Back to Common Ground Archive

Week of November 13, 2002

Program 0247


Rebuilding Israel/Palestine | Transcript | MP3

Art Gish | Transcript | MP3

Michael Moore | Transcript | MP3

Be Like Putin | Transcript | MP3

Afghanistan Voices-Teacher | Transcript | MP3

Holocaust Museum | Transcript | MP3

Public Health Violence | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

Salim Shawamreh: We start rebuilding the home for the fourth time. Because it’s a message that Israelis and Palestinians, working together, want the occupation to be ended.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, an unusual alliance in the Middle East.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: And nonviolent peacemaking on the West Bank.

Arthur Gish: If the Israelis are going to demolish a Palestinian home and we can get there in time, we will sit and talk with the house. We go prepared to be arrested.

MCHUGH: Plus, why Russian girls want their boyfriends to be like the country’s leader, Vladimir Putin. Not as a sex-symbol, but as a reliable man you would want to be with.

ALEXANDER ELIN: [via a translator] The song is not about Putin himself, but about the image of him we see on TV, about the fact that for the girls, this image is very attractive.

PORTER: These stories—coming up next.

Top of Page

Rebuilding Israel/Palestine

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. As the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians rages on, it often seems that the two sides can’t agree on anything. But two groups in the region—one Israeli and one Palestinian—are defying that assumption.

MCHUGH: They’ve come together in an effort to rebuild Palestinian homes demolished in the decades of conflict. But as Judith Smelser reports, the project is more about politics than humanitarianism.

JUDITH SMELSER: On a summer day in 1998, soldiers and bulldozers showed up outside Salim Shawamreh’s East Jerusalem home.

Salim Shawamreh: More than 200 soldiers came to destroy my home and took my wife and my six kids outside the home. I told them, “What do you want?” They told me “You have 15 minutes to take your belongings and family outside the home, and we want to destroy it.”

SMELSER: Salim has never been accused of any criminal act—except building a house without permission. He says that over the course of four years, he applied for a permit three times and each time was denied for a different reason. He felt he was being unfairly refused simply because he was a Palestinian. After his house was demolished, Salim found help in an unexpected place—a Jewish group called the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions.

Jeff Halper: We liken house demolitions to rape.

SMELSER: Jeff Halper heads up the organization. He gave a briefing on Capitol Hill earlier this year in hopes of gaining Congressional support for his effort.

Halper: It’s the absolute violation of the essence of a family, of a home. I mean, what is a home? A home is something primordial. It’s our most intimate space.

SMELSER: Jeff is Jewish, and a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. He believes Israel makes it hard for Palestinians to build homes as part of a plan to ensure permanent Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip—areas that are now part of the Palestinian Authority.

Halper: Israel has worked feverishly over the last 35 years to establish facts on the ground that will foreclose the establishment of any viable Palestinian state and ensure Israeli control forever. And the message behind house demolitions is there is nowhere for you in this entire country.

SMELSER: Israel says that’s simply not true. The spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Mark Regev, says because Salim’s home was in East Jerusalem, which is not part of the Palestinian Authority, it was subject to Israel’s building regulations. And he says those regulations apply equally to everyone.

Mark Regev: There are very strict rules about building, even on your own land—privately owned land. That’s part of our legal system. But if anyone believes that they’ve been, that the Israeli authorities have treated them unfairly, so I’m glad to say I live in a country where everything is open to discussion and where we have judicial review. The person whose house has been demolished has the right, and from his point of view the obligation, to go to the Supreme Court. And in many cases the Supreme Court can rule against the police.

SMELSER: Mr. Regev says that when it comes to the Palestinian Authority itself, Israel demolishes homes that are in some way connected to terrorists and suicide bombers, who’ve killed over 600 Israelis since September 2000. He says it’s one of the few effective ways Israel has found to deter the attacks. But Jeff Halper, with the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, maintains that Israel has demolished more than 9,000 Palestinian homes since 1967 for reasons totally unrelated to security.

[The sounds of construction.]

SMELSER: After Salim’s house was demolished, he and Jeff decided they would rebuild it as a form of resistance to Israel’s policies. They brought in hundreds of volunteers. Israelis and Palestinians worked side by side, and international workers came as well, to reconstruct what had been destroyed. Out of that experience and others like it the Global Campaign to Rebuild Palestinian Homes was born. The campaign prides itself on bringing Israelis and Palestinians together for a common cause. But Jeff Halper says it’s anything but a humanitarian organization.

Halper: We don’t believe in humanitarian work. Humanitarian work sometimes softens the occupation and ironically it can even strengthen the occupation. You know, there’s a lot of criticism today of humanitarian organizations working in the West Bank and Gaza, because while they’re providing for the needs of this impoverished population, they’re relieving Israel of the need to deal with 3.5 million people impoverished with no infrastructure. So our acts are political acts of resistance. We hope the families will move in, but we have no illusions that that’s gonna happen. And the families realize that. The families are in this as, for political reasons.

SMELSER: Jeff and Salim both feel that Israel is demolishing houses as part of a plan to make life difficult for Palestinians, so that they’ll leave the West Bank and Gaza voluntarily. They say that would help Israel maintain control there. But Israeli Embassy Spokesman Mark Regev says that’s preposterous.

Mark Regev: I would even argue that even mainstream Palestinians wouldn’t say that. It appears to me this group seems to be somewhere on the extreme. Israel wants peace. We’re willing for concessions, we know that peace demands that Israel makes compromises and we’re open to that.

SMELSER: The Global Campaign To Rebuild Palestinian Homes hopes that’s the case, but they’re skeptical. The day after volunteers finished rebuilding Salim’s house, it was demolished again. It was rebuilt a second time, and this time the bulldozers waited until Salim had moved his family and belongings back in before tearing it down. Salim is still refusing to accept the Israeli building regulations—and he’s not giving up.

[The sound of bulldozers tearing town a house.]

Salim Shawamreh: We start rebuilding the home for the fourth time. Because it’s a message to the government—the Israeli government, but that Israelis and Palestinians working together, Israelis and Palestinians want the occupation to be ended. And the important one is that we refuse to be enemies, as Israelis and Palestinians working on the ground. And I hope that this time it will stand and put my family inside and living inside in peace.

[The sounds of construction.]

SMELSER: For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser.

Top of Page

Art Gish

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: An Ohio peace activist who’s also a farmer and author has traveled to the West Bank several times. Arthur Gish is part of a group hoping non-violent confrontation will end strife in the city of Hebron. Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman recently spoke to Gish about his group’s efforts.

ARTHUER GISH: Christian Peacemaker Teams comes out of the peace churches—the Quakers, the Mennonites, and the Brethren. It’s not enough to be opposed to war. If we’re really serious about peace then we as Christian pacifists should be willing to take the same risks that soldiers take. And that means then going into situations of violence and conflict and being a nonviolent presence in the middle of those conflicts.

CLIFF BROCKMAN: What kind of things do the teams do when they go to these places?

GISH: Probably the most important thing that we do is listen. And we try to listen to people on all sides of whatever conflict we’re dealing with. The second thing we do is we act as international peace observers. Which is nothing new. We say we have to have the grandmother effect. There are things that you would not do if your grandmother was watching you. There are things that soldiers will not do if somebody is watching them. But Christian Peacemaker Teams goes beyond that and we engage in the conflict. We engage in nonviolent direct action.

BROCKMAN: When you say nonviolent direct action what do you mean?

GISH: If we see somebody abusing somebody else—an Israeli soldier abusing a Palestinian, for example—we go right up to the soldier and say, “Stop that!” Treat the person with respect!” If the Israelis are going to demolish a Palestinian home and we can get there in time, we will sit and talk with the house. We go prepared to be arrested. If there’s a clash between Israelis and Palestinians we’ll stand in the middle. And our experience is, by doing that we’ve very often de-escalated conflicts. One time Israeli soldiers were ready to shoot at a group of Palestinians. We jumped in front of the soldiers, and right in front of the guns, and yelled “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” And we stopped them from shooting.

BROCKMAN: Have you ever been hurt?

GISH: No, I’ve never been hurt. I’ve been punched and kicked and spit on and had stones thrown at me, but I’ve never been hurt.

BROCKMAN: Explain a little bit about the city of Hebron and the situation there?

GISH: Hebron is a city of about 140,000 people, about 20 miles south of Jerusalem. One of the unique things about Hebron, it’s the only Palestinian city in which you have settlers right in the middle of the city. It’s practically all Palestinian but there’s maybe 100, 200 Israeli settlers right in the middle of the city, have taken over some buildings there. And there 1,200 to 1,500 Israeli soldiers there to protect those 200 Israeli settlers. So it’s an extremely tense situation. We have an apartment right there in the middle, and there’s often clashes right outside of our door. So we’re living right in, literally right in the middle of the conflict.

BROCKMAN: In your book, Hebron Journal, you write that your role is to be a humanizing presence.

GISH: We spend a lot of time just walking the streets, looking for trouble. And every year there’s trouble some place. We head for it. And then try to be some kind of a nonviolent presence in the midst of that and try to engage in some kind of action that will help to de-escalate the conflict.

BROCKMAN: Do you feel you’ve been successful?

GISH: We have very often engaged in some kind of conflict that all of a sudden, it just sort of dissipated. I remember a time in Hebron—and I talk about this in my book—there was a large group of Israeli soldiers on one corner of the street. Across the street there was a large group of Palestinians. And it looked like something serious was really going to happen. And so we stood in the middle of the street. And whenever something negative would happen by either side we would go right to that person and confront that person. Within an hour all of a sudden it was over.

BROCKMAN: You did say that before you went you had accepted the possibility that you might be killed.

GISH: Christian Peacemaker Teams is rooted in our faith in God. And so an important part of our team life is worshipping and praying together every day. And also our own personal prayer life. So that, that’s really, I think that’s a spiritual question, of how do I deal with that. Now, when I come, when I come to terms with my own death and I say I’m willing to die, that gives me an incredible amount of freedom. Very often Israeli settlers have come to me on the streets of Hebron with their machine guns, looked me in the eye and said, “You will die today. I will kill you.” And my response always is, “Okay! You may shoot me right now. Go ahead! Right ahead and shoot me. You can shoot me.” And of course they leave. They weren’t serious about killing me. I’ve never taken those death threats very seriously. They’re trying to intimidate me. But I’ve accepted that and so I can say to them, “Go ahead and shoot me.” And I think that makes it less likely that they will shoot me.

BROCKMAN: You’ve been accused—by the settlers, especially the children, at least, as you related in your book—of being pro-Palestinian.

GISH: We do not want to take sides in a conflict. But we’re not neutral. We stand for justice. And so the situation there, there’s a tremendous imbalance in the injustice there. It’s pretty difficult to stand for justice there and not look like we’re pro-Palestinian.

We have done things that would indicate otherwise. It was in, I think it was ’97, two Sundays in a row the Number 18 bus in Jerusalem was, was bombed. The next Sunday we rode the Number 18 bus in Jerusalem and announced to Hamas and the Israelis that we were going to be riding that bus to protest bombing of buses. Just this summer some of my friends there—I was not there—they were engaging in a conversation with Israeli soldiers on the street and a Palestinian woman came with a knife trying to stab Israeli soldiers. And they stood between the Israeli soldiers and this woman and protected [laughing]—our nonviolent team protected the Israeli soldiers from being knifed by this Palestinian woman. So, we have a saying that we stand on whichever side the gun is pointed at.

BROCKMAN: Do you have any hope for Hebron?

GISH: The situation looks hopeless. But yes, I have hope. Part of that is out of my religious faith, that hope. But there is something in the human spirit that doesn’t, just does not accept horrible conditions. And the way I often describe this is the fall of the Soviet Empire, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the ending of apartheid in South Africa—it happened almost overnight. No, it didn’t happen overnight. It was the result of years and years of prayer and struggle and hard work. But then it happened. There are wonderful, wonderful Israelis in the Israeli peace movement. And there are wonderful Palestinians who have, who have a vision for the future of Palestinians and Israelis living together in peace. And I know that both, on both sides, people are working very hard. And yes, one day that whole horrible structure of occupation and oppression is going to fall. It’s not sustainable. It will end. And I hope it will be soon.

BROCKMAN: Arthur Gish is the author of four books, including The Hebron Journal. He plans to return to Hebron this winter. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

MCHUGH: Reflections on the World Trade Organization, and Vladimir Putin’s growing cult of personality next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Michael Moore

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: He presided over the disastrous global trade summit in Seattle back in 1999 and then, nearly two years later, helped to launch a new round of trade talks in Qatar. Those were the definite low and high points for Mike Moore, who stepped down from the top job at the World Trade Organization earlier this year, as scheduled. The former New Zealand Prime Minister is now reflecting on his turbulent three years at the head of a body which became a lightning rod for the anti-globalization movement. Moore spoke with Malcolm Brown about the future of world trade.

MALCOLM BROWN: As he marshals his thoughts for a forthcoming book, Mike Moore freely admits that Seattle was a “spectacular” failure.

[The sounds of street riots.]

BROWN: Thousands of protesters had surrounded the gathering in miserable weather, trying to shut it down. It was the start of sometimes violent street confrontations between police—backed by National Guard troops—and demonstrators, representing a host of anti-globalization issues. Meanwhile, an embattled Mike Moore was trying to get a different message out.

MIKE MOORE: For those who argue we should stop our work. Tell that to the poor people in South Africa. Tell that to those who are marginalized. Tell that to those who want a better deal.

BROWN: But the protests weren’t the biggest problem facing Mike Moore, who’d been in the job only three months. Inside the summit, things were also ugly. The agenda had ballooned out of control and the talks were melting down. Perhaps the biggest hurdle was the issue of agriculture, which today remains one of the most difficult issues facing trade negotiators. Richer nations are under pressure to phase out their agricultural export subsidies. Mike Moore, who’s known for his plain speaking, says the language used, on this and other topics, can be pretty direct.

MOORE: I was extremely blunt. Great issues are at stake. But it’s all in the preparation. At Seattle, we had—I don’t know—some 40 or 50 brackets on some various ways of moving ahead. And you’ve got to get much closer. By the time we go to Doha, we were very close on most of those issues. Now, this tariff escalation issue is a difficult one and I think this is where the developing countries are absolutely right in their anger at the injustices of the world trading system. Take coffee. You know, I, I grow my coffee—60 percent of my exports from Ethiopia and Kenya—and, but if I roast those beans, if I add value to those beans, I put jobs on top of the farmer at home, my tariffs are escalated in the rich economies—US, Europe—so all those jobs come up here. That’s pretty rough and that ought to be negotiated out. I mean the, in agriculture the figures go something like this, that if you do a clean deal in agriculture, it’s worth for developing countries 8 times more than all the debt relief given. So we can do a lot more just by doing agriculture than any of this debt relief.

BROWN: [now directly interviewing Moore] You mentioned Doha. How do you see that process going at the moment? The last thing I read was that agriculture was still causing significant problems and that’s obviously going to be a big stone in the shoe all the way to the end.

MOORE: Absolutely. But this is totally predictable. I can write the headlines. Of course, people aren’t going to turn that card over until the last minute. Now, you will not get much of an agreement on agriculture ’til January 2005. Face it. That is the nature of negotiations. I wish it weren’t. But make no mistake, unless agriculture is substantially addressed there will be no movement anywhere.

BROWN: How do you see the ongoing spats over trade between the Europeans and the United States?

MOORE: Trade is the only area where Europe speaks with one voice. This is the one area where Brussels makes the play, not Paris, London, or Berlin. But this is the one area where Europe steps up to the plate and plays equally with the United States. And in the old days, once Europe and the US decided, that was pretty much it. Those days are gone—OK? You can’t do anything without them, but they can’t do it on their own. It is a different world and it’s a better world that we’re now, we have to negotiate these things with other partners and build this consensus up. You know, newspapers have for 700 years always had this headline in type, ready to go; “Trade War Breaks Out.” How many times have you seen that? The trade war’s never broken out. Why? Because, so far, adults have used the WTO’s mechanism for handling disputes to work through the differences, right? So, in the end, so far, so good, the big guys have used the system. Now, the system may be clumsy, may take too long. I think it does. But it does work. And never have the United States or anyone defied the system, walked away from it. Now, that’s pretty precious.

BROWN: The US did lose big time recently at the WTO over the Foreign Sales Corporation. Do you ever have concern that when that kind of ruling is handed down that political feelings towards the WTO here in the US will change in a way that could undermine the organization?

MOORE: Yes, I do. And it is tough for legislators here. The US has always been constructive and then tried to navigate their way through this. One of the ironies is this, that everywhere you go in the world the WTO is seen to be an American capitalist tool, an instrument, you know. The way they talk, you’d think Bill Gates sat on our board. We don’t have a board. But when you come to the US, it’s, the WTO’s not a capitalist American conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy of the rest of the world against American capitalism. So, there’s a hell of a lot of explaining to do. But the WTO is an instrument fashioned on values that came, you know, through the British system of habeas corpus, from Magna Carta, from property rights, from binding mechanisms, through to the Founding Fathers, the Age of Enlightenment, so I think you can see an intellectual path here that’s, that those who believe in the rule of law and the definition of civilization being the rule of law ought to see there’s some good things the WTO can do for the world.

BROWN: Mike Moore is the former Director-General of the World Trade Organization. For Common Ground, I’m Malcolm Brown in Washington.

Top of Page

Be Like Putin

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: It’s been nearly three years now since Vladimir Putin was elected as Russia’s president. Sharply contrasting with his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, Putin is young, athletic, and presents an image of a pragmatic leader. Midway through his term, Vladimir Putin’s popularity remains high—so high that songs featuring the Russian leader’s name are making it to the top of the country’s pop charts. Anya Ardayeva reports from Moscow.

[The sound of the song, “Someone Like Putin,” sung in Russian by the group, Singing Together.]

ANYA ARDAYEVA: A book, a cake, a café—and now a song—all dedicated to the Russian president, who is becoming more than just a politician in Russia.

[The sound of the song, “Someone Like Putin,” sung in Russian by the group, Singing Together.]

ARDAYEVA: This tune, called “Someone Like Putin,” is performed by a girl band called “Singing Together.” It tells the story of a young woman who got fed up with her boyfriend who treated her badly. She dumps him and decides she needs a man just like her country’s president.

[The sound of the song, “Someone Like Putin,” sung in Russian by Lara Lychagina and Irina Kozlova.]

ARDAYEVA: According to the song, the girl wants “Someone like Putin who wouldn’t drink, someone like Putin who would love me, someone like Putin who wouldn’t insult me, someone like Putin who wouldn’t run away.” Two members of Singing Together, Lara Lychagina and Irina Kozlova, say that when they found out that their first song would be dedicated to the Russian president, they were scared that it might not be politically correct. But as the single made it’s way to the top of the radio charts across Russia, their doubts have faded away.

LARA LYCHAGINA: [via a translator] From the very beginning I knew it would be a winner. It will be pleasant for the president as well, since this is the first song about Putin and girls are singing it.

IRINA KOZLOVA: [via a translator] Why not sing a song about the president? He is part of our life. We see this man every day on the news, and we hear about him. It’s strange that no one has ever thought about devoting a song to the president.

[The sound of the song, “Someone Like Putin,” sung in Russian by the group, Singing Together.]

ARDAYEVA: Vladimir Putin’s popularity started to climb in 1999 following the aggressive statements he made before launching a new war in the breakaway region of Chechnya, a move which came after Chechen militants were blamed for a series of apartment bombings in Russia, killing more than 300 people. And as Singing Together’s producer Alexander Elin explains, the brutal image that the Russian leader has created of himself is reaping its benefits.

ALEXANDER ELIN: [via a translator] The song is not about Putin himself, but about the image of him we see on TV, and about the fact that for the girls, this image is very attractive. Not as a sex-symbol, but as a reliable man you would want to be with, who it’s good to be with. Putin is an extremely positive man. He is always cool, always calm. He is a man with whom you don’t expect anything unexpected to happen.

ARDAYEVA: Singer Irina Kozlova says that for her, someone like Vladimir Putin would be a perfect partner.

KOZLOVA: [via a translator] He is an ideal man. He always looks nice, he plays sports, he knows several languages, he has lots of advantages. And he speaks well.

ARDAYEVA: Since three of the country’s four nation-wide television networks are fully or partly owned by the government, there’s no doubt the president is getting the best coverage he possibly can these days. But observers in Moscow say Mr. Putin’s positive image comes from more than just spin doctors. After years of turmoil, the country is enjoying political and economic stability and the public makes little effort to question anything its government is doing. This public apathy and lack of criticism, observers warn, may result in a personality cult of the Russian leader—something Russians went through more than 70 years ago, when the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was adored by millions of Russians despite the bloodthirsty style of his rule. But Alexander Elin says that won’t happen again.

ELIN: [via a translator] You know, they say history repeats itself twice—once as a tragedy and next time as a farce. Of course, there are no signs of a personality cult, which we had when Stalin was there, because it’s a democratic country. Elections take place everywhere, different forces are struggling. I think that today, the return of the horrible cult that we had in 1930s is impossible.

[The sound of the song, “Someone Like Putin,” sung in Russian by the group, Singing Together.]

ARDAYEVA: Producers of “Someone Like Putin” say they were simply the first in the line of showbiz stars who want to dedicate their songs to Putin. But as Russia becomes more and more capitalist every year, it’s no longer the ideology—but the money, which inspires the people here. And as the demand for Putin-related art remains high, the supply of it is unlikely to fall in the near future.

[The sound of the song, “Someone Like Putin,” sung in Russian by the group, Singing Together.]

ARDAYEVA: For Common Ground, I am Anya Ardayeva in Moscow.

PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, the changing role of women in Afghanistan.

Zarminah: When the Taliban come to our country, the education became freeze in our country, especially for the girls.

PORTER: Plus, assessing the global threat of genocide. And violence threatens the world’s health.

Top of Page

Afghanistan Voices-Teacher

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: Common Ground‘s Alastair Wanklyn returned to Kabul one year after the US-led war began in Afghanistan. This week, in his second report, Alastair chronicles how life has changed for one Kabul teacher.

PORTER: Under Taliban clerics’ interpretation of Islamic principles, girls over the age of nine were barred from formal education, and most women were prevented from maintaining a job. Now all that has changed, at least in the Afghan capital. Alastair Wanklyn reports.

[The sounds of vehicles and people on a busy Kabul street.]

WANKLYN: It’s girl power, Afghan-style. Every weekday in the center of Kabul, thousands of schoolgirls block the roads at going-home time. Only a year ago these girls were all but confined to their homes. Now, dressed in tidy black uniforms with a white head scarf, Afghanistan’s daughters are back.

[The sounds of students in a school yard.]

WANKLYN: Most schools can barely cope with the numbers. Sitting on chairs in this dusty earthen yard at the Maryam Secondary School in Kabul are some of the 8,000 girls who have signed up for lessons here. The school has only a couple of classrooms, so the pupils come here in three shifts every day, in hot weather take their lessons in classes of 60 or so outdoors gathered beneath the trees. One of the teachers here is Zarminah, who teaches English.

Zarminah: My name is Zarminah. I was a teacher before the Taliban also in this school. When the Taliban come to our country, the education became freeze in country, especially for the girls. And we were at home and our students also be at home. And we study at home in secret, because the Taliban doesn’t allow us to study in school and to work in the office.

WANKLYN: The Taliban prevented women from doing almost anything outside the home—even walking in the street was not possible unless chaperoned by a close male relative. Now, women can walk freely, and in principle choose how they wish to dress, whether or not to cover their faces with a veil. But still, on the streets of Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan, those who don’t wear the veil are the exception. Zarminah says she for one has thrown it off.

Zarminah: I haven’t any veil. I am on the street that you look me now.

WANKLYN: And you are happy with that?

Zarminah: Yes, why not? All the people are happy because of this reason.

WANKLYN: But still many women, they still wear the burqa?

Zarminah: Umm, yes, their family don’t allow them.

WANKLYN: Their family doesn’t allow them?

Zarminah: Yes.

WANKLYN: How do you mean?

Zarminah: Because of the condition. I think the condition is, maybe good day-by-day.

WANKLYN: It may no longer be legally binding to wear a burqa, but still the majority of women in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan choose to keep it. Some women say their families pressure them to continue wearing the burqa in public. Women say too, that if they dress without it, when walking in the street strangers may mutter threats as they pass. It’s in the capital’s wealthier district, and in businesses and universities that women seem to feel freer. It’s here many of the wealthier émigrés have returned to from Europe or even just the refugee camps in Pakistan, accustomed to living in more liberal societies than Kabul itself.

[The sounds of students in a school yard.]

WANKLYN: Back at the school yard in the Maryam High School, Zarminah says she tries to encourage pupils now to take their futures more into their own hands.

Zarminah: Because of the starting their lessons I feel too happy. And my, my people in our country, also became happy. Because of this reason. Because during the Taliban the life was too difficult. And now the life is easy and it becomes easy day-by-day. And now we haven’t any problem. Just, we have some problem in the material about something like books and then because notebooks and chairs for our schools and something else. And we have a lot of economic problems. About our salary. My salary is maybe $20 in a month, or for a month. Our salary doesn’t enough for us but because of the future of our children we work on because of their future of country, we work with this salary.

WANKLYN: The current Afghan government took over a state that had next to no national currency reserves, so teachers’ salaries may be expected to remain low for the time being. But in Kabul at least, many schools are receiving help from foreign donors—the United States and private charities and NGOs. Pupils here at the Maryam High School are currently still sitting on chairs beneath trees in the courtyard, but new classrooms are being built and refurbished. At this school it’s USAID and the International Organization for Migration that are doing much of the work. Zarminah says without foreign assistance, this school and thousands like it cannot run at their full potential.

Zarminah: If they don’t help us we can’t alone, without the helping of the other peoples and the other countries, Afghan people, I think, don’t develop.

WANKLYN: For Common Ground, I’m Alastair Wanklyn in Kabul.

MCHUGH: Next week, Alastair will examine the challenges faced by Afghanistan’s new administration, as it tries to rebuild schools and other infrastructure, tame provincial warlords, and create the fundamentals for good economic growth.

PORTER: Coming up next, eliminating genocide. And later, an urgent call to reduce global violence. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Holocaust Museum

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in 1993 and quickly became one of the most popular attractions in Washington, DC. But the founders wanted to make sure the institution was more than just an archive.

PORTER: They created the Museum’s Committee on Conscience. The committee’s job is to alert the world of current or future cases of holocaust or genocide. In a story we first aired earlier this year, I spoke with the Committee’s Director, Jerry Fowler, about the definition of genocide.

JERRY FOWLER: The international community defines genocide basically through the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. And there’s a detailed legal definition, but what it amounts to is the intentional physical destruction of groups in whole or in substantial part.

PORTER: In sort of day-to-day operations then, how does your committee work? What are the tasks that you carry out?

FOWLER: Well, our mandate is to alert the national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity. So what we seek to do is when we take on a situation, bring it to the attention of the public, increase the attention of policy makers on it—influence them to, to make situations higher priority than they have been in the past. The overall goal is to try to stimulate action to confront and work to halt the violence.

PORTER: Tell me something about the standing agenda and the different kinds of alerts that you give out—to the world—about potential genocide, at least, around the world.

FOWLER: Well, the framework that we’ve adopted is, is one of graduating categories of urgency. One problem is determining that something is or is not genocide. And one of the most shameful and appalling aspects of the situation in 1994 when what we now know as the Rwandan genocide erupted was the, literally the verbal gymnastics that governments, especially the US government, undertook not to use the word “genocide.” And so what we’ve tried to do is put aside the issue of the ultimate determination of whether something is genocide. If there’s violence that threatens the existence of a group then we should be able to say that, that there’s a threat of genocide. And in that case on our, as it were, categories of urgency, we would issue a warning. If it was something that was so blatant that, that it probably was genocide or immediately was going to become genocide we would say it’s an emergency. And then the very lowest level is “watch,” where you have potential for the eruption of genocide. But the basic idea is to be able to alert people, talk about these situations, urge a political response without making the ultimate legal judgment of whether it’s genocide or not.

Right now the situations that we’re focusing on are Sudan, for which we’ve issued a genocide warning—which we define as meaning organized violence is underway that threatens to become genocide. And Chechnya, for which we’ve, which we’ve put on our watch list, that lower level of urgency. There’s the potential of genocide.

PORTER: When people come here to the museum, how do they learn about the Committee on Conscience and what visible examples or visible element is there that reminds people that genocide and holocausts are not necessarily something just of the past?

FOWLER: For people who physically visit the museum we now have a special display on Sudan that is right outside the auditorium where the orientation film is shown. This was important because it was the first time we physically used space in the museum for an ongoing situation outside of Europe. But it represents a commitment by the leadership of the museum and the memorial to continuing to alert the public, including the public who come to the museum, to these contemporary situations.

PORTER: Inside the public area of the museum, Fowler walks us through the Sudan display.

FOWLER: It basically lays out in a fairly small space, but through text and photographs and even a couple of artifacts, the basic parameters of the catastrophe in Sudan. And the basis for the Committee on Conscience genocide warning. It lists the aspects which we think in their totality support the genocide warning.

PORTER: There’s a cross here in a glass case at the very far left side of the display. Tell us about that.

FOWLER: Well, one aspect of the larger picture is religious persecution. In particular the practice of the current government in Khartoum to use religion as a way to divide people. Now, in particular as an artifact in this display we have a small cross that was fashioned from the fuel tank of a crashed bomber. And as you may know, there are quite a number of Christians in the southern part of Sudan. And I find this particular artifact poignant because it shows how the culture is trying to transform the materials of war into, to, things that are culturally meaningful.

PORTER: This next picture here is easily the most disturbing one in the, in the display. And there are the bodies of what look like three children lying in what I think is the back of a truck.

FOWLER: There are three young children who were victims of the famine in 1998, which was largely a man-made famine. In the summer of 2000 the government began a series of attacks that, that threatened relief planes, causing the UN to stop its operations for a couple of weeks. That obviously put a tremendous number of people at risk. One of the things that has to be stopped if there’s going to be any progress in resolving this situation is the use of food as a weapon. It’s one of the most devastating parts of the whole system and one of the things that most informs our belief that there’s a threat of genocide.

PORTER: We move on down to the display; there is yet another artifact that’s in a glass case here. Tell us about that.

FOWLER: The artifact is a child’s math workbook that belonged to a student in a Catholic-run school in the Nuba Mountains, which is in the central part of Sudan. It has been one of the most hard-hit areas in the last decade, since the early ’90s when the government essentially cut off the Nuba Mountains and launched a sustained assault against the people of the Nuba Mountains. This particular school was bombed on February 8, 2000, which resulted in the deaths of at least 14 students and a teacher. And when a Sudanese diplomat in Nairobi was shown videotape of the aftermath of the bombing he said—and this is a quote that we have as part of this display—”The bombs landed where they were supposed to land.” That, in its cruelty, encapsulates one of the great horrors of this situation, is that the government routinely bombs civilian and humanitarian sites. They bomb schools, they bomb clinics, they bomb hospitals. And it’s part of their strategy. The bombs land where they’re supposed to land. And often it’s children who are killed. And this workbook has the bloodstains of the victims.

PORTER: Jerry, we’re standing here in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and we’re looking at your Sudan display, which has to do with the genocide warning that the Committee on Conscience has issued. Tell me something about how in your mind the photos that we see here, the artifacts that we see here, compare and contrast them to the displays you see elsewhere in this wonderful museum.

FOWLER: Well, I would never compare this display to our permanent exhibition. There’s no comparison. It’s, it’s disrespectful to the victims of either situation to compare. These are situations that are beyond compare. But one of the things that has always been part of the vision of creating this memorial is that it would be a living memorial. And that part of that living memorial would be the obligation to speak out when groups of people are under attack as groups. And that’s what we see in Sudan.

PORTER: Back in his office I asked Jerry Fowler if he believes genocide can ever be eliminated as a weapon.

FOWLER: We have to believe that we can reduce it, that we can fight it when it happens, and we can strive for the day when it is eliminated. You know, one of the things that has really moved me about being here is the, the basic admonition that’s in the Jewish tradition that the fact that you can’t finish a job does not relieve you from undertaking it in the first place. And I think we look forward in some wonderful future to a world without genocide. When we’ll achieve that world I don’t know. But that’s the struggle that we’re engaged in and that we can’t desist from.

PORTER: Since this story first aired, the Committee on Conscious has sharply denounced the Sudanese government for effectively banning all UN-sponsored humanitarian relief flights into southern Sudan. The Committee’s genocide warning for Sudan remains in effect.

Top of Page

Public Health Violence

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: A major international report has revealed that 1.6 million people die as a result of violence every year. The World Health Organization study also estimates that one person commits suicide every 40 seconds. The findings have prompted calls around the globe for governments to take urgent action to cut murder rates, domestic violence, and armed conflict. Suzanne Chislett reports.

[The sound of someone speaking at a conference: “The worst thing has been happening….”]

SUZANNE CHISLETT: It took 160 experts in 170 countries three years to produce the World Health Organization’s report—and the findings are alarming. Violence now accounts for 14 percent of deaths in men and 7 percent of deaths in women every minute of every day, one person in the world dies as the result of an attack. Violence is now the leading cause of death among people aged between 15 and 44. Dr. Etienne Krug is the Director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention.

Dr. Etienne Krug: When we talk about violence we include violence in the family against children, women, elderly; violence in communities, mainly among young men; war-related violence, as well as self-inflicted violence—suicidal behavior. We wanted to quantify how big this problem really is. And it’s huge. One million, six hundred thousand people die every year from violence. It’s as big as malaria or tuberculosis.

CHISLETT: In some countries up to 70 percent of women reported having been abused by their husbands or partners. Around the globe, one in four women will experience sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

[The sound of women protesting against violence.]

CHISLETT: Almost half the women living in Peru have been physically assaulted by their partners. While in Thailand WHO suggests around 30 percent of women have been physically or sexually abused. And the organization believes domestic violence may be directly linked to the rise in HIV cases. Violence in the home is also one of many reasons why every forty seconds, someone somewhere commits suicide.

[The sounds of a busy city in India.]

CHISLETT: In the Asian sub-continent, the number of young women committing suicide is on the increase, particularly in India. Tim Dyson, who is a Professor of Population Studies at the London School of Economics, says traditional factors, as well as cultural issues are partly to blame.

TIM DYSON: There are a number of reasons why suicide may be an option for them. They include pressures related to dowry, pre-marital pregnancy, issues like that. Traditionally women might throw themselves down wells, but with the greater availability of modern agricultural pesticides they often resort to taking these sorts of chemicals.

CHISLETT: But suicide is as big a concern in the western world. In Britain, the latest figures show 15 in every 100,000 men and 5 in every 100,000 women will take their own life. Simon Armson is Chief Executive of the British branch of The Samaritans—an organization set up to try to prevent people from killing themselves. It’s part of a new National Suicide Strategy which has just been launched in Britain, and will try to lower suicide rates by getting the desperate help and by preventing those who chose to die from being able to complete their task.

SIMON ARMSON: There are various ways in which the access to the means of suicide and the lethality of those means can be dealt with. Another much more broad reaching goal is that of trying to improve the nation’s emotional and mental well-being. Now that is a very global and very far-reaching objective.

CHISLETT: And in his role as the British representative on the International Association for Suicide Prevention, Mr. Armson is trying to ensure a new worldwide strategy for reducing suicide rates.

[The sounds of a busy hospital.]

CHISLETT: Violence against the elderly and children is also a major concern. The WHO report found 6 percent of elderly women had been abused—and the issue is not just one of developing nations. Even in Britain, violent crime is on the increase. The latest statistics showing a rise of 11 percent. In 2001, the number of reported rapes was 14 percent from the previous year and murders rose by 4 percent. The World Health Organization is now calling on governments around the world to act to reduce these alarming statistics. Spokeswoman Doctor Etienne Krug says all countries can do more to draw people, especially young men, away from violence.

Krug: Anger management, parent training programs, etcetera—there are a wide variety of things that can be done. And if we start implementing them and testing them on a much wider scale we can make a difference, we can reduce violence. Violence has been part of our history forever. It has been a fact of our past. But with the right political commitment and the right investment it doesn’t have to be a fact of our future.

CHISLETT: For Common Ground, I’m Suzanne Chislett in London.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

Top of Page