for azza

It was a simple, humble request from a woman I'd never met. She works with Amnesty International, and she asked me to watch a video on Vivienne Westwood, talking about Azza Suleiman. The letter arrived on the 26th of November - the day before my late father's birthday - and it lay, unopened, in my inbox until yesterday. Which happened to be International Human Rights Day.

Everything - more with each passing day - is starting to feel so connected.

On December 2011 49-year-old Azza Suleiman attended a large protest near Tahrir Square. As she started to leave, she saw a group of soldiers violently beat and strip another female protestor.

Concerned, Azza and some others tried to help carry the woman away. But the soldiers reacted violently: they beat Azza so severely that she lost consciousness. Even then they did not stop.

Their attack was so vicious it left Azza with a fractured skull and impaired memory. Azza lodged a formal complaint but to date no one has been held accountable for this violence.

I only learned of this a year later. On a day that what everyone was still talking about - and still is - is who is culpable, is it the DJs in Australia, or the radio station that employs them, or was the nurse herself unstable.. and no matter what side we are on, it still remains an unbelievably sad story, a tragedy - and as that conversation continues, and more information is being revealed- who did what when, who is paying who what amount - I continue to talk with my dear, sweet, kind, beautiful Egyptian friend, who happens to be with her newly wed husband, in Cairo.

And what we are talking about, between conversations about how far she is from the Palace and the riots (not far, she can see most from their windows), and how her grandmother has come home from hospital, is the idea that - always, always, we are accountable for our actions.

There is so much more I want to say.. I want to share a song with you that I feel is so beautiful, so poignant, and - another coincidence - happened to have been made at an Amnesty International conference, years ago. Because I think of times in my life.. I've never knowingly harmed any soul, I'm not wired that way - and I know that neither of those two DJs, the male or the female, ever intended this to come from a prank, I believe that - but I do believe that there are consequences of our actions. And sometimes - and I can think of moments when I was guilty of this crime - sometimes, when we do nothing, when we allow cruelty in any form to occur, and stand by and do nothing, because it might put us in risk - sometimes that inactivity, in itself, has consequences.

As Vivienne said so beautifully: 'It is our compassion that makes us human.'

Or as Jackson Browne said in this song: make it on your own if you think you can, but somewhere later on you'll have to take a stand..

Photos all by me: from top, Dree Hemingway, Ernest's great granddaughter, then my friend who is now in Egypt, comforting a girl she just met, at London Fashion week, and then an angel, looking over a soul in the cemetery on Old Brompton Road. To see Vivienne Westwood's beautiful little piece for Azza, click here.


Jessie in Fashion Limbo said...

Hey Jill, thinking of you and how lovely you looked on that cold January morning, in London, when we finally got to meet. I'll always think of you with that leopard print coat, and how cool it looked on you. Not everyone can make leopard look THAT cool, that effortless, understated yet so stylish.
the media is plagued with WTF stories... the news on what happened after that phone prank...unbelievable and just a tiny fraction on the huge amounts of unfair and cruel realities that form this world, that occur every day, everywhere. It makes me want to run out of this boring, life-sucking office im in every day, run out and live, savour the fact that life can be so cruel, that nothing can be taken for granted, that others don't have my luck, my fortune, of being this free. But maybe I'm tied up in another way, because I'm not walking out of the sliding doors of this cold place.
Keep writing, keep sharing your pictures. It's inspiring x

Anonymous said...

Hello Jill!

You know the almighty question, "When did you first feel like an adult?" Well, my own answer to this is when I learned to swallow my pride and apologize for things. That's when I realized I had finally grown up. You can be responsible for a mortgage, a car payment, a job, and even a tiny little life, but until you strap on your big person pants and learn to be responsible for your OWN actions you are still mentally a child.

And nobody apologizes for anything anymore. You've/we've touched on losing "friends" many times here on your blog. I had to cut three major ones out of my life these past two years. Yet all of these friends sheepishly tried to reconnect with me months later. Were there any apologies included in these reconnections? Of course not!!! Were apologies warranted? Um, absolutely!! So how could I possibly reestablish a friendship when no acknowledgement of hurt and mistakes had been made? Where were my guarantees that the same hurts wouldn't happen again? There were none, so the friendships simply couldn't be mended. And the sheer childishness of these people in their failure to cop to what they had done just blew me away.

And let us not forget that we live in a time when whimpy little offerings are often given, apologies that are definitely NOT apologies... "I'm sorry you feel that way," "I'm sorry you interpreted it that way." In other words, "I'm sorry you have a problem on your end, but I've certainly done nothing wrong on my end."

In regards to the djs... considering there was the previous incident in which a 12-year-old unwittingly confessed live on air to being raped during another one of their pranks, I find it hard to feel sorry for them. Clearly, they didn't feel bad enough from that mistake to knock it off with any future sophomoric stunts.

After watching the interview the two gave a few days ago, I do think the woman feels absolutely horrible about it. The guy, however, still strikes me as an arrogant jerk, and his mini breakdown, in which I saw no actual tears, seemed a bit crocodile to me.

But people get away with murder these days. Literally and figuratively. And what are we to do, other than build even tougher walls around ourselves?

It is all very very sad and frustrating.


jill said...

Leah, Jessie.. this is incredible. The things you've each said - I could have written them myself.

I want to reply, and I don't know where to begin.. LeahB: the ability to say sorry - like the ability to have, as Vivienne Westwood put so well in the video - empathy - the willingness, if you will, to look at the other person's perspective, or try to, to acknowledge when we, as flawed human, have made a mistake - and the hunger to learn from our mistakes, our experiences - and to grow from them - that is what makes us human.

To choose the other option - to continue to blame, excuse our behaviour, and not learn or grow - is what turns humans into monsters.

One last thing: I was joking around with friends, on someone's wall yesterday - alll school friends, back in the States - about something someone posted about 'when a woman says 'What?' it's not because she didn't hear you.

She's giving you a chance to change what you said.

And I laughed and replied 'The English version of 'What?' is 'Sorry?' Same thing. Although they also use the word Sorry for just about everything. Except as an apology.'

I don't mean all English people. And obviously this has nothing to do with culture, or nationality. There are people who cannot - or rather, will not - say they're sorry.

And I feel so terribly sorry for them. Because they will go through life being angry, or sad, and not understand that most of their problems are of their own creation.

And then there's the other aspect to growth: the flip side of the same coin. The one I'm working on the most right now: how to forgive. To let go. Especially to the people who have not - and never will - ask for my forgiveness.

You are both such amazing women. Jessie I am so glad we met - so far, only once, but I can't wait to come to Barcelona again - one of my favourite cities, perhaps my favourite. The fact that it has a beach with clean, tropical aqua water pretty much knocks any other city - London included - out of the water. And LeahB, I hope we can actually meet someday. You sound like someone I'd like to be friends with. Or be.

Anonymous said...

Aw! Thanks so much Jill! I have a feeling we will meet at some point! I visit NY enough and I'm chomping at the bit to go back to London, so eventually we're bound to cross paths.