Some further thoughts on Omar Hamed, abuse and the response to it

September 29, 2011

This post is a follow up to the Open Letter About Omar Hamed that I posted on this blog yesterday.

Omar had been living in Wellington in 2010, working for Unite! Union and being politically active in Socialist Aotearoa (SA). He had displayed a pattern of abusive behaviour throughout the year, and despite being challenged by a number of people, including friends of his, he had refused to even genuinely acknowledge that his behaviour was unacceptable, let alone change it.

At the end of the year, Omar moved back to Auckland, where he continued (and still continues) to work at Unite! and be a part of SA. A number of the people in Wellington who had worked to both challenge Omar’s behaviour and to ensure that people who interacted with him knew about it were extremely concerned that Omar would not simply be able to return to Auckland and continue the same pattern of behaviour that he exhibited in Wellington. In order to prevent that from happening, a small group of us in Wellington (including me) wrote the open letter back in February/March of this year.

On March 11, and in the days after, we sent the letter to a wide range of individuals and groups (mostly in Auckland, but also other parts of the country) who we knew or thought were likely to have interaction with Omar. We had a few responses, including from some Auckland people who said they would try to work with Omar to get him to sort his behaviour out. As far as I am aware, these people were forced to give up after Omar repeatedly refused to engage in any real sense with them.

A couple of days ago, Omar was prominent in the occupation at the University of Auckland (UoA). He spent much of the time controlling the megaphone, and was also shown and interviewed in the media reporting of the event. Several Auckland activists who knew of Omar’s abuse were understandably angry/upset/worried about this [For example, see the post Students; please learn]. In support of their efforts to get the We Are The University group (who organised the protest) to address the issue of a known abuser holding a prominent position in their activities, and in order to help ensure that people involved in the UoA struggle knew about Omar’s past, myself and another of the authors of the open letter decided for the first time to publish the letter publicly – on the 3 blogs that we are involved in – Anarchia, Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty and The Hand Mirror. We also posted links to the open letter in several Facebook discussion threads related to the issue.

In the 6 months between sending the letter out and posting it publicly, we recieved no formal response from either Unite! or SA, the two organisations Omar has the most involvement with. Informally, SA as an organisation has consistently shown itself to be interested in covering for and covering up Omar’s behaviour (some individuals within SA have tried to challenge Omar, and should be recognised for that). Even yesterday this continued – I posted a link to the open letter on the SA Facebook page, but this morning it was deleted and the page settings changed to disallow posting from all accounts except the official SA account.

The main reason I’m writing this post is to respond to a few of the most frequently heard things from this whole saga. Some come from when people were challenging Omar in Wellington, others are from responses to the open letter being made public. The thing they all have in common, however, is that they all miss the problem. So, to make it clear:

Abusive behaviour is the problem, not challenging it. The fault lies with those perpetrating abuse, not with those they abuse or those challenging their abuse. What is needed is for the person who engaged in abusive behaviour to a) stop, b) acknowledge what they have done, c) work to ensure it never happens again and d) respect the wishes of people who no longer feel safe/comfortable around them.

Fallacy #1: Making these issues public needlessly divides activist movements

See the first part of the paragraph above: “Abusive behaviour is the problem, not challenging it.” An activist movement that welcomes abusers is one that is already divided. Is it really unsurprising that many women (and others) won’t feel safe or welcome at an occupation when one of the most prominent people at that occupation has a history of sexual assault?

Challenging Omar’s behaviour does not distract us from the struggles that We Are The University exists to fight. Omar’s presence in these struggles prevents involvement in these struggles (to various extents) from a number of people.

In looking at issues of abusive behaviour, it is vital that we do not place blame on those who make us look at what may feel to some people like uncomfortable truths. It must always be remembered that what causes people to speak up about abusive behaviour is the existence of abusive behaviour. If you don’t want the former to happen, we need to work towards the elimination of the latter.

Fallacy #2: This issue is between Omar and the authors of the open letter

It has been suggested that this could all be “resolved” in a meeting between the authors of the open letter and Omar. This could not be further from the truth.

Firstly, the authors of the open letter all challenged Omar’s behaviour (in a variety of ways) while he was living in Wellington. His responses are detailed in the open letter, but suffice to say he refused to genuinely acknowledge that what he had done was wrong, or to commit to changing his behaviour to ensure it did not happen again.

Secondly, and more importantly, this fallacy implies that the issue is between the authors of the open letter (on one side) and Omar (on the other). It is not a personal squabble between people, but rather a small group of people challenging the behaviour of a person. This situation won’t be resolved by us making up with and forgiving Omar – it can only be resolved by Omar taking the steps I listed above: “a) stop, b) acknowledge what they have done, c) work to ensure it never happens again and d) respect the wishes of people who no longer feel safe/comfortable around them.”

Omar has repeatedly engaged in manipulative behaviour to attempt to avoid being challenged on his abusive behaviour. To some people who have challenged him, he has appeared apologetic, sometimes even pretending to acknowledge that what he has done was wrong. His continuing the same patterns of behaviour, and his abusive behaviour towards people who challenge him that he doesn’t feel able to manipulate, however, clearly show that any admissions of wrongdoing are not genuine, and only serve to further give him breathing room to continue in the same pattern of abuse.

Additionally, those who call for a meeting such as this assume that all those who wrote the open letter feel safe and/or comfortable around Omar. The last time I saw Omar, he was being physically ejected from a party he had been repeatedly told he wasn’t welcome at, after he had tried to physically attack me. He was screaming “The next time I see you, I’m going to kill you!” Now, as it happens, I’m not personally particularly afraid of him following through on his threat. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that I have very valid reasons for not wanting to be in the same space as him. Some of the other authors of the open letter may feel the same or similar, but I wouldn’t presume to speak for them without asking.

Fallacy #3: There is no reason to air these issues in public, it could all be resolved by private emails/phone calls/discussions

Some people have taken issue with the fact that the open letter has now been posted publicly. In response to that, I offer two words:

Six months.

It has been six months since the letter was sent to you. Six months for you to respond. Six months for you to ensure Omar doesn’t have a prominent and public space in your organisation. Six months for you to challenge Omar’s behaviour. Six months for you to stop sheltering him. Six months for you to support other people challenging Omar. Six months, in short, for you to have done something. So don’t try to say it should have stayed private.

The best assurance of safety is for those who might interact with Omar to know about his behaviour. The best way to make Omar change his behaviour is to ensure he can’t go anywhere without being challenged on it. Both of these require the history of his behaviour to be made public.

Further, the lengthy period of time detailed in the open letter is unlikely to be the start or the end of Omar’s history of abusive behaviour. Publishing it may allow other women who have been abused by Omar to come forward and let it be known, or at least to know that they aren’t alone, and that there are people out there who support them, and are working towards ensuring that Omar isn’t able to hurt anyone else.

 

There is so much more I could say about this, but for now I will leave it here. My final thought on this is a massive outpouring of solidarity and support to those up in Auckland who have challenged, and continue to challenge, Omar’s behaviour since he moved back up there.


An Open Letter About Omar Hamed

September 27, 2011

Omar Hamed is an organiser for Unite! Union, a member of Socialist Aotearoa, and until recently was a defendant in Operation 8. The following letter was written in March by several Wellington activists and sent to a number of individuals and activist groups in Auckland and around New Zealand.  Omar Hamed played a prominent role in yesterday’s occupation at the UoA. Tove has written about feminist attempts to respond to him in Auckland.  The letter is reproduced here to support those who are fighting for a left that takes sexual violence seriously.

In the last year [2010], Omar Hamed has been living in Wellington.  While here he has consistently behaved towards women in a misogynistic, disrespectful and sexually predatory way. Comrades from across the left have brought up problems with his behaviour and he has consistently failed to understand the importance of meaningful consent in sexual relationships.

A group of us concerned about Omar’s behaviour have come together to draft this document outlining what has happened while he has been in Wellington and what efforts we, and others, have made to challenge his behaviour.  We have sent this e-mail to groups, and bcc’d it to individuals.  We hope it will be useful for those who work with him when he returns to Auckland.

This statement is not confidential.  We encourage people to forward this e-mail  to anyone who has or will come into contact with Omar, or who is interested in this issue.

Omar’s pattern of behaviour

We don’t want to identify the women affected, so we haven’t gone into detail. It’s also important to understand that this is a pattern of behaviour on Omar’s behalf, and not isolated one-off incidents.

He does not take sexual consent seriously when his sexual partners are drunk.  He has repeatedly ignored drunk women when they told him they were not interested in his sexual advances.  He has repeatedly encouraged women who have rejected him to get drunker and then attempted to make a move on them when they were more incapacitated.  Some women have had to physically fight him off.   He has demonstrated that he is willing to have sex with someone who is too drunk to give meaningful consent.

We have focused on his most grotesque behaviour, but he has consistently talked to and about women in ways that make it clear that he does not respect them as comrades and human beings, but instead sees them as objects.

He went to a party at the flat of a person with whom he previously had a sexual relationship, even though she repeatedly told him not to come.  He refused to leave when she asked. He tried to punch and threatened to kill a male she was talking to. This behaviour is typical of men trying to maintain power and control over their lovers and ex lovers.

Omar clearly has a problem with alcohol, and has used this to excuse his behaviour. But this problem with alcohol is not causing his misogynist and disrespectful behaviour, and neither abstaining, nor reducing his drinking will solve it.  While sober he has defended his drunken behaviour. He has made it clear to those he was talking to that he either does not understand, or does not care about, meaningful consent.

Responses to Omar from Wellington

It’s important that people from other parts of the country understand that Omar has been challenged by groups and individuals from across the left.  Basic ideas such as ‘meaningful consent’ and the impact that sexist behaviour has on women have been explained to him repeatedly.  He is not operating out of ignorance.

He has responded to challenges from individuals in a variety of ways depending on who was doing the challenging:

  • When he has thought he was among friends he has minimised the behaviour, often in a sexist way.  He responded to a lesbian’s comrade’s criticism of his sexist behaviour: “why? are you worried I might steal your girlfriend”. When two men were criticising his behaviour and one left the room he said to the other:  “But four women in two weeks that’s pretty good eh?”
  • When these tactics haven’t worked he has got very upset, begged for forgiveness and promised that he would behave differently in the future.  Despite his promises he has repeated his behaviour.
  • When he has been challenged by those who he did not consider friends he has tried to silence and discredit them.

Wellington groups have also challenged his behaviour.  AWSM banned him from their political events and outlined their problems with the way he was treating women. He has also been banned from the 128 social centre. Workers Party members collectively brought up these issues as did members of his own party.

What is to be done?

We understand that people will have different ideas about how to deal with Omar’s behaviour.  Groups and individuals have to draw their own boundaries about when he’s welcome.

If Omar is willing to change the way he relates to women, then assisting him to do that is important political work.  However, he has given no indications so far that he is willing to change, and if he does not recognise what he is doing is wrong then his comrades cannot make him change his behaviour.

The most important political action that people can take about Omar’s behaviour is to speak about it openly.  Openness about the fact that he ignores people’s boundaries and does not take sexual consent seriously is the best protection we can offer women within activist communities.  This can be really hard to do, because there are many different instincts that train people to be silent at times like these.

Here are some suggestions of what could be done to make environments and groups that Omar is welcome in safer spaces:

  • Not allow him to take up positions of power.
  • If people are organising events where there is alcohol, then a responsible person should keep an eye on him throughout the event.
  • Consider that if Omar is welcome at an event, then some women who know of, or have experienced, his past behaviour may not feel safe attending.
  • Undertake political education work around sex and consent more broadly, this could include distributing material or running workshops.

Finally, and we cannot stress this enough: the action that will make the most difference to women’s safety when Omar is around is to make sure that everyone there knows about his pattern of behaviour.

Fighting sexism, misogyny, and sexual abuse of any kind must be part of our revolutionary organising now. Omar’s behaviour is an issue that affects individuals, groups, communities, and the left as a whole.  It hurts the people he assaults, their support network, organisations he’s in, and the revolutionary movement.  To allow his behaviour to continue is to create a left which is actively hostile to women.  A left which is actively hostile to women cannot bring about meaningful change.


Solidarity #16 – July 2011

July 3, 2011

Issue 16 - July 2011

Download issue in .pdf format (0.5MB)

The 16th issue of Solidarity, free newssheet of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement. Download the .pdf above, or click below to read the contents online.

 

Contents:

If you want to make sure you don’t miss an issue of Solidarity, you can subscribe to either the print or electronic version.

To subscribe to the AWSM announcements list, put your email address in the form on the top right of each page on our website, http://www.awsm.org.nz.

Subscribers will be sent .pdf copies of Solidarity each month, along with other publications produced by AWSM and ocasional information – we promise we won’t spam you with a ton of useless stuff though! The electronic copy is identical to the print version.

Or, you can subscribe to the print edition to receive a copy of Solidarity in the post. $8 for 12 issues. Mail a cheque to AWSM, PO Box 6387, Wellington 6141, or contact us to organise an alternative method of payment.


Wgtn Public Meeting & Fundraiser – After the quake: community responses in Christchurch

March 30, 2011

After the quake: community responses in Christchurch—— PLEASE FORWARD THIS THROUGH TO FRIENDS, FAMILY AND OTHER NETWORKS ——

Public Meeting
7pm, Friday April 8th
Upstairs @ Thistle Hall (cnr Cuba and Arthur Streets), Wellington
Entry by koha

Following the devastating earthquake in Christchurch on February 22nd, a number of organisations sprung into action to help organise and coordinate support within the community. In many parts of Christchurch, aid and communication from Government and large NGOs was virtually non-existent for some time after the quake, and it was left up to pre-existing organisations, neighbours, families and friendship networks to ensure that people were able to access the resources and information they needed.

3 speakers will be talking about some of the work that went on in the period immediately after the earthquake, and on some of the challenges facing Christchurch residents over the coming months.

Allister D from Beyond Resistance will talk about the work that his group was involved with in the Linwood and Avonside suburbs, providing food, water and gas to hard-hit communities. He will also talk about likely challenges that working class communities will face during the rebuilding phase.

Matt Jones from Unite Union will discuss the situation for workers in Christchurch. After the earthquake in September, Unite organised protests to pressure employers who were refusing to pay workers. Now, many thousands of people are out of work in Christchurch (some temporarily, others permanently) and Matt will talk about the issues they face.

Ros Houghton from Women’s Refuge will explain some of the challenges faced by Women’s Refuge in Christchurch after the earthquake, in which much of their local resources were destroyed. She will talk about the work that Refuge is doing to support women and children who have affected by sharp increase in domestic violence since the earthquake.

There will be a raffle with prizes and cake for sale so please bring money to donate.

All funds raised will be split 50/50 between the Christchurch Women’s Refuge Earthquake Appeal and Beyond Resistance, whose callouts for funds were the driving force behind the organising of this meeting.

The venue is BYO so feel free to bring a drink for yourself, but please respect the speakers.


Wellington: Radical organising around abortion rights – Public discussion, October 6th

September 15, 2010

Radical organising around abortion rights – Public discussion

7pm, October 6th
Thistle Hall, 293 Cuba Street (Entrance on Arthur St side)

In 1977, parliament passed abortion laws that were intended to severely restrict abortion access in New Zealand. The debate ran all night, and trampled on women’s lives: at 6.30am, a majority of MPs voted against giving women who had been raped the right to an abortion, in case this lead to women lying about being raped to obtain an abortion. Due to relentless feminist organising, New Zealand women now generally have access to abortion, despite those laws. Although the resources that it takes to obtain abortions varies greatly.

Recently Steve Chadwick, a Labour Party MP, was going to put forward a private members bill to amend the laws, but was refused permission to do so by the Labour caucus. Meanwhile Right to Life is challenging the current application of the law in court.

Repealing our current abortion laws would significantly improve women’s control over their own bodies. But where do radicals fit in with this struggle? What links could we be making between abortion rights and other political work? What are the options for organising around this issue? What can we learn from other issues which parliament have treated as conscience votes?

Grace Millar will speak briefly about the history of abortion struggle and abortion law, followed by a discussion. Organised by the Wellington branch of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement.


Abortion On Demand? Not In New Zealand

September 5, 2010

There’s a common myth that New Zealand women have the right to abortion. However, although the law is usually interpreted extremely liberally, the Crimes Act and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act severely limit the circumstances under which women can have abortions. This misapprehension helps to prevent real abortion on demand from being made accessible to all women in the country. As well as the law creating legal loopholes that women have to jump through, it puts significant barriers for access for some women.

Of the 21 District Health Boards in the country, 7 do not offer abortions, meaning woman in the Mid Central, Whanganui, Lakes and Bay of Plenty areas in the North Island, and the South Canterbury, West Coast and Southland areas in the South Island who want an abortion have to travel for the procedure. Some have to travel very long distances – for instance, if you live in Bluff, you’ll be forced to drive 8 & 1/2 hours to Christchurch, despite Dunedin hospital being a comparatively close 3 & 1/4 hours drive. As the process often takes multiple appointments, women seeking abortions may even have to make these long trips more than once, which means taking yet more time off work, education, or any other commitments they may have. First trimester abortion is a relatively simple procedure, and there is no medical reason why it can’t be offered in every hospital in the country.

For women who aren’t eligible for publicly funded health services, the situation becomes even harder. This includes women in New Zealand on shorter work, student or visitors visas, undocumented immigrants, failed refugees and asylum seekers awaiting deportation and more. These women face a cost of around $1000 (sometimes upwards of $2500), and many clinics and hospitals do not provide abortions for non-eligible woman at all, again potentially meaning extra cost and difficulty associated with long-distance travel.

A woman’s ability to decide what happens to her body is a crucial aspect of the fight for women’s freedom. Abortion on demand must be legal, but it must also be easily accessible to all those who choose to use it. New Zealand’s abortion laws fall far, far short of that at present.


Solidarity #12 – September 2010

September 5, 2010

Issue 12 - September 2010

Download issue in .pdf format (1.1MB)

The 12th issue of Solidarity, free newssheet of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement. Download the .pdf above, or click below to read the contents online.

Contents:

If you want to make sure you don’t miss an issue of Solidarity, you can subscribe to either the print or electronic version.

To subscribe to the AWSM announcements list, put your email address in the form on the top right of each page on our website, http://www.awsm.org.nz.

Subscribers will be sent .pdf copies of Solidarity each month, along with other publications produced by AWSM and ocasional information – we promise we won’t spam you with a ton of useless stuff though! The electronic copy is identical to the print version.

Or, you can subscribe to the print edition to receive a copy of Solidarity in the post. $8 for 12 issues. Mail a cheque to AWSM, PO Box 6387, Wellington 6141, or contact us to organise an alternative method of payment.


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