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By- Ayesha Tanzeem
Farahnaz Forotan was at work in her Kabul office on Nov. 9, 2020, when the phone rang.
“Wherever you are, just stay put. Do not move around. Be extremely careful,” the caller told her.
For the next five days, the anchor for 1TV — one of Afghanistan’s leading stations — hid in a colleague’s house close to the newsroom, fearing that any moment could be her last.
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The catalyst for the threats was a photo of Forotan interviewing a Taliban spokesperson with her hair uncovered. The image quickly went viral. In broadcasts from Kabul, Forotan wore a headscarf as is customary in the Muslim-majority country. In her personal life or outside the country, less so.
“My encounter with Mr. Shahin filled me with terror. As he answered my questions, his eye rolled in every direction but mine, as if he saw me an embodiment of sine and evil. I felt unsafe even in a room full of people and thousands of miles away from Afghanistan.”@nytopinion pic.twitter.com/40XsfGpHzJ
— Farahnaz Forotan (@FForotan) April 25, 2021
Many defended her choice, but the threats mounted. This is when the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), an independent organization in Kabul that monitors for threats and documents attacks on the media, stepped in to call Forotan about the danger. The photo of Forotan was taken in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in September, when she was covering inaugural peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. After many false starts and international maneuvers, a solution to decades of war beckoned.
But in the interim, feelings of hope have been tarnished by bloodshed. And on World Press Freedom Day 2021, Afghanistan may be one of the deadliest places on the planet for the media. Since the start of talks, at least five journalists and three media workers have been killed. Some were shot dead, and others were assassinated by sticky bombs attached to cars.
Half were women working for Enikass Radio and TV, an independent news and entertainment station in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, which has been a repeated target of one of the many militant groups that operate in Afghanistan. The victims join a long list of media worker killings; the AJSC counts at least 74 between 2013 and 2020.
The increase in violence and threats is having its intended effect. Dozens have left journalism and, in some cases, the country. The rest face a gut-wrenching decision: Self-censor or be the next victim. Under the United States’ presence since the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001, Afghanistan’s free press has developed into a vital force for civil debate and accountability. Now, with the planned September pullout of U.S. forces and the Taliban’s strengthened hand, many are questioning whether two decades of media progress could be quickly wiped out.
“We haven’t experienced such threats as now for a long time,” said Anisa Shaheed, a news anchor in Kabul for the popular TOLOnews.
‘Voice for the world’
Afghanistan has rarely been safe for journalists, thanks to persistent conflict, lawlessness, and myriad warlords and militant groups. Still, the country has come a long way from the 1990s, when the Taliban ruled under a brutal Islamist code and the only Afghan-produced news came from Voice of Sharia, a radio station under its control.
“When Taliban were in power, there was no media. Everyone at the time used to listen to the BBC Pashto language broadcast on radio,” Shakeela Ibrahimkhel, a prominent Afghan journalist, told VOA. Another journalist, who asked not to be named for security reasons, described it as “the dark age (when) no free press or media outlets were operating in the country.”
All that changed after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. A new constitution, formed in 2004, promised freedom of expression and the right to publish “without prior submission to state authorities.” It also enshrined equal rights for men and women — a significant shift from Taliban rule, under which women had been blocked from education, work, and politics.
This was a defining moment for Ibrahimkhel. “That’s when I realized no one in the world knew about our problems,” she said. Ibrahimkhel decided to become a journalist to be “a voice of our people to the world.” In 2004, she became one of the first female reporters to join Afghanistan’s first 24/7 news channel, TOLOnews. When she started, it was still rare for women to work. Out in the field, men would stare at her or yell profanities. Police would not cooperate. But Ibrahimkhel was undeterred.
As dozens of local channels in multiple local languages spread across the country, and with a U.S.-backed government that supported freedom of the press, life became easier. That freedom included a responsibility to hold authorities to account.
Afghanistan now has a thriving media scene. Around one-sixth of its population of 38 million are active on social media, and the country has more than 100 newspapers and 170 radio stations, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Strong female voices in media have left an impact on younger generations.
Kabul anchor Shaheed, whom the newly established Free Speech Hub named its 2021 journalist of the year, says young girls look up to her and often say they want to be journalists, too. Shageed appeals to families, especially male relatives, to support the ambitions of these girls.
A Taliban attack
In perhaps the deadliest incident involving the country’s media, a double attack carried out by Islamic State group (IS) in 2018 killed nine journalists after a second bomber waited for media and first responders to arrive at the site of an initial blast before detonating his device.
In Ibrahimkhel’s case, a suicide bombing cut short her career with TOLOnews. She was working the late afternoon shift in the station’s Kabul office in January 2016 when a colleague ran over, telling Ibrahimkhel to prepare breaking news for TV. A suicide bomber had targeted a minivan, killing several people from the same company. As Ibrahimkhel started writing, another colleague ran over. The minivan was TOLO’s. The people killed — seven in all — were co-workers who had departed just minutes before.
The Taliban took responsibility and claimed Ibrahimkhel was among those killed. Desperate for information, her father started calling her co-workers, one of whom could confirm she was alive.
Realizing the country was no longer safe for her, Ibrahimkhel left for Europe.
The bombing happened as hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Afghans fleeing conflict were trying to make their way to Germany. Ibrahimkhel and her three teenage children joined them, making their way illegally on the boat, on foot, and in overstuffed cars from Turkey to Bulgaria, then Serbia, and on to Hungary.
Ibrahimkhel said she paid traffickers thousands of euros and crossed to Bulgaria on a rainswept night in a tiny boat carrying 14 people. She was scared for her children. She now lives in Frankfurt, where she freelances for public broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Pashto and Dari language services. If circumstances were different, she never would have left.
“I still want to go back and work. Even from here, I am working for Afghanistan. But I am here to save my life,” Ibrahimkhel said. “I am a journalist but also a mother.”
A deadly game
Many in Afghanistan believe the recent attacks are designed to silence voices calling for the protection of human rights, civil liberties, and free speech in any political deal.
The Afghan government wants the protection of rights in the current constitution and an end to violence. The Taliban demand the immediate removal of foreign troops, the release of thousands of prisoners, and rule under their version of Islamic law. But it’s a deadly game, with journalists caught in between.
“If a journalist is killed, the whole social media landscape, and mainstream media, and even the international media, gets filled with that news,” said Najib Sharifi, director of the AJSC. The impact, he said, is “probably more valuable than killing a minister, if you look at it from the point of view of psychological warfare.”
The Afghan government and international community have condemned the attacks, blaming the Taliban. But the Taliban deny responsibility. Their spokesperson, Mohammad Naeem, told VOA that claims the Taliban are behind killings or threats are “far from the truth.”
Andrew Watkins is a senior analyst for Afghanistan at International Crisis Group, a nonprofit that focuses on preventing wars. He said the evidence “clearly points to the Taliban” in many cases. Although other groups are also involved, he said, “the scale and scope of attacks targeting journalists could only be carried out by a group with national reach and organization.”
And while the Taliban leadership says one thing, Taliban supporters on social media appear to relish the bloodshed. In one example, a Twitter user who posts pro-Taliban content tagged several media outlets in March with a post that read in Pashto: “Your pen is red with my blood, journalist. Your pen is blind to my screams, journalist.”
Although Kabul likes to blame them, the Taliban are not the only threat. The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), a regional branch of the IS, claimed responsibility for the attacks on Enikass Radio and TV.
Is Ghani serious?
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has described the killings as an “attack on freedom of speech and a crime against humanity” and ordered investigations that his office says are “either completed or are in the process.”
Journalists are skeptical. They say the government is not fully transparent when it comes to sharing updates on the investigations. With a lack of support and amid rising threats, several female journalists, including high-profile reporters like Forotan, have either left the profession or their country.
Broadcaster Enikass employed 10 women in a staff of about 80. After a shooting in March killed three of its employees, two quits, and the remaining women were advised to draw salaries but temporarily stay away. “We are the leading station in this region, and we created a very good environment for women,” said Shukrullah Passion, the station’s head of broadcasting.
Pasoon believes the attacks were a response to the station’s coverage of ISKP, but, he said, the station has not changed its content. When government forces took back control of Achin, a district in the south of the Nangarhar province, his team traveled there.
“(We) shot a one-hour program describing life after Daesh and how people suffered,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the militant group. “Then we went to Pachir Agam, another stronghold of ISKP, and showed pictures of people and their suffering.”
Self-censor or evacuate
Parts of Nangarhar were the original stronghold for Islamic State in Afghanistan. The province, which is marginally bigger than Delaware and borders Pakistan, is now under government control but IS still carries out attacks and still has followers in the region.
Government-held areas are considered safer, but the weak writ of the state leaves journalists vulnerable. Each province brings a different risk, and journalists say militants find ways to threaten them.
The chief editor of a prominent media organization attested to that, saying his outlet holds some stories back. “(T)he Taliban raped and killed a woman in Jawzjan province. Keeping in mind the rise of attacks since peace negotiations started in Qatar, I decided not to publish,” said the editor, who asked for anonymity out of security concerns.
AJSC data show that the Taliban are responsible for 27 killings and 76 cases of media threats between 2013 and 2019. In comparison, the government is listed as responsible for two killings and 66 threats; and IS, for 21 fatal attacks.
Taliban spokesperson Naeem said it was a “far-fetched idea” that local commanders don’t tolerate critical reporting.
“Many journalists in local media not just criticize but also do propaganda against the Islamic Emirate. We still did not create any problems for them. If we wanted, we could create trouble for them, but it is not our policy,” he told VOA, using the Taliban’s term for itself.
The AJSC has evacuated dozens of journalists from Helmand, Ghazni, Kandahar, and other provinces because of serious threats. Founded in 2010, the group monitors the severity of a threat and notes the location, the journalist’s gender, and whether he or she has covered any recent conflicts or criticism of the Taliban or IS.
“After that, you decide whether you need to evacuate or not,” Najib Sharifi, director of the AJSC said. But leaving is a tough call. Reporters know their absence means stories will go untold.
“I am not the only one suffering,” said Shaheed, who covers politics and human rights. Despite threats, she plans to stay. “Others in the society are also suffering. When they suffer, they come to me to tell their stories,” she said.
Shaheed’s 2016 interview with Ahmad Ishchi, a political rival of then-Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum, resulted in international coverage and criminal charges for Dostum after Ishchi accused the general of ordering his abduction and rape.
Dostum, who denies the allegations, fled to Turkey for more than a year. Charges against him remain active, but he has since returned to Afghanistan through a political deal that also granted him the country’s highest military rank.
Afghanistan’s future remains unpredictable.
“I can’t make any guarantees about what will happen inside the country. No one can,” U.S. President Joseph Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said after his boss announced the troop pullout.
President Ghani’s spokesperson Mateen told VOA that the Afghan leader sees it as his “duty to support journalists” and cited government commissions on access to information and media safety. “The constitution is the best legitimate source for the defense and protection of the journalists,” Mateen said.
Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, head of the Afghan negotiation team, said the team has a “coherent strategy” to protect those values gained during the past 20 years, including free and independent media. “All rights and freedoms in our constitution will be respected, “ Stanekzai told VOA, adding that a free media “changes society positively and moves it toward development.”
In terms of press freedom, Taliban spokesperson Naeem told VOA that the group “will have an Islamic system of government in Afghanistan” that guarantees rights. When asked if that would include space for critical media, Naeem said, “Criticism is the right of every person, but it should be done according to Islamic principles and national interest.” Rights for women would be similarly permitted, he said, “as long as they follow the Islamic principles and our cultural values.”
Rights groups say the Taliban are already rolling back freedom of expression and access to education for women in areas they control. Journalists are doubtful that the group will change its ways.
Sharifi sees some tough choices coming after any peace deal.
“Currently, there is a lot of criticism of the government,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll have [that] then because the Taliban will not tolerate that.” (VOA/KB)
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When it comes to our day-to-day life, there are several things which help us enhance our day with every step. One such thing is music. It enhances, motivates and boosts certain aspects of our personality in ways that may not come into notice. There have been several researches on how music affects human brain. Studies show it helps us in recovery and healing, and also, encouraging us to be better if exposed to the right kind and fit.
From kids to elderly, music as a commodity, can be consumed by all. It is the universal language that is spoken by each and every being, from animals to humans to plants, each respond to it in their own ways. Suffice to say, we are united by music and the effect it has over us. Plants, for example, grow better when exposed to good music. Many songs are being composed specifically to enhance and boost their growth. Same is the case for humans. For humans, the right kind of music can boost good health, physically as well as mentally. You might have noticed how in gyms, upbeat music is played. That is to channel energy into everyone present. It adds to the workout. Several researches around the world have shown better physical output when exposed to appropriate music. Fast paced songs with upbeat nature channeled speed and the slower ones slowed downs the listeners, without them noticing. The sub-conscious effects of music are continuously being studied.
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Our heart starts beating according to the music we are listening to.Unsplash
Listening to upbeat or happy music also reduces stress and pressure from our minds. Many people become relaxed while listening to calming music. This is why calming sounds are used during a yoga session. Classical music seems to have the same calming and soothing effect. Furthermore, classical music has much more advantages over metal or techno music, it has proven to enhance learning and improve sleep in its listeners. A study was conducted in which participants were divided in groups where one group was exposed to classical music, another to metal and last one was supervised without any music. The group exposed to classical music showed healthier sleeping pattern than the rest.
Also Read: Undiscovered Music Trends For Indian Music
Several brands and outlets encash on different characteristics of music. Calm and soothing music is used in spas to help customer relax. It is a known fact that our heart starts beating according to the music we are listening to. So, music with faster beats will have our heart beating faster and the slow one will have calmer effect. This is why slow music channels calm. And the same fact has led to faster and upbeat music being played in food outlets. A study conducted in a farm, where people were invited to have food, where one half was exposed to slower music and for other fast-paced music was played. Not only did the group exposed to fast-music ate faster but also ate more than the group who ate in slower one. Next time you are in a food outlet or a restaurant observe the kind of music they are playing and the eating pattern.
Music can even be a facilitator of communication. We can sometimes convey our thoughts through the medium of a song. Sometimes someone’s words justify our inner feelings better than us. Or sometimes a song brings back certain memory or a place, and takes us to that certain moment. To say music is a time-machine would not be wrong. It is a dynamic blessing that can be used throughout our lives.
Key Words: Music, Calm, Soothing, Effects of Music
As more and more people are acknowledging the importance of their mental well-being, the wave of awareness the acknowledgment has brought is unprecedented. It may not have paved a clear path towards complete healing but it certainly has shown the way. The awareness is the key to heal. Healing begins only after the problem is identified. Similar to physical illness, the identification of the problem area is the first step. Even in case of a minor wound, when we go to the hospital the nurse first locates the wound. They, then, ask how we got hurt and identify the nature of the wound. Only then, they clean, put ointment and wrap it up if it needs wrapping and protection from air and dust. Sometimes, that protection is not needed. The wound heals out in the open. Same goes when it comes to healing of a mental trauma or illness. Sometimes, we confine in professionals or our loved ones, in order to let it out and process it openly. Sometimes, the trauma reduces with time. In any way, being aware and vigilant is the way to go.
Being knowledgeable about life in general, opens many channels for you. Being knowledgeable about yourself, opens gates inside you that lead to spiritual and general awareness about the concept of self. And the inner awareness is not necessarily internal, it can be seen from the outside as well. When we have positive energy from within it radiates physically as well. Have you encountered someone who’s spiritually awakened and aware? Do they stand out in the crowd? There are prominent examples of people who have made their mark in history, there is Swami Vivekanada, his awakening has revolutionised generations, one live example we can witness is The Dalai Lama.
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Healing is part of the spiritual journey.Unsplash
Also Read: Follow These Tips For a Better Mental Health
Awareness is the first step towards the staircase of spirituality. Healing is part of that journey. In our world, we go by our lives without paying much attention to causes of our actions. Every little thing we do, we do it for a reason. We might be suffering without being aware of it. There might be certain actions which are screaming those are trauma-response and not really us. But we go by our days, without paying heed to the fact that it really is the small actions that carry weightage in our lives. When we become attentive and thoughtful with what we do, we introspect, and then act. Thoughtless actions do not bear much fruit anyway. Thoughtfulness not only benefits us personally, but makes world a better place to live in. It really is the need of the hour to introspect every little doing and if it does not fit with the idea of self, then, it is time to find the root cause of what has us where we are.
Being self-aware is crucial as a human quality as well. When we face our problems, we gain experience, that experience leads us to understand and empathise with others’ sufferings too. It is a wholesome development.
Key Words: Self-awareness, Spirituality, Thoughtfulness, Mental Health
Honestly, who hasn’t watched one of the epic series of HBO– Game of Thrones?
There’s no question that when the first episode of Game of Thrones was released on April 11, 2011, the youth population of the world became exuberant. The main reasons behind this reaction was, first, the theme of the show, and second, the hidden lessons which it put forward.
Some of the valuable lessons which the Game of Thrones taught us are:
1. The pack always survives. This aptly meant that whether your pack consists of your family or your friends, you are the strongest when you are surrounded by a support system. This is what Ned Stark taught his children, to be together when “the winter comes”.
2. Never forget who you truly are. One of the most important lessons was given by Tyrion Lannister. He taught us that we should never forget who we really are. This means that we must not forget our bad habits and where we lack. So, once we know who we are, no one could ever use our lagging points against us.
3. Reading is necessary. Tyrion Lannister said, “A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” There is absolutely no denying that reading is not a habit now-a-days, but a necessity. If you want to be sharp and smart, then you must devote sometime to books, for they would teach you a lot!
4. Always pay your debts. Well, one of the most philosophical and learned houses if Game of Thrones is House Lannister. And so, one of the sayings of their house is, “A Lannister always pays his debts.” From here we get another life lesson that we must always pay off what we owe from people.
5. Always believe, “You know nothing.” Ygritte said this to Jon Snow in a teasing manner. But, this is actually for all those who believe that they know each and everything. Well, never believe that you know everything. Always learn from new experiences and never hesitate to take advice from others.
So, these were five most significant lessons which the series Game of Thrones offered us. In reality, we all are aware of these lessons, but we never really work upon them. But now, let’s try to understand each lesson and become the heir someday!
Keywords: Entertainment, Game of Thrones, HBO, Series, Youth, Lessons.