A lot has been written both for and against the Pope’s visit this week.
Apart from the fact that he continues to tell people in the third world that to use condoms as a protection against HIV and AIDS is a sin, the main thing that rankles for me is that the Catholic Church has never publicly updated its belief in the origins of Disability.
Talk to many older Catholics and they can remember their Priests telling them that a person was born disabled due to a sin committed by one or both of their parents. I bet the Priests loved it when a Disabled child was born out of wedlock because then they could say “I told you so!”
They tell me that today’s more enlightened Priests no longer say this, but that old belief has never, to my knowledge, ever been fully weeded out from the faith. Even today, in countries such as Spain where Catholicism is the leading religion, a lot of people still believe that Disabled children are only born to those who have sinned. I’m told by Spanish Disabled people that it is mainly due to this belief that they have found it difficult to move towards any real equality within their society.
Perhaps it is time for the Pope to lay to rest this outdated and damaging belief and to use this visit to the UK to do so publicly.
Only by hearing it from the lips of ‘God’s representative on Earth’ will many Catholics put down this corrupt understanding and start to work with Disabled people towards our full and unconditional inclusion into societies throughout the world.
My on-line work takes me to areas all around the world where I'm asked to create images of disabled people facing oppression in all of its many forms and manifestations. Most of us in the West may be faced with limited access and be struggling to live on a reduced income. However this is a walk in the park compared to some situations I hear about concerning our disabled brothers and sisters in the third world.
Take Afghanistan for example. The rights of disabled people in that country are not even upon anyone's agenda as political infighting and the continued horrors of war is waged. Funded by the bottomless war chests of the United Kingdom and America this has caused starvation conditions for many disabled people there.
Two brave Afghanistanies tried recently to raise people's awareness of the plight of disabled people in that country. One is a cartoonist and the other is the editor of a national newspaper. They have since been arrested and are now believed to be incarcerated within one of the many new political prisons that exist there. Their crime was to create a caricature of the countries puppet ruler Hamid Karzai and to publish it along with an article about disability in Afghanistan.
Fahim Khairy is a young Afghanistan journalist currently living in America. He asked me to create a cartoon to accompany an article he is writing about the corrupt use of monies sent to Afghanistan in order to aid the people effected by the continued war, especially the growing number of disabled people.
Here's the cartoon. Please feel free to circulate it to as many of your on-line contacts as you can and demonstrate that disabled people in the West care about our disabled brothers and sisters in all parts of the world, and especially in Afghanistan.
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I recently received a message from Fahim Khairy who writes about the conditions for Disabled people in Afghanistan.
“In the third world countries, as example in Afghanistan where I came from, the word disability has a very different meaning. People have unlike perceptions about it and always see it in more negative light.
“The day when an Afghan is hit by a rocket and falls down bleeding, people will immediately forget that situation and say the person is under God’s punishment. Although God did not fire that rocket so it’s the person’s fate receiving the punishment through God’s will for his or her bad actions. It’s the culture. Unfortunately, it's not easy to change.
“When I travelled to Afghanistan after seven years I anticipated seeing everybody enjoying the new democratic regime however I disappointedly found out the opposite.
“I really wondered why I couldn’t see wheelchairs in the streets, markets or any part of the cities despite the fact that there were millions of disabled people living in the country. It was clear that lack of accessibility ruthlessly forced every wheelchair use to stay at home.
“Being in a wheelchair in Afghanistan at every new and old building, the person needs to be carried by four or five people, in order to get up the stairs. I almost forgot being a disabled person after starting a new life in America although as soon as I arrived at Kabul Airport, I suddenly realized that I am a needy person. Now I have to look for others sorrowfully to help me get up any staircases.
“How can we fight this misery when no disabled person is able to come out from his or her home and moreover discuss the matters with leaders and politicians? I assume that if every disabled Afghan had a computer, a power wheelchair like me, they conclusively would stand next to me to fight for a change.
“I had the opportunity that allowed me to educate myself learning a new language and the use of technology. I have been learning English since I came to the US in 2003. I certainly believe that if we had these opportunities in Afghanistan, every disabled Afghan would be able to live a life without affliction and poverty.”
You can find out more about Fahim and his involvement with other Afghan Disabled people on his Facebook site