Lay Off the Hijab

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You know your chances of a reasonable and civilised debate aren’t good when most of the people arguing their point can’t even use the correct terms. This is why my heart sank a few days ago and has stayed fairly submerged: it seems few people know the difference between a hijab and a burka or a modest woman and a terrorist.

Most of my readers will have deduced that I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Islam. So you may be taken aback by what I am about to say. But please hear me out.

The hijab is a beautiful garment. Head scarves are a wonderful expression of individuality, modesty, and aesthetic taste. I would love to see more women choose to cover their heads. Think of a world with more wide brimmed sun hats like the one Amal Alamuddin wore in Venice last week, cloche hats from the 1920s, bonnets reminiscent of Jane Austen novels, headscarves like that of the ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, bandanas tied like Rosie the Riveter, medieval head dresses that the Society for Creative Anachronism recreate for their events, et cetera, et cetera. It would be so refreshing to see what women would come up with if the ‘norm’ weren’t the current fashion of badly-cut hair worn either out or in a messy ponytail or bun.

The hijab is just one version of a head covering. It’s true it sets the women wearing them apart, but no more so than a Catholic nun’s veil and wimple, an Orthodox Jewish tichel, an African head dress, or a Protestant kerchief. They look different. Or, I should say, we look different (because I love to cover my head). And there is nothing wrong with being different. The world would be very boring indeed if we were all the same.

So next time you see a woman wearing a hijab or something like it, try to exercise your curiosity and think outside the box. If you can’t help thinking about the Islamic State and the atrocities it is perpetrating overseas, at least keep in mind that the woman in front of you may be wearing a hijab because she fled a country in which she would have been forced to wear a niqab or burka… and that glaring at her isn’t the best way to communicate that Christianity is all about love or that the West is founded upon democracy and tolerance. The hijab is not a symbol of oppression or male domination. It’s just a head covering, something which Western women have worn throughout history. Perhaps Muslim women are inadvertently reminding us of our own rich heritage, which we are in grave danger of losing altogether….

P.S. I’m not going to add a photo of me in a hijab as I’m not Muslim, but here’s one of me in a head scarf.  Not particularly “confronting”, is it?!

20140921 meg tichel

Abortion Access Zone SitRep

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For some time, I have meant to follow up on the article I wrote last year about the Tasmanian Reproductive Health Act, but illness and death in my close family have prevented me spending time on writing. So this will be brief.

Last month, pro-life activist Graham Preston (sometimes accompanied by supporters) conducted a sustained protest within the access zone for Hobart’s ‘Specialist Gynaecology Centre’ (known by most people as an abortion clinic). This took place on Hobart’s ‘main drag’ during peak hour traffic and gained the attention of the press, supporters of abortion, and even the police. Most interestingly, this protest was in the wake of police dropping charges against Preston for failing to obey a police direction to move on earlier in the year in the same location.

Media reports have been unclear and contradictory as to the reason the charges were dropped and why Preston was able to continue his protest. Local pro-lifers are even claiming that they now have police permission to protest and that no one will be arrested.

I don’t claim to have the ‘scoop’, but I have contacted Tasmania Police and I have it in writing that they have NOT given permission for peaceful prayer vigils within the access zone.

I would also offer a few thoughts on this topic:

1) If we take the police at their word (which I’m inclined to do), the police realised they did not have sufficient justification for issuing a ‘move on’ order (under the Police Offences Act Section 15B) as Preston had not committed an offence. This conclusion was possibly based on the provisions of the Reproductive Health Act which prohibit a protest that “is able to be seen or heard” not could or might be seen or heard. This may seem a minor distinction, but in law these things matter, especially when a law is yet to be put to the test or set a precedent. Preston’s signs were facing the oncoming traffic on Macquarie Street, not the clinic entrance in Victoria Street, and it is conceivable that someone could have entered the clinic from the north without seeing or hearing Preston’s (silent) protest. It would also have been nigh impossible to demonstrate intent to impede access, especially as Preston has in the past been gaoled for actually blocking access to an abortion clinic.

2) The police cannot give permission to do what is unlawful.

3) Just because Graham Preston didn’t end up fined or in gaol doesn’t mean others won’t. A clear violation, for example a group of people directly in front of the clinic entrance, especially without signs quoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, could have a very different outcome. The police are unlikely to make the same mistake twice.

4) When the police ask for your name and address they either suspect you have committed an offence or believe you have committed an offence. This is not something to be taken lightly and may serve as a ‘warning’ of arrest if you commit the offence a second time. I believe the police have already taken the names and addresses of Graham and his fellow protesters.

5) The police may have been avoiding opening a can of worms. The offences committed against Graham Preston were far more serious than those he may have committed violating the Reproductive Health Act. It is quite possible that pursuing the case was viewed as undesirable given that it might highlight the loud and aggressive behaviour of pro-abortion counter protesters, the assaults on Preston, and the theft of his property.

Personally, I am a firm advocate of exercising one’s conscience, but the essence of conscience is knowledge (con + scire – with + ‘know’). It remains unlawful to protest (even peacefully) within sight or hearing of someone entering an abortion clinic in Tasmania. The penalties are not inconsiderable. A criminal record is not a minor matter and can have massive repercussions on one’s career and ability to support oneself and one’s family. Some people pray for the end of abortion quietly and without drawing attention to themselves, often just down the road in St Joseph’s Catholic Church, still within the access zone. Who is to say they are any less effective than the person standing on the street corner? That’s something to think about….

To celebrate….

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My opinions of Operation Storm are well known and I shall not repeat them today.  All I will say is that it is a day worthy of celebration, that it is intolerable for a nation to be shelled on a daily basis and for its citizens to live in a constant state of war, and that I hope you will spare a thought or prayer for those in Israel suffering under similar circumstances from persistent terrorist attacks.

To celebrate, I would like to offer you a few moments of escapism.  Today, Tuscany Press published a very brief excerpt from near the beginning of my novel The First Realm.  I hope you find it an intriguing and enjoyable read.  There is a field for comments at the end.

Sretan Dan hrvatskih branitelja!  Happy Victory Day, Croatia!

Am I a Zionist?

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You may be wondering why it has taken me so long to write something on the current conflict in Israel and Gaza. The first reason is that I’ve had the ‘flu’, and I still do, so this will be fairly short. Secondly, I have had a hard time keeping up with all the information and misinformation in the media and social media. However, the fundamental reason I’ve been slow to respond is that I’m not entirely sure it’s worth my effort. Allow me to explain.

I don’t believe in writing for the sake of it. If I have nothing to add to a discussion I’m not going to waste your time asking you to read yet another article. I have more articles of interest cropping up each day than I can actually read. (I have a similar problem with books – literal piles I want to read but probably never will.) So, I’m going to put a reading/watching list at the bottom of this so that you can pick and choose what is of most interest to you on this topic. There have been some fabulous articles written in the last couple of weeks while I’ve been down with the ‘flu’ and I am grateful to those writers for speaking out, sharing their viewpoints, and countering the propaganda most of the world is gobbling up with glee.

The other reason I’ve hesitated to write is the intractable mindset of most people on this topic. People who were the first to condemn moral equivalence in Bosnia are now talking about both sides being guilty. People who were aghast at Croatian and Bosnian civilians being shelled day in and day out by the Serbs are now suggesting Israel should just put up with a bombardment greater in proportions than the London Blitz. People who would never accept suicide bombings and missiles raining down in their own cities are telling the victims of terrorism that they must implement an unconditional ceasefire even though Israel has accepted and implemented five ceasefires, all of which were broken (oddly enough) by the Hamas terrorists. Rationality doesn’t seem to have much of a place anymore, and what I do say is no doubt preaching to the converted.

So allow me a few personal observations, seeing as so many people seem to value perceptions and feelings over morality and common sense.

Some things are a matter of debate. How to solve the ‘Middle East conflict’, for example. I don’t know the answer, so I’m fairly open to suggestions. Really. I have not made up my mind on this topic. (Though, I have no say in the matter, so I suggest you address any of yours ‘answers’ elsewhere.) Some things that are part and parcel of this topic, however, are not a matter of debate. (No, I’m not a relativist.) One is that Israel has a right to exist. Another is that Hamas is a bunch of terrorists. In all the brouhaha, these two central facts seem to have been forgotten. You can be pro-Palestinian without being pro-Hamas. You can love the Palestinian people and want the best for them and still support Israel – in fact, if you have any sense, you may realise that Israel is the best chance most Palestinian children will ever have of growing up in a democratic and multicultural society.

Those who think they know better (than everyone else), of course, tend to disagree. They don’t even bother with discussion or debate any more. They just dismiss anyone who isn’t anti-Semitic as a Zionist. They’re not quite as crude as the demonstrators calling for a Palestine “from the river to the sea” and who attack Jewish businesses and chant “gas the Jews”, but it amounts to much the same thing. It’s funny how being anti-Israel is supposedly not anti-Semitic, but wanting Israel to exist and flourish as a nation is Zionist. I want Australia to continue to exist and flourish too. What does that make me? Is that wrong too?

The bottom line is that if you want a Palestine “from the river to the sea” you’re calling for the extermination of Israel. And if you think Hamas terrorists are freedom fighters, you’re advocating the freedom to murder and terrorise. Israel has bent over backwards to accommodate a two-state solution. The Palestinians have rejected every opportunity. Gaza is a case in point. Israel made it Judenfrei and handed it over to the Palestinians in exchange for peace. What sort of peace has Hamas given them in exchange? Suicide bombings, missiles, and terror tunnels.

You may say that I’m just as entrenched in my position as the next person. If by that you mean I refuse to accept a world in which Israel does not exist, you’re quite right. If that makes me a Zionist, so be it. I never thought that basic humanity could be so controversial. And, for the sake of balance, let me say that I also yearn for a world in which Arabs/Muslims and Jews live amicably side by side, a world in which Israel has no need to use weapons of war. But I know that’s never going to happen with Hamas calling the shots, and unless ordinary people like you and me (as well as our leaders and journalists) stop giving Hamas this false legitimacy the situation is not going to improve, for Israelis or Palestinians. We need to call a terrorist a terrorist. They are not freedom fighters. They are base murderers killing Palestinians and Israelis alike.

There’s a much a bigger problem than Gaza at the moment, and that problem is us.

So, choose your words carefully next time you chat with someone on this topic. Did Israel “resume its offensive” or did Israel respond to yet another breach of a ceasefire, yet another attack on Israeli civilians? When you mention Israel blew up a hospital in Gaza, don’t forget to mention that Hamas was firing at Israel from that hospital and that Israel confirmed with the hospital director that there were no staff or patients inside and that he had locked all the doors. And when the news reports an Israeli strike, ask yourself whether perhaps Hamas misfired a rocket yet again. (Hamas managed to hit a hospital and refugee camp yesterday, but no mention of that in the media – no, it was reported as an Israeli attack on a kindergarten. Likewise, Israel has been vociferously blamed for the deaths of fifteen civilians in an UNRWA school yard, even though the single shell landed in an empty yard.)

We don’t live in Nazi Germany. I, for one, live in a rather tranquil part of the world. Yet, even here in the Antipodes, I (a gentile) have felt the hatred.

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This is a random (and far from exhaustive) list of articles I’ve appreciated in the last couple of weeks, an antidote to the mostly dishonest reporting of the mainstream media.

The Israeli Genocide in Gaza

Letter to an Anti-Israel Protester

Hamas Human Shields

Shalom

Scared of the Mommies

Gaza’s West Side Story

Europe’s Kristallnacht

Paris’s Kristallnacht

Israeli Nazi Baby Killers

I’m Done Apologizing for Israel

Gaza Media Myths

Moral Clarity in Gaza

Gazans’ Real Enemy is Hamas

Has Hamas end the prospects for a two-state solution

Those TV cameras responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza

Journalists receive death threats after reporting Hamas uses human shields

J’accuse Western Academics

To the Students for Justice in Palestine, a Letter From an Angry Black Woman

Protests Make the Case for Israel

Israel Faces a Biased Barrage

Dear Sayed Kashua

Palestinian UN Rep

Gazan Child Pledges to Become Hamas Martyr

Ten Minutes about living on the Gaza border

Why do they ask the impossible of the Jews?

And, finally, a hauntingly beautiful song for peace, because we must live in hope and not despair: Shalom Aleichem

Towards A Croatian Entity In Bosnia And Herzegovina

mishkagora:

A noteworthy development: “And given that BiH is on its knees, desperately avoiding its total break-up and disintegration, ethnic federalism makes most sense and promises a path to a happier and more productive life. Croats, with their own entity within BiH would gain the deserved sense of equality with the other two (Serbs and Bosniaks) and ethnically based recriminations, ethnic based competitions of all sorts that affect daily lives would be reduced under a model of equal federal representation in the decision making for BiH. Certainly, the international community, or the most influential members of its network who are to blame for the conflicts and problems that have evolved from the Dayton agreement model for BiH, have without explanations or reasons so far been against the creation of a third (Croat) entity. They have treated Croats in BiH as and unplanned child in a family that, for whatever sinister reasons, visualises itself without it. It is no wonder that BiH Croats want their own entity, and why shouldn’t they have it when in effect the other two ethnic groups have it. After all, after 19 years of failed Dayton recipe, this would provide a significant assurance that BiH would indeed exist as a “rich and diverse ethnic make-up” the UK foreign secretary and German foreign minister want because the “richness” here (and everywhere else in the world) is defined and underpinned by equality in the sense that matters to the people most.”
What will be the legacy of Dayton?

Originally posted on Croatia, the War, and the Future:

19 Anniversary of Srebrenica Genocide Photo: Reuters

19 Anniversary of Srebrenica Genocide
Photo: Reuters

When US diplomat Richard Holbrooke and former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt gathered Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Serbs and Croats together in 1995 at an American air force base near Dayton, Ohio, harassing them into a deal that would end years of terror, genocide and ethnic cleansing that became the modus operandi of what initially appeared to be Serbian resistance to a breakup of communist Yugoslavia but emerged as an utterly brutal attempt to widen borders of Greater Serbia on the territory of former Yugoslavia, the world breathed a sigh of relief. Dayton peace agreement for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was signed in November 1995. Consequently, Carl Bildt was installed as the first High Representative for BiH and remained in that role during the initial crucial 18 months of implementation of the Dayton agreement.

Holbrooke and Bildt essentially endorsed the partition of the country…

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On the Nineteenth Anniversary of Srebrenica

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1280px-Srebrenica

Genocide denial has such a beguilingly pleasant façade.  It’s nothing like what I imagined as a child.  I grew up thinking that ‘deniers’ were skinheads or crackpots who collected Nazi paraphernalia. The reality is, of course, far more uncomfortable.

I have lost count of the number of people I have come across, some of them friends, who have offered a different interpretation of the conflict in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia, despite little or no knowledge of the subject. Some call it historical revisionism, but often it isn’t so much revision as doubt and denial. If I were ignorant of the subject, I might call it scepticism, but the most charitable description I can muster is prejudice. They create a narrative to fit their prejudices.

These doubters and deniers often come across as reasonable and well-informed. They say things like “I’m led to believe that the numbers may have been exaggerated” and “there is some doubt about whether the victims were civilians or soldiers” and “we have to be careful not to jump to conclusions”. It all sounds so reasonable… until you think about it, until you realise that Srebrenica is quite possibly the most well-documented war crime in the history of the world. The number of victims is fairly certain: 8,372. Almost seven thousand of those victims have had their remains positively identified using DNA.

On a personal level, however, the most astounding denials come from those who accept my testimony but point out that my experience of the war wasn’t representative of what really happened. They are, of course, quite correct. When I arrived, the UN Protected Area I worked in had already been ethnically cleansed to a large degree. I did not experience firsthand the grievous violations of international law and human decency that epitomised the siege of Vukovar. It is true that my work with Bosnian refugees was not in places like Omarska or Sarajevo. I was not among the brave Western reporters, such as Ed Vulliamy, Roy Gutman, and Penny Marshall, who went into the ‘lion’s den’ so that we might know the truth about the concentration camps of Bosnia. And is it true that, by the time I arrived in the burgeoning refugee camps across the border in Croatia, indefensible atrocities in places like Ahmići, Bijeljina, Foča, and Prijedor had already taken place.

So, I am forced to admit that my personal experience, as disturbing as it was, was not representative of what happened in the war. I was not raped, tortured, or killed. I was not incarcerated in a concentration camp. I wasn’t forced to walk across minefields and mountains into another country so as to escape such a fate.

However, my good fortune does not cast doubt on the horrific crimes experienced by those to whom I ministered. Quite the contrary! The whispered confidences of emaciated men who had spent months in concentration camps confirmed the pictures we saw in the newspapers. Children in my care took the crayons we gave them to draw scenes of tanks rolling into their towns, their homes burning, and soldiers shooting their fathers and raping their mothers and sisters. Old women held my hand and wouldn’t let go, crying and saying one word over and over again: hvala, thank-you. And fellow aid workers drank themselves into oblivion after each foray into Bosnia, ending up sobbing on the floor in the dead of night as they tried and failed to erase the memories.

To those who have said that my book represents “only one experience” and doesn’t reflect the “whole truth”, I say: Quite right, the war was far worse than anything I could write. If you want a firsthand account of a concentration camp, I recommend Rezak Hukanović’s The Tenth Circle of Hell. If you want the dead to speak to you, I suggest you peruse The Graves by Eric Stover and Gilles Peress. Or if you’re too lazy to read a book, you could simply take a look at Scott Anderson’s article in the New York Times Magazine. He has interviewed people with contrasting views, and the result is a poignant and nuanced exposition. (It also includes some excellent photography by Paolo Pellegrin.) He lets his readers draw their own conclusions, but genocide denial isn’t much of an option for the sane and rational among us.

So, next time someone says that all these anniversaries and commemorations are a “big fuss” or “making a mountain out of a molehill”, please tell them it’s something worth making a fuss about. Please tell them that every single one of those 8,372 lives mattered.

Lest we forget….