Monday, July 28, 2014

An African woman’s “Thank-you” letter to Meriam Ibrahim

Obianuju Ekeocha | 28 Jul 2014 

The great news of Mariam Ibrahim's arrival in Italy filled me with so much joy and elation.

The images of this graceful and beautiful African woman, babe in hand, stepping out of the plane was a sight to behold especially after her unspeakable pain and suffering in the Sudanese prison.

So I thought I should, in a very simple letter, write down my reflections and thoughts of gratitude for this resilient daughter of Africa whose freedom is being celebrated by the entire world today.

On behalf of all African women, I thank you Meriam Ibrahim, for showing the world the indomitable courage that is at the core of authentic femininity. I say this because your pain and persecution were tied so firmly to your femininity. And so your triumph was a most powerful witness to life, to motherhood, to marriage, to love and to faith.

You are indeed a true picture of faith and virtue, a true symbol of strength and resilience. You are, in my humble opinion, a real woman of substance, an African woman of substance and your story fills my heart with courage and audacity in my own vocation to defend our African culture of life,marriage, motherhood, faith and family, no matter how difficult, no matter how shameful and no matter how painful for me. 

For under intense persecution, you refused to deny your Christian faith. Under the threat of the extremists, you stood as a witness and a martyr.  Under the pain of incarceration, you would not deny your husband or renounce your marriage. Under the heavy shackles of prison you still had the strength and defiance to give life , to give birth. Under the certainty of a death sentence you had the determination to nurse your precious little baby.

By your powerful example, the world has come to witness the resilience of a young African woman who in the worst conditions bore heroic witness to the virtues of faith, marriage, and motherhood. Your unspeakable struggles in the last few months have been a most radiant ray of light that has pierced through the darkest clouds to contradict a modern world that is telling us that faith means nothing, that religious freedom is not all that important, that marriage is whatever we want it to be, that motherhood should be a choice we make under the most conducive situations, that our babies should only be born at the most convenient of times.
You, my African sister, have become a lightening rod to the radical feminists of our times who repudiate and denigrate every virtue that you epitomize .  

Within your body, you have borne the marks and scars of a true Christian, a wife, a mother and a martyr, and in this way you have shown us what it means to be an empowered and liberated woman, and I'm glad to say it is certainly not what the western radicals and ideologues are telling us. They try to tell us that for African women to be empowered, they need to be "sexually liberated", selfish, individualistic and fiercely autonomous, but you Meriam , by your own example , have taught us that the liberated African woman is the woman who is free to live and practice her faith, love her husband , and protect her children (born and unborn). A liberated woman is a woman of faith and family. This is the truth that must be spoken throughout Africa. 

Today, the world watched you as you breathed the fresh air of freedom and as you made your first stop, not at the Whitehouse, but rather at the House of St Martha (Casa Santa Marta) which is also the house of the Holy Father Pope Francis. Instead of the presidential handshake that many others would have craved first, you chose the papal handshake. And instead of the political reception you chose the apostolic benediction for you and your family. You chose the Pope over the POTUS! 

You are a woman of great wisdom and strength and indeed Africa raises, praises and celebrates you. 

We rejoice with you and for you. We rejoice that you are free at last. And out of our rejoicing,

I pray that more women (from our Africa and from every corner of the world) will reflect deeply on your experience so as to emulate you.

I pray for women of faith to rise up and bear courageous witness even to the point of martyrdom. 

I pray for women who are pregnant to choose life for their babies at all cost.

I pray for women who are wives and mothers to stay true to their vows and vocations.

I pray that beyond our global rejoicing, we would be adorned with even a portion of the heroic virtue of Meriam Ibrahim's authentic feminism purified and forged in the fiery crucible of religious persecution.

Reproduced with the kind permission of the author: Editor

This article is published by Obianuju Ekeocha and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jewish births “Trending Upwards” in Israel

Marcus Roberts | 23 Jul 2014 | 
With the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza showing no signs of abating, despite the best efforts of the UN Secretary-General, I thought that this piece from the Jerusalem Post dealing with Israeli demography was interesting and challenged many assumptions that I had.  The author is Barbara Sofer, a Jerusalem writer who serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. She makes some interesting personal observations in the course of explaining her interview with one Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli ambassador.  Sofer explains that the conversation took a turn that she was not expecting:

“I expect us to discuss Diaspora-Israel relations, but instead we talk mostly about babies – who is having them and why.

When it comes to Middle East demography, Ettinger maintains that most of us have our facts backwards. We’ve become so accustomed to thinking we’re sitting on a demographic time bomb that will implode when Jews are outnumbered, that we’ve failed to follow the latest statistics.

Indeed, Ettinger’s ideas are counterintuitive for all of us who have long believed that the demographics of our region are pitted strongly against us.”

As Sofer acknowledges, there is a perception that demography is against the Jewish population and that in time there is a danger that Jews living in the Middle East will lose the “fertility race” to its Muslim neighbours, not all of whom are well disposed to the Jewish State. I used to think as much until I wrote about this last year.  But Israeli Jews are very different from their Western world counterparts when it comes to fertility.  

“According to Ettinger, from 1995 to 2013, the annual number of Israeli Jewish births surged by 65 percent – from 80,400 to 132,000. In 2013, the Jewish fertility rate was 3.04 births per woman – and trending upwards. It’s 3.04 births when both spouses are Israeli-born, no matter where their parents were born.

‘Trending upwards” is the operational term here. There are many factors, including population age, which are important in predicting future population growth or shrinkage. But, taking all these factors into consideration, the Jewish population is growing fast, and will grow even faster.”

In contrast, the Muslim birth rate is declining:

"A CBS report earlier this year, citing UN estimates, shows there’s been a drop in family size among Muslims throughout the region. The most fertile Arab nation, Jordan, has a projected 2035 fertility rate of 2.41 children. Israeli Muslims are projected to decline from 3.37 to 2.71. This is consistent with the greater education and urbanization.

Says Ettinger, ‘Israel’s Jewish fertility rate is currently higher than any Arab country, other than Yemen, Iraq and Jordan, which are rapidly declining. The Jewish population is also growing relatively younger, which bodes well for Israel’s economy and national security.’”

But why is this? Why are Israeli Jews bucking the first world trend and why is their fertility rate increasing? Sofer states that’s Ettinger denies that is solely down to the haredim, the ultra-orthodox who make up about 12% of Israel’s total population (we’ve noted this before).

“Ettinger names the following factors: a sense of the collective and community patriotism; attachment to religious, cultural and historical roots; and optimism.”

This last point is one we’ve alluded to before on this blog. If societies and populations are confident and optimistic about the future, then they are more likely to want to share that future with future generations. Conversely, when societies lack confidence, when populations cannot think of a reason why they would want to propagate their existing culture through a new generation and when individuals are too hedonistic to have children, then you see a declining birth rate. Like we see in most of the western world. Sofer agrees:

“Optimism is the answer that resonates for me. Despite the many challenges of living here, the low-frills lifestyles in contrast to the members of the OECD whom we lead in fertility, we believe in the future and want to share it with a new generation.”

But so many would point to Israel’s intermittent wars and its almost daily dangers of battle, rocket-fire and kidnappings. Israelis live in a country where certain neighbouring groups do not recognise their state’s right to exist. What is there possibly to be optimistic about? Well, maybe Israeli Jews recognise that something worth living for is the only thing worth dying for. And a homeland for many Jews is something to preserve and to hand on to a future generation. Is that what we in the West are missing? Something we want to hand on to our children? Something worth having children for? 

This article is published by Marcus Roberts and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.
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