Between 1975-1979 Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, which they renamed Democratic Kampuchea. Their tyrannical rule saw the deaths of over two million Cambodians, either through forced labour, starvation or political executions. A Vietnamese invasion brought the Khmer Rouge’s rule to an abrupt end, but the damage done to the country of Cambodia has not been eradicated so speedily. The scars are very visible but appear to be being dealt; the excellent tribute, memorial and museum, located in a part of the country which was known as the Killing Fields just outside Phnomh Penh is an essential for any visitor to this beautiful and recovering country.
This time last year I was working in Jerusalem, supporting Israeli and Palestinian peace organisations and monitoring human rights abuses carried out by Israeli authorities against Palestinian Christians and Muslims. It was remarkable, in a horrible way, to witness the place where the Bible’s events are deemed to have taken place be the setting for such inequality, injustice, and brutality. With that in mind, I post a link to an article I wrote this time last year: http://holylandshots.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/we-call-it-the-crazy-land/ and a picture to symbolise the hope that next Easter, things will be different.
All this sunshine we’ve been having has reminded me of the slightly more sweltering heat of a place in Sinai, Egypt. The place itself has no real name; a collection of beach huts dotted along the side of the oh so clear and smooth Red Sea, with Saudi Arabia and Jordan visible as distant hues on the other side of the water. Hamdan was our host. He slept a lot of the time during our visit, made us tea, swopped stories and jokes, and talked abut being a Bedouin. A Bedouin man I met in Palestine described the life of a Bedouin as being simply ‘big open skies, full of stars at night, our animals and nature, traveling from place to place, and being part of the land.’ Bedouins were and still are in some places, a semi-nomadic people, desert dwellers, and are famous for their hospitality and generosity. Hamdan and this place on the Red Sea matched these wonderful descriptions.
To the People of Iran,
I’m what you might call an ‘ordinary’ person, from the UK. I hope you don’t mind me, in my ordinariness, writing to you. With everything I see and hear in the news in my country, I wanted to write and say- ‘sorry’.
I’m sorry that our leaders in the West espouse such hypocrisy in relation to all matter Middle Eastern. I heard William Hague, our Foreign Secretary, on the radio, explaining why Britain has pushed for sanctions to be placed on your country; because Iran ignores UN resolutions and fails to come to meaningful negotiations. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; the flagrant hypocrisy. There’s another country in the Middle East, whose name also begins with I, one to whom the US donate around 30 billion dollars of military aid each year. They’ve ignored UN resolutions since 1967. 44 years of refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the UN. And 44 years of an illegal occupation of another people and their land. Meaningful negotiations between Israel and Palestine remain an abstract concept as illegal Israeli settlement building continues apace (increased rate of building by 11% in 2011, according to Israeli NGO, Peace Now). So where are the sanctions on Israel from the international community, for the same diplomatic crimes Iran are accused of? Nowhere to be seen.
I’m sorry that the leaders of Iran espouse such poisonous rhetoric, denying the Holocaust, and claiming they want to destroy Israel. It spreads and breeds fear in Israel and further afield, and fear, as I’m sure you know, makes people much easier to control, and much more sympathetic to radical, damaging and extreme government policies. Israel, despite it’s huge mass of nuclear and other military hardware which leave them in an arguably stronger military position than any other country in the world, can still say ‘they want to destroy us.’ I’m sorry Iran’s leaders give this statement credibility.
I’m sorry your Green revolution didn’t result in the changes you wanted to see in your country. I’m sorry you don’t have the right to chose who represents you, and to express your opinions freely and without fear of reprisal. I have deep admiration for those of you who continue regardless.
I’m sorry we live in a world where it has become the established norm for some countries to be allowed nuclear hardware, weapons and technology, and some are not. Why should we- the West- be the arbiters of ‘who is allowed to have what’? Why do we gift weapons to some states and deny them to others?
I’m sorry that to become President of the United States one must pander to the state of Israel, regardless of anything else. I’m sorry the USA continues to support Israel, no matter what they do, no matter how many civilians they kill in Gaza and the West Bank, no matter that their leaders have been accused of war crimes, no matter that they dropped white phosphorous on schools in Gaza, no matter that they violate international law every single day in the occupied Palestinian territories. I’m sorry that Israel are able to use Iran as a smokescreen for all that it does to the Palestinians. A war with Iran will just make this smoke thicker and harder to see through.
I’m sorry for what seems like the inevitable attack on your country and for the lives of ordinary people that will be lost. For the damage, the misery, the trauma, the despair that this attack will cause. And for the extremism it will undoubtedly and understandably breed. Just as I, as a British citizen, do not wish to be blamed for, or associated with, many of my government’s policies, I believe that not everyone in Iran supports the policies of your government, and I’m sorry you will be punished for them nonetheless.
I’m sorry that Islamaphobia in the UK has not yet reached the levels of unacceptability that racism against any other group or minority has; it is this which I believe has so far kept voices of opposition about an impending war with Iran fairly quiet.
I hope these voices get louder and I hope ordinary people stop this war from happening. But if we fail; I am sorry.
To sign the above you don’t have to be a woman, American or Iranian!
After a First Great Western journey finally went okay for me last night, I was reminded of other, somewhat more atmospheric (if much dirtier) trains I’d been on. This image is taken in Hanoi, Vietnam’s ‘second city’. The railway in Vietnam, as it is in many other countries, is a symbol of the state’s development and relatively new found harmony.
Mirroring Vietnam’s history, it was bisected in 1954. But, in 1975, when Vietnam was reunited, so was the railway, hence the evocative name ‘The Reunification Express’.
This railway line holds world records for the almost painfully slow speeds the trains travel at- but the views make the speed, or lack of it, worthwhile. It’s an amazing journey, specifically the part from Hue to Da Nang, that hugs the mountainous middle of Vietnam, with peaks on one side and the coast on the other- just don’t look down if you don’t like sheer drops.