Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Non-violent Resistence. Doesn't this sound familiar?

SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) hosted a panel discussion about the recent crisis in Gaza and the launch of the global movement of non-violent resistance. Panel members included Professor Tariq Ramadan, author Karen Armstrong, and Councillor Salma Yacoub. SOAS has also been the catalyst for student activism in the UK regarding the Gaza crisis!

Here is the website for the global movement:
It's a new website so it's not complete yet..

Professor Tariq spoke of the movement as a global movement with local initiatives and highlighted 7 principles of the movement: 1. This is not a religious conflict, but a political one. 2. There is an oppressor (the state of Israel) and an oppressed people. 3. When you are oppressed, your resistance is legitimate, and T. Ramadan says this must be a non-violent resistance. 4. It is the right of the Palestinians to get a state. 5. There should be equal rights within the state. 6. There must be the right to return. 7. The criticism towards Israel is a criticism towards all racism. Crtique of Israel is not being anti-semitic!!

I was inspired by all three speakers and will share some of the highlights of the talk/discussion.

* This crisis is presented to us as a war, but it is not a war between 2 armies. It is a massacre where civilians are dying. This is not a matter of the past 3 weeks, but of an ongoing struggle, where the Palestinians have been under a blockade for years.

* The facts speak for themselves. Knowing the facts is sometimes enough to support the Palestinians. November 4, 2008, Israel was the first to break the truce, not Hammas. 6 Palestinians were killed in this attack, after which Hammas retaliated. Click the history link of the above website for more facts. (And look at the map of the land from the 1947 to today in the photo gallery)

* We cannot have a selective approach to justice. This goes for world leaders and for Muslims -secular or not. Many world leaders will speak out and condemn human injustices worldwide, but remain silent about Palestine. Similarly, Muslim often speak out only about the Palestinian cause, forgetting Darfur, Burma (to name just 2). All human injustices are important.

* Karen Armstrong spoke about the common perception that religion is the cause of violence. It is important to remember that this is not a religious conflict but a political one and that religion has an important role to play. The ethic of compassion that is intrinsic in so many religious cultures needs to be brought to the forefront.

* She told the story of Rabbi Hillel who was to stand on one leg and recite the fundamentals of the torah. He recited the golden rule (Do unto others what you would want them to do unto you), and everything else is commentary.
Many major faiths and non-religious people will agree that this value is common to all people and in this dangerously polarized world in which we live, we are still pulled together by our shared values.

* Salma Yacoub spoke of how this is not a new conflict. 7000 Palestinians have died in the past 5 years, and near 1400 just recently. But this recent conflict has been a shock to the world and to Israel itself, who did not expect the global resistence it has faced.

* It is not only the silence of other governments, but their compliance that has allowed the massacre to happen.

* Hammas was democratically elected through a clean and fair election. And yet, they are always prefixed with words such as militant. Saudi Arabia and Egypt (the second largest recipient of US foreign aid) are dictator governments that the US supports. Does someone else see the blatant hypocrisy here?!

* This conflict must also be engaged by Christians and other groups to depolarize the debate from being a Jewish-Muslim one, because that is not what it is.

* Tariq Ramadan ended by stating, "Anti-semitism is Anti-Islamic, by definition"
So to all those that think that criticizing Israel is anti-semitic are WRONG. Islam is not anti-semitic. In fact history has shown that Jews have sought refuge in Islamic empires (Ottoman, Medieval Spain) from persecution.

This crisis is not new, nor is it unlike former freedom struggles. The one that immediately comes to mind is the South African Apartheid. Students and activists were key players in organizing and bringing about change. Leaders of countries operate with a particular agenda but the people of those countries can and should stand up for the truth. It wasn't too long ago that Nelson Mandela was called a terrorist by Margaret Thatcher, but the people knew and protested and engaged in non-violent movements...
Why can't the same happen again?