Category Archives: Peace

Midwifing Peace in Sudan

By Lee A. McKenna
Reprinted from Peace Magazine (www.peacemagazine.org),
Vol.28, No.4, Oct-Dec 2012
 
 
Weeks of rolling, youth-led demonstrations on the streets of Khartoum are said by some to be the Sudanese echo of the Arab Spring or Occupy. Or it could be Otpor, the non-violent movement that overthrew Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. It is also, more importantly, an echo of its own remarkable and largely forgotten past of nonviolent insurrection.

It is just past noon, the 29th of June; the moist southwesterlies occasionally provide some respite from the heat, but not today. Keeping to a plan designed not to provoke large contingents of military forces with smaller, localized protests in many neighborhoods of the capital, a group of fewer than 200 students is shouting in the cadences familiar to those attuned to street protest. Signs and banners disperse any doubt about their demands:

“We are fed up!” “No more!”

“We are here; we are not going away!”

“An end to violence! An end to brutal price rises!”

“An end to militarization! An end to dictatorship!”

Though the spark for the protests was provided by the government’s imposition of austerity measures, including the elimination of fuel subsidies and increases in taxes and the price of staple items, the message of the protestors has been distilled to a single demand: the end to the régime of Omar al-Bashir. A group of students has gathered in Hijra Square, not far from the headquarters of the opposition National Umma Party. The day before, protestors were dispersed with rubber bullets and tear gas; stragglers were beaten, scores were arrested, bringing the total of those arrested over the 2,000 mark. Family members of the detainees have joined the protesters on the street, preparing for a weekend escalation that will mark the 23rd anniversary of Bashir’s rise to power through a military coup.

Among those arrested are Widad Derwish and Rudwan Daoud, founders of the youth movement known as “Girifna” (meaning “Enough! We are fed up!”) as well as a number of those trained in non-violence and third-party nonviolent intervention. Widad and the others are part of an eight-year-long project co-sponsored by the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and a local Sudanese NGO.

The square is a vacant expanse of red sand, the students on one side and heavily armed riot police on the other. The police are ranged behind several cement-filled pylons, mostly unmoving, watching. The students are talking, restless, but calm. The banners still wave, while the pickets have been stuck into the hard soil forming a phalanx of silent opposition.

A song begins somewhere in the middle of the throng, picked up quickly by the others. Its words are an Arabic African echo of something like, “We shall overcome…” Among the lyrics are words about water, a precious commodity of profound symbolic value in the lands dominated by the Sahara: Life, well-being, wealth, hospitality.

Four students, three men and one woman, then begin to slowly roll one of the large, ubiquitous public water jugs that punctuate the streets of desert towns. They roll it across the square toward the row of cement pylons. The riot police, whose position in the square has put them out of reach, shuffle their feet, shift their guns, wary. Within a few metres of the pylons, the students come to a halt, setting the jug in place. Reaching into it, they pull out a couple of gourd cups, serving one another refreshing draughts. They then bow to the uniformed police, gesturing towards the jug, inviting them to assuage their thirst. The woman’s brilliant yellow hijab is caught in the early afternoon breeze as the four return to join the students, who have gone silent.

MIDWIFING NONVIOLENCE

My role in war zones is to train people in nonviolent direct action, conflict transformation and the tricky work of third-party nonviolent intervention—and sometimes to do it, alongside them. The methods are popular, experiential, elicitive. We are training for disobedience, weaponless waging of peace. And, in the playing out of it, I am rarely, if ever, among those who pay a price.

Over the course of a month, participants come to a deep knowledge of the other, dismantling multiple falsely promoted “causes” of their daily violence, in particular, religion and tribe. The economic roots of violence are brought to the surface as participants come to recognize themselves as both part of a global story of economic domination and subjugation, and as agents of change.

A safe space is created for them to interrogate the landscape of a warrior culture and a violence-stained history, to celebrate historical out-breakings of nonviolent resistance, leaving unexamined no aspect of civics, history, gender, culture, religion, politics or economics, asking: What drives violence? What makes for peace? At what point and by what means do I resist, withdraw my consent, or break the rules?

We spend a lot of time talking about Paulo Freire, a Brazilian priest whose work fundamentally altered notions of education and power. He noticed, in his work with poor people, their reluctance to learn, to probe, to ask questions. He diagnosed oppression as the heart of this reluctance and began to map out the mechanisms of oppressive power that creates a population acquiescent in its own oppression. He began to map out the contours of oppression: What forms does it take? By what mechanisms does it function? Poverty, illiteracy, repression, terror, discrimination, violence, cultural rules.

Freire then looked for those means and methods of normalization that convert the oppressive into the normal: those ways by which we become inured to instruments of our own oppression—walls that we no longer see, rules that we no longer challenge, ideals that we have come to regard as reserved for others, violences so pervasive, sounds so constant, scars upon scars—they blend into the landscape of domination, made invisible, no worse than bad wallpaper, making no cry, no challenge from the bought and sold; only resignation, compliance. Too much work is required to re-imagine ourselves as maîtres chez nous —when “facts on the ground,” “new normals” obliterate the past, suppress dissent, and kill the vision of the possible.

Over the weeks together, having worked through Freire’s cyclical stages into “problematization” and “conscientization” to the “breakout” that is “action for change”—we begin to walk out our fears. Men walk out their fear of loss and chaos as they prepare to go home to put into practice their experientially changed understanding of women: What will people think? Women walk out their fear of taking their place in the commons: What will be the price? Nuer and Murle, Acholi and Dinka, Misseriya and Rizeigat walk out their fear of dissenting from history’s mandate for revenge. Today, we will take our fear for a walk in the streets of Ombdurman.

TAKING OUR FEAR FOR A WALK

We are working through the design of an action meant to protest police brutality and an impenetrable wall of impunity. Over our days together, we have listened to one another’s stories: Abdul a Abdulrahman’s imprisonment and torture, Fathiya’s exile, Abdul’s son’s killing, Rhaman Adam a Adam Ishaq’s wife’s rape and murder by the Janjawiid. We have come up with what we want to say and how we want to say it. The closer we get to our imagined destination, the quieter the room becomes. People are gathered in little knots painting slogans on cardboard nailed to roof slats. A group of women are concentrating their efforts on a banner, modest in size, not so modest in sentiment. If this were Latin America, it would say, ¡Basta ya! But it’s Arabic, flowing like streams of water across the white canvas: قبالة!كفاية We’ve had enough!

Gradually, the signs and banner are completed and we begin to choreograph the march; we practise some refrains and mantras. Though the route past the police station is short and the fragile safety of the compound not far, it will be provocative, to say the least.

Beneath all of the activity, there is an unspoken question: Are we actually going to do this? Or is this just another role play? The pulse of fear in the room thrums, yet it is contained within a web of trust and mutual confidence; the participation of the Sudanese translator/ co-trainers in the preparations sends powerful signals to both trainers and trainees. We have spent many days together, imagining and then practicing risky things; the distance and difference that marked them on their arrival is more opaque now as they move as one, working out what they want to say, how they want to say it, in what colors on what materials. The rules that divide women from men, Christians from Muslims, Southerners from Northerners, the narratives of strangers, have dissolved into that of friends and companions in a common cause.

The marchers begin to form in rows of three, moving out into the red, sandy grounds of the compound. As they approach the gate to the street, the trainers relieve them of their banners and signs, some emitting audible groans of relief. The twenty women and men, Christians and Muslims, mostly young, walk through the gate and out into the busy thoroughfare. People turn and stare as they walk, carrying high their unseen signs of protest, stretching out a virtual banner of dissent, walking to the rhythm of provocative, if unspoken, chants. The careful ranks of threes slip and adjust to the market-day crowds, weaving their way along the planned route.

On the approach to the police detachment, there is a stiffening in limbs and faces as their courage falters ever so slightly. But the march continues; they turn to acknowledge the police, whose attention is caught by the suspicious-looking parade. Some in uniforms of blue, some khaki, some lolling in the mid-day heat, they shift their machine guns like peacocks with their feathers. The marchers, signs and banner pass, their wordless chorus parting the market-day throngs.

As the marchers return to the compound, some stumble to the safety of the ground; some gather in pairs and groups to embrace, heads on shoulders. The coils of fear on their faces ebb, replaced by exhilaration.

“I didn“t know I could do that!” says one.

“I thought I was going to throw up!” says another.

“It was like living a nightmare—and surviving!”

“We did it!”

The group gathers to talk, all at once, the translators struggling to keep up—about how they are feeling, retracing their steps in their walk of fear, how the fear shifted and changed and moved within them as they walked; its eventual defeat.

“So what does it mean? So what?”

“I took my fear for a walk—and I lived! It changes everything. I will never forget this. It will be with me, this story, right here”—gesturing with her fist under her breast—“something to hold onto as I do this for real.”

It’s the sixth of July. Tensions are high with the announcement two days ago that the mainstream opposition parties, led by the Umma, have joined ranks in a nonviolent campaign to overthrow the Bashir government. In recent months, since uprisings in neighboring Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, the President and his inner circle have repeatedly bragged that the movement will not touch Sudan: Régime-change here is as likely as people suddenly being able to lick their elbows. Impossible! The students have cheekily turned the president’s boast into a nonviolent piece of street theatre: “Yes we can! Just watch us!” What does elbow-licking look like? This is what elbow-licking looks like!

MORE THAN 27,000 PEOPLE FROM ALMOST 70 TRIBES HAVE BEEN TRAINED

But there is a price to pay. Many have been arrested following severe batterings by security forces, the women sent to the women’s prison in Ombdurman, with the men dispersed, some of them to “ghost houses,” prisons known for torture and disappearance located in unmarked buildings inaccessible to families in search of loved ones. Among them are Widad and Rudwan, and a dozen other “graduates,” part of an exponential growth in trained-trainers training more trainers. More than 27,000 people in almost 70 tribes having been drawn into this school of peace-making and dissent from the way things are. They are at the forefront of nonviolent change, offering hope for a country at war with itself for much of the last 60 years.

And what do we have to say about all of this? What is the response of the community of nations? Will Sudan take its place on the list of countries slated for régime change from without, to become yet one more vortex of violence, armed rebel factions, civilian bloodshed and political mayhem? Or will we find ways to honor and strengthen the spirit of nonviolence that animates those in the street who are risking their lives for a new Sudan?

POSTSCRIPT

At the time of writing, most of the young people have now been released; some have fled the country—with plans to return. People from around the world have responded, writing letters, mounting their own protests in solidarity, calling on the international community to implement sanctions that target repressive leadership and élites, circumscribing their movements and their capacity to fund repression, that contain, isolate and divest, while mitigating the impact on civilians. Violence only begets more violence; violent solutions are the resort of those without imagination and of those intent on replacing one yoke for another.

Though we like to think we care about everyone equally, that seems to be impossible. I have been drawn into the narrative of the last two months because I know so many of those on the streets, in prison or in exile. I trained them, urged them into trouble-making. Mixed emotions have driven my own activism from afar: a lot of pride, moments of regret. And then I get a note on Facebook, the message defying the medium: “Lee, I don’t want to be raped; I don’t want to be imprisoned, I don’t want to be tortured. I am not ready to die. Please help me.”

I write back: “I am doing everything I can from here—but I feel so powerless!” Ping! The response comes: “You have already done so much. You have given us the tools of nonviolence.”

Yes; that is so. But it is they who have responded, disproportionately, contrary to all the laws of probability, nurturing a pregnancy of hope into birth.

Lee McKenna is a nonviolence trainer based in Toronto.

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Canucks, Danes agree Arctic maritime border

Canada and Kingdom of Denmark Reach Tentative Agreement on Lincoln Sea Boundary

 
November 28, 2012 – Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health, Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and Minister of the Arctic Council for Canada, and Villy Søvndal, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Denmark, met today in Ottawa to discuss a range of issues of common interest and, in particular, engagement in Arctic matters.

The ministers announced that negotiators have reached a tentative agreement on where to establish the maritime boundary in the Lincoln Sea, the body of water north of Ellesmere Island and Greenland. This will resolve an issue between the two countries that arose in the 1970s. Once ratified, the agreement will also provide an opportunity to modernize provisions of the 1973 treaty that established the current boundary south of the Lincoln Sea.

“Our government is pleased with the progress made on the Lincoln Sea boundary,” said Baird. “Today’s tentative agreement lessens uncertainty and strengthens Canada’s sovereignty over the Arctic.”

“Canada’s vision for the Arctic includes clearly defined boundaries,” said Minister Aglukkaq. “This brings us toward that vision and demonstrates our mutual commitment to seeing the North realize its true potential as a healthy, prosperous and secure region.”

“Seeking to resolve boundary issues is a priority for both our countries and is articulated in our respective Arctic strategies,” said Minister Søvndal. “This significant step forward exemplifies the cooperative approach endorsed by Arctic Ocean coastal states in the Ilulissat Declaration of May 28, 2008.”

The tentative agreement does not address the issue of sovereignty over Hans Island. That issue is the subject of continuing discussion intended to arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution.

Negotiators will now work to transform this technical agreement into a treaty text for ratification by their respective governments. Once the treaty is ratified, Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark will share a boundary that is more than 1,600 nautical miles long.

– 30 –

 

The above release plus backgrounder and contact info
available at Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs site.

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APoJi 2012 – Special Notice

(UPDATE: December 12, 2013 Obviously, many more changes have taken place over the course of this past year. The link given in the letter below shows the state of the document as posted on February 4, 2013, after which the primary document location was shifted to its own page. The latest edit can be found here: apoji.org — Ed.
 
 
(UPDATE: January 29, 2013 A number of revisions to the document have taken place since the start of the year and are expected to continue sporadically for the next month or two. Last minute ideas? Better late than never. — Ed.)
 
 
Dear Reader,

We will soon suspend editing of the document A Peace of Jerusalem, possibly for the last time, so it seems fitting to restate the objectives declared for this initiative more than three years ago…

In late 2009, we set out on a simple mission:

1) to collect Mideast Peace ideas from anyone willing to offer them;
2) to integrate these notions into a contradiction-free proposal; and
3) to limit the evolving document to no more than 2,000 words.

We had (and still have) no illusions about our prospects for defining a perfect peace; reality and perfection suffer each other none too well — except perhaps in art and existentialism. Our broader aim was (and still is) to foster constructive dialogue about peace in the Middle East, and to create a modest document that would, in theory, become a little ‘less imperfect’ with each iteration.

On behalf of myself, the other Editors, and the Composing Group, I would like to thank everyone who has participated in this collaborative venture. To those who kicked in a few bucks to defray mailing, hosting and advertising expenses, much appreciation is due. And to those hundreds of souls who came bearing nothing but dreams, a very special thank you for sharing them with us.

If you’re reading this after December 21, 2012, you can explore the final document at https://imahd.ca/2009/11/05/a-peace-of-jerusalem/, where it has resided in various forms since its first posting on November 5, 2009.

For a shorter URL, try APoJi.org.

May peace be upon us all.

Sincerely,

Editor S.

A Peace of Jerusalem initiative (APoJi)
http://apoji.org   email: periji@apoji.ca

 

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Mex-US-Can Initiative to Convert Mexican Reactor to LEU

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

.
For Immediate Release
March 26, 2012
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Trilateral Announcement Between Mexico, the United States, and Canada on Nuclear Security

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At the March 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, the Governments of Mexico, the United States, and Canada announced the completion of an important joint nuclear security project to convert the fuel in Mexico’s research reactor from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU).  The project was initiated at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. in April 2010, and was carried out by the three countries, working closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The full conversion of the reactor from the use of HEU to LEU fuel supports the goal of minimizing the use of HEU for civilian purposes. By converting its research nuclear reactor, Mexico contributes to non-proliferation.

President Calderón stated, “With this decision, Mexico reaffirms its commitment to building a world free of the nuclear threat. Each country must do its share to reach a safer North America and a safer planet. This is a clear example of the significant work we can do together in the North American region.”

This effort, which was conducted and completed under the auspices of the IAEA, benefited from the hard work and dedication of hundreds of individuals from all three countries and the IAEA, and it further strengthens nuclear security in North America.

President Obama stated, “I would like to thank Mexico, Canada and the IAEA for their support of our joint nuclear security efforts.  Our strong trilateral partnership, supported by the IAEA, has made our people safer and advanced our international nuclear security effort leading into the Seoul Summit.”

Prime Minister Harper added that “The successful completion of this project demonstrates the concrete steps countries can collectively take in the context of the Nuclear Security Summit. We will continue to work with the United States and Mexico to enhance nuclear security in our region and worldwide.”

The conversion will not only extend the length of time the Mexican reactor can operate with LEU fuel, it also makes the reactor eligible for further program engagement under the IAEA.  With the provided fuel, Mexico’s National Institute for Nuclear Research (ININ) also has the potential to increase the reactor power output, which would greatly improve its capabilities for medical and industrial isotope production, silicon doping, neutron radiography, and nuclear physics research such as neutron activation analysis.

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In Jerusalem Today… Netanyahu takes his case to the (Arabic) people

During a frank one-hour open interview, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to questions from visitors to his Arabic Facebook page, freely discussing such topics as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iran’s nuclear program, and what everyone hopes is the aptly-named ‘Arab Spring’.

On his administration’s efforts to pursue peace, Netanyahu said, “We are totally serious about our talks with the Palestinians: I am ready to go to Ramallah to negotiate with (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas. Moving forward with negotiations is the only way to peace, and the Israeli people want peace. We need peace, and we need a Palestinian state that will live in peace with us. I hope that Abbas will seize the opportunity.”

His comments came just days after the Palestinian delegation quit preliminary bilateral peace talks hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman.

On Iran, the PM responded, “Iran is developing nuclear weapons in order to control the entire Middle East and beyond. This is a direct threat to peace.”

By most accounts, Israel is frustrated by the slow implementation of tougher international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, the purpose of which, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concedes, may not be strictly peaceful.

RiddleThe Persian Puzzle

In response to a question about Israel’s position on the Arab Spring, Netanyahu replied: “We want to see democracy in the Arab world and we hope it will happen. There are many false views about Israel in the Arab world – many Arabs are unaware that Arab Israelis sit as members of the Israeli parliament and the government and they enjoy full rights.”

“There is a misconception regarding Israel’s will to have peace,” continued Netanyahu. “This is why I’m talking to you over the Internet, and inviting you to come and visit us. Everyone who visited us in the past changed his view.”

The Israeli PM’s Arabic Facebook page has so far received over 20,000 ‘likes’.

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Journey on, Andrew Mac

Andrew MacNaughtan, in memoriam

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5 Minutes

IT IS 5 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT 

 2012: “The challenges to rid the world of nuclear weapons, harness nuclear power, and meet the nearly  inexorable climate disruptions from global warming are complex and interconnected. In the face of such complex problems, it is difficult to see where the capacity lies to address these challenges.” Political processes seem wholly inadequate; the potential for nuclear weapons use in regional conflicts in the Middle East, Northeast Asia, and South Asia are alarming; safer nuclear reactor designs need to be developed and built, and more stringent oversight, training, and attention are needed to prevent future disasters; the pace of technological solutions to address climate change may not be adequate to meet the hardships that large-scale disruption of the climate portends.

The notice above is excerpted in its entirety from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists “Doomsday Clock” page. Click the clock to view timeline.

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