Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Edit Schlaffer - Women without Borders and the Mumbai Attacks

Majora Carter moved me to tears with her stories of revitalizing the Bronx.  I couldn't imagine the conference could get any more powerful.  Then Edit Schlaffer was introduced and I was again riveted by her story.   This happened to me all weekend - I couldn't stand to take a bathroom break because I didn't want to miss a single word!

Edit Schlaffer is a woman from Vienna, Austria, who founded Women without Borders, Frauen ohne Grenzen.  The organization works to bring women from different countries together to have conversations to help heal long-standing prejudices they may have against each other.  For example, at Omega Institute's conference, Women and Power, this last weekend, she brought two women to the stage who were from Pakistan and Mumbai, India.  These women had already met and done their work, so we weren't seeing the miracle happen in person, but we heard about it.

Here is the information from Wikipedia about the attacks in case you haven't heard about them before:
The Taj Hotel in Mumbai where many people were killed
The 2008 Mumbai attacks were 11 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai, India's largest city, by Islamist terrorists who were trained and came from Pakistan. The attackers allegedly received reconnaissance (recce) assistance before the attacks. Ajmal Kasab, the only attacker who was captured alive, later confessed upon interrogation that the attacks were conducted with the support of Pakistan's ISI. The attacks, which drew widespread global condemnation, began on Wednesday, 26 November and lasted until Saturday, 29 November 2008, killing 164 people and wounding at least 308.
Eight of the attacks occurred in South Mumbai: at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Oberoi Trident the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital (a women and children's hospital), the Nariman House Jewish community centre, the Metro Cinema, and a lane behind the Times of India building and St. Xavier's College. There was also an explosion at Mazagaon, in Mumbai's port area, and in a taxi at Vile Parle By the early morning of 28 November, all sites except for the Taj hotel had been secured by Mumbai Police and security forces. On 29 November, India's National Security Guards (NSG) conducted Operation Black Tornado to flush out the remaining attackers; it resulted in the deaths of the last remaining attackers at the Taj hotel and ending all fighting in the attacks.
Ajmal Kasab disclosed that the attackers were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant organisation, considered a terrorist organisation by India, Pakistan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations, among others. The Indian government said that the attackers came from Pakistan, and their controllers were in Pakistan. On 7 January 2009, Pakistan's Information Minister Sherry Rehman officially accepted Ajmal Kasab's nationality as Pakistani. On 12 February 2009, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik asserted that parts of the attack had been planned in Pakistan.A trial court on 6 May 2010 sentenced Ajmal Kasab to death on all the 86 charges for which he was convicted. On his appeal against this verdict, Bombay High Court on 21 February 2011 and Supreme Court of India on 29 August 2012 upheld his death punishment.
 Understandably, the people of Mumbai were virulently angry with the people of Pakistan about this.  It was their 9/11.  Edit Schlaffer brought together women from the two places to talk.  She said that at first the tension in the room was thick enough to cut with a knife.  One of the women (Edit intentionally did not share which country she came from) expressed that she was a victim.  That raised everyone's ire.  Tension rose.  From there, though, the women were able to find a way to talk to each other and to share their pain - the pain of losing loved ones to terrorist attacks - the Pakistanis lost loved ones as well in terrorist attacks - their country is rife with bombings.  They found a common ground - their grief - and wellsprings of compassion opened up.  The women walked through Mumbai together along the route of the attacks and saw where the husband of one of the women was shot down.  It sounded to me like a miracle that they were able to be civil to each other, but not only that - that they were able to befriend each other and have empathy.

Edit believes it is necessary for women to take over and run the media so that these types of stories can become prevalent rather than stories of violence and victimization.  She speaks of working with mothers of potential terrorists, training them to look for the signs of incipient terrorist behavior and giving them tools to stop their children from committing such horrible acts.  She evoked great compassion for these women, the mothers of the people who do such horrors.

Her work is compelling and powerful.  And such a simple concept - bring people together, help them understand each other and what they are going through, help them have compassion and empathy for each other, facilitate understanding.  Heal the world.

Here is a link to the blog written by Archana Kapoor, the President of SAVE India who was one of the Indian women leading the dialogue I just wrote about.  She was also present at Omega in the conversation with Edit this weekend.

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