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Profile: Timothy Williams
Timothy Williams was a participant or observer in the following events:
An Iraqi war widow. [Source: Johan Spanner / New York Times]Iraqi women, particularly war widows, have an extremely difficult time surviving in their country, according to a profile by the New York Times. Of Iraqi women between 15 and 80 years of age, 740,000, or around one in 11, are estimated to be widows; only about 120,000 of those widows receive any governmental aid.
Depressed Living Conditions - Many of the widows profiled by the Times live, either alone or with the remnants of their families, in a trailer park for war widows in a poor section of Baghgad. Many other widows are not so fortunate; the trailer park, which houses 750 people, is among the very few aid programs available for the widows. Many of those widows and their children live in public parks or inside gas station restrooms. The sight of war widows begging on the street—or available as potential recruits for insurgents—is an everyday occurrence.
Potential Insurgency Recruits - Times reporter Timothy Williams writes: “As the number of widows has swelled during six years of war, their presence on city streets begging for food or as potential recruits by insurgents has become a vexing symbol of the breakdown of Iraqi self-sufficiency. Women who lost their husbands had once been looked after by an extended support system of family, neighbors, and mosques. But as the war has ground on, government and social service organizations say the women’s needs have come to exceed available help, posing a threat to the stability of the country’s tenuous social structures.”
'Too Many' Widows to Help - Leila Kadim, a managing director in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, acknowledges that the situation will not change soon. “We can’t help everybody,” she says. “There are too many.”
Alternatives - Some engage in “temporary marriages,” Shi’ite-sanctioned unions lasting anywhere from an hour to a year and usually based on sex, to become eligible for government, religious, or tribal leaders. Others have become prostitutes. Others have joined the insurgency in return for steady pay. The Iraqi military says dozens of women have become suicide bombers, and that number is expected to increase.
Minimal Government Assistance - The government’s current stipend for widows is an ungenerous $50/month and an additional $12/month for each child; efforts to increase that stipend have not made progress. And only about one in six widows receive that small amount of money. Widows and their advocates say that to receive benefits they must either have political connections or agree to temporary marriages with the powerful men who control the distribution of government funds. Samira al-Mosawi, chair of the women’s affairs committee in Parliament, says: “It is blackmail. We have no law to treat this point. Widows don’t need temporary support, but a permanent solution.”
Paying Men to Marry Widows - One solution has been proposed by Mazin al-Shihan, director of the Baghdad Displacement Committee. Al-Shihan has introduced a proposal to pay men to marry widows. When asked why money shouldn’t go directly to the widows, al-Shihan laughs. “If we give the money to the widows, they will spend it unwisely because they are uneducated and they don’t know about budgeting,” he says. “But if we find her a husband, there will be a person in charge of her and her children for the rest of their lives. This is according to our tradition and our laws.” [New York Times, 2/22/2009]
Raisuddin Bhuiyan (left) and Mark Anthony Stroman. [Source: Think Progress]Ten years after a white supremacist attempted to murder him out of hatred for Middle Easterners, Rais Bhuiyan asks the court not to execute the man. Mark Anthony Stroman was convicted of murdering another store owner, Vasudev Patel, after incorrectly deciding that he was a Muslim (see October 4, 2001 and After). Stroman’s murder of Patel, along with his attempted murder of Bhuiyan, was part of a killing spree he has admitted to engaging in after the 9/11 attacks in what he has called “revenge.” Bhuiyan founded an organization, “World Without Hate,” which advocates clemency for Stroman. Bhuiyan tells a London reporter: “I never hated Mark and I never felt angry at him. He did what he did because he was ignorant. He wasn’t capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. It took him several years to come to that realization, but it did come to him.” To New York Times reporter Timothy Williams, Bhuiyan explains that he is following the precepts he was taught as a child. His parents and teachers “raised me with good morals and strong faith,” he says. “They taught me to put yourself in others’ shoes. Even if they hurt you, don’t take revenge. Forgive them. Move on. It will bring something good to you and them. My Islamic faith teaches me this too. He said he did this as an act of war and a lot of Americans wanted to do it but he had the courage to do it—to shoot Muslims. After it happened I was just simply struggling to survive in this country. I decided that forgiveness was not enough. That what he did was out of ignorance. I decided I had to do something to save this person’s life. That killing someone in Dallas is not an answer for what happened on September 11.” Bhuiyan has attempted to meet with Stroman, and says if he is allowed to meet with him, “I would talk about love and compassion. We all make mistakes. He’s another human being, like me. Hate the sin, not the sinner. It’s very important that I meet him to tell him I feel for him and I strongly believe he should get a second chance. That I never hated the US. He could educate a lot of people. Thinking about what is going to happen makes me very emotional.” Williams also is able to receive a typewritten response from Stroman, who is awaiting execution; Stroman includes a photograph of the stricken World Trade Center with his response. In his written response, Stroman calls Bhuiyan “an inspiring soul” who has “Touched My heart and the heart of Many Others World Wide… Especially since for the last 10 years all we have heard about is How Evil the Islamic faith Can be… its proof that all are Not bad nor Evil.” He calls Bhuiyan “a Remarkable man… Who is a Survivor of My Hate.” He praises the strength of Bhuiyan’s “Islamic Beliefs” which have given “him the strength to Forgive the Un-forgivable.” He says that Bhuiyan’s faith has deepened his understanding of his own Christian faith. “A lot of people out There are still hurt and full of hate, and as I Sit here On Texas Death watch counting down to my Own Death, I have been given the chance to openly Express whats inside this Texas Mind and heart, and hopefully that something good will come of this.” Stroman also tells a CBS reporter: “I acted out of rage, love, and stupidity. It’s sad, my split second of hate and anger after 9/11 has caused many people lifetimes of pain and I regret that to this day.… I’ve come from a person with hate embedded into him into a person with a lot of love and understanding for all races.” Bhuiyan says that response is the point of his pleas: “We have to break the cycle of this hate and violence.” Bhuiyan is now suing Texas to stop the execution, claiming his rights as a victim were ignored. [Independent, 7/9/2011; American Civil Liberties Union, 7/14/2011; New York Times, 7/18/2011; CBS News, 7/18/2011; Think Progress, 7/19/2011] He says Texas prosecutors “pushed forward with the death penalty” without consulting him or the families of the other victims as required under the Texas Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights. Neither he nor the families of the other victims were informed of their rights under the legislation that Governor Rick Perry promoted as a guarantee of justice for the victims of crime, Bhuiyan says. “Along with families of the other victims in the case, I have been ignored and sidelined, year after year,” Bhuiyan told reporters on July 15. “If Governor Perry really means it when he says victims’ rights are a priority, we need action rather than hollow words.” [The Australian, 7/16/2011] Under the new law, Bhuiyan has the right to a “victim-offender mediation coordinated by the victim services division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice” with Stroman. [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/14/2011] Dr. Rick Halperin, an anti-death penalty activist from Dallas, says: “If the board recommends clemency and Perry grants it, it would be a major paradigm shift. If they don’t then it’s going to raise serious questions about what is the nature of clemency when the victims of a crime, the survivor of a crime, don’t want this to happen.” [Independent, 7/9/2011] Bhuiyan’s efforts will fail, and Stroman will be executed (see July 20, 2011).
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