Friday, March 7, 2008

Global Bullying in Palestine and Holland

As a school Principal for many years I was frustrated - along with all of my colleagues - at the difficulty of resolving schoolyard bullying. Vulnerable students who could least afford to suffer insults and direct provocation, would be targeted by students who often also had a history of bullying and personal self-esteem problems. The victim would respond by lashing out at the most inappropriate moments, out of sheer anger and frustration, hurt and pent up rage. Often I would not even be aware of the bullying until the bully appeared in my office righteously denouncing his victim for the outrageous actions that had just been perpetrated. Only after thorough investigation would I discover the history behind these actions. And even when discovered it was exceedingly difficult to prevent occurring again. The attitude of both staff and fellow students was often not compassionate, consigning the victim to an inferior status because of his or her low self-esteem or social problems, and turning a blind eye to the bully who was often very capable at ingratiating himself or herself with leading staff and the 'in' groups amongst students.
The world stage is no different. The protagonists in Israel (noting that there are many Israelis who do not approve of their government's actions) have ingratiated themselves on the world stage for decades. Their bullying tactics have resulted in the predictable reaction of the victim - to exact revenge for the atrocities and humiliation that is inflicted on a daily basis. In Holland, the bullying is in the form of media and public humiliation - prodding and teasing the most sensitive aspects of Muslim pride in the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.
So how did I deal with the problem as a school Principal - in the playgrounds that are the precursor and the microcosm of adult society? First of all there had to be the public disclosure - the investigations that allowed both victim and bully to speak their mind. Witnesses to the events needed to be called and placed clearly on the record, so there was a sense of justice to all parties. This could not occur unless the school had policies that clearly laid out mutual respect for all parties - especially those racially, religiously or personally targetted because of social difficulties - and procedures ensuring that bullying would not be tolerated if reported. This sense of justice and the willingness to openly address it, education that ensured all knew their rights and the consequences of bullying, helped to ensure that bullying was stamped out if not eliminated.
Of course, justice still had to occur. The revenge attack of the victim had to be disciplined as much as the initial bullying, with both parties given education about how to deal with their issues.
But how does this translate to the world stage? First, there is no ethical, just Principal type leader who is in control - both the EU, and the US are turning a blind eye to bullies. There is no thorough investigation of what is happening to the victims - whether in Palestine or Holland, and certainly no consequences for the bullies other than the predictable and censurable reaction. There are also few education programs or leadership providing alternatives to both victims and bullies by any of the bystanders - prominent leaders of Arab countries or Allies of Israel.
It is left to the small voices to continue calling for responsible leadership and a just system, for restraint of both bully and victim and for those on the sidelines, to step in and stop the fight.
Certainly, like many others I have to condemn the incursions and suffering inflicted on the population of Gaza, and equally condemn the killing of students in Israel.
In the meantime, for those who believe in God, we will continue to pray for the changes that will lead to justice and responsible leadership.

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