Tuesday, 27 September 2011

An 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.]


Robert said...

Well done, sounds like a great set of policy. Sounds like you very much care about human rights, as well as keeping the rights of your group safe from harm. Will be re posting.

M said...

Thank you very much for this: I was quite shaken after a night where Omar behaved like this to me, and was very confused about how he could reconcile this behaviour with his activist work. It has been interesting and uplifting to read about the efforts being made to keep people safe from him.

julz said...

Shame on you!

Brett Dale said...

If Omar is attempting Sexual assault, surly the police must be called, and in no circumstances should he be invited to any meetings, where people would be put at risk.

Anonymous said...

Just Saying:

In my experience predators who behave as Omar is described to behave, operate on the edge of legality, with a kind of 'plausible deniability' aided and abetted by the prevailing rape culture. I'm sure many woman are able to either avoid or stand-up to creeps like this. But predators, by definition, prey on the weak and the disadvantaged. Indeed they can virtually smell it in a vulnerable female.

Agency is then weakened with increasing violation of personal space, plying with drugs like alcohol, and not taking no for an answer. Many women can remember being successfully coerced in these kinds of ways when they were very young. Other women have been trained to submit under these kinds of circumstances by previous sexual abuse. Either way, what they want for themselves is overruled and they are unable to successfully 'resist'.

This is a very difficult subject. There seemed to be no language to describe it when I was young, despite a whole lot of trail-blazing feminism.

It may be that Omar's hostile defensiveness when confronted by those he has hurt, contains some real shame, and that he will come to know that exploitation in any form is morally repugnant, and will be remorseful. I don't believe these kinds of actions necessarily reflect complete moral bankrupcy. Not when rape culture is ready to jump to defend offenders and remoreselessly attack whistle-blowers, on almost every occasion, and denial is the norm, not the exception.

Andrensath said...

Brett: except that the cops have a history of acting in much worse ways than Omar has (which, of course, does not justify or excuse his actions in the slightest.) They are not the allies of anyone fighting for social justice, let alone an end to capitalism.

LudditeJourno said...

Thank you Maia for this - and I want to thank the writers of the letter too, for so clearly articulating the ways Omar has been using alcohol to facilitate sexual violence.

Omar, if you're reading this, or if anyone who cares about you is reading this, get some help. Your behaviour is causing harm, is making people not want to interact with you or organise with you. It's highly likely at some point it may also criminalise you.
There are places to go in both Wellington (Wellstop http://wellstop.org.nz/) and Auckland (Safe Network http://www.safenz.org/) where there are counsellors trained to help people stop behaving in sexually harmful ways. There is no shame is this - whereas I imagine, right now, there is much shame in having your behaviour named for the world to see.
Build some skills to negotiate non-abusive sexual encounters with people able to enthusiastically consent to what you both want to do.

Brett Dale said...


If he is committing a crime, you still have to go to the police, at the very least you can't put others in a situation where he could prey on them.

Judging by the post, the groups he belongs to are aware of his behavior, surly he needs to be kicked out.

Andrensath said...

Are his actions a crime under bourgeois law, though? I'm certainly not qualified to make a judgement call either way, not being a lawyer. (Leaving aside the questionable morality of ratting out a potential comrade, highly problematic though his actions are, to the cops *again*.) In any case, its not the cops job to police Omar, so to speak, its the job of those of us on the revolutionary left.

As for kicking him out of the groups he belongs to, those are, to my knowledge, Socialist Aotearoa and the Auckland We are the University group. Neither of which I have any influence over, being neither a member of either group nor resident in Auckland.

Kim Mcbreen said...

Kia ora Maia,

thank you again for making this letter available to those who have to work around Omar (I would also like to second all of LudditeJourno's comment).

It is really upsetting that you still need to distribute this letter because Omar hasn't felt the need yet to stop his abusive behaviour to women. It is really upsetting that there are people who are supporting him to not get help, and are allowing him to have prominent space in organisations that are supposed to be against oppression. It is so divisive.

I know outing creepiness is seldom a popular action, but it is brave and inspiring.

Thank you.

Maia said...

Thanks for the responses everyone.

M - I'm so sorry for what you experienced.

Brett - I'd like to bring your attention to the moderation note that there is no correct way to respond to sexual assault. However, I've left up your comments because they've been well dealt with.

notbigondignity said...

I think this is an incredibly well-written letter. Will be re-posting it. Well done.

Asher said...

I've written a blog post about the background and responses to the open letter (I'm one of the authors) in the 6 months since we first sent it out. It's up on my blog at http://anarchia.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/some-further-thoughts-on-omar-hamed-abuse-and-the-response-to-it/

Anonymous said...

In my own experience Omar is not the only character of this type to have been in activist and anarchist groups. It IS very disruptive to group harmony to discuss these issues (often because many men do not or cannot see offensive behaviour by other men - and also because some men are good company for other men, and terrible company for women). I'm pleased to see that this memo has been circulated openly and that Omar's behaviour has been discussed with him. Hiding or ignoring this kind of behaviour had caused the break-up of groups before now, and in a purely practical sense the NZ activist scene is small enough that not being inclusive is a huge fail - quite apart from activists also being able to to practice what they preach of course.


Anonymous said...

haha, i like that one of the people commenting on this saying 'yay they are challenging omar' actually did some dodgy as stuff to me behind his grilfriend's back, which still upsets me. what a loser, when i have enough courage i'll tell people, our activist scene sucks for women, we need a radical all-female-identifying exclusive group.

Scar said...

I always feel distinctly threatened whenever someone uses the words 'radical' and 'all-female' in the same sentence.

Andrensath said...

I'm with Scar here. Isn't reacting to abusive behaviour by one male-identified person by setting up a group that excludes all non female-identified people rather an over-simplistic response? Abusiveness is not limited to heterosexual, cisgendered men, after all.

Anonymous said...

I think it's sad and depressing that in Aotearoa wimmin feel safer to interact and organize mostly with other women because the situation of abuse by cis males is so common throughout the radical movement. I worry about that much more.
"If you feel attacked by feminism, it's probably a counter-attack"

Anonymous said...

Well-written. And interesting to read the comments and see near identical negative reactions to ones received during a similar process in the UK. Keep fighting, x

brownflotsam said...

I would like to add my thanks to the people who have written and circulated this letter. It is an act of courage and solidarity, thank you.