Linking Violence in Daily Life with Global Violence


Facilitation: Joanne Sheehan,War Resisters'International

The global violence of war and militarism is intimately linked with the violence people experience in their personal daily lives. Violence becomes normalised when we constantly receive information from the media about crimes and atrocities which happen around the world. 'Compassion fatigue,' a relatively new phenomenon in Western societies, is the result. However, Joanne Sheehan pointed out that the telling of personal stories makes the horror become more real and perhaps does sensitise people after all. In order to underline these thoughts three people from different parts of the world made up the third evening's panel and shared their stories with the audience.

Hasina Khan, a Muslim feminist activist in Aawaz-E-Niswan in India, spoke about the impact of communal violence between Indian Hindus and Muslims on individuals, families and children. In particular, she described a preplanned and state-sponsored massacre carried out by supporters of the radical Hindu Sangh Parivar in the Indian state of Gujurat on 28 February 2002. This massacre has been unequalled in its genocidal dimensions, level of state involvement and atrocity. She underlined this with the help of posters and slides. The massacre left Muslims, especially children, with a deep sense of having been betrayed by Hindus. Hasina Khan puts the massacre down to the activities of the radical Hindu Sangh Parivar, its increasing influence in Indian society and state structures, including the police and national government, and its indoctrination of Hindu children with a distorted, sometimes even perverse 'Hindu' ideology -- in itself a form of violence.

In the second part of her speech, Hasina Khan tried to explore nonviolent solutions to the excesses of communal violence. She argued against forms of nonviolent resistance as practiced by Gandhi in the 1920s and 30s. Rather, she referred to protest meetings, processions, the screening of films, poster exhibitions and signature campaigns to arouse the conscience of the 'silent majority' and involve them in the effort to pressure the government to act against the aggressors. She emphasised that the aggressors must be punished and justice must be done to the victims, otherwise retaliation is very likely. Yet, the main objective is to bring the communities together and to change the mindset of the (potential) aggressor. The 'Khoj' project at municipal schools in Mumbai, for example, challenges successfully Muslim children's entrenched stereotypes of Hindus, even after 28 February. Similar projects are undertaken now at Hindu majority schools.

Neles Tebay is a Catholic priest from West Papua, a territory in the Pacific occupied by Indonesia. Since 1963, Papuans have been subjugated to torture, rape, intimidation and other forms of human rights violations. Between 1963 and 1998, at least 100.000 Papuans were killed, often during military operations of the Indonesian army. West Papua has been declared a military operation zone (DOM) and any Papuan is suspected to be either a member or supporter of the Papua Liberation Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka). He recalled how he learnt as a child to fear the Indonesian army and how the conflict brought about hatred and violence even between Papuans themselves and between Papuan villages. However, today Papuans have become aware of being oppressed, manipulated, intimidated and victims of injustices.

Neles Tebay sees two root causes of the conflict in West Papua: (1) the militarism that perpetuates a culture of violence, i.e. that violence is seen as a

solution; and (2) the denial of the Papuan's right to self-determination. Papuans have adopted various nonviolent strategies to address these causes: First, Papuans struggle for demilitarisation by documenting past human rights violations, demanding justice (through a UN investigation) and urging the Indonesian government to withdraw its troops and not to build up an East-Timor style militia. Secondly, Papuans endorse genuine dialogue and mediation by international and recognised institutions as the way forward. Thirdly, West Papua was declared a zone of peace. Fourthly, increased inter-faith co-operation has strengthened the struggle for justice, peace and human dignity. Fifthly, the council of tribal chiefs, the students association and the womens association need empowerment. Sixthly, it is necessary to unmask the root causes and to promote human rights among Papuans and distribute information about human rights violations around the world. Finally, Papuans need the help of the outside world in supporting a review of the UN's policy towards the right of self-determination and in raising the West Papua case all around the world.

The final story was told by Victoria Cáceres about her family, who left Chile after the military coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973. In 1970, the socialist government of Salvador Allende was elected with a clear majority. However, the country was deeply split between the right, centre and left and the reforms of the new government, especially privatisation and the agrarian reform, incensed the right, which collaborated with the army in an intimidation campaign and incited workers to strike. Finally, the Allende government was overthrown in a coup supported by the CIA. The coup was a tragedy for Chile and resulted in widespread torture, disappearances, imprisonment and above all exile. The new economic policies of the Pinochet regime (based on the theories of the Chicago school of economics) favoured the rich and were a burden for ordinary citizens. Finally, Victoria Cáceres went into voluntary exile and moved to Venezuela. The living conditions were quite good there for her and her family, and with the economic help of various European organisations she and other exiles created FEDEFAM (Ferderación de familiares de detenidos y desaparecidos), which has tried to make people more aware of the fate of the interned and disappeared. In 1988, a referendum came out against Pinochet's dictatorship and with the increasing democratisation Victoria Cáceres returned to Chile.

The three stories brought two important reactions from the audience: One was expressed by Koussetogue Koudé of Chad who asked, "How can we comprehend so much evil?" He answered it himself saying that the first step that we as humans take towards evil is the hardest and that after that it is progressively easier. We therefore have to remain vigilant, so as to make sure that we do not take this first step. Several speakers emphasised another point of the importance of the influence of outside actors on conflicts such as those in West Papua or Chile. The U.S. government and its Western allies have fuelled and supported these conflicts and have maintained their world-wide economic and political power with the 'globalisation of violence.' Moreover, such seemingly harmless factors as education, the media and even what ordinary people in rich countries buy have helped significantly to sustain conflicts. These dangers have become more acute since 9/11. Everybody agreed that individual and collective action is necessary to fight them.

Programmes & Projects

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

1 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.