Inspire me, New

The age of envy

 

ALVA SKOG for Guardian g2 181009

Social media has created a world in which everyone seems ecstatic – apart from us. Is  there any way for people to curb their resentment? – Illustration: Alva Skog

One night about five years ago, just before bed, I saw a tweet from a friend announcing how delighted he was to have been shortlisted for a journalism award. I felt my stomach lurch and my head spin, my teeth clench and my chest tighten. I did not sleep until the morning.

Another five years or so before that, when I was at university, I was scrolling through the Facebook photos of someone on my course whom I vaguely knew. As I clicked on the pictures of her out clubbing with friends, drunkenly laughing, I felt my mood sink so fast I had to sit back in my chair. I seemed to stop breathing. Continue reading “The age of envy”

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Campus escapades, Inspire me

A confusing journey to paradise?

I recently spoke to my friend whom I parted ways with after high school which was about 5 years ago. I will call her Valentine although this is not her real name. The normal catching up was all done and the as the conversation was ending she mentioned to me that she had gotten saved. I did not give it much thought because anyway most of us had gotten saved after 3 years of being out here in the world. I did not even bother asking her many questions because getting saved meant exactly that. However, before I said good night she invited me to join her in her now new church where she felt her heart was. This caught my attention and I asked her which church. Continue reading “A confusing journey to paradise?”

Inspire me

On Becoming a Better She – Gloria Steinem Nuggets

  • Women are always saying, “We can do anything that men can do.” But men should be saying, “We can do anything that women can do.”
  • I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.
  • A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after.

Continue reading “On Becoming a Better She – Gloria Steinem Nuggets”

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A journalist passionate about what she does

Hello good people!

story

This is a post that I just had to share. I know it is a February/March story but whenever i read it, it feels like i am reading it for the first time. It is a story of the now famous french journalist ‘Anna Erelle’. She went undercover as a jihadist and her story will give you chills. One thing I learnt from her is that if you love what you do, there is nothing you cannot do. Here::::::

The young woman sitting in a Parisian cafe could be meeting a friend for lunch. Her figure-hugging purple top sets off her dark hair and intelligent eyes, and her hands are heavy with rings.

Every so often she glances out of the window, but she is not checking whether her friend has arrived: She is nervously hoping the police officer assigned to keep her safe is not too far away.

Anna Erelle is living in terror, having crossed ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. She has received death threats and abuse online and a video of her is circulating accompanied by Arabic text that reads: “Brothers around the world, if you see her, kill her.”

On her smartphone, Erelle has a CCTV picture of three British girls — Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15 — as they passed through Gatwick airport two weeks ago in flowing scarves and skinny jeans, en route to join ISIS in Syria.

“Look at them, they’re perfect,” she said, pointing a manicured fingernail at the screen. “They seem happy and relaxed. They look just as if they are off to spend a fortnight on the beach in Turkey. Three girls in black would attract attention. Like this, why would anyone notice them?

“It’s the same instruction I was given when I was traveling to Syria. Ditch the niqab, look like a regular girl. Be nice to your family, they won’t suspect. Leave nothing behind, not a note or a text message, don’t try to explain or they will come after you. Be there one day and the next, disappear.”

Becoming ‘Melodie’

It was not actually Erelle who wanted to travel to Syria but “Melodie,” a 20-year-old would-be jihadist bride she created on the Internet. Erelle, 32, is a journalist with a weekly news magazine in Paris who specializes in covering the Middle East.

Two years ago, she carried out a series of interviews with teenagers in the banlieues, the poverty-stricken suburbs of Paris which have become a breeding ground for extremism, and was intrigued by how many young Muslims had been radicalized.

“They knew very little about religion. They had hardly read a book and they learnt jihad before religion,” she said. “They’d tell me, ‘You think with your head, we think with our hearts.’ They had a romantic view of radicalism. I wondered how that happened.”

Even more baffling were the “caliphettes,” young women who had grown up in a free society but were obsessed with jihadist fighters. “To them, jihadists are like Brad Pitt, only better because Brad Pitt is not religious,” says Erelle.

She decided to join the young Muslim community online and created a fake profile on Facebook and Twitter. Little was known about the growing links between extremists and Muslim teenagers then, and even now the scale of the network is a surprise: Sultana, one of the missing British girls believed to have crossed the border to Syria, was following more than 70 extremists on Twitter and had amassed more than 11,000 followers.

Erelle’s intention was to observe exchanges online and build up a picture of how youngsters were being radicalized in France. Then came something unexpected: Melodie attracted the attention of Abou-Bilel, one of ISIS’s senior commanders in Raqqa (pictured, top). He fell in love with her, proposed marriage and invited her to join him in the caliphate.

My ISIS boyfriend

Erelle picked up the first of Bilel’s messages around 10 o’clock on a warm evening last April as she threw herself down on the sofa after a day at work and clicked in to see what Melodie’s “friends” had been up to: “Salaam alaikum, sister. I see you have watched my video. It has been seen round the world, it’s crazy! Are you a Muslim? What do you think of the mujaheddin? Are you thinking of coming to Syria?”


Erelle was astonished. Bilel was a French-born fighter of Algerian descent who had allied himself in Iraq to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, and moved with him to Syria.

Melodie had been online only a few days but she had already made a wide circle of friends, sharing videos and conversations about jihad. She was supposed to be a girl from a poor area in the south of France whose mother worked long hours and who had no father or brother.

Melodie answered Bilel tentatively, telling him she was a convert and wanted to learn to be a good Muslim. Her messages were accompanied by lots of smiley faces. He was more than encouraging.

Over the next few days, he sent pictures of himself with his 4×4 Jeep and holding a gun. Soon he was telling her that he loved her and she must come to Syria.

“WHEN YOU GET HERE, YOU’LL BE TREATED LIKE A PRINCESS,” HE PROMISED.

“When you get here, you’ll be treated like a princess,” he promised.

“This is why girls go there,” said Erelle. “It’s the dream of a good life. They are persuaded that it’s a paradise and that they don’t have any future in Britain or France and they won’t find good husbands and can never be good Muslims surrounded by infidels. Bilel told Melodie she could have a beautiful life, a big apartment and lots of children.”

Very soon, Bilel wanted to talk to her in person, on Skype.

“I didn’t see the face of a man who would kill or rape — he boasted that he had killed ‘dozens’ of infidels — and those first few seconds were unforgettable,” she said. “He was staring at me and when I looked back into his eyes I saw nothing, no religion, no feeling. He is not a good man.”

She was not sure she could get away with posing as someone 10 years younger, but Erelle is small and slim and once she had put on a hijab and minimized her makeup, it seemed to work.

“It was very strange to act nice with a terrorist, to be cute and to be saying, ‘Hey, tell me about your day!’ I thought I would feel uncomfortable in a hijab, but the costume helped. When I put it on, I wasn’t me anymore.”

Bilel was delighted. “You make me laugh a lot!” he told her. As his trust grew, so he began to talk more about his life as a fighter.

He described the bloody battle for Raqqa in 2013 as Islamists fought the Syrian army for control of the city and how he had taken part in beatings and beheadings and tortured prisoners.

“He’s a braggart, he’s very full of himself, but he is also a man capable of real cruelty. At first I wanted to feel something for him because I like to think there is always something good in humans . . . but there is nothing human in him.”

Life of adventure

Bilel’s real name was Rachid and he had grown up in Roubaix in northern France. Erelle has since learned he had a series of convictions for petty crime and jumped bail to go to Iraq when he was radicalized in 2000. As one of Baghdadi’s right-hand men, he had three jobs in Syria: recruitment, the collecting of taxes and commanding troops.

New recruits were arriving every day from Europe, he told her. “They learn Arabic in the morning and shooting in the afternoon.” The recruits shared a dormitory and would be lectured by a “spiritual guide” in the evenings.

“After two weeks, they would be assessed and the clever ones picked out for special duties, like counter-espionage.”

Erelle was sharing and checking everything he told her with contacts in Syria and the French security services. “Like all liars, sometimes he forgot what he’d said and then tell a different story so I had to check everything, but the more horrible stories he told me, about battles and killings, they were all true.”

AT FIRST I WANTED TO FEEL SOMETHING FOR HIM BECAUSE I LIKE TO THINK THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING GOOD IN HUMANS … BUT THERE IS NOTHING HUMAN IN HIM.

He spoke of his admiration for suicide bombers — “Here we assess strength in two ways, through faith and courage. The suicide bombers are the strongest of us all.” — and joked about how he preferred converts like Melodie, because they were “rigorous in religion, but open in life.”

“You can see how a girl like Melodie would be mesmerized,” said Erelle. “She feels like a nobody and all of a sudden here is this man of 38, nearly twice her age, who has had all these incredible adventures, who is kind to her and telling her he loves her and wanting to talk to her 1,000 times a day.”

Once Melodie became known as Bilel’s fiancée, she grew into a minor celebrity among her Islamic friends on the Internet.

“This must have played a part in the British girls’ disappearance, too,” she said. “The ones who go to Syria know they will be in the newspapers and on the Internet and people will be talking about them. These girls were following a friend who had already left for Syria. They must have seen the pain that caused her family, but it didn’t stop them.”

At first, Melodie refused when Bilel tried to persuade her to come to Raqqa. She could not leave her mother, she said. She was frightened of traveling such a long way.

“He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He would say ‘when you arrive’ you can help look after orphans until you have your own children, or visit wounded soldiers.

“He took it for granted I would obey. He wanted to know if I had enough money for a plane ticket. He told me he and his organization were rich and that I would be paid the money back.”

Smuggled to Syria

The French police were on alert for girls leaving for Syria last summer, so Bilel said she should travel first to Amsterdam, to throw the authorities off the scent. Melodie had finally agreed to come to Syria if she could bring her (fictitious) 15-year-old friend Yasmin.

“He said, ‘Say you are sleeping at Yasmin’s house for the night and vice versa.’ When I got to Amsterdam, I was to throw away my phone and buy a new one and only then ring him, from the new number, to tell him what time we would arrive on a flight from Amsterdam to Istanbul.”

In Istanbul, Melodie and Yasmin would be met by a woman sent by ISIS, a “maman” who would accompany them to Syria. Erelle decided she would keep up the pretense to that point.

“I wanted to meet this ‘maman,’” she said. “I am a woman and I don’t understand how another woman could give very young girls to these men in marriage. So it was personal. I wanted to see her face.”

There was one further instruction: Melodie was to pick up some treats for Bilel at duty-free, including after-shave. He told her he liked Egoiste by Chanel.

HE WAS STARING AT ME AND WHEN I LOOKED BACK INTO HIS EYES I SAW NOTHING, NO RELIGION, NO FEELING. HE IS NOT A GOOD MAN.

“Here is something else about these fighters,” said Erelle. “They say they reject the West, that they are anti-capitalist, but they love luxury and designer labels, it’s all Nike trainers and Ray-Ban sunglasses mixed in with their military clothes. It’s another way of luring in kids, of saying, ‘I was once poor like you but look at me now.’”

In Amsterdam, there was a problem. Bilel said she and “Yasmin” would have to proceed alone because it was not safe for the “maman” to travel. Once in Istanbul, they should take an internal flight to Urfa, southeast Turkey, again paying cash, and await instructions. Melodie said she was frightened.

“You are a big girl,” Bilel reassured her. “Dozens of Europeans are making that journey every week in the hope of joining our ranks. Allez, ma lionne!”

But Melodie refused to budge, saying there were police everywhere and she wanted to go home.

“For the first time I started to argue with him. He didn’t like that,” said Erelle. “He began to yell, he was very frightening. He was angry at me for refusing to complete the journey. He said, ‘You’ve made a fool of me in front of the hierarchy here.’ That would not easily be forgiven.”

It was time to cut all ties, but that was not easy. Still believing Melodie existed, Bilel called and said: “I know who you are, it would be a matter of minutes to find you and kill you.”

Enemy of ISIS

Erelle returned to Paris and wrote a story about Melodie for her magazine last May. She has now written a book, “In the Skin of a Jihadist.”

The article was written under an assumed name. “Erelle” is her second pseudonym. Once the piece was published and the full extent of Melodie’s betrayal made apparent, Erelle became a target.

She has had to change her phone number several times and has moved. Alarmingly, shortly after Melodie broke contact, Bilel called her from a French number. She has had numerous death threats to Melodie’s Skype account.

She has written a book she cannot admit to, and since the Charlie Hebdo massacre on Jan. 7, she has had police protection.

“They insisted. Someone watches the building where I live. They watch me. I never know whether they are there or not,” she said. “I am very alone because Charlie Hebdo scared everyone and friends are frightened to be with me. The police have even taken my dog. When I felt low, I used to cuddle him, but he is an unusual breed and the police thought he made me too easily identifiable — or worse, the terrorists might kill someone with the same kind of dog by mistake.”

A few months ago, Bilel was reported to have been killed.

“I don’t know if that’s correct, or if he is aware of my true identity.” All she knows is that, despite everything, she would do the same again. “For sure,” she said.

From The New York Times, as adapted from the Sunday Times of London

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A time for everything

time

Today’s inspiration comes to all those who wonder why things happen the way they do in their lives. We plan for this and the other becomes the outcome. We anticipate for ‘a’, only to be surprised by ‘b’. We wish for ‘x’, and ‘y’ surprises us. Not to worry. There is a time for everything my friend. Even the world’s book of wisdom that has ever been assures us of that…

  • There is a time to be born and a time to die,
  • A time to plant and a time to uproot,
  • A time to kill and a time to heal,
  • A time to tear down and a time to build,
  • A time to weep and a time to laugh,
  • A time to mourn and a time to dance,
  • A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
  • A time to embrace and a time to refrain,
  • A time to search and a time to give up,
  • A time to keep and a time to throw away,
  • A time to tear and a time to mend,
  • A time to be silent and a time to speak,
  • A time to love and a time to hate,
  • A time for war and a time for peace.

“Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before…” Remember that you are not the first person nor the last to go through what you are going through. I personally believe in the existence of a higher being, one who is greater that anyone of us on earth, and who has been there before all ages and will still be there. He knows all of us by our names. He knows what we are going through and is always by our side whispering “be still and remember I am your maker. I will not forsake you.” Times are many when we choose not to listen to his tender voice because we are often overcome by our present situations. He has brought us the far we are yet we can’t even trust him.  He promises us that the plans he has for us are plans of prosperity and not disaster; plans to bring to us hope for the future we hope for.

trust

You see my friends, God is always faithful to answer. Sometimes His answer is a much desired “yes”; Sometimes His answer is a merciful “no”; Sometimes His answer is a faith-building “not-yet” … and sometimes… sometimes when an answer cannot be found, his answer is simply “Trust me“.

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You were never meant to be like them

standout

No one said it was ever meant to be easy. Nor was it meant to be a downhill ride. It was never meant to be a straight line… Rather, it always comes as an entangled, perplexed and embroiled puzzle that you have to solve for you to finally get on the right line that will lead you to where you want to be. I am talking about finding your purpose in this life. The reason why you were born in the first place. Allow me to call it success.

You see, there is a reason why you cannot be like those who you so much want and desire to be like. There is a reason why whenever you try looking and acting like them it almost always ends up being a big flop. There is a reason why the moment you think you are matching up to the ‘cool thing’ frustration follows your soul. There is a reason, my friend. It is your individuality, who you really are, that is fighting hard to express itself in a world full of impersonation where everyone wants to mimic everyone else.

You can surely not survive such strong torrents to be what everyone thinks is cool by simply trying to be ‘them’. I can assure you that ‘them’ discovered who they really are earlier than most others. They do not need to try any harder to be anything more than who they are. They discovered where their happiness lies. They are lucky. Lucky because they no longer have to wonder what it is that they actually want.

Here is the good news! You can also discover happiness in your life in your own way. Success lies within you and no wonder the saying goes, ‘you are the architect of your happiness.’ It is true. The first step in the whole process is reconciling with your self. You need to have a conversation with your thoughts, words, deeds, your dislikes and your likes. This is where who you really are begins to make sense. It is in these little things that we so easily overlook in our day to day experiences.

No matter how many times you have considered your abilities not worth it, they are the element that mother nature really is asking of from you. You know you are unique and it is this uniqueness you have to the table. What is in you is uniquely yours. It doesn’t matter how the world looks at it. Neither does it matter how inferior it appears compared to the world’s status quo. The same way no one can be likened to you, you too cannot be likened to anyone else, except yourself. This is why you need to discover your real you. Your purpose in this planet I say. When you discover your purpose, the journey to achieve your dreams will be easier than you’d ever imagined. More doors will be opened for you. The future, will all of a sudden start to look up to you. You know how good this will feel.

Key-to-success

But when you get there, attaining success will not be effortless. Once, I read a quote that defined success as moving from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Success is failure turned inside out. Success is whereby if you fail five times you rise up six times. It is persistence on what you aspire to be until you get it. No one ever defined success as a gift that you receive on a silver platter. Except in their dreams. It is from hard-work and sacrifice that the best is achieved. Again, it is important, if we always remind ourselves that if it is easy, if it is comfortable, if it is familiar and if it is safe, it is not growth.