Unpacking the labels

IN THE summer of 2007, I began my fellowship with Abraham's Vision (www.abrahamsvision. org), a "conflict transformation organisation that explores group and individual identities through experiential and political education". Abraham's Vision is a youth-based organisation that examines the relationship between Jewish, Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian communities, and encourages fellows "to practise just alternatives to the status quo".

By Simnia Singer-sayada (Life)

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Published: Fri 11 Jan 2008, 9:42 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:21 PM

Our first meeting was held in the Balkans and we immediately began a dialogue on the politics of identity by sharing our daily life experiences, especially those that have shaped our relationship with the Middle East. By building on what each of us had to share with the group and recognising the significance of listening to others, we began to learn about ourselves. The programme uses comparative conflict analysis methods, and so the study of the Balkan Wars was used as a means to distance ourselves from the Middle East, and to better understand the mechanics of conflict and human actions.

Throughout my participation in the programme, I was overwhelmed with thoughts and questions. For the first time in my life, I was breaking down definitions and discovering my role in nationalism, symbolism, gender and society, gender and conflict, culture and politics, religion and conflict, US policy, and the political economy of conflict and race. Until this point, I had not recognised my personal responsibility in these aspects of society. On the one hand, I was frightened to accept my label as a Jewish American. But, on the other hand, I found it liberating to embrace who I am, unpack my labels, evaluate my actions, and see them as political choices full of opportunities for creating change.

Returning to my studies at New York University after the summer, I wanted to relate to what I experienced at The Vision Programme with what I was learning in educational theatre, specifically using Augusto Boal's theory of the "Theater of The Oppressed". He believes that a system of theatre games and techniques can be used as tools to empower individuals to stand up against all forms of oppression and discrimination.

One such technique, the "Columbian Hypnosis", creates an opportunity to explore the effect our actions have on one other. In a group, a leader is selected who moves to the middle of the room. Gradually, the rest of the class joins in, one by one holding onto someone within the group by the head, arm, knee, nose, etc.... When everyone is joined to someone else, the leader begins to walk through the room, and the subtle repercussions of her/his actions ripples through the group, each member being moved and therefore moving those around them. The power of literally seeing and feeling the repercussions of subtle actions can lead to huge personal discoveries.

Looking at the possibilities of bringing such practical training and experiences to the theatre, an Egyptian American friend and I began discussing the possibility of mitigating the ongoing political conflict between Arabs and Jews through educational theatre. Our ensuing collaboration was both exciting and challenging. We developed Shalom Sahbity (Peace, My Friend), a multifaceted educational performance piece using drama, dance and media to tell our personal stories and experiences from the Middle East. We currently perform throughout New York, and plan to travel with the performance piece to community centres and schools in America — and possibly some day in the Middle East.

Educational theatre tools such as these can contribute to the creation of an environment that fosters constructive dialogue and conflict transformation. We are seeing, in our work with Shalom Sahbity, the impact that such techniques can have on individuals, and are continuing to imagine how to replicate this work on a larger scale to reach other individuals and groups engaged in conflict.

Common Ground News Service

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