Organization of the week: Shajar-e-Ilm

January 4, 2010

I’m going to try again with an “organization of the week” series. I really like the idea and it is a good way for me to make note of the various inspiring organizations I come across. The day of the week may change but for now it will be Monday – to give you a nice inspired start to your week!

Shajar-e-Ilm (which means “Tree of Knowledge”) is a young and hopeful organization doing powerful work to educate girls in war-torn areas of Pakistan. From their website:

Shajar-e-Ilm began as a group of young students and activists who banded together to promote female education in Swat Valley, in the backdrop of the militancy which had banned female education in the area. After an overwhelming response to its first project Shajar-e-Ilm is now on its way to becoming a registered organization, with the goal of furthering education in Swat Valley and Pakistan more generally.
Shajar-e-Ilm’s core belief is that education is not simply literacy, but the ability to think and act progressively, creatively and compassionately. Shajar-e-Ilm encourages students to be creative and different; it provides them with networks of support and mentorship which they can use to reach for their greatest ambitions for themselves and their societies.

They have a blog to which I have just subscribed. I believe strongly that this sort of education is critical to peace and I hope Shajar-e-Ilm succeeds and continues its great work for a long time.

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The death penalty

June 17, 2008

Human Rights Watch issued a press release today calling for the newly elected government in Pakistan to abolish the death penalty. I fully agree with this. The death penalty is cruel and inhumane and violates an individual’s fundamental right to life. We are not going to have peace as long as it is acceptable to kill a fellow human being as a form of punishment. The death penalty is an inherently unpeaceful, violent act. Often arguments against the death penalty focus on the fact that it is too final and mistakes can been made (resulting in the murder of someone not guilty of the crime), or they do not call for abolishing the death penalty altogether but simply call for more “humane” ways of putting people to death. However, these arguments miss the point, in my opinion. The phrases “humane” and “murder” are oxymorons to me: killing another human is by nature inhumane. The death penalty, which constitutes state-endorsed, legal murder, should not be used even if one could be perfectly sure in every case that the person being put to death is in fact guilty of the crime of which they are accused, and that the method being used resulted in the least pain.

I am extremely displeased with the fact that the United States continues to be one of the leading countries using the death penalty, with the fifth-highest number of executions in 2007, according to a report from Amnesty International. Certainly the 42 executions in the United States does not seem like much compared to over 100 each in the top four countries (including Pakistan), but it is 42 more than it should have been.

I am pleased that the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution last December by a wide margin calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, and unfortunately not shocked that the United States voted against it, as mentioned in this article. I am a bit horrified that the U.N. representative from China apparently said, about this resolution, that “the issue was a question of judicial process — not human rights — and every country should be able to decide without interference.” I’m sorry, but the death penalty is very much about human rights – the right to live – and I’m glad that the majority of U.N. members recognized that. A government’s right to create their own judicial procedures should not trump individual, fundamental, human rights.