The Bittersweet Path to Green Card

Until this day, many of my friends and family members don’t understand why I decided to leave France and migrate to the United States about eight years ago. They don’t understand why I decided to leave a country where healthcare and education are free and employees get an average of five weeks of paid vacations per year. My reply to them has evolved over the course of my journey in the U.S. from the stereotyped “I want to challenge myself” to “I belong here.”

Yes, I do belong to the United States.

While many can argue that the U.S. is not the most welcoming place at the moment, this country has given me a place among its own.

Last month, I finally became a Permanent Resident of the United States after nearly three years of a long, tedious and costly process.

During all these years, I went through all sorts of feelings and emotions, from counting down days to hoping each week that I will find an envelope sent by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in my mailbox. During all these years, I also lost count of the number of times I called USCIS to receive updates about my application. Unfortunately, information shared on the phone by the USCIS employees was similar to the one already available on my online account. Yet, I was naively hoping they would divulge additional information.

One day after work, I found the mail I had been waiting for. The mail was sent by USCIS. Anxious, I immediately tore apart the envelope. The letter started with the word “Congratulations!” It was enough to understand I was no longer a conditional permanent resident. The letter said that I should be receiving my actual Green Card within 60 days. I laughed and I cried at the same time. It was a bittersweet feeling as I could finally close a long, and at times, painful chapter to start a new one.

After more than seven years living and working in the U.S., I am longing for stability. I no longer want to worry about my visa statuses, to live in the fear of losing my job and to simply have the possibility of changing employers without facing restrictions. In fact, I want to be able to consider a future in this country instead of living a temporary experience.


Visiting the Rockefeller Center in New York in October 2009, a few months before moving to the U.S.

Visiting the Rockefeller Center in New York in October 2009, a few months before moving to the U.S.

I have learned to love this country to which I emigrated to in February 2010. I moved to the United States alone. I had no family and no friends. I spoke a poor English and had a very little understanding of the American society. Because I had indulged in American movies during my child and teenage years, I mistakenly thought that I knew the United States. I even watched four episodes of the TV show Friends every evening for two months to prepare myself before moving to the U.S. The reality was otherwise.

I had to start from scratch when I settled in New York. Like any newcomer who starts a life in a new country, the first step towards integration is to learn the language and so I spent the first year in a language school. In order to pay for my tuitions, I wanted to work but I was not allowed to. I was a foreign student, and thus I didn’t have the right to earn an income in the United States.

When I left France for the U.S., I was a journalist with more than 6 years of professional experience; yet it no longer mattered when I moved to New York. I had to put my career on hold until my English improved and start from the bottom as an intern. Eighteen months after moving to the U.S., I became an intern journalist for a digital publication. It was an unpaid internship. For nine months, despite my professional experience and my ability to conduct interviews in three different languages –French, Arabic and English - I was an unpaid intern until I was offered a paid job and a sponsorship for a work visa. Till this day, I still remember how some days where more difficult than others. The first and last week of each month were certainly the most difficult days as I would worry about paying my rent and bills on time. It was tough but quiet seas don’t make good sailors. It was also the kind of sacrifices I was ready to make in order to remain in a country that had enabled me to blossom and be myself.

By “be myself”, I mean being able to affirm my multiple identities and ambitions without having to justify or compromise. Before moving to the U.S., I had spent the first 23 years of my life introducing myself as a French woman before being immediately reminded that the sound of my name and physical features were foreign. In the U.S., being foreign means being American. Everyone comes from somewhere else.

Coming to the U.S. was liberating. I am aware that every personal experience is different; yet mine was a transformative and positive one. Choosing to be in the U.S. at the moment doesn’t mean that I turn my back to my homeland, France, or my parents’ country, Tunisia. In fact, I am all these countries. They all make up pieces of my identity and losing them would mean losing parts of who I am.

Less than three weeks after receiving the USCIS mail, I eventually received my actual Green Card. It is now in my wallet and serves as my ID card. Every time I use it, I can’t help but think of how far I have come and how far I still want to go.

From Mexico to the U.S., Martha Still Struggles to Feel Safe

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“Everything was big, everything was tall and shiny. Everything was developed.” That was Martha's first impression of the United States. “It was everything I wanted to see in my city.”

Martha is from the Mexican city of Tampico in the state of Tamaulipas. “My city is very small,” Martha says, “it is a port city. We have a beach, it is very nice, it is a beautiful place,” but the increasing insecurity pushed Martha to move out. 

Martha arrived in Washington, D.C., in January 2016 for an internship after recently graduating in International Business. She aims for a career in international development and eventually to return to Mexico “to help and make an impact.”

“I decided to come to the United States because I feel that here it is a place to take action... I want to take actions towards the issues that I see in societies,” Martha says.

Before coming to the U.S., Martha had to move inside her country to a safer town, far from the war of drug cartels. In 2012, she left her hometown, Tampico, for Santiago de Queretaro. 

“I was not safe in my city. I had to move out and study somewhere else where I could have a normal life,” Martha says. “I moved alone because my family had their own business. The most difficult part was being scared even in the most safest areas. I would walk in the streets and still be scared of every noise or suspicious activity.”

She goes on: “at the beginning, it was hard to get used to it and to understand that I was not in danger anymore.”

Yet, until now Martha bears the psychological marks of living in fear. “It is still hard for me to walk at night and feel safe in the U.S. I am scared and I don't know if it is something psychological that I brought with me from my home country,” she says.

Nonetheless, Martha feels lucky because she was able to come legally to the U.S. unlike millions of illegal immigrants who, she says, are poorly treated. “I have seen how illegal immigrants are looked at and treated. It makes me mad because they have no rights. No one should feel they worth less,” Martha says. 

Martha has a wish, she insists to share. “I hope that women and children worldwide will stop being in situation where they need to migrate. And if they do migrate, it is because they want to travel and want to see what's in the world, not because they need to escape from their economic realities or from insecurity.”



From Herat to New York: Interview with Fereshteh

Fereshteh still recalls the first time she arrived in the United States in November 2012. “I was waiting in custom line, I was very worried because I had an Afghan passport - a country depicted as a war zone, ruled by Taliban and terrorists - and also because I was wearing hijab [headscarf].”

Then, Fereshteh looked around: “While I was in my worrisome world, I noticed that there were many female employees working in the airport and wearing hijab. It comforted me a bit.”

“When the officer called me I handed my document and he asked me: “You came here to study, right?” I replied: “Yes.” He smiled and told me “Best of luck and welcome to New York!”

Fereshte cropped_0.jpg

Fereshteh was born in Iran as an Afghan refugee during the Taliban rule. One year after the fall of Taliban, Fereshteh and her family moved back to Herat in Afghanistan. She was able to graduate in Computer Science from the Technical University of Berlin in Germany. Soon after, she set off to her city of dreams, New York.

“I found New York to be a very welcoming city where many people from different parts of the world are living together to make their dreams come true. There is a saying about New York: ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.’”

Fereshteh founded Code to Inspire in 2015. The U.S. based non-profit opened the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan last November. “Currently we provide a safe educational environment for 50 female students aged 15-25 from high school to computer science backgrounds. We are empowering half of Afghanistan’s population through technical literacy and coding to help women on a path to financial independence.”

Fereshteh is also the founding member of Women’s Annex FoundationShe was the first person to bring bitcoin to Afghanistan, using it to finance her projects. Her mission is to educate and empower girls and women in Afghanistan through technology.

Although Fereshteh has faced discrimination, she won’t let her gender and ethnic background pull her back. “What I believe is being a minority is not a disadvantage, I use it as a possibility to show that I can do and achieve what I want by accessing same and equal resources.”

Fereshteh has not always had the available resources to succeed but her determination and her mother’s dedication were key. ”I remember when we were living in Iran as refugees, we had difficulties accessing education. We were eight kids in the family living in a new country and fleeing war. My mother learned stitching to buy notebooks and pencils which enabled me to finish my high school in Iran. I learned to use the best out of anything and it has helped me until now. Opportunities will not come to you, you should create them! That’s how I am living my 'Afghan Dream' in New York City.”

Female Refugees Share their Favorite Recipes

While many would view women's empowerment through accomplished and successful careers or their right to whether or not bear a child, Becky Allen has chosen to give voice to female refugees in the U.S. by offering them a platform to share their food recipes. 

Allen created a website called Taking Refuge in which she pairs female refugees’ stories with recipes. The website was launched in January 2015 and currently counts 13 recipes and stories of female refugees.

“I chose the recipe because not everybody can relate to the women and the refugee issue while I think everybody can relate to food,” Allen said. “So it is the food aspect that brings them to my blog and maybe they will take the time to look at some of these women’s stories and even learn what they have been through and what they have been able to accomplish.”

One story, “Life with Al Qaeda” features Maryam, an Iraqi refugee, whose father was killed after he was captured by Al Qaeda in a neighborhood of Baghdad in November 2006. “It was like a punishment for letting his sons work with the U.S. forces," Maryam explained, referring to her two brothers who had served as interpreters for the American troops in Iraq. “They couldn't get hold of my brothers because they were at the American base, so they got my father. And then, they sent us a letter saying that we all would be beheaded soon,” the story reads.

Four years after her father's killing, Maryam finally was granted asylum in the U.S. with her mother and brothers in May 2010. When she was interviewed by Allen, Maryam shared two local and traditional recipes: Iraqi falafel made out of chickpeas and a lot of parsley or cilantro and the Muhamarra which is a hot pepper dip originally from Aleppo, Syria.


Allen graduated from Tufts University in Massachusetts where she majored in Middle Eastern studies. Besides her interest in international affairs, Allen has a strong interest in women empowerment and gender equality. She now works at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an American think tank.

Allen says she is aware that women in the kitchen is a long standing stereotype that needs to be eliminated yet she believes that by sharing their recipes, the women are sharing something  of which they are proud of and that can be passed on to others.

While existing narratives point fingers at refugees and migrants for burdening societies and taking advantage of host societies’ social and economic benefits, women featured in Taking Refuge are doing the opposite. They are giving back and sharing with others. All women featured in Taking Refuge are living in the U.S. and are refugees from around the  world - from Iraq to Laos to Vietnam and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Allen reaches out to the women through the U.S. resettlement agencies and local organizations that work with refugees and women. “Sometimes the women themselves will connect me with other women within the refugee community,” said Allen.

Allen is already thinking of future projects to develop out of Taking Refuge. For instance, she considers creating a cookbook from all the stories and recipes gathered and use some of the funds to give to either resettlement organizations or people helping with the refugee crisis abroad.

Originally published on IOM Blog

Charlie Hebdo Uses 'Freedom of Speech' to Mock Death of Migrants

While nearly all publications worldwide are showing empathy and respect to the thousands refugees who have died trying to reach Europe, the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has used its “freedom of speech” to mock their death in the Mediterranean and the death of three year-old Aylan Kurdi whose body was washed up on a Bodrum beach a few days ago.

Charlie Hebdo no longer needs introduction and is known for using cartoons and caricatures to criticize and mock mostly religions, politicians and institutions. The publication came under the world's attention after its headquarters were targeted by a terrorist attack that left 12 persons dead including 7 staff members in January. The attack was a response to the caricatures mocking the Prophet Mohamed first published in 2005.

In its lasted edition published Wednesday, one cartoon entitled “Si pres de son but..." which translates "so close of his goal” shows the dead body of Aylan Kurdi lying face down on a beach and a Mc Donald advertisement board that reads “Promo!!! 2 menus enfant pour le prix d'un” which means “2 Happy Meals for the price of one.”


Another controversial drawing implies that the refugees and migrants are dying because of not being followers of the Christian faith. The cartoon entitled "The prove that Europe is Christian" features a man supposedly Jesus Christ standing on the water and saying "Christians walk on the water" and next to him a body sinking into the sea with a caption reading "Muslim children sink."

Both cartoons are signed by Riss, whose real name is Laurent Sourisseau, Riss has been working with Charlie Hebdo since 1992 and was at the headquarters on the day of the attack on January 14. He was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the shoulder.

It is not the first time that Charlie Hebdo mocks the migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean sea to reach Europe. In April, the newspaper published a drawing by Ali Dilem, an Algerian cartoonist, mocking African migrants. The cartoonist entitled “Regroupement Familial en Mediterranee” which translates to “ Family Reunification in the Mediterranean” shows an african migrant family sinking into the inmost of the sea.

This Is What Working for A Feminist Magazine Taught Me

The 21st of August was my last day at Women's eNews after four years working as a reporter. I had almost no idea of the state of women's rights in the world when I joined Women's eNews in September 2011 as an intern. For every story I wrote I learned something new and what I learned day after day was hard to make sense of it in the 21st century. Realities for women and girls worldwide are not always glamorous. But what puzzled me the most was the amount of biases and unfair treatment women face in the United States, one of the most developed countries in the world. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that while the West was too busy looking the other way trying to save women in foreign countries, women and girls in their own nations were left suffering.

I also came to realize that addressing women and gender issues is addressing entrenched flaws in our societies. Women's issues are complex and when not addressed properly they result in damageable consequences for our societies. Consequences that will affect the social and familial tissue, the economic health of our countries, the security and the state of peace of our nations. And these consequences have immediate and long-term impacts. This is why women's issues can not be treated as a side issue but a central one. 

Over the past four years, I learned that women's issues are not only about a woman getting paid the same than a man for the same job - although it is an non-negotiable demand - it is also:

  • for a female student to choose any college she aspires to go to without worrying of the number of rape reported on that campus and whether or not the administration investigated.

  • It is for a woman to feel safe enough to go to a police station after being harassed or sexually assaulted and not being told that she “put yourself in that situation” or that there is “no need not file a complaint.”

  • It is for a woman and/or a girl to wear a mini skirt/dress/short without being slut shamed.

  • It is for a young woman to not worry that sexualized pictures of herself will be released on the web which is known as “porn revenge” or online violence against women.

  • It is for a female student to get a higher education without drowning under debt that she will take longer to pay back because she will most likely be paid less than her male counterparts.

  • It is for women and girls to find teams to play any sport, anywhere.

  • It is for national female soccer players to get the same paycheck than male soccer players.

  • It is for a Muslim woman who wants to cover and wear a veil not to be called submissive and oppressed.

  • It is for women of minority groups to speak for themselves. They don't need to be liberated.

  • It is for a woman to be feel safe to drive to a Planned Parenthood clinic without being harassed by anti-abortionists who try to dissuade her.

  • It is for women not to be treated like children by U.S. lawmakers who want to keep telling us what we should do with our bodies.

  • In the U.S., it is for women not to die while giving birth (17.8 per 100,000 live births in 2011) and also to understand why black women giving birth die at a higher rate (42.8 per 100,000 live births).

  • In the U.S., it is for a mother to give birth without worrying that after a few days she will have to return to work or she might be unable to pay her bills.

  • In the U.S., it is also for a mother to be able to stay at home with her sick child without fearing that she will not be paid by her employer.

  • It is for a mother to be able to breastfeed in public without feeling she needs to hide.

  • It is for women who were/are with well-known athletes/singers/actors and were abused to stop thinking that these men are too big to fail.

  • It is for black women who die at the hands of police to get the same attention and media coverage than black men killed by police officers.

  • It is for a woman to feel free to express her concerns without being told she is “too emotional.”

  • It is for a female politician to run for office without having reporters questioning her thinness or her fashion style.

  • It is for female entrepreneurs and CEOs to be successful without being called “bossy.”

  • It is for a girl to have an education in any country and decide when she will ever marry.

  • it is for indigenous women to have the same media coverage than any other group. It is our job as reporter to go reach out to these women and tell their stories.

  • It is for women to move freely in and outside their countries with no restrictions and without asking permission to a male authority.

  • It is for women fleeing war and finding refuge in a new country to have other alternatives than being sexually exploited.

  • It is for the women and girls in war-torn countries to be remembered as years pass by and public interest will fade away.

  • It is for the Arab women who were on the forefront of the Arab Spring to be full participants in the reconstruction of their respective countries.

  • It is for women to have a seat at each table where peace and international deals are negotiated.

  • It is also for feminists to embrace the concept of intersectionality, to accept and work with one's differences while aspiring for a fair and better treatment of all  women in our societies.

I could update this list every day as the work ahead to change our societies is immense. Yet, these changes can only happen if we, women and men, work all together. Yes, Men are our best allies. As Hillary Clinton said years ago “women's rights are human rights,” hence it is a cause that concerns all of us and that we should all work toward. Every single action taken in that direction will move the cause one step forward.



French Actress Lou Doillon 'Appalled' by Beyonce and Nicki Minaj's Feminism

Are Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj really harming feminism?

French actress and singer, Lou Doillon, thinks so.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais, Doillon criticized the three women for using their body and curvy shapes while calling themselves feminists.

“When I see Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian I am appalled. I am telling myself that my grand-mother fought for something else than the right to strut in a thong,” Doillon said.

Doillon must have a short memory and no longer remember that she has herself posed in the front of a camera naked more than once including in 2008 for the cover of Playboy magazine which is far from being a feminist publication.

But Doillon is maybe thinking that her small breasts are more “feminist-ly correct” than the curvy legs and round behind of Nick Minaj and Beyonce. Or maybe she is implying than being white and skinny is less vulgar than being black and curvy.

As a matter of fact, Doillon didn't question Miley Cyrus and her twerk or didn't refer to Madonna and her over-sexualized music videos.

If Doillon's grand-mother fought for women's rights, she certainly didn't fight for the rights of American women and even less for the rights of Black women in America. The war on women in the U.S. makes daily headlines and statistics show that African American women are exposed to a two-fold discrimination: gender and racial.

Doillon, the daughter of French film director, Jacques Doillon, and British actress and singer, Jane Birkin, is simply rejecting – as many have - that different types of feminism can co-exist. Doillon, icon of the white bohemian bourgeoisie, is denying the existence of multiple feminisms which take in consideration race, social background, culture, religion and history.

The French white woman that Doillon is feels entitled to tell Black American women – Beyonce and Nicki Minaj- what a feminist should look like.

It is plain wrong. There is not a good feminism vs. a bad feminism. Each feminist is different and has a personal story. Each feminist has different priorities and strategies. Trying to impose a version of feminism upon others is an attempt to colonize the minds and bodies of women in order to tell them who they should be.

With her tasteless remarks, Doillon, is reducing women to their bodies, covered or uncovered. While it is important for women to decide what they want to do with their bodies, it is as much important for women and girls to get equal access to education, to career opportunities, to retirement and healthcare.




Helly Luv, A Badass Woman Fighting ISIS With Lyrics

Helly Luv is not using weapons to fight ISIS, she is using music. And it is working. The radical group - that has taken large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria and spreading its violent ideology across the world- is mad at her and issued death threats.

Helly Luv,26, was born in Iran – the region of Urmia - in 1988 during the Persian Gulf war. Because of the conflict, Luv and her mother fled the country to enter Turkey. They lived for several years as homeless before being granted a status of Kurdish refugees in Finland, she told VICE. At the age of 18, she flew to Los Angeles. That is where she started her music career. Now, she's back to the Middle East to create music and videos that combat terrorism using politically-charged lyrics. 


Her newest song “Revolution,” is a mix of pop and politics. Helly Luv calls to resist in unity the “darkness,” here ISIS and other extremist groups.

Stand up, we are united / Together we can survive it /Darkness will never take us /Long live to every nation / Rise up cause we're so much stronger as one / Breaking the silence as loud as a gun / Brothers and sisters we all come from one /Different religions we share the same blood.”

She goes on “ All for peace/ Oh oh oh /Serbesti /Oh oh oh Azadiiiii.” Serbesti and Azadi both mean freedom in Ottoman Turkish and Persian.


The 7-minute long music video features Helly Luv, red hair, shiny gold pumps, camouflage outfit and keffiyeh, cat-walking down a war zone. She stands defiantly between the barrel of several guns and civilians fleeing the bombs with a signs that reads “STOP THE VIOLENCE.” Young women and men, wearing military uniforms, fight back while civilians are rallying and waving flags from all around the world.

As shown at the end of the video, it was shot about two miles away from the front line separating ISIS militants and the Kurdish Peshmerga troops. You can even hear the sound of explosions. The real ones this time. 

For more, read interview of Helly Luv with VICE

#SandraBland, One Too Many Names to Say

Sandra Bland. This name went viral over the past few days for an unfortunate reason: her death.

Bland, 28, died in custody three days after she was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer during a traffic stop in Waller County, Texas, on July 10.

Bland was found dead in a jail cell. The circumstances of her death are obscure and it is now being investigated by the Texas Rangers in coordination with the FBI.

Bland is the latest victim of police brutality against African American women, says Kimberle Crenshaw, a Columbia Law School Professor, in a press release. Crenshaw is described as a leading authority on how law and society are shaped by race and gender.

Sandra Bland is one of too many names to be added to the list of Black women dead at the hands of police in the U.S. As a result, the report Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women has been updated with the circumstances around Bland’s suspicious death.

On July 10, 28-year-old Sandra Bland was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change, and, as a video of her arrest shows, was pinned to the ground and surrounded by police officers. Bland was heard questioning the officers about why they had slammed her head to the ground, and complaining that should could not hear. Officers charged her with assault and held her in the Waller County Jail. Bland was found dead in her cell three days later. Bland had recently driven from suburban Chicago to Texas to begin a new job at her alma mater, Texas Prairie View A & M. Officials maintain that her death was a suicide, but Bland’s friends and family members adamantly reject this explanation and suspect foul play.
— Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women

The report was first issued in May 2015 by the African American Policy Forum, the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School, and Andrea Ritchie, a Soros Justice Fellow. It aims to document stories of Black women who have been killed by police, shining a spotlight on forms of police brutality often experienced disproportionately by women of color.

The report also calls for a gender inclusive movement to end state violence.

Too often death of black women goes unacknowledged, said Opal Tometi, one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, at the kick off the 2015 edition of BlogHer conference in New York on July 16.

Tometi and Pratisse Cullors, also co-founder of the movement, both reacted to Bland's death. Watch here.

In 2015 alone, at least six Black women have been killed by or after encounters with police, according to the report Say Her Name.

#SayHerName campaign kicked off in New York in May 2015.

Should French Be Afraid of Muslims Using Churches to Worship?

About five years ago when I moved to New York from France I started searching for a Muslim community to connect to and relate to. I found the Islamic Center of NYU: a young, diverse and vibrant Muslim community. Yet, what surprised me at that time is that they were using the basement of a church – Church Saint Joseph in Greenwich Village - for their friday prayers and their evening programs during the month of Ramadan. As a French expat, freshly arrived in the United States, Muslims praying in a church or its basement was unheard of.

France has the highest Europe's Muslim population – between 5 and 6 millions - but lacks mosques or places of worship for Muslims. It is not a rare scene to see Muslim worshippers performing their congregational prayer on Fridays in front of mosques, on the sidewalk due to lack of space. As a result, the sight of Muslims praying on the streets in large numbers have often been used by right and far-right elected officials to “alert" on the rise of Islam in France.

So when I came across the news this week that more than 40 000 French have signed a rousing “Hands off my church” petition -”Touche pas a mon eglise” in French -, it sent me back to five years ago when I was in awe that some U.S. churches were lending their space to Muslims so they can use as a place of worship.

The petition, initially signed by 25 conservative politicians and intellectuals, including former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was launched last week after the head of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, said that Muslims needed to double the number of mosques around the country to 4,000 and that using empty churches could help them do that.

Unsurprisingly, it did not take long before a backlash and for Boubakeur to rush out a statement on the same day saying “there is neither a desire nor a willingness to do this now.” Only the Roman Catholic Church, he said, is authorized to speak about the fate of its empty churches.

In a country, like France, it is still inconceivable for many to share places of worship with other religions which explains my surprise, five years ago, when I saw Muslims praying in a church in New York.

Too often, Islam is either seen as a religion barely compatible with the values of the French republic - and it is being fought on the grounds of secularism - or it is seen as a threat that should be neutralized.

The suspicion towards the Muslim community in France has drastically increased after two French Muslim men gunned down 17 people in an attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris last January and a third one killed several others in a hostage taking of a kosher supermarket.

Yet, hostility towards Muslims goes beyond suspicion. A recent report, published by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), documents a 23.5 percent rise in "Islamophobic acts" - physical assaults, verbal abuse, and damage to property - since the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

While interfaith efforts and acts of solidarity between religious communities should be encouraged in order to promote understanding and tolerance towards each other, French intellectuals and politicians are encouraging suspicion and division in order to satisfy their political agenda and ideals.

By doing so, they are exactly serving the purpose of those who use violence in the name of a religion. They should, maybe for once, look to the other side of the Atlantic and foster interfaith efforts such as the ones developed by religious communities in the U.S.

One recent example is a crowd funded campaign launched by Faatimah Knight after several black churches were set in fire in the wake of Dylann Roof's mass shooting in a Charleston church, in South Carolina.

The 23-year-old black Muslim student has raised, so far, more than $87,000 from over 1800 donors to help rebuild Catholic places of worship.

As the month of Ramadan is coming to end, I have taken the time to reflect on the hostility faced by Muslims worldwide as a result, most likely, of the current human madness ravaging countries like Syria and Iraq but also beyond as witnessed recently in Tunisia, Koweit and even France. In the Holy Quran that I read again during the past 29 nights, I did not find any answer to warrant these crimes.

The only answer I came up with is they want us divided and weak. They want us to resent each other and fight one another. Divide and rule is their strategy. We can only defeat them by being strongly united.

So my dear France, take a step back to reflect for a moment.

French Muslims are not your enemies, we are your partners and allies.



What 5 Iranian Women Are Saying About #Irandeal

Reaction to the nuclear deal reached yesterday, July 14, by Iran and six major world powers after 20 months of arduous negotiation has been mixed. U.S. President Barack Obama hailed it as a step toward a "more hopeful world" and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said it proved that "constructive engagement works," Reuters reported. But Israel pledged to do what it could to halt what it called an "historic surrender."

The agreement will now be debated in the U.S. Congress, but Obama said he would veto any measure to block it. The essence of the deal is that in exchange for limits on its nuclear activities, Iran would get relief from sanctions while being allowed to continue its atomic program for peaceful purposes.

Here, five Iranian women with special insights on the issue share their reactions.

I am very happy like almost any other Iranian that I know ... I think both sides—President Rouhani and President Obama—were very committed to resolving the issue and reaching an agreement. It is a process and it took a while. It took them almost two years. It is like a miracle . . . The deal is beneficial for Iran from an economic perspective because the Iranian economy has suffered from sanctions. But politically, and from a security and peace perspective, I think everyone in the negotiations is benefiting, especially the U.S . . . If these negotiations had failed, there was a threat of war or a military intervention and that would have to be mainly on the side of the U.S.
— Negar Mortazavi is an Iranian-American journalist and media analyst in New York who focuses on Iran's nuclear negotiations. Follow Mortazavi on Twitter @NegarMortazavi.
This is a historic agreement that I hope will pave the way for a better future for millions of Iranians who have been suffering from sanctions and isolation. Iranians have never had a say regarding the nuclear program but they have suffered from the consequences of the decisions made by their leaders. This deal could decrease tensions between the United States and Iran. But there are still many issues between the two countries so I don’t think the two countries will become friends or allies as a result of the deal. Also, I don’t think Iranian hardliners and Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei want to see a normalization of ties with the United States, they’re concerned that any opening up of the atmosphere will threaten their power and authority.
— Golnaz Esfandiari is a D.C.-based correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Esfandiari is also the editor Of Iran Blog Persian Letters. Follow Esfandiari on Twitter @Gesfandiari.
I feel happy, mostly relieved. Happy for the Iranian people who suffered crippling sanctions and economic hardships during the last decade and relieved because the shadow of a war is over. I’m happy for the winning of the peace . . . After 30 years of a hostile relationship between two countries, Iranian and American foreign ministers sat around the same table, talked with each other and shook each other’s hands, something that my generation (who were born and raised after the 1979 Revolution) never had witnessed and never could imagine. So, if this could happen, the normalization could happen too . . . The sanctions had a catastrophic impact on ordinary Iranians. Women suffered immensely. Lack of medicines and skyrocketing prices of essential goods limited their abilities to manage their families and women suffer from poverty more than others. So, I believe Iranians will benefit economically and financially from the sanctions relief. Human rights and women’s rights still remain a legitimate concern for me, as a women’s rights advocate. Does the U.S.-Iran normal relationship improve Iranian’s human rights? I don’t have an answer for it. This one needs more effort from within Iran and so far, we haven’t witnessed any significant shift by the Iranian government in this area.
— Leila Mouri is an Iranian and women's rights advocate living in New York. Follow Mouri on Twitter @femiran.
I am very happy about the deal ... For Iranians, especially for civil society activists, the issue of sanctions has been a huge obstacle that they have spoken out against for some time and for impacting negatively mostly the Iranian population: women, vulnerable groups, the middle-class. I think for my part—and the part of many of my colleagues that I am in touch with inside of the country—we are very happy and eager to have the sanctions end. I think it is a first step for many things. One is a possible normalization of relations between Iran and the West. But I would like to emphasize more that it is a first step for the civil society to become active inside of Iran. The sanctions impacted very negatively the civil society because they impacted negatively the economic situation so many of the activists inside the country who work on a volunteer basis were unable to engage in civil society . . . I think it is a win-win situation. It is always a win-win situation when you resolve conflicts through diplomacy. We need to have stability in the Middle East and the region and I think this deal will help with that stability.
— Sussan Tahmasebi is co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network, or ICAN. Follow Tahmasebi on Twitter @sussantweets.
As an Iranian-American woman, I’m proud that two sides with severed ties and no trust were able to come to a historical agreement and choose peace through diplomacy instead of a escalations of hostilities, possibly leading to war. After 35 years of animosity and distrust, this is a step forward in U.S.-Iran relations. Once trust can be established, this is a confidence building step that if maintained, can lead to a warming of relations. Not only will both countries benefit from the de-escalation of tensions, but the world, as it creates barriers to the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran. Ultimately, Iran will benefit more as it lays the groundwork to open up the country’s economy to the world. The international community can look at this as an example of how diplomacy is possible.
— Holly Dagres is an Iranian-American analyst and commentator currently based in Egypt. Follow Dagres on Twitter @hdagres.

NYC Celebrates U.S. Women's Soccer Team

NYC Celebrates U.S. Women's Soccer Team

Thousands of fans filled the streets of Lower Manhattan July 10, cheering and tossing confetti to celebrate the U.S. women's victorious soccer team. Its members are the first female athletes to receive the honor of the city's so-called ticker-tape parade in more than 50 years. The 23-member team marched up Wall Street's Canyon of Heroes, spanning the stretch of Broadway between Battery Park and City Hall, smiling a waving to the roaring crowds. The call for the parade came from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer - less than 24 hours after its remarkable victory and Mayor Bill De Blasio quickly put it in motion.

Coca-Cola Erased Women In Campaign To Promote World Without Labels

In the Middle East, Coca-Cola is looking to promote a world without labels and prejudices by erasing its logo on its iconic red can. The video campaign, created by Dubai-based agency FP7/DXB, part of McCann Worldgroup, has been released on the occasion of the Islamic month of Ramadan.

Yet despite all the good intentions, Coca-Cola has also erased the existence of women in the Middle East.

In the near three-minute long video, six men from different walks of life are being sat at the same table and put in the dark. They don't know and don't see each other. When lights are switched on, the participants found that the people they spoke to differed greatly from what they had imagined. The main goal of the experiment was to challenge their preconceived notions and prejudices. The participants were then invited to reach under their chairs to find the “No Labels” Coke can, which made the point of the exercise clearer.

During the experiment, not a single woman was seating at the table while women make up half of the 325 million total population of the Middle East. Isn't Coco-Cola itself carrying on a prejudice toward women by telling them they are invisible?

Women are too often the ones being labeled and suffering prejudices in particular in patriarchal societies like the Middle East. Yet, women are also consumers and drink Coke. In addition, while men keep earning more than women in almost any society, the actual spending decision-making come often from women in the household. So dear Coca-Cola, you can't succeed to erase labels and prejudices in the Middle East by negating the existence of women! 



Post-War Trauma Afflicts Gaza Girls, Women

Post-War Trauma Afflicts Gaza Girls, Women

My latest piece written for Women's eNews

One year after the Israeli offensive in Gaza, the reconstruction has not started; neither for the buildings or lives shattered, said Dr. Seita Akihiro, director of the health department at the UNWRA -the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.

"War does not only destroy the buildings; what war destroys is the lives of the people," Akihiro said in a phone interview from Amman.

His colleague, Dr. Ghada Al-Jabda, chief of the field of health program in Gaza for the refugee agency, echoed that sentiment, saying the crisis in Gaza is leading to a "social degradation."

Women and children, Al-Jabda said, have always been the first to pay the price during and after the successive wars in Gaza,

The 50 days of conflict during July and August 2014 resulted in heavy casualities in Gaza: 2104 Palestinians killed, included 1,462 civilians, of whom 495 children and 253 women. In addition, more than 100,000 refugee homes or dwellings were damaged or destroyed, according to the U.N. The consequences of the conflict are now affecting families at several levels, with women and children being heavily impacted, whether it's early marriage, increased violence or complications in pregnancy.

Along with the successive wars and the political instability, the Palestinian territory has undergone a blockade imposed by Israel since 2006. As a result, Gaza residents can barely leave the enclave.

One result of that isolation, Al-Jabda said, is, among other consequences, a high rate of early marriage (at 33 percent) and a 24 percent divorce rate among young couples only one year after their marriage.