Imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi will spend his 33rd birthday in a Saudi Arabian prison. He was arrested in June 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes on a charge of “insulting Islam.” Among his activities was setting up a website that championed free speech, called the Free Saudi Liberals, which was closed after his arrest.
As soon as a thinker starts to reveal his ideas, you will find hundreds of fatwas that accused him of being an infidel just because he had the courage to discuss some sacred topics. I’m really worried that Arab thinkers will migrate in search of fresh air and to escape the sword of the religious authorities.
— Raif Badawi
Trying to “silence free-thinkers can often become the best way of amplifying their voices,” English PEN writes. They have been holding regular vigils outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London since 2015 to call for his release. To mark Raif Badawi’s 33rd birthday they will hold a special vigil, joined by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and others.
Reporters without borders gallery: Predators of press freedom
Irish poet Pat Ingoldsby wrote this poem in 1997. Still as releveant a comment as ever.
ISN’T IT QUIET
By (c) Pat Ingoldsby
When the Catholics have killed all the Protestants
and the Protestants have killed all the Catholics
and the Jews have killed all the Arabs
and the Arabs have killed all the Jews
and the Muslims have killed all the Christians
and the Christians have killed all the Muslims
and all the graveyards are full
and all the crematoria are burned out
and only one person is left living on this Earth
I hope to fuck they enjoy the peace.
From See Liz She Spins, 1997
Published with the permission of the author.
It’s been 15 years since 9/11. Young poet and peacemaker Mattie Stepanek (1990-2004) wrote this poem, For Our World, on September 9, 2011.
For Our World
We need to stop.
Stop for a moment…
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.
We need to be silent.
Silent for a moment…
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.
We need to notice.
Notice for a moment…
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice…
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Be for a moment…
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.
Matthew J.T. Stepanek ©
September 11, 2001
Hope Through Heartsongs (Hyperion, 2002)
Just Peace: A Message of Hope (AMP, 2006)
Listen to Mattie reading his poem:
Had I a wordsmith’s skills
and my words were stained black and white
by power-hungry, greedy small men
who commanded me
to dress like this
or pray like that
or mute my voice,
as if I were their possession
and the nation’s assets were their wallet,
I pray I would have the courage
to stretch my wings
and let my words fly
Maybe you would hear me
and maybe, if I were silenced,
you would set an empty chair in my place
to put shame on these small men
who cling to their absolutes
and tremble at our words
Then, when I looked at myself
I would see my true colors
(c) Zol H, 2016
Text: Solveig Hansen, 2016
1 of 5 people in the world cannot read or write. That is a brutal fact, counting down to the International Literacy Day. It is the birthright of every child to enjoy the joy of reading.
More hard facts: Some 775 million adults lack minimum literacy skills. One in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women. 60.7 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out. (Source: Wikipedia)
September 8 is the International Literacy Day, as proclaimed by UNESCO in 1965, with celebrations taking place all around the world. The theme of the 2015 Literacy Day was Literacy and Sustainable Societies. 2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of the International Literacy Day.
Poetry and story writing, global book clubs, open mic nights, read-a-thons where students read as many books as they can within a week, and even reading to a dog (!) to practice your reading skills. Those are some of the ideas proposed by the World Literacy Foundation, a global not-for-profit organization working to lift young people out of poverty through the power of literacy.
When individuals learn to read and write they have the power to transform their own lives. To help solve socio-economic problems facing society, we must start by building a more literate population. Individuals who know how to read and write are more likely to lift themselves out of poverty, improve their and their family’s health, and sustain long-term employment.
– World Literacy Foundation
Not to forget the sheer joy of reading. Do you remember the moment when you cracked the reading code? I do. I was five. Every child has the right to experience that sensation.
A GIANT LEAP
Some moments in life are more pivotal than others. One is when we take our first steps and stand proudly on our own two feet, ready to conquer the world. Another is when we learn to read. I was five when I finally figured out what the words in the books said. I remember how frustrated I had been because I knew all the letters, but I couldn’t combine them into words.
One day I made an extra effort and read each letter in a story slowly, pronouncing them and trying to put them together: a-a-a l-l-l… Then, all the sudden, the door flung open, letters formed into words, words formed into stories. You know how it is when the fog lifts and you suddenly see the vast landscape around you, or when you draw back the curtains in the morning to have a first look over a new city you arrived at only the night before… that’s how it felt, looking back.
It was a life-changing moment. I became literate from one second to the next, literally. One instant I was just an ordinary earthly child, the next an explorer in a new world that opened up before me. I know exactly what Neil Armstrong must have felt the moment he put his foot on the lunar surface. A giant leap. Nothing less.
Not that I reflected on it at the time. I did not cheer, I did not even bother to tell anyone about my new found skills. I just felt a silent satisfaction and thought, “Finally. About time.”
The first thing I read was a Donald Duck magazine. I lay flat on my back.
(Solveig Hansen, 2016)
The history of International Literacy Day
UNESCO: International Literacy Day 2016
UNESCO Literacy Website
Winners of the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes 2015
World Literacy Foundation
World Literacy Foundation on Facebook
World Literacy Foundation: International Literacy Day
The Malala Fund
Worldreader: Bringing digital books to children
Today is Earth Day. Be kind.
Poetize away on World Poetry Day. It makes the world a better place.
Text: Solveig Hansen
By paying tribute to the men and women whose only instrument is free speech, who imagine and act, UNESCO recognizes in poetry its value as a symbol of the human spirit’s creativity. By giving form and words to that which has none – such as the unfathomable beauty that surrounds us, the immense suffering and misery of the world – poetry contributes to the expansion of our common humanity, helping to increase its strength, solidarity and self-awareness.
– (Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO)
March 21 is World Poetry Day, as declared by UNESCO in 1999. This is an opportunity for you to join others and post your poems all over the social media. Or, be a conscious citizen and join PEN International in taking action for imprisoned Kazakh poet, journalist and social activist Aron Atabek. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2007, following a protest against the demolishing of the shantytown of Shanyrak.
An inspiring trinity: cafés, coffee and poems
Julius Meinl, an Austrian coffee company, has made their own twist and turns poems into currency on World Poetry Day. Like last year, they again invite their guests in coffee shops all over the world to pay for their coffee with a poem come March 21. The initiative is called Pay With a Poem.
In 2015, over 100,000 coffee drinkers in 1,153 coffee houses in 27 countries participated and wrote their poems with the red pencils on the red-bordered notes that Julius Meinl provided to match their red coffee cups.
Unfortunately, the poems are not published anywhere, but here are some pictures.
Of course, cafés are not new venues for writers and artists. For more than a century, poets and writers have found their way to these establishments to write, drink and socialize. Pay With a Poem is a modern continuation of that tradition. The typical Viennese coffee house, with its marble tables and a variety of coffees, pastries, and international newspapers, represents social life at its best, Julius Meinl writes on their website.
It is a place where all sorts of individuals meet to discuss their dreams, to reflect on their thoughts, to share their ideas, to compose masterpieces, to read or just to quietly sit and watch our colourful life happen.
This is my Twitter-short coffee poem, one that I recycle every time the terms coffee & poems come up:
You bring me coffee
I bake you cake
I eat your coffee
You drink my cake
Then we practice
the art of conversation
(Zol H, 2013)
Sharpen your pencils, have a cup of coffee and poetize away. The hashtags are:
60 years ago today, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white male passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. She was arrested and fined. Parks’ actions ignited a bus boycott and protests to abolish segregation.
USA. Atlanta, Georgia. 1995. Rosa Parks. © Eli Reed/Magnum Photos.
Parents Circle is a group of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost children to violence and now works together for peace. On Saturday night, they set up a tent of reconciliation in the Israeli city of Jaffa. The idea is to establish a place where Israelis and Palestinians can talk with each other.
“An amazing letter home in which a WW1 soldier describes the moment British and German troops put down their weapons & greeted each other…”
“When the Taliban closed all the girls’ schools in Afghanistan, Sakena Yacoobi set up new schools, in secret, educating thousands of women and men. In this fierce, funny talk, she tells the jaw-dropping story of two times when she was threatened to stop teaching — and shares her vision for rebuilding her beloved country.”