Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS

Category: Kenny Hui

Religious conflict? How can we use religion to make peace?

Oftentimes, throughout the history, people refer conflicts between two religious groups as religious conflicts. However, when we look deeper into many of those conflicts, the truth is that most of them are more like identity conflicts in which that people do not even practice their religious rituals, but rather they use the religion symbol to manipulate the group to fight for their interests. Professor Bock shared with us that intervention of these conflicts is only possible if and only if we have the credible messenger within the group, because outsiders cannot effectively influence the religious leaders – change is more effective from within.

Professor Bock also mentioned about the concept of “holy envy”, which plays a role in peace building process for religious conflicts. It is defined as individuals express admiration for a religious practice. For instance, a Christian celebrates Ramadan or a Muslim celebrates Christmas. But I found the wording of this concept interesting because I see that their behaviors are more like an appreciation instead of envy. Similarly, what is the difference between “tolerate an culture” and “celebration of diversity”?

No matter what wordings we choose to use, as a peace builder, the most important thing is that we have to do what we do in with the understanding of the conflict.

Innovative sustainable business for Peace !

I was mesmerized with Professor Langholz’ s presentation about launching an on-site water production for resolving water conflicts across the globe. Capitalistic ideas are not bad at all, aren’t they?

Professor Langholz told us that, for most of the times, the best technique to use negotiation to resolve conflicts is to expand the “pie” for both sides. Of course, it is easier said than done because each side will have their positional interests. To me, when I reflected on his “pie theory”, I actually connected that with the concept that I lately came across – transformative mediation. This process is primarily focusing on recognition and empowerment for both parties instead of looking for an immediate short-term solution. I would say that Professor Langholz’s “pie theory” resembles the essence of the transformative mediation, because it also focuses on both sides for a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.

On the other hand, Professor Langholz shared with us his multi-billionaire business idea that we can potentially implement that in our home countries – The WATER CITY – using the latest sustainable technology to recycle the water in California. (He started a company on this with his students after receiving the Innovator Award of the Year.) I realize that, conventionally, business ideas are not commonly acknowledged in the field of peace building. However, the world is transforming. We all need to incorporate all the possible ideas to contribute the world peace building process. I think innovative sustainable business for Peace would be a win-win situation for everyone, and we all should work towards to it.

In reality, can conflicting parties achieve reconciliation?

The concept of reconciliation refers to the restoration of relationships, and in many cases, it incorporates justice, forgiveness and accommodation between conflicting parties. However, the key question that peace builders should ask themselves is that can we have justice and forgiveness at the same time? Are they contracting with one another? Can people forgive their enemies for what they have done? For instance, as Dr. Cole said, resolving religious conflict and achieve reconciliation is complicated because the definition of reconciliation across religions is different – mercy for Buddhist; truth for Hindu; justice for Muslim; and forgiveness for Christian. Then, how can we reach a common ground for reconciliation?

Dr. Cole also mentioned an interesting “reconciliation” for the victims in Aceh province in Indonesia, after the tsunami struck in 2004. There were two groups fighting for years and the conflict was deeply rooted in the cultural and religious difference between Aceh and much of the rest of Indonesia for a long time. However, they achieved “reconciliation” after the tsunami, because all the infrastructure, land, and houses in the area were destroyed – they had nothing left. Both conflicting groups came and worked together to rebuild the affected zone. Their change was historical because both of the groups had never come together; but then the disaster reunited them together.

I found it interesting because their “reconciliation” did not match the concept of reconciliation at all. Though, they have restored their relationships for a short period of time, the process did not incorporate any justice or forgiveness from either ride. Rather, they were together to rebuild their lives.

So, without experiencing life-and-death situation, can two conflicting groups forgive one another with other peace-building process?

The role of mediation in Peace building

Mediation plays a crucial role in peace building around the globe, because unlike negotiations, the process allows an acceptable third party to intervene the conflict and help resolve it with neutrality. Prabha Sankaranarayan from Mediation without Borders told us that, drawing from her previous professional experience in Kenya, local mediation efforts could make a big difference for peace. And the best mediation is to make both parties to believe that the mediator is on their sides while taking on no sides.

On the other hand, Prabha then explained to us that the crucial first step to become a good mediator is to learn how to listen to other’s story. We all have to learn how to listen to understand, but not listen to respond. We did the group exercise of storytelling (without interrupting one and other), while observing the storyteller’s feelings, body language, value/perception, emotions, and facts. I realized that we all see things differently even from the same story. More importantly, listener may interpret the stories through emotions instead of the factual information.

I am curious that how we can take mediation in the peace building process into to another level. As far as I know, the concept of mediation to many developing countries is completely new. And some countries are reluctant to receive the help from outsiders; the question that we have to think about is: how we can find a trustworthy mediator in the peace-building process?

Inmates’ hope and dream

Earlier the week, I visited the Salinas Valley Prison and learnt about how the prison facilities functions. I also had a precious chance to interact with the inmates in their rehabilitation program – Common Ground. This pilot program is pioneered by the inmates who aim to keep themselves from committing more crimes when release. The program places a strong emphasis on self-reflecting their future goals and hopes in life, while providing themselves a space to share and encourage one another through different activities.

A lot of inmates have come to realize that the best remedy from re-committing other offenses is having the desire of reuniting with their beloved families. I still remember that one of the inmates in my group discussion, saying that “I don’t want to come back here (prison) anymore, I have five children waiting for me outside. The youngest one has never seen me before …”

For most of them, the main reason why they first committed crimes was not primarily because of poverty. Instead, they did not have any role models to look up to in their childhood. While we cannot deny that the underprivileged in the country is constantly facing structural violence and we do not have any immediate solutions, the most effective way as of now, unfortunately, is to focus more on the prevention work that can lead to an incremental change.

Willie Stokes, the Founder of the Black Sheep Redemption Program, who is also an ex-gang member and was incarcerated for 14 years, also stresses that the best way to change the gang issues is to reach out to young people who are at-risk of succumbing, as well as those who may have already succumbed, to a self-destructive lifestyle based upon the mentality of gang violence and drug addiction. Prevention is better than cure. And that is what we can do for now. Willie also wrote a book “The Testimony of a Black Sheep” about his roller-coaster life, which I think it would be very inspiring to read and learn from his experience. I am looking forward to getting more insight from reading his book.


Prevention is better than Cure – Gang violence in Salinas

Salinas has notoriously been known as the youth murderer capital of California for more than a decade. Fortunately, nowadays, there are more local interventions to mitigate the gang violence implemented by the local NGOs, communities and the Mayor. Still, unfortunately, the process remains an uphill battle.

During the panel discussion with the Mayor, NGO partners, and the Director of CASP today, I learnt that the biggest challenge for the prevention work is the sustainability of the funding that they can use for implementing youth projects. Oftentimes, they have to suspend the ongoing projects because of the budget cut. In other words, they will have to start the projects all over again from time to time, which makes it difficult to break the gang cycle thoroughly. More importantly, the second major reason that deters their prevention work is that the Salina gang culture is distinctive than other gangs across the country. For instance, the dropouts will be viewed as dishonored or betrayal who will then be killed by other gang members. (Gang members in Chicago will respect the dropouts who work for a better job.)


Overall, I believe that the work carried out so far by the CASP and local community is effective to alleviate the gang violence. Their work does not only primarily focus on prevention, but also intervention, suppression and re-entry. Particularly, I realize that they put a lot of efforts in helping the ex-gang member to lead a normal life. This is crucially important and far-reaching because as I have learnt in the Salina Valley Prison visit from the inmates that they want to be welcomed by other community members, they want to feel trusted, and they want to feel supported.



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?

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.

Storytelling in peace building – How can we truly empower the storyteller?

Hey! Just watch this short clip first tell me what do you think?



What do you think?

What do you think about the last 10s?

“The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.” No doubt, the sharing of stories from victims in conflicts/crisis around the world acts as a way to pass on their experiences to awaken the public, so that we can help mitigate the plight. As Amy pointed out, storytelling as a peace building method is powerful because the participatory approaches empowers the storyteller – it offers the opportunity for the storyteller to heal the trauma and become a part of the peace building process.

I am glad that nowadays there are so many organizations trying to use storytelling (digital telling in particular) to spread their messages to the world. But as you have seen from the video above, the paradox is that a lot of talented people use the processed storytelling to achieve their intended goals. They are sometimes good and sometimes bad… For me, I think it would be more important for us to learn how to listen to the story, when to be selective and when not to, and what we should do afterwards with action. THE STORY LISTENERS ARE AS IMPORTANTA AS THE STORYTELLER.

On the other hand, I thought about the fundraising campaigns that we often see on our FACEBOOK feeds. I am referring to the ones that are not for emergency needs. For instance, nowadays many young people write a story about themselves and try to raise thousands of dollars JUST TO TRAVEL. Well, some of them actually got the money…

My point is, I believe that, all of us, especially the younger generations have the power to become a good storyteller to the people around us. We do not have to tell thousands of stories, but we can use our skills and talents to share what is going on in the conflicted zones around the world.

An Investment BANKER!?!? How did I encounter the inner and outer peace?

This is Kenny. Nice to meet you!

Truth to be told, as an Economics major, I once aspired to become an investment banker on Wall Street, but my real-life experience has reshaped me to become a social entrepreneur and conflict resolution practitioner. During 2014 and 2016, I took a leave of absence from college and worked at NGOs in Venezuela, Thailand, Costa Rica, and most recently Ghana. My two-year hands-on exposure in the nonprofit sector includes program management, advocacy, stakeholder involvement, social entrepreneurship, and change management. In each country, I designed and conducted projects with intercultural strategies in order to develop a more sustainable solution to the pressing problems.Particularly, the interaction with marginalized youth in the slums of Venezuela made me realize that poverty, joblessness and economic stress are often the fuel for gang violence and civil conflict.

Therefore, through SPP, I hope to gain a better understanding of contemporary conflict resolution techniques that may involve economic intervention and learn how to attack the roots of violence in a given country/community, which may have become deeply embedded over time. I understand that it is a complex exercise that even practitioners with deep local knowledge can find intimidating if not overwhelming, but my passion and effort can be contagious, and my suggestions can be blueprints for future actions. To the SPP, I will bring a perspective grounded in democracy, multiculturalism, development, and youth empowerment through my personal experiences, and many stories to share with my peers about my life, research, and interests.

P.S. I am a Christian, but I went to Thailand and lived with monks in the mountain for 3 months, learning Buddhist philosophies, mediation, and their ways to approach world peace.


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