Working towards Non-Violence

In the fourth blog in the series, Jane Harries provides a detailed account of the workshops delivered with the Alternative to Violence Project in the West Bank and Israel. 

Apart from attending the ‘Healing Hate’ conference in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the main aim of our visit this time was to deliver Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) workshops with organisations in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel.  Despite our best efforts – working through churches and NGOs – this time we failed to gain permission from the Israeli authorities to enter Gaza, although we were delighted to hear that our partners there will continue to run workshops on their own, using facilitators we trained last year.  They are also in the process of setting up their own NGO – i.e. AVP Palestine.  All the same we were deeply saddened not to be able to see and support them again – particularly as we accessed reports during our visit about the crisis in Gaza, with the two million citizens living there having electricity cut to as little as two hours per day in the intense heat.

And so we had to develop a Plan B.  For me, this meant being involved in running workshops for groups on the West Bank, based in Wtr, a centre for Culture and Media in the Bethlehem area.  We firstly ran a ‘Training for Facilitators’ workshop with a group who had received the basic and advanced workshops last year.  Secondly, we ran a six day course for another group, taking in basic, advanced and training for all facilitator levels.  This was inevitably the group I got to know best, and the impressions and stories below come from the time I spent with them.  We also hoped to run a taster workshop with students in Ramallah, but this sadly didn’t come to fruition.  At the end of our stay the two Joes moved to Tel Aviv and ran a workshop with professionals there working with an anti-bullying programme in Israeli schools.

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What is AVP?

AVP workshops take participants through a whole group process. Starting with exercises that break the ice and encourage participants to build a positive community, the workshops enable those attending to gain communication and cooperation skills, to reflect on how they react to conflict and violence in their lives and to practice attitudes, skills and behaviours which are more likely to lead to non-violent outcomes.  The course is experiential and interactive and facilitators learn from participants as well as vice-versa.  At the second level, participants identify themes or issues they are struggling with, and these are gone into at a deeper level.  The final stage is for participants to be trained as facilitators, to gain insight into facilitation processes and to practice running exercises.  By the end of the third level, participants are ready to start practising as apprentice facilitators themselves – and so the AVP community grows and adapts to more local circumstances.

Why AVP?

At the beginning of AVP workshops, facilitators conduct a ‘Gathering’ which entails going around the circle and asking each participant to share a thought or experience whilst the others listen.  This has the effect of ‘gathering’ the group and helping them to work as a community.  At the beginning of the workshop we asked participants what they hoped to get from it.  We knew that the group had to some extent been selected by Ali Abu Awad (see the second blog in this series) as prospective community leaders.  The gathering, however, helped them to be more specific. Omar who is a teacher and who runs summer camps for children talked about how, in his experience, teachers can be involved in passing violence on to their charges: he wanted to help young people react differently and to be a role-model for non-violence.  Alla’ was also involved with 15 – 25 year olds and wanted to use the training in his work.  Maisa wanted to use techniques with her students at the university where she teaches English.  Others wanted to use and spread the skills they gained in their families, villages and communities.

AVP in a conflict situation

AVP is in no way a political programme.  It aims to support people, wherever they are, to deal with conflict in their lives in more positive ways.  There is no denying, however, that working with groups from a society under Occupation has an added significance and poignancy.  Testimonies of participants from workshops in Hebron show how skills learnt during AVP workshops have helped them to be more resilient and creative when faced with harassment by IDF soldiers at checkpoints.  AVP can also help to alleviate ‘horizontal violence’ – violence in the home and in the wider community which partly comes from the fact that this is a society under enormous stress.

Despite everything the reality of the Occupation inevitably seeps in and colours the nature of the workshop.  Firstly our very presence as US and UK citizens working alongside Palestinians, supporting them and showing empathy is enormously significant as evidence of international solidarity.  In ‘normal’ circumstances facilitators would aim to enforce an understanding about timings and punctuality.  This proves to be impossible.  Every day the workshop starts late – by sometimes as much as an hour.  This is potentially grating – until we hear why this is the case.  The three ladies from the Hebron area in particular face long delays at checkpoints and harassment on their way to the centre in Bethlehem.  Others arrive upset or shaken by events during the night: a military incursion into their home, the arrest or death of someone close to them.  Every day during the workshop we hear of an arrest or killing somewhere – the ones that never reach the international news.  I have never seen so many funeral processions in Bethlehem.

Early on in an AVP workshop we usually address participants’ perceptions of what violence means to them and where they think it comes from.  This is then followed by a similar exercise looking at what non-violence would look like and what behaviours and circumstances can create a circle of non-violence.  The first part of this exercise went as expected.  When we got to the second part, however, participants were keen to address practically how they could move from violence to nonviolence – reflecting that this is a burning issue in their everyday lives.  The resulting brainstorm brought out several things that participants already do – including creative writing and music.  During an exercise which helps participants to make quick decisions as a group in potentially violent situations, the question came up of what they would do if they noticed a young boy about to throw a stone at the military.  This raised the whole dilemma of the responsibility to protect their community – and therefore stop the stone-throwing – balanced against the question of legitimate self-defence.  The consensus of the group was that they would aim to talk to children and advise them not to throw stones, and that they would also call for outside help.  They are also aware, however, that the Occupation itself is unjust and illegal.

The topics chosen by the group for the Advanced / Level 2 workshop were also significant and reflected their everyday experience.  They asked to address the following:

  • How to avoid violence
  • How to react when in violence
  • How to come back from violence; and
  • How to help someone in trauma.

 

Although the Occupation was, in a way, the elephant in the room this is not to say that there are not issues in Palestinian society itself which cause conflict.  Omar talked about the tendency, when there is a conflict, for people from both ‘sides’ to get involved, so that the conflict gets bigger and more involved.  During a Fishbowl exercise, where 3 participants start discussing a topic, and can then be joined by others from the larger group, the topic of sexism in Palestinian society was chosen.  Younger women in the group in particular bemoaned the fact that it is not acceptable for a man and a woman who are not related to be seen together, also that it is commonplace – and to a certain extent acceptable – for a husband to hit his wife.  The case of a young girl in Gaza who had obtained top marks in her Tawjihi (school leaving certificate) but who had been openly criticised for not covering her hair was raised as further evidence of an attitude towards women which is shaped by culture, custom and sexism.  I wondered to what extent a younger generation who are well-informed by their mobile phones, well-educated and in touch with the external world might be slowly changing more traditional attitudes.

By the end of this workshop what had we achieved?  We had trained a group of potential community leaders who now have the skills to facilitate others and pass skills on to them.  Strong, resilient and creative they certainly are, despite all that life throws at them.  “Life is full of stones,” said Omar at one point, “and we need to be very creative with the stones.”  And then there was Maisa, who by the end of the Training for Facilitators’ workshop had already perfectly understood the difference between teaching and facilitating and was leading her group from behind, putting across a brilliant set of exercises.  In a follow-up meeting with Ali we planned how he would first of all get the group back together to give them some further training in being non-violent leaders; and that they would then run 3 pilot workshops with a women’s organisation, a youth group and in At-tawani, a village in the South Hebron hills which has been the target of continual settler attacks.  The final shorter-term aim is to run AVP workshops with 10 partner organisations.  And so the ripples continue spreading outwards, and we go forward in faith, trusting to our processes.

This all sounds good but in a sense does not express the essence of our experience here.  How to convey the warmth, generosity, creativity and humour we shared during these days together – conveyed in smiles, embraces and small acts of generosity?  It is a connection that burrows deep into the soul and means that each time we leave here some of ourselves.  A consolation is that the connection is not broken, but that precious memories and experiences live on until we return – inshalla’!

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Healing Hatred: Spiritual Challenges in a Context of Political Conflict

Jane Harris presents the questions and debates from the second annual conference of the International Association for Spiritual Care in the third installment of her blog series. 

One of the aims of our visit this time was to take part in a conference in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Beit Jala entitled ‘Healing Hatred: Spiritual Challenges in a Context of Political Conflict’.  This was the 2nd annual conference of the International Association for Spiritual Care (IASC).  This organisation describes its mission as enhancing ‘the capacities of scholars and practitioners worldwide in acquiring, disseminating and applying knowledge of theory and practice of spiritual care with an emphasis on interdisciplinary, interreligious and intercultural scholarly investigation.’ Given this description, one might have expected the conference to be quite dry and academic.  This was not, however, the case.  Yes, those who made presentations or engaged in panel discussions were highly qualified and backed up their points with research.  At the same time most presenters also spoke from their own experience and illustrated their talks with personal stories that had had a transforming effect on them.  As a result the conference was highly moving and potentially life-changing for those who attended.

This was a real attempt to address existential questions across political, religious and social divides.  Partners in the organisation of the conference included the Hebrew Union College (where the first sessions took place – in a synagogue) and the Holy Land Trust, a non-violent peace organisation based in Bethlehem on the West Bank, as well as the Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue.  The audience during the first two days of the conference were mostly liberal Jews, whilst the last day took place in the Bethlehem Bible College in Bethlehem and was designed so that Palestinians could address issues on their own with international colleagues.  A final session including food and music brought everyone back together in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem.

Questions discussed went to the heart of the conflict, and included: ‘How should Palestinians Respond to Israeli Trauma?’, ‘Unlocking Israeli Indifference to Palestinian Trauma’, ‘Abuse of Religion in the Name of Politics’ and ‘What makes people change?’  There were also workshops which presented some more practical methodologies, including one from our AVP team.

Understanding the Trauma of the Other

As is so often the case, the presentations which were particularly moving were rooted in personal experience.  One of the first speakers was Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi who, in 2014, was forced to resign from his post at al-Quds University after he took a group of 27 Palestinian students to visit the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.  We need to stop the reciprocity of victimhood, he said, and do things because they are the right things to do.  Both peoples – Israelis and Palestinians – are both victims and perpetrators.  Sami Awad, Director of the Holy Land Trust, had undergone a similar transformation.  After the 2nd Intifada his organisation concentrated largely on non-violent activism, but he then started to ask questions.  He noticed the levels of hatred which the Israelis had towards the Palestinians and wanted to understand where these strong feelings and behaviours came from.  He too visited Auschwitz, and discovered a story he had never been told, enabling him to understand an existential fear and need for security in Israeli society.

Stereotypes and the Power of Human Encounter

Addressing what makes people change, Professor Rafi Walden, past President of Physicians for Human Rights, told us a story of a young Palestinian who had been brought to his hospital, injured in the leg by an Israeli soldier.   Several times he and his colleagues asked him if he could move his leg, so as to ascertain whether they could perform surgery on him.  His only response, as he looked at his carers with seeming hatred was ‘jihad’.  At least one of the medical team was of the opinion that they should refuse to treat him, but they took him into the operating theatre and – after a long and difficult operation – his leg was saved.  As he lay recovering, his father arrived and thanked Professor Walden profusely for saving his son Jihad.  Only then did they realise that Jihad was the boy’s name.  We are reminded that the primary meaning of ‘jihad’ (al-harb in Arabic)  is ‘struggle’ or ‘striving’ – often an inner struggle to become a better believer.  Once we are able to see our ‘enemy’ face to face as a human being, prejudices and stereotypes are stripped away.  Professor Walden reminded us that ‘caring for others’ is mentioned in the Torah at least 36 times.

Religious Fundamentalism

Addressing religious fundamentalism, Dr. Tomer Persico argued that this is a modern phenomenon, and cited two examples – the radical settler movement ‘Hilltop Youth’ and the obsession amongst Zionists that Jews should be able to ascend the Temple Mount (a survey in 2014 showed that 75% of Zionists were in favour of this).  He argued that although revenge may be a natural reaction, it doesn’t come from the original Jewish tradition but is rather a legacy from European romanticism.  Likewise ascent to the Temple Mount was traditionally forbidden in Judaism, since that which is sacred was regarded as something set apart and to be respected.  The ‘right’ to ascend the Temple Mount has gone hand in hand with ideas of nationalism, ownership and sovereignty, making sole claims with total disregard for the Other.  Rabbi Dr. Michael Marmur cited the example of a Catholic church burnt down by extremists in the Galilee and the quote that was left behind to ‘justify’ this act: “and the idols shall be cut down.”  This is a direct quote from a 15th century Jew, Isaac Abarbanel, who was expelled from Spain – and reflects the practice of quoting selectively from the Torah or from history.  He argued that the Jewish tradition across the centuries is a more humanitarian and loving one and gave quotes from a more contemporary Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel.  Two of these suffice:

“We must not regard any human institution or object as being an end in itself.   Man’s achievements in this world are but attempts, and a temple that comes to mean more than a reminder of the living God is an abomination.” (1955)

“The tree of hatred is the tree of death…. People hate those who make them feel their own inferiority.  The prophets of Israel taught us that those who cherish the use of force are themselves consumed by force….” (1972)

Moral giants

This conference addressed deep-seated and wide-ranging issues.  Many significant things were said and very personal experiences shared.  As the memories fade, however, one speaker stands out above the rest.  This was neither an Israeli nor a Palestinian but Father Michael Lapsley, whose experience of overcoming hatred is rooted in apartheid South Africa.  Expelled from South Africa because he used his role as National University Chaplain to speak out about the shootings, detentions and torture of his black students after the Soweto riots in 1976, he spent 16 years in exile as a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and chaplain to the liberation movement in exile.  In April 1990, 3 months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, he was sent a letter bomb from South Africa, disguised as religious literature.  He lost both hands and the sight of one eye in the blast, and was seriously burned.  Supported by love and prayers from around the world, he began a journey from victim to survivor to victor.  He returned to South Africa in 1993 and became Chaplain of the Trauma Centre for Victims of Violence and Torture in Cape Town.

Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust talking to Father Michael Lapsley

Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust talking to Father Michael Lapsley

Father Lapsley’s words rang true because they came from his own experience of being a victim of and overcoming hatred.  He reminded us of Nelson Mandela’s words: 

“No-one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background or his religion.  They need to be taught to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can also learn to love.” 

The Israelis and Palestinians need to set up spaces for talking and listening, he said, and to be creative in bringing people together, since separation keeps hatred alive.  At the same time, healing is not a substitute for the struggle for justice, and both processes need to happen at the same time.  He reminded us that the Old Testament prophets understood the relationship between justice and conflict. “And what does the Lord require of you?” asked Micah: ”To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6.8).  Injustice, he said, endangers the safety and security of the future of the Israeli state.  Another way would be to engage in restorative justice, which seeks to restore the balance.  He also reminded us that there were many Nelson Mandelas in South Africa, and that healing had to come from the people themselves.

Pushing the Limits….

The subject matter of this conference was controversial and there were times when wounds opened and gaping hurts were exposed.  The last speaker of the first two days in Jerusalem was a clinician working to heal trauma in Gaza.  He talked about asking a patient to think of a safe space, and the patient not being able to think of one, since in Gaza a whole population is living in trauma.  Towards the end of his talk he referred to Israeli soldiers during the First Intifada breaking the arms of children in Gaza so that they couldn’t throw stones.  Was this truth or myth?  Hard to tell, but in any case it was shocking – and too much for one participant who stormed out shouting something about ‘body parts’.  And so the cycle of hatred continues, fed by stories, truths and myths which keep images of the Other alive and prevent healing.  The speaker suggested that children in Gaza should be put in touch with children in Israel so that they could connect with one another and create a new identity. It is initiatives like these, if only they could be implemented, that may sow new seeds of hope.

The other side of the coin emerged as we listened to Sami Awad from the Holy Land Trust and Michael Lapsley in conversation in the Bethlehem Bible College on the third day.  Sami told us that a statement against the conference had been issued by the Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement in Palestine, since it was seen as a ‘normalisation’ event.  In the Israel-Palestine conflict ‘normalisation’ refers to any way in which Palestinians are led to see the present status quo (i.e. Occupation) as normal, and has been extended to include any collaboration or rapprochement with the occupiers (See recent +972 blog for more details).   Referring to the history of the South African struggle, Michael Lapsley said that those struggling for justice supported BDS because it was seen as a way of shortening the struggle.  However, at the same time Nelson Mandela was talking to the South African government.  It was not a case of either or, but both and.  The Israel-Palestine conflict is not the same as the South African struggle, of course, but it is worth asking what we as internationals can do to promote peace in the region and above all what is effective.  Bringing people from both sides together is of course a good thing to do and necessary to foster empathy, but the conflict won’t be solved unless we also help to remove the root cause of injustice and inequality – i.e. the Occupation.

Messages of Hope and Empowerment

It was good that the conference ended with contributions from two strong women.  The first was Huda Abu Arqoub, Regional Director for the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), an organisation with over a 100 members.  Huda started her talk by telling us a story of her father and grandfather going on a journey from Hebron to Haifa and Beirut and back via Damascus – a journey that could only be dreamt of today!  She also shared memories of her childhood in Palestine, characterised by the importance of education and creativity.   The second speaker was Sarah Snyder, who is Advisor for Reconciliation to the Archbishop of Canterbury and has a wide-ranging international experience of peace-building and dialogue.  Asked why there are not more peace women in Palestine, Huda replied that there are, but they are not seen, recognised and acknowledged!  She also referred to the Israeli movement ‘ Women Wage Peace’, formed from the need for women not to send their sons to war.  Only the week-end before women from this movement had stood in 150 places in Israel and demonstrated.

And so we ended on a note of hope.  Looking at the list of members of ALLMEP  – including Combatants for Peace, Kids4Peace, Neve Shalom, Parents’ Circle, the Holy Land Trust – one could be forgiven for asking why peace has not already broken out.  At the moment political forces, fear and inaction on behalf of the international community hold the perpetuation of injustice and hatred in the region in place.  There are however stirrings amongst ordinary people who thirst for a different reality and are willing to stand up for change.  If this were to become a mass popular movement political leaders would be forced to take note, and the tide of change would be irresistible.  Sarah Snyder gave a quote from Northern Ireland, that “Peace is a mystery – a walking into the unknown.”  Well then, let’s walk bravely into the unknown and do what we can for peace.

Taghyeer – a Movement for Non-violent Change

In the second installment in this series, Jane Harries recounts her encounter with Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian peace activist.  

I had heard Joe talk often and excitedly of Ali Abu Awwad, so when the opportunity to meet him and colleagues arose soon after my arrival in Bethlehem, I was glad to accept.

Talking to Ali, it didn’t take long to understand the enormity of his vision.  Ali currently lives on his family’s land just south of Bethlehem, on the other side of the main road from the large Jewish settlement of Gush Etzion.  (For different perspectives on this settlement’s history and expansion see Wikipedia and +972 Magazine).  There is nothing extraordinary in this: many Palestinians live in the shadow of settlements.  The story of Ali’s youth and upbringing are not so uncommon either.  He was brought up in a politically active refugee family which was under constant pressure from the Israeli military, this eventually culminating in the imprisonment of himself and his mother.  Following the dashed hopes of the Oslo agreement, Ali was injured by a settler and his brother murdered by a soldier from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

What was remarkable was Ali’s reaction to these events.  Slowly, he realised that what was often seen by Palestinians as justifiable violence to throw off military occupation would not lead to freedom – but only raise the level of reactive fear among the militarily dominant Israelis. He saw this Israeli fear as the real enemy of both Palestinians and of a secure future for Israel.  Since his imprisonment and release, his life’s work has been to overcome his own blindness of the humanity in his enemy and to enhance himself and his people in transcending oppression by using the ‘best of humanity’ as expressed in nonviolence.  How has he gone about doing this?  He has been involved in the Bereaved Families Forum, where he has met Israelis who are united with Palestinians in the loss of a loved one due to the conflict.  He is also leading an initiative on his family land – to welcome and encounter those settlers willing to step up and overcome their blindness to the existence and truth of the Palestinians.  This is a truly brave thing to do – one that flies against all norms, rules and boundaries and which is potentially dangerous, seen by some sections of Palestinian society as consorting with the enemy – an attempt to bring about ‘normalisation’.

Ali has another parallel though partly conflicting vision: that of Taghyeer (‘Change’: see website and video).  His aim is to overcome the victim mentality of Palestinian society and to build a grass-roots nonviolent social reform and resistance movement, empowering people to take responsibility and develop their own freedom.   He argues that peace movements, in which he has played a role, have failed to halt the persistent loss of Palestinian land to the settlements.  The government of Israel has been the creator of Israeli fear so as to maintain power and domination; whilst the Palestinian Authority is largely corrupted and weak. Palestinian political factions are divided and fail to achieve their goal of freedom, and Palestinian communities despair and have no confidence in their ability to come together to achieve social goals.  With Taghyeer, he feels, there is a real opportunity to create a change.  That this is possible has already been demonstrated by mass demonstrations and the ‘Sumud’ Freedom Camp.

Stephen (Friends of Taghyeer), Mary and Ali in Bethlehem

Stephen (Friends of Taghyeer), Mary and Ali in Bethlehem

Also present at the meeting was Mary Abu Khudair (Planning and Communications Manager for Tagyheer).  Mary has lived part of her life in the US, where she raised two sons, but she then returned to Shufat, Jerusalem.  The grim reality of the conflict hit her family and community in the Summer of 2014 with the brutal murder of her young cousin Mohammad Abu Khdeir.  Like Ali, Mary responded by starting on the tough path of connecting with the humanity of the other, firstly through volunteering with Combatants for Peace and then through working for Taghyeer in building Palestinian strength through nonviolent action.

Inspiring though this meeting was, we were to see part of the vision in practice the following evening, when we were invited to Ali Abu Awwad’s compound for supper.  Having not seen the farm before, it looked fairly familiar to me.  Approaching it along a busy dual carriageway, we then veered off onto an unsigned untarmacked track which came to a halt in front of a group of buildings, including a house, a covered area which could be used for meetings or training events, a fenced-off area with some sheep and turkeys, and a garden area ready to be planted. There was even a small building with a few items hanging in it – obviously destined to become a shop.  The two Joes, however, who had been there last year, marvelled at all the new developments.  For Ali this is the beginning of a dream – a Nonviolence Centre for Palestine.

What was immediately apparent and remarkable to me on arrival was the presence of two Israeli women.  No-one else, however, seemed to remark on their presence, or notice anything out of the ordinary in it.  They totally blended in with what was going on around them and joined us in the meal, which was soon served.  This also is part of the new reality that Ali strives to achieve: a society where all can live and work together no matter what their religion or background.

The star turn of the evening, however, had to be the serving of the meal.  We were summoned to witness the unearthing of the chickens.  Perplexed, we followed to where there was an area of ashes.  These were scraped away, revealing a lid.  Once this was lifted we could see that there was an underground oven with a metal stand above a fire where the meat had been slowly cooking.  The next part of this operation was to lift the three-tiered stand out of the hole: lamb chops in rows on the top tier, then roast chickens and underneath all the juices that had come from the roasting meat.  The whole contraption was carried to the table, already groaning under mountains of rice, salad and pitta bread.  This was Palestinian hospitality, done in grand style!  Perhaps if one wants to forge a peace community, it’s good to start with filling its stomach!

For more information see Ali Abu Awwad’s Ted Talk given in Jerusalem in 2015.

 

India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Conflict: Making Progress through International Law

By Georgia Marks

On the 27th February Dr Aman Hingorani came to the Temple of Peace to give a talk about the Kashmir conflict and suggest solutions with reference to his book ‘Unravelling the Kashmir Knot.’ John Harrington for the Law and Global Justice Research Group in Cardiff Law School introduced the speaker. Harrington gave some context to the speaker and his work, describing Dr Hingorani as an advocate of the High Court in Delhi. It appears that work in human rights is a family affair, with Harrington referring to Hingorani’s parents as the mother and father of public interest litigation.

Hingorani began his talk by explaining that his research into the conflict in Kashmir began as part of his PhD research. Hingorani described Kashmir as a strategically placed area, as geographically it is to the side of both India and Pakistan. He went on to establish that the two latter countries both want more territory and have both dug their heels in Kashmir, at the expense of lives. The two countries are at a stalemate as they both want to keep the territory that they have.

After a brief introduction, the speaker stressed that unless we understand the narrative we cannot understand the way forward. A member of the audience questioned how the historical background has shaped the current situation. To this the speaker answered that neither domestic not international law can resolve it, the issue is based in politics, but it is important to use law to adapt political discussion. He went on to say that the current phase of radicalisation is buried in the subcontinent. The situation described by the speaker as the creation of a situational environment of mutually hostile nations with heightened sense of nationalism. I think this is a really good point as we cannot find a solution to the conflict if we do not understand the history that led up to it.

The speaker then went on to establish the history associated with the conflict which gives a good overview of the reasons behind the current situation highlighted above. 1857 marked what Britain referred to as the Mutiny in India, but what Indians call the War of Independence. As a result the government became centralised and the Queen declared that no more provinces were to be acquired and certain sovereign aspects were given to other countries. Hingorani made the point that before 1857 Muslims were seen as the enemy of Britain, but after 1858, middle class Hindus were established as the new enemy. The official British policy was communalisation, where Britain gave India the freedom, however the country was incapable of resolving the Muslim-Hindu conflict. Britain then used this to enforce its influence, as it created the perception that India needed Britain to resolve such conflicts. In 1939, the beginning of the Second World War meant India was declared as a country in war. Hingorani stated that according to the British archives the partition was decided then and not in 1947. At this point, Britain knew that they had to leave the subcontinent but wanted to keep part of it, so India used Islam as a geographical boundary, with Kashmir falling within this. However, the speaker made clear that Indians did not want the partition. When the partition was refused, violence was used as direct action to force congress to agree; they eventually did which resulted in the Independence Act 1947. Britain used Pakistan as a means of gaining power and assumed that Kashmir would go to Pakistan, so when it did not, it led to the Kashmir issue. Hingorani described the Kashmir issue as being based on British interest on the subcontinent. This is an interesting comment to make as it suggests the detrimental effects British colonialism had on other countries. In this sense, I think it is debatable whether intervention on an international level would do more harm than good in this context unless intensely supervised by the UN.

The speaker then went on to explain why Kashmir did not go to Pakistan. The ruler of Kashmir was Hindu and did not want to be part of Pakistan, a country with an Islam majority, and instead wanted to be independent. However, Pakistan wanted Kashmir, but the ruler of Kashmir was difficult and so Pakistan forced the ruler to exceed to Pakistan through the use of weapons given by Britain. Therefore, from what Hingorani has established up to this point is that Britain have been an integral political part of this conflict and have contributed greatly to the violence in this area.

Hingorani then went on to describe it in terms of international law, if Kashmir exceeded to India then it cannot be vetoed. Kashmir was deemed by the speaker as an international issue that needed Pakistan to comment on it. He then went on to say that the minute that India refers to the UN, a ceasefire will be demanded. In my opinion, this would be the best possible option from a human rights perspective as it would help to prevent the violence inflicted on civilians in Kashmir. The UN Security Council expressed the desire for the future of the state should be decided under UN supervision and presented the idea to take Kashmir issue out of the domestic context and give it an international platform. Another member of the audience asked if there were any serious efforts of countries to refer to the issue on an international level. Hingorani said that there had been no effort on the part of these countries. Kashmir has always been seen as a political issue and we need to distinguish it from law. However, India is going against legal policies and law is seen as abstract and we do not have military, political or diplomatic solution. The main problem is that India is not sure about what the Kashmir issue is, so a political will needs to be created. I think to take the issue to an international level will benefit Kashmir as it will provide an international check and balance on the actions of India, Pakistan and other countries involved such as Britain, and would hopefully influence positive change in this area, particularly for the people of Kashmir.

The speaker then established that New Delhi had disowned the part of Kashmir owned by Pakistan while retaining their part, however part of Kashmir was owned by China. So clearly Kashmir is split dramatically which is detrimental for their national identity. In addition to this, the Chinese were investing money and wanted the deeds from Pakistan but an issue arises here that if Pakistan agreed to give over the deeds then they agree to the partition which is not what they wanted. India had a control constitution but in 1973, in order to seek territory, India needed to amend their constitution because there was a constitutional limit to give up territory and while there is a constitution, India cannot disown territory or people.

So after a dispute spanning seventy years, India wants a partition but Pakistan wants a whole state. Hingorani then went on to stress the need to depoliticise the issue by making it subject to legal analysis. I think this is a valid point as if the countries are currently at a stalemate then it seems right to change tactics and focus the discourse on a different analysis to see if a solution can be found. We do not know how successful it will be, but the conflict has been going on for so long, it seems that any alternative is worth trying.

The narrative was established by the speaker as a constitutional framework. Both Pakistan and India were created by controlled constitutions, so the question is where India got the power to grant the wishes of the people. The same law that created Pakistan made Kashmir part of India. The main question presented by Hingorani was this, how did New Delhi have the power of accession when the law did not give them the power. The speaker went on to express that as a first step to depoliticise we should let the International Court of Justice test who has the title. John Harrington asked whether reference to the International Court of Justice would have any effect on the serious human rights violations in Kashmir. Hingorani responded by saying that in such conflict there are bound to be violations, and in India there has been reference to the domestic court- people want to see results.

 

At the point in the talk, Hingorani referred to his book that has been the basis of his discussion. He wanted to make clear that he wrote the book as an Indian. He then emphasized that law cannot resolve the issue but it can change political discourse. I think that this is powerful as if law is capable of changing the current discussion then the countries involved can attempt to get themselves out of the stalemate they have got themselves in. Hingorani was asked if he had visited Kashmir and he said that he deliberately had not visited as he did not want to be swayed by emotions as he written the book as a lawyer. The speaker expressed that he did not want to take sides as his book is from a jurisdictional perspective. I think this aspect is also important as it provides a rational view of how the conflict can try and be solved.

The speaker then established the current situation; Pakistan feels cheated and Kashmir feels backstabbed, and these are ingredients for terrorism. That is why, Hingorani said, that the political discourse needs to be changed. The problem is that there is unequal bargain power between India and Pakistan because if Pakistan disputes legal propositions then there is no Pakistan. Nonetheless, the UN has recognised Pakistan and India as sovereign countries, however Kashmir was recognised as part of India but not part of Pakistan.

The speaker concluded by relaying the realities of Kashmir. As a result of the partition it is a violent society, with part of the country being disowned by India. However, the country just wants to be independent and away from this 70 year old conflict. There has been terrible trauma as a result of the partition and all countries involved need closure. When a member of the audience asked Hingorani how he classed what is going on in Kashmir. The speaker reaffirmed that Kashmir want independence because they were promised it. The people of Kashmir are expressly being denied their human rights, these people are stateless.

Overall, I found Hingorani’s talk insightful as it offered a fresh perspective on how to resolve the ongoing conflict. Using law as a way to bring about change although uncertain in its effect, is an idea that is bound to help with relations between the countries by giving the discourse a different platform. In addition to this, it is really important to establish the history behind the conflict in order to understand the narrative that we need to address. It cannot be argued that this issue is not pressing as the current situation is having a detrimental effect of the human rights of the people of Kashmir.

 

The Orlando Mass-Shootings: Homophobia or Terrorism

Megan Griffiths

On the morning of the 12th of June, the world woke up to the news of a mass shooting in a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Another mass shooting. As the death toll in the Orlando shooting has increased to 49 people, debates on homophobia, terrorism and gun control have been stirred up. Mateen’s homophobic and religious motives are not mutually exclusive but entangled, and the events resonate painfully with both recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Ankara and Beirut but also, attacks on gay men and women in New Orleans and London.

In the next few days and weeks, as is the case with every act of violence, messages of solidarity, prayers and love will be sent from all over the world. Yet the range of different controversial issues will no doubt spark debate and will lead to an array of different perceptions of the deeper rooted issues in American society. It’s easy to point the finger towards terrorism, especially considering the inherent American fear of radical Islam. This crime cannot be simply ascribed to being an act of terrorism but as Obama pointed out, also an act of hate. According to Mateen’s father, Mateen became completely enraged when he and his young son saw two men kissing in Miami a few months back, and according to media speculation, it seems his sexuality may be more of a motivation for his actions than his religion. Statistics show that US Muslims are actually more likely to support same sex marriage (42%) than US evangelicals (28%) and are just as likely to support it as general US Christians, suggesting opposition to same sex relationships may not necessarily be a product of any particular religion but of their extremist factions.

T Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted early on Sunday morning a bible verse from Galatians 6:7 ‘Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.’ The very fact that a prominent political figure can take such an anti-gay stance in such a public way illustrates perfectly the depth of homophobia amongst certain Americans, and how, in some ways, it is actually accepted. A pastor from California gave an impassioned sermon on the shootings, lamenting that “The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!” He went on to add that “I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.” If a member of the Muslim community used these words, they would likely be used as newspaper headlines to inspire shock amongst people. But due to his supposedly ‘Christian’ faith, the effect is not the same. What is more, Trump’s use of the attack to forward his ideas on banning Muslim immigrants shows the extent of his ignorance on the state of his own country. Mateen was born in America. Whilst he undoubtedly had outside influences on his ideology throughout his life, he was also brought up in an American society where there is often some form of negative stigma on being gay. Politicians such as Trump will use the attack to ignore the flaws in society and place the blame on anyone but straight white Americans.

Of course, America has made real progress in legalising same-sex marriage and equality for homosexual and transgender people, and indeed does not see this as a crime unlike some countries around the world. Still, the fact that this took place in a LGBT club, during the national pride month, needs to be observed and we should reflect on the homophobia and transphobia that evidently still exists. We should not become complacent in how far we have come. An attack directly on LGBT people has shattered the security that many people had come to accept and has revealed the deeper roots of hate, prejudice and insecurity that have evidently been bubbling under the surface of society. Through the juxtaposition and intertwining of terrorism and homophobia in this particular case, it is impossible to extract one from the other.

Indeed, to some, it is easier to simply place the blame for his homophobia on his radicalisation. It is easier to continue our debates on ISIS and terrorism strategies than also consider our attitudes to gays and lesbians, often a slightly taboo subject at the best of times. Owen Jones’ reaction live on air on Sky News shows just how sensitive the situation is and how people’s perceptions of the attack differ. But this totally ignores the fact that Mateen was brought up in America and was therefore exposed to home-grown ignorance and anti-LGBT rhetoric in American society and government which itself leads to marginalisation and violence against the community on a day-to-day basis. He may be Muslim, but is this actually relevant when we consider how anti-LGBT policies are a fundamental mainstream in many parts of America, regardless of faith.

It would be interesting to ask ourselves if the dialogue surrounding the shootings would be different if Mateen was not a seemingly radicalised Muslim, but an anti-gay Christian acting in the name of God. Where does the fact that, completely aside from his faith, he is cited to be a violent and perhaps mentally unstable individual fit in? Would the event have taken on the shape of a less high-profile hate crime? Or merely another mass shooting? By solely labelling it as a ‘terrorist attack’ and linking it to ISIS, it inspires a specific response in us due to recent events attributed to ISIS. The fact that homophobia is not exclusive to a single religion or belief system means that we cannot allow ourselves to simply focus on this as an ISIS inspired terrorist attack. Much focus has been placed on the fact that the attack marks the deadliest domestic terror attack since 9/11 yet it is also the largest targeted attack on the LGBT community since the holocaust.

Increasing acts of terrorism around the globe, coupled with the European refugee crisis, have led to general negative shifts in attitudes towards immigrants and often, islamophobia, ordinary peaceful Muslims are tarred with the same brush as radicalised extremists, leading to ill-conceived fears of Islam itself. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the US and the rise of right wing movements in Europe have led to a general increase in ‘hatemongering’. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al- Hussein warned that ‘Hate is becoming mainstreamed’. We cannot afford to allow this latest attack to inspire yet more hatred and fear by using Mateen’s Muslim faith as a scapegoat and exploit his faith to forward political agendas on terrorism. To do so blatantly ignores the cracks in tolerance and acceptance within our society and towards the LGBT community. Homophobia, Transphobia and Islamophobia all come together under the same umbrella of hatred and it is not until we have dismantled them all that we can be completely peaceful.

The shows of humanity in Orlando as people go out of their way to help and the messages of solidarity and vigils for the victims and the LGBT community held all over the world show us that love can indeed win. But love will only win if we don’t allow tragedies like this to inspire yet more hatred towards other innocent people. We owe it to the 49 individuals who lost their lives and their families.

 

The Abu Qatada Show: Prejudice and Hatred versus the Right to a Fair Trial

Idealized_Lady_Justice_on_Old_Bailey,_London,_UK

Abu Qatada, public enemy number one, on trial by public opinion for over a decade, was last month acquitted of terror offences by a Jordanian court. The verdict was met with members of the British government and the opposition clambering to issue sound bites to the media about how vital it is that, despite being found innocent of this charge, Qatada would not be allowed back into the UK.

In one such desperate example, deputy Prime Minister and lame duck Nick Clegg has said that ‘What is absolutely clear to me is this man needed to face justice and needed to do so out of the United Kingdom and that’s what this government finally achieved.’

And despite his shameful attempt at defending the decade long campaign by the British government to deport Qatada by equating the government’s actions with justice, Clegg has unwittingly said something quite true. Qatada needed to face justice and needed to do so out of the United Kingdom – he certainly wasn’t going to face justice whilst he remained there. As Clegg said, the government has indeed finally achieved justice for Qatada by deporting him in order to face a fair trial after over a decade of attempts to unjustly deny him his freedom.

The whole fiasco was never, as the government claim, about justice. The real issue was that, if they failed to deport Qatada, the political establishment envisaged the unwashed masses, agitated by the sensationalist gutter press, lethargically marching to their local church hall to vote UKIP in the next election. The Qatada problem had captured the minds of the proles and they were annoyed. Things got political and it became a priority for the government – get rid of Qatada at all costs. The public agreed – out with Qatada or out with the politicians.

But the public’s judgement of the government’s actions had been skewed by underlying simmering prejudices which lead to the search for a scapegoat, an outlet at which the public could direct their anger and bile, a stereotype, pantomime villain type that encompasses all of what they see as wrong and ugly with Britain. The media tapped into this demand and obliged in building up such bogeymen as Qatada and Abu Hamza. Immigrant Muslims on benefits, the latter sporting an eye patch and hooks for hands for good measure, being kept in our green and pleasant land by another perpetual annoyance of the British public – European human rights laws.

Even though you would be hard pushed to find someone who has actually read up on Qatada’s views, the allegation that Qatada ‘hate’s Britain and British values’ was often erected as a façade to justify the deportation calls, yet even this was to miss the most important point of the whole affair, no matter how vile and depraved the clerics words.

Whilst there are legitimate arguments to be had over immigration, state benefits, the teachings of Islam and international human rights, in setting up this hate figure and calling for his deportation, along with the media, the British public are complicit in the political establishments attempt to erode what was until recently held as a fundamental right to all those residing in the United Kingdom. Whilst the public focused on the hate figure, under the shroud of detestation the British government did their best to circumvent the right to a fair trial.

Qatada astonishingly spent the best part of the 10 years up to 2012 at her Majesty’s pleasure despite never even being charged with any criminal offence, let alone being put on trial. Not content with this worrying and flagrant denial of basic rights of liberty which a British judge labelled ‘lamentable … extraordinary … [and] hardly, if at all, acceptable’, the British government then attempted to deport Qatada to Jordan to face trial over a terror plot despite the danger of torture being used by the Jordanian authorities to obtain evidence.

Not only did Qatada face standing trial with the use of compromised evidence but the judge reviewing Theresa May’s decision to deport Qatada to face trial in Jordan over a terrorist plot said that the evidence against Qatada was ‘extremely thin’. The Jordanian case against Qatada rested solely on the fact that he once bought a computer for another alleged terrorist. ‘If that’s the only evidence in the case’, said Justice Mitting, it’s difficult to understand on what basis… [Abu Qatada] could be prosecuted’. Despite such a damning ruling, it was the lawyers of the Home Secretary that disreputably claimed Qatada was ‘scraping the barrel’ in his attempt to avoid deportation when it was plainly apparent that it was the Government who were the barrel scrapers in their zealous case against Qatada.

After Qatada’s rights to a fair trial were secured by the UK and Jordan signing of a treaty containing assurances against torture evidence, Qatada was finally deported. With the final scene drawing to a close, our heroine, Theresa May was congratulated on finally defeating the pantomime villain, exiled to the east, never to stain our green and fertile land again. Yet, under much rejoicing from the British subjects and their news tellers, the real victor was ignored, or even blamed for delaying our home secretary’s triumph.

After the curtain falls on the tale of Abu Qatada, the audience should be leaving the Qatada Show feeling dirty and shameful. They experienced themselves screaming at the stage for the government to disregard basic human rights. In their hatred for the villain they booed and hissed at the British justice system as it, against public and government demand, stood firm and upheld the right to a fair trial. As the victorious wheels of justice turned, forcing the false heroine to sign fair trial guarantees into Qatada’s deportation treaty, in what should have been a humiliating climb down the public witnessed a home secretary and a government shamefully take credit for deporting a man they had spent over a decade attempting to illegally deny his freedom.

As the British public emerge blinking into the light, away from the seedy darkness of the media theatre that stirs up feelings of contempt and revulsion in its audience, one would hope that in the hard light of day they would see that they have acted shamefully and that Theresa May and the British government are not the heroes of this story, but are instead a real danger to our rights, not just those of the European Convention, but our British legal rights. One would hope but on the lessons of the Qatada affair, the prejudices of the people of the UK mean they will have to rely on the independence of the justice system to ensure their rights they seem so hostile against and so willing to squander.

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Benjamin Francis Owen is a regular contributor for WCIA Voices.