of the safety of the local population and aligns with local narratives. By far the most disappointing offenders have been the Pro-Palestine activists and journalists in the West, who have been adopted into the Western Left and oppose any type of type of no-bombing zone in Syria. This same group often uses the conflict in Yemen to fit into its anti-US imperialism narrative, thereby dividing activists, consciously or unconsciously, along those communication lines. I am sure there there are other micro- and macro- incidents to critique through this lens. Bottom line: it is possible and ideal to be anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism (not just American imperialism), pro-revolution, and always willing to mobilize against a government bombing civilians, even when it’s not the US.

Practically, what does being mindful of Western Arab privilege look like?

Being mindful fundamentally means creating a community that includes MENA locals. Because we live in a world where the West dominates, native English speakers will always be at an advantage in every aspect: attention, access to opportunities, etc.. Read and listen to local writers and activists. Center their work, promote their work, and celebrate their work with your networks.

Being mindful looks like centering access from the non-Western Arab’s point of view. From their point of view, access to work in a conflict or post-conflict zone looks increasingly difficult. Civilians are often hired by INGOs at a much lower pay-rate their their Western counterparts, if at all. If you’re a civilian and you don’t know English, your options in life have been severely slashed as affluent Arabic-speaking countries are extremely reluctant to open their borders, much less hire, civilians from conflict zones. Access to education is also difficult: Students who want to continue their education will not only have to know English, but study, pay, and pass the TOEFL.

Remember that as people in the Diaspora, we don’t need to go to the front lines of war to be apart of “the story.” We can change our communities in the West to be more welcoming to asylees and refugees. A simple example: If displaced persons come to America, they’re going to be applying for jobs…but we all know that part of getting the job is knowing where jobs posted. Or knowing who posted it. Making connections with locals displaced from conflict and being interested and engaged in their success is a form of social justice.

Conversely, there are Arabs in the West who have reverse immigrated and invest their life’s work in supporting local populations. Respect to them, and anyone who invests themselves to support others: our lives are short, and the greatest meaning we can derive is through service.



Allies, Stand Up: Houston Counter Rally Against Islamophobia

Poster for the Houston Counter Rally Against Islamophobia

Hi Shiyam!

It’s been a while since we talked. How have you been?

I actually was wondering if you can give me some advice. One of my friends on Facebook is convinced that Syrian refugees and Muslims in general are prone to be terrorists, and even though she claims to not be racist, she thinks they all believe in extremist ideology. She has never met a Muslim before, or anyone of middle Eastern descent. Every time we talk about it, she ends the conversation with “that’s just my opinion”. I was wondering if you had any tips on how to reason with people who are so entrenched in fear and getting them to see a different side to things, or what your experience has been in dealing with certain people.

I also feel like if she actually talked to someone who was Muslim she might have a new perspective. I’ve told her about the few Muslim people I know and that they are good people, but whenever I bring up the possibility of having one of them talk to her, she thinks that they’re just going to yell at her. I was wondering if speaking to her would be something you would be willing to do, or if you know someone who would be willing to do so. I think she has this idea so ingrained in her mind that her seeing what she’s not expecting may help out a lot.

If not, I will appreciate any advice you have.

Thanks for listening!


I respect and admire the person who sent me this message, but the truth is that I feel helpless when it comes to Facebook comments too. It’s not the first time I’ve received a message like this— another friend who uses social media to promote healthy lifestyle living sent me a private message with a screenshot of something on his newsfeed. “How do I respond to this?” he wrote. It was a post about how Muslims were inherently deceptive people. Another friend confided in me with horror that a former director of refugee aid was a leading voice against Muslim refugees on her Facebook feed.

What these conversations tell me is that non-Muslims are looking for ways to be better allies and stand against Islamophobia. It’s everyone’s personal choice as to how to stand for their own principles. Not every has the time or energy to engage with people online, but others do. Some people would rather make connections with people in real life. And, this process is a trial and error. It takes constant reflection to figure out how to stand for your beliefs as you deal with the practical realities of your own life.

Since last November’s media storm around Syrian refugees highlighted and underscored fear of Muslims, I’ve been thinking about how to talk about Islamophobia, what I could even add to the discussion. On the one hand, Islamophobic comments and beliefs are an affront to my intelligence— they are just so obviously wrong. Engaging with racist ideas zaps your energy after a while, too.

On the other hand, a lot of people actually believe this stuff, so ignoring it is not an option. At least 30 governors across America stood up to block Syrian refugees from resettling in their home state (making heroes out of tiny states like Rhode Island, who rose up in the occasion to open their doors for resettlement) last November. Three young people were killed in a hate crime over a “parking spot” last year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And this week, a group called “Heart of Texas” is organizing an armed rally in front of the Islamic Dawah Center in downtown Houston, encouraging everyone to bring their guns to “Stop the Islamization of Texas.”

WATCH: Omar El-Halwagi’s TEDx Abilene Christian University talk “When Faced With Islamophobia, Will You Be An Ally?

It would be easy to dismiss Heart of Texas as a silly fringe group, except they have 73,000 likes on Facebook. Their social media feeds are filled with posts about Texas secession, zealous trigger-happy gun comments, and transphobic bathroom commentary.

There’s going to be a counter-rally against Islamophobia happening across the street from the Heart of Texas rally. Tell your friends and, if you can, show up to network with other like-minded people. If you can’t make it for whatever reason, show your support by sharing the flyer below.

Poster for the Houston Counter Rally Against Islamophobia