Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Alsalmo alykom, peace be upon you,
I have the honor and feel privileged to be among the diverse peace fellows group to write the last blog of this amazing peace program and I would like to start with this verse from the holy Koran:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted”
49:13, Surat Al Hujuraat – The Dwellings
According to this verse it is imperative to know other cultures and communicate with them”. This verse establishes an important concept: that it is Allah who made us into nations and tribes, and so it is the will of Allah to have human diversity. We, as humans, have to look at this diversity as we look to flowers of different colors. Each one adds more beauty and complements the others.
This verse is among many, one of my favorites, as it emphasizes the notion of diversity and living in cohesion, harmony and peace. This verse has impacted my life profoundly and helped me to connect with an open heart to what Edward Said referres to as , “the other”.
My family and I are stateless. I was born in Kuwait, in exile, into a diverse community with 140 nationalities. From earliest childhood, I was aware of discrimination and social injustice. I didn’t know then what it was called or why it happened. But my heart knew.
My entire life is a testimony to the fact that violence and counter-violence are not constructive, but lead to continuous destruction and a loss of self, of dehumanization.
In violence, spaces are created for those with power, as are narratives, as are the systemic oppression of cultural belief systems. This is not just a Palestinian story; this is a story to all who have been displaced, silenced, tortured, and ‘othered’.
I am a refugee, the daughter of refugees and the granddaughter of refugees who were brutally expelled from their home land Palestine in 1948. Al Nakba is the name we should all remember and understand; it means the “catastrophe” where more than 750,000 unarmed Palestinian civilians (among them, many childeren, pregnant women and elderly) were violently attacked by zionist militants during their sleep and forced to leave their homes. Ethnic cleansing took place and the destruction of more than 500 villages and cities.
What this has to do with our peace program”, asked a peace fellow? Why am I writing about my ethnic background and the destructive conflicts and wars that I have witnessed and survived, and also why share my views of world peace and conflict resolution?
“Actually, Everything!” I said.
I am a social person, a peace and human rights educator and mediator, and I love to meet new and different people everyday. When people are curious enough, the first question they ask me is where do I come from, I say, “Palestine.” Most of the time I get a reply, “Pakistan!” I sometimes have to repeat Palestine so that they can hear and hopefully will be able to localize Palestine on a world map. I feel sometimes that besides being a mother, I have another task in life, to educate people about the longest occupation in history and its impact on Palestinian generations.
Having lived on the other end of “otherness,” ostracism and discrimination, I know what it’s like to be a refugee and experience forced migration and displacement.
My years of involvement with emergency aid and all my professional activities were aiming towards a sustainable and a just world peace.
Another important part of my diverse and fluid identity is being a Muslim woman, not wearing the headscarf , not exactly the ‘common’ stereotype of the Middle Eastern, Muslim-born, that media and academia love to portray.
This might be confusing for many who never met a Muslim woman or have only seen stereotypes on TV. I am a Muslim woman, who can openly share and speak about her basic human needs like the rest of us. I can speak about the right of freedom of speech, and I want to live just like anybody else. I want peace in my life, peace in the world, peace for my children and my family. I am human, I am a mother.
While most media focus on the victims and the perpetrators, which is how most journalists learn how to cover an attack, they almost usually forget to cover how the average Muslim and his or her community feel and think about a horrific attack in their country. And it is a painful reminder that they too, through such acts are excluded and margianalised and makes them question whether they are citizens too, who have the same concerns as all of us and have even more fear of retaliation and violence against them.
With all this in effect, we see the affects of limiting the space for “ the other” e.g. Muslims , refugees and marginalised groups throughout the world. We see the diminishment of their human right to speak up freely, the constriction of spaces both psychological and physical to move freely and be themselves regardless of their skin color, ethnicity, gender and religion. Those spaces are increasingly made smaller.
What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, accept them, understand our common humanity despite some cultutral differences or, with the possibility of positively impacting the outcome of a socially just and cohesive society. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control – that’s when life happens, and love, tolerence and above all acceptance manifests.
Sometimes we find ourselves holding space for people while they hold space for others. It’s virtually impossible to be a strong space holder unless we have others who will hold space for us. Even the strongest leaders, coaches, peace builders, etc., need to know that there are some people with whom they can be vulnerable and weak without fear of being judged: someone who can carry a safe space for them.
In my own roles as a mediator, facilitator, coach, mother, wife, and friend, etc., I do my best to hold space for other people in the same way that my grandmother modeled it for me and my siblings. It’s not always easy, because I have a very human tendency to want to fix people, give them advice, or judge them for not being further along the path than they are, but I keep trying because I know that it’s important. At the same time, there are people in my life that I trust to hold space for me.
To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (i.e. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (i.e. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (i.e. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes. This is what positive peace is about.
Holding and ‘creating’ space is not something that’s exclusive to facilitators, coaches, or medical care professionals and peace builders . It is something that ALL of us can do for each other – for our partners, children, friends, neighbours, and even strangers who strike up conversations as we’re riding the bus to work.
Each day when I wake up, I ask God to help me through the challenges of the day, to have the courage to live peacefully, and to be part of peace-building and development in my society, to raise my children to know the values of human dignity and respect for all.
I am an optimist by nature and that’s why I would like to end this blog with a positive quote by John Paul Lederach – our mentor in so many ways-, from The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace:
“The north of peacebuilding is best articulated as finding our way toward becoming and being local and global human communities characterized by respect, dignity, fairness, cooperation, and the nonviolent resolution of conflict. To understand this north, to read such a compass, requires that we recognize and develop our moral imagination far more intentionally.”
Last but not least, I would like to share with you one of my favourite Palestinian poets, Fadwa Tuqan, she speaks my mind and my heart:
If it were in my hands
If I were able to flip this world
If I possessed the ability
To saturate this world
With Seeds of Love
So All this world is filled
With trees of Love
So Love becomes the world
So Love becomes the way
Basema Salman Spijkerman – The Netherlands
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 22