The John Lewis Fellowship
I am a dreamer and an adventurer. This has led me to great journeys. As every story has a hero and a villain, good and evil, challenges and celebrations – so do my adventure.
The mysterious girl
“Who was she and how did she know me?”
I was sitting in an airplane after attending a Program in collaboration with the European Commission. Suddenly, a girl appeared in front of me and started talking about a wonderful program that I should attend called Humanity in Action. Due to the12 hours long bus journey I was confused and exhausted, so all I could think about was: “Who was she and how did she know me?” What I did not know at that time was how meeting her would lead me to a great journey.
There had been a terrorist attack at the airport that we departed from right after we left Turkey
When I arrived at Copenhagen Airport I saw a bunch of missed calls from my family members and friends. At that point, the same girl approached me and told me that there had been a terrorist attack at the airport that we departed from right after we left Turkey!
Afterwards, I wondered why I had to deal with the media, news and fellow citizens whenever there was a terrorist attack anywhere in the world. A lot of times terrorism is put together with Islam and turned into an ‘Islamic terrorism’ narrative. This marginalizes and discriminates a whole religion which is followed by more than 23% of the world’s population in 2011. (1) It makes me feel sad for all the Muslim families that have lost their loved ones under the same attacks that are addressed by ‘Islamic Terrorism’. It makes the Muslims both a victim and a criminal due to the discourse around Muslims in Denmark and many European countries.
My family would have lost both a daughter and their value as a Muslim human being, because their religion is connotated with terrorism.
I could have been injured or died that day in Turkey like Aldjia Bouzaouit, Fatima Charrihi and many more under the Nice attack where a lorry drove into a crowd of people (2) or Mohamed Amine Benmbarek in the Paris attacks (3) etc. My family would have lost both a daughter and their value as a Muslim human being, because their religion is connotated with terrorism. It also made me wonder why people are marginalized, discriminated, criminalized and victimized due to gender, religion, race, ethnicity, color etc. and how I can help making the world a better place.
The forgotten people
These reflections and experiences made me remember the mysterious girl and her recommendation about joining Humanity in Action. Following her advice led me to my journey across the Atlantic to discover the history of the city where great human rights leaders like Martin Luther King were born. When I talked to people in Denmark about America today in the context of civil and human rights, many people could not see the relevance behind fighting for these rights in the ‘land of opportunities’ and ‘the American dream’. However, Attending the John Lewis fellowship has made me realize how many people we have forgotten and hence forsaken as a human nation. I have encountered how power structures in society can manipulate and change history to forget about tragedies and neglect injustices that are prevailing due to its history. For example, we saw the movie “The Canary effect” which addresses the structural genocide of Native Americans throughout American history. Moreover, Professor Natsu Saito and Ward Churchill lectured about the current implications of historical attacks on Native Americans, which has resulted in inherited trauma for those remaining. Furthermore, the reservations where many Native Americans live lack basic resources and help to combat this inherited trauma. We also went to Atlanta History Center where one of the exhibits addressed native lands and Indians. It was very disturbing to walk through it and watch how simplified and underestimated the narrative was. I did not see stories addressing the strategic genocide of the Native Americans or the current situation of many reservations as a result of the brutal history.
This can be a starting point for communities to engage in restorative justice.
However, there is hope and there is light at the end of the tunnel because we need to restore justice and be the heroes and leaders that strive for the change we want in society. This case made me think about restorative justice from Doctor Roselyn Pope’s view. She describes it as a community based effort to restore the harm done. Hence, in this incident it would be giving a more realistic and fair account of history as a museum. Those who go there should learn about what happened so there can be spread awareness about the harm done. This can be a starting point for communities to engage in restorative justice.
The power of Narratives
Doctor Carol Anderson emphasized the importance of changing narratives when it comes to restorative justice. In the case of the Native Americans, providing a just narrative which is true to history, the victims and the descendants could possibly create awareness and understanding about the current situation many Native Americans live in and why they live as they do. Before coming to Atlanta and learning about its history, I only saw America as being the land of dreamers and opportunities, because that was the narrative I was raised with through media, Hollywood and institutions, but this is only part of the story. As every adventure has a happy side, it also has also has its challenges. I did learn about slavery, segregation, Ku Klux Klan etc. in school, but it always seemed so far away since I learned about it in history classes. However, coming to Atlanta and learning about African American History from various museums, professors and activists made me face the challenges of modern day American history. It shows the power of narratives and how they create our perception of people and places.
The privileged and the unfortunate
I was never forced to think in terms of color. In Denmark, we talk about ethnicity.
I quickly learned about a new way of talking about people, which have been alien for me. Here, you say black, white and brown people, which seemed very discriminating for me in the beginning. I was never forced to think in terms of color. In Denmark, we talk about ethnicity. If I was not exposed to the historical background of America, I would not have understood the current situation of why race relations are an important factor to address in American society when it comes to injustices, racism and inequalities. Therefore, part of the justice must be restored through telling the stories of the voiceless and create awareness about why and how systems function so the injustices can be combatted. As Doctor Carole Anderson addressed, America calls itself a democracy but structurally exclude its citizens to create a them and us. This becomes clear through displacements, disfranchisement and marginalization embedded in race relations. When I put this in perspective to Americas history of hierarchical structures, slavery and white supremacy it makes more sense why black people have a higher tendency in being exposed to disparate living conditions, homelessness and prison systems. A truthful account of America’s history show that the effects of settler colonialism are still present and they must be challenged and brought to the surface. This can be done by, firstly, making the masses aware of the structures leading to inequality and secondly as attorney Doug Ammar emphasizes bring folks together to heal the harm. To every treasure there is a key, and likewise there can be found a solution to every problem. I found my key through the notion of restorative justice in the face of changing narratives, which can unlock some of the problems to both marginalized peoples in America and Denmark.
Attorney Tiffany Williams brought a new concept of transformative justice to the table, and she addressed it by focusing on systems that continue to profit from the disenfranchisement of people of color. Preventing the systematic oppression against people of color and exposing this oppression to the masses are key ways to the bunch of solutions we worked with encompassing law reforms, advocacy strategies etc.
As a result of this journey, I have been encouraged to lead. There might be many injustices in the world that need to be solved, but we need to start somewhere, and the small steps will lead us to great achievements. I will start telling the story of my journey across the Atlantic. I learned and experienced how narratives can lead to injustices, ignorance and denial, but also peacebuilding. Therefore, my dream is to work with another narrative that can destroy these evils and instead embrace the nuances and address the beauty of diversity and unity to turn the narrative into a beautiful melody rather than noise.
- “Executive Summary”. The Future of the Global Muslim Population. Pew Research Center. 27 January 2011. Retrieved 23 July2017.
- BBC NEWS, 2016. Nice attack: Who were the victims?. Retrieved 23 July 2817.
- INDEPENDENT, 2015. Paris terror: These are the Muslim victims of the France attacks. Retrieved 23 July 2017.