Sunday, 26 July 2015

On Leading, Following, Stopping Harm, and Moderation.

EDIT 26 July 2015: I solidly and publicly condemn the publication of information about MLI Cohort III participants for the purpose of publicly identifying them.  I will never support what I see as stalking. I will continue to support efforts against MLI in other ways - which which bring as little harm as possible to anyone.

Hearing of the devastatingly bad timing of the third cohort of the Muslim Leadership Initiative and seeing new petitions and articles by Kamal Abu Shamsieh and Dr Omid Safi, I have been applying myself to listen carefully to the voices of Palestinians and their dedicated allies.

The first time that I heard of the Muslim Leadership Initiative was last January, when a flood of articles and Facebook posts filled my Facebook experience. I saw the calls to name and shame the participants and spoke out against them, calling such efforts as potentially dangerous.

Then I learned that close friends of mine were among the first and second cohorts. It suddenly became personal for me. When I saw name and shame advocacy, I saw my friend's faces, imagined them being thus outed, and considered the possible harm and even potential dangers of such a situation.

Then a video surfaced showing the faces of more than a few of the second cohorters. I was on fire. What if something happened to my dear ones on account of this video? And what the heck did people think they were doing, publishing it? I counted the days, even the hours, until everyone was home, safely ensconced inside their own walls. To this day, I avoid content written by journalists who endorsed the use of that video or who published that video.

Through all of this, there are certain things that never changed about me. I remained a staunch supporter of Palestine. Remained. Since the year 2000, when Ariel Sharon invaded the Al Aqsa compound with armed guards, I have supported Palestine. In 2002, I discovered boycott lists consisting of individual companies (many of them have continued to show their vileness in other regard, so I continue to boycott them). I followed Nora Barrows Friedman on KPFA radio as she detailled Israeli human rights abuses against Palestine. I am no friend of Israeli policies against Palestine.

I remain firm in my conviction that campaigns to name and shame MLI participants are morally wrong and potentially very harmful.

The vitriol of discussions taking place regarding MLI had serious impacts on me. Ad hominems were levelled at me and others. As far as I can tell, it is the vitriol of those discussions which eventually resulted in the loss of my Facebook account, as someone(s) reported it to Facebook for a Real Name violation in the midst of those discussions. The loss put on hold my work for two different organisations while I endured compounded, very painful waves of PTSD, depression, and other mental illnesses for three months.

Hena Zuberi of Muslim Matters addressed the negativity unleashed by MLI detractors in an op-ed:
"The world is not black and white. We have to have follow-up with discussions about how academic engagement hurts the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS). We have to leave room in our opposition for differences in opinion – that is what we ask of others and that is what we should give to them." (1)

I defended my friends as part of the whole of two MLI cohorts. I said things by which I continue to stand. I said other things which were simply untrue. I acted in ways of which I continue to be proud; and also in ways which I now know to be wrong. My dedication to my friends does not excuse that of my behaviour which was wrong. The ferocity with which I defended them does not excuse the vitriol wielded against me and others.

A review of items which feel important to me:

* Participants in the second cohort were unaware of the funding sources for MLI until sometime during their travels in Palestine and Israel. (2)

* Various supporters of MLI acted disgracefully, talking over Palestinian voices, centering themselves in place of Palestinians, denying (3) the unanimous voice of Palestinians calling for compliance with BDS. (1)

* Many opponents of MLI acted disgracefully. As I stated before, ad hominems were flung about, and I curiously lost my Facebook account in the midst of all of the arguing. Kamal Abu Shamsieh has added his own thoughts to this problem, even as he has shifted his views to opposition of MLI. (2)

* I firmly reject the application of the term "leaders" on MLI participants by other than the participants themselves - this in an attempt to justify calls to name and shame MLI participants. In this regard, I point to the wording on the MLI site itself, indicating that the programme is designed for "emerging...leaders," which is distinct from leaders.

* There is a petition available on PetitionOnline through Care2 Petitions which is, for the most part, written in a way that makes it more accessible to the mindset of a broad audience than certain previous others. (4) This petition is subsequent to another calling for an end to MLI, which is most worthy of one's attention and very generally accessible to most people's mindsets. (5)

* If MLI was designed to convince Muslims of the validity of zionism, it failed miserably. I am connected to even more MLI cohorts, and not a single one of them has posted anything in favour of the Israeli government. In fact, I have seen ferocious support from them for Palestine, especially when facts and data regarding children are published in news articles. Even while they were in the company of zionists in occupied Palestine, they challenged those zionists. (6)

* However, MLI has itself failed to impact the mindsets of the zionists with which it has interacted. (5)

* It is increasingly possible for MLI to be independently funded and to change its modus operandi, yet it continues to refuse to do so. (2)

* The third MLI trip coincides with the one-year anniversary of Israel's most recent major assaukt on Gaza. (4)

* MLI has been harmful to Palestinians. (5)

There are many parts of the latter petition by Kamal Abu Shamsieh, "Palestinians Unwelcome the Muslim Leadership Initiative," with which I agree. There are some with which I disagree. There appears to be a personal boycott on an individual level in the petition. I disagree with personal boycotts and prefer the use of dialogue to encourage thoughtful growth on the part of MLI participants. I wholeheartedly agree with the demands made of MLI directors by Abu Shamsieh and others. I find myself in agreement with just about every aspect of the former petition, "Call for Immediate Halt to Muslim Leadership Initiative." While there could be a concern regarding appropriation, the centering of this petition on Palestinian voices, the discussion by this petition of justice for a diversity of peoples, and the very respectfully worded appeal to Imam Abdullah Antepli all speak to the high quality of this petition. The one concern that I had about the former petition was heard with understanding by one of the authors; I did not request that any change be made to it.

As Muslims, we are naturally inclined towards the establishment of justice for oppressed peoples. With that in mind, I call on Muslims to carefully consider the impacts of their words and actions while they call other Muslims to justice. When we call on each other as Muslims to desist from hurting other Muslims, I think that we we need to engage with them in a way that does not harm them. I am a survivor of stalking. I know what it is like to be followed, to have my identity and safety compromised. I do not wish this on others, even those with whom I disagree. I have personally seen the results of respectful dialogue with MLI participants - results which were not obtained in the toxically vitriolic discussions which were taking place. I know the success of these kinds of conversations in which the privacy of the conversants has been preserved. I have been personally impacted in very hurtful ways by the vitriol of discussions surrounding MLI and firmly reject that style of argument. I wouldn't wish the months-long suffering which I endured on others, even my enemies.

Let us remember and honour peace as the bottom line in our interactions with others.
-Freedom ToBe

(1) Zuberi, Forward.
(2) Abu-Shamsieh, Healing.
(3) My own observations based on Facebook posts and articles written after the return of the cohorts.
(4) Abu Shamsieh at al, Unwelcome.
(5) Abu Shamsieh et al,  Call.
(6) Private conversations.


1. Abu Shamsieh, Kamal. "A Palestinian's Journey Towards Healing" Huffinton Post. 22 May 2015. Web. 25 July 2015. <>.

2. Abu Shamsieh, Kamal et al. "Call for Immediate Halt to Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), Sponsored by Shalom Hartman Institute," Care2 Petitions. nd. Web. 25 July 2015. <>

3. Abu Shamsieh, Kamal et al. "Palestinians Unwelcome the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), Sponsored by Shalom Hartman Institute," Care2 Petitions. nd. Web. 25 July 2015. <>.

4. ToBe, Freedom. Author's personal experiences. 16-31 January 2014.

5. ToBe, Freedom. Private Conversations. nd.

6. Zuberi, Hena. "Muslim Leadership Initiative: Finding the Way Forward," Muslim Matters. 04 February 2015. Web. 25 July 2015. <>.

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