|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
CSI is a popular US import on television containing drama, violence, detailed investigation, and false trails. In this case the initials stand for Crime Scene Investigation. In the Northern Ireland context ‘CSI’ also stands for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration, the proposed successor to the ‘Shared Future’ policy, emanating from OFMDFM (Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister). There is not much drama in the latter but it could be argued there are some false trails.
Northern Ireland is often labelled a ‘post-conflict’ society, and we know what that means; there are very few deaths from political conflict, a situation which some, particularly some smaller groupings on the republican side, would like to change. But Northern Ireland is not a ‘post-conflict’ society in the sense that ‘the conflict’ has gone away, emigrated or been resolved. The fault lines between Protestant and Catholic, and the political stands which these two religious labels usually represent, remain exactly as they were, although limited cooperation between the two takes place. The ‘peace process’ – if it is indeed a process – is an opportunity to address the ramifications of these fault lines and move the situation onwards and upwards. But this requires planning and work, work may require money and effort, and money and effort in good measure may be difficult to come by without government support, whether or not the recession is in full swing.
Cue CSI. The proposed policy from OFMDFM (the public consultation period has now closed – INNATE did make representations) is not so much an initiative as a restatement of some existing vague goals, and intended as a replacement for the 2005 document “A Shared Future”, adopted under the direct rule administration then. The only new initiatives mentioned are a couple of groupings at Stormont level – one a ministerial panel on CSI, the other an advisory panel of good relations practitioners, academics and others – and the proposal to bring the Community Relations Council (CRC) directly under the control of OFMDFM. The latter would effectively disempower the CRC which has been independent to date. The CSI consultation paper does raise the question as to whether the CRC should continue its funding role, and this question is fair enough. But to do away with the independence of the CRC as such, particularly in the context of leading parties who are not too gone on good/community relations work to begin with (cf swingeing cuts to community relations work with young people in the last Department of Education funding round, under the control of a Sinn Féin minister) is a retrograde step. There is also the question of trust in relation to the funding function; would OFMDFM funding control be trusted more or less than the current arrangement? Extremely doubtful.
What is lacking in the CSI proposals? Vision, imagination, concrete goals, critical analysis of the current situation and work which has been done, a strong understanding of the economic imperative for sharing (divided facilities cost far more), and a critical analysis of survey results where people may give the ‘respectable’ answers they think the interviewer might like. The proposals do mention ‘reducing and eventually eliminating segregated services’, and supporting shared and safe spaces for working, shopping, socialising and playing, but the lack of any targets, or concrete means of implementing this aim, means that this aim could be implemented some time this side of doomsday, or not as the case may be. There are no targets whatsoever in OFMDFM’s CSI document. An analysis of CSI, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, states that “To leave out ‘reconciliation’ totally in Cohesion permits a much more conservative reading of political aims, as if ‘mutual accommodation’ (7.1) is all that is required……the language of Cohesion……is one of autonomous and distinct ‘cultures’ which come in contact…….Change is something which may happen in the future.”
The most important ‘lack’ in the OFMDFM document is surely a clear analysis of what it would take to overcome the conflict in Northern Ireland. What would it take to overcome the divisions and conflict? Many things are needed but these include children growing up together, as far as possible being educated together, and adults working, living and socialising together. It is possible to have a society ‘at peace’ where there are two categories of people living separate lives cheek by jowl but living together is infinitely preferable for many reasons. Northern Ireland needs to move towards substantially living together. This cannot, or course, be done overnight, and there would be many steps and stages to this.
Educating and training people how to deal with conflict nonviolently is also an essential aspect. At the moment many people do not understand how they can get justice for ‘their’ issue without resorting to violence, and building a culture of justice, nonviolence and effective dealing with conflict is key. There will always be conflict in any society; if people know how they can handle it without violence, in a way which is effective for them, then they are not likely to feel the need to resort to violence. This is essential in a divided society like Northern Ireland. It should include universal education in mediation and in nonviolence in general, not as a means of placating anyone but as tools for justice.
The economic crisis is an opportunity, if one was needed, to move towards sharing. Northern Ireland cannot afford the cost of segregated facilities that is clear, and without developments which deal with removing the causes of conflict there is a question mark over economic development anyway. So why is the CSI document not clearly making the economic case for integration? Presumably because the parties represented do not actually want it. The parties behind the document, the DUP and Sinn Féin, have a modus vivendi (as opposed to the previous modus moriendi if our Latin is correct) that they do not want to disturb. A form of apartheid is fine with them and will not ruffle too many feathers. But to do nothing is to mean that in the longer term feathers will fly anyway; armed conflict of a significant level is not too far away in a society with the fault lines and culture of Northern Ireland.
The CSI proposals quote, without direct comment, Life and Times surveys which might indicate the people of Northern Ireland want great things; 92% would prefer to work in a mixed religion environment, 62% would prefer mixed religion schools, 80% to live in a mixed neighbourhood, 95% on each side (say they) respect the other’s culture. These answers do reflect a desire to live together in peace but presumably represent even more a desire to say the ‘nice’ thing in response to questions, to give a ‘respectable’ answer and impression. The reality is far different. 5% of children are educated together in integrated schools. The considerable majority of people live, shop and socialise separately and may go different directions from the one place to do so, depending on which religious label they have.
The CSI proposals do, in places, make the right noises and mention the right words – ‘shared safe places’, ‘mixed housing’, ‘respect for cultural diversity’. One particularly interesting part is where it states; “It is also important that shared spaces and facilities are welcoming to everyone from the community. This does not mean “neutralising” the area or facilities but creating a good and harmonious environment which removes any perceived threat and reflects and welcomes differing cultures and minority ethnic groups.” This paragraph ticks a number of boxes but what it does not explore is how an area or facilities which retain a particular identity can be welcoming; it is precisely ‘flags and emblems’ on one side or another which both tend to identify an area and simultaneously make it unwelcoming for ‘the other’. We are not saying that an area which retains a particular identity cannot be welcoming for others but that these proposals simply do not explore or suggest how this could possibly be done. Without a huge amount of work and exploration this is simply impossible.
The draft CSI plan is a lost opportunity to install a policy which is both practical and radical that will really challenge the people of Northern Ireland to move on together. You cannot force anyone to do anything. But you can plan, build, incentivise, try to form a culture of sharing and respect. This has to be in the context of a vision which seeks the transformation of political and social cultures which have had identities which have been largely defined in opposition to each other. Instead, the vision can be of cultures which work together – this is already happening in some ways at community level in interface and other areas – but the vision needs to be clear, and enunciated at every level. Each needs the other. Regretfully, the current CSI proposals look more like each needs the other to be out of their way much of the time, and does not explore how they can really live together in peace.
Breaking into the cycles of violence is one of the aims of nonviolence. You could say other aims include empowerment of ordinary people, and justice, as well, obviously, the aim of establishing peace.
We have had two text book examples recently from home and abroad of how violence begets violence. One came from the WikiLeaks information on Iraq which showed the terrible abuse, violence and death inflicted by pro-Coalition forces while the USA and UK stood by. The other came in the ‘Voices from the grave’ programme on RTE, based on the book by Ed Maloney, of the stories of Brendan Hughes and David Ervine, both of whom got involved in the violent struggle in the North through violence being inflicted by what they saw as the other side, and their sense of indignation and injustice at this. For Brendan Hughes the turning point was the infamous Falls curfew, for David Ervine it was Bloody Friday in Belfast.
The myth of redemptive violence is a very pervasive one. Tony Blair and George Bush clearly believed they were going to do great things in Iraq. What they did, in effect, was totally destabilise the country, let loose sectarian demons (not least, currently, against Christians), and replicate some of the terror which Saddam Hussein had exercised during his tenure of power. The lasting achievements of the Iraq war are hard to see. The negative effects of war, alas, are all too clear to see and the recent information shows that, contrary to what we were told, the US did indeed keep an complete record of those killed, more than had previously been thought.
The Troubles in Northern Ireland may have been a step down the index of war compared to Iraq, or Afghanistan, but it had a violent conflict which was severely traumatic for many and has refixed the divisions which existed. Even a small war, like that that in Northern Ireland, leaves a trail of misery and destruction which is hard to heal.
The way forward is nonviolence. This does not mean tolerating injustice but it does mean dealing with it in a way which will not perpetrate conflict and pass the baton of violence on to the younger generation and thereby to the yet unborn. What is required is imagination and not armies, of whatever size or complexion, to see how violence and injustice can be overcome in a way which carries the seeds of peace.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
At the time of writing this column the 10th conference of the Convention of Biological Diversity in Nagoya, China is in session. This is a critical conference as the ecological health of the Earth is as important to human survival as climate change. Aside from this, as non-human life forms have intrinsic value, we as the most technologically versatile of species, should consider ourselves obliged to protect their right to life.
The aim of the conference is to set targets for biodiversity protection including controlling invasive species and conserving at least 10 per cent of all the world’s major biomes. Agreement will be sought on the equitable and sustainable use of genetic resources. It is expected that rich countries will pledge funds to help the economically poor, albeit bio-rich countries protect their wildlife. The aims of the conference are laudable but the record shows that rich countries usually do not pay the funds they promise, and that governments and corporations blithely destroy nonhuman nature when it suits them.
If the Earth were a person it would be considered to be terminally ill. The Evolution Lost report, published in the journal Science, informs us that populations of mammals, bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish species have declined by an average of 30% in the past 40 years. Worldwide, 5m to 10m hectares of agricultural land are being lost annually. With the human population, presently at 6.7 billion, expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, the decline of biodiversity can only accelerate.
It is not only governments that need to address environmental issues, we all do. The question we should address in classrooms, television and radio studios, places of worship, at the dinner table and in the pub is why we consider ecocide a morally neutral issue?
The intentional killing of humans is considered murder, why is the intentional killing of non-human animals such as orang-utans not considered in the same light? They are sentient creatures like us, highly intelligent, cultured, love their children and mourn their dead. Another example of lack of moral consistency is that faith groups, corporations and governments consider it wrong to deface public property, (great press is made of youth vandalism), but have no moral qualms about investing money in corporations that fell and burn tropical rainforests, killing all the life-forms within, in order that mono-crops such as oil palm and pineapples can be produced.
The fact of the matter is that until we include nonhuman nature within the boundaries of our moral code we will continue to exterminate other life-forms without constraint, and create dead zones across the globe through building roads, dams and factories, poisoning the soil, water and air. If we continue to do this we will be the authors of our own demise, if not extinction.
If we are to include nonhuman nature within our moral code, and I think it is imperative we do, we have to nurture a sense of connection with it and recognise that it has intrinsic value. It is the absence of such that enables a U.S. soldier in the Nevada Desert to press a button and kill a family in a village in Afghanistan without the sense of knowing he has done anything wrong. The soldiers who press these buttons have no connection, bonding, empathy or sense of sharing with the people they kill.
Our well-being and the well-being of other species lies not so much in environmental conferences, important as these are, but in developing a sense of connection and appreciation of nonhuman nature. One way we can do this is through using our educational agencies to teach us to love and respect nonhuman nature in the same way we use them to teach us to love and respect each other.
Reflections by Maia Brown
on The Human Cost of War arpilleras & quilts exhibition & associated activities , Tower Museum, Heritage and Museum Service, Derry City Council
November 2010 – January 2011
My mother was evacuated during the war in England, but I never knew until after she had died. My Auntie told me, but my mother never talked about it. I do not know if it was a traumatizing experience or whether it felt like a holiday. She did not talk much at all about her past or her feelings. That is why I show her here with no mouth. I think about how things might have been if my mother had been a different person and talked more about her history.
I wanted to think about children being evacuated from war, but quickly it became about myself. When I was evacuated during the war in Germany I took my favorite puppet with me that had its own satchel. Sometime during the war I lost it. But my mother had sewn our name and address inside the satchel and a few years after the war, after we had returned, the satchel with my puppet inside appeared on the doorstep.
These two contributions to the arpillera workshop “An Emotional View of Evacuation in Wartime,” hung in the air with particular weight. That day, sitting in Northern Ireland, as workshop participants, we were witness to two stories of a similar experience from the opposing sides of the Second World War. Women from around the globe, artists, textile enthusiasts, art therapy practitioners, activists, museum curators, and musicians, gathered in the Tower Museum for the quilt and arpillera exhibition, The Human Cost of War and associated activities such as workshops and round tables, among others. The Latin American tradition of arpilleras—hand-sewn and appliquéd textile pictures—holds within it histories of nonviolent activism and of women’s survival and strength. For the exhibition’s curator, Roberta Bacic, the focus of her work with arpilleras and textiles with a story “is always on the contribution to memory, resistance, testimony through nonviolent practice and community building and sharing.” For Pilar López from Fundacio Sant Roc, Badalona, traveling from Spain to attend the exhibition, arpilleras create an environment that enriches and deepens what she already knows about the power of art and its role in antiwar activism.
During this particular workshop, we had spent the day creating images of the effects of evacuation on children. I told the story of my relative’s escape to the USA from Germany on the last boat out before Kristallnacht and my own childhood of growing up in Seattle, Washington, in an Arab-Jewish community. I have grown up hearing family stories of evacuation, displacement, exile, and slaughter from both Palestinian North Americans and North American Jews. And, that day in the workshop, I explained how I have come to believe that denying the horrors of Israeli occupation does an injustice to both communities, that the separation barrier does more than separate Israeli Jews and Palestinians, more than separate Arabs and Jews in other corners of the world by implication, as it separates Jews from their own histories of exile and persecution that should be a lesson to us.
Spending a day stitching our stories together, we can see how they change before our eyes, sewn with new layers of significance. They become documents not only of personal histories but also of social and geographic histories. “It is like a kind of archive” one participant commented. The exhibition that takes life and enriches it with workshops and presentations features the sewn histories of dictatorship, civil war, occupation, and the violence of poverty, displaying work from Chile, Peru, Spain, Germany, England and Northern Ireland. The stitched and embroidered scenes capture particular moments of societies at war and reflect on the past as well as current atrocities: Soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the horrors of the war on Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009, to highlight two themes.
“The history of stitch and fabric and women”
Women attending these workshops came to arpilleras in many different ways. Janet Wilkinson, co-facilitator with Susan Beck of a recent series of arpillera workshops in Liverpool as a part of the Liverpool Irish Festival 2008, described her connection to arpilleras through her background in textiles in this way: “Textiles are a part of me and have been for a long time. The history of stitch and fabric and women.” When beginning to facilitate the Liverpool workshops that followed the exhibition Threads of Life: Quilts and arpilleras that speak out, curated by Roberta Bacic, what immediately struck her was the connection between the visual and the oral in the process of creating arpilleras—the time and space it creates for storytelling. “It is in the very nature of sitting in a group to sew that you create space and make time. The pace of hand-sewing is slow.” And that time, when you are “held within the group—the sewing circle,” is important when sharing traumatic stories, sometimes for the first time.
“There is also something about the visual part of it,” she added, “You can do it without words, which was useful in the work in Liverpool since we had such diverse groups some of whom had very little English.” Many participants reflected on the conversations and linguistic richness that arose from their arpillera workshops—the visual gave voice to participants who might not otherwise be to share their stories because of language barriers. The exhibition itself has been filled with different languages and individuals finding creative ways to communicate.
Translation and communication seemed profound themes throughout the week. Not only were participants operating in many different languages, but other translations were at play: the ways in which oral storytelling translates into the visual textile, the way that the stitched scene is then translated back into the word through the conversations and debates that it stimulates. In many ways, these pieces would not exist without the oral aspect that surrounds them during their creation and their entry into public space. Having the exhibition in Northern Ireland, a place where murals have great cultural and political significance, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a local Belfast muralist. He said that he sees painting murals as a very verbal act. The process of painting a mural is as much about the conversations that happen in the community around the mural as it is about the finished work. For him it is about the times when he is painting and he hears a child ask his grandfather what that picture is about. As a muralist, he sees himself as the instigator of intergenerational conversations, the preserver of communal histories and of a kind of political resistance to dominant narratives.
The Tower Museum exhibition focuses on this last translation from the visual to a tool of resistance and social justice. We are asked: When the “human cost of war” is depicted—the stories of horror and hardship sewn intricately and strangely beautiful—how does that translate into social action? In Chile, documenting the human rights abuses of the Pinochet dictatorship through textile spoke truth to power, raising awareness and fueling an international solidarity movement with those resisting repression. Similarly, after official violent conflict has ended, arpilleras become objects and processes of commemoration and witness. Can we then ask how they contribute not only to individual or family memory but to the larger truth of recovery and reconciliation efforts? As one artist said of her work in the exhibition: “I do not want to evoke compassion but change.” What is the process of translation that we want to see—from art to social change, from systemic violence to a just peace?
Many current arpillera projects balance a methodological linkage to art therapy—a sense that sewing one’s stories in community can provide a kind of healing and transformation on a personal level—with a hope that the use of public (often museum) spaces has the possibility of raising awareness of the larger social issues that contextualize individual stories. Janet Wilkinson described one Liverpool participant who spent a day sewing her home in Iraq in flames after a bombing. She spoke very little English and none of her co-workers knew what she had escaped or what being a civilian in Iraq meant before she created the piece: “I don’t think we really anticipated how important this project would be to some individuals. There are some that I think had substantial life changes through doing these workshops.”
“I think the many different ways you can tell stories has come out of this conference.”
Most cultures have traditions of stitch and textile—quilting and weaving that tell the stories of generations of ancestors. In each context, these traditions fight against forgetting, and the act of remembering is initiated from women’s spaces. The song, “The Women Sew,” composed by Sue Gilmurray, a musician and songwriter who has been inspired by the histories of arpilleras, explores the power of this form of women’s memory: “Then the women sew, and their stitches shout against violent power shutting justice out; with a grip on rage that they won’t let go, see their fingers fight as the women sew.” Here, Gilmurray explores how the domestic and the quotidian of women’s “craft” can become a radical space that gives voice to marginalized histories and current realities of oppression.
One workshop participant commented that the exhibition has made clear that the making of arpilleras seems to be spreading very quickly and is being used in many different ways towards different ends. One woman from Barcelona has begun to work with individuals with disabilities, particularly in mental health work, while others are working with children or the elderly. Janet Wilkinson argues that creating arpilleras has been “affecting people’s lives in a positive way and all through stitch.”
Without simplifying the artistic merely as a means to an end, however, I believe the power of the arpillera is the knowledge that stitching is not enough. There is something that happens before, during and after the act of sewing, the act of creation, which translates the marriage of color, form, and texture into a radical act of speaking truth—stimulating a society to look at itself and make a change. The challenge to all of us is to find the justice within the creative process and demand it of the larger world.
- The exhibition catalogue is available here.
Ali Gohar, founder and guide of Just Peace International in Peshawar, Pakistan, visited INNATE in September 2010 and while here spoke to Rob Fairmichael –
Rob Fairmichael – Ali, how would you describe yourself?
Ali Gohar – I’m Ali Gohar, I’m from North-West Frontier Province, now called Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa. Here there are 24 districts, 7 tribal Agencies, with different administrative set up; I am from Swabi district, I was brought up in Swabi and got my education there. Then higher education in Islamabad University and after that I got a job in Afghan refugee social welfare cell. There is a great difference in social welfare between here and there, there it means dealing with every social issue. Within three or four years I got triple promotion and I reached the top of the organisation as Additional commissioner, I was responsible for the whole province, at that time 3.2 million Afghan refugees, and in my province there were 258 villages where we set up male and female committees. For the men we called it ‘jirga’, for the women ‘committee’, then youth groups, children’s groups, disabled groups. In our culture we call social work, ‘Ashar’, but the modern social work concept was not that much known, especially to the Afghan refugees.
I was there until 2001 in the capacity of Additional Commissioner for Social Welfare. In 2001 I got a Fulbright Scholarship for conflict transformation degree programme and I went to the US. 9/11 took place while I was studying there. Coming back in 2003 I decided that now was a good time to specifically focus on peace work. I started the NGO Just Peace International, actually I had developed the idea in the US because one of my friends there, she came to Pakistan and saw my work and advised me that I must have my own platform for working independently otherwise in the government setup there are a lot of restrictions. She helped me with this and I registered the NGO in the US in 2002. Here in Pakistan I got an office and started work and developing a network.
People were aware of me a bit because also I wrote dramas, and many articles in the newspapers, on social work, mental health and community development, and was on TV on different discussions. But from then on I started specifically on peace-building and conflict transformation. I also introduced Restorative Justice which is in our culture very similar to our jirga system. But in the jirga the decision making is a bit different compared to Restorative Justice.
Rob – There is a lot of information on Jirga on the website –
Ali – Yes, people can look at that. The NGO was registered in Pakistan in 2005 and we set up projects on conflict transformation, peace building and that. I was also selected by the Afghan government, the project funded by EU, as a training specialist to train the first batch of the Afghan government eight ministries TOT’s [Training of Trainers] in social work. I developed a manual and then trained them for one and a half months in social work. Later I was appointed as a Technical Advisor to the Social Welfare Ministry for another six months. The Ministry authorities asked me to stay but I left because of security reasons.
In between 2004 and 2006 I implemented a very heavy project funded by Oxfam GB, ‘We can end honour killing’, it was a campaign on ending domestic violence and honour killing. Especially women are killed, in the name of ‘honour’, on an annual basis 2,000 women are killed only in one year in 2004, which are reported, but the unreported figure is much higher. Men are also killed. This campaign was for two years, working at grassroots, to sensitise and change the behaviour, attitude of people on domestic violence and honour killing.
Rob – we have shared a month together in the last year on a course with the Women Peacemakers Program on gender and peacemaking. Would you like to say something about how you see that whole area?
Ali – It was very informative and helpful for my work. And the things that I learnt there I included in my training manual. for behaviour change, how we socialise daughters and sons, that there should be equality. In conflict men are mostly in the front line but what role can women play? Women can play a very peaceful role in that, but how to bring them forward, that women help men to calm down their emotions, through storytelling, religious stories, and practically. Traditionally there has been a lot of cruelty to women but we have a lot of respect for women in our Pukhtoon belt too; if a woman comes and intervenes in a fight in between the men, the fight will stop because of the respect. In a woman come with a Qur’an, and she throws her veil at the feet of the men, suddenly everything will stop, out of respect to the woman.
I also include in the manuals about of domestic violence, how women and men can resolve their issues peacefully, and I trained my trainers, male and female both. If you deal with gender issues directly it is not very acceptable being our community very traditional, and if you speak of nonviolence directly, because the war is going on in our area, it is not much acceptable. But if you include it in conflict transformation and peace building in the manual with other aspect of conflict transformation, people understand it very well and take it and implement it.
Rob – What about Bacha Khan, in relation to some people thinking of Pakhtoon/Pukhtoon culture being inherently violent?
Ali – Bacha Khan was a man who started nonviolent resistance in 1910. He organised a 100,000 army, totally nonviolent. You can see the story on the website. If you approach Pukhtoon through peaceful means, you will find them very nonviolent and friendly. There is one of his quotations that the Pukhtoon, "He will go with you to hell if you can win his heart, but you cannot force them even to go to heaven.” If you go and sit with them, and talk to them, peacefully they will be with you, they are very good friends but they are very bad enemies also.
I wrote in 2001 that the solution to Afghanistan is only through jirga. It is 2010 now and the force did not work. Bacha Khan organised an army of 100,000. Why should this not be reorganised now. This was before Gandhi who came back to India in 1915.
Rob – This was a mixture of resistance to British occupation and self reliance.
Ali – Yes. In many places they were killed by the British army. They put away their rifles and worked nonviolently with Bacha Khan. Because of his friendship with Gandhi he was declared a traitor, and pro-Hindu. But Gandhi was killed because he was considered pro-Muslim. He is buried in Jalalabad in Afghanistan. In three months he visited 500 villages on foot, and he asked people to throw away their rifles. And he worked against enmities and feuds inside the country as well; he reconciled many people and then asked them to go with him, with this nonviolent resistance he faced the British.
Rob – What areas of work which Just Peace International have going at the moment?
Ali – We have one project on alternative dispute resolution. It started in two districts, then extended to seven, and now extended to twelve. This is in one province of Khyber Pakhunkhwa, in another province of Baluchistan we have a project on alternative dispute resolution and community policing, and in my province there is diversion, for juveniles, to divert their cases from court and police station, and resolve it in the community through the elders’ jirga. Another project is on victims of torture which is now finished. Now, because of the flood, most of our regular programme was suspended for the time being because of heavy losses. We got involved in flood relief. Another project was on sanitation and washing facilities which is not relevant to peacebuilding but very relevant for the people, in the tribal area; there were no washrooms and latrines for the females at school and they were going to the fields. And this stopped females going to school. So we thought that if we developed some washrooms and bathroom
s for them, UNICEF helped us, and the girls started coming to school now, they have access to female washrooms in the school.
We have a storytelling project in the pipeline, hopefully to be funded by USIP, and ‘The world is only one creation’, on good practices of youth. In association with eleven international NGOs, led by the Italian Ceise, there is the project ‘Give more space to girls’ in development. With UNDP we are going to start a mediation centre, in our province.
Rob – What kind of mediation?
Al - Individual, court referred, community referred mediation, and restorative justice is already there. Now I am planning in Bradford also to start small project, especially on the domestic violence issue, inter-faith harmony, non-violence and how to divert the youth have coming out of the control of their elders, how they can learn our tradition and customs of peacebuilding which exists back at home.
Rob – Can you say something about the connection you would see between Islam and peace or peacemaking?
Ali – Islam is a religion of peace, to me and to everyone. The first thing is in the greeting ‘Salaam aleikum’, peace be with you. ‘Jihad’ means struggle and utmost struggle for any things you want to achieve. Each religion is based on peace, like Islam. But some people interpret it in a different way. There were 73 wars in the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), 70 were defensive, and 3 were retaliation when there were attacks from very close. We have an eye for an eye, a hand for a hand, in Islam, but if you forgive someone, God say the reward is with me. Forgiveness is highly valued in Islam. You have no right to take the law into your hands, if there is a murder, you need two witnesses in the court, and it is the judge who decides. If there is a jihad it will be declared by a government, in that case they have with a threat to religion and to the country.
But there are misconceptions and stereotypes against each other, and blame for this religion or that. To me every religion is based on peace. For me in every religion there is a peaceful way, and Islam is the same. We have the shura in Islam where we discuss the any matter related to individual of community according to the teaching of Islam peacefully, The Holy Prophet (PBUH) in any matters he discussed it in the group, and asked the group what to do. His companions gave him advice, where there was disagreement they waited for God’s revelation. All this is done on a consensus basis.
If you are fighting, there are many human rights values which come from 1400 years ago. If someone takes shelter in synagogue or church or mosque he is exempted. If someone is old, women or children, they are exempted. If someone runs away he is exempted. You will not cut a tree, destroy a crop, you will not kill animals, and you will not poison streams or wells where people are fetching water. You will only fight with those who are fighting with you. That is the essence of Islam. If you catch someone, and he compensates you, you are allowed to leave him. Or he can do something, like in the Holy Prophet’s(PBHU) time, some of the prisoners did community work, teaching Arabic to the youth, and they were released.
To some modern feminists, Mohammad, peace be upon him, was the first feminist; he worked at home, he stopped practices such as women being buried alive, he forgave the murder of his own uncle. In Islam you focus more on your own change. When we are internally at peace, externally we are also at peace. So that is why when we greet each other we say, ‘Peace be with you’, I am sending you a peace message.
So far as interfaith matters are concerned, why not take good things from each religion? In Islam, God said to the Holy Prophet (PBUH), your job is not to change someone from being one faith (Hadayath) to another; your job is to convey the message. The changing of the faith (Hadayath) or whatever is up to God. In Islam we believe in all the books, any disrespect to any prophet or any book means we are not Muslim. So there should also be respect from other religions for Islam. In the Qur’an there is the name of Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, all are there with there stories.
In the Qur’an there is that if you save the life of one person, you save the life of the whole universe, and if you kill one person, you kill the whole of humanity.
Rob – Unfortunately there is a big war continuing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Can you say something about how you see that?
Ali – The war started with Russia, the mujahidin who were considered freedom fighters are now terrorists. To a lay person in Pakistan or Afghanistan people in uniform, if they are Russian, anyone from the west, they are occupants of their land, they are with rifle, their name is peacekeepers but they are not because they are so worried about their own safety and security, so how will they provide safety and security to others. Both Russia and the west are considered enemies. If you want to bring democracy and human rights, bring it the peaceful way, not with force. The Afghanistan history is that they never accept rule by anyone, and if anyone uses force they retaliate, and eventually they withdraw, run away. After ten years there is no change, the things are the same. The people who are resisting are increasing, not decreasing; they were in Afghanistan first, now they came to Pakistan.
Rob – The Pukhtoon area includes the north-west of Pakistan.
Ali – The people from our area fought with the Afghans. Now they are also coming to our area, our people are going to there area. It is 1,260 miles of very dangerous and porous border, between Pakistan and Afghanistan, no one can stop you or see, it is hilly and forest. Then the tribes are divided across the border so there is a lot of interaction. Only talks, sitting with them, some are good guys, some are bad guys, some are moderate guys, and address development as well as security. Without development, it is very poor area, it is impossible. The rifle is like the ornament of the man. Women have rings and bangles, each man has a rifle in their hand and they are traditionally fighters, and got a lot of training in the Afghan war.
Rob – If people sit down and talk would you be optimistic that there can be a settlement?
Ali – Sure. There is a way, I already mentioned about jirga. You can do it on a tribal basis, sit with them, and stop the army, start development, what they want, not what you want, roads and construction. The people are hungry, they want food, and immediate needs fulfilled. Slowly and gradually, instead of a stick give them a carrot.
Thank you to all the friends I have met in Northern Ireland, I had a very good exchange of views with different people and I learned a lot. You faced the same situation which we face now; I will pray that your agreement for peace will continue. Pray for us also that we should be at peace; everyone is terrorised, everyone is mentally tortured, everyone is worried when they go out in the morning from home. There are a lot of target killings, suicide killings and kidnaps. I want that the nonviolence, peace and restorative justice work that you do here you should do it also in our country.
Just Peace International website: justpeaceint.org
Ali Gohar photo, taken in Belfast
This is the text only of a leaflet from the Steps Into Dialogue Project of Community Dialogue – the full leaflet is available from them at the address at the end of this piece.
Here are some views about where we’re at:
“The war is over. We have our own parliament in Stormont. We’re on our way to a United Ireland”.
“The war is over. Republicans keep talking about a United Ireland to cover their backs, but that’s all right, as long as we’re still in the Union”.
“The terror continues. The Belfast Agreement compromised with evil by allowing terrorists into government. Now we give in on every issue and the greening of Northern Ireland is ongoing”.
In his first speech as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (07.06.10), Rev. Dr. Norman Hamilton saw sectarianism as “the demon among us”, and said that it is spread right across Northern Ireland (PSNI figures show a 25% rise in sectarian incidents over the past year). He believed that we have settled into;
“a social apartheid, where it is very comfortable to live without any meaningful contact with folks who are different from us”.
While the Northern Ireland Executive has just launched the draft Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (28.07.10), Norman saw the initial lengthy failure of politicians to agree a community relations strategy as “a public disgrace”; one that was heightened by the failure of wider society to be concerned by it.
Some Questions To Consider
We are more segregated now than we were in 1998 at the time of the Belfast Agreement. Why?
don’t like each other? What is it about them that YOU don’t like?
For security? If so, against whom? What are YOU afraid of?
Maybe it has nothing to do with fear; maybe we just
Would YOU live in a mixed area?
Who would YOU welcome to live in your neighbourhood; Travellers, Protestants, Latvians, Catholics, Nigerians, Gays?
Is our children’s future best served by segregated education or does this foster mistrust, suspicion and sectarianism? What do YOU think?
Do YOU have a vision of what a shared future might look like? What needs to be one to make it work?
Questions For Different Groups To Consider
For Supporters Of A Shared Future:
Who would YOU not want living in your area as your new neighbours?
For Christian Churches:
Jesus says he wants unity among his followers (John 17), yet you worship in separate Churches every Sunday. What should YOU do about this?
You want a United Ireland built on equality, human rights and respect, yet most Protestants do not see space for their identity in your future. Have YOU really listened to how they feel and think?
What does Unionism stand for today? How can Nationalists see a future for themselves in your vision for the future? Have YOU asked them?
For the Loyal Orders and Bands:
You want to promote Protestant values and culture. Some of you have tried to do this by engaging in dialogue with Nationalists and Republicans, but have YOU? If not, why should they respect your culture?
For Violent Dissident Republicans:
You are trying to expel the British Government from Northern Ireland by using violence. Who gives you authority to do this? Why should the rest of the population accept the future YOU want to impose on them?
For Loyalist Paramilitaries:
Why do you still exist? To protect the Protestant people? What from? Have YOU asked your communities what they really want from you?
Community Dialogue received funding under the Special European Union Peace III Programme to deliver ‘Steps into Dialogue’. The goal of this project is to use dialogue as a mechanism that enables people affected by the conflict to understand more deeply where they and others are coming from. Through this process, Community Dialogue hopes to ensure that people can move forward to a more peaceful future together. Community Dialogue, LINC Resource Centre, 218 York Street, Belfast BT15 1GY, ph 028 90351450
Email: email@example.com and web www.communitydialogue.org