An Open Letter About Omar Hamed

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Anarchia
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Sep 27 2011 10:21
An Open Letter About Omar Hamed

NB: I am posting this here as Omar has posted in the past on LibCom, primarily in the Oceania forum, under the username 'omar'.

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 University of Auckland. 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.

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Steven.
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Sep 27 2011 17:48

It's shit when things like this happen, so good on people for challenging it.

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Sep 28 2011 14:23

I just wrote this up on my blog with some further thoughts on the background and responses to the open letter:

Some further thoughts on Omar Hamed, abuse and the response to it

This post is a follow up to the Open Letter About Omar Hamed that I posted on this blog yesterday.

Omar had been living in Wellington in 2010, working for Unite! Union and being politically active in Socialist Aotearoa (SA). He had displayed a pattern of abusive behaviour throughout the year, and despite being challenged by a number of people, including friends of his, he had refused to even genuinely acknowledge that his behaviour was unacceptable, let alone change it.

At the end of the year, Omar moved back to Auckland, where he continued (and still continues) to work at Unite! and be a part of SA. A number of the people in Wellington who had worked to both challenge Omar’s behaviour and to ensure that people who interacted with him knew about it were extremely concerned that Omar would not simply be able to return to Auckland and continue the same pattern of behaviour that he exhibited in Wellington. In order to prevent that from happening, a small group of us in Wellington (including me) wrote the open letter back in February/March of this year.

On March 11, and in the days after, we sent the letter to a wide range of individuals and groups (mostly in Auckland, but also other parts of the country) who we knew or thought were likely to have interaction with Omar. We had a few responses, including from some Auckland people who said they would try to work with Omar to get him to sort his behaviour out. As far as I am aware, these people were forced to give up after Omar repeatedly refused to engage in any real sense with them.

A couple of days ago, Omar was prominent in the occupation at the University of Auckland (UoA). He spent much of the time controlling the megaphone, and was also shown and interviewed in the media reporting of the event. Several Auckland activists who knew of Omar’s abuse were understandably angry/upset/worried about this [For example, see the post Students; please learn]. In support of their efforts to get the We Are The University group (who organised the protest) to address the issue of a known abuser holding a prominent position in their activities, and in order to help ensure that people involved in the UoA struggle knew about Omar’s past, myself and another of the authors of the open letter decided for the first time to publish the letter publicly – on the 3 blogs that we are involved in – Anarchia, Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty and The Hand Mirror. We also posted links to the open letter in several Facebook discussion threads related to the issue.

In the 6 months between sending the letter out and posting it publicly, we recieved no formal response from either Unite! or SA, the two organisations Omar has the most involvement with. Informally, SA as an organisation has consistently shown itself to be interested in covering for and covering up Omar’s behaviour (some individuals within SA have tried to challenge Omar, and should be recognised for that). Even yesterday this continued – I posted a link to the open letter on the SA Facebook page, but this morning it was deleted and the page settings changed to disallow posting from all accounts except the official SA account.

The main reason I’m writing this post is to respond to a few of the most frequently heard things from this whole saga. Some come from when people were challenging Omar in Wellington, others are from responses to the open letter being made public. The thing they all have in common, however, is that they all miss the problem. So, to make it clear:

Abusive behaviour is the problem, not challenging it. The fault lies with those perpetrating abuse, not with those they abuse or those challenging their abuse. What is needed is for the person who engaged in abusive behaviour to a) stop, b) acknowledge what they have done, c) work to ensure it never happens again and d) respect the wishes of people who no longer feel safe/comfortable around them.

Fallacy #1: Making these issues public needlessly divides activist movements

See the first part of the paragraph above: “Abusive behaviour is the problem, not challenging it.” An activist movement that welcomes abusers is one that is already divided. Is it really unsurprising that many women (and others) won’t feel safe or welcome at an occupation when one of the most prominent people at that occupation has a history of sexual assault?

Challenging Omar’s behaviour does not distract us from the struggles that We Are The University exists to fight. Omar’s presence in these struggles prevents involvement in these struggles (to various extents) from a number of people.

In looking at issues of abusive behaviour, it is vital that we do not place blame on those who make us look at what may feel to some people like uncomfortable truths. It must always be remembered that what causes people to speak up about abusive behaviour is the existence of abusive behaviour. If you don’t want the former to happen, we need to work towards the elimination of the latter.

Fallacy #2: This issue is between Omar and the authors of the open letter

It has been suggested that this could all be “resolved” in a meeting between the authors of the open letter and Omar. This could not be further from the truth.

Firstly, the authors of the open letter all challenged Omar’s behaviour (in a variety of ways) while he was living in Wellington. His responses are detailed in the open letter, but suffice to say he refused to genuinely acknowledge that what he had done was wrong, or to commit to changing his behaviour to ensure it did not happen again.

Secondly, and more importantly, this fallacy implies that the issue is between the authors of the open letter (on one side) and Omar (on the other). It is not a personal squabble between people, but rather a small group of people challenging the behaviour of a person. This situation won’t be resolved by us making up with and forgiving Omar – it can only be resolved by Omar taking the steps I listed above: “a) stop, b) acknowledge what they have done, c) work to ensure it never happens again and d) respect the wishes of people who no longer feel safe/comfortable around them.”

Omar has repeatedly engaged in manipulative behaviour to attempt to avoid being challenged on his abusive behaviour. To some people who have challenged him, he has appeared apologetic, sometimes even pretending to acknowledge that what he has done was wrong. His continuing the same patterns of behaviour, and his abusive behaviour towards people who challenge him that he doesn’t feel able to manipulate, however, clearly show that any admissions of wrongdoing are not genuine, and only serve to further give him breathing room to continue in the same pattern of abuse.

Additionally, those who call for a meeting such as this assume that all those who wrote the open letter feel safe and/or comfortable around Omar. The last time I saw Omar, he was being physically ejected from a party he had been repeatedly told he wasn’t welcome at, after he had tried to physically attack me. He was screaming “The next time I see you, I’m going to kill you!” Now, as it happens, I’m not personally particularly afraid of him following through on his threat. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that I have very valid reasons for not wanting to be in the same space as him. Some of the other authors of the open letter may feel the same or similar, but I wouldn’t presume to speak for them without asking.

Fallacy #3: There is no reason to air these issues in public, it could all be resolved by private emails/phone calls/discussions

Some people have taken issue with the fact that the open letter has now been posted publicly. In response to that, I offer two words:

Six months.

It has been six months since the letter was sent to you. Six months for you to respond. Six months for you to ensure Omar doesn’t have a prominent and public space in your organisation. Six months for you to challenge Omar’s behaviour. Six months for you to stop sheltering him. Six months for you to support other people challenging Omar. Six months, in short, for you to have done something. So don’t try to say it should have stayed private.

The best assurance of safety is for those who might interact with Omar to know about his behaviour. The best way to make Omar change his behaviour is to ensure he can’t go anywhere without being challenged on it. Both of these require the history of his behaviour to be made public.

Further, the lengthy period of time detailed in the open letter is unlikely to be the start or the end of Omar’s history of abusive behaviour. Publishing it may allow other women who have been abused by Omar to come forward and let it be known, or at least to know that they aren’t alone, and that there are people out there who support them, and are working towards ensuring that Omar isn’t able to hurt anyone else.

There is so much more I could say about this, but for now I will leave it here. My final thought on this is a massive outpouring of solidarity and support to those up in Auckland who have challenged, and continue to challenge, Omar’s behaviour since he moved back up there.

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@ndy
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Oct 4 2011 08:25

No response by Socialist Aotearoa?

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Anarchia
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Oct 4 2011 09:39

Nothing official. Unofficially they've supported and protected him and continue to do so. He's also not the first abusive male that SA have sheltered and protected from challenge.

bootsy
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Oct 4 2011 21:32

@ndy this blog post mentions in a bit of detail the response from SA members.

Robby t
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Feb 15 2012 01:21

After reading this Open Letter to Omar Hamed of New Zealand. I think I now understand a little of why Omar Hamed did what he did to me on Saturday evening at Waitangi 2012.

After this incident with Omar Hamed I walked away from Waitangi. It was about seven in the evening when I walked away with my bag thumbing a ride back to Warkworth. I got home and wrote a facebook NOTE of the experience then went searching for Omar Hamed's digital foot-print - I went to Omar Hamed's facebook and went through his timeline of LIKEs...

Over 200 likes... Interesting to note that he started with LIKE's of Artist's and Writers.... then quickly moved onto LIKE-ing what the average-person would consider to be, extreme political groups/perspectives. Omar Hamed's LIKE's are of themselves a virtual exhaustive one stop resource for the contacts to all these groups... Significant also to see when his facebook entity began.

I stopped my search as quickly as I started it because I saw no gain from the expenditure of energy...

...that all changed however, whilst reading an article on Operation8, the Urewera supposed terrorist thingy... I noticed the name Omar Hamed and this restarted my looking for his digital foot-print. Not only did I find this Open Letter but also found myself to be a part of another piece of the puzzle that is Omar Hamed. And that my experience is another point from which to triangulate Omar Hamed's true position.

My run-in with Omar Hamed had nothing to do with sexual misconduct. And it seemed that I was simply a potential confront-er who he silenced and discredited very quickly by stepping me out of a meeting with instant personal accusative questions suggesting me of being something that was and is diametrically opposed to who I am and what I am about.

I had never seen this young man before. I had not up until this day, heard his name or known of him in reference to anything that I may or may not be involved with... To me this what became an altercation came right out of the blue and completely threw me onto the back-foot... He had the advantage of surprise and he bloody knew at. He drew a crowd and I was stranger to them all so it did not matter what I said. But all those who stood around and watch, silently agreeing with the situation that was leveled against me, the bystanders by association became a part of the event and they witnessed the truth that I wished for no part of this sort of thing.

My suspicion was that Omar Hamed was what he accused me of because an accuser will, in the absence of fact, usually always accuse as accuser does and as accuser is.

When I read of this other side to Omar Hamed then the picture self-completed and the mystery lost it's mystery.

Drilling beyond the actions to find motivational reason and to answer the question of 'why...(?)'

Perhaps Omar Hamed only does as this open letter describes because he thinks that ultimately he will get away with it... No Judge in any Court will be throwing the book at him for his behavior because for some reason it will never come to that. Having this knowledge at the base of his thinking would easily empower any internal-personal-weakness when the love-of-good-reason and need-for-moral-restraint is removed from the picture.

Reverse-psycho-analysis. There is a reason Omar Hamed is the way this open letter describes and how I experienced him. Omar Hamed is not fearful of being busted for his sexual antics because from the sounds of it not only does he not keep his sexual antics secretive but arrogantly flaunts his activity.

Activity that is suggestive of intentional design, implementation and maintenance seemingly to distract those who he mixes and mingles with from something else that he has going on in his life; something that he does not want anybody to know about; something that he is even more fearful of being busted for...

Single-minded-communities and especially those on a direct mission to change society need to be made aware of this walking talking masquerade more commonly known as Omar Hamed.

I make no apology for my beginning this writing about Omar Hamed with Omar Hamed of New Zealand and constantly referring to Omar Hamed as Omar Hamed instead of any shortened version of addressing Omar like Omar or just Hamed. I do so because my words will better find short-list listings with search engines.

Following link is to my facebook NOTE re: Omar Hamed - I have just now made it PUBLIC so you can see it: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?saved&&note_id=10150591100489040

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little makimaki
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Feb 20 2012 10:28

sorry to hear about your run-in Robby. At least now you know your not alone in having to deal with his power-tripping bullshit.