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.]

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The cost

It is the 8th of November 2007 at 3.30pm, we are in the park next to Symonds St cemetery. We are waiting. The solicitor general is going to announce whether the crown is going to persue terrorism charges against our friends. We had followed them to Auckland and now we are waiting until 4pm. A few days earlier, I had decided that we are going to win, and I am holding on to my own conviction as a talisman.

Some people are going to get snacks - I find some coins and ask for Whittakers Dark Almond Chocolate. "And if you don't find it they won't get bail."

"Don't say that!" Risks are not acceptable.

They come back with chocolate, but not Dark Almond. What have I done? Someone else there digs to the bottom of her bag and finds a few almonds and I eat the almonds and the chocolate together - that will have to do.

At 4.01 the solicitor general announces that the there will be no terrorism charges.


I was in my office of the 29th of August 2011 - engaging in magical thinking. I had almonds and dark chocolate and ate them together. The Supere Court was going to deliver the most important legal decision in the case since the solicitor general decided not to press terrorism charges sometime that week. I decided that they were going to win. I couldn't think of anything else to do.

The judgement came down about midday Friday.  It wasn't as clear as the decision in the park, although it was definitely good news.  I tried to guess what it meant, my mind racing through what I knew about the case and the law.


Today the crown dropped the charges against all but four of the defendants (obviously there is more to say - but there a quite a few suppression orders in play at this point).


18 people were arrested during the raids on October 15th 2007. Another 4 were arrested in the first half of 2008.

2 had their charges dealt with reasonably quickly in 2007.

1 pled guilty and got discharged without conviction in 2008.

1 had his case thrown out at the depositions hearing in 2008.

1 died in 2011.

13 have had their charges dropped today.

4 still face charges under the Arms Act and of "being part of an organised criminal group"


I have never been able to take the charge of "being part of organised criminal group" seriously.  I think it's the word organised.  That and the fact that I've read the legislation and know enough about the crown case to see a non-overlap.  It is appalling that these ridiculous charges mean that those four people, and those around them, will have to continue to pay the costs of being a defendant.


The 14 people who have had their charges dropped spent a combined 9 months in jail and 50 years on bail.

As part of their bail conditions they have had to report to a police station 1,650 times

They have had to travel more than 15,000 km to meet those bail conditions.

Those living out of Auckland had to travel a total of 7,500 kms to get to Auckland for each court hearing.

They owe millions of dollars in legal aid - which they will have to repay with liens against houses and orders against wages.

And that's not even really it.  The most important costs aren't so easily quantifiable. Stress demands compound interest.  The raids and charges did not just effect 22 people - hundreds were in houses, cars or school buses that were searched - and more had to sit while people they loved were locked-up, and face the horrific threat of it happening again.

So many people, including me, have stress fractures that will not heal. The cost was on bodies, on minds, on relationships and it cannot be undone.

Tuhoe Lambert did not live to see these charges dropped.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Rage: A review

I was not in New Zealand in 1981, although it may have played a role in my parents deciding to move here; the protests against the tour were a large part of what they knew about NZ before coming. I remember going on the protests later in the 1980s (we got to go to McDonalds after one). Apartheid was the second political issue I understood when I was a girl (the first was anti-nuclear).

I was certainly chanting a long while watching Rage.

In many ways it was a very good movie. I was particularly impressed with the way archival footage of the key moments was edited with fictional material. The acting was strong. And even though I spent most of the first twenty minutes asking: "Where is that? It is not Victoria University" there were some nice period moments.

The politics of the movie were reasonably clear. Although I could have done without a wise old African man telling a young Maori women how awesome New Zealand white people are.

The other political message was about the police - and the movie quite deliberately presented the police as stuck in the middle. We saw the police through the eyes of a young Maori female recruit who faced no racism or sexism from her co-workers. We didn't see the red squad. The police came and protected a house full of protesters in Hamilton. That is not a complete picture of the role of the police in '81 - it's a misleadingly limited one.

Leaving aside that political difference - my main objection was the sheer inanity of the 'plot'. Pro-tip if you're writing "falling in love wasn't part of the plan." then you may not be conceiving your characters as individuals with interesting and complex inner lives and well developed relationships.

It was neither the love story or the dead mother that bothered me per se; it was the way those two stories played out in the most predictable, unoriginal, ridiculously timed kind of a way. There was nothing specific or real about those stories that couldn't have come from "So I see you're writing a star-crossed lovers" cheat-sheet.

On top of that it meant we saw the anti-tour protests through a pakeha perspective.* You could tell an interesting story of a young Maori woman working as an undercover police officer, and the way she navigated that life. But instead of it being about her life and her world and what she saw - her story revolved around who she was sleeping with.

I think what bothered me most about the film was the idea that the events of 1981 and the many different realities those involved in them weren't interesting or dramatic enough in themselves to make a tele-movie. There are so many vivid interesting real stories that could be told about an incredible, stressful, intense time. Those stories could also have involved sex, and death and love and joy. Why rehash inanities rather than find something interesting and specific?

* And don't think I didn't notice that the only moment that it passed the Bechdel test was when the Donna Awatere character criticises the under-cover police officer. To have a pakeha man (who is supposedly deeply involved with the tour and reasonably politically aware) come in and rescue her was pretty telling about where the film-makers stood.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Today we are talking about David Cunliffe

I don't actually want to talk about David Cunliffe. I want to write about the politics of television or active bystanders in rape prevention or the problems of the conflation with a moral body with a healthy body.

But then David Cunliffe talked about abortion:

He also supports the current state of New Zealand abortion laws and sees no reason to change them (this may or may not have anything to do with his statement that he is a practicing Anglican).
Now this is a very vague answer - probably deliberately so. It demonstrates why those of us who care passionately about abortion need to answer the questions ourselves. The most important information we need for MPs is not whether they think the law should change, but how they would vote if it did change.

What I want to draw attention to is how entirely unprincipled and unacceptable David Cunliffe's answer is. There is absolutely no way you can support the current law on principle - either disagree with the law, or you disagree with common practice.

The current law means that almost all women can get an abortion if they want one. However, in order to get access to an abortion we have to jump through hoops. For some women this means an extra visit to the hospital, another day off work, another trip across town, or further. For others it means travelling much further than is justified by the medical nature of abortion, from Palmerston North to Wellington or Invercargill to Christchurch. This price falls disproportionately on some women, as many prices do.

David Cunliffe is not the only MP whose response to questions about abortion - many MPs answer in a way which could be paraphrased as "My priority when it comes to abortion is never talking about it. They don't want to talk about abortion because they don't want to alienate people, or because they think it's kind of icky, or because they don't think it matters. So the law remains the same.

And this entire time women having abortions are paying a tax for MPs conscience. They're using an extra day's sick leave and paying for extra petrol every day 18,000 times a year. A generous interpretation of his priorities suggests he doesn't care about what women need to go through to get an abortion. A less generous interpretation would suggest that people like David Cunliffe want this tax, because they think abortion is a little bit icky and women should jump through hoops.