Wednesday, December 20, 2006

France's true colors

Sorry for the absence, darlings! I was really busy with my Darfur activism and NA Miami with Nidya, among other things. Less than a month ago, a French judge issued an arrest warrant on Rwandan President Paul Kagame along with nine of his associates of the shotting down of an aircraft that killed then President Juvenal Habyarimana and triggered the 1994 genocide. Yet despite that, France grants immunity to heads of states and there for can't make an arrest. As expected, Rwandan officials were inraged and broke diplomatic ties with France. For many years, Kagame has accused France on playing a role in the murder of the Tutsis, to which they keep dening and accusing Kagame of shotting down Habyarimana's plane. I would think that Kagame would have more brains and common sense not taking part in the President's assaination. Andrew Waills has written a book on France's role during the Rwandan genocide called ''Silent Accomplice: The Untold Story of France's Role in the Rwandan Genocide'' in which reveal' France's sinister role during the genocide by providing millitary, finacial, and diplomatic support to Hutu extremists doing the bulk of the killings. History won't judge France to kindy on it's secretive role in Rwanda's genocide.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Review: Conspiracy to Murder (part one)

Everybody involved in the pursuit of preventing genocide, has a moment when they switch onto its horrors and vow that 'this must never happen again - not on my watch'. For me, it was Linda Melvern's words that did it at the 10th anniversary conference organised by Never Again and the Imperial War Museum. Her words haunted me to the extent that I continue to have trouble writing down what she said - it was about the women who were raped every day of the genocide and still die every day of the after-effects. Since then, despite becoming incresingly involved in peacebuilding, I have avoided reading Melvern's very clinical, forensic books about the genocide, which she has worked tirelessly on since conducting some of the first interview about it in 2006. Call it cowardice if you like. But it is true that everybody, whether or not they feel they have any involvement in building a more peaceful world, has a responsibility to at least listen to what was done in their name, or if not in their name to the detriment of humanity.

I've finally started reading Conspiracy to Murder, which has been updated and republished in paperback this year. It does have the hard-hitting style that I expected but so far has been less haunting than interesting and compelling. In the first two chapters Melvern outlines the history of genocide - 'a deliberate attempt to reconstruct history' - detailing the different theories behind ethnic division in the small African country and the methods used by different parties to exacerbate and take advantage of two groups that lived, worked and built families together.

From the first two chapters, you can see that some of the conditions that caused genocide are still there. A densely populated country with limited space and a mobile population. A one-party state and reports of arbitrary arrests. Even the idea of communal work, twisted into massacres, still finds echoes in the much more positive pursuit of Sunday tidy-ups which Rwandans sometimes grumble about in the New Times. I wonder why Rwandans are so quick to condemn Amnesty International now when they were often the only organisation drawing attention to what was happening in Rwanda before the genocide.

The biggest difference, I hope, is in the youth. As I read over familiar names, I think of Ladislas, our Clubs Chairman who has walked great areas to set up Groups that now inspire youth to meet across divides. The issue of unemployment is also being addressed by Never Again as well as many other groups in income generating projects.

Another difference is in connection. Rwanda is quickly establishing itself as a green country with a multiligual, charming population who can talk to those of us in other countries who were born with all the opportunity in the world - admittedly this is still far too limited. They have the sort of confidence that is taken for granted in the West, but is rarely suggested for the 'poor Africans'. I remember being told that nobody in Rwanda ever starved and that Rwanda was the place where God might leave, but he would always come back. Many young Rwandans - most of those I met there who became my friends - grew up outside the country and are now back in the only place they can call home. As long as they continue to turn their back on violence and to work in fellowship with those who witnessed the horrors as children, I have a lot of hope for Rwanda.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Never Again International

Never Again International
30 November 2006 What is Happening Between France and Rwanda? A View Inside Rwanda.

“I hear there is rioting going on in Rwanda!” These were the first words out of my mother’s mouth in the middle of the night, last night. Considering we had not spoken since I left America a month ago, I thought this was a warm hello! In my slumbered-drowsiness I had to reassure her, “No, there are no riots going on in Rwanda right now. They have only closed the French Embassy, expelling the French Ambassador; closed the French Cultural Alliance; and, most erroneously, closed the Ecole d’Francais (a secondary school—not for French people, but for Rwandans, just completely taught in French).” Most of my lethargic surprise in my mother’s inquiry was that this had somehow even made news somewhere in Los Angeles—America seems not to notice such distant turmoil so well.

To alleviate my mother’s fears, I failed to mention that there are massive pro-government (e.g. Paul Kagame) rallies at most of the major gathering places around the country—football stadiums, churches, etc. According to the government mouthpiece newspaper, The New Times, something like 20,000 people turned out for such a rally at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali in support of his “Excellency.” I also failed to mention to my mother that many people here assume I am French before they talk to me anyway (it may be a white thing) and that if any random acts of unmitigated violence were to occur on the solitary “Frenchman” they would have already occurred. Okay, well actually I did get pick-pocketed the other day, but I doubt it had anything to do with assumptions of French ness and more to do with poverty and whiteness…

So what is going on between and amongst the French and Rwandan governments? And what about between and amongst the French and Rwandan people? All of what I know is either from The New Times (the only English daily here), the BBC website, and word of mouth from Rwandans based on what they are hearing from their sources and from the Rwandan radio stations which are constantly in tune. Suffice it to say, I can only imagine that while almost every Rwandan has some idea of what is going on (be it propaganda or truth), I doubt that the charges against Rwandan officials by a French magistrate are making too many headlines in France or in French national communities around the world. As for the real details, this essay should not be your source.

Rwanda is a country that is attempting to heal and reconcile from the scars of the past—every single day and in every single way of life. I can’t imagine walking around Lyon or Marseille, and having to encounter bitterness over Napoleon’s sale of Louisiana to Thomas Jefferson (the Louisiana Purchase) or Hitler’s jaunt through the Arc Du Triomphe, in every part of life. In Rwanda, there is no question in anyone’s mind the role the French played in the genocide that occurred in 1994. The French role in the years before the genocide, allowing for the build up of arms and other weapons into this country in support of the oppressive government in power at the time, is not easily forgotten in the halls of Rwandan authority.

As I arrived in Rwanda, the government of Rwanda was on the verge of publishing and disseminating a report describing the role of the French in the genocide. The report was to provide first-hand and documentary accounts (witness testimonials, observation, etc) of French soldiers allowing genocidairres free passage out of the country; of French soldiers and officials checking Rwandan ID cards to determine who was Hutu or Tutsi (or Twa); of the French ‘Operation Turquoise’ to actually allow the continuation of the genocide in some parts of the country; and on and on. It is certain that in 1993, Rwanda was one of the leading purchasers of weapons in the world (probably in proportion to GNP), and most of that was coming through the help of the French government and French intermediaries (as well as Egypt and a couple of other places, with strong French ties). At the same point, do not forget that France was the only government to act at all during the genocide, in any way. The U.N. peacekeepers were repeatedly denied the capabilities to engage perpetrators, and were often about to withdraw altogether. The U.S. road blocked military intervention, as did the other members of the Security Council (until France acted unilaterally), and the list goes on.

I am not sure if the report has been officially released as of yet, but the information espoused in it is common knowledge around Rwanda (accurate knowledge is another conversation and gets too much into semantics). This must have made some waves in France somewhere, because it was not long after that the French Magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguierre, issued arrest warrants for 9 Rwandan Patriotic Front members (the party in power and of his “Excellency” that is considered to have ended the civil war/genocide in Rwanda, with little international support), not including President Kagame—who as a head-of-state is immune to prosecution/indictment according to French law (damn, I guess we can’t convince Bruguierre to issue a warrant for Dickey and Bushey). The charge links the 9 members of the RPF—who are mostly in the military cabinet of the current government—to the shooting down of the plane carrying Juvenal Habyarimana, the then-president of Rwanda, igniting the genocide the following morning. Why is a French magistrate taking up this case? Because the entire flight crew of the plane, which also carried the Burundian head-of-state, were French nationals.

What is the rationale of a French magistrate to basically accuse the Rwandan government of murder, again, 12-13 years after the genocide (Kagame had been the commanding general of the RPF/A when the plane was shot down, but has repeatedly denied that it was done by the RPF/A)? Why now? Why in this context? For Rwandans, it just seems to be another slap in the face from the international community which not only ignored them during the genocide, but also directly and poignantly ignored the signs leading to the perpetration of the genocide as well as to indirectly help carry it out. It does not seem to make sense, to Rwandans, that a country like France (large, economically-sound, powerful) would not only have helped the perpetrators at the time of the genocide, but come forth with accusations against a country that struggles everyday to keep its feet on the ground. The local conspiracy theorists are apt to claim the French are still angry in part for losing out on a Francophone country and are doing whatever they can, retributively, to remind Rwandans of the horrors of the past.

Still, this does not answer why a French magistrate would issue these warrants. According to the BBC, the French government is disassociating itself from Bruguierre, saying he acted in isolation and without the French government condoning the warrants. The Rwandan government doesn’t buy this, especially with their suspicions of the French government based on centuries of direct and indirect colonialism and imperialism. Rwanda has pulled their ambassador from France and cut all diplomatic ties.

What is going on here? Where can “blame” fall, if anywhere? This tit-for-tat struggle seems like a useless power struggle, not between nations (as I have mentioned, I have doubts if this issue is getting much “play” in France), but between men. As usual, we are in a historical, geopolitical context where men are out to prove themselves to each other and large swathes of powerless people. It is a patriarchal assertion of power that is both timeless and inane. How do you judge right and wrong, when right and wrong is not the goal of the argument, as everyone and everything is right and wrong (according to those who determine right and wrong!)?

Is Rwanda moving “forward” by again asserting French complicity and action in the genocide? Everyone knows there was involvement to some extent, but the current Rwandan power structure should know better than to make accusations, as well. Who is going to care out there, in this large, paternalistic world that would be willing to act in the favour of Rwanda? Nobody much cared about Rwanda before 1994 (by nobody, I mean the halls of power in this world—the old, “white” guys of the “Western” world), and not much has changed in world power structures since then. Sure, we have a Ghanaian as the head of the United Nations, but he didn’t do enough to avoid the Rwandan genocide, when he had the opportunity (before he was the Secretary-General) and the U.S. war on an imaginary target (terrorism—of which it is the biggest perpetrator) in Iraq and elsewhere, has proven that they are not long for being the global-power it was for the second half of the twentieth century. But this is still not a context for action in favour of Rwanda on a broad scale—one that would bring compassion and empathy enough to push France into admissions of wrongdoing. This seems a false and useless struggle to partake in for Rwanda, it will not get anywhere, and it seems only to boost the prestige of the government in power. In other words: propaganda.

As for France, of course, they have not much to lose in admitting wrong-doing, they also have not much to gain in issuing arrest warrants for high-level Rwandan government officials. Whether the magistrate acted alone in his issuances does not really matter. Whether it is France, or if it were the British, Portuguese, Germans, Spanish, Dutch, Belgians or anyone else that has a stake in historically-colonized people’s (America, too), this is another example of irresponsible articulations of historical grievances. All of the colonial powers have left legacies of atrocity, death, manipulation, control, and iron-fisted rule throughout the world. In the “post-“colonial world, these same countries are facing the impact of their past actions in manifestations that are belligerent and residual—which is all due to their own legacies of colonization. Domination is not just about the “here and now” but about the future too. For anyone to claim the legacy of slavery in the U.S. has diminished over the years is kidding themselves; anyone who claims the problems that persist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, today, is not somehow related to the devastation wrought by King Leopold is a fool; and anyone who looks at religious “fundamentalism/extremism” throughout the world and see it as only a problem of Islam, is from another planet.

There is a long way to go before the “ex-“colonized countries are no longer colonized. Now, capitalism is a form of colonialism. It provides the same old direct and indirect rule of small, poor, autonomous states and impoverished people’s. It provides dependency (i.e. Rwanda will still be dependent, in someway, on France, no matter how this current problem plays out) that is impossible to relinquish vis-à-vis world bodies (like the World Bank, IMF, U.N.) and seductively, unequal bilateral relationships (government to government: USAID, DeD, DFID, GTZ, CIDA and NPA are as prominent here as hills and bananas). Frantz Fanon, in “Wretched of the Earth” and “Black Skin, White Masks,” wrote of the need for the mind to be decolonized, and then the condition for revolution of the poor, disenfranchised people of the world will prevail. But we are still not there; the neo-colonial power structure is making sure that there will never be such a revolution. This is not speaking of France-Rwanda, in particular, or of rich and poor, but of the need for an alternative power structure—be it geopolitical or psychological (Fanon) in nature, who knows—to have the space to exist in this world.

Since the expulsion of the French ambassador and the warrants for the arrest of the RPF leadership, there has been an outpouring of “love” for his “Excellency,” President Paul Kagame. In the newspaper, each day, there has been at least 4 or 5 full-page advertisements from “opposition” parties, government institutions and businesses alike showing their support for the president. At the bottom of each ad it is stated “LONG LIVE PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME, LONG LIVE DEMOCRACY, LONG LIVE RWANDA.” There are pictures of anti-French, or pro-RPF, protesters with signs saying things like “Jean-Louis Bruguirre: We denounce your genocidal ideology!” And the numbers that go with the pictures are a bit misleading (of course, if you are prone to attend protests, numbers are often manipulated depending on who is doing the reporting).

Personally, I have not seen one person carrying or showing anything visible in protest walking around Kigali. Here in Kigali, people are going about their daily struggles—I doubt thoughts of devious French politics (oh, sorry don’t want to sound too much like the American White House) are permeating in thoughts of the people. Why worry about such things if it is difficult to feed your family or put clothes on your back? I have half-joked that maybe I shouldn’t be speaking French in public, less someone mistake me for a French national. Of course, my French still sucks, so I don’t think anyone who hears me speak French would at all accuse me of being French!

I know there is a lot of misinformation and manipulation that is going on, right now, in every direction. While the impact will be much more acute on the Rwandan populace than anywhere else, it is still useless fuel to add to all responsible actor’s machismo fire. Where is this struggle, in the halls of power and minds of men, going? We are seeing another reason being written to not challenge the authority of the Rwandan government, as well; we are witnessing another unforgivable and miscalculated act by the “authority” of an ex-colonizer. Maybe both France and Rwanda should focus more on the people being screwed (metaphorically and literally) in their own countries and stop attempting to placate internal and external opposition through the use of arbitrary power struggles. France is struggling with their debates about “immigration” (similar to the racism and elitism that abounds around this issue in the U.S. and U.K) and Rwanda is struggling with reconciliation and justice, poverty and governance.

If I leave you with one thing though, let it be this: Regardless of whether this Rwanda-France issue has to do with the genocide or not, whatever you do, do not confine this to a Rwanda-France issue. This is something we see all over the world and throughout time as a useless power struggle of weak versus strong (we already know who wins before the struggle begins). It is not about the masses of people within autonomous state boundaries, but about the assertions of a few who must keep grip on that which gives them power and authority. This is as much an American or Chinese issue as it s a French or Rwandan issue. Once again, we are witnessing words and actions used to perpetrate violence, albeit this violence may be more psychological than anything, it is still very much violence. Maybe if the minds of those in power used a little more compassion to understand their people or more imagination to come up with solutions to what really ails societies, than we would not see such mind-numbing abuses of power being perpetrated as often.

No, my mother was wrong, there is no rioting going on in Rwanda right now. Maybe she was just thinking about oppressed people’s, in general, and the need to literally and metaphorically resort to riots in order to be heard or seen. I think what we are all seeing, globally—be it with France and Rwanda, Iraq and America, Russia and Chechnya, George Bush and the face in the mirror—is a profound failure of the imagination to envision a world without negative conflict, that can move toward sustainable peace.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Never Again International

Never Again International
22 November 2006

A Poorly Written Internal Dialogue About Freedom of Speech and its Implications in Peacebuilding

Though the power has gone out again, we do have a couple of things going for us at the Peacebuilding Centre (PbC): the gang of gigantor-grasshoppers that have somehow found their way inside to flutter their helicopter wings at the tip of our hair, the small tin with a scented candle burning its breath on us and, well, 5 hours of battery power on this computer.

Something keeps coming up this week, if not in reality, than at least in my mind (which, you may come to notice, is often far from reality): This question of free speech and free expression. One of the things that Never Again promotes is critical thinking. Is this possible in a society that knowingly, practically willingly, says that free speech is not only bad but also counter-intuitive? Rwanda is by far not “out of the woods,” but there has been a lot done to encourage the role of youth in preventing another atrocity (oh, you know like that of mass ethnic cleansing) from occurring. In fact, that is what we/I am doing here, right? This whole idea of “peacebuilding” begins with the youth. But in order to promote peace, it seems that voices are somewhat subjugated.

This came up the other day, as I was observing a discussion about a proposal that someone had submitted to Never Again Rwanda (NAR). I am not sure what the proposal was really about, but part of the background in the piece mentioned that some RPF members had murdered innocent Hutu’s as the civil war was coming to an end (it was considered over when the RPF ended the genocide in July 1994). It was mentioned that by putting this in writing, the proposal writer was basically denying the genocide (which I don’t think was at all implied) by saying Tutsi’s had killed Hutu’s. It was said this kind of stuff cannot be written and that it can be punishable.

At the same time, we say “Never Again,” we say “oh, everyone must have rights, everyone must be equal as we are all the same.” All right, so this is a highly contextualized situation in Rwanda, magnified in so many people’s minds for what happened in 1994. But when terms like “genocidal ideology” and “manipulation” and “divisionism” can be tossed around every time opposition is brought to an idea, isn’t that actually a complete contradiction in terms? So maybe you are having trouble connecting this to my initial reaction to free speech, free expression, and critical thinking (I sure am, so if you aren’t maybe you know something about me that I don’t, so let me know). Maybe I should try to de-contextualize for a moment.

To completely take this conversation in another direction, think about the reaction to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) when they protect the neo-Nazis, KKK, or Skinheads in their right to hold a rally in some polarized neighbourhood somewhere in America. As much as one may speak hatred, and as much as I would be one of the first people out there acting against the hate speech, they are allowed to use their first amendment rights. While I hate (hmm, such a strong word—reminds me of a lot of real negative stuff) that such a rally can take place, I accept it and maybe I get 10,000 of my closest friends and get a marching permit across the street (or maybe I anonymously tip the cops about the anarchists in black—think WTO, Seattle, Starbucks and windows—hanging out in the middle of the crowd of white-supremacists and wait for the billy-clubs to shine).

Okay, so maybe that is a frivolous example, as Americans are not cumulatively dealing with PTSD. Heck, we are much more clever in hiding our genocides. We only celebrate them at holidays (Thanksgiving, Columbus Day) and protract them over centuries so no one has to notice anymore (unless you are, oh I don’t know, Native American or African American), turning our institutions and systems—schools, the “justice” system, health care—into metaphoric, but very real, killing fields. Americans, and other “Westerners,” supposedly live in peaceful societies. Even though we are still engaged in conflict internally and externally. We deny needing to do such things as “peacebuilding” as we are not in acute conflict (tell that to someone still displaced in Mississippi or Louisiana). We sit in international “development” institutes focused on “peacebuilding” elsewhere (us vs. them) and barely take part in it ourselves. We can have hate speech because we are a “free” society and we are also “peace-loving” therefore we know how to deal with opposition. Bullshit.

Have I made an argument yet? Probably not. I think what I may be trying to question, is: must free speech and free expression be curbed in order to build a peaceful society? It almost needs another step back in order to ask our selves “what is a peaceful society?” Is it one without conflict, whereby there may not be any opposition? Is it one where there is equal distribution of resources—materially and monetarily? What exactly are we building toward if really what needs to be eliminated is poverty, hunger and malaria (okay, you can add HIV/AIDS, guns, rich corporations needing to exploit raw materials and women and girls that have to walk miles each day to achieve water or wood for their families) in order for even the possibility for “peace” to exist?

How can we claim to promote critical thinking in our youth, if we cannot promote freedom of speech in society? I find something very hypocritical in that. I am not sure if I am willing to pass this one off as “oh, they experienced genocide, it is okay to curb some rights to avoid from happening again.” Is not the silencing of oppositional forces one of the first signs of society in turmoil? I am not talking about the need to allow anyone to say anything about everything. Silencing turns into a real constructive way for the voiceless to become angry and rise-up. We have seen this in many manifestations in the last 50 years: Watts in 1965, Everywhere in Europe in 1968, Soweto in 1976, Tiananmen in 1989, my mothers kitchen in 1991, L.A. in 1992, Paris and Ethiopia in 2005, and the various many I left out.

“Peacebuilding” is a great word, and it could have a great meaning. It takes words with negative connotations like turmoil, conflict and hate, and attempts to throw them into a receptacle (or burn them in a metal tin in the yard of the Peacebuilding Centre). But, there is so much just under the surface of “peacebuilding” in Rwanda. How do we, whether we are outsiders or Rwandans, decipher and pragmatically approach “peacebuilding” in this context? There is so much to be said about language and speech. How long can “genocidal ideologies” be used before people realize it is code for “shut up or watch out!”? And, with a whimper, freedom of expression and speech is gone.

As I am obviously full of questions and very empty of answers, maybe I will leave you with all I have just said as the power is back on and the gigantor-grasshoppers are sleeping. This means I can cozy up for a book about genocide underneath my mosquito-proof canopy that allows me to believe I am living in an antiquity-era English castle.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Never Again International

Never Again International
For the Blog:

12 November, 2006: Somebody’s Getting Married

Here is something a little more cheery than our usual blogs that announce our coming fates and faults in the ways of global death and destruction (I am at fault on this one, sorry). A wedding occurred amidst the chaos:

Our fearless leader (after all, he did face New York City for 2 months and came out standing), Albert Nzamukwereka, is no longer fearless, but, uh, married. On 11 November (okay, it started on 10 November and probably went into the wee-hours of 12 November), Never Again Rwanda’s (NAR) director got married. As a peacebuilding “activist” Albert can come up with the ideas that shape the way Great Lakes Regional youth will interact with the issues that face them as they grow. Now, he will get the opportunity to do the same thing at a more micro level—with his family.

On the evening of the 10th, Albert and Innocente’s closest families and friends gathered at the compound of National Defence in Kigali to take part in the civil ceremony with the Justice of the Peace (though I thought that was Albert’s role—Justice of the Peace, that is). Upon approaching Albert, it was obvious he was nervous. Looking sleek and spiffy in his suit, his first words to me as he stared at his phone, twenty minutes past the meet time, were “Jed, I have not heard from where Innocente is.” She had not yet arrived, but within minutes she was there, astounding in her pre-marriage dress. We entered the hall and the civil ceremony took place: a guy talked for a long time, Albert and Innocente sat in front of everyone, pictures were taking, documents were signed and we were all humbled.

From this, there was a reception at a nearby restaurant. Basically, a chance to ogle at the newly civil ceremony-ized married couple.

On the 11th, there was a church wedding at Zion Temple in Kicukiro, one of the many suburbs of Kigali. Along with 2 other couple’s, Albert and Innocente got through their religious ceremonial marriage after long last. The preacher preached, the choir choired and the congregation congregated to the hymns and haws of gospel and religious fervour. Albert and Innocente definitely stood out amongst the couples as they were the only ones that did not look horribly awkward and uncomfortable throughout the process. I think Albert may have even said something funny at one point (uh…). Their nervous tension showed as they went through the ceremony, but once it came to revealing the bride from beneath the veil, Albert was obviously ecstatic, and Innocente as well. Vows were exchanged and now they will be together forever (wow, that statement was a lot more absolute than I am used to making).

From there, it was off to Green Hills for the reception. This was only for Albert and Innocente, of course. The hall was beautifully decorated and jam-packed with family, friends, and well-wishers (Mazungu count: 9.5). A barrage of soda was served, music was played, we sat and stared at the married couple, a champagne cork (non-alcoholic, of course) was popped and flew across the room directly at my face (of all people…), cake was cut and served to everyone (except 3 small rows of gatherers, needless to say I was in one of those rows—but the cake sure looked good!). One man from each side of the family got up to share the ceremonial banana beer and talk about how Albert and Innocente met—this is all a time-honoured tradition and according to my source they were really just talking about cows and promises for drinks at a later time. Then gifts were presented to bride and groom, a song was sung, dancers performed, Innocente cried, Albert held back tears (peacebuilders are not allowed to cry in the face of marriage, I guess) but was obviously lost in thought about the future.

After the reception, there was another event back at Albert’s home. He had spent the previous months making is home acceptable to Innocente’s family, and so after the reception close family, friends and I were invited to come witness the ritual of watching as Innocente’s family came to judge Innocente’s new digs. I think they approved, for a few moments later all her belongings and a bunch of massive peace baskets were hauled into the house. Stuff kept on appearing, I would think “there couldn’t possibly be anymore” and all of a sudden a human-sized suitcase would appear. Talk about coming into a relationship with a lot of baggage (shit, that was too easy, disregard that last sentence and the obvious self-critique in it). Afterward, there was a lot of sitting, talking, staring, and, without precedent, drinking of soda.

What have we learned from this? And how, and why, does it matter to Never Again International and Rwanda? There are no full answers to these questions. But it is important to remind ourselves that no matter how much we are hating ourselves or our world for all the inhumanity and death that men (and a couple of women—thank you Ms. Thatcher) bring upon this world, we can still find some sustenance in the hope that love can come from somewhere and go somewhere. A lot of what this organization, and others like it, aims to do is to envision a better tomorrow and we often struggle (at least, in the Western sense) with how to make that more concrete and less abstract. Sometimes it may be more fruitful to go back to the basics and remind ourselves that we can still look for happiness amidst the chaos and anger. This is coming from someone who knows little how to do any of what I just proclaimed we should do and someone who untrusts the idea of marriage at this point in his life—but this is okay, I can still feign over the good it may do for others.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Arms Trade Treaty

news from the Control Arms Campaign, a joint collaboration between IANSA, Amnesty International and Oxfam:

30 October 2006

After three years of campaigning, the Control Arms campaign achieved a massive victory on Thursday, October 26, when 139 governments voted in the favor of a UN resolution to start work towards an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). While 24 governments abstained, the United States was the only government to vote against the resolution. This was a curious outcome, as well as a disappointing one, given that the United States’ own laws and regulations are generally seen to set the standards of best practice at the national level.

Going into the vote, 116 governments co-sponsored the resolution; a huge number for such a bold initiative. 15 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates supported the call for an Arms Trade Treaty this week in a statement issued by the Arias Foundation and the Control Arms Campaign.

Specifically, the resolution calls upon the UN Secretary General to first collect the views of member states on the feasibility and draft parameters for “a comprehensive, legally-binding instrument establishing common standards for the import, export, and transfer of conventional arms” - an ATT - and second to establish a group of governmental experts to examine the issue in detail and report back to the UN General Assembly.

This resolution still needs to be formally adopted at the UN General Assembly in the month's time where more votes in favor of the resolution are envisaged. There is a long way to go until the treaty comes into effect, but this is a hugely important first step.

We would not have reached this point without the support of the more than 1 million people who have joined the Million Faces, and the thousands of dedicated and creative campaigners who have worked so hard up to now on the campaign. We’re counting on you as we continue our efforts to persuade the US to alter its position.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Do you know? Now you know. . .

sometimes i wonder if anyone's paying attention to how fk'd up things are getting here. take action at

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Networking, Darfur, and things in between

Been a while since I last wrote a blog, because I've been quite busy with tasks here and there. I made friends with Nidya, a new NA member in Miami and we came up with the idea to start a NA chapter/network here for youth activists towards global conflict resolution and genocide wawareness/prevention. So far, we've contacted people whom could help, posted flyer's and planned what to do in the next couple of months. I'm still continuing my Darfur campaign at school (no I'm not wearing the sign sad to say) and recently did a presentation for a teacher, who is a sponcer of a club I'm in. He was so impressed that he gave me his ceramic apple for appreciation. That was really sweet for his part I must say! Slowly, I think I might be able to reach the message at my school and quiting isn't an option for me! It seems that things in Darfur, things are going to get way worse then getting better. I'd better hope Annan uses his last months as Secretary-General and work harder to force the Sudanese to acepect a UN Peacekeeping force.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The latest edition of Africa Confidential (, has a short subscription-only piece, "An astonishing attack on Sudanese President Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir in the Saudi press signals a crack in Arab solidarity over Khartoum's policy on Darfur".

It raises hope that the one big lacuna in criticism of Khartoum - the Arab world - could shortly change its tune. We shall see if this is in fact merely a forgettable diplomatic gambit and minor variation in proxy Saudi diplomacy.

The victims in Darfur are mostly Sufis from the West African tradition; their oppressors, followers of Qutb's austere neo-conservative Islam, the Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood. But opposition to intervention has come from not only from the Arab world, but also from Western intelligence agencies.

Africa Confidential reported earlier this year that at a meeting in December 2005, British, French and US intelligence agencies lobbied against indictments against senior personalities in the National Congress (National Islamic Front) regime, presumably because Khartoum is co-operating with the West in hunting down Al-Qaeda remnants.

Western policy over Darfur has been deeply schizophrenic, with all the talk of pressure and opposition to ethnic cleansing often quietly voided when the public is not paying attention, by diplomatic concerns and fears of taking on another contretemps with a Muslim-majority state.

I'm not a human rights professional, and can only throw in the odd daring theoretical point or political-intelligence tidbit. I'd like to hand the blog now, as it were, back to the people who really make a difference, the active campaigners.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A phrase came to me the other day: "The Moral Burden of Anti-Genocide". And then, another phrase, "Israel in Palestine, Rwanda in the Congo".

The record of Israel in Palestine and Rwanda in Congo is problematic. Both Israel and Rwanda are definitive post-genocide states.

The ruthlessness of Israel in the occupied territories, in its war with Palestinian terrorists and guerrillas is well-documented; what divides opinion in the state of Israel is whether this is an occasion for liberal regret or bitter realism.

Likewise the Rwandan military has been criticised by the UN for coldly being diverted by economic priorities in eastern Congo as it pursued remnants of the Interahamwe.

Israel's neighbours have mostly weak national security structures, and have often suffered from serious internal security challenges. The same is true of the DRC, Rwanda's neighbour.


Ben Gurion said, he who applies a moral calculus to the question of Zionism, cannot by definition be a Zionist. Will a Rwandan who applies a moral calculus to his country's policy in the eastern DRC be counted a patriot?

Never Again must search out not only the precursors and preconditions for genocide, but also track the long-term effects of genocide on the survivor peoples and the consequences for their political destiny.


Two pointed questions may be asked, so as to ensure we look at the issues on a large enough scale. Neither has any answer.

Does a people which has suffered genocide face a higher or a lower moral bar when its actions are considered in the court of international opinion?

Is the exercise of a brutal realpolitik by the leaders of a people which has survived genocide more excusable, or less excusable, after the fact of genocide?

These questions can never be answered. It is fruitless to ask them, even. They cause only more moral uncertainty, and encourage the wicked.

But they do make one shining point clear.

The moral burden of anti-genocide is one of the most terrible, grand and solemn moral burdens that can be imposed on any people.

Unlike the moral burden of empire or war, it can never be freely chosen.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mireille in Africa: Never Again International

Mireille is just in the midst of starting her own blog to let everyone know about her journey as well.

Here is the address!!

Mireille in Africa: Never Again International

Thursday, September 28, 2006

An activist perspective: Part 2

Well I'm at day 7 of my Darfur awareness champaing and it's really been going better than expected! Sadly today, my idiot self forgot to bring the sign! But I stil passed out the flyer's, which I took advantage of sticking them in locker's. One of the assistant principles, whom I like, said that he was told about ''a girl wearing a huge sign'' and had a feeling that it was me. Teacher's have continued to congratulate me on my stance. My geometry teacher invited me to join the African/Hatian American club, since they might be able to help me with Darfur awarness, which the members totally agree on! Sometimes, my mind drifts and trying to contemplate the massive human suffering in Darfur: women and girls getting raped, whole families murdered, children starving and that's just the tip of the iceburg! I can feel my heart sinking with despair because the world is witnessing a sequel of Rwanda. It's like I said, ''Those who don't remember history, are doomed to repeat it.'' Obiously the world hasn't learned it's lesson of Rwanda and other genocides in the past, which doesn't surprize me the least bit sad to say. I will say this again and again if I have too: I will be DAMNED if I'm going to stay silent while genocide is occuring. If and when my children and grandchildren will ask me If I did anything about Darfur, I'll be proud to sat that I did do something to wake up my classmates into doing something for Darfur.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Individual Responsibility to Protect

LONDON: Never Again London's contribution to International Peace Day was a conversation which bought forward thinking from the Kivu retreat in February 2006 on the individual Responsibility to Protect (iR2P). This report is my perspective on the discussion and doesn't by any means encompass everything.

Fred introduced the background to Never Again and the traditional set of problems surrounding intervention on genocide. He outlined some of the ways that individuals could be involved in crisis response and ways that individuals working in spheres where they have to be neutral might also be able to follow their own consciences.

There is no doubt that the Responsibility to Protect agenda presents many problems, but iR2P presents the opportunity to engage with those problems and finding concepts that everybody agrees with. This might mean stepping away from the problems themselves initially and simply engaging in dialogue, avoiding making assumptions or demanding commitments that individuals may be unable to make.

What emerged from this strand of conversation was the vision of a rich, complex discussion going on around a crisis in which the level of interest and ideas makes it impossible for policy makers to say that there is no interest or political will to do anything. It doesn't necessarily mean needing to sign up to simplistic analyses, but listening to every actor and every solution suggested in order to find a way forward.

The Responsibility to Protect agenda, by its nature as a state responsibility, brings a level of disconnect between the victims of a crisis and the heroes with the answers. It is impossible for refugees, youth or armed militias to have a voice in the security council unless they can somehow be represented by a channel of communication. Without the input of the people most centrally involved in a crisis, it is very difficult to propose solutions that will be any more nuanced than just 'send in the troops'.

The international responsibility does of course include challenging the culture of inpunity and states must hold each other accountable. Unless citizens of countries vocalise their wish for heads of countries to uphold acceptable standards of care towards citizens in other countries then they are very unlikely to engage in criticism of one another.

Given the level of academic research around the failures to protect populations from genocide, the steps to prevention are now fairly clear.

First is monitoring risk factors. If risks are identified, there isn't a need to over-react but there has to be in-depth research on the ground, links built up with groups on the ground and diaspora groups. Making these contacts in a time of calm makes them easier to pick up in times of chaos and confusion and you are more likely to know who to trust. These functions should be carried out by the new UN Special Adviser on Genocide, but groups like Never Again have a role in gathering youth contacts and information and channeling this to the adviser if appropriate.

Although this monitoring can make its own contribution to genocide prevention, the time may come when the risk factors of genocide and violence escalates. This is the time for individual mobilisation. Campaigns in support of simple messages are often the most effective in gathering massive support, but we discussed how this might be disempowering to all parties. A more complex individualised approach would be able to take in all ideas and allow for more flexible approaches to each conflict. We discussed how questions might be formulated to bring the most useful answers and thought that the approach of questioning would serve a variety of purposes: resources would be put into finding out the answers from the individual's own countries and politicians and the media would realise there was interest in an issue and be more likely to give it attention. The collection of answers from different countries can be easily shared in projects like the Never Again wiki, allowing for cross reference and the asking of further questions.

Following on from this mass mobilisation, the iR2P framework sees individuals who are well placed in policy circles starting to make recommendations that should be more reactive and sophisticated with the involvement of their individual involvement, rather than being constrained by the institutional bars to individual conscience.

Fred's vision, which was well received by everyone in the group, was that this approach has the potential to use the exisiting architecture of diplomacy and policy-making and that nobody should be excluded from the process: genocide prevention should not be the preserve of any specific group. We were working with the assumption that all people condemn crimes against humanity and genocide and that they wouldn't put their self interest before the protection of a group. That assumption needs examining; perhaps it is appropriate to use any levers to persuade people that it is appropriate to intervene and perhaps it is inappropriate.

There is another assumption that awareness, and the demonstration that people care, will lead to action by heads of states. As we have seen, this is not necessarily the case. A much more reactive process is needed to ensure action is appropriate, swift and correctly resourced. People using their critical faculties and engaging with the realities of politics but still demanding action, might make it more likely to happen.

There is already a great deal of expertise in many of these fields. iR2P offers a chance to 'join the dots' and piece together complex situations, while recognising that they are complex. It takes the improved communication opportunities available to us to fundamentally change the basis of activism and democratic participation and, perhaps, succeed in preventing genocide where previous generations have failed.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A activist's prespective

With the impending crisis happening in Darfur and the looming disater that was about to unfold if the AU withdraws, I decided that now is the time to make my voice be heard by any means necessary. On Monday during class, I was looking for something when I saw some poster boards and suddently an idea struck my mind that would help me spread the word on Darfur. And so I made a poster that read ''Save Darfur'' on the front and ''400,000 dead and counting. Get up! Stand up! Never stay silent!'' The night before, I flet a bit anxious of what would be the reactions of people when I would wear the sign. But I knew I had to do it. So I went to school on Tuesday and added some photos to better make the point (graphic photos) As soon as I walked out of the library wearing the sign, people stared at me reading the sign which I felt it was working. At PE, i walked around the court with the sign, nervous as anything. As I was walking, I thought about those children in Darfur whom watched their parents be killed and are all alone with no one to love or care for them. I thought about Rwanda and the bodies rotting in the sun and of Senator Dallaire trying to warn the world of the genocide. That's what kept me going. Some students asked me about Darfur and I told them in which I had to make an example of the Holocaust and ''Hotel Rwanda'' but they seemed quite interested about Darfur. For the rest of the day my teachers were really impressed with me on Darfur and students came up and asked me about it.
On Day 2 of my campainge, I needed to speak with the teacher in charge of the school's newspaper. I had sent him a letter before and wanted to send another letter. As I handed it to him, he explained that he thought that anyone with a heart and a brain like mine, would care for such an issue and that was admirable. But, unfortunatly, he couldn't publish anything about Darfur because the newspaper only dealt with what's happening around the school. I understood completly, but as I walked out of the room, tears came streaming down my face. My heart was so full of sorrow for Darfur and I thought that it seemed so hopeless to be speak out on something that was happening millions of miles away. I quickly deleted that thought from my head because my voice was ten times stronger than those in Darfur and I HAD to speak out, or I would be guilty of the worst crime of all: Staying silent in the face of genocide.
Day 3 went really well. More students asked me about Darfur and I explained to them and told them to spread the word and do some research of there own. Teachers also came up to me and told me on what a great thing I was doing and I also told them to spread the word with there students. My creative writing teacher even invited me to address one of her classes since they were learning on the Holocaust.
I'll continue wearing the sign up until next week. I know what I'm doing is not much, but to me, it's sure beats the hell out of not doing anything. I just hope that the Darfurians know that the world and myself won't rest this genocide is stopped!

Reflections on the International Day of Peace

NEW YORK- Today, 21 September, is the International Day of Peace - a day to celebrate the ideals of peace, observe global ceasefire and practice non-violence. To celebrate, we at Never Again International have organized a series of globally connected local events in 5 countries- Britain, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and the United States.

At Speak Out for Peace, the New York City event I'm involved in organizing, there will be a diverse lineup of poets and musicians all performing on works around the theme of peace. I really wish we could share what we are doing with the global Never Again community. Every single piece of the event was donated- from volunteer planning time, to the venue space, to the free performances, to physical materials (donated drinks, paper for programs, etc). It's wonderful to see what inspired labor and generosity in our communities are able to achieve and produce without funding from institutions or rich individuals. It's incredibly inspirational to think about- and I feel tremendously blessed to be inspired by individuals like my friends, family, colleagues and community members whom I can admire from a close distance.

I'm writing to practice a bit what it is I'm going to say to open the event, which is most of the text of this blog. I want to inspire attendees to really take part in this symbolic day heart, mind, spirit and body because it can only become a reality if everyone on our planet embraces its meaning and breathes life into it. World peace does not come from grandiose declarations from podiums at press conferences, but out of convictions born in each of our minds and hearts that guide our speech and actions. The fact that this day is being celebrated is in itself a testament to the fact that a personal decision made by an ordinary individual has far reaching global effects. Jeremy Gilley's decision to found Peace One Day, launching a global campaign to get a fixed calendar date for one day where there would be no violence or killing, was both a personal one about his career and an altruistic one with the intent of improving the world. As with all things in life, our creative ideas have a gravitational force of their own- and voila! 7 years after he began his campaign, hundreds of celebrations of peace are occuring in all 192 member states of the United Nations on the day he worked so hard to get established.

This power that we all possess as individuals - the fact that our thoughts and beliefs give birth to the shared reality we and those around us live in - is incredibly empowering and emboldening but not something that we are often encourage to think about and use. A powerful example of the connection between the local and the global is what the United States did with the understandable pain, anguish, sadness, confusion and outrage resulting from experiencing the horrific and criminal acts of September 11, 2001. Those emotions have given birth to a global "War on Terror" that has unleashed pain and destruction on many more lives- instead of helping us evolve into a more just society that is able to avoid crimes against humanity. So what we think and feel as well as how we react to the world around us on any given day does make a difference in the way that the world turns- more than we realize.

But of course, I'm preaching to the choir here. We at Never Again believe and value the individual and the personal- and this belief lies at the heart of our mission of connecting young people and individuals around the world to dialogue and collaborate with each other for peace. That's why the NY team is bringing together the talented lineup of poets to inspire attendees- we want to make them think, laugh, cry, feel good. That's why we're setting up the Peace Wall because we want to get people to think and we want to hear those thoughts. And of course, we ultimately want to involve attendees in our work in the future.

So today, 21 September, let's renew our personal commitment our mission, to a more peaceful world. Let's celebrate our achievements as a movement. And let's challenge ourselve by doing one thing- big or small- to make that inner commitment and belief a reality. I'm sure you can all think of one thing you can do!

Remember: "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way." -Arundhati Roy

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Countdown for Darfur

"In many ways it is unfair but it is nevertheless true that this genocide will be on your watch. How you deal with it will be your legacy,Your Rwanda, Your Cambodia, your Auschwitz."
Oscar winning actor George Clooney and Noble peace prize winner and Holocaust survivor Eile Wiesel, adressed the UN Security Council on Thursday about the already devastating three year genocide in Sudan's Darfur region, which has claimed over 400,000 lives. George and his father, Nick a journalist, went to Darfur a couple of months back to interview victims and see for themselfs the conditions that Darfurians were living in.
Currently, some 7,000 African Union soldiers are in the region but is running out of manpower, finances and equipment. Its mandate expires on September 30 which is less than three weeks away.
So far the Sudanese government have flat out refused to let a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, in which the UN passed a resolution for a robust UN force. Sudan's president Omar al-Basher has even went as far as saying that government troops will fight off UN peacekeepers.
Secertary General Kofi Annan is stepping up the pressure towards the Sudanese government to stop the killings and let peacekeepers enter the region. It would certaintly do go for Annan since he has until December when he steps down for his reputation is pretty much still tainted with Rwandan blood. I'm sure he doesn't want Darfurian blood etheir.
Several celebrities have been speaking out against the genocide, like actress Mia Farrow, Don Cheadle(Hotel Rwanda) Samantha Power among others.
This genocide is very simalar to Rwanda but the one difference I think is the media attention and how so many people aroung the world are protesting to stop the slaughter. If nothing is done within the next three weeks, millions will die and Darfur will go down in history as the genocide that could be stoped but no one did. Thus another tainted legacy for the UN.
It's time for the upsatnder's to take there places and scream for Darfur and hopefully with a little help from Hollywood, millions of lives can be saved.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Katrina: A Year Later, A Year Longer

Continuing to Ignore the Crying Out Loud and Choosing to Forget the Crying in Silence

NEW ORLEANS: “You from FEMUR?” “No sir, I am definitely not from FEMA.” The old man with his backwoods Mississippi drawl and placid, but suspicious eyes gave me an up and down gaze—taking in the pasty white neo-missionary polo shirt and badly bent ball cap pasted with logos of the organization I was working for—and told me to come on in to his FEMA trailer. Had I been wearing a large billboard on my chest proclaiming “I am neither FEMA nor the Red Cross!” I would still be looked upon with a mixture of frustration, suspicion and apathy by many of the residents, workers and volunteers roaming the FEMA and commercial trailer parks and residential blocks in southern Mississippi, also known as the Gulf Coast.
There is good reason for all the negative feelings and traumatized apathy that is apparent in so many of the Gulf Coast and Southeastern Louisiana (especially New Orleans) communities. A year has passed since the Hurricanes of 2005, namely Katrina but also Wilma and Rita, ravished this area of the country and thousands upon thousands of people are still living in conditions unfit for even the most beastly of genetic makeup’s. A year later families of 8 or 9 are still stuffed sardines in aluminum packaging and aging, wonderfully, wrinkled widows are still suffocating alone in nauseating, government procured—and government neglected—boxes. With little foresight, these trailers, clearly not ready for long-term living nor for the growing potential of more hurricanes in the near future, have become living mausoleums baking in the sun. Not dissimilar to the actual mausoleums that give so much personality and grace to New Orleanean cemetery’s. Its just that these mausoleums having living, breathing capable human beings in them.
Having returned to the south for the second time this year to help conduct a children and family health survey for those affected and displaced by the hurricanes, I found myself curious as to what kind of progress, or lack thereof, had been made since my last visit (confined to Louisiana) in February. I am not sure what I was looking for. How do you measure “progress” with anything, especially since I only had vague encounters with these regions the month before the hurricanes hit? Was I looking for obvious signs of rebuilding or fewer trailers? Was I hoping to encounter people who were less PTSD’d (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—made famous by our Vietnam vets and our genocide of the indigenous populations of what is now America) than before? How can one tell anyway—by numerically counting how many fewer times an old man, with barely any prompting breaks into uncontrollable crying? I am not sure what I was looking for, but whatever it was I did not find too much of it. Maybe somewhere in this commentary “progress” will prevail through interpretation.
Anyway, this time we conducted the survey on the Gulf Coast in communities like Waveland, Pascagoula, Gautier, Biloxi, Bay St. Louis and Picayunes (none of which are pronounced the way they look on paper). Upon entering Mississippi from Louisiana I thought it would make sense to drive into some of the ravished communities before attempting to interview anyone from those communities. Though it can never match what the victim-survivors have gone through it would put some perspective on where they have come from and who they may be. Along the coast there just seems to be destruction, only a year later it is better hidden as many of the debris has been removed somewhere—if not out to sea. Foundations are still rooted and 6-step stairways still stand like pathways into some kind of undefined and tortuous future. The Gulf Coast (especially right on the water) before the hurricanes was a hotbed of casinos, chain fast food places and restaurants and nineteenth century plantation/mansion homes. Just inland one would find the working class and poor neighbourhoods, in other words the communities where the chains, casinos and second-home mansion owners found their employees to exploit. Many of the people in these areas also worked in sea-based industries that were also badly hit and remain so due to so much contamination and toxic waste and run-off brought on by the hurricanes and negligent environmental policies by administrations past and present.
In a disturbingly sadistic way, it was almost enjoyable to see the decimated casinos, McDonalds, Waffle Houses and Angus Steakhouses. Actually, I couldn’t see them because all that remained were parking lots and road signs exclaiming “-AF—E H-US-“ or “CA-I— MAG-C” as they lay bent on the beachfront. But it did not take many interviews and encounters with people at different moments to realize the importance of these industries to the Mississippi economy. For many, these were the only job options and for many they had to work at more than one of these places to survive; in fact, for so many who work at these places they were still eligible for welfare (a great irony of our “great” nation, or another great reason to roll your eyes and get up and do something: to have 2-3 income family’s that still need welfare and have few to no health benefits). It was with great sadness, but by no means coincidental, that while I was down south the national poverty index based on household incomes, and other economic factors, was published in USA Today. Mississippi ranked dead last (no pun intended) and the other states most affected by the hurricanes, Louisiana and Alabama, were not far behind—or ahead as the case may be.
It should then come as no surprise to hear about the Walmart-ization of the economy in the south that had started well before the hurricanes, but has gone into full-throttle since the hurricanes and further perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Almost every community, small or large, houses a super Wal-Mart—now the leading employer in the south I am sure. These super centers offer every reason to not ever have to go anywhere else to consume in these towns and cities. You can fill up your gas, get your groceries and greens, get your hair and nails done and have a bite at McDonalds simply by entering one of these exorbitant oasis, that prominently stand in the working class towns. Therein, with their sheer grandiose and convenience, Wal-Mart makes it impossible for the ma and pa shops, stores, and cafes to re-open or even attempt to rebuild after the hurricanes. What reason would there be? Our capitalist economy that thrives on competition has shut you down not due to some kind of competitive incompetence but because a nature made, but humanly cultivated disaster has destroyed everything you have and everything you know. You have no way of recouping your loss and Wal-Mart has air-conditioning and clean bathrooms. How can you top that? Especially when you have to go home to the trailer trenches in the evening and hope that the drug addict in the trailer next door does not have a bad meth trip that night and decide to trash everything you have clung desperately to for the last year. Simply speaking, Wal-Mart isn’t providing any “progress” but neither are the gulf-shore oil companies and casinos that were truncating these communities long before Katrina came along and reminded America of the differentiating manifestations of poverty that are most pervasive in the south.
I regress. For the survey, we were interviewing people in the FEMA and commercial trailer parks and in trailers on the properties of those most-affected by the hurricanes. Unlike those in Louisiana, it seemed like a lot of the trailer parks were actually relatively close to services, infrastructure and the communities from which people were displaced. In fact, many of the children I encountered were even able to attend the same school they were at before the hurricanes—that is if they were even enrolled. But the closeness did not necessarily equate to better access to the services. The trailer parks sat eerily behind Wal-Mart’s or smack in the middle of some hurricane-smashed strip mall; or maybe it was behind the destroyed VA or in the shadow of an intrusive casino in Biloxi. Like in Louisiana in February, where residents were facing the cutting of free gas and fuel into the trailers, in Mississippi residents were beginning to get their water shut off if they did not start paying for it. And like the Louisiana residents, many people are not making the extra income to pay for such “extravagances,” excuse me, necessities like water and gas. So what is to be done? Thankfully (I mean this in the most ironic of ways, of course), Anheuser-Busch, better known as Budweiser beer, was proudly and prudently providing free water to current trailer residents both on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans. Funny thing about it is that the water came in clearly defined beer cans—except they said water on them (has anyone ever tried water from a beer can? Creepy…). Hmm, lets try to articulate all the ways beer-sponsored-water could be seen as problematic: 1) Alcohol abuse is already rife in these extreme conditions so something about water in beer cans just doesn’t seem conducive to solving that problem. 2) Kids are drinking from what amounts to beer cans. 3) The police, security and landlords, who already over police these areas and suspect everyone of everything will now have more reason to unreasonably break down doors and interrogate residents who are suspected of anything from being publicly drunk to trying to survive in shitty conditions. The list can go on; I almost wish I had one of the cans so I could sip on what I would presume to be some of the most addictive and enticing water one can drink. For whatever reason this makes me think of the Bush HIV/AIDS PEPFAR policy of not providing money to NGOs that distribute condoms; that is, it seems to be countering a problem by making so many other problems worse! FEMA seems to be okay with the beer can waters.
The communities that found the trailers on properties were the kind of areas that provides service to an imagination that has read extensively about (or experienced—if you have) the Civil Rights Movement or watched movies like Mississippi Burning and Deliverance: these are areas mostly full of poor and working-class white families where the roads are made of dirt and rough around the edges and where it is not uncommon, in fact it is more than common, to see the rebel confederate flag flying proudly—be it on a house still standing or on a pile of rubble next to a “Jesus shed” and sign reading “Trespassers will be shot without question” or “I will shoot to kill Theavs; Beware of owner + gun” in sprawling spray-paint. Meeting a southerner in this area, who immediately knows I am a Yankee with my walk and my talk and sees me pondering the revelatory flag with great remorse and sorrow, will tell me that it represents pride in the south and not racist ideology. I marvel with sympathy anyone that can convince him or herself that that may be near the truth. In my time in the south over the last 14 months, I have never seen a Black person with a confederate flag on a shirt, house, car, pocketbook, or pen; or riding with a bumper sticker that aggravates by stating “Don’t blame us, we voted for Jefferson Davis.” Our people responsible for safety and security (of which there was not much of either) told us to be aware of the trailer parks what with their brothels, addicts and crime; but my fear for life came in these back-country areas, where the hair stood on my neck and my knuckles got dry white every time a sun-burnt white guy came up to me and said “What ya doing here?” or “Lemme borrow your phone, son.” And I definitely thought about ditching the whole project when an old man with a rebel flag on his table, was telling me how he took 10-12 pills a day for various ailments, was the sole guardian to five grandchildren and then took me by the shoulder into his room to show me the shotgun the length of my body that he uses to protect his block from “those troublemakers.” At least in the trailers there were always plenty of people around and we knew we were being stared at from behind broken windows and not from behind six-foot high shrubs and 1952 model school buses that have been rusted and long abandoned on a back road to anywhere but where it was. Maybe this is why when I was the driver in a car with two Black women in the backseat and two White men in the front and was pulled over in a rent-a-car with supposedly dim taillights by a White Mississippi cop, I feared I would be part of the plot to a bad ABC miniseries—thankfully, my judgment was wrong as usual (though, I still don’t think there was any “real” reason to pull me over).
The problems we saw within these communities were not disparate to those in Louisiana. A year after the displacement people are eroding into further depression, stress and anxieties as the survival period transitions into the watch and wait period. Dementia seems to be invasive, doctors are over-prescribing anti-depressants that can eventually slip into other dependencies if the actual depression or PTSD ever dissipates and lung/respiratory illness, especially in children, seem to be abrasively on the rise. Blood pressure and other heart-related problems are serving notice. There is a glut of sadness; it is visible in the sagging, glum eyes and it is heard in the tonalities and rupture in the voice of the individual that is talking. Illness arises from the cramped quarters, the germs, the toxic water and sewage lying stagnant beneath the trailers. Juxtapose that image upon the famous depiction of slaves in the Atlantic passage crowded into the undercarriage of a large slave-ship, then in turn juxtapose it on an image from the Superdome in New Orleans the week after the hurricanes and you may understand—though really, you and I probably cannot ever understand. Supposedly, the official Katrina death count has stopped, but if you have been following the news in the last year or talked to those affected by the hurricanes you will find out that people are still dying every single day, directly due to those hurricanes. I heard stories of suicide, heart attacks and people who had simply lost the will to carry on the struggle each day.
Imagine, just a long period of not knowing and not being allowed to know what is happening to the system around you. It has been a year! No one is providing answers to your questions—partly because there are no real answers and partly because the people who should know are incompetent or experiencing PTSD too. Either way you get the short end of the stick because you were close to poor before and your voice has probably never really mattered. Some people have been told they must move out by the end of this month or this year, some people think they have 24 or 36 months and some people think they will receive more help to find a new place to live and help with job placement. But no one is really sure, even the management in charge of the parks. In some areas it seems the only thing going up are high priced, chic-y condos.
Unlike in Louisiana, that is mostly those from New Orleans, on the Gulf Coast there does not seem to be as stark a polarization of Black versus White for those inflicted with Katrina. Many of those worse affected were poor, working and middle class Whites, unlike in and around southeast Louisiana where it seemed the predominant amount of directly affected and displaced persons were Black (walking around New Orleans today the upper class, mostly White communities seem almost unaffected by the hurricanes, life as normal, except with fewer Black people around). Everyone is getting screwed—though it was quite obvious that in the neighbourhoods most people were White and kind of rebuilding, while the parks were a good mix of everyone being miserable and frustrated. It would be shortsighted though to not think race has played a big part in the rebuilding and “renewing” of southern Mississippi. Race is entrenched (it cannot be “avoided”), much more egregiously so than in the north and west where we just pretend to know about race relations and we deal with the “other” and overcome our own social, economic and political dialogues in our fake and unrealistic ways. As an aside: take a step further and look out how the mass displacement of mostly Black families will further make attempts at genealogical research much tougher for generations to come. For families that migrated during the “Great Migration” of the first part of the twentieth century this may be difficult enough, but the families now may never have left the south. Now they are in Houston, Atlanta, Salt Lake City or Lafayette and their siblings, parents and children are likewise in divergent locations of time and space. Will the local, state or federal government pay for the family reunions? Doubtful if they even care. This may buttress a dialogue on they way race has been used to deprive the right of return to so many people displaced by the hurricanes.
The right of return is currently being denied to people all over the Gulf Coast and Southeastern Louisiana, namely New Orleans—racial overtones flow through this denial. Currently, in New Orleans there is a great disorder over housing occurring. Through some controversy, and much finger pointing (I am still not sure what level or branch of government is making these decisions), home owners and other residents were given one year from the date of the hurricane (August 29th, 2005) to return to their home or show signs of rebuilding on their property. If there were no visible signs of “renewal” the house, or foundation, etc would be demolished and cleared by the city (or is it the state or is it Halliburton, uh, the federal government?). There are massive lists of people queuing to have their homes gutted, mostly by volunteer organizations and church groups, and that is considered one sign of “renewal.” Many people are simply hiring someone to mow a lawn and make it look like progress is being made. Most of the neighbourhoods that this is happening to were very working class pre-Katrina and mostly decimated by Katrina, therefore there is a lot of work to be done. But the signs proclaiming, “We’re coming back!” are no longer sufficient for the bureaucracies.
Then there are all the Catch-22’s of rebuilding or “renewing:” 1) No one wants to return to a community where there are no services available, like water and electricity, and also markets, banks, gas stations and other stores, so old residents may be waiting for this to happen first. 2) Besides the service needs, it is hard to move back to a community that is without a community. A community is not a community without children in the streets, old people sitting on porches and cars in the driveway. No one wants to be the first inhabitant to return because they may be alone and unsafe; this predicament is impeding return. 3) Residents who have been moved upstate or out of state cannot afford to return to see what their property looks like, therefore they cannot begin to “renew” if that is what they desire to do. 4) Housing and zoning laws have changed since the hurricanes making it harder for low-income earners to get any benefits and making it easier for big business to make land grabs (like the imperial figures that get a kick out of gentrification and Starbucks-on-every-corner idealism). 5) Poor and working class people are simply unwanted in contemporary New Orleans even though, for contradictions sake, they are highly needed and, thus, in demand. The White communities, whoops I mean the upper class and rich communities, seem not to have too much of a stake to further the rebuilding process. While they rightly claim the want for the “renewal” of the cultural and spiritual zeal of New Orleans, there is not enough being done to welcome back the displaced or even work with those who are still in New Orleans. The community groups I encountered seemed to have only a little upper-class involvement (though I am sure mysterious “benefactors” exist). The activism is coming from those who were already a part of larger class, racial, social, and political struggles before the hurricanes and who have no choice but to be a part of the same struggles now. Life goes on in the richer neighbourhoods, with glorious oak trees and southern magnolias, while elsewhere the strange fruit continues to swing from the poplar trees. Who wants to go back to this?
It must be pointed out that there is some life, “rebirth” and “renewal” in New Orleans. While there, I got an opportunity to volunteer for an organization for a few days called the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund (, co-founded by a brilliant New Orleanean, Malcolm Suber. Before the hurricanes he did after school programming for under-served/resourced/privileged/etc schools in New Orleans. When the hurricanes hit, he gathered other like-minded social and cultural activists who were still in New Orleans and started this organization. I happened to be there as the year anniversary of the floods was to be commemorated; so this was everyone’s focus. They had organized a march from where the levee broke in the Lower Ninth Ward to Congo Square in the heart of the city—some three miles. Displaced persons came from all over the country for the memorial, followed by libation, reading the names of the deceased, the march and then the rally with music, speakers and more. Seeing many of the displaced come back to the ward for maybe the first time since the hurricanes was heart-wrenching, but there was still enough feelings and talk of hope that not all was loss. Standing among the ruins, friends and neighbors reunited with long embraces and undulations of joy. I remember watching the images of the displaced coming back to New Orleans to vote in April: the polls were not just a place of politics, but a place of laughter, reminiscing and discussions of the future. That’s what this gathering on August 29th, 2006 felt like. Obviously, as a bystander—on the outside looking in, in more ways than one—I cannot ever come close to knowing the feelings of so many of the people surrounding me that day. How am I to know what it is like to handwrite a name at the bottom of the list of Katrina’s deceased because the name is not already on the list? How can I really understand or acknowledge my surroundings when I can get on a train, bus or plane any time I want and get away from it all (physically, at least)?
Irony was embellished on the day of the commemoration, as the presence of the never-elected president was omnipresent throughout the city. He who hath forgot and ignored the people of the Gulf Coast, New Orleans and poor neighbourhoods around the country and world once again photo-op’d in the Big Easy. His entourage and “secret” services unapologetically shut down the roads that had already been marked for various marches, parades and other events. Ours was re-routed by the friendly National Guard who has overrun the city without regard to the actual safety of its citizens. The president came, made some promises (uh, that he had already made and neglected), apologized for having screwed everything up (uh, at the same time as passing blame as usual), and told the citizens (uh, the hand picked ones) that their city (uh, the rich part of it) would be great again (uh, as long as big business, corporations and the oil companies are allowed to be involved). He made his way to the Lower Ninth Ward to prove that he doesn’t hate Black people (uh, none were around because no one is living there a year later!), rolled up his shirtsleeves and left town. Over the coming days he would not mention the hurricanes, New Orleans or the Gulf Coast once, but go on a calculated series of diatribes to make clear where America stands on the war on terror as we head to the fifth anniversary of September 11th. His aim: to boost GOP chances in the fall, scare people into believing him again and to drive out “Islamo-fascists” (uh, contradiction in terms, sir) and other ideologues and liberals who subvert his war on the poor (uh, I mean terrorists). Katrina was once again forgotten. This time it only took a day. And by the end of this past week something like $80 billion more was added to the Iraq war chest to bring the total over half a trillion dollars I believe, while we are left to look under our seat cushions and in momma and poppy’s nightstand for extra coins lying around that can go to rebuilding and “renewing” the south, fixing the federal education and health care systems, and saving our pensions, homes, children and other superfluous (deemed by the powers that be) extremities of our country.
I regress. All along in New Orleans, there was a salient silence, some kind of incongruent quietness about the whole place. I was in New Orleans for the start of Mardi Gras this year (not undulating my pectoral muscles, but doing health survey interviews in hotels for the displaced) and now on the commemoration. These were events that should have brought loudness, drunken stumbly-ness and music that would make your feet move and butt shake even if you were under anesthesia. While the music was there and some parades were there (I had to choose one day between attending the Black Men of Labour Parade and the Southern Decadence Parade—Black Pride versus Gay Pride, I will leave your imagination open to which one I chose), the quietness was loud enough to make one go crazy in thought. Maybe the cumbersome presence of the National Guard to ruin any gathering had an effect or maybe it really is that the city is still half full, if that, from its pre-Katrina days. I was lucky enough to see some of New Orleans before Katrina and there always seemed to be something happening. The silence was intense, especially when rounding a corner in the heart of a business district and there, nonchalantly, stood an urban FEMA trailer park. These were probably housing many who had been moved out of the hotels and motels back in March. The people left in the city cannot avoid such reminders, and people visiting, working or volunteering are deluged on many street corners with overwhelming signs that a lot of work is yet to be done, that a lot of justice has yet to come, and that a lot of “renewal” and reconciliation will need to happen in order for this unique city to gain any of its once formidable self back again.
With buildings and people standing still in time, it is difficult to find revelatory “progress.” Walking out of the old-time Sanger Theatre in Biloxi after viewing Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke” is a surreal experience these days. Part of the documentary shows the destruction of downtown Biloxi and when the theatre doors open, that’s where you are; the eerie streets, still devoured by natures act sitting stationary in the imagination and in reality. Six months and now a year later, I have had an opportunity to carry witness to the activism (and government digression) on all matters Katrina—both in the south and in New York City—and I am troubled by what is not being done, as well as hopeful of what could be done. In February my camera lens was trying hard to find a solitary red rose or stuffed teddy bear with coated-marble eyes to show that colour can come from darkness. This time it found the tall green grass and sunflower plants, magnolias and impromptu sidewalk memorials blooming around New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. There are people crying and dying in the streets to bring about the social justice that has been so deserved (though “deserve” sounds too paternalistic) over centuries. But more can always be done. There are plenty of organizations doing good work down south, and there are plenty of community-based organizations doing good work to fight the Katrina in your backyard, too. Keep the pressure on whoever is in power or in control of the everyday life in your neighbourhood (if this is not so obvious, read a real history book or pick up a real newspaper). Tell your parents, children, siblings, colleagues, friends and enemies that more needs to be done—whatever that may mean in their and your context. Incite change or raise consciousness and awareness through any means necessary: in an email, a magazine, letter to the editor, speech, passing conversation, class, art, music, or incite through the way you carry yourself in everyday life or role-model for the children and youth you have, encounter or work with. In questioning what you will do, I am by all means questioning what I will do—and answers do not come easy. While assumptions and presumptions abound in this commentary, we are all responsible for the actions and inactions we take. Take this for what you will.

jed oppenheim

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Innocence for sale: The human trafficing problem

MIAMI: In 1865, the thirteenth Amendement was passed in which it states that slavery and involentary servitude were banned. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, also states in Article 4 that no one is to be forced to slavery and also banning the slave trade. But now around the world, children and people are being sold and bought in the new era of modern day slave trade. People are being lured into trafficing for many reasons which includes in some cases physical force, false promises of a job oppotunity, and marriges in foreign countries. According to the US State Department, approximatly 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. Millions are in other countries. Trafficing victims suffer physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, threats against themselfs and family, Passport theft, health problems, and even death. But it not only effects victims it also underminds the health, safety, and security of all nation where trafficing is taking place. Child sex tourism is another common problem in which foriegners take part in sexual acts with children whom could be as young as 8 or 9 years old. Predators come from all over the world and most cases hold prominate positions. Previous cases include an retired US Army general, a dentist, teachers, and a University Professor. Children in these conditions suffer almost the same as trafficing victims but they also suffer drug addiction, diseases like HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancy, and maluntrition. The United States are taking some steps into stopping human trafficing. For example, they passed several bills one of which helps convict trafficers for as much as 30 years in prison. The Department of Health now cerrtifiying victims so they may qualify for the same assistance as refuges. The US is helping and contributing funding for other countries to prevent human trafficing which includes special housing and work training centers for victims, training Custom official to reconizing trafficing victims and so many other things. Now more than ever, it;s important that all of us learn more about this devastating international crime of human trafficing because it's quickly becoming the crime buisness of the future.

Monday, September 04, 2006

All falls down: Reflections on 9/11

MIAMI: It's been 5 years since the devastating attacks on September 11 occured and I can still remember where I was when it happened: I was in the seventh grade and I was in my Homeroom class, when my teacher's son came in told him to turn on the television. The first thing I saw was two twin towers and a plane went straight through the north tower. I, and along all my other classmates were shocked and confiused of what was happening but as the news report went on, we found out that terrorists highjacked comercial planes and one of them went through the World Trade Center. Another two planes crashed on the Pentagon and one was headed to Washington D.C. but was diverted to a field in Virginia. My eyes were locked on the t.v. set watching the events unfloding. Some time later another plane hit the South tower in which I was begining to think was just an earlier footage of the North tower being hit. But I knew I was sadly mistaken. Then at 10:28AM when I was in my Math class trying to do my work but couldn't because the television was on, the North tower(Or the South tower. I can't remember) collapsed. As I watched, CBS reporter Dan Rather said in a weary voice I'll never forget, "The World Trade Center has collaped."

Since then, I've been trying to come to terms with what happened and why. Even though I didn't know anyone of the over three thousand people whom lost there lives on that day, these people were our neighbors, friends, people whom were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Many times, I've(along with every other American) have asked, why would terrorist do this to us? What did we do to them? Through the years, I thought that terrorist were inhuman, whom just wanted to destroy and kill all Americans for the hell of it, but recently, in the Conclution of the book "Shake Hands with the Devil" and of reading "A Problem from Hell: America and the age of Genocide" now I've started to see things in a totally different light. Senator Dallaire writes that people in the First world have the tendancy of thinking there more human than people in the Third world, which might be one of the contributing factors why the world was so passive to respond to the Rwandan genocide. When he went to Sierra Loene in 2001 for CIDA, he describes a rage he saw in the eyes of the children that were suffering under the brutal regiem of Charles Taylor (whom is currently being held in the Hague for crimes against humanity) He explaines that because the youth in contries like Chechnia and Middle Eastern contries are suffering under curruption, war, genocide, famine, and other worldly disasters, they grow up under extreme violence and feel anger towards the world and resort towards violence in order to survive and warns that if this isn't solved, then the world will be nothing but a repeat of Rwanda, 9/11, the Congo, Siera Leone and the Middle East. And in "A Problem from Hell" Samantha Power explains why the UN and the United States are wary of responding to genocide and which survivors of such crimes don't make good neighbors and they too resort to taking out their rage against the world. To me it makes so much sence. If were going to win the "War on Terror" the US can't be in this self-intrest bubble, we shouldn't be able to move mountians to protect just our own sovergnty, we as humans have to help out one another because NO human is more human than the other no matter where they live or who they are. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a terrorist smpathyzer. What they did on 9/11 was very wrong and cruel, but the fact of the matter is that the world has turned a blind eye on the suffering and the plight of millions of people whom suffer so much in places like Rwanda, Darfur, and other place around the world. Now more than ever, this generation have to rise above race, color, religion and say in a loud voice "Enough is enought!" in reaching out a hand of humanity to those whom need it the most.

September 11 is another date in American history which will live in infamimy. A date which we saw the best and worse of human play out in front of the world. A warning and a lesson to the world of the consecuenses of self-intrest. We must be able to spill our blood for humanity and put the good of it above everything else. For the sake of the future and of the children.

Blogger's note: I would appreciate if you all let me know your opinions and thoughts. Thanks!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Child Soldiers: Expanding the Dialogue

WINNIPEG: The opening of the conference yesterday was absolutely amazing. I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Senator Dallaire, as well the Rev. Dr. James Christie of the University of Winnipeg. Before the conference closing, General Dallaire and I will have the opportunity to sit down and discuss the collaboration that is possible with NA. The energy in the room last night was amazing. My one regret is that the dialogue with actual child soldiers will not be as expansive this week as we had hoped, due to VISA problems. I am fully confident, however, that the workshops and plenaries that arise from the sessions will produce instruments to prevent the use of children as soldiers. As Romeo Dallaire eloquently said, we must work to eradicate the concept that adults could actually use children as weapon systems in war.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Child Soldier's Conference

WINNIPEG: 1 and a half hours until Senator Dallaire kicks off the conference with his address. I have had the honour of speaking with him on two seperate occasions and organizing a forum for him with the peacekeeping students at McGill University, but I am still overwhelmed with emotion whenever we meet.
I will endeavour to pass on regards from all the Never Again team!

What the F*@K is taking so long?

MIAMI: ''Something ugly is brewing in Darfur'' Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown warned last week, refering to the already deteriorating three year genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Tomorrow, the Security Council will have an emergancy meeting to discuss on what to do for Darfur despite a letter of protest from Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir stating that there is a plan to restore order and protect civilians, which 2 million Darfurians were displaced since 2003. The one thing that gets under my skin is that if al-Bashir wants to restore order, why the f**k did you have to wait for three years? Oh that's right YOU'RE the one whom is overseeing the mass extermination taking place! It's truly amazing what the ablilty of hate can do to ones mind set. Like Hitler when he preached about getting rid of the Jews, and Rwanda's extermist radio calling the Tutsis ''cockroaches'' hate is always involed in a genocide. With international pressure building up, and the mandate for the AU running out of time, the UN have better roll up it's sleeve, think hard, and DO something before this goes into the UN's already tainted legacy of not being able to stop a genocide that could have been stopped.

Friday, August 25, 2006


To see such evil
Such horror
Such indifference
Such blood
Having innocence taken away to no avail
To have action glued to the grass
Dark ruby rivers overflowing with no signs of stopping
To have the soul in tattered rags
In such misery
Never endding despair
Drowning in an ocean of eyes
No laughter
Losing control
In a cocoon tainted by the sorrow
Scalding waters burn the soul
Eroading to destruction
If you can only see that despair
I'll do my fair share of mendding your heart
Let me feel your meloncholy so you can rest.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

my life in a haiku

summer jigsawing
never again fun for all
building peace on skype