Considered Risks and a Culture of Violence

by Priscilla Feral

I’d like to take a moment to thank ActionLine’s dynamic readers and letter-writers. Engaging in a continuing dialogue with you is an important part of my schedule.

Our subscribers often tell me this magazine stands out, as does our advocacy. Some say it’s sheer moxie that distinguishes Friends of Animals. Our style of animal advocacy involves creative ideas and a penchant for considered risks.

Most readers know about the commitment we made to rescue a Texas sanctuary from closure. After more than four years of involvement in the management of Primarily Primates, I can say that accepting that risk, though daunting at the time, was worthwhile. Today, we are ensuring a strong future for the sanctuary and its 400 apes, monkeys, lemurs, birds and other animals.

Let me share my outlook with you. Over the last 24 years, since I’ve been president, I’ve refused to allow Friends of Animals to stagnate, to let us rest on our laurels, or fall into line behind animal charities that rarely if ever risk erosion of their bottom line. My impetus for work often springs from stories about inspirational people.

One January weekend, while reading the New York Times, I saw a photo of students, clad in bright yellow, at a school in Somalia, where 800 children are divided among just eight classrooms.

I looked for more information about 63-year-old Dr. Hawa Abdi, who opened the school. “Equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo,” says Glamour. The magazine named Dr. Abdi and her daughters ““ three intrepid medical practitioners, teachers and social activists ““ as Women of the Year for 2010.

Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, has been plagued since 1991 by warlords, lacking an effective government since President Barre was overthrown. Health care has collapsed, and today the U.N. refers to the poor conditions in Somalia as one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises.

In a place riddled with violence, Dr. Abdi has persevered, offering a refuge for thousands of families, and building a community near the capital, Mogadishu, to provide a safe zone with hospital care, free medicine and education for nearly 100,000 people.

One morning last May, hundreds of militants invaded Dr. Abdi’s hospital, demanding to know: “Why are you running this hospital? Women can’t do things like this.”

The militants belonged to one of Somalia’s most nefarious groups ““”notorious for chopping off hands and stoning adulterers,” wrote Mohammed Ibrahim and Jeffrey Gittleman for the Times.(1) The militants stayed a week, shooting equipment and making a mess.

Then, something remarkable happened. Hundreds of women from Dr. Abdi’s refugee camp protested. After the U.N. and others abroad defended Dr. Abdi, the militants backed down ““ apologizing in writing, as Dr. Abdi insisted.

“I told the gunmen,” Dr. Abdi said, “I’m not leaving my hospital. You are young and you are a man, but what have you done for your society?”

Many charities refuse to work in Somalia; it’s too dangerous. But Dr. Abdi and her daughters are not dissuaded. “Women can build stability; we can make peace,” she says.

It’s impossible not to embrace Dr. Abdi’s truth, strength, love and dedication to the well-being of those fortunate enough to be drawn to such light. And to ask, “What have I done for our society?”

We do not live among warlords, but we do live in a culture that has exported violence and that glorifies it at home. In this issue, Dustin Rhodes takes on the National Rifle Association, which Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s The Last Word, aptly describes as a “blood-drenched organization.”

In November, in a discussion with Glenn Greenwald on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, O’Donnell explained further: “I don’t pretend that my views, which would ban all guns in America, make Medicare available to all in America, have any chance of happening within the federal government.”

Perhaps, but thanks, Lawrence, for the exquisite expression of kindness. Such voices need amplification in our society.


1. Mohammed Ibrahim and Jeffrey Gettleman, “The Saturday Profile: Under Siege in War-Torn Somalia, a Doctor Holds Her Ground” ““ New York Times (7 Jan. 2011).