The Finale

August 20, 2015

It’s fair to assume that I have now had sufficient time to reflect on the goings-on of the past three weeks. But although time has passed since the inaugural SPP conclusion, I have not freed my mind of its contents.

Many have asked me what I thought of the program; they knew of our trips to the prisons and talks with MIIS faculty, and of course almost everyone knew of the presence of Dr. Christopher MIMG_7796itchell, but I think my answer to the question, “How was it?” still surprised them. If I were told to pin point three of the most academically informative and thought-provoking weeks of my life, it may have been those.

There were many dynamics at work that contributed to this overall feeling I am still having; the lecturing staff was phenomenal. Each one had a different opinion or way of talking about sometimes-similar themes, and if we were lucky, we would start to see the personality of the lecturers shine through their presentations. The Mt. Madonna Center was a place dreams are made of! For me, it was the perfect combination of healthy, isolated, peaceful landscaping that provided an amazing environment for learning about conflict resolution (although we disrupted that peace on more than one occasion in the “classroom”).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the group of students that participated made this program (credit to Dr. Iyer, who’s work is never a coinsidence) . This is not to take away from those other aspects I mentioned though, as those parts were always going to be great. But the experiences of each individual came out in every single session, and that enabled me to enter into this duality of learning: peace building and historical/cultural/social contexts of the countries represented. The atrocities that took place in the Balkans are now ingrained in my memory forever. What it is like to be a “do-er” on the ground in Nepal couldn’t escape my mind if I wanted it to. There are 14 other stories that I will forever be able to pull from and talk about to other people with such robust credibility, and for that “Cosmopolitan Street Cred” (thank you Peter Shaw), I am eternally thankful.

To round this up, I don’t foresee myself forgetting much of what was covered in the past three weeks. HOWEVER, I don’t trust myself. So, I have spent some time combining what I perceive to be the most important things from these weeks, in an effort not to forget, but also to relive those moments that I loved. Thank you all for changing the way I see the world.

The Oppressed, the Oppressor, and the Importance of Dialogue

August 17, 2015

I think we can all agree that over the past weeks, we have all gone through our own personal transformations, however small or big. I am certainly no exception. A part of this personal transformation includes the new ability to express some things that I was previously unable to express in any sort of coherent way. So, here we go…

There are many people that choose to identify as many different “cultural people”, or with many different identities that contain specific qualities that have received discrimination throughout history from “the oppressive white man” (like race, gender, etc). To be extremely clear, I think that a person having multiple cultural identities is not only immensely important for living a rich life, but it is also a part of what makes this place great. I also understand that some entities of these different identities are heavily discriminated against STILL, even if it is significantly less then before. Finally, I acknowledge that “the system” is inherently racist and biased in favor of the “man”, and that I am a part of that system and thus a part of its perpetuation. There should be a whole different blog post on this issue.

The same person that has multiple cultural identities (that have previously been discriminated against) can have the desire to surround themselves with others who naturally feel “entitled”, often including “the oppressive white man”, because there is a sense of personal/internal confidence that is contagious and has a positive internal impact. One specific situation that demonstrates this best is in academia; schools or school programs that cost thousands of dollars in beautiful corners of the world are EXACT situations where entitlement runs rampant, because only the fortunate and often-times well-off can participate. I see this as fact.

Those people who feel slighted somehow by “the oppressive white man” are, themselves, choosing to participate in the same system (of education) as that person, and that is both unavoidable and a good thing. The problem for me arises when those people say specific things within those “privileged/entitled” groups that perpetually condemn its members for being the oppressor. For example, “your struggle is so hard”, with a sarcastic tone that immediately creates a conversational gridlock.

I acknowledge that a part of my (The White Man) ancestral history includes oppressive regimes towards your ancestors. I also acknowledge that we are here, in this very safe academic space, together, meaning that being “privileged” or “entitled” is a part of both of our lives… not just me, the white man, but also you, the oppressed. To be accusatory, aggressive and sarcastic doesn’t offend me. I’m willing and excited to listen, and I’m comfortable enough in my body and the ways in which I personally identify with myself to take accusations and criticism (even though my ancestral history includes ethnic roles of “oppressor” AND “the oppressed”). However, given the situation of us being here in this safe space, talking about the duality of oppression, aren’t there more productive ways to discuss this struggle between two people without needing a representative of both sides? Is it even possible to have such a talk without both sides present? Can we talk in a normal way that isn’t an argument but instead a discussion? After all, if it can’t be done here, where can it be done?

These three weeks have taught me the power and importance of Dialogue, and a part of that is the ability to keep people engaged by using appropriate language and tone. By immediately taking on the accusatory tone, you shut the conversation down and make it impossible to understand you point, in addition to the fact that it deems you straight-up unpleasant to be around. This seems quite counterproductive since the purpose of you taking that tone is to impact some sort of change in the way that people see these issues.

I agree that there are MANY spaces where this sort of tone/attitude is completely necessary. Structural violence in this country towards racial minorities is disgusting; unfortunately, I foresee the only way to change this being a revolution of sorts, where there are no limits. However, there are situations where a little more finesse is required I think… if your goal is to make someone understand your point, that is. If you are using a conversation in a safe space as your opportunity to speak your mind and get something off your chest, then go forth and conquer. But do so knowing that you are not being heard, you are just talking.

To summarize, I hope that these words are clear. I’m reaching out to those who read this to help me better understand this situation. It’s difficult to be perceived as the white male oppressor AND speak out about such topics, but I hope it is clear here that I’m trying to make sense of these things for myself, and I am very open to listen to people that have new insights and want to open a dialogue about it.


Culture is NOT the source of conflict

August 16, 2015

I know it has been a couple days since the end of the Summer Peacebuilding Program 2015, but I thought I’d share a topic that has had me thinking the last few days. The final week of SPP at Mount Madonna was full of so many memorable moments and class sessions. A session that has stuck with me was about culture. I had originally not thought too much about the topic of culture as it relates to peacebuilding other than “cultural differences cause conflict.” I soon realized the true role of culture in conflict.

All of us are quick to say that a culture clash is what caused a conflict. During the session, we first took a look at what culture really is. It is in many ways so many things. In a nutshell I came to view culture as something natural, desired, learned and simply a lens through which one views the world (and conflict). In essence, culture is NOT the source of conflict. The lens through which we see the world helps us make sense and organize things we see into an organized manner that fits according to our cultural lens. It is how we make meaning of things. For this reason culture is so much more than what we see on the surface (clothing, language, symbols, rituals, etc.). Culture is always in flux. This reminds me of learning early on in SPP that conflict is change. Viewing conflict as simply an opportunity for change and not something negative or violent, this seems to me that culture and conflict go hand in hand. Conflict is the result of fluxing culture. Professor Iyer stated it well that conflict rides on culture, and culture is the vehicle. All cultures are pointing to the same thing–making sense of the world.

Now in my role as a peacebuilder this helps me make sense of the topic of culture and conflict. In dealing with a cultural conflict, communication is so important. Someone’s culture is just their approach to meaning making. We take on roles in our culture. We must get past the roles and to the person. Going deeper in understanding the intentions of a person. Something I see as pure violence can be of utmost importance and significant meaning to another.

Something to remember for all of us since as long as we simply see culture as the source of conflict.

Gender and Development in Africa

August 14, 2015

Looking at the Millennium Development Goals set by the UN, three out of the eight goals are related to empowering women. After reading several studies relating to gender equality and women’s empowerment, I have come to understand that investment in women education is the first step in achieving these goals. Education can play a big role in contributing to the wellbeing of a society by improving the productive capabilities of the labor force; this has positive implications for the National GDP. Women in developing countries are economically disadvantaged because of their limited access to education, which affects their participation in economic activities. After reading Amartya Sen’s book “Development as Freedom,” I learned a lot about the role of women in achieving sustainable development. Empowering women through education prompts economic growth and consequently leads to development, mitigating conflicts in different parts of the world. Similarly, the human capital model emphasizes the importance of education for an individual’s productivity, as well as its impact for economic output. I have read several studies that demonstrate the significance of female education in promoting economic growth in Africa. The main question is how to address these issues to the African continent. The first step is for women in Africa to understand their value in the economy and to acknowledge the importance of education. Most importantly, African governments are responsible for addressing the issue of gender inequality and are also responsible for empowering women by making education both accessible and affordable.
It is crucial to understand that half of the African population is comprised of women who are underrepresented in the country’s economy. The continent’s development is deprived of the economic value that this “missing” demographic could contribute to the labor force. We have to continue explore ways to address African countries to develop policies that could foster female education. In this capitalist society, the different groups of economic stakeholders often oppress women. Therefore, it is critical that women are empowered so they can have equal economic, social and political opportunities that will undoubtedly improve Africa’s economy.

Unsustainable Peacebuilding

August 14, 2015

Ceasefires are a common phenomenon in Israel/Palestine. Whenever there is an operation in Gaza, moderates and leftists on both sides call for an end to all violence, to restore the “calm” or “quiet” (for a lack of a better word in English; it’s definitely not full “peace” that they’re asking for). I agree, of course.  When there’s an operation, the immediate goal is to stop it. But all-too-many of my peers in the Israeli left fall asleep after the “quiet” is restored. There simply isn’t enough of a motivation for them to get up and make sure that the next war doesn’t happen, because, for now, it’s quiet. It’s safe.

The Israeli-Palestinian situation is an extreme example, but I think that in general, it’s dangerous to be shortsighted as a development practitioner and as a peacebuilder of any kind. Take, for example, the situation in Yemen, which I am currently engulfed in as part of my “challenge question”. There are immediate humanitarian needs that must be addressed as soon as possible. Roads have been blocked, the price of fuel is inflated, and (therefore) children are malnourished. This is an immediate, short term concern that should be addressed first. But there is the risk that both local and international actors will become too concerned with those short term solutions. Shortsightedness is dangerous.

In Israel/Palestine, there are plenty of international organizations working in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (although not as much in Gaza anymore). They are doing invaluable work. UNRWA, for example, provides immediate relief, health care, social services and education to many of the refugees in the occupied territories. But that will not prevent the next war. If I learned one thing in  this program, is that whatever I do, even if I end up working at UNRWA, my immediate concern will be to make sure that any action I make contributes to a sustainable, long-term solution to the conflict (and I am sure there are many at UNRWA that do just that).



The status quo is beneficial for the Israeli right, allowing it to continue an expansionist policy at the expense of 4.5 million Palestinians in the occupied territories. “We’re negotiating; don’t worry”. I worry. The status quo may seem convenient for the Israeli right wing today, but ultimately, they are shaking a can of soda that can burst at any moment. That’s my nightmare. It seems that the field has yet to develop the proper theoretical tools to deal with such an asymmetrical, static, ongoing conflict.

Because of this, and based on my deepening understanding of the relationship between peacebuilding and development at the Summer Peacebuilding Program, I think that any peacebuilding efforts in Israel/Palestine must focus on destroying the source of all structural forms of oppression and violence in the region: the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Any successful peacebuilding missions in the region – whether by means of advocacy, international pressure, domestic politics, or a grassroots campaign – must place this as their first priority.

State recovery and the international factor

August 13, 2015

Today’s session has been one of the most stimulating, in my opinion. Mr. Kumar came from the office of the UNDP and shared with us many valuable experiences on conflict management and post-violence recovery. One of the important insights I gained was about the importance of historical experiences for rebuilding the whole society. The interplay of different conditions that influence the health of the society is an important factor that determines the viability of peace. It is exactly for this reason that peacebuilding has become such a complex term to define. When a war finishes, the survivors cannot think about what peace means for them in the theoretical way that academics heavily function on. The moment when the peace is singed does not allow for the critical evaluation of the needs and necessities of the citizens of a country. Why? Because those voices that matter the most have been pushed past exhaustion, by the horror that had unfolded, into a state of numbness, which takes time and assistance to overcome. Hence, the ideas of social justice, development, freedom, participation, renovation etc. are defined by only a fragment of the population, if even that, and the international community. However, this, in cases like Bosnia, leads to those people who had brought around the conflict ascending to the throne; they become the people who shape that future of the whole society.

Another problem is that even in the new regime, people tend to continue acting on their previous patterns of behavior, which obscures a more inclusive and equitable approach to governance and society building. But in order for the society to become stable and continue in its path of development, it needs to build its own conflict-management mechanism that is informed by the local norms and values. However, this mechanism cannot operate if those patterns of behavior, those ‘’instinctive’’ responses are not changed. Not only that, but, if it is not rooted out, it becomes very difficult to include wider segments of the population and create a dialogue between the “upper” and the “lower” society. The result can often be the feeling of disillusionment and alienation that makes people more vulnerable to more violent ideas of militarized or radical groups. It is, thus, important to go past “putting up” with the “other” in one’s society, and go to a level where, slowly and naturally, the importance of ethnicity, religion or race will become less a source of friction, and more of an embodiment of human diversity.

In a sense, I could not but think of my own country which has been stuck in place for many years now, with no hope for a change for the better anytime soon. Moreover, the lecture also reminded me of the grave reality on the matter of Peace Agreements; as much as they were important for ending violence on a large scale, at the same time, they could lead to detrimental and unjust solutions that would only increase the animosity between different ethnicities of a nation. This is often the cause when the power balance between different groups varies starkly, but also, when the international community fails to ensure equitable distribution of rights to the population. This is one of the reasons I often find myself in criticism of the manner in which international intervention sometimes plays out.

Nonetheless, while I still hold some cynicism about the whole matter, throughout the last two days especially, but also the whole program itself, I was given the task of assuming some of these roles I had so readily criticized, and what I experienced was self-criticism. Even though I always considered the difficulties in arbitrage, it was mostly very superficial. However, after being in the process personally, and witnessing and experiencing a spectrum of difficulties and complications that arise in these endeavors, I was able to admit that, while power politics does play a role in leading to unequitable decisions, it is also the inability to always reconcile different identities and mechanisms that inform their decisions.

On a lighter note, what I was very much glad to learn was that simple gestures can make a great impact on conflict resolution. As Mr. Kumar informed us, words matter, as does the way we represent ourselves to others. And this is important if we want be the ones who provide that safe zone where people can get past their hurt and fears to the dialogue that is crucial for finding middle ground.

New Crusaders?

August 12, 2015

I’m sure many of the program’s participants are familiar with the “New Atheists”: public figures like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris, that are working to actively promote atheism globally. A couple of weeks ago, I had an argument with a friend about them that made quite an impact on me. He argued that the New Atheists are doing good work; that they are not afraid to tell the truth, to hold religious figures accountable for their beliefs, especially when those beliefs contribute to perpetuating violence.

I was reminded of this argument today, in Dr. Joseph Bock’s lecture on the role of religion in the peacebuilding enterprise. To secular, progressive activists, the New Atheists’ arguments are appealing. All kinds of violence are perpetuated and promoted by all of the major world religions, in the name of religion. And indeed, when Dr. Bock asked us to think about cases in which religion was used for peace rather than violence, we all had a hard time coming up with examples. It is very easy to think, on the other hand, of examples of religiously-fueled violence.

The New Atheists are on a crusade against religion. Personally, I don’t disagree that religion is most often a conservative force, and that it is more often than not used as an oppressive tool. Even inside a religious community, for example, religion can lead to structural violence. In Tayibe, my home town, there are no homosexuals, and all women seem to be devout believers, always wearing the hijab.

This, of course, is just a sign of religious coercion. Although I am sure that a very large chunk of the people in Tayibe are genuine believers, many of them also “act religious” in public to avoid being ostracized in such a closed community. This is just one example of the structural violence that organized religion can lead to, not to mention the kinds of violence inflicted by one religious group upon another, “in the name of God”.

Despite all of this, I strongly believe that religion can be used as a catalyst for social change, especially in areas of conflict. Religion, as Dr. Bock illustrated, is a gasoline tank, which can be used to light something on fire, or to do useful work. Although the examples are not as plentiful, there are incredible cases where religion was used to mobilize masses of people, nonviolently, for a common cause. Now, conservatism and fundamentalism are certainly problematic for progressive activists, but as we discussed today, we will never get anywhere by antagonizing the core beliefs of the communities that we try to impact. If we want to mobilize people in Tayibe, or in Jerusalem, in Israel/Palestine or even in the US, we must work with religious leaders, not against them.

Although I may agree with some of the New Atheists’ end goals – to create a tolerant, informed society that is free from all forms of oppression – I think that their strategy is deeply flawed. First we must create a tolerant and safe base in a community – a fertile ground. This can only be done by reaching out to religious communities and their leaders, especially (but not only) in conflict areas, not just because of the incredible leverage they possess but also out of respect for the people whose conditions we’re trying to affect.


Thoughts on mass mobilization and the reduction of public spaces

August 11, 2015

Today August 9, 2015 marks a year anniversary since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Exactly one year ago, the 18-year old black man was gunned down by 29-year-old, white police officer Darren Wilson. Four-and-a-half hours passed before Brown’s body was removed from the street, the summer sun rapidly decomposing his body, his blood marking the pavement. “Negligence” said some, “public punishment” replied most others.

The anniversary of an event such as Ferguson that sparked mass mobilizations across the country made me think back on the lecture given by Dr. William Arrocha. During his talk about the politics of development, he addressed the problematic of intending to build peace and having to deal with the reality of public spaces being reduced and in opposition, private spaces being on a dramatic rise. Dr. Arrocha said “the public spaces, are where peace could be negotiated and yet they have been severely reduced”. What does this really mean though? Mass protests are still occurring throughout the country and around the world. In fact, not only are mass mobilizations still occurring but some have even claimed that Social Media is a game changer in the way we organize in the 21st century. It appears to be the case that we are entering a time where mass mobilizations in terms of participation will be beyond anything the world has seen before. So, then if mass mobilizations are not decreasing, and are in fact unapologetically overtaking private spaces, perhaps a more pertinent question would be: Are mass mobilizations an effective strategy for transformation and change in the 21st century?

Mass mobilizations nowadays appear to spark from anger; they are the visceral response to inequality and violence. However, as Mr. Kazu Haga said, anger is short-lived and can’t sustain a movement by itself. Today’s mass mobilizations are filled with young people who decided to leave their couches and attend a rally they saw published on Facebook or Twitter. Arguably, even if one could say that there is a considerable risk of bodily harm in many of these mass mobilizations, the information and the ties to the cause they are protesting for is low. Organizers in Social Movements now a days should be very careful of quality of participation vs. numbers of participants. Recruiting civilians for a mass mobilization is the easiest part, creating committed activists with strong ties to the social movement is the real challenge for organizers.

Weak-ties with a Social Movement can not only undermine the validity of the whole movement but can also jeopardize any ability the movement might have to dismantle hegemonic structures of oppression. Strong-ties to a movement is the only way to ensure its long-term success and achievement of its goals. If the Black Lives Matter movement for example, fails to see the importance of collaborating with other CSOs, if it fails to educate people in ways to reform the juridical system and make black and brown lives a priority of the political and economic agenda of this country’s leaders, it will not progress as a movement.

Anger, will only spark demonstrations in Ferguson here and there, while other young men like Michael Brown will continue to bleed in the streets of this Nation.

Bridging the gap between theory and reality

August 10, 2015

One of the fantastic characteristics of this fellowship has been the opportunity to learn from both academics and practitioners from the field of peacebuilding. However, as we enter into our final week of the fellowship, I am beginning to rethink the ways in which the two different fields can collaborate. During our sessions with Professor Kathryn Poethig, she asked us about the issues that we are prickling with throughout this fellowship. My issue has been understanding the various players and stakeholders that are engaged on the ground and understanding their interest before trying to make a decision or believing in a certain theory.

We had extremely engaging and informative sessions with Professor Poethig. Towards the end of her last session, she asked us some broader questions – one of which was revolving around the idea of systems and our agency as human beings. I heard a lot of frustrated voices today, and some of them were revolved around the idea that the best solution to the kind of patriarchal, capitalist, unipolar society is to re-start a new system. Although it seems like the right thing to do (and I would sign up if Bernie led it), I believe that the system is not where the fault lies. I believe that the system, in its principle, works. However, what does not work as often, are the different functionalities within the system. For example, the system of prison, as a way of providing rehabilitative support for individuals who have lost their path in the journey of life – works. However, the way we treat our prisoners is problematic – instead of supporting and understanding their circumstances to help them cope with it, we lock them up and provide them with minimal programming. That is exactly the problem with the larger system of governance and world structures. I am one of the people who strongly believes that systems have the ability to change, and we have many examples to vouch for that – it was a change in system that led to the civil rights movements in this country. This was a result of years of perseverance and dedication on the part of citizens and leaders, who took up these issues actively and fought for what they believed was right. If Gandhi had given up hope on fighting such a monstrous British regime in India, the independence would probably take much longer.

Although theoretically, the thought of a world revolution sounds amazing, I believe that we have to get our priorities right – I am not trying to kill the idealism that we still maintain, but when working on the ground, that level of idealistic philosophy becomes crushed the minute you enter a place where the discussion starts from ground zero. Perhaps many of us will end up as academics, and some as practitioners. For all my practicing friends out there, lets keep fighting for a perfect system, but lets maintain our thoughts on the ground and more importantly, understand what the people on the ground need. For the ones more focused on academia, I suggest we maintain a stronger relationship because it is your research and study that allows the practitioners to understand best practices across countries, cultures, and years. Both groups have valuable input in the field of peacebuilding, but the collaboration is missing. I am confident that we can fill that vacuum and really leverage our education to support the ‘industry’ of peacebuilding in one way or another.

Neoliberalism and Climate Change: The other side

August 10, 2015

While I earlier posted about neoliberalism and economic structure opening new markets for environmentally friendly products that will propagate strong environmental action, I feel compelled to present the ‘other’ argument. The one that argues that nature holds dignity and needs to be viewed through value-based outlook. So here it is.

Climate change presents us an opportunity to re-evaluate our perception of nature as an economic resource. Nature has an inherent value that does not involve economic terms of markets and business.. There is no doubt that climate change is going to influence our lives and those of future generations in an unprecedented scale. However, it is important to note that climate change also provides us an opportunity. Opportunity to go back to the roots, and maintain a symbiotic relationship with nature. With the advent of capitalisation and industrialization, environment has been misused and our relationship with nature has become purely economical. It is time to show care, concern and respect for the environment that selflessly sustains our mankind. Environment and nature has an inherent dignity that cannot be compromised as the way the way we use our resources is not only going to dictate the future and success of our future generations but also the relationship we share with one another today. Environment forms the basis for human relations and we cannot help alleviate this crisis by placing a monetary value on nature and looking at as a commodity. We do not finish our duty towards environment by merely becoming better consumers of environmental goods. Assuming that nature we can repair nature through current global market forces is imprudent and almost laughable. Environment today demands more. It demands duty, respect, responsibility, care, stewardship, and community management. This calls for a massive revamping of our mindsets and attitudes regarding environmental benefits. It is fundamental that we expand our horizons beyond the trifling economic world. Imminent problems of today provide us an opportunity to rethink our current troubled and non-symbiotic relationship with nature.

Rethinking involves reviving old and forgotten perception of nature. One of which is stewardship. Stewardship calls on protecting environment through sustainable practices. It provides a sense of stakeholdership, with an array of people involved: donors, volunteers and practitioners. It supports positive environmental change especially for the underprivileged and ignored members of socioeconomic strata. One other practice that can be revived is community based management of environment. Community based systems have performed exceptionally well in adding to the health of their respective local environments. It allows locals to decide and participate in the practices they deem best for their locality. This is in contrast to governing bodies that dictate the “sustainable” practices without knowing the historical, cultural and social context of the place. Moreover, community based systems amplify the simple efforts made by individuals.

As Mark Sagoff, an influential author and ecologist points out, the way we interact with nature directs our interpersonal relationships, and community action promotes better interaction between humans and environment. Environmental issues provide us an opportunity to revise our perception of environment. Thereby, these value-based choices will provide a chance to rewrite our current economic plagued society.