Talk at TEDx Bern 2016
War in Yemen
Layla M. Asda (26) and her family wanted to escape the war in Yemen. They wanted to live in safety. So they said goodbye to their country and went to Malaysia. But in Kuala Lumpur they just lived the war from abroad, which was even worse as they were safe while their loved ones were not. And then their longing for their country, their people, their house and the smell of the earth in Sana'a after the rain became overwhelming. "I discovered that there is a stronger feeling than fear", says Layla. "It's the urge to get the feeling of belonging back."
After eight months in safety they returned to Yemen. They went home to a war zone. Here Layla gives a gripping account of their journey.
The Yemeni capital Sana'a is a war zone. But it keeps mesmerising its inhabitants. And the rainbow is a symbol of hope. Photo: Essam Al-Kadas
The Italian war surgeon and Right Livelihood-Award winner Gino Strada has operated on over 30000 victims of war and poverty. The majority of them are civilians. "Armed violence against civilians is spreading like popcorn all over the world", he says - and urges UN officials, governments and civil societies to declare war and arms trade illegal. Sure, he knows it's a utopian dream. But why not start this discussion? To me, Gino Strada is a true agent of change. His vision and idealistic aims are rooted in the harsh realities of his experiencens as a war surgeon.
33 Jahre lang trägt Emel Zeynelabidin den Hijab, das islamische Kopftuch. Dann legt sie es ab. Sie hat begonnen, ihre Religion kritisch zu hinterfragen.
Emel Zeynelabidin mit und ohne Kopftuch. Bild: Gaby Gerster.
Die Diskussionen um die Verhüllung muslimischer Frauen brechen nicht ab. Im Spannungsfeld der Debatten um kopftuchtragende Schülerinnen und Initiativen für Burkaverbote werden deshalb viele eine Frau wie Emel Zeynelabidin für eine Rebellin halten und sie bewundern für ihren Mut. Andere werden sie als Gottlose beschimpfen. Wiederum andere werden in ihr einfach eine Frau sehen, die sich aufgemacht hat, ihren Weg zu gehen.
Emel Zeynelabidin (55) kam als Baby aus Istanbul nach Lehrte, einer kleinen Stadt bei Hannover, wo ihr Vater seine Ausbildung als Chirurg begann. Sie lebte so, wie es von ihr erwartet wurde: Als die Periode einsetzte, verhüllte sie sich, mit zwanzig heiratete sie einen Mann, den ihre Eltern für sie ausgesucht hatten, sie bekam sechs Kinder, studierte Anglistik, Islam- und Erziehungswissenschaften, wurde Vorsitzende eines islamischen Frauenvereins, gründete in Berlin islamische Kindergärten und eine islamische Schule.
Doch dann, im Alter von 44 Jahren, kam die Wende: Die Kopftuchdebatte in Deutschland wurde für sie zum Anlass, die Verhüllungsverse im Koran zu hinterfragen. Gleichzeitig begegnete sie einem Mann, in den sie sich verliebte. Nach einer langen Auseinandersetzung mit ihrem, wie sie sagt, "erlernten Glauben", den Gefühlen der Liebe und vor allem mit sich selbst, legte Emel Zeynelabidin ihr Kopftuch, ihren Hijab, ab. Ihre neuen Erfahrungen und Erkenntnisse hielt sie in verschiedenen Essays fest, die sie 2013 als Buch herausgab. Für ihren mutigen Schritt wurde sie 2007 mit dem Lutherpreis "Das unerschrockene Wort" ausgezeichnet.
Inzwischen ist Emel Zeynelabidin geschieden und baut sich in Marburg eine neue Existenz auf. Sie ist im Ortsbeirat ihres Stadtteils eines von sieben Mitgliedern, schreibt für verschiedene Medien, spricht an Veranstaltungen in Deutschland, Österreich und in der Schweiz, "um der Welt zu erklären, wie unterschiedlich die Innenwelten von Muslimen und Nichtmuslimen sein können, wenn die einen an ein erstrebenswertes Jenseits glauben und die anderen an ein lebenswertes Diesseits.”
Ich führte das vorliegende Interview mit Emel Zeynelabidin vor zweieinhalb Jahren für die Schweizer Zeitschrift annabelle. Seither sind Emel und ich miteinander in Kontakt. Da der Inhalt des Interviews noch immer unvermindert aktuell ist, haben wir uns dazu entschlossen, es erneut zu publizieren, haben es aufdatiert und um einige Fragen ergänzt. Die Fotografin Gaby Gerster hat mir freundlicherweise erlaubt, die Bilder von Emel Zeynelabidin für diese Webseite wieder zu verwenden.
Und ja, ich erinnere mich noch sehr gut daran, wie Emel und ich uns in Marburg in einem verwinkelten Altstadtcafé zum Gespräch trafen. Denn mir fielen auf Anhieb drei Dinge auf: ihr direkter Blick, ihre sonore Stimme – und ihre Locken.
Support the Yemeni people
The war in Yemen started almost exactly one year ago. It has caused a humanitarian disaster that is comparable to the one in Syria - only that the war in Syria has been going on for five years. The war in Yemen however hasn't caught widespread international attention, the suffering of the people, the destruction of the social fabric and the infrastructure of the country happen basically off radar.
But - regardless of how devastating the war is: There is life and there are aims. The beautiful baskets filled with fleur du sel from the Yemeni island Socotra are signs of it. They are made by Boshrah and her friends in the village Al Nuzhah. Boshrah is the sister of a dear friend of mine in Sanaa. The salt is distributed by a women's cooperation on Socotra. I sell the baskets and the salt to fund a sewing project in the village Al Nuzhah. The project will help young women to achieve basics skills and to build a future.
War in Yemen
The situation in the war torn country has become apocalyptic and, after a frantic bombing campaign, there is still an all all out ground war looming over the capital Sana’a. Meanwhile within the UN Human Rights Council the Netherlands push for a neutral, international inquiry on Yemen.
Fighter jets hover over the Yemeni capital, and the airstrikes and bombs fuse into a traumatic cacophony that goes on sometimes for minutes, sometimes for as long as 32 hours, causing incessant loops of fear, sleep deprivation, destruction and death. And an increasing awareness dawns upon the three million inhabitants that there is also a cat-and-mouse game going on, a terribly distorted one, leaving the city on the brink of collapse.
Yemenis write about the war in their country
Yemenis want to be heard. They need to be heard. Thus I have asked Yemeni friends of mine, men and women, to tell their stories, to give a personal account of their experiences of the war in Yemen and to send me pictures that illustrate their texts. I will post them here on this website, one by one. I hope their writing will have an impact.
Layla M. Asda (26) is doing her Master in International Development and Gender at the university of Sana'a. She is ready to take her country forward. But she is stranded in the war. As million of other young Yemenis. In her text she gives a painfully detailed account of how the war affects her and her country. And she appeals to the war faring fractions to realise that there is no point of waging wars. It only creates destruction, hatred and the urge for revenge.
“It’s raining!” I felt happy because “rain is what I adore”, I thought to myself as I heard the sounds of thunder. Yes, it turned out to be rain - but a different kind of rain: It was raining missiles!
Yemenis write about the war
This is the story that happened to me and my wife during our medical trip to India. After my wife had been sufferring from a spinal illness for three years we decided to travel to India to get a treatment based on the recommendations of some friends. We flew on March 17th 2015 leaving behind our three children: Yasmin 21, Sam 17 and Mazen 10 years. We were supposed to fly back on the 31st of the same month.
Yemenis write about the war
"I have lived in my own bubble. My eyes used to be closed during the Arab spring, I didn’t want to face the conflicts that were raging in some cities in Yemen, didn’t want to be confronted with the suffering of the world. I didn’t watch tv and didn’t care about politics.
Yemenis write about the war
Yemenis want to be heard. They need to be heard. Thus I have asked Yemeni friends of mine, men and women, to tell their stories, to give a personal account of their experiences of war and to send me pictures that illustrate their texts. I will post them here on this website, one by one.
Here is an as impressive as gripping account of the war in Yemen, written by Aiman Al Hakeem (39). He works as a banker in Sana'a.
Suddenly without any warnings there were explosions everywhere. It was almost 2.30 am on the 26th of March 2015. I didn’t know what's going on. I opened my mobile phone to find out and saw a message from my group of friends stating that the Saudi Air Force had destroyed Sana’a’s international airport.
Yemenis write about the war
War in Yemen
Picture by Abdo Ramadan
When I woke up to the news last Friday that five houses in the Old City of Sana'a had been allegedly hit by a Saudi led coalition airstrike and turned into ashes and rubble, it felt, as if I had been hit myself. The Saudis were quick to deny the claims and blamed the Houthi rebels for the collapse of the buildings. But whether it were the Saudis, the Houthis or both: The strike killed at least six people and destroyed houses that had been some of the jewels of Islamic-urban landscape, breathing 2500 years of Yemeni history. And I repeat: I felt as if I had been hurt myself.
Stop Bombing Yemen!
Yesterday night one of my best friends in Sanaa sent me an email that lists the disastrous consequences of the Saudi bombing of Yemen. He asked me to send his list to as many media outlets as possible. He wrote to me: "You should know one thing: We are not afraid of being killed by the attacks. We are afraid of hunger and losing dignity. And in the end the silence of the world kills us more than the missiles of the coward powers."
Here is his list:
Fight for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
VIEWPOINTS FROM TANTA - Based on conversations with Menna Elkhateeb
No, I won’t talk about politics and the situation in Egypt. I refuse to watch the Egyptian news and whenever my parents turn on the television I ask them to spare me from this chatter and to switch to some documentary about wildlife in Africa instead. Why? Because the media has become the parrot of the new government and we are its puppets. This is not what I dreamt of after we had pushed Mubarak from his throne.
Thus for now I have decided to concentrate on myself to be able to go on with my life, even if this means that I live in my own bubble. All I strive for is to be a good and happy person, to focus on my career as a graphic designer and above all: to get ahead with my wedding preparations.
To prepare for her wedding is a big thing for every woman. The wedding preparations here in Egypt however are slightly different from those in Western countries. They have their own special turns and twists.
And this is what I want to tell you about.