Law student Ahmari and Weddady, civil rights outreach director of the American Islamic Congress, present the “most compelling voices” from an essay competition they organized shortly after Lebanon's Cedar Revolution in 2005.
The online competition was designed to give a means of expression to individuals under the age of 25 looking to find their voices on issues of religious and political freedom and human rights. During a five-year period, the editors received more than 8,000 essays from 22 countries in four languages. Each year the writers were asked to share either an example of the “pain of repression,” or concrete projects designed to strengthen civil rights or dreams of a better future. As a byproduct the process also opened pathways to recruit activists. The editors present the essays under three headings: “Trapped,” “Unequal” and “Breaking Through.” The views expressed by the essayists reflect an impressively diverse cross-section of the Middle Eastern world. From Iran came contributions from the Baha’i and the Sunni religious minorities. The Baha’i are not allowed to participate in Iran's educational institutions, and Sunni ways of praying are banned in Shia Iran. The appeal for religious freedom also came from Saudi Arabia, where a student explores her process of standing up for herself against a repressive teacher. Also included are horrifying accounts of fundamentalist violence from Algeria and pleas for Western-style freedoms for homosexuals, along with accounts of the persecution of women.
A slim volume that successfully presents “treasures, surprises, and rewards.”