Visit and discussions about Torture in the World at DIGNITY headquarters – another aspect of Activism
On Friday, 7th of August, in the morning, I went to Copenhagen to visit DIGNITY headquarters with some of AGITATION team (Tina, Gert, Jorn and Vanessa) and Gonzalo, a refugee from Chile. There, we met Chris, the responsible for communication for the NGO and then, we were seated around a table full of refreshments and we had a much unexpected talk.
After we introduced ourselves to Chris, he started to make a long talk about DIGNITY. But not only that… We discussed about the concept of “Torture”. He was so passionate about the topic that – at least for me – he succeeded to remove some mental stereotypes. Let us not imagine torture only as it was during the Middle Ages, where people to be tortured passed through very elaborated “machines” to make them “tell the truth”! Let us not imagine that it happens only during dictatorships or in developing countries! Let us not imagine that it is only physical! Broadly speaking, this is what he said when he showed us the map where DIGNITY is operating. A sadly amazing fact, regarding this map: DIGNITY has its headquarters in Denmark, which is a country where there is no specific law making possible to prosecute someone for “Torture” strict sensu. And still refuses to make such law, although many demands to do so from DIGNITY. In the contrary, Tunisia has done so (there is another headquarter in Tunis) and is the only one today.
Actually, DIGNITY doesn’t only inform people about the concept of Torture. It also helps the refugees which have been victims of Torture. They help them with therapies, counseling and other group activities like yoga and swimming because all of them suffer from a condition called PTSD (Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder). Thus, these people have been tortured. They not only suffer from physical trauma. They also suffer from psychological trauma. And this is what PTSD consists in. Like Chris explains, it can come suddenly, years after the tortures occurred. Suddenly, the peace of life that you fight hard to have reconstructed is gone away. Everything is quite OK, until suddenly, you don’t know how to cope with your past. And your life is not anymore “normal”. These refugees are suffering. It is like they tried to flee the wars in their countries but the wars are coming to them with no efforts. They are invading their minds. During this part of the speech, I was near to cry… I was struggling with my emotions. On one side, I was really sad for these refugees, I felt sorry for them and angry with their executioners. On the other side, I felt ashamed to have been involved in a conflict while I was in the Navy. I thought that, indirectly, with other servicemen at that time, I was responsible for the suffering of some of them. All because wars create refugees. They induce torture. So, during this presentation, I started to think that actually, we people from the imperialist countries, we are responsible for the fate of these people who are forced to flee their countries. It is with our money that the military-industrial complex is fuelled. In addition, we don’t raise our voices against it. Worst, we the people, get blinded by the industrial oligarchs’ mass media: we create refugees by waging wars abroad and we refuse to welcome refugees in our countries! We are blaming them for all our problems!
Later in the meeting, we had an interesting discussion about the reason why, we the people, don’t take a stand against Torture. Most people were comparing the generation of the Seventies with the youngsters of today and it came out that the generations of the Seventies had fewer issues to stand against than our current generation. At this time, they had to choose between two fronts (Communism and Capitalism), they had the Vietnam War… Now, the youngsters have so many topics to deal with that it is harder find their ways... I am part of this generation of youngsters and I admit that it is very difficult to choose your “battlefield”. Yes, I am a Development Instructor and the headline of my battle is “Fighting with the Poor”. But Poverty in itself is a large spectrum including, for instance, Global Warming, Pedagogy, Food, refugees… And now, I find out that it includes “Torture”. I say “find out” because we are living in a world surrounded by media, whatever mass media or social media. We have easily access to information, disinformation… or misinformation. This has serious consequences: the youngsters are not well-equipped with basic criticism (many take Facebook news for granted) and the “reality” is often occulted and even transformed. The frontier between information and propaganda is nearly invisible. Another reason is that with time, especially since the 9/11 event, Torture is making even more commonplace. First, it is because Torture got a reason to be “in the name of fighting against terrorism”. Second because most movies that we watch on TV or in the cinema depict a hero who uses Torture as a way “to save the world”. Such representation of the world can only affect people’s mind. This way, they cannot take a stand against what governments are doing. In Denmark, nobody took a stand against the government cuts in the budget allocated to humanitarian help. For DIGNITY, it represents a 10% loss in their allocated funds.
For Chris, his job enables him to be a full-time activist. Like us, DIs, he is fighting with the Poor. Contrary to me, he has chosen his battlefield. So, at the end of the discussion, we came to think about a partnership between DIGNITY and ONE WORLD CENTER. It is because being an activist and promoting is not only going outside to meet people and give leaflets about our programs. Like Chris said: “We have to meet people (especially the youngsters) where they are.” It means that people are also on Internet, chatting and sharing information on social media. The same way Chris gets in touch with them via Facebook, we as DRH Lindersvold, should develop networking as a mean to get in touch with people and then enroll. In the team, we were all happy to get his advice.