Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS

Author: Nasema Zeerak (Page 1 of 2)

M&E in Reconciliation: is it measurable?

In our last session with Elizabeth Cole, we discussed Monitoring and Evaluation in Reconciliation. As an M&E student at MIIS, I was very intrigued when I saw the agenda. Elizabeth Cole discussed many interesting examples of Monitoring and evaluation in Reconciliation. In reconciliation what questions we want to be answered? How do we know if it’s working? What was very interesting is that she mentioned that the results of M&E show that reconciliation projects’ effect is not that great. But I think what is important to see is that what is working and what is not working, And to use the results to inform future reconciliation projects.

I was also very intrigued by some attributives and indicators of reconciliation that we discussed as follows:

  • Increased willingness to come together for projects and dialogues
  • Share future
  • Rehumanization of others
  • Long Term, multigenerational, not a direct line
  • Voluntary, can’t be imposed
  • Tipping point
  • Respect for human rights
  • Commitment to nonviolent solutions

When we think about these signs of reconciliation, it is also important to acknowledge the difficulty of measuring such indicators. And so I hope I can explore M&E in reconciliation more in the future. 

Remembrance v. Forgetting

Forgetting is not an option, and so remembrance becomes the reality. In our discussion Elizabeth Cole brought up the race riots of Tulsa in the 1920s in Oklahoma, even though it was not long ago, it is almost forgotten among certain groups. An interesting point came up that it is important to remember history so the past histories are not repeated.

We also talked about the importance of commemoration in remembering history. We watched the movie “Lynching in America” by Eji of past lynching of black Americans. Brian Stevenson in this project has collected soil from lynching sites to not let the history be forgotten.

This project seems like a good first step in remembering the history and remembering what happened. But the reconciliation process needs much more than that. It is not easy to reconcile when there is accumulated victimization by denial of such events.

Lynching in America:

In our discussion of denial, Lorna pointed out to an interesting issue that denial is the use of force and power to suppress victims and so making it worst for victims in the reconciliation process. When there is a denial of past, for reconciliation, a structural transformation is necessary.

Humanity has come along way, but we look back and cringe at past terrible events like lynching or genocides of not long ago. We get angry and uncomfortable. Will we look back at this time and get uncomfortable to all the unjust and ugliness happening in today’s world?

“it’s never going to be the same”

All wars are the same, they start the same way. One group arms themselves and then they attack one early morning or late night. I remember my parents and grandparents telling me stories of civil war in Afghanistan over and over again. “It was early morning, we were woken by the sounds of rocket and gunshots”, “ the neighbor’s son was shot in front of our eyes”, “ we couldn’t go anywhere, they were coming from every direction.” and on and on.

Today, we watched the movie “ Pretty Village” in Elizabeth Cole’s session. The movie was very emotional and sad. It was about the 1992 war in Bosnia. Like every other war, the story of Bosnian war is the same. The Serbs armed themselves and attacked the Bosnian Muslims. Some of the quotes from the movie that struck me are:

“ things have never been the same ever since then.”

“ it isn’t the same.”

“I have realized what real loss is like.”

“Those experiences, the trauma will follow you for the rest of your life.”

“It’s never easy to go back even after 20 years.”

“ it’s good to feel like a human being again.”

Today in Bosnia, just because the violence has stopped, it does not mean the country is in a stable place. Everyone has a deep emotional scar from the war. Reconciliation is not an easy process. In a post war society, it is not easy to put together even the components of reconciliation. People have gone back and are starting their lives, but the trauma will follow them for the rest of their lives. In our discussion, we talked about dimensions of reconciliation as follows:

  • Justice
  • Truth
  • Peace
  • Acknowledgement
  • Apology, forgiveness
  • Ceremonies
  • Commemoration
  • Exhumations

An important issue that came up in our discussion of dimensions of reconciliation was that these elements are in tension with each other. For example, forgiveness and justice. Or remembrance and forgetting. It is extremely difficult to conclude what is the priority or what is more important. Each individual experiences things differently and so reconcile differently, or might never reconcile.

On Reconciliation

We always talk about reconciliation in peace building and conflict resolution. But when attempting to write this blog, I had to look up the word.

Reconciliation: “the action of making one view or belief compatible with another”

In our session with Joseph Bock, he asked us a question: “ Where is reconciliation initiated?” It was brought up that it starts when the victim forgives the perpetrator. This was so hard to see how the reconciliation starts by victim forgiving the perpetrator. For me, a big question is how does a victim move from being angry, and mad and upset to forgiving the perpetrator. Even more challenging is when the conflict took place in the first place due to incompatible views and beliefs. Then what is the incentive for the victim to go back to reconcile and forgive the perpetrator?

The discussions left me puzzled and provoked me. I remembered speaking to one of the other students from our program about reconciliation. She had some great insights on it. In a short conversation, she mentioned that “not everything can be fixed”, “If one if not reconciled to the truth, then one should work with something to be able to move on”. A short conversation helped me wrap my head around this concept. Yes, not all views and beliefs can be compatible at all times. Not every relationship can be restored to how it was before the conflict. And most importantly we should all be able to move on for our own sakes.

Going back to Joseph Bock’s session, he said that when a victim and perpetrator reconcile, they go to a new place. I believe that is true. And that exactly is reconciliation, to work with something and go to a new place.

My biggest take away from the sessions on reconciliation was that as human beings we should be able to reconcile for our own sake. Holding on to something leaves us angry and mad and broken. In order to set ourselves free, we have to work with our conflicts and incompatible views and beliefs.

Joseph Bock ended the session with a beautiful quote that summarizes my blog:

“Continue to love each other like brothers and sisters and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

culture and conflict

The session on culture and conflict was very interesting to me and I learned a lot. As Dr. Iyer said, in cases where people label a conflict as a cultural conflict, it is, in fact, something deeper than culture. For example, values or norms. And so when it comes to tackling “cultural conflict”, it is important to dig deeper to find the underlying causes of the conflict rather than at the culture level.

In our discussion, we brought up many examples of such conflicts like FGM, child marriage or dowry in some societies. In these cases, people often say it is the culture and so it is not easy to challenge these practices. But in all these cases, we can look deeper and see why a certain practice has become the culture, what has caused it. And it is fascinating to see there is always an answer deeper than culture level. Personally, for me, it was a great exercise to look beyond a culture and try to find the root causes of a practice.

I come from a high culture context where there are many practices that are labeled as a culture. In this session, I had the opportunity to look at all these practices and find the root causes of such practices. And it is fascinating that I was able to find something deeper in all these “cultures”.

living room conversation

I find Living room conversation a very useful tool for talking about sensitive issues in a safe space. There are times when I have wanted to have a conversation about not so easy topics with friends, but knowing how it might go wrong, I have avoided. But living room conversation was a very useful tool to speak about such sensitive topics.

I must say that living room conversation might not work for everyone, as it did not work for some of our group members. And the key is to abide by the rules. Despite the sensitive nature of our topic, we were able to have a very meaningful conversation where everyone was heard without interruption. While listening to the rules of the conversation, the “be curious” rule was a great reminder for me to listen to others to learn, not only to respond.

In addition to having a healthy conversation, it is very useful to get to know others in a meaningful way. We had the living room conversation with Weiru, Vanina, Laura and Mary after spending 2 weeks, but I felt that I got to know them so much more in a 45 minutes conversation.

on self care

This past week, the topic of self-care came up a few times in our sessions. I realized and appreciated the importance of self-care more than ever before this week. It is crucial for peace-builders to incorporate self-care into their routines due to the intense nature of this work. Again, needless to say, the second week was a very intense week for most of us that left us angry, upset, confused and frustrated. For many of us, the field visits provoked personal experiences.

Another interesting topic that came up in our discussion of self-care, was how self-care is extremely personal and it is different for everyone. As we experience events differently, we also deal with them differently. One might find peace in being around people and friends, others might find that peace by being alone in their rooms or being around their close family members. 

What I hadn’t realized is that we all don’t have this privilege to leave off and do what we have to do to take care of ourselves. Be it going on a trip, or enjoying a quiet moment. And it is crazy that we all can find ourselves in such situations that we are not able to do the simplest things to take care of ourselves.And this has left me puzzled. What is important and what is a priority? How much can we put up with and where do we draw the line? How do we work with our emotions and fragility? At times how do we postpone our self-care for when we don’t have the privilege to leave off? Should we postpone at all?

Social Cohesion And Peacemaking

Our world has changed dramatically within a very few decades. Technology and globalization are having effects in our modern life, yet abject poverty and political repression are manifested in many parts of the globe. This is attributable greatly to the lack of peace and social cohesion.

I believe that all people, regardless of religion, tribe, ethnicity, race or station of life, share a common heritage and essence. This can inspire a common effort to build a world of sustainable peace. One of the numerous things I have learned so far in the Summer Peacebuilding Program, that is presently ongoing in the Center for Conflicts Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey, is that divisions among nations, religions, and political leanings have increasingly polarized the human family. Hence, there is an urgent need for all, particular leadership with moral authority, to bridge divides and build social cohesion that can foster peace and prosperity for all humanity.

Civil society leaders, political and world’s religious leaders have a shared responsibility to transcend religious divides, among others, and work collaboratively to establish ethical, just and cohesive societies. As the co-author of ‘ Towards a Declaration of a Global Ethic ‘, Dr. Hans Kung, asserted, ” There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.”

“It is ok to be confused – because peace building is complicated”

I signed up for summer peace building program after my initial introductory conflict resolution course last year. Despite learning a great deal, everything was blurry in my head and nothing quite made sense to me. I learned theories, we practiced through simulations in class, we had discussions, but every time I thought of a conflict, I didn’t really understand and it was difficult for me to apply a theory to the conflict and pinpoint the root of the conflict.

I came into SPP program to clear these confusions and to understand conflicts and learn about peacebuilding. I wanted to find concrete answers for some of the current conflicts. I have this tendency where I organize information in boxes in my head and that’s how I make sense of things. The first week of SPP has passed and even though I learned a lot and it all makes sense on their own; but I am confused where to put these chunks of information and overall it has become even more blurry than it was.

In one of the sessions with Richard Rubenstein, he said” it is ok to be confused and have these difficult questions that no one can answer because conflict resolution and peacebuilding is complex. It is not easy.” In this one week of our program so far, I have learned so many different aspects and approaches to peacebuilding. But I have also realized that peacebuilding is complex where an interdisciplinary effort is needed.

In the first few days, we had different sessions with practitioners and professors about different aspects of peacebuilding and sometimes it was hard for me to follow and organize this information. But towards the end of the week, I appreciated this and realized that looking into different aspects of peacebuilding is extremely important for understanding the complexities of conflicts. And for these complex conflicts, a multi faceted interdisciplinary effort is required to tackle these conflicts.

In our first session, Dr. Iyer mentioned that peacebuilding is not an idealistic notion; in fact, it is very real. It is a political notion and requires strategic efforts. One week into our program and it is only a validation of this theory for me. For peacebuilding, people need to come together, it requires effort and long term commitment.

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.


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