Giving voice to the silenced (Stories of engagement)

[Note from Kathie MM: Today, in honor of Ramadan, which is being celebrated this month by Muslims around the world, we are proud to present another case study in moral engagement—in this instance by our young poet/activist contributor, San’aa Sultan. Ramadan Mubarak.]

Child holding poster and flag in West Bank protest

West Bank protest. Photo by Hamde Abu Rahmah; used with permission.

I’m San’aa Sultan, a peace activist, a writer, a poet and an artist but most importantly a human being. Being human means that I feel the pain of those around me suffering and that I cannot close my eyes to the pain nor can I silently submit to a system and a world where injustice is normal.

I’m a poet and my words are inspired by the struggles of those whose names, faces and voices we do not know or value. I write because I feel it is my duty to give a voice to those who have been silenced.

I tie myself  closely to the struggles of Palestine and Kashmir because I don’t understand how over 60 years later we still speak of the same struggles and still watch the same people live under such harsh conditions and do not speak against any of it.

I run a blog called “Today In Kashmir” to highlight the suffering of those in Indian Occupied Kashmir and I’m also involved in prisoner support work with the Ministry of Detainees in Gaza. Through this, a sister from Gaza and I have set up a Facebook page called “Support Palestinian Detainees and Their Families” with the intention to globalise the stories of those detained by Israel.

I was suffering from many personal losses when my activism begun and in May 2010 when the Mavi Marmara was attacked by the Israel Defense Forces in international waters, I could no longer remain silent. Our struggle became one.

San’aa Sultan

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31 Responses to Giving voice to the silenced (Stories of engagement)

  1. Ross Caputi says:

    I feel very lucky to know San’aa Sultan. She is one of the best activists and human beings that I know, and I highly recommend to everyone that they follow her blog and her poetry. She is wise beyond her years.

  2. Regina Amorello says:

    San’aa, I admire what you do so much. You are truly an inspiration. You seem wise beyond your years. It is really powerful to see a person so morally engaged. To partake in a journey alongside countless nameless faces is no easy task. It requires significant compassion and human empathy. In a way, you loan people your own name in order to get this word out. That is a very bold and noble move on your part. I’ve already checked out your blog, and I will continue to do so in the future.

  3. Ross, I admire what you do and who you are so much. Thank you for influencing who I am in such a positive way.

    Regina, thank you for your words; they mean a lot. There is no other choice but to be morally engaged and inspiration works both ways.

  4. yasmine says:

    hello there,

    Interesting post here will came back

  5. Angel Martino says:

    It definitely is difficult to understand, how after 60 years the same struggles and harsh treatment of the Palestine and Israel people are still unchanged. It is difficult as a woman, not to be able to stand up for what you believe in along with the beliefs of your culture.

  6. kathiemm says:

    Thank you for your comment, Angel.
    While we can see how a few people around the world, including in the US, can benefit from war, torture, and terrorism, for me part of the challenge is encouraging ordinary people to see how governmental aggression hurts them, if only indirectly. If people around the world simply refused to kill other people just because those other people were labelled as “the enemy” (and think how often the designated “enemy” changes–as in the history of England and America, England and France, etc.), then it would become very difficult for the people who profit from war to keep their wars going.

  7. Emily says:

    I enjoyed these words from San’aa as they reflect similar feelings of my own. After reading information on this particular conflict, I too wonder how so much time can pass yet struggles and harsh conditions still remain. I cannot seem to fully understand how a conflict can last so long. The reality of it makes my heart hurt for so many people. I have been reading San’aa’s blog “Today In Kashmir” and have found many interesting points and thoughts. I wonder why this miseducation and powerlessness (talked about on day 11) is occurring and not changing for the better after so many years. This makes me wonder how the conflict can truly ever end if it is being taught to so many people, including those of young age who in fact have a large influence on the persistence and survival of the issues. I know conflicts can be a good thing at times as they can help bring light to new areas, build relationships, and resolve particular issues. However, there are times I find greater significance in keeping the peace, though, especially in instances when a conflict appears to continue on for much too long as no certain solution can be discovered. What exactly hinders a resolution in this case? It is very important and inspiring what people like San’aa do to spread the word about issues like this, so I commend her for her behavior. I am also impressed with your work as well, Kathie, and I can agree with your previous statement that governmental aggression hurts individuals, even if it is indirectly, and it can be quite the challenge to get some people to understand that.

    • kathiemm says:

      Dear Emily, thanks so much for your thoughtful and beautifully-expressed comment. As for the length of the conflict, remember that Englad and France (and their allies) once fought each other in a “Hundred Years War” that took over 100 years (1337-1453) to settle between the rival families that wanted to control France. That is just one of many early examples of the ruthlessness of some people once they gain political and economic power that they will maintain at all costs–the costs usually being the lives and well-being of the ordinary people who are the pawns in the games played by the power-brokers. The solution to these bloodbaths lies to a considerable extent in the handds of those same “ordinary people” when they become willing to stand up to immoral orders from immoral people. Remember, according to Nuremberg principles, the claim that one was “just following orders” when committing atrocities is not an acceptable justification for committing those atrocities.

      • Emily says:

        You are very right, it is important to remember that there have been longer conflicts in history. It just gets me that they can last so long, but I guess that could be the impatient side of me. However, the example you gave (the hundred years war) also can be a way to give hope for this particular conflict (the Kashmir conflict). I would imagine the people involved in this conflict feel like it is a never ending story, but knowing there have been conflicts in the past that have been resolved in a more lengthy amount of time can bring some confidence into the picture in my opinion. I cannot imagine how frustrating life must be, though, for those individuals to be in what seems like a constant conflict. It is appearing to me that these people must conform to and obey the specific thoughts and behaviors against one another; it seems there is no other choice as they are taught about the conflict from a young age. Do you think one side contains more conformity/obedience than the other, or are both sides seeming to exhibit similar behavior relating to this topic? I have been reading information on this conflict and noticed that not only is the conflict continuing and increasing, but also serious violations of human rights, such as summary executions, rape, and torture are occurring and increasing. The social perceptions these people possess of one another undoubtedly are not all too good because of their observations and understandings of one another, even though some of the perceptions could be biased and based on incorrect judgments of course. I also know that religion is a major influence in the conflict as well, which would also promote the perceptions that are formed.

        • kathiemm says:

          Thanks for another thoughtful essay, Emily. I think there are people on both sides of all conflicts who conform to the wishes of those in power, and do so for a number of reasons–fear of reprisals, fear of rejections, fear of standing out from the group, for example. Other reasons would include believing the propaganda to which they are exposed, being angry and wretched and looking for a scapegoat. But there are also many people in all conflicts who do resist the propaganda, reject cruel and inhumane behavior, promote human rights, etc. These are the civil disobediers, the conscientious objectors, etc. To me, they are the real heroes in any war.

          • Emily says:

            I too think there are individuals on both sides of any conflict who conform because of some type of fear. I also think people conform because all they hear about are the bad things happening to them from the other side. I think this happens too often; people do not receive the full story (which can include good things) and therefore conform to the ways in which those of greater power exhibit. People are forming incorrect social perceptions about one another because of this type of behavior and what is portrayed. Many times humans believe all things said by those who contain power, thinking they have all the correct answers. In reality, this is definitely not true. So, those who do not conform can truly be the real heroes as you mentioned. These people stand up and do what is right regardless of consequences. These people can bring about great change and help others to see the truth. However, it can be a difficult task because most often people do not tend to listen to people who do the opposite. This is how I see things anyway, what do you think?

          • Jody Tice says:

            I cannot fathem the idea of having to conform and obey to someone’s orders. I do not understand how there isn’t any justice for what is happening such as the torture, rape and killing of people. We are lucky to have the justice system we do have even though at times it has done people wrong at least there is one. What would occur to the people who do take a stand? Would it automatically be death? Do you think any stand will ever mke a difference?

      • Jody Tice says:

        How early did this war start? Why do you suppose it has to continue? Why not just say this is it we are tired of fighting each other. Does the war continue through the years because it is being passed from generation to generation?

  8. Alexandria Young says:

    Hello! I first off want to commend you on being so driven toward such an important cause. Do you think that social perceptions are in any way related to the struggles and issues concerning Palestine and Kashmir?

    • kathiemm says:

      thanks for your comment and question, Alexandra. The perceptions people develop concerning social situations and the social other are certainly likely to influence how they behave towards those others and their views as to what appropriate behavior toward their own group and other groups. Obviously people are not born with a pre-developed identity but they receive lots of messages as they grow up as to what group they “belong to” and who belongs to other groups and what those group identifications mean. So, how about if you take this kind of analysis forward and apply it to what you know about those struggles? I would love to see the results of such an analysis.

      • Alexandria Young says:

        Previous to reading your blog/article my pre-developed social identity concerning what group I belong to would definitely impact my view about these struggles. Overall I would have to conclude that as human being I am sympathetic and wish that the circumstances were much different. However this is what I wonder. I live my life everyday seemingly oblivious to these issues besides what I may encounter on the news. When I hear about it I feel bad and I sympathize, but I do continue to live my life as well. Then we have individuals like you who refuse to continue on with life without at least trying to make a difference. Their seems to be a huge gap between individuals like you who want to be a part of resolving the conflicts and individuals like me who wish the conflicts weren’t happening but don’t really do much to try to help either. Do you think this is an issue regarding Americans and their social perception of individuals in other countries? Or do you think this is simply personal preference and free will?

        • kathiemm says:

          Hi, Alexandra. I think many people can become overwhelmed when they think of all the problems in the world that need addressing, and they make think they cannot make a difference so why not just try to live their lives as best they can. I think tackling problems becomes easier when you have others with whom you can work, and when you figure out what you can do. Some people organize anti-violence demonstrations because they want to be out there in the fact of people who are behaving destructively. Other people sign petitions on their own computers in the privacy of their homes. Some people join local political/social/environmental groups with other people who think in a similar enough way to their own views. Andi think the differences are more points along a spectrum of helping and contributing than a matter of their being the doers and the non-doers. I imagine you have found some ways to be helpful to others and maybe you should just try to expand your spectrum a bit. I think in important ways people around the world are very similar–for example, when growing up, children around the world learn the views and social perceptions of the people with whom they have the most contact. I don’t think anyone has completely free will but I do think we can learn to take responsibility for our own behavior and work towards being the kind of people we want to be–for better or worse.

  9. Sharie W. says:

    As I understand the Kashmir conflict, it is about a territorial dispute. At one time, the ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh after insitially choosing to remain independent, opted to join India in exchange for military protection and a popular vote. Does this in any way affect conformity or obedience on the part of the people for either side of the conflict?

    • kathiemm says:

      Those are good questions, Shari. I would like to push you to work out some answers yourself. In general, in any society (including the United States), why do so many people conform to the rules, directives, and demands made by their leaders? What do ordinary citizens gain by following orders? What did the troops at My Lai gain by following orders? Are their gains likely to be long-lasting? Could there be a link between conforming to the values and beliefs of your officers when you are in a battle zone, and then coming back to a safe haven and committing suicide? and what is gained by the whistle-blowers and, in olden days, the draft-resisters, by not conforming?

      • Sharie W. says:

        Conformity refers to the changing of actions and behaviors of others to follow the norms of society. From what little I know about the conflict in Kashmir, it would seem to me to be more of a case of compliance than conformity, which is motivated by a desire to either avoid punishment or gain a reward. Compliance also brings hope which may induce people to comply as well. Those who conform to rules may be motivated by both, although I think that avoiding punishment for not following directions would seem to influence higher motivation among officers in battle. I do feel that there is a link between subordinates adhering to the beliefs and values of their officers and the instance of suicide when returning to a safe haven. On the battlefield, obedience is required regardless of personal beliefs and soldiers will do what is required of them in certain circumstances. I think they just block out the feeling that what they are doing may be wrong at the time. After they get home and do not have an officer to answer to, they are flooded by feelings of overwhelming guilt because they acted in contrary to their beliefs. I believe that those who refuse to conform do so out of a higher regard for their values and beliefs. No matter what they are dedicated to doing what is right at any cost. I have learned that conformity varies cross-culturally and not knowing much about either culture involved in the Kashmir conflict, I am wondering how the concepts of conformity and obedience differ between the two. Could you please reflect on this topic for me?

  10. Jody Tice says:

    Your article is very interesting to me and I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me? Could you tell me some simliarities and differences between India and Pakistan? Can you originate how this war between these two ethnic groups began? How do these two groups compare and contrast with conformity and obedience? How does social cognition and concepts apply to these two ethnic groups? What can possible be done in order to cease the conflict of these two groups?

  11. Tammy Goodlett says:

    Could you explain further the perceptions that are expressed socially that may resolve the conflict between these two cultures?

  12. Trista says:

    The issues involved in the conflict between Pakistan and India, in the Kashmir region, have been in place for so many years that they have escalated to such an extreme level of intolerance that I believe these issues will not be mended peacefully. The levels of intolerance developed by the different religious and political systems have instilled a belief that each group has the superior or “correct” view of how things should be. Therefore each group perceives the other side as ‘wrong’ and that it is their ‘duty’ to convert or eliminate the other. This “our way or die” belief system has been ingrained and entrenched with each new generation creating a never-ending cycle. With this level of biased behavior, understanding and cooperation with the other side seems unattainable. Given this indoctrination, how can individuals in these regions accept and live with the diversity of beliefs and opinions that surround them, while at the same time exist within their own belief system? How do these people overcome the fear of retribution by their own people to create change?

  13. Dear all who’ve commented here,
    Your questions and want to find out more humbles me. As a Kashmiri this struggle is my own, but I’m currently embarked on a journey to learn my own history, to know my own people, to learn the language of the valley as it is somewhat different to my mother tongue as Kashmir is home to such a diverse group of people.

    I want to take you all along with me on this journey, so please keep watching here, as I am currently working on a series of writing called Crimson Soil which will be published on Engaging Peace. I hope all of your questions will be answered there.

    Love, peace and solidarity, from one human being to many others.

    • Sharie W. says:

      I admire your desire to learn your history and native language. Your passion for your people clearly shows in your writings. I have been reading your blog and the plight of the women and young girls struck me the most. I cannot imagine what what life must be like for them on a daily basis. The hardship and opression would be tough enough for anyone to endure let alone assault as well. I find it amazing that even through it all, they remain strong, courageous, and faithful.

      • kathiemm says:

        Thank you for your comment, Sharie. The mistreatment of women and girls anywhere is a reminder of how power can be misused and the extremes that people will go to in order to maintain and consolidate their power. Remember that in the U.S. less than 100 years ago, women were beaten and jailed for non-violent demonstrations in support of a right to vote.

  14. Jody Tice says:

    I went to your blog and read your poem and saw that you write of sorrow and sadness of what has happened, but yet you write with passion and hope for what someday will come. I cannot imagine what you have seen or gone through but wish you the best along your journey to find the answers. You talk about education and how they prosper but yet you fall behind. Is this because of their selfishness? Is it because you ate limited or have limited access because of rivalry? Why do you suppose that the children have such a low drive to succeed? What do you feel would inspire them to be a go getter like your dad was? Do you yourself feel powerless at times as well, although all of your research is helping?

    • kathiemm says:

      Thank you, Jody, for your thoughtful reply to San’aa Sultan’s poem and essay. We will soon be featuring a series by her on Kashmir, which I think you will find very informative–and sad. I am sure she will also reply to your comment as soon as she gets a chance.

    • Hi Jody,

      Your questions are what inspire to continue along my journey in pursuit of answerd. I must make clear though although I am Kashmiri I have lived my enentire lifee in the UK with small glimpses of Azad Kashmir which isPstani administered/occupied and things there are not comparable to the Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir.
      I haven’t seen much at all but I’ve metpeople whose eyes tell a very different storytto mine and its their stories I wish to tell to you.

      With regards to the education and lack of motivation. In Kashmir we talk about children with really very few prospects due to the occupation and the denial to live free lives. In Jammu I’m sure, I know it’s different people strive tthere to learn and excel and many do. But the natures of these two occupations are very different.l and I hope to relay that to you in my posts of Kashmir which will soon be published here.

      I think ultimately justice would motivate Kashmir and freedom would liberate it from its chains only then could its children experience the lives many of us deem to be normal.


      • Jody Tice says:

        I thank yo for your repsonse and look forward to learning more of the experiences that you will write about. You mention that things in Kashmir are not comparable to the UK where you are from. What is the major difference whether it be bad or good from where you live and Kashmir? What do you feel needs to be done to achieve justice for the people of kashmir? What is a normal day for a child there compared to what you or I may feel is normal? I look forward to reading your informational story once posted as well. Thank you for sharing the information with me.

  15. Hi again,

    The differences are many, the first being I live in a “free” land whereas Kashmir is occupied and all of the things which come with that occupation make my life and the lives of those in Kashmir very different.

    I think the first step towards justice is for us Kashmiris to educate people about our struggle, for us to be given a platform for us to tell our stories to the world, because with knowledge of the human rights abuses will come anger. And I hope with anger will come action. I think that first and foremost the UN plebiscite promised to the people of Kashmir by Nehru of India must be implemented. We must then work towards justice from there, because without it peace and freedom will not be valid.

    A normal day for a child in Kashmir, I couldn’t begin to explain but when I feel as though I can I will write you a story of a day in the life of a Kashmiri child. I will link you this poem I wrote.. this is one Kashmiri child whose story changed my life.

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