Lighting out For ‘The Woods’

We called it “The Woods.” Well, I did. Sometimes, I referred to it as a “forest,” which it most certainly was not. Our backyard ended at a line of trees and dross beneath them; the lightly manicured, suburban lawn did not grow beyond that line, despite my teen-aged lawn mowing efforts to expand the lawn by clearing the dead leaves and branches away. That tight boundary made The Woods appear all the more elemental, foreign, forbidding, and, of course, inviting.

There was nothing truly elemental or extra natural about The Woods, though; it was not even a particularly non-developed land that surrounded our development. High tension power lines that fed electricity to our thousand-house neighborhood ran along an unpaved road about three football fields away from our back door; thus, the three-hundred-yard-deep stretch of trees that ran the entire backside of the neighborhood, from the Metro-North train tracks along the Hudson River on up and away from the river, merely existed to separate us from the taller-than-average power poles.
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#OpFOQ Fights on, Despite Attacks

“Some of these … U.S. Anons have spent the last 24 hours trying to make sure that an Anon op fails. Its name is #OpFOQ.”—a statement from Raymond Johansen, #OpFOQ’s public coordinator, March 28, 2017

In the last twenty-four hours, #OpFOQ has come under fire. #OpFOQ is a campaign to focus attention on a mass kidnapping in Iraq, to force the government of Iran to divulge what it knows about the whereabouts and health of two dozen Qatari hostages, to bring this case to forefront of the world’s consciousness, and to earn the freedom of the hostages.

Raymond Johansen, #OpFOQ’s public coordinator, released this statement to The Gad About Town an hour ago, which I run verbatim:
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#OpFOQ Learns One Hostage Is Alive

BREAKING, March 27: In the three days since the launch of #OpFOQ, a human rights effort to secure the release of two dozen Qatari hostages held (it is believed) in Iraq or at least to learn if the hostages are alive and well, there is progress to report.

At this hour, it was learned that one of the Qatari hostages, seen below, is alive.

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#OpFOQ: A Campaign to Free Two Dozen Hostages

A group of human rights activists and members of Anonymous launched an operation directed at Iran on March 24, #OpFOQ, to focus attention on a mass kidnapping in Iraq, to force the government of Iran to divulge what it knows about the whereabouts and health of two dozen Qatari hostages, to bring this case to forefront of the world’s consciousness, and to earn the freedom of the hostages.

The men were kidnapped in December 2015, and since April 2016, when two of the hostages were freed, the missing men have been absent from the world’s headlines and attention as well, despite the fact that a handful of the hostages are members of the royal family of Qatar. Families are missing sons, brothers, husbands, fathers. The men were not taken by an official government entity, so groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been bystanders as the mystery deepens each day.

The men were sportsmen—falconers—who crossed the Saudi Arabian-Iraqi border with government-issued permits and their birds, and they set up camp in Iraq’s remote southern province, Al Muthanna. December is training season for the falcons because December is the breeding season for the houbara bustard, a turkey-like bird found in Central Asia that the falcons hunt.
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‘How could the unpure possibly be of assistance to the holy?’

I admit that my expertise in psychological warfare is limited to good spy novels, better histories, and bad Twitter behavior. Over the last month or so, a campaign to smear and harass a friend of mine has unfolded before my eyes on social media and behind the scenes.

Much as I may want to ignore it, much as I may wish that my words below will bring it to an end and somehow restore his name in the world to the esteem I still hold for him, much as I may want the campaign to end, I am not sufficiently foolish to think my words will have much of an effect. I can not ignore it, though.

I am writing this because I know the human being involved, I know (or I think I know) the desired consequences of the campaign against him, and I know that he will write something similar about me should I ever become important enough in someone’s eyes to attempt to take me down. This is because my friend is a friend and he is loyal.

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To Dream a Dream …

Bravery is a skill. I do not know if I have cultivated it in myself. Bravery is, of course, not what one does in the absence of fear but what one can do—what one actually does—when fear is present. Accept fear, move forward, change the world.

[A comment: Today is March 22, 2017. I wrote the first draft of this column more than eighteen months ago. Sadly, the only update to offer today is this one: All the parties described herein are, simply, even more brave than they were several months ago. Ali remains in prison. His father posts updates on Facebook each week and sometimes more frequently. We learned last summer that he earned a university degree while in prison. Dawood al-Marhoon and Abed allahhassan al-Zaher also remain in prison. Raif Badawi remains in prison. He has begun to learn of the global movement that has grown around the fight to free him. Back to the column from October 2015:]
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For Shawkan, Another Delay

A journalist’s job is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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The next hearing in the ongoing trial of Mahmoud Abu Zeid (photo at top), an Egyptian photojournalist who goes by the name “Shawkan,” will be Saturday, April 8, it was learned this morning.

Shawkan’s ongoing story, with its staggered month-by-month steps, is one of the denial of basic human rights by a nation allied with Western governments, but it also has been a story of many citizens stepping up and making certain that Shawkan’s story is heard. Both stories are worth knowing.

For those unaware of Shawkan’s story, I recently wrote the following background article:
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The Verdict Against Badawi is Upheld–What Comes Next?

Raif Badawi remains in prison. Raif Badawi still awaits 950 lashes with a whip. Raif Badawi remains in danger. Saudi Arabia’s thought-police know that the slow drip-drip-drip of news about a prisoner’s legal status is one more form of punishment.

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Raif Badawi learned today, March 20, that both the verdict against him and the one million riyal (approx. $266,663) fine leveled against him have been upheld by Saudi Arabia’s judicial system.

The immediate impact of these decisions is not known. There are many questions, not the least of which is: what effect might today’s decision have on the other two other parts of Raif Badawi’s sentence—ten years in prison and 1000 lashes with a whip? The answer is yet to be revealed.

Later this spring, Badawi will pass the five-year mark in prison. (Today, March 20, 2017, is Raif Badawi’s 1760th day in prison.) On January 9, 2015, fifty lashes were administered with a cane, and 950 more remain undelivered to this day. Will the whipping be resumed? Or, optimistically, if the fine can be paid in full, might that be a way for humanity to pry Raif Badawi from the inhumane Saudi Arabian judicial system, in which the act of thinking is considered a crime worthy of corporal punishment?
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