It was in Lebanon – one of the world’s most sectarian countries – that I met my first “peace- journalist”. What that implies we’ll try to find out during this interview with Vanessa Bassil.
Vanessa, you’re a 26-year-old young peace-journalist. What does that mean exactly?
– It started already in 2009 after my degree in journalism and my masters in political sciences when I met Jake Lynch.
– He’s a BBC-reporter and became my mentor. Now he teaches at Sydney University but he’s a pioneer in peace- journalism and as soon as I heard him speak about it, I adhered to his ideas.
Does there exist any such studies though?
– Not exactly. There is however one UN-mandated university in Costa Rica that teaches peace-studies. I managed to get sponsored to go and study there for one year and came back to Beirut in 2014.
– Before my studies there, I had already started a project called Media Association for Peace, MAP, to teach peace- journalism.
So you already have students then?
– Yes, we’re a team of fifteen young journalists that I’m training but we’re all in all 70 members. I’m currently looking for sponsors to finance MAP. My idea is to spread the message so that it will be taught in all universities.
What will be taught in such a course?
– Reporting in a constructive way without escalating or creating violence amongst its audience. The future journalists are taught how and what to report – to choose wisely. There are three main areas of focus in this kind of reporting. The first being in the domain of Human Rights and egalitarianism as well as the right for especially vulnerable people such as the Syrian refugees to be treated as individuals with specific needs. The second being to do solution-reporting by trying to offer resolutions to specific problems. Finally it’s important to highlight ecological problems before conflicts related to for example clean water would surface.
Do you think that we journalists have a moral responsibility then?
– Yes, definitely. For me journalism is a call. By stressing certain societal problems we journalists can push politicians to tackle them but we also have a responsibility to try to find solutions ourselves.The media shouldn’t only report on wars and evil deeds but insight hope about a peaceful future. The media mentality has to change! I’m striving for problem-solving journalism and want to give a voice to the voiceless.
What do you do to spread your message further than the group you’ve created?
– I travel. This autumn for example I went to a women’s peace conference in Istanbul. I’m also Lebanon’s representative for Master Peace (www.masterpeace.org ) with its headquarters in Cairo and in Amsterdam. It’s a club where we try to enhance peace through art. We celebrate the peace-day on 21st September. This year we were in Tripoli, organizing theatre plays.
After having bid farewell to Vanessa and wished her good luck, I read in the local paper, the Daily Star, about the theatre play Antigone played by Syrian refugees who have often lost brothers or husbands in battle.
I also saw an excellent documentary film called Scheherazade by Zeina Daccache about women prisoners taught drama therapy culminating in a play. Both the therapy and the performance helped the women. So of course art can create bridges and assist people in overcoming their differences and difficulties.
Anne Edelstam, Beirut.
Anne Edelstam is a Swedish journalist, writer, and photographer specialising in Arabic and Islamic studies, and the third of three generations of women with close connections to Egypt.
Passionately committed to politics, Anne has worked at UNESCO, in Paris, and for over a decade has represented Sweden in FECRIS (Fédération Européenne des Centres de Recherche et d’Information sur le Sectarisme), a European organisation informing people about dangerous cults (www.fecris.org). FECRIS has organised international conferences since 1999 and has been represented at the UN for the last two years. Anne has organised numerous conferences herself, including one about Cults and Law at the Swedish Club in Paris in 2001, and several about Egypt, the situation of women, and the rise of fundamentalism. She is also an active member of a cultural organisation about the Middle East in Stockholm. She has set up two journals: La Gazette de Stockholm, for the French-speaking in Stockholm; and Sesambullen, in Swedish, about the problems of manipulative and fundamentalist groups.
As a writer, social and cultural journalist, and photographer, Anne is extensively published. She has released two non-fiction books: La Vierge de l’Apocalypse (Publibook 2006) in French, about cults; and Tre Damer I Kairo (Carlssons förlag 2005) in Swedish, about Egyptian history. Her latest book in English Three Ladies in Cairo is a fictionalized true story about three generations of Swedish women in Egypt (2014, Amazon.com and Kindle). She is published in numerous newspapers and magazines: most notably: Tidningen Kulturen (www.tidningenkulturen.se), where she is also the foreign news editor and writes one or two articles from Paris weekly; and Frankofon, recently replaced by the monthly magazine Svenskfranska (www.svenskfranska.com), where she publishes around five articles monthly. She has also done extensive reporting from Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, India, and Egypt.
Anne has a B.A. in French and Arabic from Stockholm University and continued with Arabic and Islamic studies at the American University of Cairo. Her M.A thesis in Social Sciences, Socialization of the Deaf in Egypt, helped codify an official Arabic sign-language.
Her latest articles can be found on her site, www.articlesfromparis.com, in Swedish and English. Her interests lie in art, culture, and travel and she considers herself a nomad from the North, with the world as her working-place, always fascinated by the complexity and the wonder of the human soul. She is also a glass- and ceramics- painter, taught painting while in Sweden, and exhibited and sold her art each summer between the years 1998–2004.
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