This poster was shared with me by a Jewish friend living in US. The poster supposedly preceded
the right winged extremist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, where one person was killed and 19 injured by one of the extremists.
Does the poster need any comment? Or can we just get a hands up from everyone who understands that what is going on is a return of a madness?
“If you hate an entire sect, group, community, region, religion, nation etc., then you have surely fallen prey to indoctrination.
You have been taught to hate, either by your own negative experiences, or by negative experiences/perceptions of others, or by agenda-driven propaganda.
Yes, true. You can also indoctrinate yourself (self-indoctrination) by leaving your critical faculties unused.
But, don’t worry!
A learned behavior can be changed. Just remain humble; tell yourself repeatedly that you are teachable.
There’s no shame in unlearning falsehood and embracing universal truths.”
Another, as expected, terrorist attack, another round of tensions getting high in all directions.
One of my friends wrote that he won’t add the Belgian flag because of the previous oppression of Congo, and that Belgium had brought this on to themselves.
Some friends were upset that the bombings in Belgium received more attention than the ones in Istanbul.
Some blamed the uncontrolled influx of refugees with terrorist sympathies; the failure of the European intelligence services; the failure of the social policies for integration in Europe.
A Kurdish friend of mine nailed it down like this:
“The existing ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy has recently gotten extremely ugly and inhumane.”
Heartbroken, as always, I scrolled though all these comments on social media. Then suddenly, this popped up. My Muslim Syrian friend who I gotten to know in Syria in 2013, a colleague whom I worked with, who has since gone to Belgium as a refugee, still struggling to rebuild his life, posted a public post on Facebook:
That for me, at least, became my own light in this darkness.
After Donald Trump’s horrifying statements regarding Muslim refugees, tensions have been high in social media, and therefore I was happily surprised to see a different kind of action.
A Jewish women’s group in US decided to start a movement under the hashtag #welcomethestranger, with this aim in mind:
“…to counter the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and corresponding legislative action recently taken by Congress (HR 4038) that would keep refugees in limbo until they are “certified” as not being a security threat. People who are fleeing for their lives. We must not let this come to pass in the Senate. please join us in this action of writing your representatives, and share additional actions you are taking. Now is the time.”
It will be interesting to see how far this campaign can reach. In this polarised and intolerant times, I decided to share this small, but for humanity so necessary action, with you.
Photo copyrights: Leah Katz Ahmadi
I was going to write about something else, I have done research for a Middle Eastern topic, as some readers know I love the Middle East and am dedicated to write about sides of this region that usually are unnoticed in the Western media.
But then there was the terror attack in Turkey. This photo supposedly shows activists from the Socialist Youth Association Federation, snapping a group selfie before the bomb blast in Suruc. Turkey, the country that has sailed up from poverty and created a large middle class and that hosts a vivid civil society – now pulled back by the murder machine of we-know-who.
Before that, it was the Eid blasts all over. On a holiday that is sacred to many.
Before that, there was Tunisia, a country where I was supposed to go visit friends in a few days time, in Tunis and Sousse, only having to cancel it when Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs changed their travel recommendation.
Before that there was the Charleston massacre.
So I lost my inspiration tonight. In this very moment, this is what I feel:
I think we will remember this time as a dark turning point in history, when dark powers started to outweigh the good ones, and terrorism conquered co-existence. May God help us, if he exists.
Photo copyright: unknown
Today I’m in Stockholm, Sweden, and participated in the memorial service for the victims of the Holocaust. It was cold, wet and dark and I listened to the Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfvén, who spoke some quite wise words.
“I refuse to listen to the sound of boots marching”, he said, and the audience cheered.
He spoke of how important it is to stand up to oppression of certain groups everywhere and reminded us of some current examples:
“Jews in Europe, Roma in Hungary and Romania, homosexuals in Russia.”
He spoke of tolerance and the importance of the international community showing support for marginalized groups and efusing to let hatred seep in and become normal. He spoke of the importance of such an extinction not to happen again. I appreciated his speach as I believe the current Swedish government – established after a lot of drama – won’t cooperate with the extreme right, and the Prime Minister’s words on a day like this are important.
A few attendants cried and afterwards there was going to be an official service with invited authorities, where among those the admirable organization Young Muslims Against Antisemitism were to participate. When the service wrapped up and we were to bring candles to the memorial statue of the victims of the Holocaust, it struck me that I recently did particpate in another memorial service. I took part of a memorial service for the 145 victims of the school massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan, a few days after it happened. It was an emotional service where we also lit candles and where most attendants cried floods for the young children who has been slaughtered in their own school.
That massacre no one mentioned today. And maybe it’s not surprising. The Peshawar massacre was an extinction that was mostly forgotten by the international media two days after it had happened. We talk about how it can’t happen again, but it’s going on right now in the time of the information age where we can’t say we don’t know. But when it’s not close to home it seems we can’t relate to it.
When leaving the ceremony today I thought of the quote of Friedrich Hegel that the interviewee Louis Yako once told me:
“‘The only thing we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history.“
Photo credit: globe-views.com
I wrote the post “Being from Gaza” during the Israeli attack on Gaza this summer when thousands of civilians died. Now news popped up the other day on the shooting during prayer time in a synagogue in Jerusalem and the predictable counterattacks by the Israeli army. I wanted to comment on the violence and then I found this quote on the Facebook page “Palestine Loves Israel“, a peacepromoting page (not a pro-Israel page) managed by a Palestinian. He captured things so well that I’d like to let his quote speak for itself.
“I’ve been managing this page for almost 3 years and during this time, I’ve met hundreds of amazing people from both sides and from every corner of the world. We’ve endured two wars together, we’ve celebrated our holidays together (who can forget the chanukka candles from Gaza?) and mourned our dead together. During all this time, I’ve never lost hope that one day, we can live as neighbors and friends in peace and prosperity. I don’t loose hope because I know we’re all in this together.
But in times like this, I see so much hatred on both sides. It’s painful to watch. What I see is always the same: It’s dehumanization. It’s easy to dehumanize the other side, to call them monsters, to hate them. It’s much easier than to try and find a solution. In times like this, it’s a very difficult thing to reach out to the other side, especially when there is so much pain. It’s a difficult thing to show compassion for “the enemy” when you’re supposed to be hating them. Reaching out to the other side despite the traumatic pain, despite the ongoing conflict is a heroic act. Dehumanizing and hating everyone on the other side is certainly easier. But it’s not helpful. It’s fueling the fire. And the vicious cycle of hate and revenge is going on and on…
In this project, I’ve met many heroes. I’ve met Palestinians and Israelis who reached out to each other, no matter what. Who said: “I’m sorry for your pain, I wish you well” in the middle of war. Who said: “I love you so much and say hi to your mom!” despite the ongoing conflict. I’ve met so many heroes… people who changed from extremists into peace workers. People who let go their hate and replaced it with compassion. So many heroes…
No, I don’t loose hope.
Please stay safe everyone and take good care of each other. These are troubled times but we will make it through together.“
Photocredit: abc.net.au (the photo is from a previous attack in Jerusalem)
Jews & Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies Facebookpage was started after the Israeli attack on Gaza and popped up on Facebook on July 10 – 16 day ago. In these 16 days the page has literally exploded with followers and people posting their own photos and comments, promoting friendship and love in a time of war. The page took many people by surprise, I included. Who were the people behind the page? I just had to find out, and the initiators were happy to share about themselves.
Abraham Gutman from Israel and Dania Darwish from Syria were classmates at Hunter College in New York and took a class in National Model United Nations together. They were both enjoying discussions about Middle Eastern politics even though they not always shared the same views.
“(We) don’t always agree but we never felt that our different opinions changed our friendship or caused any contingency between us”, Abraham says when I get in touch with them by e-mail.
They tell me that the goal of the page is to diffuse some of the hate and tension on social media platforms:
“In addition, this initiative aims to create a space for civil discourse between people who identify with divergent political ideas.”
I ask about how the page is a response to the current Israeli attacks on Gaza.
“We feel that the escalation between Israel and Gaza caused an escalation in the language that people use on social media. In regards to the conflict, political commentary became more hateful and more violent. Unfortunately, it is easy to hide behind a keyboard and say extreme statements. Although on some things we disagree, we both believe that it is important to support a cease fire and non-violent resistance.”
And how has the feedback been so far?
“We got a lot of criticism from various sides of the political spectrum but we were lucky that all the criticism was civil and respectful. We did get a lot of positive feedback from Israelis, Palestinians, and many types of people that fit into different ethnic and religious groups.”
Well, not everyone likes the page. After my e-mail exchange with Abraham and Dania, there have been a few hateful messages and photos posted by others on the page. Someone has written:
“Don’t tell me love between us… Love don’t exist between Arabs and Terroriste fuck you Isra-bitch”.
The same person ha uploaded a drawing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahi butchering Palestinians, receiving an anti-comment from someone saying:
“Aww poor Hamas, everyone is against you… stop crying, stop exploding your silly weak bombs, and Israel will stop defending Israel. It will save you some poor civilians.”
But among the overwhelming photos, comments and followers on the page – 31.450 at today’s date, – probably more when you read this – those are an absolute minority. The photos consist of people of different religions and ethnicities, most Jews and Muslims, who in one way or another are doing what the states on an international level are failing to do: coexisting. Photos showing couples kissing each other; mixed families with their children; people with one Jewish and one Muslim parent; best friends hugging each other. Most are holding up sheets with hand-written statements: “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies”; “Jew, Arab, both Semitic. Most importantly, both human”; “Mother Jewish, Father Palestinian, whatever we suffer hate makes it worse”.
With the announcement of today’s ceasefire of Israel’s attack on Gaza, the Jews & Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies page uploaded the following statement:
“With nearly 900 devastating deaths, a 12 hour humanitarian cease-fire is now in effect. We hope that our leaders can implement a solution in the Middle East that results in a permanent cease-fire in Israel/Palestine and an end to the siege in Gaza. The lives of all innocent civilians are too precious to be compromised by the reprehensible political nature of this conflict.”
After the ceasefire, maybe the world leaders could follow the path given of the success of a simple Facebook page, the path of coexistence?
Photo credit: Jews & Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies Facebook page
Stereotypes of young angry men are often used in order to incite fear of the other – that other that is so scary to us for reasons we might not know ourselves. This is a disease so common we don’t reflect upon it. Why was for example Trayvon Martin’s murderer released if it wasn’t for that justifying fear?
I’ve been afraid myself: growing up in the capital of Sweden didn’t spare me from class related tensions, often connected to ethnicity or color, and riding on the subway made me subject of things such as sexual harassment and girls spitting me in the face. I was a blonde middle class girl for all they knew and an easy target for whatever anger they needed to vent. And yes, I was afraid of young men, especially of color, who seemed angry.
Later on when I was grown and graduated university I worked as a substitute teacher while I hoped a job opening would come through. I took on jobs in the projects as the social aspect of teaching appealed to me. The job contained a lot more of steering off violent teenagers and spending time on the phone to the social services than what it contained teaching, and it was draining at times but I was dedicated and stayed on. In one school I had a particularly violent student, one of those who would have scared me when I was younger, a 13 year old boy that we can call Mostafa.
On good days Mostafa was happy with merely stabbing a sharpened pen in his school desk while repeating every word the teacher said in a mocking voice. The whole school seemed to be afraid of him. I dreaded classes with him but always tried to keep my cool. That plus a dose of discipline and kindness was my way of dealing with the students.
“I’m gonna destroy your presentation, you fucking bitch!” was one of his opening lines, to which I usually replied “Oh, really”, which always left him puzzled for a few seconds.
But despite our efforts to teach the kids we teachers never asked ourselves what the anger came from. We didn’t seem to have the energy to do the math of alienation, substandard housing, poverty. Isn’t that the fault of the whole society?
Now Mostafa was the child of immigrant parents from a Middle Eastern country and I mentioned once to the students that I had lived in his parents’ country of origin. Mostafa didn’t comment upon it but other kids asked me of the few words I had picked up in Arabic and Mostafa overheard it all. One day he banged on the door and demanded to be let in when I was preparing a class. He positioned himself on a desk and started to talk to me about his parent’s home country, as if he wanted to verify that it was really true I had lived there. We had a small conversation where he asked questions such as “Did you have friends there?” (“Yes, I did”), before he went out again.
After that day he slowly changed his behavior in my class. He stopped mocking me when I spoke. He stopped throwing things across the classroom. He tried to finish his exercises and left his desk to show me that he was writing (“Great, Mostafa. You’re doing really well”). Then the school semester came to an end, so did my temporary contract and the next semester I was teaching at a different school.
One evening there was a festival in our city and I was out with a friend to listen to some live music. When we approached the hiphop scene I suddenly heard a teenage voice calling my name:
It was Mostafa, whom I hadn’t seen since the end of the last semester. He had spotted me from the audience stage and suddenly stood above me.
“Hi Mostafa!” I answered with a smile, pleased to see him.
Back then I often – and I still actually do – ran in to former students who were happier to see me outside school than they had ever been seeing me inside of it. When bumping in to each other downtown many wanted to talk a little and tell me about their lives; some simply said hi; the most hardcore ones usually just nodded in recognition or ignored me. Not wanting to talk was to me understandable, as some of them dropped out of school and joined gangs, and this is nothing you want to admit to your former teacher. But nothing of what I could have expected had prepared me for Mostafa’s response that day: he jumped off the stage, threw himself in my arms, and buried his head in my shoulder. Perplexed I hugged him for a few amazing seconds.
“How are you? I’m fine! I gotta go!” He said all in once and then freed himself from my embrace, suddenly realizing what he had done; the hug of a former teacher in front of his friends, then set off and ran away.
I never saw him again, later on I heard that he was one of the kids to drop out of school, but I will never forget the hug that day. It changed my previous perception of young and angry men. In that very moment, the angry Mostafa whom everyone was so afraid of, was nowhere in sight.
Photo credit: mahwaff.com