Thursday, February 3, 2011

حرية/Horiya (Freedom)

Fear paralyzes us, and we need to get moving.
--Tawakkul Karman, Yemeni activist

Today, a short but timely entry on a brave activist being swept up in the tides of the Arab Spring. Her name, poetically enough, is Tawakkul (“Trust”) Karman. The virtue is حرية, transliterated as Horiya (Freedom). (Say it: “hoo-REE-yah.”)

Yemen is just one of the many nations currently seeing an uprising of “people’s power”  against entrenched autocracies since Tunisia erupted last month. A 20,000 person mostly-peaceful protest today, the “Day of Rage,” called for an end to President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s reign.

Blogger Kimberly Latta has been following the story in Yemen, including Tawakkul Karman’s role in the protests. She notes that the protests in Yemen have been slowly building ever since the formerly separate nations of North and South Yemen unified in 1990:

In 2007  disgruntled former civil servants who had been forcibly retired after unification, lawyers, academics, students, and journalists, began to organize broad demonstrations to demand greater economic opportunities, greater freedom of the press, an end to corruption, and a fairer share of the country’s oil resources between the North and the South.  By 2009 more traditional community leaders, including tribal sheiks, had joined the Southern movement.

Among the members of this Southern Movement is Karman: a journalist, an activist, a freedom fighter, a wife and a mother of three. In 2005, she founded a group called Women Journalists Without Chains to fight for freedom of the press in Yemen, later expanding its mission to fight for all human rights. Since 2007, Karman
has led weekly demonstrations in front of Yemen’s Cabinet headquarters. In March 2010, she was one of 10 recipients of the International Women of Courage award, in recognition of “her exceptional leadership and courage in the area of women’s rights and equality.”  

On January 22, inspired by similar rallies across the Middle East, Tawakkul Karman led a protest crying out for basic freedoms in Yemen, and the authorities arrested her. After worldwide outcry, they released her 2 days later. She told crowds of supporters, “We will continue our struggle until regime change happens in our happy country. We will defend order in our country, we will defend the system, the constitution, the law. The Jasmine Revolution will continue until the entire regime goes.”

I cannot fathom the Temerity, the Equanimity, the Nerve it must take for a woman living in a conservative Muslim country simply to flout the veil--much less for a mother of three to risk arrest and torture for the sake of giving Voice. True Horiya, true Freedom, only starts when we free ourselves from fear. Perhaps Karman’s great Trust in the Divine--whence comes her very name--gives her this Courage; Isabella Jagiellon said as much when telling us the secret of Wolność.

The sirocco of Horiya is blowing, across the sands of not just Tunisia and Egypt, but also of Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Morroco, Libya, Syria. Let us hope it scatters the seeds of Wisdom and Prosperity for the many peoples of the Middle East.

May we see the gates of Horiya, and perhaps make a home there.

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