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Courage Day 15th November – what’s it all about?

Courage Day 15th November – what’s it all about?

It’s about supporting our right to freedom of speech and opposing the persecution of writers with dissenting views. On November 15th each year, all around the world, PEN Centres remember those imprisoned for writing about things someone didn’t approve of.

PEN is an international writer’s organization, loosely affiliated to Amnesty International. P.E.N. stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible.

P.E.N. declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace. It believes the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organized political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative. And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members pledge themselves to oppose such abuses of a free press as the deliberate distortion or suppression of facts, or the trivialization or limitation of free and informed discussion, for political or personal ends.

In NZ the PEN Centre which is now incorporated into the NZ Society of Authors – decided to name Nov 15th Courage day after two NZ writers. James Courage was a novelist and poet who expressed his homosexual orientation in his writing. A number of his books were banned. Sarah Courage, his grandmother had her book – a description of colonial life, burned by neighbors who resented comments she made about them. “Courage,” seemed an appropriate name for a day devoted to commemorate writers who have stood up for their beliefs. Think Mandela – “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”

This year the NZSA (PEN Inc) plans to broaden the focus from imprisoned writers to include dialogue, poetry and music from many countries and cultures. Politicians, poets, lawyers, media people and musicians will be brought together for an informative and entertaining two-hour commemorative event from 4.45pm at St Mathew in the City.

Mike Johnson, chairperson of the Auckland branch of the NZSA (Pen Inc) will read the poem Obstinate Child by Chinese Writer Gu Cheng. Witi Ihimaera, Stephanie Johnson, and Kapka Kassabova will read from their own work or authors whose work has inspired them.

William Taylor, author of more than 40 novels for children and young adults holds the distinction of being one of the few New Zealanders to have made the American Library Assoc list of banned and proscribed books. He will speak on this experience and give a brief reading from one of his offending titles, the well-known Agnes the Sheep.

Malcolm Evans Cartoonist supplied the NZ Herald with a daily cartoon from August 1996 till August 2003 until he was dismissed for refusing to accept the Editor’s direction to stop addressing the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. The Herald received almost 300 letters about the issue and in support of Malcolm’s right to make witty political comment without pressure group censorship but published none of them. The Justice for Palestine Group made a complaint to the Press Council who ruled yesterday, in favour of the Herald. Meanwhile some members of the Jewish community and Auckland Jewish Council want Malcolm prosecuted by the Human Rights Commission for bringing their race and religion into disrepute.

The editorial cartoonist is ‘a columnist who draws.’ In normal times, Malcolm would never speak in public. He believes it’s not the person that’s important but the message, the ideas. “To have the opportunity to present one's views daily to the readers of a newspaper is a privilege that should not be abused. While the cartoonist has a responsibility to be fair and to operate within the law, the reader has a right to expect that the images presented have not been genetically engineered to fit some other agenda.” Malcolm will speak about his recent experience and project some of his cartoons.

Rana Sobh, a Palestinian woman from Tunisia came here in the year 2000 after dreaming about finding a country where the people have a good heart and good values. Her father was forced to flee historic Palestine (Israel) in 1948 to Syria and none of her family has the right to return to their Homelands. Living in exile is stressful and can foster long- term resentments that Rana’s parents wanted to avoid for their children. They encouraged her and her siblings to think of living in other parts of the world. Consequently, Rana has sisters who now have citizenship in Canada, Britain and Germany. Rana obtained her Masters degree in Marketing Management in Tunisia where she met her husband Gehad, an accountant. Gehad was born in 1967 when the Israelis occupied the West Bank. He grew up in Egypt and graduated from The University of Cairo Business School. The couple has two boys Khaled 10 and Omar 7. Rana currently lectures at the University of Auckland. Her doctoral thesis is on the psychology of consumer behaviour. She’s a compassionate woman with her own views on peaceful solutions for Palestine and Israel. She will read from the work of Lebanese-American poet and novelist, Jubran Khalil Jubran, (1883-1933) leader of a school of Arab American writers known as al Rabithat al-qalamiyyah (The Bond of the Pen)

Kalafi Moala is the publisher of Taimi 'o Tonga newspaper, an Auckland produced twice weekly newspaper for the Tongan communities in Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, and the USA. It was banned in Tonga between February 26th and early June this year. After three court hearings it could again be sold in Tonga, but constitutional amendments concerning media ownership laws are waiting for the King to sign. If they are signed as they stand it will make the sale and distribution of Taimi’o Tonga illegal in Tonga.
Thuten Kesang He has been attending an international conference for supporters of Tibet. of Lhasa, Tibet will be returning from Prague in time to speak at the Courage Day event. In 1985 he co-founded the Friends of Tibet and has served two terms as president of the Auckland Multicultural Society. He has helped organize three visits to NZ by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. Deborah Manning a lawyer specializing in refugee law and a descendant Of James Courage, Caroline Foster will speak. There may be a few words from Prime Minister Helen Clark who has been invited. The line up of musicians includes Israeli, Shuki Shukrin and friends who’ll sing and play acoustic guitars and percussion; Edna Levi will perform a dance about impossible love between an Israeli Soldier and a Palestinian Girl; Robson Santos of One Million Dollars will play the traditional Brazilian Berimbau – a stick a stone, a string; Jazzattak: Jez Titterton and Piahana Tahapehi who met on Waiheke Island 1991, around the time of the first Gulf War, at the Peace Meets East concert will open the show at 4.45pm with a lovely set including Flamenco Sketches (Miles Davis) A Remark You Made (Weather Report ) and they’ll perform original Jazzattak compositions. The finale, a brand new talent, began their journey from nowhere to top-flight competition winners in January this year. They are the Papatoetoe Intermediate School Kapahaka group. As a way of teaching discipline, team spirit, respect for ones peers and the value of hard work, Coach Margie Le Grice has found the answer. Tuakana Teina – a teaching method where the kids teach each other. She’s a first year teacher, and this is her first Kapahaka group. Four years ago she survived a heart transplant operation and if she doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘the meaning of life,’ nobody does. When the group started and she chose the leaders, Margie went around, strumming her guitar and putting her ear close to the mouths of all the young hopefuls. The two she chose sang very quietly, but their voices were true. Nine months later, after tons of hard work, plenty of tellings off and the inevitable tears, she’d transformed the 32 girls and 8 boys into a team that won the poi, haka and discipline sections to take the Overall Winners Trophy at the Te Atatu Cultural Competition. Tears, this time of pride flowed freely from all the Papatoetoe supporters. “How did you know our kids could do that?” demanded the parents of the leaders. “ I knew,” said Margie. “I just knew.”

We live in an era of continual war – it gets so much publicity. More than ever there is a strong sense that people want to take a proactive stance in finding peaceful solutions to political problems. But a forum where people with disparate views can have a platform in a peaceful manner? That won’t generate much interest. Where’s the conflict, the story, the news value ?

P.E.N. declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace.

Any coverage you can give to this Courage Day event as a feature or on your community notice board would be greatly appreciated.

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