Daniel Zylbersztajn https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/10217/all cached version 08/07/2018 09:50:53 en Anti-social subjectivity infringing the principle of ‘Living Together’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/daniel-zylbersztajn/antisocial-subjectivity-infringing-principle-of-%E2%80%98living-toget <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Society forces us to challenge ourselves to accept that participation in the public sphere is not just through the similarity with the people around one, but also through the differences.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/537772/2701168.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/537772/2701168.jpg" alt="A Muslim woman wearing the niqab in central London" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Muslim woman wearing the niqab in central London. Amer Ghazzal/Demotix. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In the British newspaper&nbsp;<em>The Independent</em>, Fiyaz Mughal, the director of the organisation TELL MAMA, which documents incidents of Islamophobia in the UK, <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/a-ban-on-the-niqab-is-contrary-to-british-values-9607018.html">has defended the Niqab</a> in the light of the British liberal tradition.&nbsp;I agree with him.&nbsp; </p> <p>His comments come in the aftermath of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights regarding the ban of the Niqab Islamic dress in France and the <a href="hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx#{">complaint of a French defendant</a> that it interfered with her human rights. The court argued that this was not the case, but that the wearing of the dress <em>was</em> an infringement of the ability of others to have social interactions on the grounds of the preamble of ‘living-together’:</p> <blockquote><p><em>"141.&nbsp;The Court observes that this is an aim to which the authorities have given much weight. This can be seen, in particular, from the explanatory memorandum accompanying the Bill, which indicates that “[t]he voluntary and systematic concealment of the face is problematic because it is quite simply incompatible with the fundamental requirements of ‘living together’ in French society” and that “[t]he systematic concealment of the face in public places, contrary to the ideal of fraternity, ... falls short of the minimum requirement of civility that is necessary for social interaction” (see paragraph 25 above). It indeed falls within the powers of the State to secure the conditions whereby individuals can live together in their diversity. Moreover, the Court is able to accept that a State may find it essential to give particular weight in this connection to the interaction between individuals and may consider this to be adversely affected by the fact that some conceal their faces in public places (see paragraph 122 above).</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p><em>142.&nbsp;&nbsp;Consequently, the Court finds that the impugned ban can be regarded as justified in its principle solely in so far as it seeks to guarantee the conditions of “living together”.</em></p></blockquote> <p>I strongly believe this not to be correct.&nbsp;I am living in an area of London that is in part inhabited by people of strict Islamic cultural commitments.&nbsp; One of our closest neighbours as well as a lady in my daughter's school adhered to these dress codes.&nbsp;We also knew another mother who wore a Niqab, whose kids my daughter played with in the playground, and with whom we always had frank and open discussions on religion, including Judaism and Islam.&nbsp; </p> <p>There may be arguments on other grounds campaigners would like to raise, but the one that the ECHR brought up, on the dress not being social is not correct and totally subjective from the perspective of your average unexposed European. It lacks convincing evidence of this being so. </p> <p>In my personal life, I have had more interaction with these women than with some of my uncovered neighbours, of any faith or none.&nbsp;We always exchanged greetings, and had friendly chit chats.&nbsp;It was always quite clear to me that the person under the garment is but a woman and fellow human being, a mother, a member of the community I live in.&nbsp; </p> <p>In all incidences, these women suffered abuse on the roads like being spat at as if they were an abomination. Whereas the lady who was our neighbour always treated my daughter with kindness and always had some goodies for her. In fact, those I know and knew were all sweet and kind people (some others may in fact not be so, but this is not the point. The point is, they are like all of us, some kind, some not so kind.)&nbsp; </p> <p>I think that the judgment of the ECHR says more about the western fear of confronting their own demons in actually addressing a woman in such a dress code like any other person with respect, an open mind and curiosity (minus shaking her hand, if you are a man of course).&nbsp;</p> <p>If the argument of the ECHR was about free choice or gender equality access, it would perhaps be different.&nbsp; The case the ECHR court judged upon concerned&nbsp; however a woman who was documented as wearing the dress, Niqab, as part of her free choice, being her current way of expressing her particular cultural understanding, rightly or wrongly, of how to practise her religion.&nbsp; </p> <p>In the words of two dissenting judges, Angelika Nussberger and Helena Jaederblom:</p> <blockquote><p><em>"It seems to us, however, that such fears and feelings of uneasiness are not so much caused by the veil itself, which – unlike perhaps certain other dress-codes – cannot be perceived as aggressive per se, but by the philosophy that is presumed to be linked to it. Thus the recurring motives for not tolerating the full-face veil are based on interpretations of its symbolic meaning. The first report on “the wearing of the full-face veil on national territory”, by a French parliamentary commission, saw in the veil “a symbol of a form of subservience” (see paragraph 17). The explanatory memorandum to the French Bill referred to its “symbolic and dehumanising violence” (see paragraph 25). The full-face veil was also linked to the “self-confinement of any individual who cuts himself off from others whilst living among them” (ibid.). Women who wear such clothing have been described as “effaced” from public space."</em></p></blockquote> <p>As the judgment noted itself, the amount of women who choose to wear this is so small, that there is a question-mark over whether there was a proportionate requirement in France to legislate at all. The court also remarked that these women are in fact vulnerable to Islamophobia and that the law must be careful not to burden these women further or increase the hatred against them.&nbsp; Hatred like the one that is suspected to have been the reason for the killing of the Saudi resident and student in the UK Nahid Almanea, 31 who was wearing the abaya - a full-length blue dress and a multi-coloured head-cover.&nbsp;</p> <p>Almanea was to be enrolled as a PhD student in Life Sciences, having achieved more, and possibly having had more serious social conversations, than the European average.&nbsp; </p> <p>But my motivation here goes beyond just personal experience.&nbsp;The history of hatred against Jews teaches us that it was once the case, and often still is, that Jewish men and sometimes women are seen as out of touch and non-modern. If you read <em>Mein Kampf </em>you will notice that Hitler writes&nbsp;in one early chapter that he understood the true nature of the "daemonic Jew," when he saw an Orthodox Jew in Vienna with his black anti-modern garments. </p><p>Beyond that, I am a liberal. If I had a neighbour who was a Goth, or in drag or whatever, I'd defend that person too.&nbsp;Society forces us to challenge ourselves to accept that participation in the public sphere is not just through the similarity with the people around one, but also through the differences.&nbsp;</p> <p>As I have encountered in my personal life, it is totally possible to engage in conversations with women wearing full cover dress. Perception can cloud the ability to approach the human being wearing the dress, and can also assume that there is an anti-social position where this is not necessarily so.&nbsp; </p> <p>But that this was entertained in a court of law as substantial as the ECHR, albeit with two dissenting voices,&nbsp;is to say the least disappointing. I believe that the ECHR should have the burden to prove that the preamble of ‘living together’ is in fact breached by reference to solid research.&nbsp; It is my guess tht they would never be able to make a conclusive case here.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? uk EU Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Daniel Zylbersztajn Thu, 17 Jul 2014 17:34:56 +0000 Daniel Zylbersztajn 84551 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Mexican beheading: how to deal with real violence on the internet https://www.opendemocracy.net/daniel-zylbersztajn/mexican-beheading-how-to-deal-with-real-violence-on-internet <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Shying away and blocking out violence, however, is never a permanent solution. We have become the intimate witnesses of real horror.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>I have seen a sequence of images recording the execution of that unfortunate woman in Mexico who was beheaded on camera allegedly on the grounds of having had an affair. </p> <p>&nbsp;It has made me resolute that we must initiate a new process of education. The execution filmed live on camera mimics earlier footage of beheading carried out by groups affiliated to Al-Quaeda. </p> <p>&nbsp;However in the Mexican case this was carried out in a different country and on a different continent and without any reference to Islam. Mexico is a country ruled by gang violence, but not by the war between Islam and the west. </p> <p>&nbsp;The fact that the video is so similar to the filmed executions in Iraq means that the globalisation of the internet has resulted in the setting of examples and precedents that circulate in people's minds very much like the wildfires of <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20483087">Gangnam Style</a>. They gave a blue-print of how to kill to the most remote regions of our globe, as long as they have internet access or can play DVDs.</p> <p>&nbsp;Since we cannot change or control this access, it is important that we have a public discourse about degrees of violence and what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and raise questions regarding appropriate and inappropriate penalties, human rights, patriarchal systems, women's rights and the course of justice amongst many others. In neither the Al-Quaeda case nor the Mexican one was the execution remotely just, fair or proportionate. In both cases a human being was brazenly slaughtered before the world. There was no fair judicial process in either case. </p> <p>This is not something that can be learned in sciences, mathematics or literacy, nor are these issues sufficiently examined in religious education (not the least because many of the holy books still talk about death penalties for all sorts of reasons that to most are unacceptable today), but mainly constitutes the fundamental basis for well-rounded citizenship education and ethics. These are subjects under-nourished in the education of most young people throughout the world, and also below any measurable impact compared to the power of the internet and You Tube as trendsetters and yardsticks of new forms of what is acceptable.</p> <p>&nbsp;Just as much as we must debate sex and pornography and what is acceptable there (like the exploitation and risks involved in the sex industry, and the difference between pornography and real inter-human relations), we have, by virtue of the internet reached the stage where we must also talk specifically and more elaborately about violence. Namely that violence is a feature of human behaviour and that we must come to terms with what is acceptable and not acceptable. We must be clear that there is just as much violence out there on the worldwide web as there is hardcore sex, and we must be clear that we have to teach young people, as well as adults, what to do with this information. </p> <p>We must also protect all those who need protection, such as children, from seeing it. </p> <p>&nbsp;This is not easily done. In the same week that the Mexican beheading became a topic of conversation around the world due to Facebook first allowing its screening and then disallowing it, there were plenty of other virulent videos and photos for people to see had they wished to do so. An elephant with a sawn off face, possibly still alive, tortured in that way for the ivory trade, came up on Facebook, and was nearly seen by my little daughter. A donkey pushed alive off a cliff could be seen in one click, and a Matador could be similarly observed in his punctured state, speared and lifted by a bull, itself bleeding through the multiple incisions made by the human before him, who was all set to kill the beast in front of eager crowds. Here is a good example how violence can become acceptable spectacle. It is precisely this that we must prevent.</p> <p>We have grown out of the public executions that still existed in many countries less than 100 years ago, haven’t we? A day out with the family to see criminals hang, or dark fruits hanging on the <a href="http://polygrafi.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/strange-fruit-hanging-from-the-poplar-trees-blood-on-the-leaves/">poplar tree</a>. </p> <p>&nbsp;The plethora of the unusually strong images of blood, death and destruction of all kinds suggests that we are in fact fascinated by it. What is it like to kill, how does it feel to be killed? The answer to the first, surprisingly easy, the answer to the second, terrifying. But we are not doing the killing, we would not, we think, and we are not going to be the person or animal being killed. But the spectacle on the screen leaves us powerless, and in fact can traumatise and make us despair. We cannot do more than leave a little “like” or maybe a comment. At the same time this slowly changes our acceptance levels of violence and teaches some, as in the Mexican beheading case, which looks so like an Al-Quaeda beheading or like the bull fights in some areas of the world, to want to see more of the forbidden spectacle.</p> <p>&nbsp;It is important that we are aware that freedom of access on the internet means freedom to view humans as they are. In their genius and in their highest degree of destruction, often unnecessarily and usually disproportionately violent. Here is where the debate must start to create a better humanity, which accepts the bad and grows beyond it and knows where to categorize this violence, namely on the shelf of unacceptable behaviour. </p> <p>&nbsp;Protection is very important to children and young persons: they cannot yet contemplate and contextualize such occurances. But at the same time, I believe, just as 16 year olds get to deal with the Shoah, the Transatlantic Slave trade, Vietnam, or the horrors of Iraq, to name but a few of the darkest episodes, when the time is right we must teach our young that the internet likewise reflects that reality of humanity, and a very current one at that. </p> <p>This allows the minds to contextualise its visual experiences as both shocking and abnormal and part of a line of possible human horrors. In that same spirit, we must follow this by giving people the tools to do something about it. An example of this is the elaborate citizenship and democratic education carried out in Germany as an inheritance of facing up to its violent past. </p> <p>&nbsp;Shying away and blocking out violence, however, is never a permanent solution. These are not fantasy horror moves shown on YouTube. We have become the intimate witnesses of real horror. </p> <p>&nbsp;Nobody should stumble upon violence involuntarily, and nobody who is too young to understand should be exposed to it, but there is a time when we must take the veil off, and there is no better way of doing so, than in a structured informed open way amongst others as part of a curriculum on human rights, justice, morality, and social action to defend the integrity of all these.&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Mexico </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> </div> </div> Mexico Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas Internet Daniel Zylbersztajn Wed, 06 Nov 2013 06:56:57 +0000 Daniel Zylbersztajn 76583 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Daniel Zylbersztajn https://www.opendemocracy.net/author-profile/daniel-zylbersztajn <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Daniel Zylbersztajn </div> </div> </div> <p>Daniel Zylbersztajn is a German born freelance journalist living in London, and former research student of militant violence,who ended his studies prematurely because he did not want to expose himself any further witnessing of the reports of violent events. He has worked for the Palestinian / Jewish peace village Wahat al-Salam ~Neve Shalom, and writes for several German newspapers.&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> German born Daniel Zylbersztajn is a freelance journalist and radio producer. He lives in London. </div> </div> </div> Daniel Zylbersztajn Fri, 04 Nov 2011 08:59:19 +0000 Daniel Zylbersztajn 62446 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The possibilities and impossibilities of being a neighbour https://www.opendemocracy.net/daniel-zylbersztajn/possibilities-and-impossibilities-of-being-neighbour <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>German-born Daniel Zylbersztajn has recently returned to Poland, two months after his father's passing away. In the son, this has prompted thoughts on neighbourly relations and the meaning of transformative dialogue in general, taking account of his experiences in Jewish - Palestinian dialogue and his upbringing in Germany.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>My late father Wolf survived the Shoah by being fit for slave work in the German factories connected to the Buchenwald concentration camp complex and escaping <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauthausen-Gusen_concentration_camp#KZ_Mauthausen">KZ Mauthausen</a> by making a hole in the carriage of his &lsquo;death train&rsquo; and running for his life. Following the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kielce_pogrom">Kielce post-Shoah massacre</a>&nbsp;in 1946, he abandoned his plans to return to Poland after the war and never went back. </p> <p>I have recently been to the Polish town of Szczekociny, as a result of reconciliation efforts between the largely Polish Catholic residents of the town and the family relatives of the former Jewish residents of the town. Szczekociny is the town my father Wolf was born in and lived in, up until the soldier agents serving the German Nazi state murderously abolished the presence of the Jewish community there. </p> <p>When the Germans arrived in 1939, my father was 20 years old. For others the time to fall in love, for him it was the time his mother and his youngest brother Fishl were executed first with much of his family following. At the beginning of July 2011 my mother and I were special guests at this year's Jewish festival in Szczekociny, standing in line of honour for my late father.</p> <p>It was breathtaking, walking the roads of my father's family and entering the town hall that only ten years ago had still refused to answer my emails and letters. I published the story on my blog at the time and that was how Agnieszka Pi&#347;kiewicz, a local Catholic Polish woman with interest in the history of the former Jewish citizens of Szczekociny, got to know me. With her and above all another survivor family from the town, the Bornsteins, small steps were taken in the direction of confronting the local Poles. According to Yossi Bornstein, who is like me, &lsquo;second generation&rsquo;, the doors and windows were locked when he and his father Izyk Mendl Bornstein first came to Szczekociny. On consequent visits Yossi was followed and an unsuccessful attempt was made to beat him up (prevented by the foresight of taking an Israeli bodyguard with him). Mainly the fear was that the (supplement a disgraceful word here) Jews are coming to take their properties back. </p> <p>Since then the mayor of Szczekociny has changed and all of a sudden things have started to move. The first big success was the removal of a public toilet erected on the grounds of the Jewish cemetery (aided by some adverse publicity causing outrage in the USA and in Israel). For a few years now a Jewish festival has taken place in the town to commemorate the lost generations and celebrate Jewish culture. Yossi, who is an Israeli citizen, has brought along Israeli school kids for a few years to help restore some gravestones and the festival has become something of a regular event. Still my father would not follow up the multiple invites he received,&nbsp;nor did I for one or another reason make it.&#8232;&#8232;</p> <p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/scan0004.jpg" alt="Wolf and Abraham Zylbersztajn" width="250" /><span class="image-caption"> Wolf and his brother Abraham Zylbersztajn at the memorial stone to the Jewish community of Szczekociny (in Israel) </span></p> <p class="BodyA"></p><p>My father's last account of Szczekociny was from 1945. He and his likewise surviving brother Abraham went to see a farmer where their father Hershik - who had died of diphtheria following the camp liberations (a consequence of too rapid feeding of the starved slave workers) - had left some tools and bits and bobs. Sadly the old farmer had died too. His son, a sturdy muscular and tall Catholic Pole, came towards them, and told them to get lost. &ldquo;Your things had been taken by the partisans,&rdquo; he claimed, and my father calmed his brother who wanted to argue. "For this he could murder you, and it is not worth it!", he said.&#8232; Of course the Shoah was the fault of the German Nazis. But the Polish Catholic culpability was in the toleration of the crimes as well as profiting from them, by and large through looting. Whilst Jewish people had a history of several centuries as co-citizens in Poland, it had always been an arrangement of parallel lives. The proximity of one to another never diluted and was always carefully guarded, not the least through sometimes vile preaching in the churches based on convenient mis-readings of the bible, that left out the fact that in the bible there existed Jews as well as Romans and that Jesus himself was a Jew, claiming instead that it was the Jews who were the anti-Christs, betrayers and murderers of the Christian Son of God.&#8232;&#8232;</p> <p>Such was the hatred and perhaps the guilt of some (Christian) Poles at that time, that a year and two months after Poland's liberation they stormed a house in which Jewish survivors of the Nazi atrocities had taken residence and ferociously killed by hand those Jews, "the Germans had forgotten." 42 people, all Jewish survivors, died in Kielce that infamous night in July,1946. The echoes of Kielce were enough to make most Polish Jewish survivors change any plans they may ever have had to return home. As a consequence in most formerly Jewish-inhabited towns, Poles barricaded themselves into the formerly Jewish homes - while most Jewish survivors sought to live their remaining lives elsewhere. They went across the border separating the Soviets from the Western Allied Forces and then moved to the United States, Israel, Australia, and in my father's case, Germany.</p> <p>There was a Red Cross refugee camp in Bavaria and from that survivors like my father moved into a newly formed &lsquo;Jewish Street&rsquo; in Bavaria's capital city Munich, <a href="http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?ll=48.141138,11.598768&amp;spn=0.002083,0.004919&amp;gl=uk&amp;vpsrc=6&amp;t=h&amp;layer=c&amp;cbll=48.141078,11.598664&amp;panoid=_p98DPDpaSWWWL5B9TE30Q&amp;cbp=12,47,,0,11.05&amp;z=18">M&ouml;hlstrasse</a>, situated appropriately enough near the Friedensengel - The Angel of Peace - Monument of Munich.&nbsp;Here these Jewish survivors from all parts of Europe began to busy themselves with all sorts of trades, legal and illegal ones, and then mostly moved on to other shores. My father engaged in his father's trade of a leather cutter (one of the typical Jewish trades, as &lsquo;dirty&rsquo; dealing with dead animals' skins was conveniently passed on by European Christians to Jewish communities in the Middle Ages).&nbsp; </p> <p>After some years passed by, my father and a good number of others stayed put. His small earnings supported his two surviving brothers who had chosen to follow the Zionist vision for a better life and had moved to Tel Aviv. But there were other reasons for staying: Germany was in a state of collective shame. Nobody would dare to speak out against my father and the others then, and this remained true for most of his remaining life, which was marked by a difficult relationship with guilt and shaming. Living in Germany, my father never wanted to be with Germans, argued with them about the Shoah in his later place of work, and made sure those around him were put in their place. When aged German members of the Wehrmacht supported by the new German right congregated in Munich&rsquo;s central square, Marienplatz in 1997&nbsp;to protest against an exhibition that claimed ordinary German soldiers in the&nbsp;Second World War era were complicit in the murder of Jews, he made a point of going there well in his late 70s and arguing with them that indeed they did murder alongside the SS units.</p> <p>Having been born and brought up in Poland he had no desire either to be with Poles.&nbsp; This feeling of not wanting such engagement extended itself also to the next generation, myself.&nbsp; Fed a diet of stories from my father and alongside contemporary news items on racism in the former Soviet Block, in 2011 aged 42, I had never been further East in Europe than Berlin. Still in June 2011, two months&nbsp; after my father's death, we, that is my mother and I,&nbsp; accepted an invitation to Szczekociny to that year's Jewish festival which the organisers said they would dedicate to my late father.&#8232;&#8232;</p> <p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/szposter.jpg" alt="Szczekociny festival poster" width="270" /><span class="image-caption">This year's Szczekociny festival poster</span></p> <p class="BodyA">Beside seeing the house of my family and the location of their leather cutting shop in the town's main square, on my visit to Szczekociny we found my father&rsquo;s and uncle&rsquo;s birth certificates. This gave me a ten minute extract of the life of my grandfather, Hershik, whom I never knew, as he stood in January 1919 with my father, then a newborn baby, in the town hall to register my dad's birth. This was especially meaningful as my father had passed away so recently, and here was the full spectrum of his life from birth to his passing away. &#8232;It was also nice to see a good turnout which was addressed by the Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich at the festival, and only slightly marred by poor weather.</p> <p>Sadly we missed a Kaddish ceremony at the old cemetery, because Krakow police had decided to tow my rental car away after it was parked in the wrong spot and it took three hours to release the car. Imagine the feelings one has when being confronted with police bureaucracy during such a visit. Still, hours late we got there and I gave a talk on conflict transformation on the model of the Palestinian / Jewish peace village in Israel <a href="http://www.nswas.com/">Wahat al Salam ~ Neve Shalom </a>(NSWaS). </p> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/nswas.jpg" alt="Wahat al Salam ~ Neve Shalom" width="530" /><span class="image-caption">The village of Wahat al Salam ~ Neve Shalom</span></p> <p>I have worked on and off for the UK friends organisation NSWaS, including as their education officer. I made my talk relevant to the Polish listeners with the theme of "two peoples in discourse, who both see themselves and who both are, victims." I discussed subjective positioning, invoking Martin Luther King Jnr., Franz Fanon, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, and how <em>subjective truth </em>needed to be challenged by the other's subjective truths and through <em>continuous debate</em> rather than one-off agreements. Acknowledgement, whilst accepting difference, that was the motto of Wahat al-Salam ~ Neve Shalom. Perhaps it had something also to say about Polish Christian-Jewish relations, Polish German relations, or even to Poles who live as minorities in places such as London? It was well received.&#8232;&#8232;</p> <p>In the evening I was moved by the attendance of some people of the local Roma/Sinti community at the eve of the festival. The fate of Roma, Sinti and Travellers was the same terrible one during the Shoah, and they remain discriminated against outcasts. Unlike most Jewish people of Poland, Roma and Sinti still live in many rural areas in Poland.</p> <p>But our presence in Szczekociny was tarnished by the deliberate vandalising of a plaque which had just been uncovered (during the Kaddish ceremony we had missed) and dedicated to the famous Polish <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dow_Ber_Meisels">Rabbi Dov Ber Meisels</a>, who was born there in the eighteenth century. It was also saddening to see the dimensions of deliberate disrespect shown to the two local Jewish cemeteries by one person who had erected both a factory and a villa on its grounds, and the fact that the old synagogue had been given over to housing the European multi-national <em>Schlecker</em> drugstore and a restaurant.</p> <p>According to Yossi Bornstein, at one time there had been a plan to open a pig farm and pig slaughter house in one of these Jewish sacred places, maybe precisely because pigs are seen as &lsquo;unkosher&rsquo; dirty food in Judaism. This was accompanied by stories of how bones, skulls and grave-stones were dug out of the soil and disposed of somewhere by truck, some years back when the factory was first built. It would only be appropriate that both the cemeteries and the synagogue were at least partially reconstructed and honoured. The Jewish family members linked to Szczekociny have repeatedly requested the erection of a memorial in the cemetery using gravestone remains (most of which were removed from the cemetery to be used in the construction of other buildings), and a small place inside the synagogue to remember not only the synagogue, but also the once Jewish life of the town (in early twentieth century census statistics, the Jewish population temporarily outnumbered its Catholic members). It would be nothing but honourable to create such spaces as a hall of remembrance of former citizens and residents who lived, worked and cared for Szczekociny and were neighbours. </p> <p>The erection of physical space is doubly important in light of the fact that the Jewish family members of former residents of Szczekociny have officially abrogated any claims whatsoever to any rightfully owned estates, with the associated request that any items that are kept or discovered and which could be meaningful to us Jewish families (such as photos, or other recognizable items that once belonged to Jewish families) be declared.&#8232;</p> <p>It may only be hoped that despite the setbacks, the prevailing wind of positive will may strengthen through continued discourse. Music and talk alone are but a start, but change is symbolised also by actions that will endure the generations of today. This includes the erection of physical spaces and the development of education in history and anti-racist integrationist citizenship education, not just in view of the links to Jewish families of people who once lived there, but also in a contemporary sense to the new &lsquo;others&rsquo; in Szczekociny. Szczekociny is now also home to Turkish-speaking, Latvian and Roma and Sinti residents, as I saw from a display in the local secondary school. In that sense change is both part of the new spirit of Szczekociny, within the hearts and minds of people, as well as within the built environment. This is the development of modern Germany too. </p> <p>Germany is the place in Europe with the greatest amount of inter-cultural and dialogue projects. Meeting and engaging with the other is a key ingredient of the post-war era here. Citizenship education was the golden preamble of post-war Germany likewise. This is not to say Germany is not struggling as well with prejudices against non-Germans, sometimes quite crassly so. But the churches, charities and schools are working harder than anywhere else in Europe to counter it. Of course it didn't really move my father, but church leaders had asked him if they could invite him to teach school classes and for Germans to come and apologise in person. However what it did do was to allow my father to make his peace with younger Germans.&nbsp; Acknowledging the work indirectly he always reiterated that he had no quarrel with young Germans, except perhaps those few who glorified the Nazi era. </p> <p>One wonders about how much Germany has moved on since 1945 and how much work is still left to be done in places like Szczekociny in Poland.&#8232;&#8232; The visit has left me with a profound feeling of dissatisfaction in the way communities in which there are differences of faith or ethnicity function, or rather are allowed to dwell. Living now in Kings Cross, London, where there is a sizeable Bangladeshi Muslim population, as well as a disenfranchised English working class community, both with limited meaningful contact to other residents - &nbsp;it made me consider the importance of going further in neighbourly relations. </p> <p>Poland teaches us that only when communities are so inter-woven that one cannot live without the other (albeit in conflict at times), can we rest assured that little Hitlers have no fertile grounds from which to &nbsp;breed their like. The current reality of parallel residency (you may call it in US historic terms 'separate but equal') with little neighbourly interaction, is but a marching order to the Polish Avenue of 1939. </p> <p>In Szczekociny I was told some raided Jewish houses as soon as the German Nazis expelled them.&#8232; So what does one do with all this?&nbsp; After some deliberations I have come to the conclusion that I shall be off to visit both the local mosque at Kings Cross, as well as the local pub at times - and have more teas and talks with all my neighbours in the near future. It may well be a bumpy road ahead, both here in Kings Cross and in Szcekociny, for these discourses must not only be in the spirit of light-hearted conversations, but build communities through different points of view, accept the neighbour in his or her entitlement to have these differences, as well as expecting and giving neighbourly care alongside it. Of course this is precisely the heart of the debate, for what neighbourly care and expectation is, can be deemed to be cultural and subjective to a certain extent. </p> <p>Community cohesion evolves only in the constant of continuous human interaction and discourse and care for a place and for each other. I have seen this in action in Wahat al Salam ~ Neve Shalom where Jews and Palestinians sustained togetheness throughout forty years of the conflict raging around them. On the other hand, not even the fact that my mother's family, the Lewandowskys, were merchants to the Bavarian royal court, and that my grandfather Gerhard wore the German Iron Cross for services in the Red Cross during the first world war, saved him from a six month incarceration in <a href="http://www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/">KZ Dachau</a>. It was not German neighbours (one even exposed him to the SS), or friends&rsquo; contacts that saved him, but a decent Dutch Christian family in Beekbergen, Holland.&nbsp; I know in Poland there were also such families, I am told, more than anywhere else during that time. But the overall picture remains grim.&#8232;&#8232;</p> <p>Another lesson I take from Szcekociny is the power of the local villain. It takes only a small group of villains to spoil community cohesion and terrorize particular members. Anyone who has read German history and the ascent of a few haters to power knows that. But I am also thinking concretely about the man who has a house and a factory on the land of the Jewish cemeteries in Szczekociny. Because the villain's power is in disproportion to the kind and gentle acts that make a community flourish, it is not unreasonable to oppose a local villain with the crushing might of a unified community consisting of members from different backgrounds, religions and walks of life. The same applies here in Kings Cross. In Szczekociny, I am told the villain has old contacts from the Communist days: but like Catholics who blame Jews for this and that, they would do well to remember that many of the great Communist theorists and thinkers had Jewish backgrounds. I doubt if many, in spite of their position towards religion in general, would have gone as far as approving of a desecration of a Jewish cemetery or house of prayer.&#8232;</p> <p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Daniel%20014%20(2).jpg" alt="Daniel Zylbersztajn" width="250" /><span class="image-caption">Daniel Zylbersztajn </span></p> <p class="BodyA">One final point. It occurred to me that my feelings also had a bearing on my understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli and the Islamic/Arabic Jewish conflict. Whilst it is not always good to make comparisons, for there are differences in histories and facts, I did think about my feelings in those spaces in Szczekociny. The least I can say is that honouring current and former Palestinian and Jewish citizens are very important symbols to me. Alongside this, there are virtues in accepting and engaging with the other in a non-threatening way, that accepts the mistakes of the past, the current realities and attempts to build an acceptable and honourable path for the future. I am not thinking only about Israel and Palestine here, and not only about Jewish claims and Palestinian claims, but also about the former Jewish presence in Arabic and Persian-speaking lands.&#8232;&#8232;</p> <p>That my religion and culture has managed to mourn the expulsion from Zion from a distance of as many as forty generations from the original events makes this matter even more poignant. But such memories have to be handled with great care, if they are not to advocate the displacement of more people in the attempt to correct former human wrongs (there are too many examples for both). We are therefore forced to look again at post-apartheid South Africa, post-segregation USA, and also the village of Wahat-al Salam - Neve Shalom and the processes of dialogue and acceptance that in each instance led to the new realities, where formerly confronting, uncompromising and unequal sides live and strive together relatively equally with their respective aspirations. Neither model is perfect, but meaningful open discourse intended to think about mutually inclusive solutions seems the only tolerable way ahead. &lsquo;Together&rsquo; is coincidentally also the motto of the Jewish festivals in Szczekociny, at least creating a positive template to work on&hellip;</p> <p>The worst thing I think anyone can do, is denial, missed opportunities, and living side by side without meaningful interaction, dialogue and discourse. Once again let's all think about what being a neighbour should really mean, and work towards our aspirations regardless of the pitfalls and setbacks that may be lingering on the way. The Catholic Pole who was so threatening towards my father and his brother could have easily invited the two of them in for tea and given them a helping hand, for this is what neighbours should do. Not doing so makes anyone who fails in such acts complicit in future injustices, either as their agents or worse, as its latest victims, should events turn in certain directions. Like the inter-cultural organisations in Germany, we must insist on and continue the hard work, must continue to build symbols that come to terms with our past and create meaningful contacts wherever we live.</p> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Poland </div> <div class="field-item even"> Germany </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Israel </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> UK Israel Germany Poland Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality International politics Reconciliation and Peacebuilding Daniel Zylbersztajn Security in Europe Security in Middle East and North Africa Peacebuilding Fri, 04 Nov 2011 08:08:41 +0000 Daniel Zylbersztajn 62443 at https://www.opendemocracy.net