Human Rights literature as a long-term solution to terror

More than a year ago, I published a column anticipating the growth of terror in Europe; I named it ‘The Global Terror Virtual Country’ and suggested to create an anti-terror global country as a solution. I proposed Human Rights Literature to help us overcome the popularity of ISIS especially among young people in Europe and around the world. The events that have occurred since have proved that unfortunately terror in Europe is not a passing trend. To combat this appalling wave of terror striking Europe, the European countries must invest in long-term solutions. As Human Rights literature, and stray away from short-term solutions that may potentially cause inalterable devastation to western countries’ solid democracies.

In this essay, I will claim that Literature is one of the problems and the solutions for the popularity of terror, especially among young people. I will present and solve the reading habits paradox and will offer three examples to books that broke all reading predictions, sold millions of copies and changed the world for good and bad.

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The connection between literature and the refugee’s crises

תמונה10Vered Cohen Barzilay speech at Bookcity Milan 2015

 

Ladies and Gentleman, distinguished members of the panel, Mr. Ruggero Gabbai.

It is an honor for me to return to Bookcity Milano and stand here again in front of you.

2 Years ago, we conducted our first event in Italy – the “Power of Literature and Human Rights”. We discussed the war in Syria and expressed our hope for a rapid solution. We even allowed ourselves, and the audience, to dream about a new middle east offering our own personal ME background as an evidence for a regional peace that is not beyond the world’s ability.

Nevertheless, reality got different plans for our dreams. Syria’s civil war intensified and became to be the worst humanitarian disaster of our time. 220,000 people have been killed so far, half of them are believed to be civilians, and hundreds of them are children. The U.N. estimates that 7.6 million Syrians’ are internally displaced. When one is also considering refugees, more than half of the country pre-war population of 23 million is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, whether they still remain in the country or have escaped across the borders.

For too long the world has been silent. World’s leaders hoped that Syria would resolve its internal crisis without interrupting world order. They even overlooked the deadly journey to safety in Europe that refugees had to endure on a daily basis.

However, the war in Syria continued as well as the Middle East instability, and so the number of refugees grew enormously until the world could not ignore them anymore.

It is easier to close our eyes to horror especially when we de-humanize people. When they do not have a name, an image, a story, people become just numbers and even if millions of them needs our help or protection, we are not able to understand or identity with their suffering.

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“DON’T FRIGHTEN THE CHILDREN!”/ Roma Tearne

Roma Tearne

Roma Tearne

Not upsetting the children is part of the psychology of Western culture. In these days of ‘child-centric’ anxiety most parents will tell you they worry about how they bring their children. Philip Larkin and his overused line from This Be The Verse ‘They fuck you up your mum and dad’ is a constant worry for the 21st century parent. Getting it right is what we all strive for. Guilt, once the sole possession of children for being bad has transferred seamlessly to the other side of the school gate as we wait diligently for our child to come home. They are special, you see; these children in our care. A very great responsibility. Their happiness is ours. In fact, let’s face it, we have no happiness at all without our children being happy. I should know; I am a parent.

So how shocking was it then, to see the limp, sturdy legs of a lifeless toddler in the arms of a coast guard in Turkey? Found, dead, and in the water. That single defining image put ‘a girdle round the earth in forty seconds’ getting under the skin of each and every anxious parent, bringing to the fore a Grimm fairy tale of adult horror. Suddenly, when all those other reports failed to hit the spot, this lone image pressed an astonishing button. Never mind that thousands of children around the world in wars everywhere lay dying, maimed, bereft. Suddenly we were confronted with a limp pair of small legs and a pair of shoes not at all dissimilar to the ones we too once bought for our own toddlers. In that moment global empathy was born.

Writing creatively about injustice or conflicts is not an easy business. Become too sentimental or emotional and you lose your audience, turning them off before they reach the end of the story. Too polemic and you lose the plot, too biased and you will upset one side or the other. Beware of all these things. Even though I have written about these matters I am wary of the process. For to write from the heart does not mean placing your heart on your sleeve. Indeed the opposite is what applies. To write what you care about you have to hide your own feelings so effectively that you give your readers room to breath, to feel for themselves in their own private space, the suffering you speak of. Sometimes it is necessary to approach your story from an odd angle, showing rather than telling. Leaving out more than you put in. Ah but how difficult that is! Only a powerful story can work this kind of magic.

And only literature, of which Novel Rights is part of, gives one the chance of such magic.

***

Read the story Abstracts.


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DFTC cover (2)-page-001

 

 

 

The lullaby of legendary Farzad Kamangar

Ava Homa

Ava Homa/ Author; Lullaby

“I will eventually get out of here. The butterfly that flew away in the night told me my fortune,” Farzad Kamangar wrote in prison, shortly before the Iranian government made the decision to place a noose around his neck.

It was on May 10, 2010—Mother’s Day—that Farzad’s mother heard through the media that her son, who had been told he would be released, was killed.

“He had such a tender soul. He loved his students to pieces. Spring was his favorite season. He was born in spring,” his mother says in a video posted on YouTube. But tears stop her from continuing—from telling us that he was executed in his favorite season.

This man who loved spring and his students was charged with moharebeh (enmity with God and the state) and terrorism. It is true. Teaching young children their banned mother tongue terrorizes the Iranian oppressor.

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I am a Yazidi

Saad Salloum

Saad Salloum

Saad Salloum

 

‘I am a Yazidi’, I said. That statement shocked my interlocutor since he knew that I came from an Arab Muslim family, despite him suspecting that perhaps I belonged originally to either a Mandai or a Christian background. I told him I don’t harbor any doubts about Yazidism as a doctrine, while at the same time I share with the Yazidis common love and trust. Now that the Yazidis are targeted by ISIS for religious reasons, considering them heretics and outside the Ibrahimi faith, I declare myself a Yazidi.

Yes, I am converting to Yazidism, announcing it, and willing to bear all the consequences of such an announcement.

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Un mondo virtuale anti-terrorismo grazie alla letteratura

 

Vered Cohen Barzilay  Associazione per i Diritti Umani

I recenti attacchi terroristici in Europa sono un altro segno della erosione della morale del mondo.

Oltre al male assoluto di togliere la vita a civili innocenti, abbiamo visto che nei recenti attentati di Parigi il terrore porta con sé il vento del fondamentalismo religioso: la disumanizzazione delle minoranze; il divieto di istruzione, in particolare per le donne; la considerazione della democrazia come qualcosa di dannoso; e la negazione dei diritti umani. Di solito, il vento del fondamentalismo viene prima e poi gli omicidi.

The Guardian ha recentemente riferito che, secondo un rapporto di Watchdog Freedom House, la democrazia nel mondo è a rischio, più di quanto non sia stato in qualsiasi momento negli ultimi 25 anni. Le persone in quasi ogni parte del mondo sono in pericolo per le gravi minacce alla loro libertà e che il livello di brutalità sotto i regimi autoritari è il più alto di tutti i tempi.

Il terrore non ha confini, geografici o morali, e non è esclusiva di nessuna religione, non dell’Islam o di qualsiasi altra religione al mondo. Il terrore arriva nei nostri quartieri, uffici, strade, anche nelle nostre case.
Internet, insieme con il processo di globalizzazione, ha unito i popoli del mondo e ha offuscato i confini geografici. Viviamo ancora in Paesi, ma creiamo diverse definizioni per i nostri confini e comunità. Viviamo in Europa, per esempio, ma facciamo parte di una comunità globale di terrore organizzato.
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The Anti-terror Virtual Country

Can literature prevent terrorism from spreading?

Vered Coehn Barzilay

Vered Cohen Barzilay

The recent terror attacks in Europe are another sign of the wearing away of the world’s morality.

Besides the absolute evil of taking innocent civilian lives—as we saw in the recent Paris attacks[1]—terror brings with it the wind of religious fundamentalism: dehumanizing the treatment of minorities; preventing education, particularly for women; damaging democracy; and preventing human rights. Usually, the wind of fundamentalism comes first, followed by murder.

The Guardian recently reported that, according to a landmark report by independent watchdog Freedom House, our democracy is at greater risk than it has been at any time in the past 25 years. People in nearly every part of the world are in danger of significant threats to their freedom, and the level of brutality under authoritarian regimes is at an all-time high.[2]

Terror has no borders—geographical or moral—and it is not exclusive to any religion, not Islam or any other religion in the world. Terror reaches into our neighborhoods, offices, streets, even our houses.

The Internet, together with the globalization process, has united the people of the world and blurred our geographical borders. We still live in countries, but we create different definitions for our borders and communities. We may live in Europe, for example, but still be part of a global community of organized terror.

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From the Republic of Conscience/ Seamus Heaney

In the memory of Seamus Heaney: A Human Rights poet and writer 

April 13, 1939 – August 30, 2013

from the Republic of Conscience

I

When I landed in the republic of conscience
it was so noiseless when the engines stopped
I could hear a curlew high above the runway.

At immigration, the clerk was an old man
who produced a wallet from his homespun coat
and showed me a photograph of my grandfather.

The woman in customs asked me to declare
the words of our traditional cures and charms
to heal dumbness and avert the evil eye.

No porters. No interpreter. No taxi.
You carried your own burden and very soon
your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared.

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Gabriella Ambrosio, Author’s Note/ ‘Sticko’

Autorin: Gabriella Ambrosio Foto: Vieri Ciccarone Das Foto ist honorarfrei.‘Sticko’ is a short story distributed by the extremely innovative publisher, Novel Rights, which invites readers of fiction to take action.

This is a strange antinomy indeed. To access the world of imagination and come out of it ready to change the real world. What exactly happens to absorbed readers?

What do we expect that they will emerge from their journey through fiction filled with truth?  Or that the story will instil a new moral principle in them?

No, none of this happens. Ethics is not a static body of legal rules that we adhere to, and it is not established by god or men. Ethics is the view, the criterion, and the meaning of the world. As Italo Calvino, the famous 20th-century Italian writer, said: “An idea expressed poetically can never be meaningless. Meaning does not necessarily correspond to the truth. It identifies a crucial point, an issue, a warning.”

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Ava Homa, Author’s Note/ “Lullaby”

ava homa

May 9, 2010 was going to be a happy day: I had time to write another cover letter for yet another job that was not my forte, not being an author, before I dressed up for a party, to be ready to be picked up by my fiancé…

It was Radio Farda that announced Farzad Kamangar  and four other Kurds were charged with “Animosity with God and terrorism” and hanged without warning

My tears had no reason to roll down since I did not know any of these people and they were neither the first, nor the last Kurds executed by the Iranian government. But tears don’t look for reasons and I surrendered to hours of non-stop sobs that smudged the words I’d been writing.

Resolving not to ruin my fiancé’s evening, I showered and put on a smile. But a “What’s wrong?” coming from a person that knew me so well was enough to smear my mascara and stain his new shirt. He was not the first person to warn me that my unusual empathies had turned into a curse. But what was I to do?

What are you and I to do when we don’t want to turn a blind eye to the atrocities happening around the world? Embittered by the writing industry that I’d experienced before, I had put aside my abilities as a writer and now, with the news from the radio I wondered even how to read. How are we to read the bitter narrative of this world? Is what happened to this Farzad and many others, part of a bigger narrative that can provide context and offer meaning? Justification? In a world of contradictions, the sublime and the hideous, how are we to face the complications, adapt, and yet again recover the eagerness to push on towards creating a better place?

Art and literature.

The artist and writer disrobes the fully-dolled-up-world, cultivates our senses by exposing the magnificence and the repugnant, humanizes the “other” and encourages us to reflect, to negate the negative, and finally art fuels us to stay humane, to become humane.

That day I picked up my pen again and have never put it down since.

Ava Homa

 

Ava Homa is the author of Echoes from the Other Land, which was nominated for the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and placed 6th in the Top Ten CBC Reader’s Choice Contest for the Giller Prize.

Her work has appeared in The Literary Review of Canada, Toronto Quarterly, Windsor Review, the Toronto Star and Rabble. Her collection has a running theme of resistance by modern Iranian women. The stories are told on a universal scale, depicting human endurance, desire and passion.

Ava Homa is a columnist for Bas Newspaper, teaches Creative Writing and English at George Brown College in Toronto and a is member of PEN Canada.

Ava exiled from Kurdistan-Iran in 2007 leaving her family and friends behind her.

She is among the few Kurdish female authors who write about the Kurdish community, Human Rights abused and history.

lullaby coverFarzad Kamangar was an elementary school teacher and nonviolent civil liberties advocate from Iranian Kurdistan who was detained by security forces in 2006 and accused of collaborating with Kurdish opposition groups. Charged with being a mohareb or “enemy of God,” Kamangar refused to confess in spite of four years of detention and torture, while his letters from his cell led international organizations like UNICEF and Education International to condemn his imprisonment.

He wrote a letter from his cell at Evin Prison, north of Tehran, a few months before his execution on May 9th, 2010. It has been sent to the Kurdish news website NNS ROJ website for publication.

…”There, with or without me, in the midst of all that beauty and glory which is the link of our attachment to this country, in the heart of a land forever pregnant with pain and whose children grow up only to suffer; sit down there, touch the earth in my stead, and write your song, a song which you will murmur in its ears:

O maternal land,

O motherland,

Here, buried in your heart,

Rest the bones and the memories of my ancestors.

Here are entombed my forefathers, my descendants and my children.

O my country,

You, the mother of my forerunners,

I wish I could caress your beauty once again,

Bear witness to your charm,

Company to your silence,

Remedy to your pains,

I wish I could shed your tears.

I wish I could…

I hope to see you and the sunrise again”.

Farzad, Evin Prison, Section 7.

Click Here to read the entire letter

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The Power of Literature V The Power of Hatred

Vered Cohen Barzilay 

The beginning of 2009 did not usher in the usual feeling of optimism. As the world was preparing for the New Year my home turf, Israel, was in the midst of intense fighting which brought about yet another heartbreak in the personal and national mood. Seconds before midnight I was still trying to remain positive, but the moment the clock struck twelve the black cloud which burdened my soul was quickly released into the new year, creating a horrifying vision of the future.  I stared at the clock’s hands and imagined Big Ben in London joyfully announcing the New Year to the crowd of people dancing in the street. Light, salty tears made their winding way down my face, washing away the morning’s make-up. The tears collected at my mouth and heavily dropped to the floor like Big Ben’s “ding dong” chime. The news anchor seemed serious and reserved. “Happy New Year,” he announced in a mechanical voice. He then moved right along to the military commentators who gave a brief report on the operation in Gaza. The number of Palestinian casualties had already reached a thousand, but in most Israeli homes that colossal number did not evoke any feelings of compassion. Even if any such feelings tried to emerge from under the reassuring promises of homeland security and the great sensation of fear, they were quickly muted by every Qassam or Grad rocket landing in the area.

In the next room my four year old daughter exchanged her dreams of princesses and weddings for thoughts of bad guys and good guys, of the living and the dead. Her angel face and rosy lips gave her innocence away, but this new reality she was encountering determined it was time for her to discover terms of war. My baby had yet to turn five and already witnessed two wars. I picked up the phone with a trembling hand and called the Italian author who for the past five years had been accompanying me in my attempts to find sanity in this crazy Israeli life. Just like all those people in London celebrating, the author was also in the midst of an experience quite distinct from mine: an exotic trip to Marrakech, Morocco. Sounds of sanity and joy from her world quickly and aggressively penetrated my body, completely breaking me. “I can’t take it anymore,” I uttered, not allowing her warm words of comfort to strengthen me. I hung up the phone. Having to face the sane world seemed only to hurt more. It burned my soul, taking the commitment to Human Rights which I had zealously adopted following in her footsteps and stacking it on the pyre for the sense of loyalty to my country. Why must these things be so extreme? So conflicting? I sadly wondered. The sound of the telephone relieved me from the answer. It was a call from Morocco, attempting yet again to comfort and strengthen me with the soundness of a reality celebrating the New Year.

The following day I walked into a classroom of college students in the outskirts of Tel Aviv. In my hand I held tightly the book the author from Italy had written. Thirty pairs of young, fearful eyes were looking at me with curiosity. The professor introduced me as a former journalist who had assisted in the research for a novel dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It had first been published in Italy and just debuted in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This was a book which changed my life and led me on a long journey of many stepping stones. The professor’s words were indeed a rather accurate description of my life in recent years, however the lightness with which they were spoken seemed to have lifted the weight of the traumatic feelings that have become part of me. It felt as if it they were released into the air as helium balloons longing to rise to their unknown destination.

There was silence in the room. The book, still in my hand, pressed up against me. It wanted to protect me, as it has loyally done for the last few years. The students, who were very interested in my past and current occupations as a Human Rights defender, announced straight away that I worked for an anti-Semitic organization. I smiled. If I had a penny for every time I heard that accusation I could make quite a bid on Big Ben and throw my own New Years’ Eve party. In the midst of war, when most people are riled up with hate and fear, asking thirty pairs of eyes to open up to a different point of view is no easy task.  I was trying to expose these students to a different reality, replace the feelings of hate with compassion, shake off the notion that everybody is out to annihilate us and examine the tremendous power with which we are hitting our enemies in Gaza. Is it really meant to ensure our security? Is everyone indeed our enemy or are we perhaps our own biggest foe? Is it not possible that the immense power and feelings of fear collaborate and blind us from the truth, creating the illusion that we are the only victims? Or a reality in which Palestinians are no longer humans?!

Despite the harsh questions, the discussion was kept at the intellectual and literary level. During my years working for a Human Rights organization I have known some less pleasant conversations. I have learned, however, that at the moment I start using the power of literature and talking of horrifying realities through literary devices, I am able to penetrate the shields of my audience, reaching a place where logic and emotion do not function in the threatening shadow of fear. I asked them to look out the window at a vibrant tree. “Does that lively shade of green you see on each leaf convey the intensity of the world to you, with all its complex, splendid colors? As you walk down the street, are you aware of the world in which you are trapped, as I was, in a gray coat of terror and fear, anxiously considering every step you take, fearing that a wrong turn could lead to your death, could drag you to where satanic terror resides?!”

The sour scent of blood went up my nose as I if I were once again standing on an ash covered street after a bombing attack, trying to get eye-witness reports for the television channel I worked for. It was as if I was standing in a pool of blood with body parts strewn all around me, waiting for a good mother to come and pick everything up, just as she used to do when we were young and left the house in a mess. But in this reality there is no good mother, no one to pick up the mess. The streets are rinsed, body parts of scorched flesh meticulously collected and brought to burial, but the images keep coming back long after normalcy reinstates itself, adding to the national feeling of chaos.

The book in my hands brought all those images back to me, relentlessly haunting me with recurring nightmares of bombing attacks. More than anything else, the book insisted on telling me that even in a reality without mercy or reason there is still room for humanity and compassion. It was up to me, the one who was there to witness it all, to find them. The book introduced me to the same thing I was hoping to introduce to the college students: a different life. A life in a world in which fear cannot blind me from seeing the world’s true colors, a real world not only of gray but of vivid shades of green, white, black, blue and yellow, a world of true poetry, of joy and pain, a world in which I am the victim just as much as I am the assailant, a world in which a thousand Palestinian lives do amount to a tragic sum, a world in which little boys and girls have to dream of princesses and weddings and are spared from the pain and trauma of war, a world in which a new year begins with joy, not death.

As minutes went by, the students’ eyes seemed to slowly open wider and wider. They shared their pain, their fears and their strong desire to live differently, to see the enemy in a human light. When I read excerpts of the book to them they embraced it, just as I did, allowing it to show them a different path. For five years I have been walking this path, casting off the spoilt reality, seeking sanity in an insane world. I was paying a heavy personal price of friends and family attacking me and labeling me as “Bin Laden,” yet for the very first time I was living a different life: a hopeful life of peace in which the only war is the one against ignorance and hatred.

When I returned home that evening, my daughter asked me whether the good guys had already won the war. I looked at her and said that in war there are no winners, only losers. Her little eyes looked at me with astonishment, as if they were one more pair amongst the thirty pairs of eyes in that college on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Right after that, she jumped on a small bug that crawled uninvited into our living room, crushing it until its tiny soul went up to bug heaven. “I killed it!” she announced proudly. I looked at her and chills went up my spine. At that moment I realized: this is the personal price I am paying for this war, the price of the loss of my daughter’s innocence. The four year old girl who had become so familiar with war already comprehended the effect of evil, of taking life.

During World War II human life lost its value as the world completely shattered all its ethical and moral laws.  At the end of the war despair was so immense that it seemed the only solution could be God’s act in the time of Noah: destroy and rebuild all. The world, as we all know, was not destroyed, but the world’s leaders understood that they must instill new values, new lines which would not be crossed again. They therefore drafted and committed themselves to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sixty years later we are proven that even as the world finishes a year’s cycle and is on the verge of a new one, world leaders still continue to cross lines everywhere. Human Rights violations occur at any given moment since the power of hatred and its ability to blind too often overpower tolerance, compassion and peace. It is our duty to strive with all our might to change that.

Those who can help us in doing so are authors and poets, whose sensitivity and intellectual ability to grasp the different reality is asset humanity has not been wise enough to take advantage of.  As we read a novel we go through an emotional process that enables us to place ourselves in the shoes of every character, even our own enemies. It allows us to feel “the other,” their complexities and their humanity, and let go, for two or three hundred pages, of the blinding hatred and fear. The book which showed me the way to do that has also managed to pave its way to the hearts of so many people in hatred and fear stricken Israel and convey to them the message of humanity for all, Human Rights for every human. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights opens with this decree: “All human beings are born free and equal.” When the best of the world’s authors come together and masterfully weave short stories inspierd by the thirty articles of this important declaration, they succeed in raising great hope for true change.

Authors are often able, through their writing or social activism, to bring about a significant change in public opinion, even regarding very controversial issues, without enraging the public. In Israel the contribution of authors such as David Grossman, S. Yizhar, Sami Michael and others to the field of Human Rights is beyond compare. Due to that contribution during the 2006 Lebanon War a significant part of the population awoke from its indifference and protested against the fighting, leading to the war’s  termination. Václav Havel, Bertolt Brecht, José Saramago and many others act similarly around the world. The more books on Human Rights that are written and the more authors overtly commit themselves to Human Rights, the more hope we have that in the future, when Big Ben tolls in announcement of a new year, we in Israel will also be celebrating in the streets. Israelis next to Palestinians, we would not be launching missiles or bombs at each other, but sending blessings of true companionship, in celebration of the different lives we would then finally lead.

Come and meet us and hear more about Human Rights Literature and how it can bring hope universally. 

Click here  to “The Power Of Literature and Human Rights” in LSE Literary Festival, LSE University, London UK 

 

 

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The Temperature of the Middle East

Vered Cohen Barzilay 

The story goes that one of the first things that Václav Havel did after becoming President of Czechoslovakia was to summon all of the ‘agents’ that followed him during the years when he was a dissident. When they assembled in front of him they were afraid that he would use his power and authority for revenge. But Havel immediately calmed them and said that since they were the people that knew him the best and were very familiar with his habits he wished to nominate them to become his presidential guards. This small story represents one of the most admirable characteristic of Vaclav Havel and this is the example he gave to his people and is one of the reasons that explain Czechoslovakia and later on the Czech Republic became a democratic country.

For many years Havel was harassed and persecuted by the authorities for his views and human rights advocacy. He was jailed several times over an extended period and was not able to enjoy a free life or even to practice his art, as he desired to do since he was a child. But he never resented these people for it, as he never resented the agents that followed and kept him under surveillance. Havel understood that the people were afraid and that it was the system that was forcing them to ‘live in a lie’. He believed that the only way to fight a lie is to tell the truth. Havel, a gifted playwright, essayist and a poet used his talent to “fight” these dark forces with his pen. He never stopped being hopeful and tried for years using nonviolence creative ways to bring the truth to the people. It was through his famous essays “The power of the powerless”, the publication of the Charter 77 manifesto and his plays that he was able to convince the Czechoslovakian people they had the power and means to achieve the change that eventually lead to the Velvet Revolution.

At the time of writing this column (November 29th) a very historical event took place in the U.N. – Palestine recognized as a ‘non member observer state’. This symbolic, but very important event, happen exactly 65 years after the UN countries supported the U.N. partition plan for Palestine that eventually lead to the creation of the state of Israel.

Havel believed in the ‘two state solution’ and in an interview he gave during one of his visits to Israel he expressed a deep sorrow for not being able to host the Oslo talks In Prague. He believed that the history of Prague would have influenced the two leaders and helped to find the way for a permanent agreement.

In a lecture given by one of the most famous Israeli authors, Amoz Oz, he shared a story about his first very secret meeting with Vaclav Havel in 1986 in Czechoslovakia. Oz remembered a very “strange refreshing lecture” about “the temperature of regimes”. Havel claimed, said Oz, that in totalitarian regimes the temperature is very cold.  It’s not the temperature outside but the coldness between people that trickles down from the authorities, from the power, the bureaucracy to the people. It is cold even when it is very warm outside; it is cold in the houses, between people and even between lovers. This coldness influences people’s behavior and they become more suspicious toward one another, more guarded and cautious.  This  theory lead him to believe in human warmth as the tool to melt the coldness of a totalitarian regime. People, said Havel, crave for human warmth because it is one of the basic urges just like they crave for love or food.

Those that personally knew or met Havel all agree that he was not just preaching these values, he himself was a very loving and warm man but more important he used this theory in his political campaigns. Above everything Havel was human and a humanist. For this reason he was able to touch many people in his county and outside the world and make magic as the Velvet Revolution.

Havel set an example for leaders around the world especially in the countries with long and deep conflicts such as Israel and Palestine. Even if he is not with us, able to spread his human warmth or inspire people by his writing talent, wisdom or bravery, we owe it to him to try and follow his way.

Less than a month ago a military operation cut off the calmness of life in Israel and in Palestine. The people in both Israel and Gaza got a clear message from the leaders in both sides that life in this area will never be safe and there is no place for calmness and therefore no place for hope for peace. It was very cold here and it was not because of bad weather. Not only totalitarian regimes suffer from coldness but also countries in a long bloody conflict that ‘live in a lie’ and that don’t allow human warmth to enter inside of them.

Havel understood that a strong civil society is important not only to fight the darkness of a current regime but for the days after the ‘revolution’ and regime change. For that reason it is essential that civil society will continue to act to defend human rights in both countries. It is essential that writers and intellectuals In Israel, as well as in the new Palestinian state and around the world, will continue with their daily efforts to defend human rights until it becomes a meaningful and popular word and not an excuse for hatred. We must continue to try and approach the people with messages of peace and human rights until the temperature will get warmer, which allow the ‘better angels’ of humanity to emerge and create the ‘revolution’ that can lead to peace and equality.

(Published in the Czech Republic newspaper online web “Hospodárske noviny” in honor for the memory of the leader, author and Human Rights advocate,  Václav Havel).

Click here to read more essays about Havel in English and Czech  

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Marina Nemat, Author’s Note /”Leila”

“Knowledge brings responsibility. If we know that atrocities are being committed, we have to do something to stop   them. However, in the news, we read about arbitrary imprisonments, torture, executions, and genocides, yet we continue with our daily routines and turn our backs on reality. Why?

In the early 40s, if the silent majority had stood on the railroad tracks of Europe, millions of human beings would not have been murdered. But how can we compel the silent majority to stand on the railroad tracks of history?

The answer is literature. It is literature that carries the human experience, reaches our hearts, and makes us feel the pain of those who have been treated unjustly. Without literature and narrative, we would lose our identity as human beings and will dissolve in the darkness of time and our repeated mistakes that lead us from one preventable devastation to the next.

Our only hope is to tell our stories and to hear the ones of others. Atrocities leave their victims in a state of shock, so silence seems like a remedy when, in reality, it allows injustice to go on and even grow.

Literature allows the victim to become a survivor and stand up to the past to ensure a better future.”

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The Tremendous Power of Literature/Foreword from “Freedom”

Vered Cohen Barzilay 

A very famous Israeli poem, written by Shmuel Hasfari, called ‘The Children of Winter 1973’ describes the process by which the children who were conceived during the 1973 Yom Kippur War become disillusioned with the promises of the old generation of a peaceful future with no wars.

One line in the poem says: ‘You promised to do everything for us, to turn an enemy into a loved one’; it remained the echoing unfulfilled promise for the following generations. This poem became the pledge taken by one of Israel’s most loved prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by an Israeli citizen fourteen years ago. Rabin, who maintained for most of his public life the image of a handsome, brave and much admired soldier, decided to abandon the path of hate and dedicated his later years to keeping the promise ‘to turn an enemy into a loved one’. He used Hasfari’s poem as a source of inspiration, and in times of great grief allowed its words to fill him with the patience, strength and hope necessary to shed off the heavy armour of a warrior and wear the uniform of peace.

I am a child of the winter of ’73 and, like many of my friends, was conceived during the war. Life has this strange habit of continuing to create life, even in a reality of death and hate. And war has this strange habit of invading the very essence, the DNA, of the conceived children of this land and creating yet another generation of warriors, laying upon them the heavy burden of continuing the conflict and the hate. So by the time we enter this world, we are already filled with anger.

Our reality, packed with wars, fears and traumatic events, just triggers these feelings and turns them into a real burning hate, ensuring that no generation will be able ‘to turn an enemy into a loved one’ and war or conflict will continue forever.

War is not predestined; it is created by human beings. Even if we are full of anger, we can choose to control it and to fight ourselves in order to change the way we feel. Following this reasoning, I decided five years ago to abandon my way as a ‘warrior’ and to follow the tremendous power of literature, allowing it to take me into another reality.

My journey began with my involvement with an Italian novel by the name Prima di lasciarsi (Before We Say Goodbye),

whose author, Gabriella Ambrosio, is featured in this anthology with the story ‘Sticko’. The novel is based on a true story and describes the last hours in the life of a seventeen-year-old Palestinian girl from the Dheisheh refugee camp who committed a suicide bombing attack at a supermarket in Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem, in 2002, and her victim, an young Israeli girl of the same age from Jerusalem. But this surprising novel is much more than story about two young girls who come from either side of the conflict and, ironically, also have a striking physical resemblance to one another. It offers readers an opportunity to wear a uniform of peace and to see every human in human eyes, to make even an enemy into a loved one.

The novel opened my warrior’s eyes, as I believe the poem did Rabin’s. It nurtured my depressed feelings of compassion and hope, and allowed me to shed my heavy armour and to wear the uniform of a human rights defender. It wasn’t easy. My angry core – the warrior inside of me, mixed with the post trauma I had suffered as a result of my work as a TV news reporter, covering dozens of suicide bombings – had strongly welded the warrior’s shield into my body and I was refusing to let it go. In order to walk along this new path, I had to adopt a point of view that would allow me to stop being scared and to judge my reality better, a point of view that was based on my personal judgement and a wider perspective of knowledge given to me by all kinds of sources, including Amnesty International’s wonderful research from all over the world, Arab novels and poems, and much more. Unfortunately, these sources are still outside of Israeli mainstream conversation, therefore beyond most warrior’s eyes.

Once I started walking down the path of human rights, I began to feel sorrow for all the years I had walked around with my infected DNA and had seen reality through an eye full of anger. I could no longer see humans as my enemies and I learned to cherish them more, and in this way to cherish myself more.Because of this, my warrior shield was slowly pushed away from my body, leaving me with a feeling of great relief and love that I had not felt properly before. I was able to develop for the first time a strong love for life, for humanity and for the tremendous power of literature.

Literature can be as powerful as life itself. It can be like our prophecy. It can inspire us to change our world and give us the comfort, hope, passion and strength that we need in order to fight to create a better future for us, as well as all humanity. We just need to keep on reading and to allow the tremendous power of literature to enter our hearts and lead us to our own path.

“Freedom” – A Collection Of  Short Stories Celebrating The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights”.  Published in association with Amnesty International. Stories by more than 30 renowned authors, including Paulo Coelho, A.L. Kennedy, Ariel Dorfman, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helen Dunmore, James Meek and Kate Atkinson, each focusing on one right in the Declaration.

Originally published in UK by Mainstream Publishing (September 3, 2009)

CLICK to order Feedom in Amazon.com

Nadine Gordimer’s key note speech – Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award, Nelson Mandela

In the canon of human conscience Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is surely the most famously revered in the contemporary world. In the 20th Century he was one of the few who, in contrast with those who made it infamous for fascism, racism, dictatorship and war, marked the era as one that achieved some human advancement. That is the context in which his name will live in history, beyond the new millennium. Nelson Mandela belongs to the world.

We South Africans, who are fortunate enough to have him living with us in the present, feel he belongs to us and above all we belong to him, if on other and different levels of experience.

There are those who knew him in childhood at his home, the Transkei, and see, beneath the beautifully aged face formed by extraordinary experiences of Underground existence, long imprisonment, the soft contours of a lively youth soon to be aware of ominous demanding responsibilities calling within him beyond a personal appetite for life.

There are those – like George Bizos- who knew him as a fellow student with whom they shared food when he, as a black man, could not enter even a humble restaurant and as a young lawyer whose very presence in court was resented and challenged by white presiding magistrates. There are those who remember him practicising with great Oliver Tambo as the legal firm ‘Mandela & Tambo’ in an old building in Johannesburg.

There are those of us who were present in court as he spoke from the dock when a life sentence was pronounced on him for his role in the freedom struggle, and have forever the image of his face and bearing as he declared his pronouncement: ‘I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities.

It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die’. For twenty-seven years Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in our midst, for Robben Island is in sight of Table Mountain and Pollsmoor Prison is part of Cape Town city. Entombed. Silenced.

It was forbidden to reproduce his words or photograph in the media. But in the force of his invincible dedication to the freedom of his people, at whatever the personal cost: for Mandela ‘Walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage’. Black South Africans had a sense of his enduring what they endured: the brutal humiliations of prison were everyday experiences for them under pass laws and innumerable other racist restrictions which for generations had created a vast non-criminal prison population in South Africa.

While he and his comrades on Robben Island were sent to break stones and pull seaweed out of the Atlantic Ocean, ordinary people among the black population were being hired out by prison authorities as slave farm labour. His people kept him among them in the words of their songs and chants, in the defiant forms of active resistance he had shared with them, and in demands for his release made by the leadership in exile along with the people themselves at home. In such news of him that came out of prison, we came to know that his sense of himself was always part of all this, of living it with his people; he received them through prison walls, as they kept him with them.

This double sense, down-to-earth as well as inspirational, was intrinsic to the very stuff of the freedom struggle. The strong possibility that he would meet his death in prison was not accepted despite the grim fact that mysterious deaths were an apartheid subterfuge in getting rid of its victims not given the mandatory death sentence. There never was the psychological defeat, for the liberation movement, of his becoming a mythical figure, a Che Guevara who might never be seen again except some day in mystical resurrection on a white horse. He remained, 27 years a leader taking on the present in vulnerable flesh and blood. In 1998 he reflected to me ‘Some die and leave behind the evil they did to others. But there are many people, unknown or little known, who leave behind the fruit of efforts they made to provide a better life for those who come after them….In respect of leadership of countries – I have never had any desire or ambition to store up wealth and be surrounded by luxury and pomp. What I want to see is an environment where the young people of our country have a real chance to develop the inherent possibilities they have to create a better life for themselves. This cannot come about in conditions of dire poverty. That is what development is about’.

Of course it is difficult to speak of a phenomenon of world conscience like Mandela in terms other than hagiography. Jack Lang, who was one of the possible presidential candidates for the coming French elections, recently wrote a remarkable book in which Mandela appears as a modern-day Spartacus, Prometheus; but Mandela refuses Olympus, doesn’t feel at home there, just as he refuses the mantle of saint. Mandela epitomises the human being of conscience, male or female, and that human being is not exalted above life, but taking action, speaking out from within human contradictions. He created his own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, inviting to lunch, granting amnesty to the prosecution lawyer in the trial that sentenced him to life imprisonment. But his loyalty to South Africa whose freedom he sacrificed so much to gain does not mean either, that he sees it obligatory to be Politically Correct, where conscience decrees otherwise. He speaks out on the present government’s shortfall, failure in meeting the needs of the alarming proportion of our population infected with HIV and dying of AIDS.

There are two kinds of leaders in the species humankind. There is the man or woman of personal ambition, and there is the man or woman who creates a self out of response to people’s needs, the call of conscience against oppression, injustice, and sufferings of any nature within our human condition. To the one, the drive comes narrowly from within; to the other it is a charge of energy which comes in others’ needs and the demands these make on all of us who share humanity. Conscience is a form of solidarity.

Mandela has a world view in unflinching values of all humankind although his was first formulated and put into practice in South Africa. He was and is revolutionary in the positive sense of its third among many meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary; ‘to change completely’ – not only in overcoming a repressive regime, but by fundamental transformation of what constitutes values of human justice and dignity all the way up from the basis of food and shelter. For him, victory is not a switch of power, the takeover of seats still warm from the occupancy of the oppressors. It is the absolute necessity to change the nature, the wielding of power, the morality of power, revolutionise the eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth, corruptionfor-corruption concept of governance in victory, by recognising that truly human survival, in the home country and the world to which the nation inexorably belongs, must be in policies, attitudes and acts which in a new and different kind of struggle, put the problems of our common humanity urgently first. We have no choice but to live together in city, nation, country and planet. We have no choice but to face, one another in this place.

It was surely in this concept of what he was – a black man denied rights of citizenship, freedom of movement, of choice in all walks of life open to a white population, as a prisoner for 27 years, as a free man, finally president of his country – that Mandela made no objection to receiving the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the last president of racist regimes in South Africa, F.W. de Klerk. I can’t resist recalling, as one present at the ceremony, that I found what I was seeing hard to conceive of, an amnesty hard to swallow- which shows how much I, who have learnt so much from Nelson Mandela, have still to learn.

Since the Award that gives us the occasion, gratefully, of paying tribute to Nelson Mandela today is that of Art for Amnesty on behalf of Amnesty International, I hope it is not irrelevant to remark that Madiba is a reader. He managed somehow to be a lover of the art of literature even in prison, where only censored works for study courses were allowed. He contrived to receive through prison walls some of our contemporary fiction – he has since written about Chinua Achebe, great Nigerian author, of reading his work in prison as ‘The writer in whose company prison walls fell down’. My banned novel ‘Burger’s Daughter’ was smuggled into his Robben Island cell, and the message smuggled back was that he thought well of it. That means more to me than any other opinion it could have gained.

When the World Press published lists of the great men and women of the 20th century, the names Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela rose surely above all. There is a link, perhaps not fortuitously, although the Mahatma’s years in South Africa, his creation there of the political pressure of non-violence, Satyagraha, influenced the non-violent protest tactics that the African National Congress practised until the ferocity of state oppression refused any hope of reform and led to the creation of Umkhonto weSizwe. Gandhi and Mandela were totally distinct from one another in other ways, yet the voice calling upon the conscience of the 20th century to be roused against colonisation, whether manifest as the British possession of India or the whites in apartheid South Africa, came from these two men.

We, in South Africa and the world, have with us as the living touchstone against any desecration of the human spirit, Nelson Mandela. I once wrote that whatever the inhuman horrors of apartheid, we were living in a country where there was still heroes. We had the greatness of Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Steve Biko, Bram Fischer, Dr Dadoo, Robert Sobukwe, Helen Joseph, in a life-raft roster of the undefeatable beckoning to the possibility of freedom. We had Nelson Rolihlahla

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