Monday, March 31, 2014

Restorative Dialogue Resolves 9/11 Hate Crime

(Part 2 in a series of 2)

by Ted Lewis

The anti-Muslim hate crime on 9/11 in Eugene, Oregon, was not the only one in the nation that happened soon after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. In fact, over the next couple of months, anti-Muslim crimes increased by 1700% in comparison to all of the prior months in 2001 before 9/11. Over the next decade, this percentile dropped substantially, but in 2010 and 2011, ten years after the event, the United States saw another dramatic rise of hate crimes targeted against American Arabs and Muslims, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. These trends even including members of Sikh communities, partly due to the misinterpretation of turban head dresses.

Offsetting this unfortunate news is the good news of how the Eugene hate-crime case resulted in a positive outcome through a restorative dialogue process. (Read Part 1 for more background). After preparation meetings and a first joint meeting that included many community members and stakeholders from justice agencies, the Muslim victim party and the male offender chose to return to a second joint meeting to find fuller resolution. The first meeting ended on a tenuous note, and it was decided that everyone needed a two-week break before resuming the conversation. As mentioned before, I was the main facilitator for the case.

After the meeting, the offender, Chris, confided to me how he lost a baby son in former years during mid-September, and every year it triggered him into a hard, angry place. I encouraged him to find a way to share this with the group when we would meet again. Chris kept seeing a counselor, and I checked in often with Tamman and Patricia Adi (the victim representatives) to make sure they were ready to move forward. They wrote out some new questions they wanted to ask Chris. A plan was made to use this second meeting to review the harms and impacts in the first hour, and to create reparation agreements in the second hour.

On October 30 the whole group met again for another conference. Community members were helpful in creating the initial conversation. The Adi's were able to ask more questions. Eventually Chris was able to explain his deep psychological triggers that partly accounted for his outbursts of misguided anger. At that point Tamman Adi said, "I'm satisfied with what I have heard. I think we can now move forward." After this there was a palpable shift in the room; the mood clearly moved from a tense to a relaxed state. This created an optimistic setting for everyone to discuss reparation ideas for the future. It also created a safe space for Tamman to make eye contact, for the first time, with Chris.

Among the five practical agreements for restitution, the Adi's asked for Chris to write a public apology letter for the newspaper, and attend two lectures on the history of Islam. He also agreed to cooperate with news coverage, continue his counseling, and speak to a group of youth offenders in juvenile detention. When the offender said that his job might be jeopardized by all the news coverage, Tamman Adi said that he would personally take steps to help him retain his work. When the meeting came to an end, Tamman reached out to shake Chris's hand. Everyone recognized by then that some deep and satisfying resolution had taken place to help people move on from many hurt feelings. The DA prosecutor was also satisfied with the outcome, and all reparations were fulfilled within the next four months.

In his apology letter that was printed as a Letter to the Editor, Chris said that he was sorry for the hurtful things he said, and that in Eugene he experienced Muslims as "peaceful loving people." He added, "I thought all people of Islam faith were terrorist. I was wrong. Islam is not about what you see on TV." Altogether, this case, just weeks after the bitter taste of 9/11, presented a sweet ray of hope as people journeyed together from hatred to healing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hope in the Wake of September 11, 2001

by Ted Lewis

Over the past dozen years I have heard a number of positive stories about peacemaking efforts involving Muslim participants. Each time I thought to myself, "It would be nice to have this story written down so it could inspire others." I have done this sort of writing many times for victim/offender dialogue processes, and one thing is very clear: without the telling of positive stories, the restorative justice movement would not have its current growth and worldwide momentum.

I am very glad now to launch this new blog forum as a place for positive stories about Islamic-related resolution processes to be logged and stored. My hope is that they will spread widely and provide not only information about where and how peacemaking dialogue is happening, but also provide inspiration for others to promote similar efforts. Over time, I will include the writings of guest authors on this blog.

My first experience with Islam and restorative dialogue happened 12 years ago on the day of 9/11 in 2001. Just hours after of the Twin Towers crashed down, two death-threat telephone calls came to the Islamic Cultural Center and mosque in Eugene, OR. One of the statements made to the Center's director was, "You Muslims should all be erased." The offender, a single, middle-aged man who acted alone, was traced and arrested that very day. As program manager of the Restorative Justice Program for Eugene's Community Mediation Services, I received a call the next day regarding a possible case for alternative resolution.

Tamman Adi, Palestinian by background, directed the Islamic Cultural Center. When I met with him and his wife Patricia, I quickly learned how hard it was to be a Muslim in the United States at that time. As they shared openly about all the challenges and fears surrounding their identity and protection in those days after 9/11, it was clear to me that they needed a lot of community support. Tamman often stated that the media was the least supportive, as news commentators consistently joined together "Muslim" with "Terrorist" in the same sentence. Fortunately, local community support came from many places in Eugene, and this made it easier for the Adi's to choose an alternative way for resolving this case. In fact, they were very glad to not have to go through a court process. The last thing they wanted was to appear as vindictive Muslims in a setting that is typically contestual rather than cooperative.

At this time, a new neighborhood accountability board was set up through the Restorative Justice Program. In partnership with the District Attorney's office, the case was routed through this community-based program. Both offender and victim parties had several preparatory meetings with me and two other facilitators to ensure a constructive joint dialogue. Within one month of September 11, the first of two joint meetings took place. A circle formation was used with about 15 people present; an additional 10 people were in the room to observe the process, including the prosecutor.

Understandably, Tamman was nervous about this meeting. He later shared how he could not make eye contact with Chris, the offender. At that time he spoke about his cultural experience of being threatened by others in the Middle East, and how this creates an invisible wall that does not allow for eye contact. In this first meeting, both parties had the chance to talk about what happened. Tamman asked more than once, "Why did you do this to us?" As a scientist, he needed to hear something that made sense to him. But after two hours of dialogue, which included community members saying things to both Chris and the Adis, there was a general sense that deep resolution had not been reached. Something was blocking a satisfying outcome.

At last, Patricia Adi helped the group to not remain stuck. She affirmed some good things that had been said during the meeting, and she expressed some hope that the process could lead to a good end if the group had patience. It was agreed to take a break for two weeks and then reconvene. This would also give Chris some time to demonstrate his sincerity to make changes.

One thing was clear. Harmful words had led to a hard situation, and only healing words could reverse what was set in motion. At a time when the entire nation was first shocked and then grief-stricken over 9/11, many had a hunger for anything that could shine a ray of hope in the darkness. In Eugene, those who attended this first restorative dialogue meeting were holding out for hope, but there was no guarantee of how things would turn out. There is always a degree of risk when people seek a deeper resolution on a relational level.

(End of Part One of a two-part story. Stay tuned for the next blog entry.)