'Just World News' by Helena Cobban
Info, analysis, discussion-- to build a more just world.


May 30, 2003  

THE NEXUS BETWEEN GENOCIDE AND WAR: Last night, I watched "The Pianist". Again. The first time was back at the beginning of the month, in Johannesburg. But last night, my spouse brought the video home from the video store. So I decided to sit down and watch it again, with him. It is a remarkable, gut-wrenching movie. Adrien Brody has such a haunting, haunted face, and plays the expressions on it like a true maestro. The story only occasionally seemed overdone. (A couple of tropes apparently borrowed from other people's trails of tears: the Gestapo-forcing-the-Jews-to-dance thing; the woman-who-had-to-smother-her-own-baby thing. But who knows? Maybe those were in Szpilman's original book, and before that, in his life. In which case, forget what I said about tropes.) Generally, the movie takes you right along with Vladek as his family is squeezed by the Nazis' ever-increasing encroachments on their lives and liberties. He loses everyone and everything around him. And he gains-- well, he gains an other-worldly personal affect even as the story of what happens to him becomes more and more "fantastickal". As well as deadly true and truly deadly. The movie almost takes you inside the experience of being the survivor of a genocide. Of course, as I watched it, I remembered survivors' narratives that I heard from people I interviewed last year, in Rwanda. In some of the movie's early scenes, firstly as ever more and more restrictions were placed on Warsaw's Jews, and then as they were herded into the tight confines of the ghetto, I thought of the current travails of my Palestinian friends... But the movie also reminded me of something I first started reflecting on some weeks ago: namely, that while hate-inciters and other various assorted sickoes can be found in every society, it seems to be only in the circumstances of an all-out war that such people and grouplets actually get to act out the full sickness of their genocidal ambitions. I think this feels like a fairly significant insight. Think of Germany, think of Rwanda, think of Saddam's Anfal campaign. All of them carried out under the "fog of war". This is NOT to say, at all, that genocide is "just another one of the things that gets to happen in war." It is NOT just another "excess" of the war situation. It deserves to be treated seriously, and with deep opprobrium. (There is something in me that says that the twice-over intentionality that is built into all the international-law definitions of genocide may, however, be a bit overblown. The central tragedy of a genocide seems to me to be--as Gerard Prunier remarked in a discussion I had with him in 2001, that it wipes out "everything that might be a vehicle through which a person might hope to leave any personal legacy in the world." But then, if your entire ethnic or religious or whatever kind of group ends up getting wiped out because of, say, avoidable famine or some such cause, does that feel any different to a victim from being wiped out because someone hates your particular group? I don't think so. Indeed, you could say that being genocided because of intention pays the target group more heed--even if heed of the most hateful kind--than being genocided out of sheer inattention...) Be that as it may. I postulate that the reason for the nexus between genocide and war is because, in time of war, so many of people's "normal" inhibitions--and primarily, the normal inhibition against killing-- have to be suppressed. This then allows sick individuals and grouplets who advocate genocidal, mass killings to gain a much wider and more sympathetic hearing than they could ever get in normal times. Plus, there is all the fear and hysteria of war-time discourse: the frequently exaggerated fears of hostile "fifth columns" whose members--often thought in many people's minds to be members of a certain rethnic or religious group-- need to be rooted out. Etc., etc. So here's a simple policy prescription. If this nexus exists, then one very effect way to "prevent" genocide-- an obligation that the 1948 Genocide Convention lays on all members of the international community-- would be to prevent war. Tell me what YOU think.

posted by helena at 5/30/2003 06:40:00 PM | link


May 29, 2003  

A SOUTH AFRICAN IN VIRGINIA: Emily Mnisi is an ethnic Sothu with a Master's degree in special education from the University of Lancaster. These days, she's on the management team of a farm-based therapeutic community for adults with mental disabilities, near Johannesburg. It's called Cluny Farm. Back at the beginning of the month, when my daughter Leila and I were in South Africa, Emily took us around a bit, including on a really interesting tour of Soweto. Last weekend, Emily and I were both in Philadelphia for a working reunion of the 14 folks who took part in last summer's International Quaker Working Party on the Israel-Palestine Conflict. And since she had a couple of days free afterwards, I invited her to come back down to Virginia with me. So I spent the past couple of days doing various things in and around my hometown, Charlottesville, with Emily. I knew in advance that hosting Emily here would be fun. But it was also very instructive. Given her field of expertise, I thought she would find it interesting to visit a similar kind of farm-based therapeutic community that's just half an hour away from here. It's called Innisfree. And though I'd never visited it before, I'd heard a lot of good things about it, and was quite happy to arrange to take her there for a visit. Innisfree Executive Director Lee Walters couldn't have been kinder. She gave us two hours of her time yesterday morning, and she and Emily exchanged many ideas and impressions about their two remarkably similar projects. In the afternoon, I'd arranged a visit to Work Source Enterprises, a C'ville-based non-profit that provides a wide range of employment/empowerment services for adults with mental disabilities. Again, I'd heard vaguely about their work beforehand, but never been there. There, Vice President John Santoski showed us around. In a way, I was even more impressed with WSE, since it is community based, and it tries to serve the entire community (with some emphasis on the needs of low-income people). Another thing that these two visits-- and a couple of other ones that we made around town-- brought home to me was the importance to people with disabilities of our area's 'JAUNT' transportation system for people with disabilities. It is this system that allows people with disabilities to get to workplaces, doctors' appointments, and generally around town... Okay. I am sure that many of my readers have known all about such matters, and have understood them well, for many years already. Yes, I "knew" them, at an intellectual level beforehand, too. But somehow, seeing this wonderful array of services being provided to people with disabilities in our community-- and seeing it alongside Emily, who's deeply involved with South Africa's efforts to empower its disabled population as much as possible-- well, somehow it made me value what John and Lee and all their colleagues do in our community even more than I did before. And it made me want to guard their really life-giving programs against all the budgetary depradations that are heading toward them from Washington like some massive tsunami. And it made me want to take all the gazillions of dollars-worth of resources that the US federal government is pouring into weaponry and other means of coercion of non-American peoples around the globe-- and pour it instead into starting just exactly THESE kinds of programs for other people around the world, instead. (One early reaction Emily gave, after she rode down here with me on the train from DC, and then figured out that we'd traversed only one small part of one of the 50 states of the USA, was to say-- "But, you Americans have such a big, beautiful country here! Why do you have to-- " I think it was politeness that prevented her from finishing the sentence. ) What the folks in South Africa are trying to do is so big, and so brave, and so inspiring! They are trying, I think, inside their one country, to do something that we all ought to be aiming to do at the GLOBAL level. Starting with a grossly inequitable system based on race-- apartheid-- they've been trying to transform it into one that provides at least a decent level of human services to everyone, regardless of race. (Of course, Emily had many poignant stories of what it was like to grow up under apartheid. I don't want to appropriate them and tell them here. I want HER to write her own stories for the rest of us! What I will just recount, quickly, is her tale of walking three miles to school each day, and three miles home at the end of the day-- and seeing a small handful of white kids ride by her on a big, nearly-empty school bus... She noted, too, that while the girls from her community had to walk, some of the boys were given bikes to ride to school... Also, their school, locked in the "Bantu" education system, only went up to Standard Five. After that, to finish all the way through high school, she had to do the rest of it on her own, at home, by correspondence... But really, wait till she writes her own story, and that of the parents whom she describes in loving terms as, "incredibly resourceful.") So, anyway, instead of the communities and governments from the rich world just shoveling resources into building decent human-development systems for our sisters and brothers living in the poor world-- we shovel them instead into weapons, and armies, and mechanisms of control? What is our problem?? I think we are the ones with the most serious disability. Call it moral-attention deficit disorder. Call it mean-spiritedness. Call it blindness. Whatever it is, we need to deal with it.

posted by helena at 5/29/2003 12:02:00 PM | link


May 26, 2003  

SHARON USES THE 'O' WORD: Might the fragile-seeming Mideast 'roadmap' have some legs after all? The most intriguing indication that this just might be so came from reports that were leaked out of a seemingly stormy encounter Monday afternoon between Ariel Sharon and some of his colleagues in the Likud Party leadership. According to these reports, which were relayed breathlessly to a waiting outside world by Reuters and the Israel daily Ha'Aretz, among others, Sharon actually confronted his colleagues with some harsh truths about the nature of Israel's longterm administration of military rule over the lives of the 3.5 million Palestinian residents of the occupied territories. "We don't like the word, but this is occupation," Reuters reported him as saying. "To keep 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is bad for Israel and the Palestinians...We need to get away from this in a way that won't hurt our security. This cannot continue forever." Hallelujah!! Sharon's confrontation with his colleagues came one day after the Likud members in the government showed themselves badly split over how to vote in the government's vote on the four-party International Roadmap for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Sharon's motion that the government support the roadmap squeaked through by only one vote, with many abstentions-- and a number of Likud leaders were among the abstainers. I wonder how many decades it has been-- if indeed it has ever happened before--since a leader of Likud used this particular "'O' word"? For decades now, Likud and all the rest of Israel's territorial maximalists have studiously avoided ever using it. And in addition, they have exerted massive efforts in order to force other people not to use it, either. The territories in question-- that is, the West Bank, Gaza (and Golan)-- are always referred to, when specification of their status is necessary, as either "the administered territories", or "the territories." Occasionally, if they were feeling very generous, Likud people would allow as to how these lands might be "disputed territories". Well, actually, Golan and a hugely expanded version of East Jerusalem are not even considered to be in these categories, since the Israeli Knesset unilaterally annexed them in respectively 1981 and 1967. But no-one else of any note has ever recognized those acts of annexation as legitimate. And then, the rest of the West Bank-- after expanded East Jeruslaem was gouged out of it-- was referred to by the Biblical tags "Yehuda and Shomron" (Judea and Samaria). So now, finally, in 2003, Sharon utters the word "occupation". It is true, he uses this to refer only to the people of the occupied territories, rather than to the territories themselves. (That should be the next step.) But still, it is excellent that he has come to recognize and name the nature of the administrative arrangement according to which the Israeli government has--for 36 long years now-- come to exercize military rule over the Palestinian people of these lands. According to Ha'Aretz's version, Sharon told the Likud meeting Monday afternoon, "It is not possible to continue holding three and a half million people under occupation... This is a terrible thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy. Today 1.8 million Palestinians live thanks to support from international organization. Do you want to take responsible [sic] for them yourselves? I do not think that it is right to control Bethlehem and Ramallah." Well, of course there are more ways than one to end Israel's occupation over the Palestinian PEOPLE. One way would be the way advocated by extremists inside the Israeli government like Tourism Minister Benny Elon. He advocates widescale "transfer"-- that is, the ethnic cleansing of large numbers of Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza, into neighboring countries. That way, Israel would get the land, and Jordan or Egypt would get the "responsibility" for the looking after its now already deeply pauperized Palestinian population. That's why it is important to urge Sharon to go one stage further, and giver explicit recognition not only that the nature of Israel's relationship to the people of the West Bank and Gaza is one of "occupation", but that its relationship to those territories themselves is also one of "occupation". Because "occupation"-- as everyone involved in this business either states openly, or implicitly admits by their very employment of complicated circumlocutions-- is not an acceptable longterm situation. So I really want to applaud Sharon for having started to use the O word. But he needs to go on and use it in reference to the lands concerned, and not just the people... He also needs to take concrete steps that show that the "support" he has now grudgingly extended to the Roadmap will be actualized in concrete steps his government can and should take, starting now. Like, for example, ordering the total halt on all new construction activity in connection with the settlements project in the occupied territories and the dismantlement of the so-called "illegal" settlements. (Of course, under international law, ALL the settlements are quite illegal.) Will he take such steps? Unlike his good buddy Bill Safire, I cannot read his mind. But some of what he reportedly said at Monday's Likud meeting did not augur well for the prospect of him taking such actions. Questioned by one Likud MP who's a resident of the "Ariel" mega-settlement in the northern West Bank, Sharon soothingly replied that the roadmap did allow for the continued building of settlement housing. "It certainly allows the unlimited building for your children and grandchildren, and I hope even for your great-grandchildren," he was reported as saying. Despite such warning signs as this though, still, I just have to savor the moment of reading about Sharon's encounter with the 'O' word.

posted by helena at 5/26/2003 09:14:00 AM | link


May 23, 2003  

PUMLA'S BOOK: I'm writing this, sitting on Amtrak train 94, traveling from Washington DC to Philadelphia. Beforehand, on the connecting bus from Charlottesville up to DC, I read a most amazing book, that I want to write these notes on before I forget. Also, I'll probably be giving my copy of it to my friend Emily Mnisi soon, before she returns to South Africa. I learned when I was there earlier this month that the book isn't out there yet. Well, the book is Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela's book, "A Human Being Died that Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness." I've been looking forward to reading it for quite a while. I've read a few of her shorter articles, and enjoyed them. But the book goes to a whole new level of insight and inspiration... Dr. G-M is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Cape Town. (I tried to get hold of her when I was there, but was unable to.) Back in the apartheid days, she was occasionally called on to do psychological evaluations of youths being tried for various violent crimes. Then, with the transition to democracy, she joined one of the committees of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One of her tasks was to set up hearings and outreach programs for former victims of apartheid-era violence throughout the Western Cape region. In September 1997, she was present in a TRC hearing where one of the most notoriously murederous apparatchiks of the apartheid repression apparatus, Eugene de Kock, was present at a hearing into an incident called the Motherwell incident in which five white security police men had been involved in killing three black policemen (and one passer-by). G-M doesn't give many details about that incident except to suggest that the black policement needed to be "silenced" because they knew too much... Anyway, De Kock was there as the person who had given the five perpetrators the order to carry out their task. Afterwards, he astonished G-M by asking to meet privately with the widows of the slain men. Two of them agreed. G-M doesn't give us any details of what he said to them during that meeting (where his lawyer, and a lawyer supporting the two bereaved women were also present.) A few days later, G-M met the two women, Pearl Faku and Doreen Mgoduka: "'I was profoundly touched by him,' Mrs. Faku said of her encounter with de Kock. Both women felt that de Kock had communicated to them something he felt deeply and had acknowledged their pain. 'I couldn't control my tears... I hope that when he sees our tears, he knows that they are not only tears for our husbands, but tears for him as well... I would like to hold him by the hand, and show him that there is a future, and that he can still change.'" (pp. 14-15) That account from Mrs. Faku sent G-M off on a quest of her own. Using her own professional skills, she determined she'd try to contact de Kock and talk to him to try to understand him and his actions better. At that time, de Kock's nickname in the South African media was "Prime Evil". In fact, he was already in jail, serving a sentence for other murderous "excesses" he'd committed while he was head of the notorious Volkplaas security compound, located on a farm of that name near Pretoria. G-M must be a pretty good clinical interviewer. (How does a psychologists evaluatory/investigative interview differ from a journalist's, I wonder? Or a historian's? Or a police interrogator's?) But evidently, from that very first, three-plus-hour encounter with him in his cell in "C-max" maximum-security prison, she knew how to draw him out, and get him to describe the explanatory and justificatory world he had lived in during the apartheid era. Some of what he told her rings incredubly true regarding the actions of the Israelis towards the Palestinians, today. Here is what I assume to be her paraphrasing of some of what he had told her: "'Preemptive killing' at the time was designed to build strust among whte voters and to show apartheid politicians that the country's security police were doing their job efficiently. "'We had to be seen to be on top of the ANC threat at all costs, de Kock explained. 'If there was a lot of trouble in an area, I would send my men to contact sources to come over. We would start phoning, say, a chap, a source, back in Botswana. We would cover all bases in order to hit back hard. At the same time-- you see, there had to be something happening.'" (p.30) This idea of "pre-emptive killing" being carried out mainly to satisfy the (perceived or real) political demands of one's own side-- rather than necessarily serving any well-thoughout-out political-military strategy-- is one that once you think about it, truly boggles the mind. People must DIE for that?? Well, I guess it's bad enough that they die, that they ARE KILLED, anyway, for whatever reason... But somehow, what de Kock told G-M can easily be translated almost directly to the kinds of brutal policies that the Sharon government has been following. Policies that include, of course, what is called "targeted killing" (as though that gives ity some kind of pseudo-scientific justification-- but that remains, like apartheid's 'preemptive killings', just a policy of quite extrajudicial killings-in-cold-blood. Well, moving right along here. G-M's book is a profound reflection not just on what made Eugene de Kock into a cold-blooded murderer-- in fact, she doesn't go into that in anything like the depth I was expecting, at least, not at the level of his own individual biography, his history of abuse at the hands of his father when young, etc., etc. (I think her concern was much more with what it was in the kind of thinking that dominted Afrikaner culture and society during the apartheid years that had led to him being who he was, and acting as he did. To that extent, she seems to accept much of his own argument that, evil though he might have been, in fact he more like a 'foot soldier' who did those things under implicit or near-explicit orders from those higher in the government than he, than he was a 'general' in his owen right.) But in addition to exploring that whole complex of issues, G-M is also prepared to go to more challenging, difficult places. She is not afraid to look at issues of violence committed by black South Africans, as well as violence committed by whites. With huge honesty, she describes (pp.10-11) her own role as a supportive bystander during an incident in 1990, in Umtata, the "capital" of the apartheid-engineered "bantustan" of Transkei, when an army officer alleged to be acting on behalf of Pretoris was thwarted by pro-ANC troops and activists from launching a pro-Pretoria coup there: "Gunfire echoed in the streets and over our heads... Depite the fact that it was clear that people could be seriously injured, despite all of that, I was waiting for the moment when I would celebrate victory with those multitudes watching in the streets. The moment of victory did arriove. The officer who was leading the coup, Captain Craig Duli, was 'captured'. There was jubilation throughout Umtata. My car was filled to the brim; soldiers perched wherever there was space, hoisting their R1 rifles in the air through the windows as I honked and drove in circles in a spirit of celebration... "As the true nature of the events emerged, and we heard how the mutilated body of Captain Duli had been thrown into the trunk of any army vehiclke, and how he later either died of his wounds or was shot along with others who had sided with him, I realized that I had beern party to the killing of another human being. I had knowingly participated in an incident that would certainly result in the taking of a life. In my moind the point was not whether I could have done anything to stop it or not, but simply that I had been there, celebrating."(p.11) In this same spirit of relentless examination of both self and in-group, G-M explores the issue of 'necklacing', that is, the "punitive" action young black militants would take against suspected regime informers in the 1980s, when they would put a tire around thei suspect's neck, fill it with gasoline, and then ignite it. "In relation to the necklace murders, were black people who were bystanders to these gruesome human burnings really in a similar situation to that of the South African white community, who chose to believe official reports in the newspapers about the war that South Africa was fighting? Are the roles of perpetrator, victim, and bystander so mutually interchangeable? "'We failed our children,' said oone [presumably black] woman during interviewsd I was conducting in Mlungisi, an Eastern Cape township once devastated by apartheid's war and by necklace murders. 'We failed to protect them, not just those who were burnt by the necklace, but those who did this terrible thing. We sat here and watched. We did or said nothing. The whole community. We sat here hoping somebody will do something to break this cycle of insanity. It has left us with this terrible unhealable scar, knowning that we could have, but we didn't.'" (p.75) ... Anyway, this post comes to you from the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, where I'll be for the rest of the weekend.

posted by helena at 5/23/2003 08:05:00 PM | link


May 22, 2003  

RE-CONNECTING, RECHARGING: Okay, we U.S. citizens all know that our government is doing many things around the world that are highly damaging (as well as a much smaller proportion, I'd argue, that are helpful). A lot of us feel fed-up and frustrated about this. But one problem is that, ever since the Bushies launched the war against Iraq, and then won a totally unsurprising battlefield victory against a force far, far smaller and more backward than the US/UK expeditionary force, the anti-war movement that had been building prior to March 17 has had to shift focus and direction. No problem with that. That's what life is, responding to new challenges... I reckon we in the antiwar movement are up to it But the problem, as I see it, is that when we moved to the new stage, evidently the slogans we'd used until then lost their relevance. "Stop the war"-- well, yes, in a way the war is still going on, but the slogan has lost its bite since April 7. "Stop the occupation" maybe? not bad, but also not terribly zingy. "Bring our troops home" -- that's still a good one. In fact, one we could expand on a whole bunch. As I wrote here recently, wouldn't it be great if everyone's soldiers got to go--and stay--back inside their own national homeland? But we don't just need to re-jig our slogans. We also need to re-connect with the energy we all felt (and indeed, generated) as we took our various actions against the war in the weeks before March 17. So here, as a gift to JWN readers from Christian McEwen, a poet from NYC and Guilford, Vermont, I'm bringing you a wonderfully lively description Christian wrote about two of the mammoth demonstrations that New York saw in February and March this year. I'm really happy to post it here, in the hope that it can help us all to re-connect with some of the excitement of those days. Thanks, Christian! ANOTHER BUDDHIST LESBIAN FOR PEACE (#2) : NEW YORK CITY by Christian McEwen, March 2003 There were 125,000 at the demonstration. Or there were 250,000, possibly even as many as 300,000. As usual, people fought about the figures. But no one disputed that the crowd was enormous, that under that bright spring sky the march stretched from 42nd Street all the way down Broadway to Washington Square. 'NEW YORK WANTS PEACE,' proclaimed the banners. And, 'NOT IN N.Y.C.’S NAME!' War had been declared less than three days earlier, and for most people, this was the first chance they’d had to voice their disapproval. The crowd was tough and noisy and marvellously wide-ranging. There was a group of “Raging Grannies & their Daughters,” there was a flock of middle-aged gays dressed up as nuns. There was a young woman on stilts, with the tarnished green face and flowing robes of the Statue of Liberty. There were housewives and teachers, poets and business-people, parents with babes in arms or pushing strollers. A man in a Bush mask clutched the globe of the world with bloody fingers, bowing and cringing like Uriah Heep. Almost everyone was chanting or drumming or carrying signs. The blitz on Baghdad had started the previous night, and this was a city which knew, all too well, what it meant to be the subject of an attack. '9/11 SURVIVOR AGAINST THE WAR' read one sign, and, 'NEW YORK REMEMBERS ITS OWN SHOCK & AWE.' Inching down into the thirties, in those first congested blocks, I rubbed shoulders with a small group of restaurant workers, each carrying an identical square sign printed both in Spanish and in English. 'I WORKED AT THE W.T.C.,' it read. 'AND I SAY NO TO WAR.' I stopped one man to thank him. Such testimony seems crucial, especially now, when 45% of Americans blame Saddam for what happened on September 11th. 'The one thing has nothing to do with the other,' the man said emphatically. Other banners reiterated that same point. “'RAQ DID NOT DO 9/11,' read one sign, clumsily printed on someone’s home computer. Throughout the march, there was a consistent effort to name and clarify the issues, in words that even the most casual passer-by could understand. 'GET IT RIGHT,' one sign read. 'THIS IS NOT WAR. THIS IS A BIG COUNTRY SLAUGHTERING A TINY COUNTRY.' And, 'WHEN SADDAM INVADED KUWAIT, HE TOO SAID HE WAS 'LIBERATING' IT.' One woman carried a picture frame encased in thick transparent plastic. 'WE SEE THROUGH THE LIES,' it read. One of the most egregious lies is, of course, that with the outbreak of war, protest itself has become 'unpatriotic.' Demonstrators did their best to counter this, trying again and again to wrest back their own version of patriotism from the authorities. 'PRO SOLDIER, ANTI WAR,' read one sign. And, 'I DO SUPPORT THE TROOPS – BRING THEM HOME NOW!' Sizeable numbers carried banners labeled 'PEACE IS PATRIOTIC' or 'PATRIOTS FOR PEACE.' In an earlier protest, on February 15th, would-be marchers had been penned like cattle behind the barricades, unable to reach the U.N. Plaza or to hear the speeches. Saturday’s demonstration (long planned) had an official permit from Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Nonetheless, it was clear that many still felt democracy was under seige. One young man draped himself in an American flag and gagged himself with a strip of duct-tape. Another carried a banner quoting Robert Byrd, the Democratic senator for West Virginia, 'TODAY I WEEP FOR MY COUNTRY.' The yearning for a leader one could admire, a Gandhi, a Nelson Mandela, was at times almost palpable. 'ASHAMED TO BE AN AMERICAN,' read one sign. And, 'MY LEADERS EMBARRASS ME AND TERRORISE THE WORLD.' Not surprisngly, hundreds of marchers focused on George Bush. Their banners ranged from the rueful, 'AND WE THOUGHT BUSH WAS PRO-LIFE' to the joyfully outrageous, 'GEORGE, IF I SAY YOUR DICK IS BIGGER THAN SADDAM’S, WILL YOU CALL OFF THE WAR?' But most were punchy and antagonistic. 'DROP BUSH, NOT BOMBS!' read numerous signs. Others read simply, 'GEORGE BUSH = WAR CRIMINAL,' 'SAVE THE WORLD, IMPEACH BUSH' and (over and over) 'REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME.' One, with handmade papier-mache masks depicting Ashcroft, Cheney and the President, denounced all three as 'ASSES OF EVIL.' Another, showing a small tree laden with fruit, read, 'THE BOMBS DON’T FALL VERY FAR FROM THE BUSH.' Yet another carried a large photograph of the President, along with the statement, 'I REGRET I HAVE BUT 250,000 LIVES TO GIVE FOR MY COUNTRY.' The sense of urgency and outrage was very strong. IF YOU’RE NOT OUTRAGED,' read one bumper sticker, which many people affixed to their shirts or jackets, 'YOU’RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION.”' But this was New York after all, where even political correctness is not permitted to be boring. The Statue of Liberty stalked down Broadway, wearing a sign that read plaintively, 'IS MY VISA UP YET?' A group of young people carried a banner urging us all to 'FRENCH KISS FOR FREEDOM.' The gay nuns swayed back and forth with the crowd, laughing and chanting in unison. They wore white veils and glittery gold eye-shadow, with peace and star-signs scrawled around each eye. 'HEY HO! THE POPE SAYS NO!' Their signs were fiercely legible and to the point. 'WHAT PART OF ‘THOU SHALT NOT KILL’ DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?' I gave them the thumbs-up as I passed, and one, seeing my own sign ('ANOTHER BUDDHIST LESBIAN FOR PEACE') exclaimed delightedly,”Oh a dharma sister!” and gave me a smacking kiss on both my cheeks. It was a sweet, giddy moment, rising like an irridescent bubble to the surface of the river, and replaced almost immediately by another encounter, in this case by a blizzard of brilliantly printed dollar-bills, descending like green manna from the sky. Looked at closely, it appeared they had been issued by “The Untied States of Aggression,” and were worth precisely “One Deception.” A short paragraph explained that “This note contains websites which reveal tender, public and private truths about 9/11 and the War on Freedom.” Among those listed were globalresearch.com, truth-now.com and whatreallyhappened.com. My feet were sore by then, and I felt hungry and tired. But the sky was still blue overhead, and the chanting and drumming never faltered. 'MONEY FOR PEACE, NOT FOR WAR!' 'FUCK BUSH, PEACE NOW!' and (again and again), 'THESE STREETS ARE OUR STREETS!' As we arrived at Union Square, I walked alongside a new mother carrying her four or five month old child; she was bouncing and kissing him as she marched. Ahead of me were golden-skinned young men (and a handful of young women too) their naked backs covered with signs and slogans printed in red lipstick and black marker. Someone was blowing bubbles into the faces of the crowd. The chanting and drumming had reached a new crescendo. We turned into the narrow canyon of Waverly Place, our numbers massed and concentrated between the tall dark buildings, and for a moment it seemed impossible to imagine we would not be heard. Surely this torrent of urgent, kindly people would be listened to. Surely our clarity would prevail, our warnings reach some interested ears. 'OSAMA KNOWS. ORPHANS MAKE GREAT SUICIDE BOMBERS.' 'BOMBS DROPPED IN BAGHDAD WILL EXPLODE IN AMERICA.' 'IRAQ TODAY, WHERE TOMORROW?' Not everyone agreed with us, of course. At the corner of Washington Square, a man stood on his own, holding up a brightly colored poster, 'VOICE OF THE NEW YORK MAJORITY. WE SUPPORT OUR PRESIDENT & TROOPS AND PROTEST THE PROTESTORS.' Next day there’d be a pro-war rally at Times Square. It would draw only 1,000 people (a miniscule number, in comparison to the peace demo), but the media would give it lots of coverage. Signs would be unabashedly vindictive. They would say things like, 'GIVE WAR A CHANCE!' and '12 YEARS OF DIPLOMACY IS ENOUGH.' One man would carry a picture of the twin towers burning, with the slogan, 'KILL OR BE KILLED.' Our own march had been peaceful, all along its route. But less than half an hour after arriving at the park, an ugly confrontation took place between the police (anxious to clear the streets now that the permit had expired) and some youthful protestors (newly empowered and keen to keep on marching). Two mounted officers were knocked off their horses, eight policemen were pepper-sprayed, and several others injured. 91 demonstrators were arrested. It was a tawdry end, for both sides, to a march that had been so warm and purposeful and open-hearted. Back in Washington Square Park, a small circle was sitting quietly in meditation, and children were chalking peace-signs on the asphalt tiles. People were eating or smoking, or talking on the ubiquitous cell-phones. Discarded signs stood propped up against the thin wooden lattice of the fence. 'THIS LAND IS OUR LAND, THEIR LAND IS THEIR LAND.' 'IF BOMBS WERE SMART, THEY WOULD REFUSE TO FALL.' 'WAR IS EASY, DO THE HARD WORK OF PEACE.' Other banners reiterated that same point.

posted by helena at 5/22/2003 11:00:00 AM | link


May 21, 2003  

TWO MORE THINGS ABOUT SHI-ITE ORGANIZING: In yesterday's post-- right below here, I waxed fairly admiring of the political smarts that Hizbullah has shown over the year, in Lebanon, and suggested that much of what Hizbullah has learned through that experience there will inform the actions of their Shi-ite co-religionists inside Iraq. I want to add two quick points. One, inevitably, has to do with the whole issue of "terrorism", and the extent to which the discourse of "terrorism" is used and abused in order to vilify and exclude political opponents. I have, of course, just been in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, even Desmond Tutu, were for many decades routinely described by the apartheid rulers as "terrorists". And in Mozambique, where the Frelimo government for many long years refused to talk to their Renamo opponents on the grounds that the latter were merely "bandidos" (bandits). Now, they are valued members of the national parliament... So people do generally know how these discursive strategies of exclusion work. And that they are, at the end of the day, strategies that are always manipulated for political purposes. Lebanon's Hizbullah occupies a position on the US State Department's formal list of "foreign terrorist organizations". That is due mainly, I believe, to actions that people associated with Hizbullah took against Americans and other westerners in the 1982-85 period-- the period before Hizbullah's actual establishment as a unified organization, and when Lebanon was still reeling from the brutal campaign Israel sustained during the summer of 1982, in the course of which an estimated 19,000 Lebanese and Palestinian people lost their lives. A majority of them, most likely, noncombatants. Which is not to excuse any of the brutal acts that local Shi-ite-based grouplets carried out during the years that immediately followed. The murder of AUB President Malcolm Kerr stands out as one particularly horrifying and tragic incident. But other actions taken by Shi-ite grouplets in those years that were also described as "terrorism" really were not terrorism at all. In particular, the spectacularly bloody attacks against the US Marines barracks and a large French caserne in Beirut, in October 1983 that killed 241 Marines and 57 of their French counterparts, and scores of others wounded was not terrorism by any recognizable definition of the word at all. It was horrifying for the survivors of the attacks, for the family members of the 300 soldiers killed, and for the amour-propre of the US and French governments of the day. But it was not "terrorism". Those who lost their lives were active members of the uniformed military who had taken the oath of military office whereby a person is, in essence, given a license to kill if ordered to do so and also to accept the fact he or she may be killed while in the line of duty. Which perhaps goes to show that the discourse of "terrorism" is less useful and all-encomapssing than some of its practicioners take it to be. But certainly, it helps to indicate that accusations of "terrorism" always need to be given careful examination. In fact, the discourse of "terrorism" turns out to be far less useful, in practice, than the traditional distinctions that international humanitarian law has always sought to make, between what can be done to active-duty "combatants" and what can be done to "noncombatants", a class that includes wounded soldiers and prisoners-of-war, along with all civilians. Those distinctions have been spelled out in a score of international treaties and conventions since the late 1800s. The discourse of "terrorism", by contrast, remains a slippery eel, subject always to political abuse and manipulation... Which brings me back to Hizbullah. Once it had been established, Hizbullah's leaders were generally very careful and disciplined in the approach they took to targeting. The vast majority of their military attacks were against Israel's soldiers doing occupation duty inside Lebanon. This counts as allowable "resistance to occupation" under international law. certainly not "terrorism"-- though of course the Israelis always tried to paint it as such. On some occasions, however, Hizbullah did launch some fairly low-tech, low-yield rockets against civilian population centers in northern Israel. Hizbullah leaders always claimed they did this in response to Israeli attacks against population centers in Lebanon that lay outside the mutually-agreed "zone of operations" in the south of the country. Of course, once people get into tit-for-tat retaliation mode, it becomes very hard to see "who started it" regarding any such move toward escalation. (That was why the question of getting a reliable and credible monitoring presence in on the ground became very important.) But it's certainly true that Israeli commanders themselves sometimes admitted that it had been their side that started an escalation. And then, there were hige-scale Israeli escalations like the big punitive raids of 1993 and 1996 that were preceded by nothing like a "justifiable" trigger on the behalf of Hizbullah-- and that did not provoke any Hizbullah "retaliation" against Israeli civilians on anything like the scale of the punishment that the IDF inflicted on Lebanese civilians during those raids. Once again, the discourse of "terrorism" then dominant in western circles proved totally unhelpful in explaining what was going on, or in informing further actions on behalf of Western governments. The discourse of international humanitarian law (Hague Conventions and Geneva Conventions) proved considerably more informative and helpful. ... Well, that's one quick take on a matter that probably needs much more discussion. The other thing I wanted to note re the current emergence of Shi-ite political power in Iraq is the whole issue of women's rights inside Iraq. This, to me, is a much stronger reason to feel wary about the rise of organized Shi-ism than the whole badly-abused question of allegations of "terrorism". I know woefully little about the role of women, or women's issues, throughout Hizbullah's many years of experience in Lebanon. I don't doubt but what the party has women members and women activists who must, presumably, play some kind of a role in planning and implementing the party's many grassroots-level social and economic programs. But I sure haven't seen any women referred to among the party's leadership. The party's strong advocacy of veiling I do not, necessarily, take to mean that it favors total submission of women and their exclusion from public life. I know for a fact that in many Arab societies, many of the women who veil do so precisely so that they can go out into public life, jobs, academia, etc., without having their honorable-ness questioned at every turn... But one thing I think we all have to take note of in Iraq is the terrible battering that women's role in society seems to have taken in the aftermath of the US/UK invasion. This is NOT a case, like that in Afghanistan, where the authors of the invasion/occupation could claim that one of their "goals", or at least one of the effects of their action, had been to strengthen the ability of women to take part in public life. In Afghanistan that goal has been met only very partially, and very "modestly". And in most parts of the country, not at all. In Iraq, we have to recognize openly that systematic misogyny of the type practised in Afghanistan by the Taliban was not a problem at all under Saddam Hussein. Sure, women suffered under his rule. But they did not suffer any worse than the men in their same families. They weren't denied an education or the means to make a living. Far from it! Iraq under the Baathists gave women a prominent and respected role in many fields of public endeavor. I mean, how many other countries have women in charge of their biological-weapons programs?? But it was not just "Dr. Germ." Under Saddam, women were prominently present in all sectors of public life. And now, in many places, they dare not even leave their homes, or send their daughters to school. Where is the outrage amongst western feminists about that? Where is the questioning in the western press about the huge and much-celebrated soccer match, with a turnout of scores of thousands of fans-- none of whom appear from the news pictures to be women? Where is the questioning about the patheticly small number of women involved in all these much-heralded "consultations" the American gauleiters are holding regarding Iraq's political future. A measly total of SIX women were all there were at the most recent "consultation" in Baghdad-- along with TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR men. Gimme a break! Where's the outrage?? So anyway, what I wonder about, is what role the Iraqi Shi-ite organizations (as well as all the other emerging political groupings there) are going to play in Iraq in the future regarding the woman question. It could be a good role. For starters, anyone who can increase basic public security can transform the lives of women and girls completely, simply by allowing them to exit their houses and go to schools, job, and markets. But beyond that, there's no reason we can't hope that the Shi-ite organizations will also give active support to women taking leadership roles inside and outside their respective political parties... Well, maybe I'm unrealistic. But I do like to look beyond the whole "veiling" issue that so many other western feminists seemto get so badly hung up on. Actually, it was in Iraq, back in 1980, that I had my first experience of veil-wearing as possibly being a liberating experience. One of my Iraqi "minders", a very good-hearted woman called Asea, agreed to take me to Najaf and Karbala. But being a Christian gringa, the only way I could possibly get into the shrines there was by donning the whole black abaya. So that's how I spent my whole day there-- going into the shrines, wandering with Asea around the markets, etc. I wore the abaya. I spoke pretty good Lebanese Arabic at the time. People we met just assumed I was a visiting Lebanese Shi-ite. They were friendly. But we didn't stick around any one place long enough for the flaws in my Arabic to become too evident. I have to say that that point, having spent six years living in Beirut and traveling around the Arab countries as a western woman, that day was the first one in which I had not felt trapped in the gender complications of my public role. In "liberated" Beirut and the other Arab countries I visited, I always dressed modestly. I learned to keep my eyes on the ground-- simple eye-contact from a gringa could frequently be seen as a come-on. I walked the streets the same way I see my daughter walk New York now: fast, purposeful, alert. But despite practising all those defensive precautions, I would still-- just by virtue of my mid-brown hair, or whatever; I really don't know-- have young boys running after me in the street shouting "prostitute!" In some places-- Damascus comes to mind, but there were portions of all other Arab cities I worked in where it would also happen-- the crowds of young men on the street would seem to compete in trying to do painful jostling right into my chest as I walked by. I could never NOT be aware of the fact that I was a woman walking on an Arab street-- Until I went to Najaf and donned the abaya. What can I say? I can say Damascus has gotten a lot better over the past 25 years, and maybe the other cities have, too. I can say that the right to walk on a public street without suffering constant sexual harrassment is one that all people, women and men, should be able to enjoy, and that should be enshrined in the Universal declaration of Human Rights. I can say that the terrible harrassment that women are reportedly suffering on the public streets of many Iraqi cities these days is simply unconscionable. I can note that when I was in South Africa, I learned that when South African blacks and whites were negotiating their final transition to democratization, all sides agreed that each party would field a negotiating team of five members-- AT LEAST TWO OF WHOM WOULD HAVE TO BE FEMALE. That in the "front bench" of two members of that team, AT LEAST ONE MEMBER WOULD HAVE TO BE FEMALE. And that as the role of chairing those proceedings rotated amongst the parties, EVERY OTHER CHAIR WOULD HAVE TO BE A WOMAN. That was in "deepest Africa", back in the 20th century. But how about "the new Iraq", today??

posted by helena at 5/21/2003 08:14:00 AM | link


May 20, 2003  

SHI-ITE ORGANIZING: Ways, ways back in 1985, I published a book about Lebanon. (It won an award from Choice magazine, actually.) The "new" phenom in Lebanon then-- new, I mean, in terms of, gee-whiz, it suddenly gets "discovered" by otherwise uninterested Westerners-- was the rising influence of the country's rapidly modernizing and rapidly organizing Shia community. I wrote a bit about that along the way. A little monograph called "The Shia Community and the Future of Lebanon" (January 1985). A chapter in a book co-edited by Juan Cole and Nikkie Keddie: "Shi'ism and Social Protest" (Yale, 1986). More recently, I've been going back to look at some of the more recent scholarship being done on the Shi-ites of Lebanon, and in particular on the notable successes won over the years by Hizbullah. What is clear to me, from my own earlier work, from my close knowledge of developments in Lebanon throughout the past 30 years, and from this more recent work that's now starting to come out, is that Hizbullah is an incredibly sophisticated, disciplined, and focused organization. Some Westerners may look askance, or with a strong but unexamined sense of cultural/intellectual superiority, at a political movement run by men in turbans. They do so, I suggest, at the risk of considerably underestimating a religio-political culture that-- in the case of Hizbullah, above all-- has shown itself to be extremely adept at the core political chore of winning and keeping a strong and multifaceted political base. And no-one looking at the political dynamics of the Middle East today can fail to see that Hizbullah is renowned throughout the entire region for being the only grouping anywhere that was able to liberate large chunks of Arab land from Israel's military occupation. Considering that Hizbullah is a non-state actor and has none of the immense advantages that the stature of statehood confers, that's no mean feat. Hizbullah is important, currently, I believe, for two main reasons: (1) because of the power throughout the Muslim world of "the Hizbullah mystique" -- that is, the narrative that argues that Hizbullah won (all or nearly all) of its goal of liberating Lebanon from Israeli occupation primarily through the force of arms. One clear contrast that is often posed, in this argumentation, is with hapless old Abu Ammar and Abu Mazen, who have pursued peace negotiations with Israel for so many long years but have gotten nothing but repeated grindings of Israel's military jackboot in their face for all their pains. And-- (2) because we can fairly confidently expect that much of the same political/organizing smarts that Hizbollah has displayed in Lebanon will be increasingly displayed by the Lebanese Shit'ites' co-religionists in Iraq. I'd love to write about both aspects of this topic. Not sure that I have time to, tonight. But here goes. First, the possibility of Iraqi emulation of Hizbullah. Well yes, it's evidently going to happen. Has already been underway for quite a time, indeed. While I do not pretend to know all the ins and outs of the relations among the different Iraqi Shi-ite groups, or the details of their relations with different factions in Iran, it's evident that the Iraqi Shi-ite groups which have had a strong presence in Iran in recent years must have had close links and the opportunity for close consultation with Hizbullah people there. Plus, the links between all three of these Shi-ite communities go back a long way. Lebanese ulema have received their religious training in Najaf for many centuries, and have socialized and inter-married there with many members of the big Iraqi (and some Iranian) religious lineages. So of course continued cross-border learning has been taking place-- on matters of how to liberate a country from foreign military occupation, as well as on interpretations of arcane religious texts. So what kind of lessons might the Iraqi Shi-ite organizers have been getting from their Lebanese counterparts? One key one, I think, would be the need to adopt a careful, longterm strategy of guerrilla warfare, and to pay attention to the classic guerrilla doctrine that rock-solid socio-political organizing is every bit as important (and sometimes, much more important) than organizing for direct military confrontations. In Lebanon, in the years after Israel's large-scale invasion of 1982 (which had been preceded by its smaller-scale invasion of 1978), it was Israel's continued presence on Lebanese soil and the clumsiness of the interventions it made in Lebanese politics that themselves stimulated the birth and rapid growth of Hizbullah. Hizbullah won early acclaim for the daring of its front-line fighters and the ingenuity of the tactics they used against the Israeli occupiers. (Israel in Lebanon, like the US in Iraq today, always swore its troops were not there to stay... But the Israelis never showed any signs of voluntarily leaving the country completely to its rightful owners.) The Israel "Defense" Forces with their state-of-the-art military technology, funded and largely provided by an ever-generous Uncle Sam, always had the ability to "beat" Hizbullah on the battlefield. There was never any question about that. But the darned thing was-- the thing that frustrated the heck out of two or three generations of Israeli military leaders-- that they could never figure out how to translate a battlefield victory into a lasting political victory. The one big attempt to do so-- in 1982, when they occupied about 35% of the whole country right up to and including the capital, Beirut-- rapidly proved to have led to an order that was ways too costly, at every level, to sustain. I've written about this before. In 1984, the inflation rate in Israel went up to 373%. So they re-jiggered their footprint in Lebanon, and tried to keep a smaller force in "just" the south of the country, and to use it to project a "deterrent" threat that would deter the unruly Lebanese from messing with the IDF any further. Israel's "deterrent" in Lebanon was meant to work like this: Israel (of course!) would set the ground rules for any encounter. If something happened that Israeli gauleiter Uri Lubrani didn't like, then the IDF would launch a "punitive" raid to force Hizbullah or other opponents to shape up. But it didn't work out like that. Hizbullah was never cowed into submission by those Israeli raids. So starting in the early 1990s, the Israeli brain-boxes came up with a new idea. Instead of punishing Hizbullah, they would punish the Lebanese population instead, and try to force large parts of the Lebanese body politic to repudiate Hizbullah. (Sort of what they've been trying to do in the Palestinian occupied territories for the past 30 months. Also, without much notable success.) So in 1991, and in 1993, and again in 1996, Israel launched raids of increasing ferocity against Lebanon's civilian infrastructure. Each time, they unilaterally declared that most of the (majority Shi-ite-peopled) area of South Lebanon was a "free-fire zone", and that Lebanese civilians stayed there-- in their own homes-- at their own peril. (And then they accuse others of "terrorizing" civilians??) The idea there was to send waves of Shi-ite refugees flooding northward for their lives; and that once these waves hit Beirut, they would put irresistible pressures on the Lebanese government to repudiate and finally take action against Hizbullah. To step up the pressure, Israel bombed bridges, power-plants, roads... The pressure inflicted on the lives of most Lebanese was terrible indeed. But the support for Hizbullah didn't waver. In fact, it got stronger each time. Finally, the 1996 invasion-- launched by Shimon Peres and titled "Operation Grapes of Wrath"-- resulted in a humiliating debacle for the Israelis, when they were forced to accept significant changes in the rules of engagement inside Lebanon that went in Hizbullah's favor. I guess from that time on, the writing was on the wall for the IDF's strategy of "active, forward-based deterrence" in Lebanon. In 1999, Ehud Barak ran on a platform calling for speedy, unilateral withdrawal. After he won the election, that was one campaign promise that that he managed to keep. (Unlike the one about real and rapid progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians.) So the interesting question is why did the political part of Israel's "deterrent" strategy backfire so badly in Lebanon? And the answer to this has to be the political and organizing genius of Hizbullah. Which stands in stark contrast, I might add, to the shoddy and makeshift organizing capabilities of Yasser Arafat and his colleagues, with their tangled lines of command, their total lack of focus and discipline, and their general over-all reluctance to speak honestly and directly to "the people" whenever they can avoid doing so-- which they generally do. In contrast to Arafat's Fateh, as it has become over the years, Hizbullah's leaders always tried to keep close to the people. It was always assiduous about offering them the very best levels of social and economic support that it could. For many years--and perhaps until today-- Hizbullah organized all the trash collection in Beirut's southern suburbs; it regularly trucked in drinking water to all the subrubs' neighborhoods; it provided cheap schoolbooks for hard-pressed parents and students; it sent its young men to refurbish school buildings. In the agricultural areas of the Bekaa, meanwhile, it provided agricultural extension services, marketing expertise, and cheap loans to farmers. Most of these services were provided irrespective of the religion of the recipient, though their provision was always centered in areas of high Shi-ite population. But at the political level, Hizbullah's leaders and sheikhs and ulema associated with it were always very careful to reach out across confessional lines and engage in interfaith dialogues with counterparts in other religions. Though everyone knew Hizbullah had good relations with Iran-- which helped to fund the many social programs-- Hizbullah's leaders were always at pains to position themselves as a specifically Lebanese party. They played the political game in Lebanon with aplomb, building alliances across all kinds of confessional and political boundaries in order to maximize the number of their winning candidates in parliamentary and local elections. Israel's attempts to get the Lebanese body politic to repudiate them failed in the mid-1990s because by then Hizbullah had become an important and generally valued part of the body politic itself. When Israel launched the punishment raid of 1996, even leaders of the Maronite Christians-- traditionally Israel's closest allies inside Lebanon-- declared, "we are all Hizbullah now". Without the massive attention to grassroots organizing, and the smart but careful political strategy that stemmed from that organizing, Hizbullah could never have attained those results. On a purely military battlefield, it would always have been smashed by Israel. ut lebanon is not just a "battlefield". It is also a country, with politics, and even more importantly, people. My current argument with those friends in the Arab and Muslim worlds who seem to have been dangerously swayed by the attraction of the "Hizbullah mystique" is that Hizbullah's substantial victories never grew mainly out of the barrels of its guns. They came instead overwhelmingly from the strength and intelligence of Hizbullah's political strategies. So if the Palestinians, or the Iraqis, or anyone else who wants to free their country from foreign military occupation wants to take a leaf from Hizbullah's playbook, maybe they should concentrate on Hizbullah's superb political-organizing skills much more than on its military achievements. Indeed--and I have argued this a number of times-- they could maybe try to replicate what Hizbullah achieved but with even less loss of life, and less pain and suffering, by doing Hizbullah's style of meticulous and focused political organizing, and its active mass resistance actions-- but on the basis of a determined adherence to using nonviolent means?? So far, this seems to be the focus of what the mullahs in "the new Iraq" are doing. So far, I have a lot of respect for them. It is, after all, their country that the US and UK forces are now quite extra-legally parked in... As far back as April 12, I wrote here that Bombs-Away Don Rumsfeld bore a lot of responsibility for the terrible power vacuum and mayhem that was then starting to emerge inside Iraq. And I wrote there that in the center and south of the country, the Shi-ite mullahs looked like the network best prepared to provide the kind of very basic services that in such circumstances everybody needs. (Oh, things like basic personal security. Bombs-Away Don seemed to have forgotten about that completely.) And of course, Iran is right over the border. Handy for them. A long and very porous border, too. So of course it's not going to all be an exact replay of Lebanon. But there are already scores of similarities. And one of them is definitely the existence of a common, shared body of knowledge about what works in building a popular movement to resist foreign military occupation, and what doesn't... But hey, wouldn't it be nice if everybody's armies just returned to their own national soil??? Why should that suddenly seem such a revolutionary notion?

posted by helena at 5/20/2003 07:47:00 PM | link


May 19, 2003  

SAUDI LEADERSHIP ON LIFE SUPPORT: Okay, call me a softie, but every so often I do feel sorry for those pampered little rich boys (and girls) called the Saudi royal family... The only family on the planet, by the way, to have a whole nation-state named after them. Well, maybe it's something to do with them never having actually been forced to develop a work ethic, Protestant or otherwise. This idea that merely because of massive mineral wealth the rest of the world will come flocking to your doorstep looking for work or handouts. But now, they're in serious trouble. As I see it, the trouble is this. The King, Fahd, has by common consent been almost completely out of it for (at least) the past eight years. But no-one's had the decency to pull the plug on his many life-support systems, thus enabling a decent handover to the designated Crown Prince (and currently, the effective ruler), Abdullah. Abdullah's almost as geriatric as his elder half-brother, but has more of his wits about him. So why hasn't Abdullah or someone close to him pulled the plug on the old guy? Because they can't figure out who, among the "senior royals" the NEXT Crown Prince (and therefore, the next in line to the throne) should be. For the 30-plus years I've been watching the Saudi situation, it's been assumed that next after Abdullah would come Sultan... And then, there's a whole raft of further brothers and half-brothers-- all of them the sons of the incredibly fecund King Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud. But by all accounts Abdullah can't stand Sultan. And I guess he's unable to impose his own choice on the situation. Then, beyond that, if this succession rule of continuing down the row of brothers and half-brothers to the very last surviving son of Abdul-Aziz carries on, that might take a further 25-30 years of Extremely Geriatric Rule in the Kingdom. I think the youngest son of A-A is now in his mid 60s? And then, every single advance known to medical science that prolongs the life of older people is available to the senior "citizens" in THIS particular family. We are talking, the cutting edge of human longevity there... Which may not, alas, be the best thing for the many other citizens of that troubled land. Actually, many senior members of the NEXT generation are now themselves looking incredibly aged. Saud Ibn Faisal looks older now than his father did at the time of his assassination in 1975. And the luster has really gone off Bandar Ibn Sultan's once-polished public image... But the problem is, once you do move down to this "next" generation-- I'll not say "younger", because some of them aren't-- whose descendants win the big prize at that point??? Hah! It's because the family hasn't wanted to decide that question definitively at any point over the past decades that they've carried on with this brother-to-brother thing. There is something to be said, maybe, for British-style rules of strict primogeniture. (If not necessarily for the quaint old British custom of a newly enthroned king having all his younger brothers strangled in their beds.) But that marrying-and-begetting strategy that made so much political sense for old King Abdul-Aziz as he gamboled priapically around his kingdom in the early years of the 20th century marrying strategically-- one wife from this family, one from that region, one from that city; tying the new in-laws into loyalty to the centralized state by virtue of their concern for the resultant joint offspring-- well, it may have made sense back then. Now, 100 years later, the results look quite dysfunctional. So here's a startling idea. Instead of having a centralized monarchical system, how about making this nation-state--whatever it may end up being called; and maybe "Saudi" Arabia is as good a name as any--into a state of all of its citizens?? One in which the joys and perils of sovereignty are shared equally among all of its people?? So far, the commonly held view has been that "ruling" over Saudi Arabia is something that confers only huge benefits. Oh, in the form of family-held monopolies (including over a good chunk of state revenues). Right now though, I bet that if I were a senior royal, I would see the position of being "King" as also one involving incredibly tricky and dangerous decisions. So okay, Fahd and Abdullah-- go ahead-- share those risks around! Democratize!! Do (at last) what you've vaguely been promising to do for so long!!! You've got to admit, democratizing would also get you all out of the bind of deciding which particular Saudi royal gets to be the next Crown Prince, and which branch of the family walks away with the "big prize" in the next generation. Looks like a win-win situation to me. Or am I missing something?

posted by helena at 5/19/2003 06:12:00 PM | link


May 17, 2003  

INTO THE VIOLENCE CYCLE: So here's how it goes. Leader X (call him George Bush, call him Ariel Sharon, call him whatever you want) perceives that his nation/group/whatever is experiencing a security problem. He proposes a large-scale application of violence as a way to end this problem. He applies the violence. The problem doesn't stop. In fact, it gets worse. (Duh! This is what srategic-affairs experts call "the security dilemma".) So our intrepid and wise (!) leader needs to explain the fact that his group's security problem continues, and has gotten worse. That is, that the "solution" he earlier proposed to the problem has notably failed to deliver what it promised. How does he do that? Why, easy! He argues that the fact of the continuation of the security problem--despite the wise measures he took to end it-- just proves that "the opponent" is even more heinous and threatening than anyone had realized. Therefore, even more violence is needed to deal with him! And so it goes... Escalation piled upon escalation. Casualties, grief, and human needs shamelessly exploited for what becomes (if it wasn't already) a highly ideological agenda. On both sides. How to get out of this spiral of violence? That's one of the things I am looking at in my current project on "escaping from violence" in Africa. In Mozambique, the escape from the violence of the civil war (which came after 500 years of ruthless colonial violence) took the relentless grinding-down of both the "sides" to the civil war to the point that mass starvation and pauperization was already a present reality. And then, it took some smart and compassionate diplomacy from church bodies and the UN to get the two sides to a peace agreement. In South Africa, according to Fanie du Toit of Cape Town's Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, it took a deep pragmatism from elites in both core communities ("black" and "Afrikaner") as well as the extremely smart and disciplined leadership of the black rebel movements. (Some black South Africans with whom I spoke argued that their side's ability to maintain a small military/violent component in their movement was also important in bringing the Afrikaners to the negotiating table.) So what will prevent George Bush and his advisors from exploiting the fact of the latest anti-Western and anti-Saui bombings in order to justify launching even more belligerent and violent policies against targets in the Muslim world? How do we pull him back from plunging the whole world into the abyss of a longterm inter-group confrontation that almost inevitably, if it continues, will take on an increasingly "religious", Christian-vs.-Muslim aspect? Violence begets violence. There are many, many better ways to build a world safe for all than trying to build the "security" of one small group of people on the insecurity of others. Maybe someone should introduce Pres. Bush to some of those pragmatic Afrikaners. South Africa really is, in many ways-- in the struggles it continues to face against poverty and inequality as well as in the steps it has already taken towards political democratization and multiculturalism-- a microcosm of the situation of the whole world. And the Afrikaners have great lessons to share with the "powers that be" in the global west about what has worked better to preserve their people's sense of security: violence, or respectful negotiation and problem-solving. For more than 40 years, from 1948 through 1990, the Afrikaners tried to apply imposed solutions to their non-white fellow-citizens, backed up by the massive application of physical and administrative violence. It didn't "work". Oh yes, apartheid's policies worked in that they inflicted untold misery, deaths, maimings and massive disruptions on the lives of millions of black and other South Africans, as well as on millions in neighboring countries (Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, etc) who were the target of the apartheid regime's deliberate and largescale destabilization campaigns. But they didn't "work" in the sense of bringing to Afrikaners themselves an abiding sense of security and wellbeing... Violence, as I said, has this strong tendency to stoke the flames of further violence.

posted by helena at 5/17/2003 06:53:00 AM | link


May 15, 2003  

AFTER THE TRIP: So this is how it is. Ever since I took the decision, back in about February, that Iraq war or no Iraq war I would proceed with my research trip to Africa, I've been strongly focused on planning for and then undertaking the trip. And now I've done it. It was great. But I have definitely been on an adrenalin low this week. I think that gradually I'm coming out of that. Getting my act together for all the great writing that lies ahead. Such a lot of great stuff to be done. (I try to tell myself.) Starting with a piece for Al-Hayat about the District 6 Museum in Cape Town. What a great story to write about! But other, huger, more devastating things are cascading through the Middle East. The bombings in Riyadh. Continuing messy aftermath in Iraq. So-called (destination-free) 'road map' coming unraveled, and more deaths in Gaza. I need to get my head back around all that stuff, too, even while I do the writing-up on Africa. Family stuff to look to, too. I guess I can do it. I always have.

posted by helena at 5/15/2003 05:32:00 PM | link


May 10, 2003  

CAPE TOWN (CONTD.): I'm writing this Saturday afternoon, a couple of hours before Leila and I need to leave for the airport at the end of our time here. What a beautiful city! We figured out fairly well how to get around on the train system. Today, we took a long walk from the Observatory district, where we're staying, over to the UCT campus in nearby Mowbray. But we couldn't take the cable-car ride up Table Mountain, because of high winds. Well, Thursday morning we took the Robben Island tour, as highly recommended by many friends. We had two tour guides. The first, who led us on the bussed part of the tour, left us with a determinedly upbeat message that, "Things like this musrt never happen again". The second guide, who took us on the inside part of the tour, was himself a former prisoner, and gave us a sober account of his time there. Afterewards, I was able to catch a few words alone with him, and got his view of the whole TRC and amnesty process. In the afternoon, we met a guy called Roger Friedman who covered the TRC as a journalist and has since done a lot of media work with Archbishop Tutu. Yesterday (Friday), we started off by going by train to Rondebosch, two stops along the line, and then walking to something called the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. I had had a longstanding appointment with its director, Charles Villa-Vincencio. But he was busy, so instead we met with his deputy, Fanie Du Toit. I was actually glad we could do that, as Fanie is himself a really interesting, thoughtful person. One of the things he talked about was coming of age as a young Afrikaaner, and how excited he'd been as a freshman at Stellenbosch university to be invited to join the Junior Broederbund; and some of the slightly glasnost-y things that were happening in the JB at that time (mid-1980s). Then, we went to the Direct Action Center for Peace and Memory, where we had a quick meeting. Then we had a great lunch with Leslie Swartz, a professor of clinical psychology-- currently at Stellenbosch, formerly at UCT-- who has written a really intriguing book on "Culture and Mental Health." I had enjoyed Leslie's book so much that I was afraid I'd be setting myself up for disappointment on meeting the actual person. But luckily, no! He talked really interestingly over a great, late lunch in a part of the city we hadn't been to previously. This morning, Hugo Van Der Merwe, who works here for the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, came over to our B&B and we had a good final discussion with him. The notebooks are full! I got so much great material-- notes that (mainly) Leila took from our meetings, documentary materials that I gathered here, general impressions and ideas for how to push the project further forward. Now, I certainly have more than enough material from the three countries I've been to on this trip-- as well as from my 2001 trips to Brussels, The Hague, Jo'burg and Maputo, and from last year's trip to rwanda-- that I certainly can start writing the "Violence and its Legacies" book once I get myself organized to do so. Anyway-- the next post on here will be from good old Charlottesville, Virginia. That's where I'm headed now. Home!

posted by helena at 5/10/2003 07:00:00 AM | link


May 08, 2003  

ALBIE SACHS AND OTHERS IN CAPE TOWN: Our first day in Cape Town was really productive and full. I'd been in touch for a while with the office of Albie Sachs, the long-time ANC leader who was the target of a car bomb in Maputo in the 1980s, and who now sits on South Africa's Constitutional Court. On Tuesday, I finally got to speak to Albie himself, and he said there might be a chance we could meet yesterday (Wed.), at his beach-side place in/near Cape Town-- provided I could get there early in the morning. Plus he could only give me 30 minutes... Well, we got there-- Leila and I-- to the bus-stop in Clifton that he had designated. I called him from the cell. He said we should wait right there while he came up to fetch us. The housing on that cliffside above Clifton's beaches is a confusing rabbit-warren, laced through with tiny well-concreted paths and steps. I don't know how anyone moves furniture or building materials in or out! After we'd waited a few minutes, he emerged from one of the paths and led us down to his place. When you meet Albie Sachs he holds out his left hand to greet you. The stump of his right arm hangs inside a shirt sleeve from his shoulder. That--and some other injuries-- is what the car-bomb did to him. He has a crinkly though tired-looking smile. He took us down to his place, and we sat there, with him framed against stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean as I fired off my questions and he gave reflective, well-argued answers. He gave us considerably more than 30 mins. At the end, I asked if we could take photos. He was terrifically gracious and helpful about this, leading us out into a tiny courtyard to use the boldly painted mural out there as a 'backdrop' for the pictures. As we left, I asked him if he could have ever imagined, back in the 1970s, say, that he would be occupying his present position and that the ANC would have won so much of what it wanted. He recalled that he had joined the movement back in the 1950s, and that the ANC at that time had been espousing a nonracial order in South Africa and had seemed to be making some progress... But then came the Sharpeville massacre of 1961 and the decades of harsh repression that followed it-- years when he himself had had to go into exile and when many of his comrades were killed. "But we always knew we would win," he said with a quiet smile. "And then, at the beginning of the 1990s, our movement more or less picked up where we had left off in 1961. So yes, we lost three decades there. But we always knew we would win." ... Leila and I walked back up to the road, still mulling over our incredible good fortune in having been able to meet such an inspiring and historic figure. The taxi driver who had taken us there was still waiting. He then drove us along a seafront route to the District Six Museum near the center of town. District Six was a near-in neighborhood of the city that until the late 1960s was a racially mixed neighborhood. In fact, our driver himself, Isgaak, had grown up there. He's a Muslim of Malaysian origin, as many D6 residents were-- but there were also numerous residents who under apartheid's bizarre system of racial ordering were classified as 'whites', 'blacks', or 'coloreds'. One day in the late 1960s, the government issued an order that D6 was to be abolished, and all its residents dispersed to mono-racial residential districts-- many of them very far from the city. The actual destruction of the district took place a few years later. Nearly every structure inside it was bulldozed. A small portion of the area was used to build a technical college, and the rest remained as a grassy inner-city wasteland. Former residents now had to commute many miles from their new homes to the jobs in the city center. More importantly, their historic and multicultural community had been disbanded. In the early 1990s-- after those three "wasted decades"-- a Methodist church near D6 donated its premises to a group of former D6 residents who wanted to create the D6 Museum. It is a most amazing place that has become a focus for guarding the history of D6 as well as of the enormity of the forces that broke it up. It has also, evidently, served as a new community center for many of the former D6 residents, who are happy to gather in the museum to work there, to plan for new exhibits, or simply to get together and reminisce. (Some of that was going on in the coffee shop there as I sat there going over my notes.) The main floor of the former church is now covered with a detailed street map of what D6 formerly was, with even the names of individual families marked in. Hanging from high up in the vaulted ceiling are huge cloth "scrolls" with embroidered on them representations of different aspects of the community's former life. One such scroll simply has embroidered on to it messages that had previously been written on it in marker by former residents and some of the museum's earlier visitors. The museum uses many artefacts from the old district that have found their way here. Such as, many of the original street-name signs, now slightly rusted and chipped. Many of them have been incorporated into a tall virtual "tower" at one end of the church's former worship space. Around the edge of the worship space, and along the galeries that run up above it are numerous small exhibits representing the lives of individuals and families, and the activities of community groups and well-loved community institutions. Of course, I could not help thinking how wonderful it would be if Palestinians and Jews inside Israel could create such museums to mark the existence of some of the Palestinian towns, neighborhoods, and other communities that were wiped off the face of the earth-- and their residents scattered-- in 1948. Walid Khalidi and others have done something to preserve memories of those communities through the publication of books or other documenation. But a museum is so much more "living" as a way to preserve, reinterpret, and present such histories. When we were there, there were constant groups of visitors coming in. Including at least one school group-- youngsters in their early teens, mainly "black" but with many Indian-looking kids-- girls and boys in neat uniforms who rushed around filling out worksheets and animatedly discussing the exhibits with each other. I tagged onto the end of a tour group that was being shown round by museum "fixture" Noor Ibrahim, a former D6 resident who had contributed a lot--icluding many photos-- to the collection with which the museum had started out. Most of the participants in the tour seemed to be white toursists. What struck me most about Mr. Ibrahim's presentation was the gentle but devastatingly "amazed" way in which he referred to the idiocies and brutalities of apartehid's practicioners. His tome was often one of amazement and mockery.... "Yes, they divided people up into all these different groups. And everyone had to have identity cards which marked which of these groups they eblonged to... Can you believe this, ladies and gentlemen? And then look, here are pictures of the cards everyone had to have, with their racial group clearly marked on it... But only the blacks had to carry their passes all the time, 24 hours a day. And the black passes were called 'dom-pass'-- can you believe that? That means 'a pass for a dumb person'. Can you believe they called them that?" One of the most devastating things Mr. Ibrahim showed us was a large panel which swiveled around a vertical pole going down its middle. On one side was a large black and white picture of Richmond Street in D6, as it had appeared at the end of the 1960s. Mr. Ibrahim then slowly swivelled it arund to show a full-color picture of the exact same view, from the same spot, today. Where shops and houses had stood in the earlier photo, now only grass bew in the wind. All traces of the homes were gone. Just before I left the tour-group, Mr. Ibrahim was telling them about the plans the government has been making to re-gather all D6s former residents and their descednants back into a rebuilt version of the community. "I am very excited!" he said "Very, very excited at the thought of coming back." Earlier, our driver, Isgaak, had said that his family, too, had discussed the prospect of him moving back to the rebuilt D6. "But my kids persuaded me not to go ahead with it," he said. "They said that I would just be living in the past if I went back there. They said that they had grown up in our new neighborhood and have little interest in moving back. So I guess we won't be going." ... Well, that was District Six. Leila and I then spent a little more time looking around downtown Cape Town before we went for a late-lunch meeting with Mxolisi ('Ace') Mgxashe. Ace had been a reporter on the 'Cape Argus' before, in 1995, he took up a job in the research department of the TRC. A longtime supporter of the Pan-Africanist Congress, one of his first jobs was to investigate and draft the part of the TRC report that would deal with excesses committed by the PAC during the struggle years... We had an interesting discussion, which I don't have time to recap here. Afterwards, Ace took us walking through the huge 'Golden Acres' development around the city's central train station and up to the rooftop central depot for the citys extensive system of minivan (combi) taxis. He found us the right combi to get in for Mowbray, the suburb that was our next destination. The combi had its full complement of 14 or 15 passengers, and it soon set off. As we approached Mowbray, we asked the "conductor" who sits by the passenger door handling the 3-rand fares and drumming up business from the street if we could get off near the Maternity Hospital. There was some discussion among the passengers over the best place to do this, but one young woman took us in hand and told us with some detail how to get there. Where we were going was the Quaker Peace Center which is not far from the hospital. We arrived there only a little late for our meeting with its director, Jeremy Routledge. No time to write much about that meeting, either. But afterwards, Jeremy did invite us to go to his home for dinner. We accepted. o as the meeting ended we climbed into his very small car; he stopped at a supermarket to pick up a few groceries; and in short order we were at his home. Jeremy's wife Nozizwe is a longtime ANC activist, now not only a parliamentarian but also South Africa's Deputy Minister of Defense. (And a Quaker, too.) She has been in Pertoria most of this week-- where they also have a flat. So I haven't met her yet, and most likely won't get to on this trip. But because of her position she alsdo gets allocated a government house in Cape Town, for her family to stay in, and for her to use when the parliament is in session here and all the government ministers have to be in Cape Town, not Pretoria. So that was the house we drove to. It was a large Cape Dutch-style house set in a lovely lawned garden guarded by a high wall and SAPS guards at the gate. That evening we helped Jeremy cook dinner (well, Leila helped a lot more than I did); and then we ate it with Jeremy and his two sons in the dining-room of the house that was formerly home to apartheid-era Defense Minister P.W. Botha, among other famous and infamous former residents...

posted by helena at 5/08/2003 12:49:00 PM | link


May 06, 2003  

SOWETO AGAIN AND CAPE TOWN: Actually, I think I've got it about Soweto. It's not so much a set of disadvantaged suburbs of Johannesburg. It's not so much an entire sister city. It's more like a whole parallel universe out there. Today we went back to the edge of Soweto once again. This time we were visiting "17 Shaft", a project run by a former MK (ANC military) leader called Steve Corry-- well that's his present name, not his nom-de-guerre. The project provides skills training to former MK fighters and family members thereof. Steve himself wasn't there, but we sat in his amazing office with one of his assistants who told us about the project and brought in an interesting ex-combatant to talk to us. Steve Corry is white. Anyway, 17 Shaft is located between three of Johannesburg's enormous great goldmine slag heaps. Nicky, the woman who showed us round a bit, did say that when the wind blows the dust comes off them pretty badly... We had also had a good meeting this morning with a political science professor who gave a very well-authenticated account of how the TRC's failure to deal with issues in particular of violence between the ANC and Inkatha, in Kwa-Zulu-Natal, had left a nasty legacy of ANC-IFP violence in that province which has claimed >2,000 lives since 1994. That's an angle of the story here that is really of interest to my project. We also had an interesting lunch today with our host here, Shirley Pendlebury, her colleague in the Wits Education School Penny Enslin, and our friend and colleague Peter Maselwa, who has been amazingly helpful during pur time in South Africa... Anyway, this is a little random as a list. But the day has been full, and now we're in Cape Town. The sea air smells great but we arrived when it was already dark. No idea where Table Mountain is in relation to us.

posted by helena at 5/06/2003 12:59:00 PM | link
 

MORE ON SOWETO: Yesterday I didn't get to finish writing my account of our Sunday visit to and around Soweto with Emily Mnisi. Now, I'm in a hurry, but I want to bring this as up-to-date as possible. On Sunday, we had a traditional African lunch with Emily's friends Ria and Charles. Then we went to drive around Soweto some with Emily, Ria, and Ria's daughter Rudo. We went to Vilakasie Street-- the only street in the world that is home (or former home) to two Nobel Peace Prize winners! We took a couple of quick pictures at Nelson Mandela's home, which is now run as a museum by Winnie Mandela-Madikazela. (Desmond Tutu still lives in his house just down the street.) We also tried to visit the Hector Pieterson Museum, which is at the site where 13-year-old Hector Pieterson was killed, on June 16 1976, at the beginning of the Soweto uprisings which soon spread like wildfire throughout the country and signaled the beginning of the end for the apartheid regime. But it was closed... So yesterday, we had some time free in the afternoon and went back to the HPM. It was truly worth a visit. It only opened last year. It's situated on a little knoll right in the middle of the Soweto neighborhood of Orlando West, and has many great presentations about the struggle for democracy here.... No time to write more... We also had a really serendipitous meeting yesterday morning with Khoisan X (the former Benny Alexander, who under that earlier name was Secretary-General of the Pan-Africanist Congress during the crucial period of the negotiations that ended apartheid.) Luckily, he had some spare time right when we met him. My friend and driver Peter Maselwa had recognized Khoisan and asked if we could sit and do an interview for the project, and Khoisan agreed. So while he ate breakfast in a cafe in a shopping mall here, he gave us all these really interesting and helpful recollections about how the different parties had addressed the issue of amnesty during the ll-party negotiations-- a crucial part of what I need to learn for my project. Sitting in a shopping mall in the blazing sun. Amazing. Today we have a few really interesting things to do here, then this evening we're flying to Cape Town. Last night I quickly wrote a column for the CSM about Mozambique. It should run Thursday. Did I tell you that Saturday or so I wrote a column for Al-Hayat? Sometimes the pace and the sheer variety of different issues I'm dealing with seem a little hectic. But it's all one big project, I keep telling myself, the true nature of which will become clearer to me over time.

posted by helena at 5/06/2003 12:57:00 AM | link


May 05, 2003  

SOWETO AND JOHANNESBURG: We had a busy and informative weekend. On Saturday we had lunch with Emily Mnisi, a Quaker woman from near Jo'burg whom I had gotten to know last year when we were both on an international Quaker fact-finding mission in Israel and Palestine. Emily is a special-education specialist who currently trains and supervises the house-parents at a residential farm for some 70 people with mental handicaps, half an hour out of Jo'burg. Then I had a long conversation/interview with Dr. Mongezi Guma, who is Executive Director of the Ecumenical Service for Socio-economic Transformation. He talked mainly about the topic I first asked him about: the effectiveness or otherwise-- as viewed today-- of the TRC process whose open hearings were such a prominent feature of South African public life in the 1995-98 period. The TRC has only now been winding up its final work. On April 15, it presented its final report-- including recommendations on reparations to victims of serious abuses under apartheid and on amnesties for perpetrators who confessed--to President Mbeki. He then requested parliament to pass bills funding the reparations. And I think-- though I'm not quite clear on this-- that parliament is now working its way through this process. So I need to nail down those facts a little better. Anyway, Dr. Guma was really interesting about the TRC-- and he also talked a little about what he did as a church-based social activist during the dark days of apartheid. One of the things he was working on was church-based support for the families of political prisoners. Yesterday Morning, Leila and I went to the 9:30 worship session of Johannesburg Quaker Meeting. I'd worshiped there before, when I came here in August 2001; and this time they had asked me to stay afterwards and talk a little about the present US-Iraq war. Well, it was a little challenging to get my head around that, so I gave some personal reflections on what I saw as the motivations of the warmongers in Washington-- and also on the potential strength of the movement for peace and justice there. It really has been quite interesting, over this past month, following the news of the US-Iraq war FROM AFRICA. I mean, using force to impose your will on distant lands; doing so in the name of some attractive, "modernizing" ideal; and doing it also with a firm eye on control of natural resources-- all these things are very familiar to people in Africa. And they seem SO VERY NINETEEENTH CENTURY.... Well, Emily Mnsisi had been at the Quaker sessions yesterday, and afterwards she had promised to take us on a visit to Soweto. On our way there, we stopped to get something to drink at Gold Reef City, the amazingly kitsch amusement park where on Firday we had gone down the unused gold mine. But yesterday, we went into the casino which is part of the park, as Emil had heard of a nice restaurant inside there. Well, there we were three Quakers in a casino on a Sunday morning... (Not sure if Leila describes herself as a Q these days; but you get the drift.) For Leila and me, it was our first visit inside one of these huge, ugly, money-gobbling behemoths. People inside there looked so sad in the gloomy light, with their faces lit mainly by the strange flashing tones of the slot machines into which they stared, likes zombies. That was quite a strange thing to be doing on our way to visit Soweto. So then, on we drove. And drove and drove and drove. The first stop Emily had planned to go have lunch with an old college friend of hers called Ria, a special-ed specialist who runs programs for the provinicial government here in Gauteng Province. Ria and her family live in Protea, which is in a far-out part of Soweto, so we drove for many miles along a sort of perimeter highway before we got there. I've had Soweto in my mind since 1976 or before. That was the year the schoolkids there all walked out of school on June 16 to protest new requirements that would force them to pass exams in some subjects in Afrikaans, not in English or a native language. The police met the walkout with violence, killing two that first day and many hundreds more over the half-year of insurrection that followed. The uprising that the Soweto schoolkids started that year spread to all the major South African urban areas (except, apparently, Durban). It did not immediately lead to the victory of the African nationalist/liberationist movement. But it did dent the self-confidence of the apartheid bosses considerable, and it started a longterm process whereby black resistance made the apartheid system fundamentally unworkable and thus forced the National Party to the negotiating table. The economic sanctions imposed on the regime by all major outside powers (except Israel... ) also helped to bring this about. Oh, wouldn't it be great if we could see the same support from outside powers for the movement for equality, peace and justice in Israel/Palestine??? But anyway. So, I had known and thought a lot about Soweto since 1976. But I'd never visited it at all till 2001, when Harold Annegaarn took Bill and me on a quick visit by car to some parts of it. On that occasion, I gathered that Soweto is large-- but yesterday, I really got a better feel for its true enormity. It is like a huge sister-city to Johannesburg, spread out to the southwest and separated from Jo'burg by the massive, rhomboidal slag heaps produced by the gold mines all round here.... (more to come, later)

posted by helena at 5/05/2003 12:42:00 AM | link


May 03, 2003  

REMEMBERING PAST ATROCITIES, IN MOZAMBIQUE AND SOUTH AFRICA: I'm writing this, on Saturday May 3, sitting in the lovely home of our friends Shirley Pendlebury and Harold Annegaarn, in Johannesburg. Leila and I got here on Thursday evening, after bidding a sad farewell to Salomao in Maputo. But we've been so busy that I haven't blogged since about Tuesday. Too bad! I'd gotten into such a rhythm between experiencing interesting things and then blogging about them almost immediately-- but now that rhythm has been all upset. I mean, what is more important in life: having experiences or blogging about them??? Actually, for me as a writer, having the experiences as fully and as "presently" as possible, and then writing about them as well and effectively as I can, are both equally important jobs. (And no, I don't consider that my writing on the blog is the "best" that I can do. It is, rather, a handy supplement to my notes; a form of five-finger exercize for subsequent writing; and a way to share some of my experiences and reflections in near-real time with anyone including my family and friends who chooses to read them.) So here are the highlights of what we've done since I last blogged: (1) On Wedesneday morning, we got up early and drove with Salomao and Zunguza to a place called Chiboene, some 40 kms from Maputo, where there was a terrible massacre of local militia trainees sometime in the mid-1980s. You don't have to drive far out of Maputo to get into the real, hardscrabble Mozambican "bush". We left a tarmac-ed road about 15-20 kms out of town and then drove for a further 35 minutes along very bumpy dirt tracks. Lucky Zunguza had agreed to come with us and drive us in his 4x4. There weren't many high trees where we were, but a lot of scrbby, 4-foot-high bushes, punctuated every so often by either ruined-looking small breeze-block homes or compounds, or by round or rectangular straw huts. As throughout Africa, people were walking along the track carrying work implements or harvested goods, or schoolbooks as they went to school. Salomao commented that most of the Mozambican civil war had been fought in just such terrain as this-- but with the important differece that you'd never see anyone else on the roads, because if they heard a vehicle coming they would hide. Plus of course, back then, many of the roads, trails, and just bush areas were heavily mined. This area-- though still quite close to the capital-- had only been demined to an "acceptable" degree within the past couple of years. Luckily, he knew which forks to take as the road divided and re-divided along the way. We came to Chiboene Primary School-- a large, spiffy-looking structure that Salomao said had been built since his last visit here two years ago. Scores of kids were playing in its big dirt yard. We drove around the school, and on into the bush a little. Approaching a small cluster of huts, Salomao called out to a young man to ask for someone to escort us to the mass graves. He'd earlier told me that on his previous visits, there was a local "secretary" who organized the visits. This time, though, it seemed to be in the hands of a group of three local women who came to join us at the boy's request. One of them hurried off to fetch a big jerry-can of water and a dipper, and the three of them piled into the back of the car. The graves were, actually, very nearby. There were two of them. both were under the spreading boughs of cashew trees. One was "marked" by a ten-inch-high platform of crumbling cement about 20 feet by 10 feet. Both grave areas were also marked by numerous sprigs of a tough-looking form of impatients growing out of the dun-colored earth. The women-- Priscina, Antonietta Jeremias, and Ana-Paula-- were joined by an old man in gumboots. The women picked sprigs from some of the impatients plants and handed them to each of us four "visitors". Then they kicked off their flip-flops and walked into the grave areas, bending from the waist to clear away dead leaves, twigs, etc., from the grave area. At first, we were at the cement grave. After they'd cleared it, they stood back, and sang a couple of hymns in Shangana, and said a quick prayer. Then, the ritual continued with each of them in turn taking a dipper full of water from the can and sprinkling oit over the grave, and also planting the sprig that she had earlier reserved for herself, into a crack on the top of the crumbling cement, and firming the sprig upright into the crack with wettened earth. The dipper was then passed around for each of the rest of us to do this turn. Then, we walked the short distance to the other mass grave-- each held the remains of 22 men slaughtered during that massacre, Priscina told us. Anotnietta Jeremias told us her father had been with the militiamen who were training here when they were killed, but that he had been one of the lucky ones to escape alive. They dated the event as "somewhere in the mid-1980s". They said they'd been living in a communal village not far away at the time, and they had heard the screams of the men being slaughtered, and the firearms with which many were killed. With Saloamo interpreting, I asked them how they thought about those acts of violence, and whether they still blamed the people who had committed them. They said they found it difficult to feel blame. It had been such a hard time, altogether, during those years, they said, that it was hard to keep strict accounts of who to blame for what, when. "Sometimes, we even had to smother our own babies in the bush, if their crying would give away our hiding place," one said. Evidently, issues of "blame" and accountability seemed very different to them than they might in most western-style courts of law. "But now, the violence is finished, and we just pray that we don't have violence again," Priscina summed it up at the end. I said a few things that concurred with the latter wish, and made them a small gift. This place is one of only two memorials that Salomao knows about, in the whole country, to the million or so Mozambicans who died during their ghastly, 16-year civil war. I felt blessed and privileged to have been able to participate in the ceremony with the women at Chiboene. Actually, very few people even in Mozambique know about the place. When we met with Archbishop Dinis Sengulane, the Anglican archbishop of Maputo who played an important part in getting the civil-war peace talks started, he hadn't heard about it-- even though the women there said that they had some connection with the Anglicans... (2) Anyway, moving right along to Johannesburg... Yesterday (Friday) Leila and I took an organized tour down a now-unused gold mine, which was a vivid reminder of the role of western colonial powers both in this area and, by extension, throughout much of the non-western world. Somehow, launching imperialist wars for so-called "strategic" resources seems so terribly 19th century, doesn't it? And then, we moved straight across the road to the very new Apartheid Museum that a small group of entrepreneurs has opened up there. It is apparently quite controversial. The Government is supposed to be building a Museum and Study Center and lots of things as part of the follow-on work from the TRC. But these entrepreneurs evidently figured they'd try to break into the market first... And then, still on the theme of remembrances of atrocity, we all went to "The Pianist" in the evening. Adrien Brody was incredible. But I wonder how Jewish israelis would feel seeing the movie. So very many of the things portrayed in it are exactly what Israel is doing to the Palestinians right now. (That is, in the phase of "concentration" of the Jewish community of Warsaw; but before the phase of "extermination" began.) "Concentration" of poentially suspect populations was developed most fully in the recent era right here in South Africa, of course: by the Brits against the Afrikaaners during the Anglo-Boer wars. I note that it did NOT make the Afrikaaners into a cuddly, compliant bunch of people....

posted by helena at 5/03/2003 02:19:00 AM | link
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