Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Frost Interview Munib al-Masri: 'The spring is coming'

One of the most influential Palestinians discusses his fears for the future of both Palestinians and Israel.

Reposted from Al Jazeera

Munib al-Masri is one of the most famous and influential Palestinians, but you may never have heard of him.
Often called 'The Godfather' Masri, on no fewer than three occasions, turned down the premiership of Palestine.
He has a fortune estimated at $1.6 billion, and is chairman of the powerful Palestine Development and Investment Company (Padico), a firm whose interests respresent an estimated one-quarter of the whole Palestinian economy.
Sir David Frost travels to the West Bank to meet Masri, considered the richest man in Palestine, where he takes Sir David around his palace in Ramallah, to Yasser Arafat's mausoleum, and to the massive wall erected by Israel, which turns Palestinians into prisoners.
Masri is known as one of the most influential power-brokers and philanthropists in the region. Considered a moderate, he is respected by Palestinians and Israelis alike.
"For 40 years, I have been working for the peace process," he tells Sir David, saying he fears for the future - for both Palestinians and for Israel.
"Enough is enough … and I think that it's coming, the Spring is coming, and the tsunami is coming, and the volcano is coming."
Walking beside Israel's 'peace wall' in Jerusalem, he says: "It humiliates me and it takes my integrity and my dignity when you are in your own land and you are stopped and you are checked. You feel sometimes like you are an animal.
"We are in a big jail. Gaza is a big jail, this is a big jail, Jerusalem is a big jail, every place is a big jail.
"It is not the values of the Jewish religion. They have good values and I hope they exercise these values on us. We cannot be occupied all our lives. Let us sit down and talk and listen to each other's aspirations and needs."
Masri confides that he has a deep conviction that cutting a deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas represents the last hopes for Israel's Binyamin Netanyahu: "I would say, 'Mr Netanyahu don't miss the chance of making peace with Mr Abbas'."
A friend and confidant of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Masri says he supports Arafat's widow in her campaign to discover if her husband was poisoned: "Many people, they are wondering [about how Arafat died] because they want to see about their beloved leader what happened to him, why it's happened this way. It's not very strange, and it's not odd for the Israeli government to do something of this sort."
Remembering Arafat, Masri says: "He gave us hope. He gave us determination, and to think and to dream that this dream will come true, to go back to our homes .... He was an extraordinary leader, we loved him and he was our hero. And to me he was also a friend. Although, he made many mistakes, but a hero can be forgiven."

The Frost Interview can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 2000; Saturday: 1200; Sunday: 0100; Monday: 0600.

Listening to our Elders

I recently watched an interview on Al Jazeera by veteran journalist David Frost. His guest was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the famous Nobel Peace laureate, and one of the world’s most respected church leaders, was a central figure in ensuring an end to white minority rule in South Africa. Archbishop Tutu was instrumental in the struggle against apartheid, also acting as chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). As a defiant campaigner against apartheid, he is one of the world's most prominent defenders of human rights.

As someone who grew up hearing and reading about Archbishop Tutu, who had retired from public life, the interview was a rare glimpse into not just the mind but the heart of a man who felt the pain of injustice and decided to do something about it.

In the interview he recalled to David Frost how the injustices he saw under apartheid tested his Christian faith:
"I really got very angry with God, and would rail at God and say: For goodness sake, how can you allow such and such to happen?"

But he later told Frost that, "someone up there must really have been on our side or batting for us.”

“After (Nelson Mandela's) release and the build-up to our first democratic election, it was one of the roughest, one of the bloodiest, periods in our history."

Archbishop Tutu also saluted the enormous role of former South African President Nelson Mandela in the dialogue that led to South Africa's peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy.

"His contribution is immeasurable; his stature. I mean for someone who was the commander-in-chief of the military wing of the ANC to be at the forefront of persuading people that it would be better for us to negotiate; it is better for us to lay down our arms. And then to try to live that."

The archbishop also gave his frank view on concerns about the direction the current government in South Africa is headed. 

If you have access to the internet, the full interview can be seen on or else perhaps the television station that rebroadcasts Al Jazeera may air it again as an act of corporate social responsibility.

Also in the interview, Archbishop Tutu was joined by former United States President, Jimmy Carter. Both Tutu and Carter are members of the “The Elders”.

Chaired by Archbishop Tutu, The Elders is an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights. They were brought together in 2007 by Nelson Mandela, who is not an active member of the group but remains an Honorary Elder. The Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was also an Honorary Elder, until her election to the Burmese parliament in April this year.

Apart from Archbishop Tutu, President Carter and President Mandela, the Elders include:

  • Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland; Nobel Peace Laureate and expert in international peace mediation, diplomacy and post-conflict state building;
  • Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Laureate; put development, human rights, the rule of law, good governance and peace at the top of the United Nations agenda;
  • Ela Bhatt, the ‘gentle revolutionary’, a pioneer in women’s empowerment and grassroots development, founder of the more than 1 million-strong Self-Employed Women’s Association in India;
  • Lakhdar Brahimi, former Algerian freedom fighter, Foreign Minister, conflict mediator and UN diplomat; an expert in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction;
  • Gro Harlem Brundtland, the first woman Prime Minister of Norway; a medical doctor who champions health as a human right, and put sustainable development on the international agenda;
  • Fernando H Cardoso, former President of Brazil; implemented major land reform programme, reduced poverty and significantly improved health and education; an acclaimed sociologist and global advocate for drug policy reform;
  • Gra├ža Machel, International advocate for women’s and children's rights; former freedom fighter and first Education Minister of Mozambique; and
  • Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; a passionate, forceful advocate for gender equality, women’s participation in peace-building and human dignity.

None of the Elders hold public office, which makes them independent of any national government or other vested interest. They are committed to promoting the shared interests of humanity, and the universal human rights we all share. They believe that in any conflict, it is important to listen to everyone - no matter how unpalatable or unpopular this may be. They aim to act boldly, speaking difficult truths and tackling taboos. They don’t claim to have all the answers, and stress that every individual can make a difference and create positive change in their society.

You can read more about the Elders at

The Elders have been actively working towards peaceful solutions in conflict areas around the world most recently in Africa and the Middle East, where last week they called for a cessation of hostilities, and for the international community to renew efforts to resolve the decades-long conflict.

As part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, Archbishop Tutu urged men and boys to challenge harmful traditions and protect the rights of girls and women.

“I call on men and boys everywhere to take a stand against the mistreatment of girls and women. It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men.”

Here in Fiji and Oceania, we have a traditional respect of our elders.

However in it seems that in our rush to develop, often the voices of our senior citizens are drowned out by the buzzwords of the current generation.

Most of our elders have the benefit of having learned from their mistakes, of experiencing the joys and failures in personal and community life. They often speak to us out of nothing more than a desire to not see current and future generations repeat the actions of the past.

Our country is in middle-age, perhaps we as a nation are going through a mid-life crisis. 

Sometimes it is necessary to stop listening to ourselves and start listening to those who have wise, if simple, words of wisdom; who stand ready to offer guidance to individuals as well as communities.

Perhaps Fiji and Oceania needs a group like the Elders – with no claims to public office, no vested interests; just men and women who can lead by example, creating positive social change and inspiring others to do the same.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Opening our Eyes to Gender Violence

Published in the Fiji Times as "Open Your Eyes" (Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan) Wednesday, 21st November, 2012

This Sunday is the 25th of November. It marks the beginning of my mother’s 75th year. Significantly, it also is the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women which marks the beginning of the annual global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

The 16 Days run from 25th November to December 10th, which is International Human Rights Day.

This global campaign calls on individuals and groups around the world to act to end all forms of violence against women and girls. Making the critical link between violence against women and human rights, the campaign observes several significant dates in its 16 days, including November 29th, International Women's Human Rights Defenders Day; December 1st, World AIDS Day; and December 6th, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, where a man deliberately gunned down 14 women students.

Set against the recent backdrop of the Israel/Palestinian conflict in Gaza and ongoing conflicts around the world; the attempted assassination of 15 year-old Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, the continuing use of child soldiers in places like Uganda and other untold stories of violence against the girl child; and the ongoing struggle for a just and peaceful society in our own country; it is important that we do not just paint a picture of gender violence is broad brush strokes that may obscure the details and allow us to dismiss this campaign as “just another” event by “men haters”.

According to Johan Galtung, an acclaimed peace researcher, there are three broad forms of violence:
  • ·         Direct violence: The most visual form, hurting people physically by war, beating people, abuse, mobbing, etc. It can either be experienced yourself or seen on the street but it can as well be ‘transmitted’ by movies, games, etc.
  • ·         Structural violence: The type of violence that is embedded into systems. Restricting access to rights and possibilities based on gender, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, etc. The inequalities within societies and between societies create tensions which further violence if not resolved non-violently.
  • ·         Cultural violence: Embedded stories glorifying and normalizing war and violence. These stories and ideas of how to solve conflicts limit our possibilities to solve conflicts, because they tell us that one action always needs this specific reaction and it has always been like this and will always have to be like it is. In a way, this is the brain, the reasoning behind violence, making it acceptable.

Violence has its roots in distorted power relations.
·         Fear is a key element in domestic and family violence and is often the most powerful way a perpetrator controls their victim.

·         Intimidation includes harassing the victim at their workplace or home either by persistent phone calls or text messages, following the victim to and from work, or loitering near work or home.

·         Verbal Abuse includes screaming, shouting, put-downs, name-calling, sarcasm, ridiculing the victim for their religious beliefs or ethnic background.

·         Physical Abuse can range from a lack of consideration for physical comfort to permanent damage or death.

·         Emotional Abuse, by deliberately undermining their confidence, leading them to believe they are insane, stupid, 'a bad mother' or useless.

·         Social Abuse includes isolation from social networks, verbal or physical abuse in public or in front of friends.

·         Economic Abuse results in the victim being financially dependent on their partner or family member. Sexual assault is an act of violence, power and control.

·         Controlling what the victim does, who they see and talk to, where they go, keeping them from making any friends, talking to family, or having any money.

·         Separation Violence involves various activities such as loitering and following, receiving persistent telephone calls and mail, and being watched. 

In Fiji, the fact that “bread and butter issues” were highlighted in many constitution submissions, the recent case of sexual assault by a religious leader and news of increase in suicides and attempted suicides should make us realise that all is not well in the islands “where happiness finds you”.

The coming “16 Days of Activism” are an opportunity to not just look at the global and local scenarios of ongoing discrimination and violence against women of all ages but also to honestly reflect on our own attitudes towards women and other vulnerable groups in our society.

There are many vulnerable groups and minorities – ethnic, social status, economic, those with differing opinions, lifestyles and faiths – who continue to be subjected to violence and discrimination. Each one of us, men, women and children need to ask ourselves how we may have contributed or allowed these abuses to take place.

Often we take a simplistic view to the issues and the brave women and men who speak on behalf of the voiceless many subjected to these forms of discrimination and violence – who are often to ashamed or afraid to speak out – persevering in silence.

In a society that holds dearly to religious values that promote peace, justice and the greater good, the question needs to be asked: what are we doing to stop violence from destroying our homes and our communities?

Many religious leaders, when asked for comments by the media, speak out against gender violence. Yet how are we addressing the issue of violence in general and in particular violence against women and children in our churches, temples, mosques, mata-siga and bible-study groups etc?

Are we willing to discuss this topic in our community talanoa or kava sessions?

Are we willing to accept that we may need to change our views?

Are we willing – even for a moment – to look at the world through the eyes of some who has been sexually violated (regardless of gender)?

Are we willing to try to peer out of the slits of someone who has been “bashed” in the face for no reason except that they were weaker and an easy target for someone to vent their frustrations (sometimes of being a victim themselves)?

Are we willing to look at ourselves through the eyes of a mother forced to sell her body to provide for her children because her husband abandoned them?

In “Long Walk to Freedom” Nelson Mandela, writes that when a population faces structural violence and repeated oppression, many argue that... the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.

The cycle of violence, if not broken, continues with more devastation than any flood or cyclone.

There are no easy answers, but we must not be afraid to ask these questions to ourselves and our society.

Or perhaps we prefer to live with our eyes wide shut.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Desmond Tutu: Not going quietly" - The Frost Interview

The Nobel laureate on his role in South Africa's struggle against apartheid and his alarm over recent developments.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

CNN Hero Narayanan Krishnan, Powerful Video One Talented Chef, Millions of Hungry Mouths

crossposted from Narayanan Krishnan was an ambitious, award-winning chef with a five-star hotel group, short-listed for an elite job in Switzerland. One day, he saw an old man eating his own human waste for food by the roadside. Haunted by the image, Krishnan quit his job within the week and returned home for good, convinced of his new destiny. Now 29, he has served more than 1.2 million meals to India's homeless. His days start at 4am, he has never missed a single day of serving meals, he doesn't have much for himself anymore...and he's never been happier.