The “Art of Honesty”

March 16th, 2011

Anna Khandros

I have seen many speakers at Brandeis University, but one of the most interesting was Mahmood Karimi-Hakak, an Iranian theater director, filmmaker, and poet, who visited campus on February 16th. Having watched his documentary, “Dream Interrupted,” and heard about his Fullbright experiences in Israel, I looked forward to hearing him speak about censorship.

Background: In 1999, authorities in Iran shut down Karimi-Hakak’s about-to-open production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The documentary features interviews with the cast about their experiences with the making, and sudden termination, of the play.

Karimi-Hakak surprised me in that he talked little about his experiences with the closing of the play. Instead, he discussed technology and our world of less and less personal communication; of resistance versus violence; largely of his perspectives on the history of Iran; and, only when asked, about his most unique style of directing. The history part fascinated me most, but it was his passion that captivated me. Without any bitterness, and an almost-vulnerable honesty, Karimi-Hakak spoke of censorship through anecdotes. One of his friends is currently in jail for making a movie about the 2009 presidential election.

What got me thinking most was his approach to, and a subsequent question about the ethics of, opening people up in a closed society. Karimi-Hakak spoke about the “art of honesty” and the vulnerability of acting. It made some of us audience members wonder: is it wrong to encourage openness – sometimes outspokenness – in a country whose government does not tolerate any challenge or dissent?

My first thought is to scream “No, it’s not!” but I’m not sure how to fully explain my feelings that people should always stand up for what they believe in, especially with the arts as a medium for doing so. But I say this knowing that I do not have to deal with any of the consequences. I would love to hear what others think.

I Stand With Planned Parenthood

March 16th, 2011

Beneva Davies

On Friday, February 18, 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to bar Planned Parenthood from federal funding in an effort to combat the huge budget deficit. As a woman, an advocate, a feminist, and most importantly, a concerned citizen of this country—I am offended by this decision. Planned Parenthood is the biggest advocate of the pro-choice movement, comprehensive sex education and access to affordable health care in the US. In response to the vote, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President, Cecile Richards released the following statement:

For 95 years, Planned Parenthood has provided medical care and family planning services to women across the country.  One in five American women has received care from a Planned Parenthood health center during her lifetime, and last year three million patients came to one of our more than 800 health centers.  We are trusted by millions of women and families, and we deliver care to those who need it most (Cecile Richards).

Planned Parenthood stands with those who have no other options, they provide access to breast and cervical cancer screenings, annual exams, family planning visits, birth control, HIV testing, federally funded education programs for thousands of young people and much more. Planned Parenthood posted on their website “every day, our work prevents more unintended pregnancies than anyone else in the country. Planned Parenthood has a huge impact on the lives of women and families”(Cecile Richards, House Votes to Cut Off Funding: Vital Health Services in Jeopardy, 2011, (February 2011)). If the intent was to help alleviate the tremendous budget deficit, there are a few inconsistencies to be addressed: this move will cause a loss of jobs for health professionals and, even sadder, a loss of health care for some of this nation’s most needy. Without their education and supply of contraception, unintended pregnancy numbers will rise amongst the people they serve. The cost of cutting Planned Parenthood seems to be a lot more expensive than the cost of keeping them, and yet this amendment was voted through the house. If the decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood becomes final, the families they represent will pay the ultimate price.

Former President George W. Bush, once said “families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream” (George W. Bush, Bushisms, 2011, (February 2011)).

The grammar may be off, but the message is precious all the same. Families are the foundations of a nation and their protection should be of the utmost importance. The well being of some of our nation’s most at-risk families is in grave danger here; they need the help and support of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood stands with these families and so, I stand with them.


The Mad Dog of the Middle East biting his own people!

March 16th, 2011

Tenzing Yonten Sherpa

Following the successful uprisings in Tunisia and then Egypt, on February 15, 2011, protests in Libya escalated into widespread uprising and by the beginning of March, civilians and the government opposition rebels had taken control of significant parts of the country including major cities like Misurata and Benghazi. The people of Libya took this opportunity to end Muammar Gaddafi’s forty-two year tyranny and pave a new path for Libya. The anti-Gaddafi rebels also formed the National Transitional Council, which provided to be the “political face of the revolution”. Support from the international community has been expressed and on March 10th, the French government recognized the council as the official government of Libya. However, most of this support has been passive.

Since the beginning of March, forces loyal to Gaddafi have gone on an offensive against the ill equipped rebels and regained many of the cities that were under temporary rebel control. In this process, Al Jazeera has reported that there has been anywhere from 1000 – 6500 casualties, including many civilians. As a part of the Gaddafi’s offensive, he has ordered fighter jets to bomb the protestors and rebels in Tripoli! This is really shocking and shows how ruthless Gaddafi is and his complete disregard for human life. Blinded by his thirst to hold on to power and not give the people of Libya the freedom they seek, he ordered more bombings of protestors. Lately, two Libyan Air Force fighter pilots have defected and have flown their jets to Malta where they have reconfirmed to the Maltese authorities that they had been ordered to bomb the protestors, including civilians.

Military planes attacking unarmed civilians are definitely a crime against humanity. Reports from within Libya indicate that the civilians are frightened and are pleading for international help. When will this world ever learn to take the appropriate actions in the hour of need? Will we never learn from the catastrophic yet most preventable events of Rwanda and Sudan? The National Transitional Council have already made it clear to the international community that it would accept help in terms of air and sea support but without the physical military intervention on Libyan soil. My question is what are we waiting for? This indecisiveness of the international community is costing lives by the day within Libya, while the rest of the world still keeps debating as to what actions they are going to implement. One could debate about a violation of their sovereignty and self-determination, but the opposition, the National Transitional Council seems to have the majority of support from the masses and have certain parts of the country under their control. Therefore, I am bewildered as to why there is no proactive action taken by the world when the rebels, representing majority of Libyan citizens, have already pleaded for help.

I believe it is high time that we as an international community come together to strengthen the structure that is in place to respond to crimes against humanity and to protect the lives of innocent civilians from despots and regimes that have no regard for their own people. The line has to be drawn somewhere based on our moral responsibility to protect and I believe that Muammar Gaddafi and the forces loyal to him have far surpassed that line and immediate actions are in dire need.


Art as a Form of Free Speech

March 8th, 2011

Yuan Yao

Unlike in the United States, many countries in Europe ban publication of extremely controversial statements—acts to incite violence. In other words, blasphemous or discriminatory expressions are prohibited. An example would be denying that the Holocaust occurred. The Danish Muslim community—a religious minority—wanted to classify images of Muhammad under this category. This would effectively ban all publication of images of Muhammad, which are forbidden in the Islamic tradition.

In September of 2005, there was a controversy over a dozen Danish editorial cartoons. The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 images of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, including one version where he has a bomb stuck in his turban. The newspaper states it was an attempt to contribute to the debate and to make a political point regarding the Muslim organization’s attempts to censor images of Muhammad.

As a result of this publication, the Muslim world was outraged, and protests sprang up, some of which turned violent. Danish Embassies were burned and Danish flags destroyed in Gaza City.

Critics of the cartoons described the publication to be Islamaphobic and racist. They say it is a calculated move to provoke the Muslim community to react. As the Danish Muslim community is a minority, some also see the cartoons as intended to bully the religious minority.

Those who support the cartoons, including many groups in the Western world, said the cartoons are a form of free speech and should not be censored by any one group. To do so, they argue, would not only violate that form of free speech, but would also be religious oppression by the Muslim community, forcing others to conform to a specific rule from Islamic tradition.

How can we reconcile differences amongst people with different beliefs in our modern world of free speech and mixed religions? In this instance in history, art was used in an attempt to create peace and understanding; it obviously backfired, but why? Did the Danish newspaper take it too far in creating political cartoons of Muhammad? Or did the Muslim community over-react to the situation?

The Basics: How the Arts Relate to Peacebuilding

March 7th, 2011

Anna Khandros

What is the connection between the arts and peacebuilding?

In any art form – painting, sculpture, poetry, theater – there is the process and the effect, to which there are individual and collective responses. Art can inform us about injustice, inspire us to take action, provoke us to speak out, and restore our sense of inner peace. All of these are necessary components of peacebuilding, which in itself is a creative process.

Dijana Milošević writes of the role of theater in the former Yugoslavia (Acting Together on the World Stage, Chapter 2: Theatre as a Way of Knowing). As civil war raged, she explains, her theater company “realized that the only way to oppose destruction is to create.” Theater helped to create safe spaces for people to come together and express themselves, in a society silenced by destruction and denial, and to address their anger, fear, and pain. Theatrical performances also gave life to memories, and voices to the dead.

Milošević gives examples of performing in the main square in Belgrade, and of people thanking her for publicly stating what was officially silenced and taboo to talk about. Theater, in this case, served as an opposition to the regime, a protective force for the actors, and a meaningful and healing experience for the audience. Milosevic compares the experience to “mediation in motion,” and beauty in an ugly time.

Theater, and art in general as an approach to peacebuilding, “can be a place of truth-telling, testimony, taking responsibility.” Free from politics and propaganda, it can bring together individuals from opposing sides of any conflict, break down physical and mental barriers, help create empathy, and contribute to reconciliation.

This past week, a friend also told me of Doris Salcedo, a Colombian artist whose work is described as “memory sculpture.” Her pieces, largely made up of furniture, are an effort to spark inner dialogue and collective memory of the civil war. Salcedo says of her work, “The sculpture presents the experience as something present – a reality that resounds within the silence of each human being that gazes upon it.”

Art, in this and many other cases, also serves to capture the international attention to domestic conflicts. Its ripple effect begins at home, where it reminds, and extends abroad, where it educates.

Various other art forms have been used in the reconciliation process following countless conflicts. The Ethics Center will be hosting several events this semester that further explore the link between the arts and building peace.

Religion as a Basis for Aid: Balancing the Useful with the Controversial

March 7th, 2011

Rachel Gillette

The Ethics Center upcoming event “Religion and the Quest to Contain Violence” ( has gotten me thinking about the use of religion in different stages of conflict, including aid.  Though this is by no means a comprehensive assessment of the uses of religion, I just wanted to share a story that got me thinking on the topic.

While studying abroad last year in Gulu, Uganda, I was sent out one day to learn about local NGOs.  I visited one NGO that focused on rehabilitating women abductees.  After being kidnapped by the LRA between the ages of 6 and 12, living in the bush as a wife to a commander, and being thrown out when too old, these women were left with nothing.  With their children – the sons and daughters of LRA soldiers – their home communities refused to re-accept them and the stigma leaves these women isolated from all support.  As a result, these women have low chances of survival and even lower self-esteem.  The program I visited held several components: childcare, education, vocational training, and Christianity.  With the children taken care of, the women are taught to read, trained to sew, and given simple lessons in how to run a business.  With all of these great initiatives, why was religion necessary to add into the shuffle?  As I learned, introducing Christianity actually added something that the beneficiaries felt was otherwise unattainable: a solid basis for self-esteem.  Through teaching that all were created in the image of G-d and the telling of Bible stories with similar themes, the women gained an enthusiasm for self which was otherwise less tangible.  Through rooting these lessons in scripture, the women began to hold themselves in higher esteem.  This is not only something gained from the introduction of religion, but specific to a religion: the local Acholi religions do not have this same grounding.

Ultimately, this is a question of whether the ends justify the means.  I inherently disagree with proselytization, any organization or individual that withholds aid without the acceptance of religion, and am even uncomfortable with non-profits that mention religion in their programming.  I do not find it inappropriate to have a religious inspiration or a church-based organization, but it seems tangential to then translate that religion into the actual dispersion of aid.  However, in this case, I am forced to re-evaluate my blanket opinion that religious-based aid programs are needless.  As I hope Carroll will discuss, religion can serve as an incredible base for finding common values and peace processes are often enhanced with a departure from the secular; however, this experience has also forced me to broaden my thoughts on appropriate uses for religion in development-at-large.

Making the Connection: International Justice and Genocide

March 7th, 2011

Kate Alexander

Throughout my high school and college experiences, I’ve worked with groups that want to end rape as a weapon of war in the Congo or stop the genocide in Darfur. So why is it that only in the past year or so have I heard about international tribunals? I am fairly well versed in work being done to end genocide and promote human rights thanks to my experiences with various non-profits, but somehow the actual work being done by tribunals is largely unheard of outside of lecture halls, where even then mention of the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice is relatively rare.

In many organizations working to do things like end genocide, a goal inextricably linked to the success of international criminal tribunals, there is virtually no movement whatsoever to rally behind these tribunals. What is going on here? The legacy of “Never Again” isn’t just a phrase that was uttered to end battles, it was uttered to deter battles from ever happening again. That deterrence will be achieved when the people who might commit human rights abuses know that they will be held accountable for their actions. But being held accountable for their actions can only happen if the people who rally behind the words “Never Again” also rally behind the Genocide Convention and work being done in these tribunals to convict the guilty on charges of genocide.

Raphael Lemkin, the author of the Genocide Convention, is one of my personal heroes. He would run through the halls of the newly constructed United Nations, temporarily located in San Francisco, screaming at delegates “You and I! We’re going to change the world!” That kind of passion for ending genocide is something that I see every day in the eyes of activists, but what I don’t see is the connection to and passion for justice as a means to see the dreams of a peaceful international society achieved.

After World War II, we would never have accepted the idea that Hitler and his compatriots could walk away from the ghettos, the concentration camps, and their millions of victims without punishment. So why are so many organizations not linking war to justice now?

What I think is happening is that the work of the courts is perceived as being dry. With the victims cleaned up and the perpetrators unarmed, it seems like the battle is over and there is less humanity to relate to and rally behind. However, anyone who has ever seen a video or read a transcript from these proceedings will know differently. Stories of victims told in business attire are no less horrifying than stories gathered by reporters during the battle.

When people stop dying, the battle isn’t over or won. When people stop dying, the world might be faced with hundreds of thousands of victims and the people responsible for the war. What do these groups who seek to end genocide do when the arms are put down? In my opinion, the next action they must take is to give closure to the global society, to themselves, to the victims, and to the perpetrators of gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. This closure can be achieved through supporting the work of fair international judicial proceedings that promote the words of Lemkin and other authors of humanitarian law conventions. That closure can be achieved through international justice.

Religion: a Basis for Peacebuilding

March 4th, 2011

Rachel Gillette

Peace.  Peace-building.  Living in Peace.  Peaceful Societies.  Those of us interested in International Relations, development, and other related fields often consider our work in its capacity to bring the world greater peace.  But what does that mean? And where does that begin?

Peace can certainly mean many things, but the definition that is most often given is ‘the absence of war.’  This is a negative definition (speaking of something that is not there, rather than something that is), however, and I much prefer to aim for peace that includes ‘the presence of cross-cultural collaboration alongside equality.’  But how does one go about this aim?

I think most would agree that peacebuilding is not simply one action: it requires a holistic approach to a general concept that is adapted to each situation.  Coexistence International (CI) – an organization that was formerly housed in the Ethics Center – focused on what they define as a “Coexistence Lens” to read different situations and grow to a place where equality, diversity, and interdependence is the norm (Visit to read the whole paper).  As stated in the paper, “a more strategic and complementary approach [to peacebuilding] is now emerging – one that recognizes the different spheres that need to be linked up to help a country successfully move away from war.”  Valuing inclusion and participation, CI’s work aimed to bring all individuals from different sectors, backgrounds, and standing together to collaboratively develop plans for peace-building in their community.  But from where does common ground stem?  What is the launching platform for these greater ideals?

As my next post will discuss, and as the upcoming “Religion and the Quest to Contain Violence” will address, religion – though often a cause for war – could provide a strong basis for togetherness if utilized in the appropriate manner.  Oftentimes, after years of inter-sect/inter-tribal violence, language divergences, and disparities in control over resources, the similarity of values in religion may be the only thing that can leverage a group to a place of trust, cooperation, and discussion.  I feel as though religion is often dismissed as solely a source of conflict, or as an inappropriate means of achieving secular ends; what must not be ignored, however, is the capacity for religion to pervade the material and encourage listening, cooperation, and mutual respect.

I hope to see you all at the upcoming event – “Religion and the Quest to Contain Violence” – featuring John Carroll (, and I look forward to your comments.

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