Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS

Month: July 2017 (Page 3 of 7)

Partners Global – Disability Rights in Iraq

Last week my team received the challenge question from Partners Global. The question is “How can PartmersGlobal best address disability rights, and include voices of the disabled, in reconciliation and rebuilding programs in Iraq?” I am glad I chose this project because it is challenging and because I am interested in every aspect of the question. This project will help to expand my knowledge of Iraq socially and politically. Even though the Middle East is my region of interest, it is exciting to focus on one country and be culturally specific instead of thinking in a generalized way.

It is interesting how your knowledge of topics and issues, old and new, can connect and compliment each other for a new project. I have already started thinking about applying what I already know and what I am learning now at the Summer Peacebuillding Program. As a rising senior majoring in international studies and political science I took many courses about the Middle East and political Islam. These classes in addition to our discussion about terrorism with Prof. Richard Rubenstein will help the analysis of the role of the government and ISIS in the disadvantage of disabled Iraqis. There are many means to achieve peace that we discussed in SPP like storytelling, technology, and other ways. This is a good experience to try to apply these theories to the case of disabled Iraqis and how these techniques can help. I also hope that my personal experience as an Arab with a disability and as the vice president of a disability awareness student organization in Oklahoma will give me a closer look at this challenge.

The disvalues of values

The first day of the program, one of the most interesting activities we participated in was the alligator story where we made value based judgements to determine the levels of fault of each of the characters in the story. As I worked on the rankings, after some minutes of thinking and making judgments, decisions came very easily to me. In fact, I expected everyone in my group and in general to have similar if not the same rankings as mine.

Within my group, we had very similar rankings but where we differed was the difference of faults between the character that asked for sex in return for his favor and between the character that beat another up. For me, I chose the latter as the worse behaviour, simply because one character, however immoral his intentions, gave the option of choosing to take his offer or not, whereas the guy who resorted to violence did so, unprovoked and out of his place. None the less, when my group members, all of whom were liberal college going females chose to rank the first character as the worst one, I understood where they were coming from and their reasoning. However overall in the class, I was very surprised to see how the rankings differed. Some ranked the friend who had not helped as the worst while another ranked the man who rejected his lover due to the infidelity as the worse, both instances, I felt that people chose their own emotional reactions rather than objectively analyzing the situation. In my opinion – and  I have reflected on this a lot – a bad friend in no way is at more fault than someone who beats up someone else, whatever the reason, or someone who asks for sexual favours. Similarly, rejecting/loving someone is one’s prerogative, and while that might make him a bad human being, it doesn’t make his behavior the worst. People used their values and sentiments to make such distinctions and in this regard, I felt, values were not of much value.

Emotional Baggage Claim Area

Notably, this made me think about how often we use our experiences and past emotions to project blame and judgement on characters and how emotions often cloud our opinions in such cases. I am probably guiltier of this than anyone else, as I am very fast to make judgements about situations without hearing out the whole story. This activity forced me to separate myself from the situation, perhaps because of the absurdity of the story, and try to look at the story with an objective meter. I will definitely try to do the same in more emotionally charged scenarios in the future and perhaps make decisions that are as logical as they are reasonable?

Action research methodology

In my first blog, I mentioned that I am very interested in the intersection of development and peacebuilding. I came in with my own set of critiques for development work and agencies engaged in development work. Often times development efforts assert that in addition to other merits, it will also serve as the cause of peace.

What I appreciated about our session with Kent Glenzer was that instead of just critiquing previous development norms and values, we had to see the benefits of such norms and see how and where it was useful. This was a great exercise for me. It made it clear to me that there was nothing particularly wrong with some of the development practices, however, these practices had been misused by implementing the same projects/programs in different cultures/communities without taking into account the uniqueness of each culture/community.

And of course, the introduction of action research methodology. When I did the readings, I got upset thinking there is new language and vocabulary for participatory development practices. However, I really enjoyed our discussion in class and it cleared out my misunderstandings about this methodology. The discussion about past practices was very interesting for me. By looking at the flawed practices from the past, development practitioners can learn a lot by avoiding those practices. And so other than learning from Kent Glenzer and about action research methodology, I also learned to get past my biases.


heaven and hell on earth

The first day of our program, after going through the history and the theories of conflict resolution, we watched the movie, Parzania. The movie is about the Muslim Hindu conflict in Gujrat inspired by a true story. It was especially difficult to sit and watch through for me because when it comes to a conflict I always see how individuals experience a conflict. In the conflict between Muslims and Hindus, there are many stories where families lost their loved ones, but what I really admired about the movie was that it had followed the story of one family through this conflict. Hindu Muslim conflict has been around for a long time in Gujrat, but how this prolonged conflict affects individuals and families is often times ignored. The mother in the movies says: “ I and my husband can’t communicate anymore, my daughter will never forget what she has witnessed and for the rest of her life she will fight the demons she has witnessed.”

This is so true. Conflicts have all become numbers, but we must not forget that all these numbers are human beings who each experience these incidents in different ways and it influences how they view the world around them forever.


Having said that, watching this movie and the discussion afterward was a great way to start out peacebuilding program. For me, it was a reminder that in all the conflicts around the world today, there are individual human beings who are being affected and it will take them a lifetime to come in terms with what they have witnessed. It will take them a lifetime to recover and transition into a normal life, or at times they might never be able to go back to their normal lives.


Let me tell you a story.

Student: I want to change the world, or at least make a slight change to the current system.

Guru: Yes, you might.

Student: How to do it? How can I make sure I don’t give up?

Guru: Let me tell you the Golden rule. If you follow it, then you can make a change for sure.

Student: Okay, guru. Yes, please.

Guru: Just don’t give up. That is what you need to know. Let me give you a small task for THREE DAYS, and see whether or not you will understand.



Student: I can’t do it anymore…why? I had everything ready, and I am so prepared.

Guru: The first day is hard. The second day will be harder. The third day you will see the sunshine. But many people quit in the night of the second day.

Many of us want to make a change and contribute to the peace building or even a greater good. We know that, from Professor Rubenstein, the fundamental cause of structural violence is prejudice. If we want to change this current system, it will require us to reform the legal and political worldwide system, which for sure will take us a LONG time.

So, as future young leaders, in which day will I see you?

Reconciling Differences and the Meaning of Justice

Transitional justice and trauma associated with areas of conflict are definitely intertwined and trying to separate the two results in an unfair reconciliation process. Richard Rubenstein, in his discussion about transitional justice, defined it as a part of the peacebuilding field that refers to techniques that an integral part of peacebuilding that take place in the transition between conflict and post-conflict towards reconciliation and ‘positive peace’.  We also learned about the effects of trauma on your brain and how it completely can change the chemical and physical make up of your brain due to unhealthy or stressful situations and situations of conflict. The intersection between transitional justice and trauma is one that I believe is one of the most important in the peacebuilding process because each person deals with severe trauma situations differently, so to find that equilibrium of justice within the transitional justice process for these cases can be very difficult.

Another thing that sparked my interest was the fact that reliving trauma tends to keep an ethnic conflict alive. The way that trauma changes the brain, changes the way that the brain reacts to other events (that it may deem as traumatic) to the point that reliving that trauma can cause it to be passed down generationally, thus being incorporated into an ethnic or social conflict for years. This also causes the transitional justice process to be treated very differently. It is hard to say that Truth and Justice Reconciliation Commissions should allow people to recover and remember blocked memories to aid in the healing process, when that could also be against the culture of healing in that community. Therefore, I find that when it comes to trauma and restoring justice in a conflict community once conflict has been resolved it is important to let that community decide how and when they want to heal, or better yet, how and when the individuals in the community want to heal.

Development and anthropology

On July 26, we had a session on Structural Pathologies of the Development Enterprise by Kent Glenzer. It was extremely interesting and reminded me of many discussions that I’ve come across when studying anthropology. Anthropology started off as a discipline that tries to understand “the colonized other” and it has come a long way.  Anthropology similarly asks the questions: what is this other that we are trying to understand and help? What power do we (anthropologists) hold? How to reflect on ourselves as anthropologists and our presence in different communities? These questions should similarly be asked by people doing international development work and there should be always be reflections on the roles that development practitioners take. It is extremely important to keep questioning what it is the vision of modernity and society that we imagine it to be as we do development work? This remains a problems that I see in international development and the way that donor systems work. People are caught up with the goals set by their donors, which do not often reflective of the needs of the community and their objectives are shaped by their own Western-oriented views of a “developed” society and do not necessarily take into account different local needs and their visions.

I am interested in exploring more about the intersection of development and anthropology, and how in the field of development academia engage with practitioners.

Peace building Rule of thumb: Understand how people ACTUALLY think first.

In the field of economics, people are trained to think and act rationally. Oftentimes, a professional peace building team or council is partially composed of economists that provide insights on economic development in the affected zones. Nowadays, practitioners start to question the effectiveness of the work that they have done to mitigate the plight around the world – whether or not their work is what the affected/victims want.

Professor Glenzer said that practitioners nowadays are trying to draw more from the behavioral economics – a contemporary field tells you that people make logical assumptions of economic rationality that do not reflect people’s actual choices, and does not take into account cognitive biases. In other words, people do not know when they are biased in decision-making. Westerners’ philosophies may not apply to the philosophy of people in the undeveloped or developing countries. This is what actually happening the conflict zones – victims sometimes expressed to the practitioners that their work is not what they want.


Professor Glenzer recommended a book that we all should read before going to the field. This book is also my favorite when I studied behavioral economics – Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which tells you how people actually think in reality. He further stressed that doing any sorts of development work is important to understand how other people think and react. He also emphasized that the importance of ACTION RESEARCH necessarily for peace building and development work – people with the problem get to research the problem. As an Economics major, I hope I can integrate the behavioral economic knowledge and mindset in my peace building work/projects in the future.

Structural change and development

The lecture on structural violence is thought-provoking and I really enjoyed the theoretical aspects of it. The question that came to my mind when discussing structural violence is what is the “structure” or “system” that we are discussing? As easy as it seems to point out many structural problems that remain in society, it takes quite a bit of analysis to understand what’s going on in the larger picture. In addition, we often portray structure as something invisible and shape all aspects of life, yet how does human agency play a role in this and shape the structures that we live in?

To understand structural violence, it requires us to take a step back and understand the larger picture, especially when coming to the work on conflict studies and international development. This also introduces an interesting dilemma that has always been in my mind – if we recognize that there are many structural problems that need to be identified and addressed, how do we actually start from making small changes? It is important not to undermine the incremental changes that have smaller impact yet always be critical and recognize that without tackling some of the more structural and fundamental issues, the problems won’t be solved.

The Alligator Story

The first session of SPP was led by Jill Stoffers. She introduced various team building exercises that were beneficial to me. She started us with a meditation session. She also emphasized the role of mediation in our professional life and the importance of checking ourselves from time to time. This made me think about my life experiences and what has shaped me into the person I am today. The idea of meditation and checking ourselves is so crucial for me. Please see the diagram called the experience ladders below. The diagram illustrates based on our values, life experiences, education, and the environment around us, we have a different set of opinions and one speaks from his or her position. As individuals working in peacebuilding, one needs to be aware of where people are coming from. Of course, differences in opinion means diversity of perspectives. However, I am understanding the need to manage the diversity of perspectives towards collective interests or goals.

We also worked on the alligator river story. We had to rank the characters in the story based on their behavior and responsibility. As individuals, we ranked the characters differently because every member of our group was seeing the issue from their position on the experience ladder. It was incredible to see how we see the same issues differently. The best part of the exercise was to climb down the ladder of our experiences and find a common ground that was difficult to get to. Getting down to the common ground was not impossible either.  I wonder when it comes to our needs, how much can we negotiate and come down.

Although the alligator exercise was for team building purpose, I could not stop thinking about the context of the story. The alligator story was designed to simplify the story and come up with conclusions. I learned that before we make conclusions or simply things one needs to look at the context or the environment. In the story, there was no bridge on the river that prevented Abigail and Gregory from being together. The river and the alligators in it are like our social structures or borders that do not allow people to meet. Hence, I see the need to overcome our blind spots and look beyond what our eyes can see or ears can hear. One needs to be careful about our proximity biases as well. Below is a video that illustrates that we have a selective attention that does not allow to see the gorilla in the room.  Hence, as peace builders, one needs diverse perspectives and ideas that will make up for our blind spots or biases. Please do watch it.


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