Sunday, July 27, 2008

Peace through Pastry

I would like to follow up on Jaya's horror story of Friday with a story of one attempt to "humanize the other". As Jaya points out, making human rights norms applicable to immigration authorities both means and requires humanizing immigrants. In Europe, human rights norms are applicable to immigrants and asylum seekers through the European Convention on Human Rights, though their enforcement often leaves much to be desired. As human rights activists well know, humanizing the other - including immigrants and, as Hope discussed yesterday, persons with disabilities - is a process of education key to developing and enforcing human rights norms. For example, Amnesty International and other such groups publicize individuals' stories to make abstract legal concepts concrete. Humanizing the other is also key to making and maintaining peace, and a group of French Jewish and Muslim women called the Bâtisseuses de Paix (Peace Builders) has taken on the task of humanizing each other and their respective communities (though they don't use this term) in a delectable way--by making pastry.
One thing I've learned about "Islamic" terrorism is that it is fueled or reinforced by the Israelo-Palestinian conflict. In reading about the bâtisseuses, I learned that this conflict also fuels hostility between the Jewish and Muslim populations in France (the largest such communities in Europe), as French Jews identify with Israelis and French Muslims identify with Palestinians. To build solidarity between the two groups, former journalist Annie-Paule Derczansky founded the group in 2002 after a trip to the Middle East during the second intifada revealed that despite the breakdown of political communication, women's mixed Israeli-Palestinian cultural groups remained intact and functioning. Back in Paris, Derczansky created a space where Jewish and Muslim women could share recipes in an attempt to block the transfer to France of the conflict in the Middle East. The problem for detractors of the group's method is that its golden rule is to discuss anything and everything but that conflict: they see only hypocrisy and little to no chance of having any affect on resolving issues between Jews and Muslims, either in France or in the Middle East. Supporters such as Evelyne Berdugo, head of the Jewish women's organization Coopération Feminine, see it as "practical work on the ground....[No] big words [or] speeches, but action with regular people." One participant sees it as separating the Israelo-Palestinian conflict from one's daily life in France so that it doesn't pollute relationships with neighbors, and they all seem to recognize that their work, like their pastry, is for their children. If it helps them grow up without knee-jerk hostility based on a foreign conflict, perhaps they will be able to address that conflict in a spirit of neutrality and solidarity. And maybe given time, even if the group's golden rule doesn't bend, some the participants will take on the "elephant in the room" in another setting. As a staunch supporter of grassroots projects to bridge religious or cultural divides, even with flour and butter, to reduce humans' inhumanity to humans, I say "pass the cornes de gazelle" (image credit).

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