By Quinn Van Valer-Campbell
The past haunts and deeply impacts many people, especially those who were directly involved in violence. It can torment and consume their lives. How do they move on?
This summer I worked with an organization of women in Bosnia that formed during the war in the 1990s to combat the reality of losing their families and to have a space in which they could share their own experiences.
I learnt that on the eleventh of every month, in order to commemorate the victims of the July 11th 1995 massacre, women gather silently in Tuzla, Bosnia. In one of the commemoration ceremonies I witnessed, the women held pictures of those who were killed and those who are still missing. They pray and then disperse, and life goes on until they meet again next month.
Many of the women I met defined themselves through the war and the men they lost which in turn means that they placed themselves in a very small box without much hope of ever escaping. Women have allowed the past to surround and define their lives. I strongly believe that the minute the past is a significant and descriptive part of an individual in such an encompassing and indicative manner, it is no longer constructive and eradicates a hope of a viable future.
Bosnia was ravaged by the horrors of the war and the people have certainly been left with the damage. As a country, Bosnia has done nothing to address the problems of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological issues stemming from the aftershock of living through a horrific war. Therefore, women (who have been proven to suffer at higher rates than men) are left to remember what was once there and what no longer is. Their identity is shaped almost solely by the past.
With the foundation of their lives built on the memory of the past, there is little hope to move out from under the label of “war widow” or “victim”. In order to move on, these women must allow themselves to be a part of the present and a part of society as an individual and not simply as the aftermath of the war.
The women of Bosnia must assess how they incorporate the war and how they can move forward. There is no solution that will work for everyone. However, one thing is certain: they are not able to be present in life with the past looming as an unchecked demon.
By Jasmine Wolf
A few days before the 10th Anniversary of 9-11, a Muslim friend and I were having an everyday conversation when I asked how her children were doing. The response I received saddened me as only injustice can. She proceeded to tell me that they had been subjected to extreme racism and physical abuse in the past few weeks. Her younger son had been attacked at his middle school for being a “bomb-maker” while her older son has been plagued by harassment at his high school, constantly being called a “terrorist” and receiving threats. After my initial anger and sadness subsided, I began to think about the children growing up in the post 9-11 world and what we, as a society, are teaching our youth.
Most of these children were either very young when 9-11 occurred or were not born yet. They have grown up with the images of the raising of the flag amidst the rubble at Ground Zero, Tower One with smoke rising from its top floors, or civilians walking the streets of lower Manhattan covered in ash. These children have been indoctrinated with “us versus them” rhetoric. However, it is rarely discussed that “terrorists” are an anomaly within the Muslim community or that ‘Islam’ literally means ‘peace’. Our society is so quick to blame without fully grasping who or what we are blaming and what the outcome of that blame might be.
In October 2010, a 16-year-old Muslim boy named Kristian was horrifically beaten by his classmates at a Staten Island high school. The beating came after months of harassment as well as verbal and physical abuse. His parents went to school authorities and the police, but little was done until the local media got involved. Kristian and my friend’s children’s stories are just two examples of the growing racist abuses suffered by American citizens because of their religion. This happens while our children are taught in school that America is the land of freedom. They are taught that the Constitution gives all citizens unalienable rights and told how Martin Luther King dreamed of freedom from racial injustice, yet in these same classrooms Muslim children are being targeted because of race, religion, and fear. Our children are taught that a democracy is a place where all voices can be heard, however, there have only been two Muslims ever elected to Congress. How is a Muslim child growing up in the “War on Terror” supposed to feel included in the American democratic system when they have so few representatives and are constantly told they are the enemy? It is time that we teach our children that everyone is entitled to the rights provided in the Constitution, no matter whom they are or what their religion is. How can we as a society continue to teach our children about freedom and justice for all while the abuse of citizens’ rights is tolerated?