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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Mission Impossible: Tom Cruise and Sara

By Ibrahim

December 2, 2010

Sara who? No, I am not announcing the name of the chick who will be riding behind Tom Cruise on the motorbike in his coming movie. The issue simply is that a lot of my beloved friends here on have applauded me for doing what they see as a great mission! Therefore, I wanted to give that credit to those who really deserve it.

After all, I do live in the U.S. It's relatively safe for me to blog, talk and advocate. But I would like to talk about those heroes who still live in the Middle East, yet are working tirelessly to bring justice to HIV patients. They deserve credit more than I do -- they are the heroes of what some see as Mission Impossible.

Courtesy of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Newspaper

Courtesy of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Newspaper

Nevertheless those advocates don't care if it's Mission Impossible, simply because the word "impossible" is missing from their dictionary. They are brave enough to engage in what could be the most stigmatizing issue in the Middle East, declaring themselves as "Al-AIDS" patients. Amongst the bravest of all, in my opinion, is Sara, who is known in Saudi Arabia as "Al-AIDS child." Sara represents an important voice for the most affected category when it comes to HIV in the Middle East: women.

Living in the U.S. makes us associate HIV with MSM; yet in the Middle East and especially in Saudi Arabia, it is not a "gay disease" as some Saudi straight men engage in sex tourism every summer. This with a deep lack of sexual education makes the perfect combo to get infected with HIV, which they bring home with them ... to their wives.

Of course testing is not common among Middle Easterners; after all, it's only required for foreigners to obtain a job and residency -- it's not our thing, right?!! Some guys tell me that they are terrified of the results of being tested; well, let me tell you the results of not getting tested:

Courtesy of Al-Hayat Newspaper

Courtesy of Al-Hayat Newspaper

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the person will progress to AIDS, then they die, leaving their pregnant wife infected and passing the virus and the stigma to their unborn child. Do you still think it's terrifying to get tested?

But Sara refused to submit to this tiny virus or to this huge stigma. She rebelled like an Arabian horse would do, when it is treated with disrespect, and kicked off to do Mission Impossible! Sara decided to become an advocate for people with HIV/AIDS in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Cultural tip: In Saudi Arabia, women do not have to cover their faces always -- it's an option, and it's never required for young girls. But for Sara, she had to do it to be able to advocate for HIV patients without being further rejected by her society. She had the option of covering her face the traditional way, and she would be like everyone else; but she refused to wear the traditional cloth that covers her face and decided to wear a white mask so that people will know that she is not covering her face due to traditions, but due to fear of the HIV stigma that is killing people. Her white mask strikes everyone who sees it, just as she wants.

In one of her speeches, Sara said: I am not here to ask you to pity me; I just want you to treat me like a human being with respect. I don't want to be served food in disposable dishes anymore; I want to eat like all of you, because I am like all of you.

Later at a TV interview, when she was advocating for an event held by the Saudi AIDS committee, Sara was asked about her dreams. She said that she hopes to be a journalist to write more about HIV patients and especially women suffering from it. Well, God is good: The Chairman of Al-Watan Newspaper in Saudi Arabia heard her words and decided to ... APPOINT SARA AS A JOURNALIST AT THE AL-WATAN NEWSPAPER IMMEDIATELY! Hurray for Sara ... Hurray ... Hurray ... I wish I could see her face when she heard the happy news, but I can only hear her voice describing how happy she is to write her first report to the newspaper. She must have cried with happy tears, just like I did!

Now this Mission Impossible will not generate the same amount of money, the other Mission: Impossible generates.

Recently I just learned that Tom Cruise chose Dubai to be the new scene for the shooting of the film. This choice is supposed to make me happy -- after all, Dubai has a special place in my heart ... but I wonder if Tom Cruise has any HIV-positive persons among the film crew? Because he better be careful, as the law in UAE bans HIV-positive people from working and living in Dubai, and those intending to reside in Dubai or other UAE cities are forced to pass an HIV test and if proven positive, they are arrested and deported.

I wonder if these ethical issues did come up when the choice was made for Dubai to be the city where the events of Mission: Impossible will happen? And no, I am not a self-hating Arab. I love Dubai more than anyone can imagine. Dubai to me is not another Las Vegas: Dubai to me is the heritage and culture ... the children and family ... the values and compassion ... the wisdom you see in the eyes of old men ... the compassion in the stories of old women when they tell the children the tale of "Sari" -- the shepherd who got sick with a dermal sickness and his tribe decided to get him out and leave him in the desert to die alone before he passes the sickness to the rest; the tribe name was tarnished forever with disgrace for abandoning one of their own when he was sick. These were the stories that plant the compassion in the hearts of children to the sick -- and this is the face I wish to see for Dubai, not the image of the high skyscrapers built by immigrant workers who get deported because they test HIV positive.

Thank God, Obama revoked the ban on HIV-positive people from entering the U.S. Even though many advocates are still hoping for a more comprehensive legislation that is stronger in preventing discrimination on the basis of HIV status that still exists in the immigration system in the U.S., at least now we can ethically call upon Tom Cruise and others to stop shooting this film in Dubai until UAE stops targeting HIV-positive people -- and starts implementing a better policy in dealing with the cases of infected people. I say this with all the love that I hold in my heart to Dubai, UAE, the Middle East and its people.


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See Also
Spotlight Series: HIV Stigma & Discrimination
What Does HIV/AIDS Stigma Look Like in Your Life?
More News on HIV Stigma and Discrimination

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Ibrahim (USA) Sun., Dec. 12, 2010 at 11:07 pm EST
Well said...she is an amazing brave young lady... I admire her courage and I respect her and wish to be as brave as she is... Thank God people like her exist in our world
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Ibrahim (USA) Sun., Dec. 12, 2010 at 11:05 pm EST
Thank you very much for sharing...
I wish you the best
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Gerard (Melbourne, Australia) Sat., Dec. 11, 2010 at 10:51 am EST
Ibrahim, thank you for this most interesting story of a heroic young woman in Saudi Arabia. I lived there for many years and therefore I know how incredibly BRAVE she has been and is being. She is ASTOUNDING!
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Mabrook (Yemen) Fri., Dec. 10, 2010 at 2:46 am EST
Living with HIV/AIDS in Yemen is very hard you have to be very brave. First thing CD4 is the very dificult to get for the person living in small town you have to go to Sa'na or Aden.And another thing you don't have to tell anybody even private doctor, becouse if you say you have the virus. He/She will not see you again.I Wish something could be done.Our goverment is doing the best but no wrigt people.Thanks a lot Ibrahim.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Ibrahim (USA) Tue., Dec. 7, 2010 at 1:22 am EST
Thanks for sharing the beautiful words... you are such a positive poet :)
I strongly condemn any travel restrictions or discriminate action of any type specially taken against people who are HIV+.
Its unfortunate that Middle Eastern countries implement medieval policies when it comes to HIV....
if I didnt say this to you before: I am sorry that you have to endure such discrimination
Salam my friend
Reply to this comment

Comment by: D (Dublin Ireland ) Mon., Dec. 6, 2010 at 1:33 pm EST
Ibrahim, thansk for sharing this, as some one who has had a recent positive diagnosis and who to date has traveled for work in this reagion you blog has touched a chord for me. I now find myself facing a decision. Whilst some countries in Mid East do not apply travel restrictions on hiv+ they do ban the importation of meds and hence by default travel of persons. What was once a highlight of my job has now turned into a very worring and challenging decision I have to make. Following reading your blog and others you have inspire me to share some of my own work and the following is a short poem I recently wrote.

Ironically ĎPositiveí

Ironic, isnít it?
How such a powerful word can
instil such fear and dread

Ironic isnít it?
How such an optimistic word can
create emotions directly opposed

Ironic isnít it?
How such an assertive word can
lead to ambiguity, uncertainty and delusion

Ironic isnít it?
How such an affirmation
Alters oneís life instantly and dramatically

Ironic isnít it?
How upon hearing this
you may never again be positive or reassured

Ironic isnít it?
Yes, I'm positive itís ironic!
And ironically, Iím positive

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A Poz Salam



I'm Ibrahim, a 35-year-old professional Muslim man from the Middle East, living in the US. I want to fulfill my big dreams while holding strongly to my culture. My new identity as HIV positive changed my life in a strong way that I am still trying to understand and deal with. By sharing my experience, I'm trying to help myself and others in similar situations to find some peace -- and working on bringing the good change I believe every human must bring to this world. In my attempt to introduce's readers to my part of the world, I won't be taking you far -- I'll start right here, in the US.

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