The School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution hosts safe space discussions as part of the Dialogue and Difference project so that the Mason community can talk about contentious current events and issues.
Each semester, different student interns plan the topic and structure of the events. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, senior Conflict Analysis and Resolution major Dylan Bates hosted the semester’s first discussion called “The Power of Words and Images.”
The terrorist attacks against the French satirical magazine left 12 people dead and sparked an international debate on how freedom of speech, the press and tolerance of religion can both be supported in an increasingly violent world. This event on Feb. 19 encouraged the Mason community to join in on that debate.
The audience analyzed a mock Charlie Hebdo cover (above) in two small groups. The French translations for the white text are “The Koran is shit” and “Charlie Hebdo is shit.” The translation of the black text in the yellow boxes is “It doesn’t stop bullets.”
Four of the participating students said they practice Islam.
“They all said ‘this pisses me off, I hate this image and it’s offensive.’ But they would say something like that and say, ‘but I understand the freedom of speech part of it,’ Bates said.
Junior and SCAR major Eman Altimimi was not sure if she should share with her group that she’s Muslim. She did not want her beliefs to make other students feel like they had to be dishonest with their opinions. The group said that they were honest and that it benefited the discussion to have a Muslim person’s perspective on the issue.
This group agreed that a clearer distinction needs to be made between Islamic radicals and the rest of the Muslim community, but there was not a consensus on how this can be done or whose responsibility it is.
According to Bates, people’s reactions to the cartoon were blunted because of the environment.
“When you’re in an environment like this where you’re designed to understand different view points and very passively very understandably relate,” Bates said. “I think that’s going to be the biggest issue with the topic. How do you get people’s genuine reactions and how do you get them to show that?”
Five other images were also viewed and hashed out (above). In the order shown: statute of the Virgin Mary in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Queens, New York, German graffiti in the West Bank, a portrait of Che Guevara, a before-and-after of destruction in Ukraine and a woman showing solidarity for Eric Garner, who died from a police chokehold.
The context of the images, such as the location and subject matter, were explained to the audience after their initial reactions. This highlighted how context can change someone’s idea of an image.
The next event on March 17 will be about emotion-filled conflicts.
“It’s going to take a look at conflicts, like Cyprus [Greece], Israel and Palestine, the Northern Ireland conflict [and] how presidential elections have run off of emotion. It’s going to be a mix of interpersonal and international,” Bates said.
Photo slideshow credit: Dylan Bates