Gaza’s Steadfast Faces of Survival
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
“This, I realized, was what I could add. Not the familiar scenes of destruction in Gaza but the steadfast faces of survival. To capture each intimate portrait required that I spend just a little more time with people, that I hear a bit more about their lives, look more deeply at them. And find the story of Gaza in their faces.”
—Asim Rafiqui, photojournalist
The Virginia Quarterly Review has published Rafiqui’s stunning set of black-and-white portraits of Palestinians living through the ongoing struggle for Gaza. The photojournalist’s introduction to “Portraits of Survival” with its brief captions give the viewer an intimate glimpse into his subjects’ lives.
A point emphasized that resonated with me in several stories: stripping a person of the ability to offer hospitality to a guest is to strip one of his or her dignity.
What Stories Do We Tell?
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor
Last year, while working with a primary school class here in Belfast, a child said:
“Pádraig, let me ask you a question. God loves us right?”
Avoiding the complexity of anthropomorphic projections of human experiences onto God, I answered, from the heart of me, with what I hope.
“Yes,” I said.
“And God made us all didn’t he?” she continued.
I avoided discussions of “made” and “He” and said:
“Tell me this,” she said, “why did God make Protestants?”
When I asked her why she was asking me this, she said:
“Well, they hate us and they hate Him.”
I had been amused at the start. Now, I was not amused. I wondered what stories were educating this funny, witty, engaging, and lively child.
This child understood some human lessons and had learnt them well. They hate us. They hate our God. They are unknown, and the hollow story we tell is that they are also unknowable.
Another child that I was working with once drew a picture of a big boot, kicking a small figure. The boot was labeled “Catlichs” and the boot “Purdestints”. He could not yet spell, yet he knew the rules of the story he believed.
There is an Irish saying that I love: ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine. It translates as “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live”. Krista’s interview with John Paul Lederach reminds me of the intentionality we must incarnate when working with our lives to create avenues out of violent conflict. We must nurture unpredictable relationships. We must share shelter with people whose shelter we would rather not share. We must share stories with people whose stories we would rather not share. This may not be popular, but it may just save us.
Last week, I watched from my window as a band parade made its way from commemorations in the city northwest up the Crumlin Road. My flat is about 300 yards from the place where a sit-down protest was underway to stop those parading. The history of both groups, one mostly Catholic-Nationalist and one mostly Protestant-Unionist is important.
What is also important is that each was saying to the other “We belong here”.
“We belong here” has often been coupled with “And you don’t”, a point which we’ve proven in Ireland with grief and grieving. The slow, slow antidote to this story of not-belonging has always included something that is older than language — a positive encounter with a person who represents the thing that we think we should hate. There are stories from here that make me cry and hope every time I hear them — stories of bravery, honesty, truth-telling, sheltering, and embrace across every possible barrier to belonging.
Part of my work is facilitating discussions between people who are interested in building relationships with those who are perceived to be an “other”. Earlier this year, one group spoke of their neighbourhood’s trauma following a shooting on a Friday afternoon in the 1990s. Seven men left dead. One of the women said “and there’s many that died whose hearts kept beating”. She spoke of a Protestant paramedic who tended the bodies of Catholic dead who was so traumatised that he could never return to his work. While we speak of 3,700 people who lost their lives from our 30-year conflict, we all know someone who kept their life, but who felt like they’d lost it. There are stories within stories that are desperate to be heard, and when they’re heard, they bring us to the place of encounter and empathy, which is the essence of hope and humanity.
The riots that brought attention to Belfast last week are localised. This doesn’t mean that they are ignorable. They are not. They speak to a deep wound in our capacity to remember. A mostly-ignored government funded “Report on the Past” was published last year. Its recommendations are brave and I hope we can pay attention.
I am thinking now of Anaïs Nin who said: “We do not tell stories as they are. We tell them as we are.”
And who are we in this part of Ireland? We are people who all know stories of hurt, pain, division, separation, fury, and prejudice. We are people who have loved the land we live on. We are people who have done and spoken and created and given beautiful things and terrible things to each other. We must be educated by the stories that gave rise to last week’s events. We must engage in Lederach’s vision of the moral imagination to hear, include, and transcend these events.
And, we must tell different stories. Not necessarily new ones, but deeper ones — stories of remembering, belonging, safety, and shelter.
Pádraig Ó Tuama lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland where he works in reconciliation and chaplaincy initiatves, primarily with the Irish Peace Centres’ Faith in Positive Relations programmes. Part of his community work involves writing poetry to encapsulate some of the stories of living and dying in the context of the Irish conflict. He posts occasional poetry at Hold Your Self Together.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Photo Caption: Nationalist protesters block the route of Loyalist Protestant Orangemen in the Ardoyne area of North Belfast, Northern Ireland as they return home from their traditional Twelfth of July celebrations in the city center on July 12, 2010. (photo: Stephen Wilson/AFP/Getty Images)
Memories of a New Associate Producer
Shubha Bala, associate producer
As the newest addition to Speaking of Faith, my first task has been to prepare the show “No More Taking Sides” for rebroadcast in a couple of weeks. Listening to Ali say “Nobody want to be honest. Everybody want to be right,” reminded me of working in Gujarat when “state-sanctioned” violence, torture, and rape broke out across the state, primarily with Hindus attacking Muslims.
Although Hindu by birth, I was working there for a non-denominational organization. I was 20. Under 24-hour curfew, the media were saturated with images of brutality happening just down the street. More importantly, the dialogue of friends and colleagues concentrated on “us” versus “them.”
Recently, a friend read my personal narrative and asked, “Didn’t the Hindus realize the irony that came with attaching terms of violence to the Muslims?” Well no. Not the Hindus that took a side. They felt they were right and all Muslims were wrong. As for me, in addition to coping with the sheer force of violence, I was equally faced with a personal crisis — the Hindus I met believed I was part of “them,” but I just wanted to be human and I wanted the brutality to stop.
Robi and Ali’s story makes me imagine that organizations like Parents Circle - Family Forum can break down the centuries of opposing sides that have persisted between Hindus and Muslims.
The problem was not a shortage of sincerity but an excess of zeal in which self-belief overrode objective judgment.
— —Jonathan Aitken, commenting in The Guardian on former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his role in the lead-up to, and the aftermath of, the Iraq war. Aitken says that “once the Chilcot inquiry establishes the truth about Iraq, we should be quick not to judge, but to forgive.”
Trent Gilliss, online editor
A Rare Chagall “Crucifixion” Painting Surfaces
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Saw this over the weekend in the London Times and thought it was worth sharing for those of you who missed it.
Quite some time ago, we chose Marc Chagall’s “La Crucifixion Blanche” (1938) as the lead image for our program, “The Jewish Roots of the Christian Story” with our guest, Joel Marcus. “White Crucifixion” is the first in a series of Chagall’s major crucifixion paintings in which he focused on the persecution of his fellow Jews by Hitler and the Nazis through depictions of Jesus dying on the cross and his essential Jewish nature. (Ziva Amishai-Maisels’ exploration of Chagall’s painting is a good starting point for better understanding the nuanced detail and subtle narrative devices used in “White Crucifixion.”)
A previously unknown 1945 gouache painted by the French-Russian artist while living in New York surfaced in a recent auction in Paris. Keeping it on the down-low, the London Jewish Museum of Art purchased “Apocalypse in Lilac, Capriccio” for the relatively paltry sum of 30,000 euros, about $43,000. The small museum kept it quiet so that major museums and other collectors wouldn’t bid up the price.
And, now, after all these years in hiding, the painting will be displayed in London this coming week. What a treasure for the public to behold.
(“White Crucifixion” courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago, a gift of Alfred S. Alschuler)
Only in a state of great powerlessness, weakness, fear, and anxiety does the idea of justified torture sound even remotely reasonable to an otherwise good and moral man.
— Geoffrey Cornish, who quotes his father’s friend who helped soldiers escape from Japanese work camps in WWII, in response to our blog post about Darius Rejali’s personal interest in the torture debate.
The rest of his comment is well worth reading.
Whistleblowers, Resistors, and Defectors
Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
As I continued to do research for our upcoming program, “The Long Shadow of Torture,” I discovered an Australian public radio documentary that follows up with some of the original participants in Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments from the 1960s. In those experiments, participants were instructed to deliver increasingly intense electric shocks to a 50-something man whenever he answered a word problem incorrectly. Milgram, a social psychologist at Yale University, wanted to see how far ordinary citizens would go in inflicting harm on another person while under direction from an authority figure. What the participants didn’t know is that the whole experiment was rigged — the electroshock machine was a fake and the man receiving the shocks was an actor.
Milgram discovered that under the right social conditions many people will go along with what they’re told to do. One of the people who resisted during the Milgram experiment was WWII veteran and Communist Party activist Joseph Dimow. In his 2008 interview, Dimow says that being persecuted for his involvement with “the CP” gave him “the grit” to challenge authority. But he also wonders about the choices he might have made if the Communist Party had ordered him to things that were similarly harmful. Would he have complied out of a desire to belong and be accepted by the group? In the audio clip above, he contemplates these questions in his own words.
In Krista’s interview with Darius Rejali, he mentions Sgt. Joseph Darby (pictured above), the whistleblower who notified Army Criminal Investigation Command about detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. Rejali says it’s hard to know what moved him. In 2005 Darby received a JFK Profile in Courage Award. Here is an excerpt from his acceptance speech:
I’d like to tell you a small story. When we first entered the country of Iraq, crossing from Kuwait to Iraq, there’s a half mile of no man’s land, a barren desert with no moving vehicles, no people, no life. As we crossed that, I can honestly tell you today that I could not remember why I had left my wife and my family. And I did not know what waited for me on the other side.
But a few weeks later in Hillah, I had an experience that changed that. Our patrol was approached by a small group of children. And a small, unbathed girl around seven in a one-piece dress came and tugged on my uniform and said, “Mister, give me food.”
As I looked into her eyes, my doubt evaporated. I knew why we were there and I knew that we had to be there. And I knew that while we were there, we represented something larger than ourselves. We represented our country, its values, its principles, its morals.
Six months later, I was faced with the toughest decision. On one hand, I had my morals and the morals of my country. On the other, I had my comrades, my brothers in arms.
Today, for the first time since I’ve returned home, I am able to stand here publicly and be proud of my decisions to put the values of my country and its reputation ahead of everything else.
Rejali Reprise and Why Resistors Resist
» download (mp3, 3:19)
Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
Recently, Krista sent around an e-mail saying she wanted to look into Darius Rejali as a possible show guest to explore the topic of torture. I was about to fire up Google when I realized I was already familiar with Rejali’s voice and ideas. Last year I worked on an American RadioWorks documentary called “What Killed Sergeant Gray” about Iraq veterans who’ve been psychologically devastated by their experiences with detainee abuse. Rejali was tapped as a voice for the program.
In that interview, as well as in his more recent conversation with Krista, I found myself drawn to his discussion of when and why people resist the group-think pressure to go along with what Rejali calls a “torture bureaucracy.” Rejali says that while these resistors haven’t been formally studied, they do seem to have in common an affiliation with a belief system — whether it’s derived from their family, religion, or a political party — that conflicts with whatever the torture bureaucracy is telling them to do.
Above is some audio from the unedited interview from the documentary in which Rejali talks more about these conflicts. Here, Rejali makes reference to French soldiers who refused to perpetrate torture during the French-Algerian war in the 1950s and early 60s. He also mentions social science experiments that would be illegal today but have taught us about the power of social situations in determining people’s propensity to obey or defy authority — specifically the famous Milgram obedience study. We decided to use some audio from the these experiments in our upcoming show.
*Thanks to American RadioWorks for permission to use this source audio and Michael Montgomery, Joshua Phillips, and Catherine Winter.