ASEA: Power, Oppression

Week 4: Power and Oppression

At the fourth session, the group is now closed to new members and we are able to spend more time playing and moving in warm-ups. We play English, French and Gazan versions of Grandmother’s footsteps. In Gaza we discover that it is named after Handala, the cartoon refugee child who is always turned away from the viewer. The game symbolises elements of the occupation, much like other playground games played in Palestine.

We discuss our relationship with the words oppressed and oppressor. The ensuing debate starts with specific countries and their political situations, global political systems and historical examples such as the oppression of Jewish and black people. They discuss the impact of Colonial and Imperial legacies around the world, neo-colonialism and neoliberalism in the Middle East and how the mass uprisings attempted to bring the extreme power divide between people and government into balance. The group try to make sense of the current situation in the Middle East and acknowledge how our connection with the region and its turmoil affect our sense of identity and wellbeing. We are also aware of the psychological and emotional strain faced on a daily basis by those living in the region. As Frantz Fanon wrote, ‘Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.’ The group are resolved to find a way to support people ‘back home’.

From politics we move to the familial and personal and the group give examples of power struggles they face in everyday London including roles they take in their employment and within their families, homelessness, immigration battles, and confrontations with the police during frequent stop and searches. They debate the rights of women and how men from the Middle East appear to resist numerous injustices but skirt over issues of women’s rights. Thomas Sankara is mentioned and his quote ‘I can hear the roar of women’s silence’ comes to mind. The group narrow their discussion to the relationship between oppressor and oppressed. Can one exist without the other? Is there a reciprocal relationship? Are the oppressed defined by the oppressor? Do the oppressed desire to become the oppressor or can they resist with their own values? Does power always corrupt? Several quotes enter the room including:

‘Where there is power there is resistance’ M. Foucault
‘A people with no knowledge of their history and culture is like a tree without roots’ Marcus Garvey
‘Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it’ Malcolm X
‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor’ Desmond Tutu

كنّا نحلم بوطن نموت من أجله.. و صار لنا وطن نموت على يده

‘There was once a nation that we would die for, it has become the same nation we will die under’ Ahlam Mosteghanemi

One of the group members offers a thought that conjures up Sartre’s notion of achieving freedom through existential authenticity:

At the heart of the struggle lies the question of who we really are

We read the full translation of the poem ‘The Will to Life’ and another shorter poem from Al-Shabbi, ‘Tyrants of the World’. We discover that ‘The Will to Life’ in its entirety is an allegorical poem which draws in imagery from nature and reflects some of the metaphors that the group have used to describe their journeys and struggles, as well as containing vivid symbolic descriptions of Autumn and Spring. In the closing circle the group give statements. How can we approach ourselves outside of the oppressor-oppressed paradigm?

I want there to be a mutual exchange between human histories
I want people to hear individual stories
I don’t want people to feel sorry for me
I want us to find a different way to link home on a collective level
We are creating an alternative space
I find freedom in my religion

One of the group members offers a quote,

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” Rumi