Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: July 2012 (page 1 of 3)


In case you weren’t aware, I’m kind of a fan of the Olympics.  Yes, I know about the drones, and the surveillance, and the IOC’s stupid rules about social media, and the rest of the free speech issues, and of course it angers me just like anything else.  And I’m just as disgusted by the corporatization of the Olympics as the rest of you.

But I also really love the original spirit of the Olympics, and the idea of so many nations coming together in competition, and oh how I love Olympic trivia. For example, did you know that women were allowed to compete for the first time in 1900 but only 5 of the 24 official countries sent them and that it took 56 more years for all of those 24 countries to send women at all?  Betcha didn’t know that.

In particular, I’ve loved following the participation of athletes from the Middle East and North Africa for the past eight years, especially since women’s participation has increased so rapidly in that time.  Back in 2008, when I wasn’t writing about China’s Olympic-level censorship of the Internet, I was blogging about Moroccan participation in the Games, which I watched from my Global Voices editor Amira Al Hussaini’s then-apartment in Canada.

So you can imagine my excitement this year when, after a spate of random Olympic trivia tweets, I was contacted by the good folks at Al-Monitor and asked if I would like to blog the Olympics for them.  Since the site focuses on the Middle East and North Africa, I was given free reign to blog about any aspects of that region’s participation.  And indeed I have, writing about numerous topics, from the first Palestinian judoka to the introduction of women’s boxing to the globalization of artistic gymnastics (that piece should go up tomorrow).  I also wrote a full-length piece on women in the Olympics, which required significant research to figure out the region’s history.

My own Olympic highlights are yet to come, as women’s gymnastics has only barely begun (though sadly, the two Egyptian gymnasts I was excited about watching were already disqualified from the individual all-around), but I am excited to see today that Saudi judoka Wojdan Shaharkhani will be allowed to wear hijab to compete after all, a precondition for her participation.

My blog is up at http://olympics.al-monitor.com/.  Have a story idea?  Let me know!

Reading (20/7/2012)

“Five days before his arrest in September last year, a prominent Ethiopian dissident blogger, Eskinder Nega, wrote, ‘Freedom is partial to no race. Freedom has no religion. Freedom favors no ethnicity. Freedom discriminates not between rich and poor countries. Inevitably freedom will overwhelm Ethiopia.'”

Several other activists in the UAE have been punished this year by being stripped of their citizenship. But stateless people are hard to deport. So according to the Emirates Centre for Human Rights, a London-based lobby, the UAE authorities confiscated Mr Abdelkhaleq’s UAE passport and issued him with a Comoros one instead.

It is said that the poor Comoros, the southernmost country in the Arab League, has been paid several million dollars by the UAE in order that the boiling-rich Gulf state can send people who have become a nuisance to the remote islands. However, on this occasion, the Comoros authorities were unwilling to take Mr Abdelkhaleq.

And for laughs…


Free Hussein Ghrer

By now, it’s pretty apparent that the Syrian regime listens to no one.  And yet, as the friends I know who have spent time in Syrian prisons tell me, international attention does matter: it might help a blogger get better treatment, evade torture.

Hussein Ghrer has been held for nearly five months.  A campaign, launched yesterday, seeks to raise attention for his plight: Hussein has entered into a hunger strike and has a heart condition.  He has been held for far longer without referral to a court than the 60 days that Syrian law allows.  His friends and family are terrified.

Unlike Razan Ghazzawi, Anas Maarawi, and Bassel Khartabil (Safadi) detained before him, I don’t know Ghrer personally; we’ve never interacted.  Similarly, because he blogs primarily in Arabic, he has received far less attention than the others, and yet, his case is just as heartbreaking, and due to his health, perhaps more dire.

As my good friend Yazan Badran wrote:

Between them, many, faceless and nameless, have been detained, expelled and brutally murdered. Many that have not been given the honorary hashtag. Many that are being slowly broken in the dungeons of Syria’s own fascist incarnation. But make no mistake, we are by no means more free.

With every new detainee, our country, that idea of country, chokes a little bit more. With every new detainee, our own incarceration becomes a little tighter, and our exile a little less bearable. To liberate them is to deliver ourselves from this nightmare, and to bring back to this land its lifeline. Make no mistake, #FreeRazan, #FreeBassel or #FreeHusssein, all mean the same thing:

بدنا ياهن، بدنا الكل
We want them back, we want them all

And Ghrer now has a campaign, but there are still hundreds more–bloggers, citizen journalists, activists–whose names will go unspoken in the media, hundreds whose families may never even know their fate.

But for their sake, for the sake of all of these dedicated Syrian activists, let’s speak up when we can. When there’s a case to speak about, when we have the ability, let us not remain frozen merely because we will never be able to name them all.

Free Hussein.  Free Bassel.

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