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'Evil' and a Royal Commission to investigate Posted by Bernadette on 14 Nov 2012
By: Danielle Binks
This week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a Royal Commission to investigate decades of child abuse in churches, schools and foster homes. In addressing the mounting allegations that led to this long overdue Royal Commission, Gillard said: ''these are insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject.”
It’s an interesting idea – evil. It seems like a scapegoat, of sorts, and a rather holy one at that. Maybe John Steinbeck said it best, when he wrote: “There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There is just stuff people do.”
But it’s an idea that Diane Bell explored back in 2005, in her novel ‘Evil’. In the book, newly appointed professor, Dee P. Scrutari turns her anthropological gaze on the tribe of “non-reproducing males” who dominate St Jude's, a prestigious Catholic liberal arts college. Evil is in the air. Something is awry, “Sex, silence and sin”, Dee writes.
And at the centre of the novel is a question that many will be asking themselves in the coming months as this Royal Commission gets underway and victims are finally given a voice. The question is: ‘Do you think a system can be evil, or is it only people who are evil?’
Protagonist Dee P. Scrutari ponders this question throughout the novel, as her investigations take her deeper into the Lion’s Den. At one point, such musings again hit close to home and relate to a recent press conference with Cardinal George Pell, in which he suggested that the Seal of Confession is inviolable and would be upheld during investigations (meaning that priests hearing incriminating confessions from their colleagues would not be called upon to testify).
But then, on the other hand, the secrecy maintained around the business of priests seems to be a cover for abuses of power and, further, a massive abuse of power upon which the church depends. It’s so institutionalized, so beyond scrutiny. There is no accountability. Its reach is enormous. The stories of its abuse need to be told if the abuses are to be curbed. I understand the need for confidentiality in some circumstances, but should it be absolute? Should the confessional be completely beyond the law? One obvious question is: Why are priests excluded from mandatory reporting of abuse of minors and allowed to keep such things secret? Teachers, counselors, social and health workers are all bound to report any signs of abuse. Why not priests? If it is so unthinkable that a priest might abuse a minor, then making information known should not be a problem and could be included with all the others who must report abuse.
Perhaps the most chilling moment in the novel comes while Dee is listening to a sermon by Father Humanitas, who seems to be heavily hinting at prior-knowledge of abuse in his church:
“Let us hold ourselves accountable for the distortion in relationships, for the skewing of power and the ‘naturalizing’ of it. Let us say ‘Sorry’ for that sin. But let us not stop there. Let us work to unmask these inequalities. The refusal to empathize with the oppressed and our willingness to erect systems of control and cultures of deceit to maintain and justify such power is a deadly sin. We can count the lives lost to such vanity.”
It will be a long, gruelling road ahead as this Royal Commission begins; proving once and for all that the Church is not above the law. As one victim said in the wake of Julia Gillard’s announcement; ''the victims have always believed that eventually the gates of hell would open up and swallow abusers. At last, the truth can come out.''

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Bibliodiversity: The power of the local in the global by Susan Hawthorne Posted by Bernadette on 13 Nov 2012

This blog was first presented at the Small Press Network Independent Publishers Conference in Melbourne on 8 November 2012.

bibliodiversity horacek

This paper relies on a three-layered analogy:

1: between the health of an ecosystem and its biodiversity

2: between the health of an eco-social system and its cultural multiversity

3: between the health of the publishing industry and its bibliodiversity

Bibliodiversity is a term that has been in use for around ten to fifteen years. It was invented by a South American independent publisher. Not surprising in some ways because of the large scale destruction of biodiversity in South America as well as the challenges of a colonised publishing industry. That’s also the reason why it is a useful term for Australian independent publishers to understand. Why would this be so.

Let me begin by outlining how biodiversity works. Biodiversity is a complex self-sustaining system of an ecological niche in a particular locale. The entire complex of biodiversity includes every species on earth, as well as the relationships between species and their environments. It includes the integrity of species (ie the right species in the right place).

What we have seen in the increasing interference of people, corporations and governments in the destruction of biodiversity is a trend toward standardisation, homogenisation, taming of species, dislocation from its original niche, as well as privatisation of the ‘wild stock’. The latter is what happens when organisms are genetically modified.

By analogy, bibliodiversity is a complex of self-sustaining systems in a social niche within particular cultural contexts. The entire complex of bibliodiversity relies on those who produce culture (publishers), as well as the relationships between publishers and their social environments (including readers, booksellers, writers and the media). The integrity of what is produced (the book, digital book, app etc) is part of this complex.

What we have seen in the global publishing industry is a trend towards standardisation, homogenisation, taming of creativity, dislocation and exoticisation, as well as the privatisation of the writer. When the latter happens, s/he becomes a marketable global commodity, a product stripped of self.
bibliodiversity arabic 

• trend towards standardisation: this occurs with language and contributes to the loss of those languages which don’t have a print culture; standarisation affects what is accepted for publication (and I am not talking about quality here, but rather a toeing of the line in the production of populist topics).

• homogenisation: this affects which markets are targeted with which kinds of images (the sexualisation of girls and women, for example, or as a counter example, the reification of masculine pasttimes such as sport and drinking).

• taming of creativity: books which buck the trend in format, style, level of experimentation or are simply presented in poetic form (think about whether Virginia Woolf would have been so well published without a press of her own, The Hogarth Press; or whether James Joyce’s Ulysses would have been published without the help of Sylvia Beach, founder of Shakepeare and Co in Paris, bookseller turned publisher).

• dislocation and exoticization: Indigenous writers, lesbians, writers from Africa and other parts of the ‘developing’ world are particularly subjected to this form of appropriation. They are published and marketed as one-off success stories so the ordinary white males can get on with hogging the biggest place in publishing, reviewing, prize-winning etc.

• privatisation of the writer: young writers who make a big splash with a first book can be turned into marketing machines. While some resist, many fall for money, glamour and fame of becoming a product. Such writers rarely to go on and write anything but formulaic books (Dan Brown, for example).

I’m talking here about a publishing monoculture. It is mostly the world of multinational publishing and the global digital revolution in many instances is leading to a recolonisation of publishing culture and of books and their writers (of course, there are always small pockets inside big companies where one or two people do something different).

Dynamic balance is necessary in all three layers I mentioned at the beginning: between the health of an ecosystem and its biodiversity; between the health of an eco-social system and its cultural multiversity; between the health of the publishing industry and its bibliodiversity.

bibliodiversity india 

Resistance to homogenisation is the role of independent publishers. Monocultures of the Mind (Shiva 1993) are just as destructive as agricultural monocultures. Loss of diversity in publishing is one of the adverse effects of globalisation.

Independent publishers are like the fair trade coffee producers. We readily understand these days what fair trade means. But fair trade has its opposite: free trade and if the large digital retailers and publishers have their way, we are moving toward a single price structure which is a bit like the commodities trade in the share market. Just as organic farmers have had to distinguish themselves from supermarket processed product, independent publishers need to distinguish ourselves from processed publishing. Not only are pricing structures affected, but also delivery dates (for example the reduction between overseas release dates and the Australian release date assumes multinational resources.)

To that end, independent publishers need to be actively resisting the pull to the mainstream. Publishing work that is creative, ethical, promotes social justice, uses fair speech are just some of the elements of bibliodiversity.

The term fair speech (McLellan 2010) is a counter to the term free speech and operates in the same way as the pair fair trade / free trade. Fair speech is speech that maximises justice rather than repeating the power imbalances (as free speech and free trade do). Fair speech would include work that is not based on racism, sexism and other social injustices. It also distinguishes between critique and hatred (for example, I can critique Julia Gillard without being sexist (accused of sexism) but if my critique is simply a rush of formulaic lines then that would be free speech – possibly hate speech – but not fair speech). Fair speech would exclude the possibility of publishing pornography since the ‘speech’ of porn makers villifies, degrades and exploits women in precisely the same way that racist speech degrades, villifies and exploits those who do not fit into the majority ethnicity.

bibliodiversity portuguese 

Fair publishing then, would be a useful goal for independent publishers interested in the concept of bibliodiversity. The health of a biodiverse system can be measured by just how vital are the species inhabiting the locale. The health of independent publishing is also a measure of the health of a publishing industry and the culture it inhabits.

At root is the recognition that marginal knowledges contribute more to the epistemological universe than is generally recognised. These ‘marginal’ knowledges enrich our social and cultural forms. They also feed back into the home communities making it possible for the next generation to embark on their own cultural journey. Marginal knowledges include women’s knowledges, the knowledges of poor people, of all people marginalised inside their dominant home cultures. In the globalised world, this represents the vast store of knowledges in the world, including languages under threat and the cultures of indigenous peoples across the world and the knowledges of women. (They are like the wild species of the biodiverse world and all gravely under threart.)

bibliodiversity french 

I’d like to draw this talk to a close by quickly looking at some of the key principles of bibliodiversity (PP Slide show)


All cultural artefacts in an eco-social system are interconnected through networks of relationship. In order for cultures to thrive, networks must exist. For example, a poem can result in other works of art such as a musical composition, a painting, a dance or an opera. Art works cross-pollinate. Traditional knowledges pollinate contemporary artworks while contemporary work feeds back into cultural knowledge.

Nested systems

Culture is comprised of systems nested within other systems. While each system is complete in itself, it is also part of a larger system. Changes in one part of the system can affect other nested systems as well has having an affect on the larger system. Publishing houses are nested within the larger system of writing, storytelling and literature which in turn is nested inside the specific culture and again inside the global system of story telling (which includes poetry, film, journalism, live performance etc).


Members of an eco-social system – a culture – depend on the continuous exchange of energy through ideas and story telling. Cycles intersect within and between local, regional and global systems. A story about relationship exists on local and global levels.

bibliodiversity spanish 


Every culture – however small or large – needs a continual flow of ideational energy to thrive. The flow of energy from the natural world to the human world creates and sustains initial ideational and psychological forces resulting in language. For example, adults (mostly mothers) sing to their children, tell stories and indulge in nonsense talk. Children learn to speak and tell their own stories.


All culture – from the child’s story to the global cultural industries – changes with the passage of time (or place). Stories build by accretion and variation and new interpretation as well as new media for representation. For example, orature to literature to the printed book to the digital book and around to orature again.

Dynamic balance

Eco-social communities become dynamic feedback loops, so that while there is continuous fluctuation, a bibliodiverse and multiverse community maintains a reasonably steady state. Dynamic balance is the basis of cultural resilience. For example, when large publishers cease to publish poetry, a host of small DIY and independent outlets open up until the large publisher thinks this must be profitable and so for a while, once again they publish poetry.

The global world is the hypervisible world, but behind that lies the dark matter, the ideas that give weight to intellectual endeavour. Remember the invisible, listen to the unheard speech, commit to fair speech.

Fair Trade, Fair Speech, Fair Publishing

bibliodiversity south africa 

Further reading


International Alliance of Independent Publishers:

Hawthorne, Susan. 2002. Wild Politics: Feminism, Globalisation and Bio/diversity. Melbourne: Spinifex Press: pp. 86-109.

McLellan, Betty. 2010. Unspeakable: A Feminist Ethic of Speech. Townsville: OtherWise Publications

Meadows, Donella H. 2008. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. pp 188-191. This list has been adapted from: <>

Shiva, Vandana. 1993. Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology. Penang: Third World Network.

bibliodiversity english 

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Bibliodiversity Posted by Bernadette on 20 Sep 2012

By: Susan Hawthorne

Today is International Day of Bibliodiversity. The idea for such a day originated in South America and is being taken up by small and independent publishers around the world: from Latin America to the Middle East; across Africa and Asia; as well as among independents in Europe, North America and Australia.

Bibliodiversity is an analogue of biodiversity. The analogy suggests a concern with sustainability, differentiation according to the local community in which a publisher exists, and the importance of independent publishing in a world in which large global companies dominate the industry.

In 1993, Vandana Shiva wrote a book called Monocultures of the Mind. In it she was writing about biodiversity and the way in which agriculture was being turned into crop monocultures. She argues that small farmers play an important role in resisting the force of agricultural monocultures which are dominated by giant seed companies. By the same token, independent publishers resist the global mainstreaming of culture by insisting on their existence and publishing ground breaking and risky books that help to keep the culture vibrant. Vandana Shiva’s writing influenced my thinking on biodiversity and the politics of knowledge, and I wrote about this in my 2002 book, Wild Politics. The wild, the small, the uncultivated voice is always important in the development of new ideas. This is where radical feminism also plays an important role, seeding ideas long before they become topics of discussion in the mainstream.

At Spinifex Press, we juggle the local with the international. Our books exist simultaneously at the edge and at the centre. One example of this is the anthology Big Porn Inc edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray, international in scope, it allows the real stories of women affected by pornography to get out into the mainstream. It has also drawn interest from the educational sector with a Highly Commended in the Australian Educational Publishing Awards, recommended for use by teachers in secondary schools.

Poet Sandy Jeffs is this week participating in the Brisbane Festival, with a show in development called Mad which choreographer, Meryl Tankard and composer Elena Katz-Chernin are working on. This is based on Sandy’s collection, Poems from the Madhouse which we first published in 1993.

Independent publishers can bring to the world the specificity of the local. Radical feminist theory and poetry are generally avoided by the global publishers, but the world would be a poorer place without these books, these ideas.

The work of small and independent publishers is not always seen, but it is the seed of the future. Think of the Hogarth Press which published Virginia Woolf; think of Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier of Shakespeare and Company Bookshop who published James Joyce’s Ulysses. Both these writers now live at the centre of an literary industry, but without the independent publishing of last century, would the work of these writers be known at all?

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RU486 abortions approved in Australia: Regrettable and dangerous Posted by Maralann on 31 Aug 2012

Renate Klein

RU486 abortions approved in Australia: Regrettable and dangerous

Yesterday’s announcement by the Therapeutic Goods Administration that it has approved an application by the private company MS Health, set up by Marie Stopes International (MSI), to import the abortion drug RU486 does not come as a big surprise. It has been on the cards ever since the vote in Federal Parliament in 2006 that stripped the Health Minister of the day of their veto over a potential application by a pharmaceutical company.

What’s more, proponents of RU486 such as Professor Caroline de Costa from Cairns, have regularly announced that an application by a pharmaceutical company to import RU486 was imminent. Now it’s not a pharmaceutical company that lodged an application but a private company set up by MSI, an abortion ‘chain’ with a number of clinics in Australia (one branch in Croydon was recently closed down after dozens of women had been infected with hepatitis and a woman had died after an abortion in 2011, no details revealed).

As a feminist long-time women’s health researcher who supports women’s access to safe pregnancy terminations, this decision by the TGA begs many questions. Documentation for the safety and effectiveness which I hope MSI had to submit to the TGA to obtain approval would have to be based on overseas research since no large scale trials on RU486 have been conducted in Australia. Is this good enough for Australian women?

Also, until now, RU486 - and the second drug, a prostaglandin (PG Misoprostol, Cytotec™) which by the way has never been approved for use in abortions by its manufacturer (Pfizer, formerly Searle) - could only be used by medical practitioners after obtaining an authorized prescriber license from the TGA. Indeed, Professor de Costa who was the first to obtain such a license reported that the combination RU486/PG had strict conditions imposed: only women with life-threatening or otherwise serious health conditions such as kidney disease, high blood pressure and other heart conditions for whom a suction abortion was deemed unsafe, could be administered RU486/PG.

But these strict conditions gradually fell away, notably by MSI Australia clinics who two years ago sent a brochure to Victorian GPs suggesting they refer women who wanted pregnancy terminations to one of their clinics without any mention of restricted use or review requirements by the TGA.

When the first death of a woman in Australia from RU486/PG in 2010 was reported on 19 March this year - a two year delay -in The Australian, the TGA issued new guidelines for follow-up care to clinics using the abortion pill ( We know few details about this death other than that the woman died from sepsis after the abortion. The coroner did not order an Inquiry which is most unfortunate given that this was the first reported case of a woman dying in Australia from RU486/PG abortion.

RU486/PG abortions overseas have resulted in a number of women dying where sepsis was the cause of death (the bacterium Clostridium was identified in uterus infections in the USA, UK and Sweden). Other women have died from severe blood loss when no medical facilities were available for blood transfusion.

Promoters of medical abortions led us to believe that RU486/PG abortion is more ‘natural’ than suction abortion and that it is ‘just like a miscarriage’ and safe. This is twisting the truth more than a little bit! Women who have used this method tell other stories. The vomiting, pain and nausea can be close to unbearable and as one woman who had a recent RU486/PG termination in South Australia told me she got such a high fever combined with extreme blood loss that she feared for her life. She would certainly never do it again.

The RU486/PG combination also has a lower success rate than suction abortion: depending on which figures you quote between 91% and 93%; suction abortion succeeds in 99%. (I actually prefer to call RU486/PG a ‘chemical’ rather than a ‘medical’ abortion which sounds so benign compared to ‘surgical’ abortion, a misnomer as nothing is ‘cut’ in a suction abortion.)

Importantly also, once she has swallowed the RU486 pills (and the prostaglandin 2 days later), the woman is entirely on her own. Some women have instant adverse reactions, but for others, the blood loss or pain from uterine contractions may start only days into the procedure. The point is that it is entirely unpredictable in which women the termination will happen without problems or lead to possibly fatal complications.

Instead of being looked after in an abortion clinic should complications occur and having the suction abortion finished in half an hour, RU486/PG abortions can take as long as six weeks! It is absolutely crucial that women go back to doctors for a check-up to make sure the abortion is complete. If it is not, a D&C is required, the most frequently reported adverse effect (442 instances as reported by Jamie Walker in the article quoted earlier).

Surely this abortion method is not the panacea that its promoters hail it to be. We know that many women feel ambivalent about having an abortion. They make this often painful decision because they can not see a way to rear a(nother) child. Having to physically experience the consequences of their decision with ongoing pain, nausea and blood loss for weeks is surely inhumane punishment. In some instances the women find the small embryo passed out in their sanitary pads…even a person who supports a woman’s right to abortion would find this most upsetting and sad.

Promoters hail RU486/PG as a breakthrough especially for women who live in rural and isolated parts of Australia. But given the potential of life-threatening complications with no nearby hospital for emergency procedures, I consider this irresponsible and reckless. It is true that abortion facilities are hard to access but I believe that it is the medical system’s responsibility to provide safe abortions, instead of writing prescriptions for pills - to be filled in pharmacies and taken later: in my books this is the 21st century version of backyard abortions and women deserve better.

For all of these reasons I certainly was not popping champagne yesterday. Marie Stopes’ use of RU486/PG abortion in Australia requires careful monitoring and reporting and the TGA must put these requirements in place. And as MSI’s prostaglandin registered with the TGA is Gymiso™ (used in France) rather than the usual Cytotec™, this needs attention as well.

As for considering inclusion in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, this is a question that should not even be asked at this point.

This is an extended version of an article published 30 August 2012 at

Dr Renate Klein is a feminist-long term women’s health researcher and together with Janice Raymond and Lynette Dumble coauthored RU486: Misconceptions, Myths and Morals, available from Spinifex Press in print and as an eBook.   


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Memory, Revolution and Resilience Posted by Maralann on 12 Aug 2012

Thanks to everyone for taking their eyes off the Olympics, braving the Melbourne chill, and fighting the peak hour traffic to be with us in the historic Trades Hall Bar.

Trades Hall Bar                                     Former PM Gough Whitlam   

 On August 9 Spinifex Press held a public forum.
 Memory, Revolution and Resilience, was organised to celebrate the launch of two insightful books published by Spinifex Press –
The Unfinished Revolution: Voices From the Global Fight for Women’s Rights &
Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home.


                    Bella Union Bar                                               Publisher Susan Hawthorne


                    The Unfinished Revolution              Seeking Palestine

The Unfinished Revolution
, edited by Minky Worden documents the unfinished revolution for women’s human rights and asks if the aftermath of the recent uprisings will prove to be - an ‘Arab spring’ or a ‘women’s winter’. 

In her chapter ‘Letters in the Night’, Rachel Ward, a senior regional advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan tells the story of Hossai, a twenty-two-year-old Afghan aid worker from the southern city of Kandahar. Hossai had received threatening phone calls from a man who said he was with the Taliban who told her to stop working with foreigners. But Hossai didn’t want to give up a good job with the American development company and within weeks Hossai was dead.

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, widespread insecurity, displacement, financial hardship and the dissolution of law have contributed to an increase in prostitution and trafficking. The trafficked women are transported internally and internationally for prostitution and also into forced marriages. In Afghanistan small girls are taken away from their families and become victims of sex trading due to their family’s inability to repay huge loans borrowed from drug traffickers in order to grow opium crops.

Throughout the world there are women who lack access to maternal health care with the World Health Organisation estimating that some two million women and girls live with obstetric fistula, an entirely treatable childbirth injury that results in urinary and faecal incontinence. It’s a preventable condition caused by prolonged obstructed labour in a situation where caesarian sections are not available. The affected women are usually poor and from rural communities who were married early- sometimes as young as 14 years. In some regions of Northern Ethiopia 80% of all girls are married by the age of 18.

Photo: The Unfinished Revolution

Editor Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch’s director of Global initiatives is joined by over 30 writers among them Nobel Prize laureates, leading activists, policy makers and former victims who tackle these tough problems and offer bold new approaches to the issues that are still affecting millions of women today.

In July, Spinifex Press released Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home. This wonderful collection of essays by Palestinian essayists, novelists, poets and critics probe the human costs of a home no longer home and contributes greatly to our understanding of the lives of Palestinians.


The contributors reflect on 'What it means to be Palestinian' and come up with individual and collective experiences of seeking, waiting, living for, and being or becoming Palestinian. Words and feelings of Memory, Resilience and Revolution feature strongly throughout this fine collection.

Jean Said Makdisi in her chapter “Becoming Palestinian”, laments the lack of Memory for her native Jerusalem although it continues to be her ideal model of a home where past, present and future meet in her mind to create the one place on earth where she can imagine herself resting, laying down at last the burden of anger and sorrow created in her by the loss. 

In ‘Exiled from Revolution’, Karma Nabulsi regrets ‘the fragmentation of the body politic’ where Palestinian leadership no longer involves itself in the ideas and practice of liberation, but in business deals. While the former representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation pens this chapter ‘the awesome West watches mesmerised’ ‘as masses of Arabs’ ‘ create and celebrate their revolutions’. Nabulsi hopes the recent Arab uprisings will result in a return to Palestinian organizing and a revolutionary present.

Seeking  Palestine is also about Resilience – that of those who have ‘remained in place’, as novelist and poet Mourid Barghouti discovered when he hired a driver to take him to Jericho. Barghouti has been living away from his fellow passengers, his countrymen and women, and finds their light approach to the plans of the ‘terrifying individual such as Sharon’ incomprehensible. 

When Mahmoud announces that the anticipated attack will come tonight his fellow passengers are not particularly upset. ‘Everyday they kill us retail, and once in a while they get the urge to kill us wholesale’ says one of the passengers. Barghouti says that for the inhabitants of these Palestinian cities, ‘everything has become food for jokes’. The poet regards his taxi driver Mahmoud as a hero. “We are his nation: an old man and two women (one of whom doesn’t cover her hair and face, while the other wears a full veil); a man who’s short and another who’s fat; a university student; and a poet who is amazed by everything he sees." He asks himself if he would be able to lead such a trip. But as he says: ‘I am a writer-that is, I don’t do anything.

But that is not his job: The poet and the writer's task is to write- they teach, inform, enlighten and entertain and this applies to the work of the contributors to this fine collection of new Palestinian writing on exile and home-Seeking Palestine.

The task of informing at this forum was performed by our talented speakers: Alex Nissen, Samah Sabawi, Gula Bezhan and Onnie Wilson all of whom addressed the texts and explained their connection to the issues.

Alex Nissen, a teacher working within the TAFE sector spoke of her enlightenment from a Jewish girl growing up with the usual expectations of patriarchal society - to marry and become a mother. However Alex had other ideas - evolving and becoming a radical lesbian feminist, a peace activist and part of the Israeli women’s peace movement for over 20 years. For many years the articulate and energetic activist taught women’s studies and now mourns the extinction of feminist thought within academia. 

       Alex Nissen

Samah Sabawi is a writer, political analyst, commentator, author and playwright and a policy advisor to the Palestinian policy network. Samah was born in Gaza and escaped the Israeli occupation by seeking refuge in neighbouring Jordan before immigrating to Australia. For Samah, the essays written by the women contributors to Seeking Palestine were particularly moving: Susan Abulhawa and her chapter ‘Memories of an Un-Palestinian Story’ where she relays a ‘searing account of her childhood’, and Rana Bakarat who suggests that ‘Palestine-in exile’, ‘is an idea, a love, a goal, a movement, a massacre, a march, a parade, a poem, a thesis, a novel and yes, a commodity, as well as a people scattered, displaced, dispossessed and determined.’

Palestinian writer and activist Samah Sabawi wonders aloud if it is possible for non - Palestinians to understand the passion found in Seeking Palestine. For those who are lucky enough to thoughtfully take the time and read this anthology, the answer is YES.

Samah Sabawi, Gula Bezhan, Helen Lobato, Onnie Wilson, Alex Nissen 

Onnie Wilson, an activist for women’s human rights, spoke of the need for males to change their behaviour.  In The Unfinished Revolution and included in a chapter called ‘Girls not Brides’, Archbishop Desmond Tutu points out that child marriage is rooted in a way of thinking which men have endorsed for far too long. 'Child marriage occurs because men allow it,' he said. ‘Women’s needs must be recognised as having equal social priority in areas such as reproduction, health, education, economic independence,’ says Wilson, who stressed the importance of women across the globe needing to connect so the push for women’s human rights can have a tsunami groundswell effect.

Our final speaker for the night was Dr Gula Bezhan, a community leader of Afghans living in Melbourne. Gula related a harrowing tale of how she was forced to leave Afghanistan where she had lived and worked as a gynaecologist. In 1995 when the Northern Alliance took control of Afghanistan they instigated a rampage of targeting and killing professional people. Gula and her family fled to Pakistan, from where she immigrated to Australia. A community leader, she established the Afghan Woman’s Association of Victoria and has since completed a Bachelor of Social Science. Her employment is in settlement of newly arrived asylum seekers and she has no regrets about not being able to practice medicine.

These books are not yet bestsellers although there has been recent acclaim for Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home, -  The Age, Non-Fiction 'Pick of the Week' - August 11.

In these gritty poetic stories, Palestinian writers imaginatively reclaim what has been lost. —Fiona Capp 


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