About A Boy: How Syria's 13-Year-Old Martyr Will Haunt The Cruel Regime That Murdered Him

Essay: Hamzah al-Khatib, the 13-year-old boy who was tortured and killed by Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, has become a potent symbol of the revolution. Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun meditation on how the victim's soul holds the power to bring dow

People carrying the photo of Hamzah al-Khatib during a solidarity march with the Syrian people in Montreal.
People carrying the photo of Hamzah al-Khatib during a solidarity march with the Syrian people in Montreal.
Tahar Ben Jelloun

Light is what makes a man, Victor Hugo once said. Hamzah al-Khatib was just a 13-year-old boy. He died taking with him that part of light which springs from courage and dignity. As Abou Dib, a journalist for the Lebanese daily L'Orient-Le Jour wrote on June 2, "For Syria, Hamzah was not tortured. He was just slightly killed."

Hamzah was arrested on April 29 in Deraa for having sung "down with the regime!" He was tortured. His tormentors applied electric shocks, burned his feet, elbows and knees, cut his penis and lacerated his face. And when they'd finsihed, they fired three bullets into his body - one right in the chest. His body was returned to his family on May 31. At the same time, Hamzah's father was arrested and forced to publicly accuse Salafists of having martyred his son.

The boy's body was purple with decay, but traces of torture were still visible. The people who did this are rats. They're not even wolves, just scavenging, hallucinating rats. Their nights will be haunted by the ghosts of children, as light as moths bumping against a lighted window. I am sure that they sleep well and dream. Criminal brutality preserves and opens perspectives for new sessions of torture and death. The people who did this were raised in the nauseating environment of the Baath party, and the totalitarian ideology of the regime.

The baby face of this child is everywhere in the press, and videos of his cut-up body are circulating on the Web. Four other children suffered similar torture. I don't know what age Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's children are. It seems that he has sent them abroad. He is right to want to protect them. He doesn't have time for them anyway. But none of this matters all that much, in truth. That his secret services would torture a child to death says much about Al-Assad's humanity, about his vision of the world and of power. I hope that one day his children will remember young Hamzah.

The Syrian regime does not know how to respond to peaceful demonstrations other than with force and a vicious form of barbarism. There have been more than 1,200 deaths since the protests began. Discredited and illegitimate, the regime in Damascus will one day be judged for its crimes against humanity. In the meantime, it is spreading terror. But what is extraordinary is the magnificent courage of the Syrian people, who take to the streets several times a week knowing that they will be greeted with bursts of machine-gun fire.

For a long time people were made to believe that this country was full of nothing but informers and snitches. For a long time, people evoked the Years of Lead marked by violence, when the least suspicion of opposition was permanently reduced to silence. And so the Arab Spring made us discover a courageous people, a responsible people.

Lebanon knows this regime better than anyone else. It knows what the regime in Damascus is capable of. Since the Syrian troops were forced to leave Lebanon in 2005, Lebanon lives under the constant threat of attacks. In the meanwhile, the secretary general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini (the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution) in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, while declaring his support to the regime in Damascus. He calls Al-Assad's government "the victim of an Israeli-American partition plan."

So Hamzah was a spy in the service of a conspiracy! He was a wise guy who jeopardized the security of the State. A kid who threatened the regime! And his friends too. The Syrians calling for the departure of Bashar Al-Assad are simply following the instructions of America and Israel. Twenty-two million Syrians are all a bunch of conspirators and traitors of their country. It is true that the present regime has operated for the last 42 years with a highly effective and cruel intelligence service. This is a police state, and it will soon collapse. The result will undoubtedly be better than this regime inherited from father to son, a regime that made several thousand victims in Hama in 1982. And now the revolution is having difficulty getting rid of this poisonous weed.

I was in Beirut last week for the sixth anniversary of the assassination of the Syrian writer and journalist Samir Kassir. He used to write truths that Damascus didn't like. His death did nothing to erase his ideas, his humanism or his passion for his country.

Lebanon is living under tension. Caught between Syria and Israel, it is holding on. Military security is everywhere. But life goes on with optimism, with vigilance. The people who have lived through several wars are constantly waiting for a Syrian provocation to distract the attention of the press (foreign journalists are forbidden in Syria). Muezzins continue to call the people to prayer. Church bells are ringing, and roads are blocked by traffic jams everywhere. At night on Gemmayze Street, the many restaurants, bars and nightclubs are never empty. This is Lebanon that has tamed death with humor and intelligence.

Hamzah will never go to school again. He won't write hostile slogans against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. He will no longer sing. Some already compare him to Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian who set himself on fire on Dec. 17, 2010. Hamzah, Mohamed, and hundreds of other anonymous victims died so that that the Arab Spring – with its winds, its storms and its grandeur – can carry on.

The soul of Hamzah, frail and light, hovers over the protesters. People say it will go to heaven. Hell is on Earth, in so many Arab countries whose leaders are clinging to power with such pathetic pathology.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - freedomania

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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