Monday, November 7, 2016

An Advocate of Equality

Writer and Human Rights Activist, Megan Ni Qasey shares her story as an activist, and her dreams for the future of the world from a human rights lens. 

1. Let's start at the top - would you like to share about yourselves individually that inspired the work you do today?
While the world is full of inspiring people and inspiring elements, I often find inspiration in the memories of my childhood. I did not have a happy, healthy, or loving childhood environment. I was a sick child and teenager, didn’t have friends outside the classroom, wasn’t allowed to ride a bike, express my passion for swimming, ballet, dance, or music, and wasn’t allowed to play in the streets with other children. These are the basic feelings and desires children have and should be able to express and enjoy. I have watched myself and other children grow up in a suffocating environment with minimal love and inefficient care, forced by conditions to attend inadequate schools in countries ruled by dictatorships under rogue policies that violate human rights. Due to such conditions, many children around the world feel anger, frustration, and hate. Many children are forced to bear the responsibility of abandoning their education to provide for their families. They become easy targets to militant and terrorist groups. Many of whom, if they survive violence, are condemned, punished, and outcast. I was one of them. We ignore the fact that they’re children and refuse to provide them the adequate medical and psychological care. We do not provide care for children. The world will only be a better place if every one of us begin to make serious commitments to human rights and equality and change the way we view and treat children. Children, and my childhood, inspire me.Despite all odds and ignorance, many continue to laugh, survive, and grow. Most, however, remain forgotten. A fact that can be easily changed.

2. What got you to start working on themes of War and International Law in the Middle East?
I was born in Baghdad, Iraq, under the bombs of the Iraq-Iran war. I survived the first Gulf war as well as the economic sanctions and the air strikes that accompanied it. Additionally, I survived the 2003 invasion. I lived twenty-five yearsand a day in Iraq. During that time, I witnessed and experienced many wrongs. Although, I’ve always been passionate about human rights, I was chained by my own educational, economic, and social limitations and could not make an impact. I grew up angry and hatful towards the world, especially towards other Iraqis. After spending several years outside my native land, I was able to finally walk an enlightening journey to reach peace from within, to better understand and empathize with others, and to finally be able to challenge societal stigmas that hinder speaking and addressing taboo subjects. While I am passionate about equal rights and fairness across the globe, I focus on the Middle East because I speak the language and understand the cultures. Through my personal and professional experience in the region, I gained insights and skills that would make me most effective in this tumultuous part of the world. As an advocate for global equality, I resist wars and advocate for nonviolence approaches to conflict resolution. My experience, skills, and education will enable me to effectively pursue nonviolence approaches in the region.

3. Having seen so many stories about conflict, and how they are portrayed in the media around us, how difficult was it to make a foray into this space?
By writing the truths and realities of those who suffer with unrestrained words. My personal blog serves as a platform for me to write about some issues. My work in the theater in NYC serves as a larger platform to write about critical issues that challengethe audience and the status quo. In addition, through daily interactions I utilize every opportunity to broaden the conversation about global equality.It’s very difficult to make a foray into the field of conflict resolution. While I do have extensive personal and professional experience, I am still in the process of continuing my education to earn a graduate degree. While I can continue working towards my goals, to be able to earn and occupy a place in the field, I must earn and successfully complete my graduate credentials. This will not only sharpen my skills and expand my knowledge, but will also expand my network. I am determined, however, to work tirelessly while at school to expand and develop my work, to innovate new projects, and to become more inclusive yet focused in my work.

4. With the heavy premium on keeping war alive - and how there are whole businesses that thrive on these ideas, what do you see as the state of peace in the world against this backdrop?
While it’s vital to acknowledge and remain aware of the thriving business of war, such realities must not detract our focus from the good work of nonviolent conflict resolution. I see more energy spent on combatting wars and violence directly than is spent on making peace through different means. In order to reach a more peaceful world and resolve conflicts though nonviolence, we must focus our energy towards making positive changes; we as people, from around the world, need to listen to and understand each other’s narrative, build empathy, and learn from and collaborate with each other to make visible progress in our communities.  We can only reach true peace when we truly and fully commit to nonviolence, when we quit the blaming games and cycles of revenge; rather than choosing to stay stuck in the past, we must learn from our past to change the path to our future. There’s a massive wave in the world for nonviolence, and it will only grow, I believe. Globalization is helping advocates and change-makers connect and support each other more than any time before. Multi-directional networks are created everyday via online platforms and resources and experiences are shared, events are recorded, voices being heard, and change is occurring. We must continue on this path to connect with each other, to make the peace conversation more inclusive, and to invest in each other’s future for the betterment of humanity as whole. Nonviolence, though it is chosen less often, has proven to be more effective than wars in producing solid, lasting results. Nonviolence means can be used to resolve our current state of chaos. Alone, the absence of wars doesn’t mean peace, therefore, we must revolutionize the way we perceive and interpret the world. We tend to focus on the bad and ugly losing hope and trust in each other. We need to highlight good works, better measure progress and share the stories of ordinary people who are doing extraordinary work. We need to bring hope alive again and show each other that despite all the violence and war-making industry, we can still strive for a better world by continuing to do good and make positive change. We need to bring hope aliveagain to the millions of children around the world, to the invisible, and to the forgotten. We need to reward the hard work of every global citizen who invests energy and time on daily basis to promote peace and equality. When we see the good in each other, we build admiration and trust, and move forward together—in peace.

5. What have some of your enduring challenges been, while working in this domain? 
Short term connections. On a daily basis, I meet people who have lost their self-confidence, are scared to look inward, and feel absolutely vulnerable yet refuse to admit such truths. I meet inspiring people who love the world and people and want to make changes, serve the public, and contribute to the betterment of humanity. Due to many reasons, however, many of these inspiring people don’t fully believe in themselves and their ability to make change and to work with others across differences. I aspire to challenge everyone to look inward, to love themselves and believe in their abilities, to believe in the good within, to admire others and appreciate diversity, to seek the different, to go beyond limits to understand, to be. We cannot spread love and harmony to others if we don’t love and accept ourselves. We cannot bring about peace if we’re too scared to look inward and find peace within. We cannot reach reconciliation if we refuse to listen to understand. We cannot defeat wars if we envy each other’s progress. We cannot resolve complex conflicts if we refuse to acknowledge our interdependence on each other. We cannot deliver a better future if we continue to ignore our vanity and limitations. We cannot make positive changes if we continue to fault and blame each other. We cannot surpass hate if we continue to thrive on ethnocentrisms and self-proclaimed superiorities. My challenge, our biggest challenge, is to dare each other to be the best version of ourselves. This I dare myself to accomplish every day.

6. What keeps you going?
Inspiring people—advocates who dedicate their lives to making this world a better place for all of us.

7. What do you look at as your most important moments in your journey so far?
I know I should answer by stating one moment or another, but I would be deceiving you and myself if I chose only one or two. All moments and encounters in my life have contributed in making me the person I am today. The hardships as well as the happy times, the people who extended their hands to help and support me, the insights, advice, and education I received from wiser persons, and the love I receive from my wife, family, friends, and the world inspire me to become a better person. One of the most difficult moments though that I would like to share, which altered my life forever, is the moment I realized the anger within me and decided to take serious measures to befriend and love myself. This has helped me relate to the world on a deeper lever and to appreciate all that surrounding us.

8. What's happening in the next couple of months / years?
For the next two academic years, I will be working on earning my dual MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence & International Law and Human rights from the Heller School at Brandeis University and the University for Peace in Costa Rica. I will be sharpening my skills, enhancing my experience, and furthering my knowledge of conflict resolution and nonviolence means by learning from experts in the field.  Simultaneously, I would like to expand my professional influence and career by expanding my focus. As a senior staff at the Ibrahim Leadership Foundation in the Middle East, I would like to build and develop a network to connecting our Ibrahim Fellows – US undergrad rising leaders with their counterparts in the Middle East. I will also continue my theater writing, and perhaps producing a play or two in the next year.