Ideas that matter


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All 75 stories will be posted throughout 2020 on this page and on Instagram

HagueTalks – Farah Obaidullah
‘It was 2012, I was expedition leader on a Green Peace ship running a campaign against illegal fishing in the Pacific Ocean. As the most qualified diver in the crew, I was designated the safety diver – I had a pole to fend off sharks. As we swam towards the net full of tuna from a Philippine fishing vessel, I saw thousands of tuna pressing their faces against the mesh of the net. I could feel and see the stress that all these tuna were experiencing. And then I saw something protruding from among the fish – it was a human foot. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind. How do you deal with discovering a dead body on the high seas? Then I saw something emerging from amidst the fish: a man’s face, and he was alive. He was swimming among thousands of tuna with no protective gear. You know, if you dive 23 metres underwater you need basic scuba gear. The only thing this man had was a hose clenched between his teeth. This hose came down from the ship and was supplying him with air. His job was to corral the fish into the net. Once I’d got to the surface, I asked to inspect the conditions onboard. I very quickly discovered many labour rights violations. The compressor that was being used to supply the diver with air was rusty and you couldn’t monitor the air quality. But I’ve seen worse conditions. And technically, this vessel wasn’t fishing illegally. It had a licence. All this prompted me to think about what we are doing that is so wrong in today’s society. The tuna caught in the western and central Pacific ends up on our plates here in Europe. Why are we prepared to sacrifice animal and human life to provide cheap food for those who need it least?’
Maryam Faghihimani – HagueTalks
‘I am the youngest daughter in a family the size of a football team. My dad is an Islamic scholar, a prominent Ayatollah and a close friend of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder and leader of Islamic Republic of Iran. As one of the pioneers supporting the Islamic republic of Iran, my dad holds a very conservative ideology: women do not have equal rights to men, marriage is a must, and there is no tolerance towards secular liberal ideas. But none of this would change my mind about who I wanted to become. I had to hide my secular liberal thoughts. I tried to act out the role that was expected of me, to be obedient, religious and passive. I had no right to work or build a career; my interest in art and sport were not accepted. My interactions with society were restricted. My questions would remain unanswered. I would wear a black chador over my outfit yet would still get scolded for my appearance. After constant criticism and even threats, I did not dare express my true feelings and beliefs. I looked around and realized that I was living a life which was not mine and was acting like someone who was not me. We all love our families but it becomes unbearably frustrating when you have to hide who you are from even from your own family. The stress, depression, and lack of control started to take a toll on my health. I finally decided on two options: I would either leave Iran in my quest to achieve my rights and freedom, or I would end my life that was being used as a container to hold an ideology that was not mine. Fifteen years later, I am delighted that I did not give up on my hope and dreams. In the past decade, I have lived in democratic societies, obtained two masters degrees, learned to play music, acted in theatre, travelled the world on my own, built a career, and sat on the board of international organizations. I am no longer that young girl who begged for her rights in tears, but an independent person who demands the fulfilment of human rights. Although this is my life story, it is also the story of many women and men who have been oppressed by their family or undemocratic governments. A story of talented and progressive people whose different ways of thinking were not appreciated, which meant they have had to fight hard for their rights. If we in the Middle East, instead of promoting intolerance and dragging on the conflicts, would appreciate different people and different opinions, we would have the most creative and innovative region in the world.’