TCU program reveals the stories of citizens in divided countries

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Editor’s Note 11/25/15: This story was updated to provide additional context and clarity.

A journalist who spent three months visiting countries marked by civil war, terrorism and social injustice spent time with students and faculty this week to discuss lessons of reconciliation he came across during his travels.

Michael McRay, who founded the Tenx9 Nashville storytelling organization, had just returned from investigating the lives of everyday citizens in Northern Ireland, Palestine, and South Africa for the Discovering Global Citizenship QEP project “Stories of Reconciliation.”

James English, who works for TCU’s International Student Services, invited McRay to speak on behalf of Discovering Global Citizenship.

McRay was hosted by TCU English professor Dr. Rima Abunasser Thursday night, and was asked why he wanted to work on this project.

Michael McRay worked with Dr. Rima Abunasser's literature classes for his "Stories of Reconciliation" project.
Michael McRay worked with Dr. Rima Abunasser’s literature classes for his “Stories of Reconciliation” project.

“When I proposed the project last summer,” McRay said. “I was feeling overwhelmed with all the stories of violence and knew that more stories of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation needed to be told.”

Abunasser asked McRay how his project changed while he was there.

“The original goal was to gather personal stories of people who had suffered loss and pursued reconciliation. It was very hard to co-ordinate with people in Palestine, for example,” McRay said. “I discovered that you had to be very flexible depending on where you would go.”

McRay said he spoke with the Chief of Staff for Former President de Klerk about the transition from apartheid to democracy.

McRay went on to recount some of the stories he had heard and discovered that forgiveness and understanding had been an underlying theme in each of them.

 

Rami and Bassam

Rami is a man from Israel. In 1997, Rami’s daughter was in Jerusalem when two Palestinian terrorists blew themselves up, she and several others were killed. Her body was never recovered.

Rami said he was enraged and devastated at first and didn’t know how to keep going until he discovered the Parents Circle-Families Forum, a joint Palestinian Israeli organization of families who have lost loved ones because of conflict, dedicated to reconciliation.

Bassam vowed a life of nonviolence after he spent seven years in prison for resistance to the Israeli occupation. A few years later, his seven-year-old daughter was shot in the back of the head on the street outside of a candy store.

Before his daughter was killed, Bassam had co-founded Combatants for Peace, an organization meant to bring together former Israeli and Palestinian combatants. 100 former Israeli soldiers helped Bassam build a garden in memory of his daughter.

 

Jo and Pat

Jo is a woman from England. In 1984, a bomb placed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) killed Jo’s father, who was a member of Parliament, in Brighton.

A month later, she shared a taxi with another man and discovered this man, who was from Belfast, had a brother in the IRA who was killed by the police. The two imagined what the world would be like if these things didn’t happen.

Jo spent the next ten years trying to figure out why someone would want to blow someone else up. In 1998, Jo’s father’s bomber, Pat, had been released from prison. She met with him to find out why his political voice was more important than her father’s life.

Pat lamented his actions and the two became good friends. Pat had realized that he didn’t just kill a man, but a good dad. The two now travel around the world speaking on forgiveness.

 

Amy Biehl

Amy Biehl was an American Fulbright student, studying in South Africa in 1993.

One night, she was driving through the township of Guguletu where she was ambushed by an angry mob looking for signs of white oppression. They attacked her, and as she was trying to escape she was stabbed and killed.

Most of the mob was arrested, and it was in prison that they realized they had killed an American woman who was working on behalf of their people.

Amy’s parents started the Amy Biehl Foundation, focusing on literacy education for children in poverty. The men were eventually released from prison, and, looking for redemption, they decided to work with Amy’s parents at the foundation.

 

The importance of reconciliation

Most of these countries’ civil strifes come from oppression and engagement, McRay said. He said that, for most of these places, religion was only one of many components.

“They are conflicts that have nothing to do with religion and also everything to do with religion,” McRay said. “In Israel-Palestine, the conflict is primarily over land, identity and resources. At the same time, because of religious connections over land, tensions rose dramatically.”

McRay discussed the necessary dissociation there should be between international terrorist groups and religions.

“We don’t look at the KKK and say that’s Christianity,” McRay said. “We don’t say the Spanish inquisition was Christianity. We shouldn’t put those same labels on the acts of self-proclaimed Islamic terrorist groups.”

When asked what the big take-away from his experience was, McRay said that no matter who he was talking to, all of these people recoiled from the word “reconciliation.”

“To me, this has been the most important question of the whole trip,” McRay said. “I think the most striking thing to me was the consistency in each location of the way the people spoke about reconciliation and justice. Everyone I talked to from all over tended to recoil from talks of reconciliation and preferred talk of justice.”

A senior student asked if McRay would continue with projects like this. McRay said that he isn’t yet done with his information from “Stories of Reconciliation.”

McRay said, “I may try to get a book out of this. I’ve also got plenty of footage so I may try to partner with a film company and make a documentary.”

“I will continue to focus my work on telling stories about people whose stories aren’t told,” he added.

Students approach Michael McRay after the discussion to meet him as well as ask questions.
Students approach Michael McRay after the discussion to meet him as well as ask questions.

 

Everyone can make an impact

A freshmen student asked what people who can’t travel to these places, but who want to make an impact, should do to help.

“I like that quote ‘injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.’ The United States is one of the most violent nations in the world,” McRay said. “Get active now here at TCU or Fort Worth. There’s all kinds of stuff happening. Save your small corner of the world.”

“This was very inspiring,” said McKenna Kondratiuk, a freshman psychology major. “It really opened my eyes.”

“People do have voices, sometimes we just don’t listen to them,” McRay said.

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