The top ten list that shouldn’t exist in 2015


A list of travesties:

  1. Worldwide, women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined.
  2. One in seven people on earth goes to bed hungry each night while 25 hedge fund managers made a combined $21 billion in a single year, enough to feed every hungry person on earth.
  3. Global military spending exceeds $1.7 trillion per year, 100 times more than annual cancer research spending.
  4. The Forbes 400 billionaires have as much wealth as the entire African-American population of the U.S., nearly 42 million people.
  5. 1.6 billion people face economic water shortage, while 2 to 4 million gallons of water are used to frack a single well, polluting our water supply.
  6. Over a million people around the world lose their lives to violence every year, yet 40% of Americans live in a household with a gun, more than the percentage of young adults enrolled in college.
  7. It costs just 25 cents a day to provide a child with the vitamins and nutrients to grow up healthy, but every hour of every day, 300 children die from malnutrition.
  8. One of the leading causes of death for pregnant women is homicide — and one out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime.
  9. The world’s nations pumped nearly 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air from the burning of fossil fuels last year.
  10. Cigarettes – often the product of child labor – will kill up to a billion people in the 21st century, yet remain legal and are marketed to teenagers.

Why violence is worse than other existential threats


“No more hurting people” - Martin Richard, 8, killed in Boston Marathon attack.

Violence: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

The World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health states that violence is “among the leading causes of death among people aged 15-44 years worldwide, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females.”

Millions of people lose their lives to violence and millions more are injured and maimed every year. What is infinitely disturbing is the myriad forms this violence takes and how pervasive and borderless it is. Across the globe and across the centuries, humans have committed the most barbaric acts, limited only by their imaginations, and the march of civilization has done little to change the grim reality that on any given day, in every corner of our planet, gruesome and ungodly things are done to women, children and men.

Growing up in Beirut during the 70s and early 80s, I witnessed terrible acts of violence, car bombs at markets and artillery strikes on residential neighborhoods, bloody bodies and corpses in the street, the carnage of urban warfare. I saw the darker aspects of human nature, the willingness of people to brutalize one another. After four decades on this planet, I still cannot fathom how a man can rape a baby, how people can gas, hack, strangle, shoot, bomb, smother, burn, and torture their fellow humans. Rather than become dulled and inured, I am ever more appalled and horrified by violence.

Preventing violence should be our highest priority. Tragically and deplorably, it is not. For every paroxysm of grief and shock over a mass killing, there is apathy in the face of events like this:

Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore. Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair. “We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”

Something like this should stop the world in its tracks, but it doesn’t:

Jessica Marie Lunsford was a nine-year-old girl who was abducted from her home in Homosassa, Florida in the early morning of February 24, 2005. … Couey entered Lunsford’s house through an unlocked door at about three o’clock in the morning, awakened Lunsford, told her “Don’t yell or nothing,” and told her to follow him out of the house. He admitted in a videotaped and recorded deposition to raping Lunsford in his bedroom. Lunsford was kept in Couey’s bed that evening, where he raped her again in the morning. Couey put her in his closet and ordered her to remain there, which she did as he reported for work at “Billy’s Truck Lot”. Three days after he abducted her, Couey tricked Jessica into getting into two garbage bags by saying he was going to ‘take her home’. He instead buried her alive as he decided he could do nothing else with the girl. According to the publicly released autopsy reports Lunsford had poked two fingers through the bags before suffocating to death.

Or this:

Turkish police have recovered the body of a 16-year-old girl they say was buried alive by relatives in an “honor” killing carried out as punishment for talking to boys. The girl, who has been identified only by the initials MM, was found in a sitting position with her hands tied, in a two-meter hole dug under a chicken pen outside her home in Kahta, in the south-eastern province of Adiyaman. … Media reports said the father had told relatives he was unhappy that his daughter – one of nine children – had male friends. The grandfather is said to have beaten her for having relations with the opposite sex. A postmortem examination revealed large amounts of soil in her lungs and stomach, indicating that she had been alive and conscious while being buried.

No fate seems more ghastly or any act more abhorrent than the kind of evil deeds described above. That these things occur every day, every hour, across the planet is horrific beyond words. That the world is largely apathetic about it is loathsome.

There is something qualitatively different, something worse about violence than other existential threats. It may be impossible to distinguish between the mortal terror of being trapped under a building in an earthquake and being trapped under a building after a car bomb, between the agony of death from cancer and being beaten to death. But there is a difference. We all die in some manner or another, but an act of human will, of intentionality, a choice by one person to harm another, is not the same as an act or accident of nature or a cruel vagary of fate. The immediacy, intentionality, and physicality of a violent act sets it apart, precisely because free will is involved, because it is a choice in the moment, because it is avoidable by virtue of being the will of a person.

Although the relative scale is disproportionate (vastly more people are at risk from hunger and disease) violence touches virtually everyone, directly or indirectly. Is there a single person reading this who hasn’t been affected by it in some way or who isn’t concerned about being harmed or having their loved ones harmed? In many ways, violence – the fear of it, the reality of it, its history, and its many representations/permutations in art, film, music, media and modern culture – defines our modern life.

I believe that the decision by an individual or group of individuals to destroy or inflict damage on others, to rob them of their freedom, to strip them of their dignity, to dehumanize them, is fundamentally worse than any other mortal threat we face. Violence is an affront to our souls, a stain on our humanity.

Should it be our top order of business to eradicate violence? Yes. Is it possible to do so? The report I referenced at the top of this piece is a good place to start.

What kind of creature rapes children?


In a post on violence, I wrote:

The World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health estimates that over a million people lose their lives to violence and millions more are injured and maimed every year. The report states that violence is “among the leading causes of death among people aged 15-44 years worldwide, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females.”

What’s so disturbing is the myriad forms this violence takes and how deeply pervasive and borderless it is. Across the globe and across the centuries, humans have committed the most barbaric acts, limited only by their imaginations, and the march of civilization has done little to change the grim reality that on any given day, in every corner of our planet, gruesome and ungodly things are done to women, children and men.

Reading reports about children raped in Congo, I can’t fathom what kind of creature rapes anyone, let alone children.

Who does things like this:

A Jamaican taxi driver has been accused of raping a 12-year-old girl and then burying her alive after he thought he had strangled her to death, authorities said on Wednesday.

Or this:

Jessica Marie Lunsford was a nine-year-old girl who was abducted from her home in Homosassa, Florida in the early morning of February 24, 2005. Believed held captive over the weekend, she was raped and later murdered by 47-year-old John Couey who was living nearby.

Or this:

Marc Clifton Bryant, a Utah fugitive who was convicted after torturing a 16 year old girl with a blowtorch and screwdriver while he raped her, has been captured. Bryant was convicted in April on charges of aggravated kidnapping, child abuse, criminal solicitation, rape of a minor and making terroristic threats. Investigators say Bryant handcuffed a 16-year-old girl to a bed, raped her, tortured her with a blowtorch and scarred her with a heated screwdriver.

Individuals who commit these evil acts are not human. They are beyond description. Heinous beyond words.

Light a candle for Richel Nova


In many traditions, lighting a candle is a gesture of remembrance, of respect, of empathy, a way of keeping someone in our thoughts. Human violence is a monstrosity we live with daily and I believe we honor victims by thinking of them and acknowledging the pain they’ve been through.

Light a candle for Richel Nova:

Boston police have arrested three suspects who they say stabbed a Domino’s pizza delivery man and drove off in his car.

Two teenangers and a 20-year-old are charged with homicide in what investigators described as a brutal crime.

Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said 58-year-old Richel Nova’s death “was chilling in its callousness and violence.”

CNN affiliate WCVB reported that the three suspects broke into a vacant home Thursday night and then made a call for pizza to be delivered, according to police.

When Nova arrived, he was stabbed multiple times at the kitchen door, police said.

… Friends told WCVB that Nova, a Dominican immigrant who moved to Massachusetts more than 20 years ago, worked three jobs to provide a better life for his son and twin 20-year-old daughters.

“It’s a shame,” friend Rafael Hernandez told WCVB. “You come here to change your life and do better, and that’s what happens to you.”

Michel Andre St. Jean, 20, Alexander Emmanuel Gallett, 18 and Yamiley Mathurin, 17 are accused of homicide, armed robbery and armed breaking and entering of a dwelling.

UPDATE: Cries break out during funeral for Richel Nova:

Mourners wailed and clung to each other for support as the late Richel Nova was honored in a small but intensely emotional funeral in East Boston this morning. Nova’s emotionally distraught twin daughters and their mother clung to each other for support. Hymns sung in Spanish were broken by wails and cries of grief from mourners.

Nova’s friends and family were joined by Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Police Commissioner Edward Davis. Police had a heavy presence outside keeping intersections open as the funeral procession arrived and left.

Violence against women and the law


Striking:

[O]nly about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced, well resourced or taken seriously.

Violence against women and girls, in the form of human trafficking, harmful cultural practices, rape as a tactic of war and domestic violence, is one of the single greatest barriers holding women back. A staggering statistic: one out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime. And the problem is getting worse every year.

I stick by this New Year’s prediction:

Another decade closes, another decade dawns, another thing you can bet on in the years to come: women across this planet will be disrespected, beaten, abused, violated, oppressed. Simply for being born female.

I have one child, a daughter. Not yet 2. But I know full well that her gender automatically brings with it the likelihood that at some point (perhaps at many points), she’ll be treated like a second-class citizen.