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.

Finding truth about the search for truth

August 9, 2015

Dr. Mitchell’s talks with us about reconciliation and transitional justice were quite moving. I quickly found myself curious and then a bit determined to learn more about the process of reconciliation in a post-agreement environment. Through several case studies of violent conflicts, I kept on looking for some sort of “formula,” like a “how-to” guide to reconciliation. What kind of compensation is necessary? What are the first steps? While Dr. Mitchell demonstrated to us several principles and components of reconciliation, I finally grasped that there is no one-size-fits-all for this delicate process.

This is why learning about cases of reconciliation is important. Each one has its successes that help people heal and shortcomings which are to be taken as lessons for us as we move forward. The story of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa is very powerful. I was struck by how hearing the truth from victims, even through a video documentary and thousands of miles away from where it occurred, impacted me. I can only imagine how it affected the victims and people of South Africa. It is a lesson of a collective journey for truth.

I also found interesting the community aspect of reconciliation in the case of East Timor. They used traditional forms of conflict resolution to hear truth from both victims and perpetrators. Afterwards, perpetrators were rehabilitated in a way via community work. This fostered reintegration and healing of the community. I think the world can learn from such practices. Their view the perpetrators was that of human beings.

I question how I can foster groups to reconcile and heal using whatever culturally appropriate norms work best.

Advocacy and Accompaniment of Lasting Peace

August 6, 2015

A lot of people in our class have blogged about our couple days of focusing on gang violence in the local area. I believe that the visit to the Salinas Valley State Prison plus our talks with Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin and those about Ceasefire brought out a lot of emotions and opinions about our whole criminal justice system and gangs in our society.

First of all, for me these all were eye-opening experiences. I grew up in a place where gang violence did not exist and therefore my exposure to the culture of gangs was limited to television and media. I did not consider myself as someone oblivious to the existence to such violence, but seeing the actors involved in such things struck a certain cord.

Julie Reynolds was ever so informative while talking about her work as a journalist, and her knowledge in general about gang violence in Salinas was impressive. She is the type of person I want to aspire to be like. Her work as a journalist/activist is centered on the human condition of individuals involved in gang violence. During our interactions with her, I was reminded vividly of our earlier Skype session with Father Cedric Prakash. In speaking about peacebuilding, he stated the importance of knowing the facts, but also that knowing the facts is not enough. This is where advocacy and accompaniment come in. Julie embodies all of this. As a journalist she has shown her skills at finding out the facts. And in addition she has taken a stance and personally been at the sides of those, such as Willie Stokes, who are making a positive change. It is people like Julie who are the agents for fostering lasting peace.

Natural Resources, Violence, and more Chaos

August 3, 2015

Dr. Richard Mathews spoke with us on Friday about natural resources, violence, and peacebuilding. Although I feel I have always known that the environment is involved in conflict (and often a victim), I was a bit struck by how much of a role the environment plays in not only the instigation of conflict but in the process of peacebuilding. I guess it makes sense. The land we live on and the environment in which we survive is vital to our existence. Dr. Matthews pointed out several challenges facing us in the 21st century, including a growing (and aging) population, economic inequality, security, public health, and others.

While these points didn’t surprise me too much, I felt drawn in by the case studies of peacebuilding he spoke about. Be it northern Pakistan or Sierra Leone, conflict broke out in places where an outside group came in and disrupted decades or centuries of stability. The exploitation of one resource (timber, diamonds) brings down the house of cards of an entire people’s livelihood. The speed of this downturn is incredible, but what is sad is how long, if ever, the population can ever recover. By the time the dust settles on the initial conflict, the cultural and societal framework  is so shaken up that no one knows how to heal it, often leading to further violence.

I was happy to hear Dr. Matthews talk about how peacebuilding does not happen in 2-5 years. I have often thought of this, particularly about a country like Haiti. After a conflict or natural disaster, the world pours in resources which likely are not used properly or get blockaded off and taken elsewhere. Then as quickly as the assistance had arrived, it is shut off and moved to the next crisis. Countries in this situation need a 5, 10, 15 and 20 plan to recover most likely. Each situation is unique and complex, making it all the more challenging. But without it we will just keep repeating a vicious cycle. Now who should be responsible for overseeing the country in such a comprehensive and long-term plan? Who knows. An actor such as the U.N. has the advantage of having a “big picture” of the situation. But such a task will take so much more than one organization to carry out. Just something more for me to think about!

The Inequality, the Neoliberalism, and the Structural Violence

July 29, 2015

Two sessions stuck out to me today. The first was about the economics of income inequality and the second dealt with the the political history/hegemony which has led us into not only income inequality but in addition an exclusionary system due to the continued shrinking of public space.

Dr. Dayton-Johnson worked with us through some readings (especially those of us without a knack for economics) about how income inequality impacts growth. I was surprised to learn from a reading (of the IMF of all places) that redistribution does actually contribute to growth, contrary to much of the dialogue normally heard. I also enjoyed the discussion of income inequality being a form of structural violence. I have known for a long which that income inequality is something negative for an country looking for positive growth, but had a difficult time putting to words why that is. Dr. Dayton-Johnson led us to realize that the large percentage of people at the losing end of income inequality are left out of the credit market due to a lack of any collateral and therefore little or no capital accumulation (physical or human).

The afternoon session hit home the reality of the hegemonic discord and historic block that is shaping our society and lives. Dr. Arrocha passionately led us in a discussion of neoliberalism and how exclusionary the politics of neoliberalism has made our society. This was not the first time I have been in such a lecture or read about the topic, but I was nonetheless struck by the depth this philosophy has infiltrated our lives. And I was surprised once again at how in many aspects or moments of my own life I had simply accepted such a situation as “normal,” for lack of a better term, and never questioned it. For example, Dr. Arrocha’s point was the ever decreasing amount of public spaces. And with an increasing amount of marginalized people with diminishing public spaces to be present in and make themselves heard, it is a no-win situation. Throughout the discussion I thought of several headlining situations of violence around the U.S. and the world which have fallen victim to such structural violence, and in the process wasting resources on overloading our prisons with persons who in many ways probably acted in a way that any of us would have if in their shoes.

This has given me a lot to think about for future lectures and visits during SPP.