On stereotypes

Women, children, men; Arabs, Chinese, Americans; academics, craftsmen, bodybuilders; blond, black, ginger; beggars, rich people, refugees; gays, lesbians; businessmen, politicians, tech nerds; Muslims, Christians, Jews; foreigners, criminals and policemen.

What these groups of people or labels have in common is that they are often talked about as if individuals appertaining to them were all pretty much the same. We often hear statements or judgments about women (weakness, emotional nature), about politicians (liars, corrupt), about beggars (fake, lazy), bodybuilders (dumb machos) or Muslims (misogynistic, conservative). These are only a few examples of what we call stereotypes.

What are stereotypes?

According to Oxford, a stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. Cambridge defines it as a set idea that people have about what someone or something is like, especially an idea that is wrong. Finally, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary suggests that stereotyping means believing unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same. The following video clip of the American classical / hip-hop duo Black Violin illustrates the idea of stereotypes in a rather unexpected fashion:

Black Violin – Stereotypes

At the end of the video, Kev Marcus states that:

‘I mean mine is clear – mine is really easy. My number one stereotype is…just because I’m six foot two, two hundred sixty pounds…doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be afraid of me. I feel like when I walk into an elevator and there’s like four or five, ya know, different other people in there. They’re thinking, “Hmm… Let’s see what this guy’s gonna do. Lemme double check.” Maybe they’re not afraid, but they’re on notice.’

At first sight, people would not expect Kevin to be a classical violinist. Classical music tending to be associated with upper class and harmlessness (again, stereotype) does not match the image of that guy who is big, strong and black; features that have the unfortunate effect of eliciting alertness and caution.

I am sure that many of us have gone through similar experiences. You could, for instance, easily find me walking on an empty street with dim light, wearing a hoodie that barely gives a glimpse of my face. Add to this that my face is bearded and dark and that my stature is athletic. I assume that you would not be surprised if the person crossing my path were to experience a noticeable acceleration of her pulse, her transpiration and if she were to strengthen the grip on her purse. But then we would walk past each other and, I can assure you, nothing happens. I am a friendly person, so I would usually give her a polite “good evening” and continue my way, which would make the physiological symptoms of alertness disappear shortly afterwards.

Do Stereotypes hold at least some truth?

Let’s take a closer look at the hoodie. The hoodie has come to be put in relation with danger and crime and is often attributed to one specific ethnicity. Hence, the question to investigate is whether the fact of wearing a hoodie is somehow correlated with dangerousness or criminal behaviour. Put otherwise, how likely is it that a random person wearing a hoodie is involved in some kind of criminal activity? (This question recalls the case of Martin Trayvon, who was shot by a man called George Zimmerman on the basis of the ‘Stand your Ground Law’ applicable in Texas, US in February 2012. Zimmerman claimed that Trayvon, who was wearing a hoodie, ‘looked suspicious’.)

From a theoretical perspective, it seems arguably logical to think that someone who wants to commit a crime, does not necessarily want to be punished for it. As a measure of precaution, that person would try to conceal his or her identity, and there a hoodie might come in handy. It covers a significant amount of the person’s face and restricts the number of angles from which surveillance cameras or witnesses could retrieve information about him or her. Combined with other items of clothing, it can significantly reduce the likelihood of the victim identifying the perpetrator with certainty.

Now, as we know, theory does not explain life and I have failed to find studies that prove this link between hoodies and criminal activities (although Ray (2015) discusses interesting aspects of the question). However, we can definitely agree that there are some criminals who have worn hoodies during their delinquent acts. Likewise, we can agree that there are definitely women who are weaker than their male counterparts, refugees who are violent, beggars who fake a handicap, bodybuilders who have low IQ’s etc. What makes stereotypes so tricky, is the fact that those overwhelmingly negative characteristics that are associated with the totality of a particular group, definitely apply to a portion of it.

What about those who do not match the stereotype?

On the other hand, we can equally accept the claim that there are refugees who are not violent, women who are stronger than men, bodybuilders who are not ‘dumb’ etc. Hence, if there is at least a significant amount of people who belong to a particular group or who fit a certain label and to whom the stereotype does not apply, the latter should be put into question, or even dismissed. Unfortunately, human beings do not always work according to such logical principles and there are sociological concepts that make an attempt at explaining why.

One of the mechanisms that hamper our ability to dismiss stereotypes even after meeting people who do not match them is the ultimate attribution error (Pettigrew, 1979), which postulates that negative attributes of individuals in a particular group tend to be seen as innate to their culture or race, whereas positive attributes are quickly downplayed as the results of factors external to them. For instance, if someone in Switzerland hears of a person of Albanian descent being involved in an incidence of physical violence, they will think that this negative attribute, i.e. violent behaviour, is innate to Albanians (a well-known stereotype in Switzerland). If the same person meets an Albanian who is a law-abiding citizen, friendly, non-violent, thus featuring positive characteristics, they will attribute those characteristics to the fact that this person went to school in Switzerland, that he has a high level of education etc., i.e. things that are external to the culture of Albanians.

Another psychological obstacle is cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957). Human beings like to be able to predict things and avoid surprises. Thus, they prefer their beliefs and stereotypes not to be shaken or proved wrong by events or interactions. Taking the above-mentioned example of that person crossing my path in the street, he or she is likely to dismiss her positive and uneventful interaction with me as ‘an exception to the rule’ and experience the very same symptoms of nervousness the next time she walks past a person looking exotic and wearing a hoodie.

One of the fundamental issues with stereotypes is that they lead to inhumane and unjust behaviour and negative feelings for both the victim and the perpetrator of stereotypes. When I was about 14 years old, I was in a grocery store collecting my purchased items. In that store, there are plastic bags at the end of the checkout (see image below).

A woman in front of me was packing up her items and she had put her purse next to her, close to the plastic bag roll. As I reached for the roll to take a plastic bag, she made a sudden move and grabbed her purse abruptly. Although in great surprise at her behaviour, I went on to rip off a plastic bag and started packing up my things.

Applying the stereotype of ‘young immigrants stealing’, she treated me as if I was a thief. I was obviously offended and, judging by the look on her face, after she realised I was just getting a plastic bag, I would deduce that she somehow felt ashamed as well. Since most people do not comply with the stereotype, applying it to a given person is more likely to produce an unsatisfactory situation where someone is treated unjustly and hurt as a result. If being ‘civilised’ implies being just and upright, then resorting to stereotypes in our interactions with fellow human beings – thereby essentially stripping them of their right to be human beings and not simply members of a group – is probably the wrong strategy to go for.

On our duty to defy stereotypes 

A sociological phenomenon is always multi-faceted and its longevity can hardly be explained by the actions and the behaviour of one group of people. In that sense, the fact that stereotypes dominate so many of our social interactions cannot be solely due to the ‘stereotypers’, i.e. those who apply stereotypes to other people believed to be part of a particular group. There must be another dimension to it.

While it is certainly challenging and often scary to enter a human interaction without arming ourselves with stereotypes, it can be equally – if not more – difficult not to stereotype ourselves.

The day before my driving test, I was looking into the mirror and trying to decide how I should look and what I should wear for that important day. Although a driving test was meant to test your driving, according to the accounts of many who went before me, it also seemed to test the way you looked. So I shaved that beard I had been very proud of growing and put on a nice collar shirt. What I was trying to do went beyond merely preparing for a particular social situation. Rather, I was adopting a set of attributes that would alter my perceived affiliation. Shaving my beard would take me out of the group of ‘bearded people’ to whom, combined with characteristics of Arab descent, certain unfavourable stereotypes applied. Wanting to create optimal conditions for my test, I was willing to conceal part of who I was. Such a decision, apart from being an act of hypocrisy, had wider implications.

Showing up to the driving test with a beard would have constituted an opportunity for the examiner to experience a positive social interaction with a young Arab male wearing a beard. By removing this attribute, I deprived that person of this experience and I had no impact on a potential stereotype held by him or her against bearded Arabs.

Zooming out from this parochial example, similar types of decisions can be seen among a large part of the immigrant population to Western countries. Notwithstanding the benefits of integration and assimilation, I believe that there is a risk of ‘over-assimilation’ to an extent which equates to a severing of the ties to one’s cultural or ethnic origins. Growing up, all I wanted to be was Swiss  and to be seen as belonging to Switzerland and not as Arab, Iraqi or simply foreign. In many ways, I and many others from various descents have achieved this aim, i.e. being considered ‘Swiss’. But we have managed to do so at a very high cost.

The cost is that we are no longer seen as representatives of our original group. In other words, we have surrendered our ability to defy stereotypes associated with them. By not being seen as Arab, it is unlikely that my achievements and positive attributes are perceived as those of Arabs. By not being seen as an immigrant, it is unlikely that I will be recalled as a positive example of an immigrant. By refusing to be a refugee, I am depriving the refugee population of good examples that could weaken the predominantly negative stereotypes surrounding them, thereby allowing isolated incidents of violence or harassment to continue nurturing their reputation.

My conviction is that we have a duty to defy stereotypes. Stereotypes are the vehicles of injustice, discrimination, xenophobia and hatred. By conforming to positive stereotypes, we are also perpetuating negative ones and enabling inhumane and unjust systems to persist.

In the aftermath of the Martin Trayvon shooting, Fox News host Geraldo Rivera urged the parents of Black and Latino youngsters not to allow them to go out wearing hoodies. What he suggested was to accept the stereotype that hoodie signifies danger and crime and that, in order not to be perceived as a criminal, one is supposed to not wear a hoodie. Thus, ‘not wearing a hoodie’ could be seen as a positive or neutral attribute. However, adhering to this belief, one is, by extension, reinforcing the belief that ‘wearing a hoodie’ is something negative and dangerous. My argument is that this is exactly what we should not be doing.

But how do we defy stereotypes?

As with many things, this is easier said than done. Put bluntly, it equates to adopting a negative stereotype and behaving in a way that does not comply with it. For instance, if enough law-abiding, friendly, helpful people wear hoodies and interact with other people, any person will very soon have had more interactions with hooded people who were not criminal than with hooded people who were (pretty much like this guy, Chris Beasley). Or, if enough studious, honest, courteous people who are well-versed in the culture and language of the recipient country show up as the immigrants who they truly are, the negative stereotypes about immigrants will eventually be dismantled.

I believe that there are tangible beneficial implications to adopting such a stereotype-defying posture. First of all, it destroys the stereotype itself. As insinuated above, the repetition of social interactions that involve people who fail to comply with a particular stereotype, will gradually raise questions around its validity and lead to its eventual decay.

Second, defying stereotypes opens the door for other people to live more freely. Stereotypes are restrictive, since many of us try to live our lives taking them into account. For instance, there is a widespread belief that men should not display ‘weakness’, be it in the form of emotional statements or tears. If, as a man, I decide to fully display my emotions, live with an open heart, cry in public when I feel like it, while having all the attributes of a strong man – physically, mentally, intellectually, psychologically – I am contradicting the belief that ‘strong men do not cry’ and thereby allowing other men to follow my example and make their contribution to the dismantlement of such a stereotype. In similar ways, Black Violin allows other young Afro-Americans to develop a passion for classical music, thereby defying the perception that classical music is uncool and reserved for the upper class.

Third, as mentioned above, in many places in the world, systems of injustice, indiscriminate hatred and violence are based on normative and stereotypical beliefs. Sexist attitudes towards women live off stereotypes such as ‘women are weak’, ‘women are driven by emotions’, ‘women are seductive’ etc.  Xenophobia towards refugees in many European countries is based on widely held beliefs that those people are poor, criminal and misogynistic. On this last point, I would like to add an anecdote:

The other day, I was teaching teenagers a class on the refugee crisis in a secondary school in Switzerland. I asked them to discuss the repercussions of the heightened influx of refugees for Switzerland. I knew I was going out on a limb with this, but the very uncritical responses I received still came as a shock. They were overwhelmingly negative, involving statements such as ‘they are taking away our jobs’, ‘they treat women badly’, ‘they are poor and steal’, ‘they are uneducated’, ‘they are violent’, ‘they bring diseases’ and many more. Trying to make them aware of the uncritical manner in which they had completed the task – i.e. simply reverberating negative and superficial ideas provided by the media or their parents – I wrote the word ‘refugee’ on the blackboard and asked them to tell me what they saw when they used it. I wanted to know whether they had ‘real’ refugees in mind with whom they had interacted, since the school had absorbed many of the children who arrived in recent years and I was assuming that they would at least think of these kids when mentioning refugees. It turned out, however, that the majority of the class saw male adults, ‘black’ and ‘islamist’, when they thought of refugees. I then said that it is important to keep in mind that when we talk about refugees, we are talking about human beings and it was therefore vital to think about people we knew instead of the mere label of ‘refugees’.

Just before the bell rang, I told them: ‘I would like you to remember, next time you talk about ‘refugees’, that I, the person standing in front of you, am a refugee’.

Being a teacher and speaking their own language better than them, I did not fit into the stereotype they had mentioned minutes before. By allowing these teenagers to see me as a refugee, I was providing them with an example that contradicted the stereotypes they were continuously confronted with.

One last word

Taking on the uncomfortable, exhausting, frightening and tedious task of defying stereotypes is an audacious ask to make of anyone. In this process, we will find ourselves in situations where people look at us strangely, laugh at us and make us feel uncomfortable. We need to keep in mind, however, that the ultimate goal is to fight collectively against injustice, even if on many stages of our way we will be struggling on our own. What we will need during that struggle is faith in the ultimate prevalence of the good but also, and perhaps more importantly, courage. Courage to step out of our comfort zones and to keep going when it seems futile and courage to stand up for what most people stand against.

I wish you courage.







Too often, we

see silhouettes
instead of faces,

hear noises
instead of voices,


use labels
instead of names.

Mankind has developed the art

of talking about people

without talking about people.


Zu oft,

Sehen wir Umrisse
Statt Gesichter,

Hören Geräusche
Statt Stimmen,


Benutzen Bezeichnungen
Statt Namen.

Die Menschheit hat gelernt,

Von Menschen zu sprechen,

Ohne von Menschen zu sprechen.

Un cri post-exam

J’étais énervé en sortant de la salle d’examen. Il y avait un tas de choses qu’il me restait à dire pour donner un aperçu cohérent de la matière que j’avais a présenter. La professeure m’a interrompu et posé des questions ce qui ne m’a pas permis de répondre à une partie importante de la question. Il ne s’agit pas ici de me plaindre de son comportement qui, dans le système d’évaluation mis en place semble être entièrement justifié – plutôt, j’aimerais critiquer le système et les modalités de cette session d’examen en soi.


Demander à un étudiant de faire en 15 (voire 10!) minutes une présentation cohérente et convaincante d’une micro-fraction d’un cours revient tout simplement à ne pas faire justice à tout l’effort que cet-te étudiant-e a fait pendant la période des révisions qui, pour certains parmi nous, a commencé le premier jour du semestre. Nous arrivons à l’examen ayons préparé l’entièreté du cours dont on pourrait parler et discuter pendant au moins une demi-journée. Mais ce qu’on nous demande de faire (et sur ce qu’on nous évalue finalement !) est de présenter un petit fragment de nos connaissances, en un quart d’heure. Un quart d’heure – préparer et boire un café prend plus d’un quart d’heure.


En outre, les modalités de l’examen – 15 min de préparation et 15 min de présentation avec le droit du professeur de nous interrompre et de poser des questions – constituent un cadre extrêmement stressant. L’étudiant ne pourra jamais puiser de toutes ses connaissances en ce laps de temps réduit qui lui est imparti. La pression du temps nous oblige à trouver des réponses rapides qui n’ont que rarement de la profondeur et le stress nous fait souvent confondre des idées et compromet ainsi la cohérence et la qualité de notre présentation.


Cela dit, je peux comprendre que dans la vie on est souvent confronté à des situations où, en très peu de temps, on doit faire le mieux avec les connaissances et les habiletés qu’on a accumulé et cultivé jusqu’à cet instant-là. Prenons l’exemple du sprinter de 100 mètres. Tout son travail, des semaines de préparation et d’entrainement, un mode de vie strict et discipliné, énormément de sacrifices au niveau personnel et social et il a exactement 100 mètres et moins de dix secondes pour faire valoir tous ces efforts.

Il y a des exemples où l’objectif de la préparation n’est que vaguement défini : Les agents de police ou les sapeurs-pompiers, par exemple, sont souvent contraints à agir dans un laps de temps extrêmement limité et dans lequel ils doivent mobiliser le maximum d’habiletés physiques, psychiques, mentales et intellectuelles afin de réagir au plus vite possible pour intervenir et sauver des vies humaines ou pour éviter des catastrophes. La vie est pleine de moments comme ceux-là et il se peut même que des années de travail, d’entrainement et de préparation à ces situations d’extrême urgence et de stress ne se verront jamais traduites en action parce qu’on est tout simplement jamais confronté à de telles situations.


Il peut donc être considéré comme „réaliste“, dans une certaine mesure, de nous exposer à ces modalités très exigeantes et étroites de vérification de nos connaissances de la matière en question. Il faut, cependant, se poser la question du but de l’institution universitaire. Est-elle censée nous transformer en des penseurs réflexifs et critiques qui peuvent jongler avec des concepts différents et complexes et qui peuvent présenter une argumentation cohérente en étant autorisé à utiliser la quasi-totalité des connaissances qu’ils ont acquis avec énormément d’effort ? Ou est-elle plutôt destinée à produire des personnes aptes à réagir de façon immédiate à des questions qui leur sont posées spontanément, comme cela pourrait être le cas dans des débats politiques par exemple ? Je doute qu’un Master en Criminologie aurait pour objectif principal le second. Il est donc plus que justifié de remettre en question la façon dont on nous évalue. Elle ne saurait jamais rendre justice ni aux heures de travail investies par chacun de nous ni à la palette étendue de connaissances qu’on a effectivement développée. En plus de cela, elle ne semble pas être justifiée par les exigences professionnelles qui nous attendront dans le futur.


Je laisse ouverte la question des alternatives. Je pense qu’il ne faut pas chercher très loin pour se rendre compte que d’autres pays ont développé des moyens d’évaluation beaucoup plus justes. Il suffit de jeter un regard sur le système anglo-saxon, par exemple, sans lui accorder un statut supérieur.

دموع الغضب

(هذه ترجمة نص نشرته يوم ١٥ نوفمبر ٢٠١٥)

دموع الغضب

بعد ساعات قليلة من احداث باريس يوم الجمعة ١٣ نوفمبر نشرت العبارات التالية:

.دمعتان تجريان فوق خداي

.واحدة للضحاي

.واخرى علينا

كنت اكذب، لم تكونا فقط دمعتين تجريان على خداي . دموع الغضب واليأس الحقيقي لم تتوقف لحد الآن. انها ثقيلة وحارة تحرق وجهي وتترك اثاراً ستغيره إلى الأبد.

.دموع الغضب تجري على وجهي

دموع الغضب للصحفيان الشابان جويلام د. و ماثيو ه. اللذان ينتميان لفئة عمرية غادرتها قبل ثلاثة ايام. دموع الغضب ، عندما انظر لصورة نعومي جونزالس مبتسمةً ، طالبة التصميم ذات الثلاثة والعشرين ربيعاً التي احتلت المركز الثاني في مسابقة هذا العام للاستدامة الغذائية

دموع الغضب على السيدة جاريدو التي استطاعت الهرب بينما زوجها خوان البرتو المهندس الغرنادي ذا التاسعة والعشرين عاماً بقي حبيساً في الباتكلان.

دموع الغضب على عازف الكمان الجزائري خير الدين صبحي الذي فقد حياته في الهجمات.

دموع الغضب على وفاة الابرياء من البرتغال ، بريطانيا ، تونس ، تشيلي ، بلجيكا ، المكسيك وغيرها . دموع الغضب على سقوط اكثر من مئة وعشرين ضحية – بشر مثلي ومثلك. بشر يمكن ان يكون احدهم كاتب هذه السطور.

دموع الغضب على من كتب البيان على صفحة الاخبار لداعش مستخدماً كلمة “المباركة” في وصف الغزوة، محتفياً بالجناة ومحتفلاً بموت الضحايا، مستشهداً بإله يعرفونه هم فقط. اله يمنحهم الحق في سلب الحياة ويجعلهم بالتالي انفسهم آلهةً.

 دموع الغضب على الشاب الذي يحمل الكالاشنيكوف ، ربما يفكر في جنة لايعرفها الا هو ، فيما اصبعه يضغط على الزناد للقتل دون تمييز – ربما للمرة الأولى في حياته. دموع الغضب على هؤلاء الذين اختارو اهداف غزوتهم في صالة الباتكلان للموسيقى ، شرفة الكازا نوسترا ، البتيت كامبوداج ، شارع الكارون او في استاد فرنسا ، وهم على يقين انهم يهاجمون اهدافاً سهله ، بشراً بلا خوذة او حامي رأس ، عزّل لايملكون ما يحمون به أنفسهم.

دموع الغضب على هؤلاء الذين يحتفلون بالقتلةويعلنون مسؤوليتهم عن هذا العنف الهمجي.

بشر مثلي ومثلك ، فقدو عقولهم

دموع الغضب على الأفراد الذين يتعاملون مع تداعيات هذه الفضائع. على هؤلاء الذين يقومون بتنضيف الدماء و على اولائك الذين يجمعون بقايا ما كانت تدعى اجساماً.  على هؤلاء الذين يمنحون كل ثانية من حياتهم لانقاذ الضحايا – اجساماً وارواحاً حقيقية ولكنها عن بعد مجرد ارقام للكثيرين

‎دموع الغضب لأسر المفقودين. أولئك الذين فقدناهم نحن كلنا .و مع موتهم فقدنا جزئا من أملنا و جزئا من تعاطفنا و جزئا من حبنا.

‎دموع الغضب عندما تعيد باريس- 2015 أحداث لندن- 2005 و مدريد- 2004 الى الذاكرة، العواصم الأوروبية التي تعرضت لهجمات متشابهة الأبعاد والنتائج قبل بضع سنوات.

بالمناسبه، هل تنتمي تركيا الى اوروبا؟ لانه اذا كان الجواب بالإيجاب ، فلقد نسيت ان اذكر انقره -2015 ,عندما قتلت قنبلتان اكثر من مئة شخص وجرحت اربعة اضعاف هذا العدد-قبل شهر واحد فقط. كيف لي ان أنسى؟ كيف لك ان تنسى؟

دموع الغضب على اولائك الذين نسيو ، ودموع غضب على حقيقة اننا نسينا.

دموع الغضب على أولائك ٦٠ الذين كانوا يحضرون حفلة زفاف في عمان منذ ما يقرب من 10 عاما، وعلى تلك 164 الذين قتلوا في الفنادق ودور السينما والمقاهي في مومباي في نوفمبر تشرين الثاني عام 2008. لماذا نسينا؟

دموع الغضب على أكثر من 120 من البالغين والأطفال الذين فقدوا حياتهم بإنفجار سيارة مفخخة في شمال بغداد قبل بضعة اشهر. دموع الغضب على أكثر من 40 شخصا قتلوا بتفجير مزدوج في بيروت الخميس الماضي. نعم، الخميس الثاني عشر من نوفمبر، 2015.

كما ترون، القائمة تطول.

دموع الغضب على أولائك الذين طواهم النسيان. و دموع الغضب على حقيقة اننا نسينا.

 دموع الغضب، عندما سمعت مراسل سي ان ان سأل الرجل الذي كان قد هرب من قاعة “باتاكلان” اذا كان المهاجمين قد قالوا شيئا بالفرنسية أو العربية. دموع الغضب، عندما أجاب الرجل “لا، أنا لم ‘اسمعهم يقولون أي شيئا مثل ‘الله أكبر.

دموع الغضب على أنفسنا. علينا، لأننا أصبحنا المتهم التقليدي لهذا العنف المقزز. نحن، الذين نتحدث العربية، ذوي اللحى، الذين نحمل أسماءً تتقطع اوصالها عندما تلفض بألسن غير ألسننا. أسماءً أصبحت مرادفات ل إسلامي، متطرف، مجرم و إرهابي.

دموع الغضب على هؤلاء الأفراد السبعة من عائلة عمر إسماعيل مصطفاي المعتقلين خلال كتابتي لهذه السطور. دموع الغضب على أمه، التي إقترفت جريمة ولادته.

دموع الغضب على حقيقة أن الأمور مئالها إلى الأسوأ.

دموع الغضب، عندما يقول فرانسوا هولاند ما يجب قوله. يقول ما قاله الرؤساء من قبله في حالات مماثلة. أنهم لن يكسروا وأنهم سيقاتلون و أنهم سينتقمون. دموع الغضب على حقيقة أننا كبشر ضعفاء جدا في مواجهة الشر.

…دموع الغضب على الإنتقام الأعمى الذي سيكلف مزيدا من الأرواح البريئة. هناك

كما رأينا، هناك قد يكون هنا ، و لا شيء يميز بين العنف الموجه ضد الأبرياء – سوأً كان في باريس، لندن أو بوسطن أو كان في عمان، بغداد أو بيروت. سوأً كان الضحايا عربا، أوروبيين، أفارقة أو شرق آسيوين. أو سوأً كانوا بيضا،سمرا، صفرا أو زرقا

إذا كان هناك شيء نتعلمه من فواجع كهذه فهو ليس أن نخاف اكثر أو نشك اكثر، أو نتوخى الحذر اكثر.

ما نتعلمه من هذه الفواجع هو أننا جميعا سواسية. أننا جميعا ننزف و نبكي و نعاني في ظل الشر و الجريمة.

.دعونا لا ننسى الأهم الذي يجمعنا: الإنسانية

.لنجعل إنسانيتنا تقودنا الآن

Le visage de la peine de mort

Des fois, la perpétuité – et donc la pertinence – des idées révolutionnaires de l’homme m’assomme. En septembre 1981, le Maître Robert Badinter, élu ministre de la Justice peu avant, a fait voter l’abolition de la peine de mort en France. Dans son discours il a dit, entre autres, la chose suivante:

“Le choix qui s’offre à vos consciences est donc clair: ou notre société refuse une justice qui tue et accepte d’assumer, au no de ses valeurs fondamentales – celles qui l’ont faite grande et respectée entre toutes -, la vie de ceux qui font horreur, déments ou criminels ou les deux à la fois, et c’est le choix de l’abolition; ou cette société croit, en dépit de l’expérience des siècles, faire disparaître le crime avec le criminel, et c’est l’élimination.

Cette justice d’élimination, cette justice d’angoisse et de mort, décidée avec sa marge de hasard, nous la refusons. Nous la refusons parce qu’elle est pour nous tous l’anti-justice, parce qu’elle est la passion et la peur triomphant de la raison et de l’humanité. ” (p.226-227, Contre la peine de mort)

Bien qu’en vue des incursions subies, la France ne fasse pas recours à une peine de mort en tant que telle, les modalités de sa réaction politique et militaire y ressemblent dans leur nature. C’est de nouveau, et comme toujours, une “justice d’angoisse et de mort” et le triomphe de la peur qui dirigent ces représailles. Ce qui me choque toujours c’est que même les pays occidentaux, qui se proclament pays de civilisation et de liberté, succombent à ces instincts primitifs et se permettent un certain degré de sauvagerie voire barbarie dans leurs réactions au crime.

Sometimes, the perpetuity – and thus the pertinence – of men’s revolutionary ideas leaves me speechless. In September 1981, Robert Badinter, who had just been elected as minister of Justice, passed the vote on the abolition of the death penalty in France. In his speech he said, amongst other things:
“The choice that is lying in front of your consciences is thus clear: either
our society refuses a justice that kills and accepts, in the name of its
fundamental values – those that made it great and respected among all -, to
take on the lives of those, lunatics or criminals, or both together, that
horrify it, and that is the choice of abolition; or this society believes,
in spite of the experience of centuries, it can make crime disappear with
the criminal, and that’s elimination.
This elimination justice, this justice of anguish and death, decided with
its margin of hazard, we refuse it. We refuse it because it is, for us,
anti-justice, because it is passion and fear prevailing over reason and
Even though, in the light of the incursions suffered on its ground, France is not precisely resorting to the death penalty, the modalities of its political and military reaction are similar in nature. It is again, and always has been, a “justice of anguish and death” and the triumph of fear over reason and humanity that are guiding its retaliations. What I still find puzzling, is that the Western countries, which proclaim themselves countries of civilisation and liberty, succumb to these basic instincts and allow themselves a certain level of savagery or even barbarism in their reactions to crimes. 

Tears of Wrath

Tears of Wrath

A couple of hours after the incidents in Paris, on Friday, 13 November 2015, I posted the following statement:

Two tears are running down those cheeks.


One for the victims.


One for ourselves.

I was lying. Those were not just two tears running down my cheeks. And those tears of wrath, of pure desperation, have not stopped until now. They are heavy and hot, burning my face and leaving marks that will change it forever.

Tears of wrath are running down my face.

Tears of wrath for the young journalists Guillaume D. and Mathieu H., whose age group I left three days ago when I turned 25.

Tears of wrath, when I look at the photograph of smiling Noemi Gonzalez, the 23-year-old design student who finished second on this year’s contest on food sustainability issues.

Tears of wrath for la señora Garrido, who got away, while her husband Juan Alberto, a 29-year-old engineer from Granada, remained trapped in the ‘Bataclan’.

Tears of wrath for the Algerian violinist Kheirddine Sahbi, who lost his life in the attacks.

Tears of wrath at the death of innocent human beings from Portugal, Britain, Tunisia, Chile, Belgium, Mexico and anywhere else. Tears of wrath at the death of more than 120 people – people like you and me.

People, who could have been writing these lines in my stead.

Tears of wrath at the one who wrote the statement on the news page of Da’esh, using the word blessed to describe the attack, praising the perpetrators and celebrating the deaths, invoking a god known to them only. A god, who would grant them the right to kill, thereby making them gods themselves.

Tears of wrath at the young man who was holding the AK-47, probably already thinking of a heaven only known to him, while his finger was pulling the trigger to stay there to murder indiscriminately – perhaps, for the first time in his life.

Tears of wrath at the ones who chose the sites, the ‘Bataclan’ concert hall, the terrace of the ‘Casa nostra’, the ‘Petit Cambodge’, the ‘Rue de Charonne’ or the ‘Stade de France’; knowing that what they would be attacking were soft targets: human beings without a helmet nor beret, unshielded with no means to react.

Tears of wrath at those who celebrate the murders and pronounce themselves in favour of such cruel violence.

People, like you and me, who lost their minds.

Tears of wrath for the personnel that is dealing with the aftermath of those horrors. For those who are cleaning the bloodshed and those collecting the fragments of what used to be bodies. For those who are spending every second of their lives trying to save the so-called casualties – victims who are so real in front of them, yet simple numbers far away.

Tears of wrath for the families of those they lost. Of those, that we all lost. And with whose deaths we lost a little bit of hope, a little bit of empathy, a little bit of love.

Tears of wrath, when Paris 2015 brings up memories of London 2005 and Madrid 2004; European metropolises that were hit by similar attacks of similar dimensions a couple of years ago.

By the way, does Turkey belong to Europe? Because if yes, then I just forgot to mention Ankara 2015, where two bombs killed over 100 people, injuring more than four times this number – just one month ago. How could I forget? How could you forget?

Tears of wrath for those who were forgotten. And tears for the fact that we forgot them.

Tears of wrath for those 60 who were attending a wedding in Amman almost precisely 10 years ago and those 164 who were killed in hotels, cinemas and cafés in Mumbai in November 2008. Why did we forget?

Tears of wrath for the more than 120 adults and children who lost their lives to a car bomb in northern Baghdad a couple of months ago.

Tears of wrath for more than 40 people who were killed by a twin bombing in Beirut on Thursday. Yes, on Thursday, 12 November 2015.

As you may imagine, the list could go on.

Tears of wrath for those who were forgotten. And tears for the fact that we forgot them.

Tears of wrath, when I heard the CNN reporter ask a man who had just escaped the ‘Bataclan’ whether the attackers ‘said anything in French or in Arabic’. Tears of wrath, when the man then responded that ‘no, I did not hear them say anything like ‘Allahu akbar’’.

Tears of wrath for ourselves. For us, who have become the default perpetrator of such bitter violence. We, who speak Arabic, wear beards and have names that are left crippled by tongues other than ours. Names, that have become synonyms for islamist, extremist, criminal, terrorist.


Tears of wrath for those seven members of the family of Omar Ismaïl Mostefaï who are in custody as I am writing these lines. Tears of wrath for his mother, who committed the crime of bearing him.

Tears of wrath for the fact that it is all going to get worse.

Tears of wrath, when François Hollande says what he has to say. Says, what all heads of state before him said when they were in situations like this. That they cannot be broken, that they will fight back, that they will seek revenge. Tears of wrath for the fact that we human beings are so weak in the face of evil.

Tears of wrath for the blind revenge that will cost even more innocent lives. Over there.

As we have seen, over there can be here, and there is nothing that distinguishes violence directed against innocent human beings – whether it is Paris, London or Boston or whether it is Amman, Baghdad or Beirut; whether the victims are Arab, European, African or East Asian; whether they are white, brown, yellow or purple.

If tragedies like these teach us one thing then it is not that we should be more afraid, more vigilant, more sceptical.

What tragedies like these teach us is that we are all the same; that we all bleed and cry and suffer in the light of evil and crime.

Let us not forget the most important thing that we have in common:


May humanity guide us now.

Fight or Flight الكر و الفر – Making Numbers Humans جعل الأرقام بشر (Part 3: Fled and Forgotten)

In March of this year, 2015, I was asked to conduct an intake with an Iraqi in one of the peripheral parts of Amman. Spring had just started, the weather was getting warmer and the sun flooded our offices in Jabal Amman, when I called Martin to fix an appointment for the intake. On the phone, he was very polite and anxious to veil his desperation. He started giving me a brief flashback on his story, some scattered scenes of a tragedy that seemed too absurd to be true. And it was in that moment that it dawned on me. Suddenly I stood still, when before I was walking around in the room disquietingly. His voice turned into a mere whisper and his words transformed into a mass of syllables I was failing to decipher. I realised something that I had noticed in other professionals working in this domain, something I had so far been struggling to qualify as either good or bad, something that seemed to be just part of their professionalism. And it broke something inside me when I realised that I had developed this damned skill that ran so strongly against my most dearly held beliefs and convictions:

I had stopped feeling.

I was desensitised. Not completely, but to an extent that shocked and ashamed me. And I realised that this process of detachment had started a year before, when I was immersed in the research for my Master thesis about European adolescents who join militant factions in Syria and Iraq. The phenomenon had, back then already, an enormous presence on social media where individuals and groups regularly posted videos, photos and updates on their statutes. In the context of my research, I was exposed to the horrific reports available online that went from the ‘mere’ faces of dead fighters to the ‘mere’ remnants of those who had fallen victim to the atrocities. While looking at the first picture had cost me quite some effort, the hundredth and second one I was able to examine in detail with very little emotional attachment.

I then recalled, in another flashback, that when I assisted to the first intake, the one of Paul, it struck me to see the interviewer talk to the PA[1] in a very objective tone, focusing on the facts and responding almost drily to his narrative. She advised me in the follow-up to this quite perturbing experience, not to become too attached to the individual story but rather keep track of the bigger picture and focus on the pieces of information that were likely to corroborate his or her case. I confessed to her, back then, that this was something I struggled with but that I would do my best to detach myself in the interest of helping the PA.

View on Jabal Al Nuzha, the neighbourhood, in which Martin was living

And there I was, not even half a year later, listening to Martin and responding in a very dry and professional tone, focusing on the facts and the things I was able to do for him instead of leaving him with the illusion that I could do more. Indeed, in that professional sense, emotional detachment was probably the only way to effectively help someone in the realm of misery but, on a visceral level, it felt heavy and overly mechanic, like I lost a piece of my humanity. However, I was about to recover part of it a few days later.

It was on a Thursday, when I went to see Martins at his place – which turned out be literally no more than just a place. He had hobbled the few meters to the gate on his crutches to welcome me. He was still young, not even ten years separated us. We went inside, through a door that had abandoned his purpose long time ago. He invited me to take place on the small bedlike furniture and apologised for being unable to offer me anything, although still insisted on giving me a small bottle of water. We then sat down and he started his narrative.

Together with his brother, he was running a small jewellery shop in one of Baghdad’s neighbourhoods. In Summer 2007, at the height of the sectarian tensions, his brother received a letter stating “Go away”, yet did not give it much attention nor thought. One week later, when Martin came into the shop, where he usually arrived after his brother, he was surprised to find it empty. They started searching him, without success for the few days after. Like most individuals affected by the post-war upsurge of criminality, they were afraid to inform the police that they considered as corrupt and untrustworthy. One week later, Martin’s brother was found: shot in the head, with signs of torture and his feet tied to a car, behind which his body, dead or alive, had been dragged around. He was Martin’s older and only brother.

In the aftermath of these horrors, Martin tried to flee through Turkey, but his attempt failed. He returned to Baghdad and omitted going back to the shop or his house for almost four years. During that time, he was hiding in a small shelter, afraid of the fate that would await him if he went back. After four years, when the situation in his neighbourhood seemed calmer, he returned to his house and resumed working in the shop on a part-time basis. A few weeks went by without any trouble, and despite his ongoing trauma from the circumstances of his brother’s decease, he started regaining some confidence and hope. Hope, that should be shattered not even a month after his return.

On the first summer day in 2011, he went to his shop in the morning as usual. When he opened the door, it exploded in his face with a massive blow, which was the last thing he would be able to recall months later. He went into a coma that lasted over a month. When he woke up, he found himself in hospital, in a body that was not the one he remembered being his. He had suffered severe injuries on his legs, tummy, arms and ears and undergone three major surgeries while he was in coma. After he left the hospital, returning to his neighbourhood had ceased to be an option. He went back to hiding from his attackers who would soon find out that he had not been killed in the explosion. He stayed underground for another three years. Then, in the middle of Summer 2014, he received a letter saying “your brother’s fate is expecting you”. The same day he fled to Amman, Jordan.

Today, he lives in conditions a healthy human being could not bear. The small room he inhabits is barely isolated; his bed is a wreck; the small stove, that is supposed to cook food he does not have, is old and rusty. He needs follow-up surgeries on most parts of his body that were damaged. He is unable to sleep at night because of the pain – pain in his body that has not recovered yet; and pain in his head where the memories of his brother’s murder keep haunting him.

When he looks at me, I still see young man with a glimpse of optimism that he keeps clinging onto in order to survive the next day. Those dark eyes are witnesses of a life that was not lived; a life, of which the last seven years were spent in darkness and agony and whose future is uncertain, to say the last. He tells me that he was always a nice person, someone who was appreciated by his friends and family. He says he used to play the oud[2] and sing and enjoy life. He was looking to fall in love with someone.

Screenshot 2015-10-31 09.55.50

The rent he received from UNHCR was cut after a few months for reasons that were not specified. He kept hobbling to the UNHCR office to enquire about the rent, but only to be advised to wait. The queue in front of the office is endless and the UNHCR workers are overwhelmed by the massive wave of refugees that keeps streaming into the Jordanian capital. According to the World Bank, Jordan is currently hosting almost 3 million refugees (that is more than a third of the number of people living in Switzerland) from conflict zones in its near or far neighbourhood. Most of them, like Martin, have no prospects of returning to their home country or staying in Jordan due to their precarious living situation and the absence of a proper legal status that leaves them vulnerable to institutional and individual abuses. They attempt to apply for resettlement to a third country, where they hope to live in safety and dignity, receive medical help and offer their children a future of their own – and not simply the rubbish that is left from the (de)generation that preceded them.

[1] Principal Applicant for resettlement (UNHCR)

[2] Guitar-like instrument

We are all children – نحن كلنا أطفال

How much more empathy could we have for our fellow human beings if we tried to see them as simple extensions of children?

If we could understand their anger like we understand and excuse the anger of children; if we could understand their silence like we understand the silence of children; if we could understand when they are hurt like we understand when children are crying.

Oh, what a wonderful world this could be.

تخيل كم التعاطف الذي يمكن ان نشعر به اتجاه اخواننا و اخواتنا لو حاولنا ان نراهم امتداداً للطفولة؟

لو فهمنا غضبهم كما نتفهم غضب الأطفال؛ لو فهمنا صمتهم كما نفهم صمت الأطفال؛ لو فهمنا مشاعرهم المجروحة كما نفهم دموع الأطفال.

 يا له من عالم جميل الذي سنحظى به!

Fight or Flight الكر و الفر – Making Numbers Humans جعل الأرقام بشر (Part 2: Paul and the bandaged hand)

Paul is just a bit older than me. When he walked into the room, I saw that his right hand was wrapped in a bandage. He was wearing a black leather jacket and glasses. Although a look at his documents had revealed that he was just slightly older than me, the man who grabbed a chair and sat down looked way older. And weary.

In Amman, there are currently, according to the latest UNHCR statistical reports, around 630’000 Syrian and over 50’000 Iraqi refugees (let alone the Palestinian refugees whose numbers exceed 2 million by far and refugees from other Arab and African countries). Living in Amman, however, does not necessarily imply that you will get in touch with these people. On the opposite, the city possesses an impressive ability to provide bubbles and exclusive spaces where those people are circumvented and gently pushed to the peripheries. How this socioeconomic segregation came about and how it can be upheld will require a more in-depth discussion. For now, it suffices to recognise that working and dealing with refugees in Amman is a choice, not a given.

Screenshot 2015-09-29 22.02.27

Screenshot 2015-09-29 22.02.39

I chose to get in touch with refugees because my job did not require me to exit a limited bubble that extended from an office across the city to universities situated outside the city centre. The fact that I found myself in such proximity to a crisis zone urged me to get involved with an organisation providing assistance to people seeking help. The program I contacted and later worked with was focusing on Iraqi refugees, who had been somewhat neglected after international organisations redirected all their efforts towards tackling the repercussions of the Syrian crisis. This NGO supported refugees in legal matters: Many had applied for resettlement by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) but been refused for reasons often unclear or unfounded. My job consisted in conducting intakes with Iraqis who were facing such legal challenges, transcribe their history and, in certain cases, apply for protection or resettlement on their behalf.

So, there I was, sitting in my first intake with Paul, who had been in Amman for more than seven years. I was nervous. But so was he, it would turn out.

He started where everything began. Soon after the invasion of 2003, the southern city of Basra started to fall victim to sectarian divisions. Gradually, it experienced an increase in the number of purple fundamentalist militia and gangs who threatened and attacked people who they attributed, based on their names, their heritage or some futile criterion, to the orange sect. Paul was unlucky enough to have a name that was used mainly by the orange sect, which made it easy for aggressors to identify and persecute him.

One day, when Paul had went to Baghdad to write exams in his secondary school, he was called by his parents and ordered not to come home. Masked men had come to their house asking for him. Paul then waited a few days before he returned to his neighbourhood in Basra, where things seemed quiet for a few days. By that time, he was 18 or 19 years old and he could not remotely recall anyone carrying any sort of grief against him.

A couple of days later, his neighbours called and urged him to flee as fast as possible. The gang had returned with weapons and pick-ups and they were browsing the neighbourhood for young people who were supposedly orange. He fled immediately to his uncle’s place that was further away and never returned to his home again. During his refuge at his uncle’s place the menaces against him and the visits to his parents became unbearably frequent and increasingly violent, which forced his parents to flee to the north of the country, where orange people formed the majority. Paul decided to escape by car to Jordan where he applied for asylum at the UNHCR office. He was recognised as a refugee but has been waiting for resettlement since 2007.

Sunset in Sweileh, Amman

One may assume that he could just stay in Jordan. However, his life in Amman has been cluttered with obstacles. When he first came he wanted to continue school but was soon obliged to work instead to sustain himself in the absence of social security and family. His work as a craftsman is illegal since working legally without a residential permit in Amman is a physical impossibility. He is facing harassment and threats by his employer and people in his neighbourhood who take advantage of his vulnerability. His right hand – the one that was wrapped up – was injured in the manipulation of one of the machines at work. Accident insurance? Yeah, right.

As for me, this first intake was emotionally overwhelming. On a few occasions during his narrative, Pauls voice broke down and his eyes filled with tears. It was difficult for me to focus on the task and transcribe the history without succumbing to the heavy sadness and the feeling of injustice that filled the room. Even though his strength to persist in such difficult circumstances and not lose hope over all these years was more then admirable, I could not help but feel sorry for and angry about the fact that he had lost over seven years of his young life – waiting for a chance to move on and rebuild his life somewhere else. Unfortunately, cases like his are far from being an exception.

NB: For the purpose of this story, the person was given a different name. The purple and the orange sect are clearly distinguishable but I will renounce to reinvigorate the sectarian rhetoric that has not proven to be of any particular help to the situation.