Open Letter To The UN Secretary-General On The Coercive Transfer of Rohingya to Bhasan Char Island

Muslim Matters - 4 December, 2020 - 00:25

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

As a human rights activist who has been campaigning for Rohingya rights since 2012, I am writing to express my alarm at the current transfer of Rohingya refugees to the Bangladeshi remote island known as Bhasan Char.

As I write this letter, more than 900 Rohingya have been taken away by bus from their communities in the refugee camps in Bangladesh and are due to be shipped to Bhasan Char in the morning. The figure of 4,000 to be taken there imminently has been mentioned in the media, although there are also reports that the plan is to relocate 100,000 in total, which is unimaginable.

I have learnt that Rohingya who did not want to leave were told that their names were on a list and so they had to pack up and go. They were given no choice. Those who objected were met with violence and there are reports of Rohingya having their teeth knocked out. Families have been torn apart in this process, with cases of parents even separated from their children and husbands from their wives.

There were already more than 300 refugees currently being held against their will on the island after they were rescued from traffickers. These refugees have begged to leave the island and have reported cases of sexual assault and rape. Some refugees went on hunger strike to leave the island and were severely beaten when they refused to eat. They have reported jail-like conditions with up to 5 people living in a 50ft square room. I have looked at the layout of the buildings on Google Earth and found that it looks very cramped, like a concentration camp.

I feel that this way of treating any human beings is despicable. That the Rohingya are survivors of genocide and are being left without protection in this way, fed propaganda and false promises of that they will be educated, allowed to work and build better lives on this island, is a tragedy.
I call on you to do what you can to halt this atrocity from taking place, to stop the boat sailing in the morning, and to ensure that all Rohingya currently trapped on this island are returned as a matter of urgency.

I have included some links below to recent reports on this situation, but most importantly I ask you to listen to the cries of these families as they are separated and their loved ones taken away from them. The woman in the video is shouting ‘film this, they’ve stolen our relatives!’


We cannot let this happen.


Jamila Hanan Feature image by MUD2020…/bangladesh-halt-rohingya……/bangladesh-halt-relocation…/…… Channel 4 news report:

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Day of the Dogs, Part 10: The Girl With the Golden Gun

Muslim Matters - 3 December, 2020 - 04:34

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9

“You going to rob me some more? Next time I shoot you for real!” – Ivana

Could You Be Loved

Could you be lovedOnce his family was settled at home, Omar showered and changed, prayed ‘Asr, then headed to the airport. He’d hardly driven a block when his phone began to play Bob Marley’s Could You be Loved, which was what he’d assigned to Fuad as a ringtone, because Fuad should be loved, but wasn’t.

Omar debated whether to answer. Occasionally Fuad just wanted to catch up. But more often he called when he was perplexed, in a funk, or outright despairing over Ivana’s antics. Which was part of what friends were for, but Omar didn’t have time right now. Hani and his mystery wife would arrive in an hour.

He answered anyway, and knew instantly that this was a bad one. Fuad was shouting, not at him but at someone else, in passable but heavily accented Spanish: “Cálmate mi amor! Por favor!”

There came in the background the sound of something being smashed or shattered.

“Fuad?” Omar said.

Now Fuad sounded angry. “Was that my Latin American Association of Epileptologists award? It better not have been, you Cuban werewolf!”

Ivana screamed something that Omar could not understand. Then another SMASH.

In the background, a moaning sound rose in pitch until it became a wail. Por Dios, what was happening there?

Fuad’s voice became pleading. “I apologize baby, you are not a werewolf, you are a luscious Caribbean mango, a juicy mamey sapote -”

“Fuad!” Omar said, more loudly. And again the loud moaning sound.

Ivana screaming. SMASH.

“No, mi amor, I know those are round fruits, I’m not saying that you are fat, I meant to say a sweet Cuban banana-”

“FUAD!” Omar bellowed.

Fuad finally heard him. “Oh, Omar. As-salamu alaykum brother. How is your day proceeding? All is well, I trust?”

Omar shook his head. “Is she drunk again?”

“No, she quit drinking.”

“Yeah, right.”

“It’s true! But she imagines I was regarding a woman at the mall with prurient interest, but I assure you, Omar, I-”

“I get the picture.” Approaching the on-ramp to the Corredor Sur, Omar ran one hand through his hair. “What do you need from me?”

“Well, I am locked in the bathroom. Ivana has a knife. It’s merely a kitchen knife, so I cannot speak to the degree of its sharpness-”

“You want me to call the police?”

“I cannot,” Fuad said in a reproving tone, “call the police on my own wife. Can you please come and calm her down? And disarm her? The door code is -”

“Have you changed it since last time?” Omar snapped. He didn’t have time for this.

“Eh, no.”

“Then I know it. Are you safe?”

“As I said, I am locked in the bathroom, so yes, but -” He was drowned out by another moan.

“What on earth is that noise?”

“Oh, that’s Taj Mahal. He’s trapped in the bathroom with me.”

Taj Mahaj was their cat. Poor creature must be terrified. “I’ll be there shortly. And try calling her sugar cane. Nice and skinny.” He hung up. Shaking his head in disgust, he put the pedal down and sped toward Costa del Este. Fuad and Ivana had been married almost five years now, but it was always the same. Fuad spending money he didn’t have, Ivana never satisfied, the two of them fighting like jaguars and eagles. A thousand times, Omar had been on the verge of telling Fuad to divorce the crazy drunkard and be done with it. But Islam taught that it was evil to come between a husband and wife. So the words had never escaped his tongue, not even once.

After all, it wasn’t like anyone was being beaten, or committing adultery. There were things, in Omar’s view, that were deal-breakers. Things that should rightfully end a marriage. But constant arguments, excessive greed… well, who was he to say? If Fuad loved her and could put up with that, then it was up to him.

The drama sure was a headache, though.

Throw Her Off The Balcony

Fuad lived in a luxury apartment on the thirty fifth floor of an oceanfront highrise called Torre del Cielo. He made good money in his practice, but he still hit up Omar a couple of times a year, asking to borrow money to pay off his credit cards.

Torre del Cielo was two exits south on the Corredor Sur – on the way to the airport, luckily. But what would Omar do when he got there? He didn’t relish the idea of taking on a knife wielding lunatic, even if she was the former Miss Cuba. He’d studied knife defense in karate, but had never attempted it in reality. And Sensei Alan had always said, “The first truth of knife defense is that you will get cut.” Being slashed by a beauty queen would be just as painful as being slashed by a Japanese samurai. Fuad’s fancy apartment wouldn’t look nice with Omar’s blood splashed all over it.

French dessertsAs he was about to jump onto the Corredor, he spotted a new French boulangerie that had opened in a small shopping center. Maison San Francisco. He’d taken his family there once, but had not repeated the experience because although the food was delicious, the prices were exorbitant. It gave him an idea, however. Ivana loved anything European and expensive.

He swerved across two lanes of traffic, eliciting a cacophony of blaring horns, and came in hot, screeching to a stop in the small parking lot. Inside Maison San Francisco, he ordered a box filled with half a dozen stunning treats: eclaire au chocolat, opera cake, tarte framboise, tarte au citron and more. Wincing as he paid the bill, he then hurried back to the car, and gunned it onto the Corredor.

He glanced at the car’s digital clock: Hani and his mystery wife would arrive in one hour. Hani didn’t seem like the type to take it kindly if Omar arrived late. He’d probably take it as a personal insult.

“Could you be loved?” sang Bob Marley’s voice from his phone. “Don’t let them change ya, oh! Or even rearrange ya! Oh, no!”

“I’m on my way, Fuad.” Omar said without preamble.

“Oh. Eh… you must promise me that you will not hurt Ivana. Just get the knife away from her.”

“No, Fuad,” Omar said dryly. “I’ll throw her off the balcony.”

“Please be serious, brother. She is so precious to me. I could not bear it if-”

“She’ll be fine if she hits the water in a streamlined position.” Though this was not true, of course. The coastal waters here were shallow. She’d break every bone in her body.


“As-salamu alaykum, gotta go.” He ended the call.

Allah is One

Ten minutes later Omar pulled into the parking lot for the Torre del Cielo. Two young women carrying shopping bags with designer labels were heading into the building. One was a dark-skinned Afro-Latina wearing mirrored shades, the other a short blonde. Omar walked behind them. The barrel-chested doorman, looking like a preening dove in an ivory-white double-breasted uniform, opened the door and greeted them all with a cheerful, “Buenas tardes.”

The Afro-Latina gave the doorman a nod, but the blonde scowled as if to say, “How dare you speak to me?” Typical upper class Panamanian rabiblanco arrogance. On impulse, Omar opened the bakery box and gave the doorman a strawberry tart. What was one less? Five was as good as six. The man smiled from ear to ear. With such enthusiasm that one would have thought he’d just won a trip to Paris, he said, “Gracias señor Bayano.”

Omar shared the elevator with the two young women. They pressed the button for 30, and Omar hit 35.

“Good afternoon,” Omar said, merely being polite.

The blonde ignored him, took a tube of lipstick from her purse and began to apply it while gazing into the mirror on the wall of the elevator. Recognizing the lipstick, Omar smiled. It was made by Puro Panameño, but was part of the company’s luxury line, marketed under the name Printemps Paris, for all those wealthy Latin Americans who thought a Panamanian-made product was beneath them. This particular shade was made with a dye from muntingia calabura, a Latin American berry that was strangely known locally as the Chinese cherry. That little stick cost $139, Omar knew. The blonde could ignore him all she liked, but her money was still in his mother’s pocket.

Perhaps thinking he was smiling at her, the Afro-Latina removed her shades, flashed Omar a smile in return and said, “Hi, I’m Maria.”

Omar gave his name.

Maria nodded to the bakery box. “Sweets for your sweetheart?”

“A bribe for a knife-wielding Cuban psycho.”

“Sounds exciting.”

The blonde said, “Why are you talking to this moron? He could be a serial killer.”

Purely on impulse, only wanting to mess with the blonde a bit, Omar said, “Allah is One.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted saying them. Allah’s name was not to be taken lightly, or used to provoke someone else. He knew better. Allah’s names – all of them – were to be revered and contemplated. But he could not take the words back, so he made his face a blank and gazed resolutely at the elevator door.

Confirming his mistake, the blonde gave a disgusted grunt. “See what I mean? A nut.”

“What do you mean by that?” Maria wanted to know.

SubhanAllah. He hadn’t actually meant to initiate a da’wah session. Aware that the elevator had almost arrived at 30, he kept it brief: “It means God is One God. No son, no saints, no partners. We owe Him everything: gratitude, love, worship. And we are all absolutely equal in His dominion.”

The elevator came to the 30th floor, and the doors opened. The blonde stepped out, but Maria held the doors open with one hand. Her face bore a strange expression of intrigue and wonder, as if she’d just seen a mythical beast prancing by. “I want to know more,” she said.

“Do you have a phone?”

Maria took out her cell phone, and Omar gave her the number of the Muslim Community Center. “Call that number after 6 pm. Ask for Fatima.”

As the elevator rose quietly to 35, Omar found himself moved by the look of wonderment he’d seen on Maria’s face. He knew that he himself often took Islam for granted. It had always been a part of his life. But Maria had acted as if he’d just opened a door and shown her a glimpse of Paradise. All because of a few sentences he’d uttered. He had started out blurting by blurting out something true, but out of context and unfounded by the situation. Basically he’d been a dummy. Yet Allah had used him as an instrument, in spite of himself.

The blonde, on the other hand, had been utterly uninterested. The human heart was an astonishing thing. It made you wonder how many other people were out there, seeking a bit of truth, hungering for a ray of light to show them the way.

A Scene of Mayhem

Omar stood outside the front door. It was quiet inside. He’d come here in a frustrated, almost angry mood, ready to lay down the law with the crazy Cuban, even wrestle her to the ground if necessary. But after his experience with the young woman in the elevator, he felt suddenly humbled. He would reason with Ivana. For all her flaws, she was an intelligent woman. She’d always used her intelligence to manipulate others, or so it seemed to Omar. But maybe she would respond to kindness.

Fuad’s door possessed an alphanumeric keypad instead of a traditional lock. The code, Omar knew, was REINA, meaning queen – Fuad’s nickname for Ivana. This translated to 73462. Omar punched it in.

The door swung open onto a scene of mayhem. A sofa and chair had been slashed open, and stuffing was scattered across the floor. The ruined chair was Fuad’s favorite, Omar noted. He loved to sit in that brown leather recliner while watching cricket matches.

Some of Fuad’s awards had indeed been smashed. Shards of glass and china littered the floor. Curtains had been pulled down, and the curtain rod was snapped in two, lying on the marbled floor in front of the huge sliding window that opened onto a balcony and looked out over the Pacific. A floor-to-ceiling, built-in cubby shelf normally held a variety of items, including books (all Fuad’s), statues of Catholic saints (in spite of Fuad’s protestations), and numerous framed photos of Ivana, many of them from her Miss Cuba contest win. Omar noticed that Fuad’s books had been pulled down and thrown about the room, and some even had their pages torn out, while Ivana’s things were untouched.

A minibar that stood against one wall, opposite the wall with the built-in-shelves, was bare. Omar wondered what had happened to all the bottles of wine and rum that normally stood on it. He’d told Fuad many times that he should not allow that poison in his house, but Fuad had complained that he could not stand up to Ivana.

Speaking of the devil, Ivana sat in an antique French chair carved from mahogany and upholstered in white suede. It was her favorite chair and was undamaged of course. She had not heard Omar come in. She sat in profile to him, facing the huge sliding window. An elegant, sleeveless green dress glowed against her dark brown skin, and swept its way down to her ankles. One arm was draped over the back of the chair. With her other hand she tapped her teeth softly with something Omar could not quite see – a golden pen? Her thick black hair was disheveled, and she appeared flushed. A large carving knife lay on the French side table beside her.

Carrying the box of desserts, Omar greeted her with, ¡”Acere, qué bolá”! Maybe the Cuban phrase – meaning, hey buddy, what’s up – would draw a smile and help calm her down.

Gold plated gunWide eyed, Ivana spun in the chair and extended her arm, holding the object she’d been tapping on her teeth. The midday sunlight streaming through the picture window caught the object, glinting off its smooth metallic lines, and Omar saw that it was not a pen, but a small, gold-plated handgun with an inlaid pearl handle. He might have admired its beauty, if it had not been pointing straight at him.

His karate trained in and he sidestepped to the right. He didn’t even think about it. “Getting off the track,” it was called in karate, and Omar had drilled it a million times in response to punches, kicks and simulated knife attacks.

It may have saved his life.

The Girl with the Goldie Gum


Omar had never heard a gunshot up close. Only distant reports in his neighborhood at night, back when he was young and they lived in Panama Viejo. In the movies, gunshots sounded like the roaring of cannons, or the clapping of thunder. But this gun made a very sharp, flat sound, like the cracking of a whip. A hot pain branded his left shoulder with fire. He grunted in surprise, dropped the box of sweets, and ducked behind the shredded sofa.

“Ivana!” he shouted, and his voice sounded strange to him in the muffled silence following the shot. “Are you crazy? It’s me, Omar!”

He heard a clattering sound – the gun being dropped? – as Ivana screamed, “Ay Dios! Why do you sneak into our house like a burglar?” She had that throaty, growling tone of voice that nearly all Cubans had – Omar never knew why – but it was tinged with panic at the moment.

From inside the bathroom, Fuad shouted, “What’s happening? What was that sound?”

He risked a peek over the top of the gutted sofa, and saw Ivana standing, looking angry and afraid. The gun rested on the table beside her. Picking up the box of sweets, and thinking how idiotic it was to do so, he stood. His shoulder still burned, and now something tickled his skin, like an insect running down his arm. He looked and saw a rivulet of blood streaming to his hand and dripping to the floor.

“You shot me,” he said to Ivana, half accusing, half dazed.

Ivana’s hands shot to her mouth, and her eyes went as wide as Havana Harbor. She bolted for the bathroom door, pounded on it. “Mi amor, come out! Omar has been hurt.”

The bathroom door opened instantly and Fuad dashed out, right past Ivana, and Taj Mahal streaked by on his heels, flying past in a silver blur and disappearing into a bedroom.

“Don’t let the cat out!” Ivana cried – nonsensically, Omar thought, since the front door was closed.

Fuad’s mouth fell open as he took in the condition of the apartment, then he saw Omar and said, “Oh my God.” Running to him, Fuad studied Omar’s shoulder. In that instant, his entire demeanor changed. Whereas Fuad in his personal life often seemed irresolute, hapless and frustrated, at that moment he transformed before Omar’s eyes. He stood straight, and his gaze took on a sharp focus. He pressed a hand firmly to Omar’s wound, and in a commanding voice, said, “Reina! Fetch my medical bag from the hall closet. Immediately!”

Ivana ran and returned with a large, brown leather bag with a handle and a brass clasp.

“I brought you some French sweets,” Omar said stupidly, still holding the box, which was smeared with blood now.

“That’s nice,” Ivana said matter of factly, and took the box.

“Open my bag and remove the scissors,” Fuad said. At his direction, Ivana began to cut Omar’s shirt from his body.

“Great,” Omar complained. “This shirt was a birthday present from my mom. And I’m supposed to be at the airport in half an hour. What’s the matter with you, Ivana? Why did you shoot me? Are you drunk?”

“No,” Ivana said defensively. “I quit drinking. See?” She waved a hand at the empty minibar, nearly taking Omar’s eye out with the scissors. “Because I want to be a good wife to my beautiful love Fufu.”

“Fufu?” Omar tried to laugh, but his teeth were chattering too much. Why were his teeth chattering? He said, “Why do you have a go – golden gun? You think you are some kind of Bo-Bond villain? The guh-girl with the goldie gum?” Wait, what had he said? That didn’t sound right.

“Stop talking,” Fuad said. “You’re in shock. Ivana, wrap the emergency blanket around him, but leave this shoulder bare.”

As Ivana wrapped some kind of space-age silver blanket over Omar’s head and one shoulder, Fuad activated a small digital voice recorder, set it on the table and treated Omar’s wound quickly and efficiently, narrating the whole time.

“The wound is a shallow elliptical furrow on the outer left deltoid, approximately four centimeters long, and less than a centimeter deep at the center. The proximal corner of the wound presents a crescentic margin of abrasion. The edges of the wound have small diagonal lacerations radiating away from the initial point of contact.”

To Omar he said, “It is merely a graze, brother. Not deep. You don’t even need hospitalization. I can capably treat it immediately if you have no objection. I’ll apply lidocaine to numb it, then suture it.”

Omar nodded his head. He felt warmer and had stopped shivering. The shoulder would hurt but not intolerably. He knew why Fuad did not want to take him to the hospital. The doctors would report the incident to the police, and Ivana would get in trouble. Personal firearms were illegal in Panama. Why did the crazy woman even have a gun? But he trusted Fuad. If the brother said he could treat him effectively right here, Omar believed him.

Antique wall clockAs Fuad cleaned and then treated his wound with Ivana’s assistance, Omar’s eyes wandered to the antique clock that hung on the far wall. It was white, with Roman numerals and a floral pattern on the face, with roses marking twelve and six. He saw with alarm that it was 2:20. He was supposed to be at the airport in fifteen minutes! With Hani’s temper and suspicious attitude, what would the man think if Omar was late, or didn’t show up at all? He’d take it as a deliberate snub.

Fuad bandaged the wound, then prepped a syringe, tapping on it. “Giving you a broad spectrum antibiotic. I’ll transmit a prescription to Farmacia Arrocha, you can pick it up anytime.”

Omar averted his eyes as the fat needle slid into his flesh. He’d had enough of things piercing his body for one day.

As soon as Fuad was done, Omar stood up. A wave of dizziness hit, but passed quickly. “I have to go. I have to be at the airport.”

“Not so fast!” Fuad gripped Omar’s good arm to steady him. “You are in no condition to drive. And I need to put your arm in a sling, to stabilize it so you don’t tear the sutures. I have one here somewhere.”

“I have to pick someone up. Like, now. It’s not open to debate.”

Fuad sighed. “Very well. Ivana will take you.” Ivana began to protest, but Fuad silenced her with an uncharacteristic glare and a chopping motion. “Not a word, Ivana. We will talk about all this later. Take Omar where he needs to go.”

He turned to Omar, and in a soft, halting tone, said, “I’m sorry, brother. This is all my fault. I bought the gun for her, because there was a home invasion in the building, and she was scared, staying home alone when I work late. She was supposed to keep it in the home safe. Please forgive me.”

Omar waved this away with his good arm. “Like you said, we can talk later.”

The Road!

Ten minutes later, wearing one of Fuad’s expensive dress shirts, and with his left arm snug in a shoulder sling, Omar sat in the passenger seat of Ivana’s cherry-red Renault Laguna as they sped up the Corredor Sur. Ivana could have demanded a Mercedes or Porsche and Fuad would have bought it for her, but she preferred the Renault because it was French. This was  Ivana’s definition of high culture. If it was French, she wanted it.

The car was comfortable, with a smooth, soft ride. Omar had heard that Renaults worked like a dream for the first three or four years, then started to break down in major ways. No doubt Fuad would buy Ivana a new one when that happened.

Ivana was driving dangerously as she always did, swerving around slower cars, but for once Omar did not complain. He was definitely going to be late to pick up Hani, and was feeling anxious. And the steady throbbing in his shoulder did not help.

He knew he should let Ivana focus on the road, but he couldn’t help himself. “If you’re not drinking anymore,” he demanded, “then why did you shoot me?”

“I’m sorry, okay? It was an accident. You surprised me and the gun went off. It’s your fault for sneaking like a burglar.” She waved a manicured hand dismissively. “Besides, you heard what my beautiful love said. It’s only a scratch. Don’t make a big deal.”

“What were you even doing with a gun? And you made a huge mess of the apartment, Ivana. This is not a way for normal people to act!”

Omar knew right away he’d made a mistake. Fury twisted the Cuban’s face. She rounded on him, jabbing a finger. “You should know, mister ‘no mas’ Omar.”

Omar frowned. “What do you mean, no mas?”

“I know what you tell him. No mas Ivana, leave her, divorce her, send her back. You are lucky I did not kill you on purpose!”

Traffic had slowed, and they were about to crash into the car in front of them. “The road!” Omar cried. “The road!”

With only a glance at the traffic, Ivana swerved around the slow-moving cars, onto the narrow shoulder – kicking up dust and gravel, speeding a hand’s width from the concrete wall on the side of the Corredor – then, after flashing past a long line of cars, cut back into traffic when it was moving fast again.

“I was going to kill myself!” she shouted. She slapped a hand against her ample breast once, twice, three times. “Right in my heart. He cannot divorce me! I will not go back to Cuba! I swear I will finish myself first.” She looked at Omar and her tone became suddenly soft and pleading. “You think I am using him. But I swear I love him. He is the world to me.”

She began to cry, and this was worse than anything because while Omar didn’t believe she actually would have killed herself, he had never seen her cry, never seen her vulnerable in any way. Tears ran down her cheeks, streaking her mascara. “I could not bear it, Omar. Please don’t make him leave me.” She put her head on the steering wheel and began to sob loudly, not even looking at the road. Not only did she not reduce speed, the car actually sped up, just as traffic began to slow for one of the periodic toll booths that studded the Corredor.

“Stop the car,” Omar shouted, bracing his one good hand on the dashboard, and pushing into the floor with his feet. “Ivana! STOP!”

Ivana looked up and slammed her foot onto the brake. The tires squealed, the rear end fishtailed violently, and Omar gave a wordless shout as they careened toward the back of a stopped 18-wheeler big rig. With a huge shudder, the car came to a halt only a breath away from the truck’s fender, the engine stalling and dying.

“Alhamdu-” Omar began to say.

“BAM!” Something crashed into their rear, driving them in turn into the back of the semi. Omar’s head jerked and hit the headrest, then bobbed forward. He turned and looked. An old Datsun the color of a withered lime, dented and weatherstripped, had run into them from behind.

“Oh no,” Omar moaned, clenching a fist and pressing it to his forehead. He’d never get to the airport now. “No, no, no.”


He and Ivana exited the car and performed the mandatory survey of the damage. The front of the Renault was badly dented, and one headlight was smashed, but the damage was cosmetic. The overall structure was intact. In the back, the rear fender was skewed, tipping to one side, but that was it. As for the other vehicles, the truck in front was totally undamaged, not even a scratch, and the little beater behind merely had a shallow dent in its fender.

Almost immediately the other two drivers were out of their vehicles and shouting at Ivana and Omar.

“Look what you did to my car!” Ivana screamed at them in return. “This is a Renault, not some piece of junk like yours.”

The driver of the big rig, a small man wearing a baseball cap with BOYD SHIPPING printed on it, waved his arms perfunctorily, going through the motions for appearance’s sake, it seemed to Omar. As if getting angry and making a scene were a social requirement in these situations.

The Datsun driver, a squat, gray-haired woman in a cheap pantsuit – the traditional uniform of the Panamanian female working class – seemed genuinely upset, though Omar could not imagine why. The Datsun already looked like a pineapple.

Ivana, not one to be outdone, hurled insults so foul they could have curdled milk.

Gold bracelets“I don’t time for this,” Omar muttered. Stepping between the three, he shouted, “Shut up! Listen.” He pointed a finger at Ivana. “This woman’s husband is a lawyer. He’s a shark. It doesn’t matter who’s at fault, he will sue you both-” here he pointed dramatically at the little truck driver, then at the woman, who shrank back – “and take everything you own. Or-” Omar smiled and softened his tone – “to avoid delay, we could give you each something, and all be on our way.”

The two drivers nodded vigorously, liking this idea.

Omar pointed to Ivana’s wrists, on which she wore – as usual – an impressive collection of gold bracelets. “That’s 22 karat gold. You each get one bracelet. That’s a lot of money.”

“Are you insane?” Ivana shouted. “It wasn’t my fault. If you think for one second I’m giving anything to these larcenous, dirty, low-class-”

Omar rounded on her and pressed his nose almost to hers, whispering fiercely. “It was your fault, fool! Now do as you’re told, or wallahi-” he touched a finger to his lips, then shot it into the air – “I will press charges against you for shooting me. You’ll be deported.”

Muttering angry curses, Ivana removed two bracelets and handed one to each driver. They departed with smiles. The gray haired woman in particular looked practically giddy with joy.

Back in the car, Omar said, “Pull onto the shoulder for a minute.”

“Why? You going to rob me some more? Next time I shoot you for real!”

“You did shoot me for real. Please, just pull over. I have something to tell you.”

Continuing to curse, Ivana pulled over. “I am not a fool,” she said, glaring at Omar.

Omar took a breath, let it out. “I know. But you do act foolish sometimes.”

“You are talking to a member of the royal family.”

“Oh, brother.” Several years ago Fuad had run a DNA test on Ivana to make sure she didn’t carry the genetic marker for epilepsy, since both parents having the gene for epilepsy increased the chances of the children having it. As it turned out, she did not have the marker, but the test revealed that she was distantly – very distantly – related to the Spanish royal family. And Ivana never let anyone forget it.

“You better show some respect, Mister Omar, or-”

He held up a hand, silencing her. “Stop. I swear by Allah, I never told Fuad to leave you. Not even a suggestion. I thought it, sure, but I never said a word. Fuad would never do it anyway. He loves you madly. He’d cut off his own hand first. So calm down, please. And by the way, I’m glad you gave up drinking, that’s a wonderful step.”

With her head tipped to one side, Ivana studied him. “You swore by Allah. I know Musulmanes don’t do that lightly, so I believe that you never told him to leave me. But I know he is planning to!” Her lower lip trembled, and her eyes welled with tears. “I saw him looking up lawyers on the computer. He closed it when I came in the room, but I saw it.”

“Ohhhh.” Omar shook his head. “He was looking up malpractice attorneys. He told me about it last week. A patient is suing him for a million dollars. From what I gather, the suit has no merit, but Fuad didn’t want you to worry. That’s why he didn’t tell you. Trust me, he would never divorce you.”

Ivana covered her face in her hands and began to weep loudly. Not knowing what to do, Omar patted her shoulder. Her skin – for she still wore the sleeveless green dress – was hot, and he snatched his hand back as if he’d been burned. Opening the glove box, he found a small pack of tissues, and handed a few to Ivana. “It’s okay,” he said lamely. “Everything’s okay.”

Ivana blotted her face with the tissues, and her crying slowed. “Alhamdu-” she stuttered, her breath catching, “Alhamdulillah.”

Omar raised his eyebrows. Since when did Ivana use Islamic phrases? “How about letting me drive the rest of the way?” Omar suggested. “I still have one good arm. And I really, really have to get to the airport ASAP.”

“No, I’m fine.” Ivana gave him a bleary smile. Another first: a smile from the Cuban princess. “We can go now.”

“No more dramatics?”

She shot him a look. “Don’t push your luck.” She put the car in gear, and, blaring the horn in a long, insistent command, pushed her way into the line for the tollbooth.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 11:  Reunion

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.


Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at

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Podcast: Sex, Marriage, and Mutual Obligations in Islam | Ustadh Mukhtar Ba

Muslim Matters - 1 December, 2020 - 16:22

When we talk about Taqwa, we often discuss things like trusting in Allah, avoiding sin, and being mindful of our obligations. We think a lot about staying away from sex on tv, in music, on our computer screens – but what if Taqwa means thinking more about sex – with our spouses instead?

The carnal desires that exist in men or women, in young men and young women before marriage, these are completely natural. Attempting to suppress them, or asking them to ignore them is simply not reasonable. Not only is it not reasonable, it is dangerous.

The Prophet ﷺ has not asked young men and young women to suppress their desires. What he asked them was to attempt to get married.Click To Tweet

Today we’re honored to be speaking with Ustadh Mukhtar Ba, who is an advanced student of Māliki Fiqh, Arabic grammar, Seerah Nabawiyya, Hadith, Aqeeda and Tasawwuf. In this podcast, Ustadh Ba discusses his article A Primer On Intimacy And Fulfillment Of A Wife’s Desires Based On The Writings Of Scholars Of The Past.

Just because people get married doesn’t mean they need to have children. I’m surprised that’s controversial. What’s the controversy?Click To Tweet

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Your Giving Tuesday Gift will be matched dollar for dollar

Electronic Intifada - 1 December, 2020 - 02:22

A Palestinian girl helps her family harvest olives in Jabaliya, northern Gaza Strip, on 20 October.

      Mohammed Salem APA images


Today is Giving Tuesday! 1 December 2020

When you donate to The Electronic Intifada today your gift will be matched dollar for dollar.

This Giving, a generous donor has agreed to match 100% of gifts up to a total of $50,000. This is a challenge to us – and to you – to make sure that our reporting on Palestine remains strong in 2021.

We’re running this matching challenge for the whole week, but please don’t delay.

Take this opportunity to support fearless journalism with a donation right now.

Remember, your gift will be fully matched, doubling your impact! Donations are tax-deductible for US taxpayers and welcome from any country.

We’re proud of the fantastic work our team and our contributors do every day. Just take a look at the examples below.

Yet our movement for justice is under unprecedented attack from Israel and its lobby. As we report almost daily, they aim to smear and censor anyone who exposes Israel’s crimes.

This comes as Palestinians endure the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of the Trump administration’s intense efforts to grant Israel’s every wish.

I wish I could tell you that the incoming US administration will roll back Israel’s assault, but I’m not so naive. We will have plenty to do in the weeks and months ahead and we need your help to get ready for the fight.

I expect that the censorship will intensify too. But we refuse to back down and we refuse to be silenced.

Since 2001, The Electronic Intifada has been an essential resource for a movement founded on an unshakable belief that justice must prevail and that our work to educate and inform brings it closer.

We’re strong because we’re independent and we’re independent because of you.

Your donation today helps us all year to pay our editors, our photographers and our reporters in Palestine so that we can produce first-class journalism that changes minds.

I’m proud of the respect our work has earned from friend and foe alike.

In July, for example, we revealed that the JUF, a major Israel lobby group in Chicago, had compiled a confidential report on dozens of organizations. This included faith and community groups and even media that expressed support for Palestinian rights or criticized Israeli abuses.

It described The Electronic Intifada as a platform with millions of readers that “brings much attention” to the issues it highlights. It named us as one of “the most impactful groups.”

Your support this year and every year guarantees that we can keep speaking truth to power.

It is also an act of solidarity: Thanks to the generosity of individuals like you, we make everything we produce free to anyone in the world.

You help us nurture young reporters in Palestine, providing them with the support to publish original reportage, photography and videos that are read and viewed around the world. This material is used by activists and educators in many countries to help build support for justice.

And in these times when we cannot gather safely in person, you help us stay connected and hopeful.

Thank you for your support,

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Executive Director

PS: Every single person makes a difference! Donate during our Giving Tuesday challenge and double your impact. We’re counting on you!


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If you prefer not to give online, you can make a donation by check. All donations dated or received through Friday, December 4, both online and by mail, will count towards the matching challenge.

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The work you help us do

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Inquest travesty

Indigo Jo Blogs - 26 November, 2020 - 21:09
Picture of Thomas Rawnsley, a young white man with Down's syndrome wearing a grey top and blue trousers, sitting next to a woman who has her arm round him, and both are holding a baby girl who has a pink top, white bottoms with a floral pattern, and a white bib with a blue border. They are sitting on a red sofa.Thomas Rawnsley, pictured with his mother holding his baby niece

This week the inquest into the death of Thomas Rawnsley, the young man with Down’s syndrome and autism who died in 2015 in a privately-run care home, Kingdom House, where he had been placed by the Court of Protection after his family campaigned to free him from abusive hospital confinement, concluded with a verdict of death by natural causes after the assistant coroner ruled that the jury could not consider the background to the circumstances of Thomas’s death, only the events of the last five days. This was because, as he was in private rather than state care (even though this was against his and his family’s wishes and on court order), it was not an “Article 2 inquest”, meaning the right-to-life clause of the European Convention on Human Rights, which applies when someone dies in prison or an NHS hospital. The family are not satisfied with the verdict; his mother Paula Rawnsley, quoted in a BBC report, said “we are left wondering how it can be natural for a fit and healthy 20-year-old to die from a chest infection” and her supporters are calling it another example of “death by indifference”. The charity Inquest called the verdict ‘shocking’ in a Twitter thread and called for “clearer guidance for coroners” about Article 2 in a Twitter thread.

I had been following Thomas’s story as part of the online activist community that built up around Mark Neary after his son Steven was incarcerated for several months in 2009 after an incident in a respite unit; the community gives support to parents who are trying to free their children, who are usually autistic, from unsuitable or abusive hospital placements. When I first heard of him, Thomas was in the Assessment and Treatment Unit where he had been sent after a supported living placement broke down after he came to mistrust staff because one of them had been violent (he was convicted of this). In the ATU, according to his mother, he was over-medicated with anti-psychotics to keep him docile and had been lying in a corridor with just a quilt over him. At some point, the local NHS trust came up with a plan to house Thomas in a bungalow in his mother’s home town with trained staff, a similar arrangement to that found for Josh Wills and others, but the plan fell through for reasons unknown and the plan was then to move him to a “specialist unit” in Peterborough, which his family also opposed because it was too far and his mother did not drive. When he was ultimately sent to Kingdom House, where he was initially the only resident, the care also raised serious concerns; his family noticed unexplained injuries such as a carpet burn during a visit, and the home first agreed to allow him home for Christmas and then reneged, claiming he would not want to come back and would “act up”, though they subsequently backtracked.

The inquest that concluded today took five and a half years to be heard; there were pre-inquest hearings to decide the scope of the inquest, but when adjourned last September, it was understood that it was to be an Article 2 inquest. This was reversed after that coroner retired and the assistant coroner found that Article 2 did not apply; his family’s lawyer said it was “deeply concerning” that private care homes were not held to the same standards as prisons or hospitals. As a result of that ruling, neither the effects of the medication Thomas had been forced to take over the years nor the standard of his care prior to his collapse in February 2015 were allowed to be considered by the jury.

This saga demonstrates the extreme difficulty in securing justice and accountability when disabled people, especially those with learning disabilities, are abused or die in either private or state care. Inquests are delayed for many years, often at the request of the care provider, are often reduced in scope, and coroners are notorious for deferring to ‘expert’ opinion, often that of the medics held responsible for the person’s death (as in the case of Oliver McGowan, whose death is only now being re-investigated). When an inquest fails to find neglect, the media then lose interest in the story, treating the verdict as authoritative rather than looking into why, say, it did not find that neglect contributed to the death of someone who had been shut in a room on her own for seven years and fed on junk food for that whole period, because it did not look at the role of the NHS’s commissioners or whether the hospital responsible for this treatment should have been involved in her care at all, or indeed, anyone else’s; in this case (Stephanie Bincliffe’s), interviews and features which had been planned were cancelled. No neglect, no story. A blinkered inquest can also result in the wrong lessons being learned; it can make it appear that the solution to suicide is to make the act more difficult (by removing anything that could be used for that purpose, regardless of legitimate other uses), rather than improving the conditions or treatment, and that the solution to respiratory distress is to check someone every few minutes, disturbing their sleep, rather than to maintain the physiotherapy they had been receiving until moving to the unit where they died.

Families who have lost relatives to poor social or hospital care rely on inquests to expose the truth about how their loved ones lived and died; besides being a legal judgement which carries weight with the media, they may also be the gateway to legal action and to holding the individuals and organisations responsible and ensuring that they cannot harm anyone else. There is a legal fiction that inquests are non-adversarial; organisations (including NHS trusts and large private hospital chains) are able to pay for legal representation so as to minimise the risk of being found to have contributed while families are forced to pay for legal representation themselves. They are frequently subject to delay, often taking years to be heard as in this case. Of course, the entire legal system has been subject to financial cuts since the Tories came to power in 2010, with courts closed and sold and legal aid cut to the bone, resulting in widespread delays across the system even before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. It must be reformed so that it conducts robust investigations into the deaths of disabled people in any kind of institutional care, be it a prison, a hospital or a care home. Families must be funded to have legal representation and be able to call expert witnesses; they must examine the standard of care the disabled person received and the conditions they were living in; they must be wise to delaying tactics; they must be consistent in their application of the law. Coroners must abandon the false distinction that their role is to investigate “how someone died, not why”. The inquest must be about justice for the deceased if they died because of wrong, not fulfilling a legal formality. As things stand it has been a continual source of disappointment, and is part of a system that appears to consider some people’s lives as being worth less than others’.

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