Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Open Letter about Omar Hamed

Omar Hamed is an organiser for Unite! Union, a member of Socialist Aotearoa, and until recently was a defendant in Operation 8. The following letter was written in March by several Wellington activists and sent to a number of individuals and activist groups in Auckland and around New Zealand.  Omar Hamed played a prominent role in yesterday's occupation at the UoA. Tove has written about feminist attempts to respond to him in Auckland.  The letter is reproduced here to support those who are fighting for a left that takes sexual violence seriously.

In the last year [2010], Omar Hamed has been living in Wellington.  While here he has consistently behaved towards women in a misogynistic, disrespectful and sexually predatory way. Comrades from across the left have brought up problems with his behaviour and he has consistently failed to understand the importance of meaningful consent in sexual relationships.

A group of us concerned about Omar’s behaviour have come together to draft this document outlining what has happened while he has been in Wellington and what efforts we, and others, have made to challenge his behaviour.  We have sent this e-mail to groups, and bcc'd it to individuals.  We hope it will be useful for those who work with him when he returns to Auckland.

This statement is not confidential.  We encourage people to forward this e-mail  to anyone who has or will come into contact with Omar, or who is interested in this issue.

Omar’s pattern of behaviour

We don’t want to identify the women affected, so we haven’t gone into detail. It’s also important to understand that this is a pattern of behaviour on Omar’s behalf, and not isolated one-off incidents.

He does not take sexual consent seriously when his sexual partners are drunk.  He has repeatedly ignored drunk women when they told him they were not interested in his sexual advances.  He has repeatedly encouraged women who have rejected him to get drunker and then attempted to make a move on them when they were more incapacitated.  Some women have had to physically fight him off.   He has demonstrated that he is willing to have sex with someone who is too drunk to give meaningful consent.

We have focused on his most grotesque behaviour, but he has consistently talked to and about women in ways that make it clear that he does not respect them as comrades and human beings, but instead sees them as objects.

He went to a party at the flat of a person with whom he previously had a sexual relationship, even though she repeatedly told him not to come.  He refused to leave when she asked. He tried to punch and threatened to kill a male she was talking to. This behaviour is typical of men trying to maintain power and control over their lovers and ex lovers.

Omar clearly has a problem with alcohol, and has used this to excuse his behaviour. But this problem with alcohol is not causing his misogynist and disrespectful behaviour, and neither abstaining, nor reducing his drinking will solve it.  While sober he has defended his drunken behaviour. He has made it clear to those he was talking to that he either does not understand, or does not care about, meaningful consent.

Responses to Omar from Wellington

It’s important that people from other parts of the country understand that Omar has been challenged by groups and individuals from across the left.  Basic ideas such as ‘meaningful consent’ and the impact that sexist behaviour has on women have been explained to him repeatedly.  He is not operating out of ignorance.

He has responded to challenges from individuals in a variety of ways depending on who was doing the challenging:

  • When he has thought he was among friends he has minimised the behaviour, often in a sexist way.  He responded to a lesbian’s comrade’s criticism of his sexist behaviour: “why? are you worried I might steal your girlfriend”. When two men were criticising his behaviour and one left the room he said to the other:  “But four women in two weeks that’s pretty good eh?”
  • When these tactics haven’t worked he has got very upset, begged for forgiveness and promised that he would behave differently in the future.  Despite his promises he has repeated his behaviour.
  • When he has been challenged by those who he did not consider friends he has tried to silence and discredit them. 

Wellington groups have also challenged his behaviour.  AWSM banned him from their political events and outlined their problems with the way he was treating women. He has also been banned from the 128 social centre. Workers Party members collectively brought up these issues as did members of his own party.

What is to be done?

We understand that people will have different ideas about how to deal with Omar’s behaviour.  Groups and individuals have to draw their own boundaries about when he’s welcome.

If Omar is willing to change the way he relates to women, then assisting him to do that is important political work.  However, he has given no indications so far that he is willing to change, and if he does not recognise what he is doing is wrong then his comrades cannot make him change his behaviour.

The most important political action that people can take about Omar’s behaviour is to speak about it openly.  Openness about the fact that he ignores people’s boundaries and does not take sexual consent seriously is the best protection we can offer women within activist communities.  This can be really hard to do, because there are many different instincts that train people to be silent at times like these.

Here are some suggestions of what could be done to make environments and groups that Omar is welcome in safer spaces:

  • Not allow him to take up positions of power.
  • If people are organising events where there is alcohol, then a responsible person should keep an eye on him throughout the event.
  • Consider that if Omar is welcome at an event, then some women who know of, or have experienced, his past behaviour may not feel safe attending.
  • Undertake political education work around sex and consent more broadly, this could include distributing material or running workshops.
Finally, and we cannot stress this enough: the action that will make the most difference to women’s safety when Omar is around is to make sure that everyone there knows about his pattern of behaviour.

Fighting sexism, misogyny, and sexual abuse of any kind must be part of our revolutionary organising now. Omar’s behaviour is an issue that affects individuals, groups, communities, and the left as a whole.  It hurts the people he assaults, their support network, organisations he’s in, and the revolutionary movement.  To allow his behaviour to continue is to create a left which is actively hostile to women.  A left which is actively hostile to women cannot bring about meaningful change.

[Note from Maia: I will be moderating this post very carefully, and will delete any comments which minimise sexual violence, attack survivors, or suggest that there is a way that people who have been sexually assaulted should or do behave.  Obviously there is more to say, and I may write a post of my own about this soon.]


  1. Anita7:20 pm

    I'm not sure this is (yet) the time to ask this, if it isn't then I apologise and moderate away if required... :)

    One of the things that has struck me over the last few years is one of the banners sometimes used in support of the Urewera 15 - it says "Unconditonal Love, Unconditional Solidarity, Unconditional Freedom". Each time I look at it I wonder about the first line - how is it possible to stand for someone with such revolting personal beliefs and actions and proclaim unconditional love?

    I guess the challenge for me, as it has been before, is how to feel about someone whose political activism is laudable and well worth respecting, but whose private - of course equally political - actions are loathesome.

  2. Anita - It's certainly not too soon (it may be four years too late for me to be answering - but that's another story).

    Although the answer is complicated.

    At the time I thought about that banner and that slogan applying to three defendants: Emily Bailey, Valerie Morse and Urs Signer. The ones I did know and love. Now I think it was naieve in the extreme. But it was very much in reaction to some of the - and hte conditional support in some quarters - "If they're engaging in terrorism we can't support them."

    I didn't know how Omar treated women in 2007 (if he treated him that way then). But I did know that Ira Bailey (the fourth person arrested in Wellington) was emotionally, physically and psychologically abusive to women. My position was then (and still is now to the extent that it's relevant) was that I give him unconditional solidarity from his attacks on the state - but he gets no other support of solidarity from me of any kind.

    I've written a bit about the time when everyone was in jail in various formats. But I neatly excised that thread from the story. In reality on top of everything else I was drawing and redrawing my line between political solidarity and personal support, ignoring my boundaries, and stressed about it a lot of the time.

    Since then I've learned that Ira (and Omar) are not alone among the defendants in the way they treat women.

    Anyway to go back to October 15th - i'm not sure I've felt at the time (or really since) that hte support was abou ttheir political actions being laudable - so much as they were under attack from the state in a really specific way. It wasn't about them being virtuous individuals (and I've always struggled with a lot of the material around their political defence that is based on who they are as good people - because some of them really aren't).

    I think the only thing you can do is speak openly about both, although that has its pushback.

    Thanks for asking this - it's great to be prompted to articulate some of the stuff that I've been silent/felt silenced on.

  3. At the incident Tove described in her original post, Omar described how Ira Bailey had been the target of a similar "witch hunt" at Climate Camp, and how it had "ruined Climate Camp".

    In describing the authors of the 'Open Letter', he said, "Do you know who these people are? These are my political enemies." Someone replied, "Seriously? That sounds like a conspiracy theory," to which Omar responded, "It is a conspiracy."