World wars, the advance of empires, and resistance to encroaching invaders have often centered on the Mediterranean Sea or taken place near its shores. Called the "cradle of civilization," it’s 10 times the size of the five Great Lakes of North America, with winter storms as horrendous as any on the Atlantic, Pacific, or Indian Oceans. Today, however, it’s also a cauldron of human conflict. And a majority of those who suffer are historically the most wretched of the Earth: women and their children.
Both the conflicts and some potential solutions are detailed in Paths to Peace, the second book released by the Association of Women of the Mediterranean Region (AWMR). Edited by the group’s president, Dr. Yana Mintoff Bland, it’s an engaging, informative, and suggestive sequel to Nobody Can Imagine Our Longing: Refugees and Immigrants in the Mediterranean. The passionate doctor is committed to "taking the militarists and arms dealers to task on two essential props of their patriarchal, capitalist system — injustice and inequality." Thus, her organization demands justice for the Palestinians, an end to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, independence for Cyprus, and termination of the horrific sanctions imposed on Iraq, Libya, and Serbia.
The new volume, largely composed of presentations made at an AWMR conference held on Malta last summer, focuses on education for peace in the Mediterranean context. Activist women from Algeria, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, Palestine, Greece, Malta, Lebanon, and Tunisia share their experiences and offer crucial insights to a largely uninformed public.
For example, Palestinian activist Shadia El-Sarraj presents a realistically bleak picture of life in Gaza. In fact, Israeli occupation authorities prevented her from traveling to deliver her paper. In the book, she is finally able to tell the revealing story of a young Palestinian woman tortured by her husband, a man who used the same techniques employed on him as a prisoner of the Israelis. The entire book burns with the suffering of women, who often bear the brunt of war and repression. Yet, promises of a better future also run through its pages. The Turkish Cypriot poet Nese Yasin, for instance, points out that "we, as women, have an advantage. We did not take part in this war; we were not part of this rotten game. Our language is not that of conflict, but that of the heart. And this language can transform from a romantic expression to a substantial expression of political participation."
Embracing the proposition that there can be no peace without justice, AWMR has dedicated itself to the promotion of peace education. Greed, on the other hand, is identified as the enemy of justice, the producer of rich and poor, "weak" and "strong." Elham Bayour, a Palestinian-American from California, compares Israeli Zionism with the old US "Manifest Destiny," which subjected the Native Americans of North America to a holocaust. She also provides an apt description of what she experienced as a Palestinian woman through the words of Frederick Engels: "The father is the central figure, providing for his wife and children, endowing them with his name and property, exacting obedience to his wishes, and controlling their lives and destiny."
At the conference, Dr. James Calleja of the International Peace Research Association spoke about his encounter with a Kurdish taxi driver in Sweden. "He of course asked me where I was from and I said the tiny island of Malta. I was struck by his answer: better a tiny land than no land at all!" The driver was referring, of course, to the fact that over 30 million Kurds are prisoners of colonization in their own ancient Middle Eastern homeland.
Bland endorses Sissela Bok’s notion that peace educators must teach adherence to four moral standards: do not kill, lie, betray (that is, break promises or treaties), or secretly plan to do harm. By promoting these principles, AWMR hopes to help end what Bland calls "low-level chronic warfare against the rights and sovereignty of many Mediterranean people." A culture of "flagrant aggression, violent expansionism, and genocidal attrition by racist military forces" — most blatantly exemplified in the region by Israel and Turkey — must be rejected in favor of a model involving justice, peace, and self-determination.
In Paths to Peace, Bland and the women of AWMR advance their counter-model with passion, dignity, and a clear a sense of urgency. But, perhaps most impressively, they also suggest eloquently that a "reversal of fortunes" for the peoples of the Med is still possible — along with a better world for all.
Husayn Al-Kurdi is a TF contributing writer and President of News International. AWMR can be reached at:
PO Box 625