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A Tale of Two Lives: Overcoming Oppression and Intolerance in the Middle East and North Africa

by Daniel E. Levenson, ALM

April 2, 2011

 

When one mentions human rights in a conversation about the Middle East it seems that most people immediately think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the truth is that across North Africa and the Middle East there are gross violations of human rights taking place daily under a wide variety of repressive regimes. Yes, we have seen some change taking place in the region, and there have been a few short-term, noteworthy, successes  -protests in Egypt which forced the resignation of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, of course, being the primary example - but we can also see places where the eventual outcome is far more uncertain (and I should add that we still do not know how things will eventually turn out in Egypt, either). There have also been failed attempts at peaceful change, most notably in Libya, where a civil war now rages, and has drawn in the United States and other Western nations. There is also the case of Bahrain, where the government has not only engaged in a brutal crackdown against pro-reform protestors, but welcomed troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help it do so. But such repression and disrespect for human and civil rights is nothing new in this part of the world, which is something which was addressed at an event co-sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and the American Islamic Congress this past week in Boston. During this program, those in the audience got to hear, first-hand, from two individuals who had both suffered from the kind of oppression to which ethnic and religious and minorities in the region are so often subject.

 

One of the speakers was Benjamin Nabosh, a Libyan Jew and a native of Benghazi , who had been forced to flee Libya in the wake of riots following Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. Mr. Nabosh spoke movingly of his childhood in Libya, where he counted among his friends many Muslims, as well as the level of intolerance and prejudice directed toward the Jewish community there. He told the audience about how his family had lost practically everything during the rioting, including their home and several stores his father owned. Mr. Nabosh told of being allowed to leave the prison camp where he and his family were being held prior to their forced deportation with one other person in order to retrieve a single suitcase worth of personal belongings, and how they made a detour to the local synagogue to rescue the torah scrolls of the community.

 

The other speaker was Jamal Ait Hammou, who grew up in a small village in Morocco where he was subjected to taunts and harassment as a member of the Berber community. He also described a period in which he had begun to embrace Islamic fundamentalism, under the influence of a cousin. He told the audience that if it were not the actions of his mother, a strong-willed and wise woman who both insisted that he receive a good education and begged him not to fall in with Islamist groups in Morocco, he may very well have taken a very different path in life. Unfortunately, this would not be the last time that Mr. Hammou encountered the danger of extremism, and he described in chilling detail an incident in which he was briefly captured by an Islamist group which was trying to take over part of the university campus where he was studying. Not realizing that one of the Islamist factions had taken control of the university library he went there one day to return a book, only to be severely beaten and threatened with death by members of this organization, who accused him of being a spy for a rival group that was also vying for control of the campus.

 

For both of these men, their lives seemed to have turned out fairly well - both managed to emigrate to America, to become US citizens and pursue careers - but the events they lived through have clearly left an imprint on their lives. It seems that they each have triumphed in their own way, surviving oppression and violence, but perhaps their greatest triumph lies in their willingness to share their stories, and to help educate those of us living outside of the Middle East and North Africa about the brutal reality of life in an intolerant and hostile environment.

 

 

 

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson/The New Vilna Review 2011.

 

Welcome to the New Vilna Review

*A Note From the Publisher - February 8, 2012*

 

Dear readers and contributors,

The New Vilna Review has been going through some changes the past few

months, and our focus has shifted to offering an expanded selection of

poetry, fiction and arts writing. We are once again accepting submissions,

and look forward to continuing to publish some of the most interesting and

thought provoking work in the world of Jewish arts and letters.

-Daniel E. Levenson

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

The New Vilna Review

 

 

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