Newsletter #2: Burkinis and Liberation

Sep 16, 2016

Violence Disguised as Liberation

I was also on a beach that day.  But it was not Nice, that beach of stones on the French Mediterranean.  I was on Wasaga, in the province of Ontario, Canada, a seemingly endless beach of white sand that arches like a crescent moon on the southern edge of Georgian Bay.  The water slopes gently and warmly, a boon to parents with little ones.  Some of those parents holding their babies’ toes into the placid surf wore black leggings and long skirts; some wore caps that blended into their swimwear at their shoulders.  Some played with their teenage children, throwing balls and Frisbees and tossing hula hoops. Some prepared fragrant picnics in the doorway of little cabanas perfect for changing out of wet clothing. Seamlessly making their way.  No police pointing guns down at them demanding that they disrobe in the name of ‘morals’ and ‘secularity’.

In the wake of revulsion and protest that followed, France’s highest court has overturned the ban on burkinis, along with the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, criticising the ban as both ‘stupid’ and a ‘breach of fundamental freedoms’, and more likely to fuel than tame religious intolerance and stigmisation of Muslims.

What are we doing? I often wonder. Why does France feel that a bombing raid on northern Syria is the appropriate response to the actions of a man shredded by a potent mix of drugs, drink and bisexuality? for whom radicalised Islam provided the doorway to venting an inchoate pain and rage?  Even as I dream of a society where women suffer neither stigmatisation nor objectification based on what they wear, I sat on that beach with my partner, children and grandchildren and felt glad that no jackboots were likely to appear, their violence disguised as ‘liberation’.

As part of a Syrian refugee sponsorship group of two families who have become ‘family’ – and as a trainer in conflict transformation in areas of the world where religion is too often blamed for conflict when the root causes lie elsewhere, I am deeply troubled by our resort to violence – as a solution to anything at all – and particularly against an ‘enemy’ as fluid as water and as volatile as petroleum. We focus on the staged beheading of people who look like us, while neglecting to understand that dismemberment is dismemberment, whether by drones or bombs or invasion or even starvation by sanction.  And the body-count scorecard is heavily weighted on one side.

‘The world is over-armed and peace under-funded’ was the headline for an article on military spending. We need models of peace, peace-creating, ones that challenge all of our thinking about what is possible – bringing enemies together and turning them back into human beings with hopes, fears and dreams rather like anyone else’s and identities thick with story. Finding a common ground assumed to be unimaginable – yet true.

Upcoming Trainings

1. Women’s Action on Non-Violence, India

For the first two weeks of October, I will be joining 50 international women and 150 Indian women in Mumbai, Jalgaon and Delhi for an immersion experience in non-violent direct action.  The purpose of this gathering is to advance women’s role in non-violent action globally, with our Indian counterparts showcasing their mobilisation and action strategies.  Their work has been remarkably effective, with governments, local to national, passing legislation designed to meet some of their demands for land reform.

Women Rising:  Taking up our role as Peacemakers

Serendipitously, the event in October will be followed in March by a different gathering of women, this time in the North East – a part of the world named by the Washington Post as one of the most under-reported war zones in 2014.  More than 600,000 people have been killed, with more hundreds of thousands displaced and crossing borders.  War lords and insurgency leaders, police and military have carried out atrocities in the name of land rights and tribal autonomy – or simply because they have been taught from their birth to hate the other.  One hundred women, representing the millions of women who have found themselves at the brutal end of warfare, are coming together to equip themselves with the skills of non-violence and conflict transformation.  Once equipped, they will return to their villages to demand the right to participate in decision-making, with a determination to steer their communities towards non-violence and peace.

Playing for Peace:  A concert in support of the work of Partera:  15 November at Hugh’s Room, Toronto

The Performers: known and loved, singer-songwriter Ken Whiteley is headlining a fundraiser concert for Partera International, on November 15th. In one show at the renowned Hugh’s Room, you will hear internationally acclaimed actor and MC for the evening, Kenneth Welsh, multi-talented artist, dancer and musician, Njacko Backo, Steinway Artist and pianist extraordinaire, Laura Fernandez, virtuoso guitarist and world-wise songwriter,  Noah Zacharin, Vietnam era war resister and master of the strings, Eric Nagler, and multi-media, multi-instrumentalist, and former Wailin’ Jenny, Annabelle Chvostek.
Go HERE to learn more about the performers and the concert;
Go HERE to book your tickets or table.
Some elegant items and experiences will be up for silent auction. Items will be announced shortly on the Partera website.
Sponsorhips:  If you would like to be added to our list of sponsors, please write to us at info@partera.ca.

Menu of Opportunities

This work is funded solely by donations.  With each newsletter, we will update you on what’s happening and what’s on the menu for support.  Our purpose is to create pods of peace, poised to go viral!  With your help, it can happen.  Thank you!

Oct. 1-15: Women’s Actions on Non-violence, Mumbai, Jalgaon and Delhi ($2,600)

Nov. 15:  Playing for Peace:  Canadian performers band together to play for peace (Goal: $6,000)

Nov. 18-20:  Colour-Coded:  Decolonising Hearts, Minds and Spirits, Hub & Hearth, training in anti-racism and white privilege. Registration opening soon.  Donations will help us to provide a more affordable weekend experience.

Dec 1-12:  Central Philippine University, Iloilo City, the Philippines:  working with professors teaching seminarians in this majority Christian country whose southern islands are torn by inter-religious conflict, how to turn their texts and traditions into tools in their peacemaking toolbox. ($4,000)

Jan 2017:  Colombia:  working with peacemakers in the region of Cali as they prepare for a Latin American Conference on peace in 2018.  ($2,000)

Feb 2017:  Uganda:  Training in Conflict Transformation with partner organisation, CEPAD, and South Sudanese refugees.  TBC

Mar 2017: North East India:  Women Rising.  This training in conflict transformation will bring together 100 women from across the seven states of the North East.  Costs include travel and accommodation at a central location in Assam or Nagaland. ($6,000).


Muslim-Christian Trainings
Mindanao / Philippines Conflict Transformation
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
Sudan third party non-violence intervention