Category Archives: Tolerance

The Cruel Society

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My friend Arie wrote an article called The Cruel Sea about Bas Ya Bahar (an old Kuwaiti film) and an upcoming Egyptian author, Yahia Lababidi. It can be read here. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t watched the movie, even though it’s one of the only Kuwaiti films to be considered top-notch. In my defense, however, it’s very difficult to find lately. But I will try my best to find a copy at any of the old video stores in Salmiya.

I asked some older people about it, and they told me that it depicts the pearl-diving history of Kuwait before the discovery of oil. I asked, “That’s it?” and they said yes, mostly. I didn’t understand because Arie had mentioned something about rape victims in the Middle East, and here they were telling me it was about pearl diving. After Arie finished writing his article, though, I saw the very critical element that my elders seemed to have found irrelevant: two of the characters are in love with each other, but their families don’t approve of the relationship. So the girl is married off to a rich, old man. The girl is raped by her husband on their wedding night.

Of course, many people would argue that a woman can’t be raped by her husband, when in truth it’s more common than people think. If she’s not giving him her consent and he does it anyway, it’s rape. I got a reply on Twitter also mentioning a crucial occurrence that’s equally neglected: prostitutes being raped. Although that’s a separate issue on its own (I think this gives a good portrayal of the truth), women can be and are forced into sexual acts under all sorts of different circumstances. 1,000 women are raped per minute, according to UN statistics. That’s not even counting the ones that go unreported.

But what I think should be discussed, is how rape victims are looked at. Generally, they carry *at least* partial blame. Most societies all over the world tend to blame the victim in some way. In the Middle East, they carry most of the blame. It’s usually said that she asked for it by dressing or acting in a certain way, or by being out ‘too late’. Other times, she’s very badly beaten up by her own family, sometimes even killed, simply because her ‘honor’ has been violated – i.e. her virginity. I read about a sixteen year old Kuwaiti girl who was raped in 1991 by an Iraqi soldier. A case was filed a while later, but not because the girl was raped. A case was filed because the sixteen year old was murdered by her father and two brothers who thought they were preserving their family’s ‘honor’. The girl’s mother was also investigated with, but she apparently showed no objection to their act – she was ashamed of her daughter and proud of her sons and husband. The degree of monstrous inhumanity to which brainwash can lead to is just stunning. When a brother can kill his own sister, a father can kill his own daughter, and a mother can look on and say ‘good riddens’, that’s when you know society has reached a terrifying definition of priorities. ‘Honor’ – a figment of Middle Eastern mentality – topples over love. Over family, over justice, over protecting your loved ones.

I also remember watching a Kuwaiti TV show back in 2004 or 2003, where a woman is raped, and her brother finds out and decides to kill her. He takes her out to the desert, holds a gun to her temple, and you hear the girl’s thoughts being narrated, you hear her blaming herself and saying that she doesn’t blame her “maskeen” brother because she brought عار to her family. Then you see the brother having flashbacks of all their childhood memories, and suddenly she isn’t the cause of “shame” to his family, but his little sister. I can’t remember what happened later, I just remember that he couldn’t bring himself to do it and he cries because of what a “coward” he is. This was shown on TV! Even the media advocates honor killing! Heck, in Jordan, it’s legal! TODAY IN 20-FREAKING-12!!!

I wonder how Arab men today would react to their sister or future-fiance or wife getting raped. Would they blame her or support her and help her through the healing process? Someone was offended that I asked, saying that I was implying that they were savages. It really isn’t what I think, but from what I’ve seen and heard, most Arab men do tend to blame the victim, saying that she asked for it by doing something, as I said before. I have to point out that rape is never asked for, and that if they insist on going with that logic, then they’re also saying that men are animalistic savages who can’t control their sexual urges if they see something that appeals to them.

A friend of mine told me about a married 19-year-old girl in Saudi who became widely known across the media as Qatif Girl, and was sentenced to 90 lashes for being in a car with her ex, and another 110 for trying to ‘distort’ Saudi’s reputation through the media by reporting her case to a Human Rights organization. She was gang-raped by 8 men, who got varied sentences ranging from 2-15 years. That’s it. So half of them will be released in two years, go back to society, and probably repeat their crime. Very few of the victims will have the courage to report the crime. Not even Qatif Girl did; her husband found out because the gang kept gossiping about what they did in an attempt to ‘ruin her reputation’. They were hoping that her husband would find out and kill her. Her brother tried to, apparently, when he found out; he beat her up until she was unconscious, but she didn’t die. She did, however, try to kill herself twice since then. Her life has been an absolute hell from what she’s said. If we were to apply the “she asked for it” logic in this case, it doesn’t apply. She was wearing an abaya and a niqab.

Why do they pretend to be ‘open minded’ and say that they would never blame the girl, but all of a sudden change their opinions when it’s a relative or someone close to them? All of a sudden it involves their honor. All of a sudden the first question that comes to mind isn’t, “How will I help her overcome this?” but rather, “What will people say?” and then there’s the sub-questions of “Who will marry her now that she’s lost her virginity?” “How will I deal with the shame?” “What do I do with her?”

What do you think? Guys – honestly, if it was your sister/mother/wife/fiance/steady girlfriend, what do you do? Do you ever blame the victim?

Girls – “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” 😉 keep that in mind next time you judge a girl who was harmed by a man.

Arab Spring in Kuwait?

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For a while now, many foreigners have been asking us Kuwaitis why the Arab Spring has not reached Kuwait – and doesn’t look like it’s going to. The answer has been one and the same: because we’re living the dream. We have malls with all the clothes we could desire, restaurants to fill our mouths with food to keep us fat and quiet, jobs that pay us to do nothing, universities that accept and nurture students with zero ambition, public schools that only require you to do well on exams, and extravagant cars that don’t get stolen or vandalized when we park them outside our homes – something very rare, since this hardly EVER happens in other countries. Many of my teachers still express their surprise over how secure our cars are.

But, the dream is going to die very soon, when Kuwait will have to find an alternative for oil. And from the looks of things, no one has a back up plan yet. No one is even considering a back up plan. No one is thinking long term. Not even the Kuwaiti men and women running for Parliament right now. Everyone is thinking short term instead.

If we were to come up with a long-term plan to improve Kuwait’s future rather than sustain this materialistic, meaningless abyss everyone loves so much, then the key parts are social development and education. Socially speaking, our society is still living in the stone age, where you’re judged according to who your ancestors are. You don’t defy the ‘alpha male’ of your family. MP’s beat each other up at the parliament and disgrace the entire nation. Human rights are violated on a daily basis, citizens robbed of their right to freedom of speech, religion, sexuality, political views, and marriage.

I think that for the Arab Spring to reach Kuwait, it’s the youth that needs to make it happen. The hard part is actually getting them to wake up and realize that the dream they’re living in isn’t what reality is actually like. It’s a world that was created to keep them quiet and away from ‘trouble’ – i.e. freedom. It still baffles me that this is enough for them, that they’re satisfied with shopping and eating and tanning their lives away. It’s no coincidence that that’s all there is to do in Kuwait. Dumbing an entire nation down is a process that requires careful thought and precision. First you start with the education. You make sure that all the modern, revolutionary ideas of the evil West are not incorporated into their academic studies. Then you make sure that the language of those evil ideas isn’t taught well enough for the students to be able to go out and explore those ideas; that way, they won’t pick up a book that tells them all about oppressive regimes and their cunning ways. 😉 They won’t do that because, 1) they don’t understand the language well enough. 2) they don’t like reading. If you create an entire generation of people who hate books and who groaned their way through English class, a class that was supposed to teach them to be fluent speakers, writers, and readers of a universal language that could be their gateway to knowledge and enlightenment, then you are essentially creating slaves who will submit to your laws and rules without complaint.

Then you show them what their boundaries are by making examples of other people. You use the media to your advantage. You arrest writers. You censor magazines, newspapers, and movies. You ban books. You make TV shows that encourage the mistreatment of domestic workers, that demean the importance of treating your partner properly, that glorify disrespecting women, and tell girls that the only way to ‘be beautiful’ is to objectify yourself – by Kuwaiti media standards, that means dress in really tight clothes, rub your face in a ton of make up, and make your voice about ten pitches higher than what it naturally is.

Then you create laws that tell them there’s no escape, but you don’t make it obvious. You make it seem like a good thing. You tell the women that they’re never allowed to marry a man without daddy’s approval, even if they’re 40 year old well-known professors. Then you narrow it down even more. You try to avoid intercultural marriages by telling those women that if they marry a non-Kuwaiti, you will guarantee them and their children a crappy future. Then you move on to the Kuwaiti marriages. In that case, it’s the family who instills those values within their children’s minds. They’re taught not to fall in love with someone who’s from a different religious sect – because you don’t need to worry about them falling in love with someone who’s from a different religion. Then you emphasize the glory of your own ethnic background, so that way they look down on other backgrounds enough to find them unappealing, thus ensuring that they won’t fall in love with an ‘outsider’. Of course, this is all if they fall in love.

If they’re allowed to fall in love, I should say. This is all assuming that the family in question is one that’s not a big fan of arranged marriages, of hooking up strangers and hoping for the best. It drives me insane because I’ve heard too many stories of couples who genuinely loved each other and couldn’t get married because their families didn’t approve – and, legally, that’s exactly what was supposed to happen. A ‘bad’ marriage was prevented because the parents were an obstacle that the couple could not overcome.

There’s the question of whether or not you’re allowed to fall in love, and there’s the bigger question of whether or not you’re allowed to learn. University is one of the biggest ‘decisions’ a person is supposed to make. But when your options are narrowed down to AUK, KU, and GUST, you don’t have much to look forward to. If you talk to high school Kuwaiti students who are considering one of those three universities, most of them will tell you they’re having a hard time deciding because “they all have such nice campuses”. The education level is hardly ever taken into consideration if we’re talking about a typical Kuwaiti high school student. The other day I was actually surprised to hear one of my peers saying that she had ruled out one of those three universities because “girls smoke in public there!” so the princess felt like she wouldn’t be comfortable there.

Too many girls aren’t given the option of studying abroad, at a prestigious university that can provide them with the opportunity of an eye-opening academic and personal experience. And, once again, without daddy’s approval, there’s no way in hell that can happen for them. Let’s also not forget, a certain university in K-Town has different GPA requirements for both genders 😉 that way, 18 year old girls who didn’t do well enough to get into university can simply find a husband and make more Kuwaitis for the country. It also encourages young men to aim for a minimum GPA – what incentive would they have to do any better?

It makes no sense to me. The youth is robbed of so many basic rights, yet they’re also the biggest fans of this clever system. So long as they’re paid, fed, and given pretty clothes and cars, no one complains. I can only hope that soon enough their eyes will be opened, because when we’re no longer ‘living the dream’, it’s the youth who’s going to have to save the country.

Equait Application

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Equait, who I posted about previously, are off to a great start. If you would like to take part in what I think is going to be an eye-opening movement as a Q-Hero, click here.

All ages and nationalities are welcome. Not only is it an opportunity to make a difference, but it is also an opportunity to meet like-minded people. I’m in the process of writing a LoYACY article about them, so be sure to read about Equait in the January issue of the LoYACY magazine.

What Makes a Girl Less of a Girl?

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I read a short non-fictional memoir by Eli Clare called “Stones in My Pockets, Stones in My Heart” from a book called The Disability Studies Reader given to me by my sister Shahd, who has taken several Gender Studies courses and is opening my eyes to an assortment of topics that relate to my womanhood and humanity. It was a powerful literary piece discussing how Eli coped with her gender identity struggles, beginning with how her father and his friends regularly raped her so early on in her life that she does not remember a point where she was not raped, into her teenage years and how quietly she ignored the pressure to wear skirts, paint her face with make-up, kiss boys, date in high school, shave her legs, strut in heels. She went through high school as an outcast, a reject, someone who always felt like she didn’t belong, someone who always asked her mother, “Mama, am I feminine?”. As she entered university she began exploring the possibility of her being a lesbian, and came to terms with it later on. Eli not only struggled with gender-labels, but also suffered from a chronic condition which made her hands shake consistently. She was labeled a ‘freak’ in every way. It was a long, bitter struggle, one that she described very powerfully and had a great emotional impact on me.

Last year I took a Psychology class as an elective, and I now remember studying gender roles at one point. My teacher was a 50-something-year old traditionalist, and once very boldly said “Girls feel that their hair is a part of their identity as females.” Because there’s nothing I hate more than a man telling us what girls are like, I told him that was not true. The old creep laughed and said, “Is that so? Well, would you cut off all of your hair?” And I told him I would. And I would’ve. He actually promised me an A in his class if I showed up the next class with a boy haircut. I kid you not, I was dead serious when I told him I would go through with it. The extent to which I am always determined to prove someone wrong never fails to surprise me. But – at the end of that day, my teacher hunted me down and told me he was only joking, and that he didn’t want my parents calling him yelling at him for getting their daughter to cut off her hair. I finished his old-fashioned course with an A anyway, with my hair in tact.

But I still stand by my point. My hair does not determine my identity as a girl or as a female. In fact, not even my body determines my identity as a female. Breast cancer is hereditary in my family – if someday I lose my breasts, and I lose my hair, then will I be stripped of the term ‘woman’ just because I don’t possess “womanly traits”? Do I not have a say in it?

One of my classmates decided to get a Rihanna-like haircut during our Junior year of high school, a bold move on her part. At the time, this meant a boy haircut, but it also meant that both sides of her head would be shaved. It was different, but she liked it, and that should be enough, right?

Wrong. Not in this world. Not in this country. Not in our high school.

Besides the bad treatment she received, my friend went through an incident that should never have occurred. A classmate known for his sexism and poor treatment and perception of females decided it would be funny to ‘playfully’ slap her, because he didn’t like her hair. Our teacher, a woman, was outraged and asked him how he would ever dare lay his hand on a girl. The jerk’s idiotic response was “she is not a girl”.

Now, put aside the fact that he assaulted a female classmate. What on earth made this guy think he had the right to determine what did or didn’t make a girl a girl? This is someone who honestly thought that “imaginating” was a word. So it’s not like he’s gotten an A in a Gender Studies course, or attained a Masters Degree in some form of criticism. Perhaps he was merely reciting what society tells him – but what does that tell us? That half of our society consists of mindless sheep who follow and recite whatever the rest of the herd is doing and saying?

Our society, according to most of the local male perceptions, believes that a girl with a boy hair cut is less of a girl. A girl that smokes is less of a girl. A girl that is not a virgin is less of a girl. A girl that is ‘too’ interested in sports is less of a girl. I know girls that have had their sexualities and gender-identity questioned because the people labeling them were genuinely jealous of what good athletes these girls were – girls that can beat any guy at any time.

We know that labeling stems from insecurity. But does that mean that our entire society is insecure? I would consider that possibility, but it’s difficult in our case. The people throwing labels around are too egotistical to be insecure.

Too egotistical to be insecure, and confident enough to believe they have the power and the right to decide not only what is right and what is wrong, but also what defines a man and what defines a woman. Though both standards are unrealistic, my personal point of view is that the standards set for a woman are much harsher.

The funny thing about smoking is, the idiots whose sole purpose in life is to put stickers on people, tend to use words that don’t really apply to the female smoker in question. There is no correlation whatsoever between smoking and sexuality, yet, these people attack her by calling her ‘promiscuous’, because that’s the only way they believe is a valid way of insulting a female’s womanhood. I can’t help but point out that it does nothing but prove their ignorance and stupidity, that they actually believe smoking is relevant to sexuality.

Smoking? Hair? Clothes (or lack thereof)? Is that all that defines what we are in society’s eyes?

Equait

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Equait is a recently-established youth group in Kuwait founded by Faisal Al Fuhaid and other members living in Kuwait. Their main purpose is to promote equality in all its forms in Kuwait, since as we know, Kuwait is notoriously known for having all forms of discrimination. Gender inequality, social discrimination, racial discrimination, you name it – we’ve got it. The embarrassing part is that you see a lot of Kuwaitis discriminating against one another AND being hostile and condescending towards foreigners.

Equait will be trying to raise awareness and promote equality to begin with, and will later move on to taking action to help affirm that we are all nothing more than human. What name we carry or how much money we have does not identify who we are.

You can visit their website here: http://equait.org/

Facebook: EQUAIT

Twitter: @Equait

Faisal will be introducing me to the rest of the team soon, and it will hopefully be a step towards a better Kuwait – if we all collaborate. Support this brilliant young man 😉

“Why Fewer Young American Jews Share Their Parents’ View of Israel”

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This is an interesting article I came across on Time.com

you can find it here

“I’m trembling,” my mother says when I tell her I’m working on an article about how younger and older American Jews are reacting differently to the Palestinians’ bid for statehood at the United Nations. I understand the frustrations of the Palestinians who are dealing with ongoing Israeli settlement construction and sympathize with their decision to approach the U.N., but my mom supports President Obama’s promise to wield the U.S. veto, sharing his view that a two-state solution can be achieved only through negotiations with Israel.

“This is so emotional,” she says as we cautiously discuss our difference of opinion. “It makes me feel absolutely terrible when you stridently voice criticisms of Israel.” (See pictures of the West Bank settlements.)

A lump of guilt and sadness rises in my throat. I’ve written harshly of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and assault on Gaza in 2009, and on civil rights issues in Israel. But speaking my mind on these topics — a very Jewish thing to do — has never been easy. During my childhood in the New York suburbs, support for Israel was as fundamental a family tradition as voting Democratic or lighting the Shabbos candles on Friday night.

My mom has a master’s degree in Jewish history and is the program director of a large synagogue. Her youthful experiences in Israel, volunteering on a kibbutz and meeting descendants of my great-grandmother’s siblings, are part of my own mythology. Raised within the Conservative movement, I learned at Hebrew school that Israel was the “land of milk and honey,” where Holocaust survivors irrigated the deserts and made flowers bloom.

What I didn’t hear much about was the lives of Palestinians. It was only after I went to college, met Muslim friends and enrolled in a Middle Eastern history and politics course that I was challenged to reconcile my liberal, humanist worldview with the fact that the Jewish state of which I was so proud was occupying the land of 4.4 million stateless Palestinians, many of them refugees displaced by Israel’s creation.

Like many young American Jews, during my senior year of college I took the free trip to Israel offered by the Taglit-Birthright program. The bliss I felt floating in the Dead Sea, sampling succulent fruits grown by Jewish farmers and roaming the medieval city of Safed, the historic center of Kabbalah mysticism, was tempered by other experiences: watching the construction of the imposing “security” fence, which not only tamped down terrorist attacks but also separated Palestinian villagers from their land and water supply. I spent hours in hushed conversation with a young Israeli soldier who was horrified by what he said was the routinely rough and contemptuous treatment of Palestinian civilians at Israeli military checkpoints.

That trip deepened my conviction that as an American Jew, I could no longer in good conscience offer Israel unquestioning support. I’m not alone. Polling of young American Jews shows that with the exception of the Orthodox, many of us feel less attached to Israel than do our baby boomer parents, who came of age during the era of the 1967 and 1973 wars, when Israel was less of an aggressor and more a victim.  A 2007 poll by Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis found that although the majority of American Jews of all ages continue to identify as “pro-Israel,” those under 35 are less likely to identify as “Zionist.” Over 40% of American Jews under 35 believe that “Israel occupies land belonging to someone else,” and over 30% report sometimes feeling “ashamed” of Israel’s actions.

Hanna King, an 18-year-old sophomore at Swarthmore College, epitomizes the generational shift. Raised in Seattle as a Conservative Jew, King was part of a group of activists last November who heckled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with slogans against the occupation at a New Orleans meeting of the Jewish Federations General Assembly.

“Netanyahu repeatedly claims himself as a representative of all Jews,” King says. “The protest was an outlet for me to make a clear statement … that those injustices don’t occur in my name. It served as a vehicle for reclaiming my own Judaism.”

A more moderate critique is expressed by J Street, the political action committee launched in 2008 as a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” counterweight to the influence in Washington of the more hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Simone Zimmerman heads J Street’s campus affiliate at the University of California, Berkeley. A graduate of Jewish private schools, she lived in Tel Aviv as an exchange student during high school but never heard the word occupation spoken in relation to Israel until she got to college.

During Zimmerman’s freshman year, Berkeley became embroiled in a contentious debate over whether the university should divest from corporations that do business with the Israeli army. Although Zimmerman opposed divestment, she was profoundly affected by the stories she heard from Palestinian-American activists on campus.

“They were sharing their families’ experiences of life under occupation and life during the war in Gaza,” she remembers. “So much of what they were talking about related to things that I had always been taught to defend, like human rights and social justice, and the value of each individual’s life.”

Even young rabbis are, as a cohort, more likely to be critical of Israel than are older rabbis. Last week, Cohen, the Hebrew Union College researcher, released a survey of rabbinical students at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, the premier institution for training Conservative rabbis. Though current students are just as likely as their elders to have studied and lived in Israel and to believe Israel is “very important” to their Judaism, about 70% of the young prospective rabbis report feeling “disturbed” by Israel’s treatment of Arab Israelis and Palestinians, compared with about half of those ordained between 1980 and 1994.

Benjamin Resnick, 27, is one of the rabbinical students who took the survey. In July, he published an op-ed pointing out the ideological inconsistencies between Zionism, which upholds the principle of Israel as a Jewish state, and American liberal democracy, which emphasizes individual rights regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. “The tragedy,” Resnick says, is that the two worldviews may be “irreconcilable.”

Still, after living in Jerusalem for 10 months and then returning to New York, Resnick continues to consider himself a Zionist. He quotes the Torah in support of his view that American Jews should press Israel to end settlement expansion and help facilitate a Palestinian state: “Love without rebuke,” he says, “is not love.”

The Big Questions – Part II

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For the past couple of days I’ve been reading The Big Questions on my way to school in the morning.  I love the feel of it, it’s very open and really makes you contemplate everything it addresses. I think I may have jinxed it because yesterday in Philosophy my teacher asked us to take out our books and a black marker.

We had an assignment due that day so it was kind of weird for him to ask us to take out the books, since we always do the reading at home. So before reaching into my bag, I asked him, “Why?” and he told me “We’re going to censor them.”

“We’re going to do it with our own markers?!” my classmate asked him way-too-excitedly

“Yes we are”

And he put up the page numbers on the board. Entire chapters. Pictures. Questions. Quotes. Single-lined phrases. And he went around to make sure we were all ‘censoring’. The classmate that was very excited about it was doing it with more energy than I had ever seen him putting into his actual work. Every single one of my classmates did it with a black board marker, eliminating the words completely. I cannot describe how much it shocked me. No one hesitated when he said “Censor these pages”. Some looked at them, said “Oh it talks about religion/oh it has a nude picture/oh it talks about sexuality/oh it talks about revolutions” and went on with their task. My excited classmate said it was like being in a KG coloring class. He also said this was like “government appreciation day”…to which I will not comment on. But me, being the odd one out that I am, instead watched everyone marking everything out. The markers were the type that are used with English magazines when celebrities are shown in their bikinis or other ‘inappropriate’ clothing, the type that you couldn’t see past no matter what. Every word, blacked out. No one cared to know what those words were! “The Authority” says they are not meant to be read – therefore they obeyed.

Personally I lied and said I didn’t have my book with me, because I wanted to keep reading the book. You know how there’s always that one student in Biology class that refuses to dissect the frog because he/she thinks it is an act of animal cruelty? I am that one student that refuses to ruin books because I think it is an act of book-torture (which I do think should be a crime)! The result was my teacher giving me another copy, telling me to censor it along with everyone else and give him back the uncensored version later. And after five minutes of watching everyone scribbling at their books, my teacher told me my time was limited and I had to get this done before class ended. So with tentative hands, a heavy heart, and a very light pink pen, I drew thin lines across pages, thin enough for a person to still be able to read the words. Someone seemed to get tired of all the ‘coloring’, and jokingly asked, “Can’t we just rip them out?” to which he was told, “Yes, as long as you throw the pages in the recycling bin and they don’t leave the room when the bell rings.” So he ripped the pages. Crunched them up into little balls. Aimed for the recycling trash like it was a basketball hoop. And went on chatting with his group.

I once read a quote that said, “Where they burn books, they will eventually burn people.” Isn’t ripping out pages and blacking out words essentially a form of burning books? I’m really not lying when I say it hurt my heart to see my 17 and 18 year old classmates mindlessly blacking out extremely thought-provoking words that they would never understand the magnitude of, simply because they didn’t take a few moments to allow their curiosity to get the best of them.

  It wasn’t all blues though. My friend Nawaf particularly enjoyed censoring the picture of the nude woman. I love his version.