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irani_islamic_mediation_techniques

irani_islamic_mediation_techniques - 360 Young Oran R 1967...

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Unformatted text preview: 360 Young, Oran R., 1967. The Intermediaries: Third Parties in International Crisis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Paul Wehr is an associate professor of socio- logy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His research has dealt primarily with mOvements for social and political Reach 5134.5 Islamic Mediation LIVING TOGETHER IN PEACE change, particularly those using various types of nonviolent action. John Paul Lederach is Professor of International Peacebuilding at the Joan B. Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University and Distinguished Scholar at Eastern Mennonite University. Techniques for Middle East Conflicts GEORGE E. IRANI Many Middle Eastern scholars and practitioners trained in the United States have returned to their countries of origin ready to impart what they learned about Western conflict resolution techniques. In Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and other countries in the region, the teaching and practice of conflict resolution is still a novel phenomenon. Reprinted with permission from www. mediate.com. Conflict resolution is viewed by many as a false Western panacea, a program imposed from outside and thus insensitive to indige— nous problems, needs, and political processes. Indeed, many people in the Middle East view conflict resolution as a scheme concocted by the United States meant primarily to facili— rate and hasten the processes of peace and Islamic Mediation Techniques for Middle East Conflicts 361 “normalization” between Israel and its Arab neighbors.1 In assessing the applicability of Western-based conflict resolution models in non-Western societies, theoreticians and prac— titioners alike have begun to realize the impor- tance of being sensitive to indigenous ways of thinking and feeling, as well as to local rituals for managing and reducing conflicts. Middle East peacemaking has been a rather superficial phenomenon in the sense that diplo- matic agreements have not “trickled down” to the grassroots. Peace treaties based solely on economic and political enticements, coercion or purely strategic considerations cannot last if they are not accompanied by a sincere, pro— found exploration of the underlying, emotional legacies of fear, hatred, sorrow, and mistrust resulting from decades of warfare and unend- ing cycles of victimization and vengeance. In order to bring peace to the Middle East, poli— cymakers must foster and encourage a dialogue that takes into consideration indigenous rituals and processes of reconciliation. The purpose of this essay is to explore and analyze non-Western modes and rituals of conflict reduction in Arab—Islamic societies. The necessity for such a study also stems from the dearth of available works relating conflict management and resolution processes to indigenous rituals of reconciliation. There is a need to fathom the deep cultural, social, and religious roots that underlie the way Arabs behave when it comes to conflict reduction and reconciliation. Thus, this article discusses the socio~ economic, cultural, and anthropological back— ground in which conflicts erupt and are managed in the Middle East. Issues such as the importance of patrilineal families; the question of ethnicity; the relevance of identity; the nature of tribal and clan solidarity; the key role of patroneclierlt relationships; and the salience of norms concerning honor and shame need to be explored in their geographical and socio-cultural context. Religious beliefs and traditions are also relevant to conflict control and reduction, including the relevant resources in Islamic law and tradition. Different causes and types of conflicts {family, community, and state conflicts) need to be considered, as do indige— nous techniques and procedures, such as wasta (patronage-mediation) and tahkeern (arbitration). The rituals of sulh (settlement) and musalaha (reconciliation) are examples of Arab-Islamic culture and values and should be looked at for insight into how to approach conflict resolution in the Middle East. Finally, there is the need to consider the implications of these issues and insights for practitioners and policymakers. To what extent is an integration of Western and non— Western models of conflict reduction and reconciliation possible? This paper looks first at Western and non— Western approaches to conflict “resolution” and points to important cultural differences in approaching conflict management, including the role of the individual in society; attitudes towards conflict; styles of communication; expectations of mediators, understandings con— cerning “victimization” and “forgiveness,” and the usefulness of governmental (andr‘or non— governmental) programs and institutions— such as truth commissionswfor “national reconciliation.” The second section considers the geographical, sociological, and cultural influences on the Arab Middle East. It high— lights the importance of relation ships based on family, patriarchy and gender, kinship, and cli- entism, and points to the continuing underlying code of honor (and its counterpart, shame) in conflict and conflict management. The third part considers the concept of rit- ual and its role in conflict “control and reduc~ tion” {as opposed to conflict “ resolution ”) and focuses on the rituals of sulh and musalaha as examples of indigenous Arab modes of settling disputes. The final section considers the impli— cations for policymakers and practitioners and 362 suggests an alternative approach to natiOnal reconciliation in Lebanon. CONFLICT RESOLUTION: WESTERN AND NON-WESTERN APPROACHES Although conflict is a human universal, the nature of conflicts and the methods of resolv— ing conflict differ from one socio—cultural context to another. For instance, in contempo~ rary North American contexts, conflict is com- monly perceived to occur between two or more individuals acting as individuals, i.e., as free agents pursuing their own interests in various domains of life. Conflict is often per— ceived as a symptom of the need for change. While conflict can lead to Separation, hostility, civil strife, terrorism and war, it can also stim- ulate dialogue, fairer and more socially just solutions. It can lead to stronger relationships and peace.2 The basic assumption made by Western conflict resolution theorists is that conflict can and should be fully resolved.3 This philosophy, whereby virtually every conflict can be man- aged or resolved, clashes with other cultural approaches to conflict.4 Many conflicts, regardless of their nature, may be intractable, and can evolve through phases of escalation and confrontation as well as phases of calm and a return to the status quo ante. This is why this essay adopts the idea of conflict con- trol and reduction to depict the processes of settlement and reconciliation in the Arab Islamic tradition. The third basic assumption in U.S.~based conflict resolution is that conflict usually erupts because of different interpretations regarding data, issues, values, interests and relationships.5 According to the prominent anthropologist Laura Nader: Conflict results from competition between at least two parties. A party may be a person, a family, a lineage, or a whole community; or LIVING TOGETHER IN PEACE it may be a class of ideas, a political organization, a tribe, or a religion. COnflict is occasioned by incompatible desires or aims and by its duration may be distin— guished from strife or angry disputes arising from momentary aggravations.‘ Conflict in Western perspectives is also viewed as having a positive dimension, acting as a catharsis to redefine relationships between individuals, groups, and nations and makes it easier to find adequate settlements or possible resolutions. During the last ten years, more - and more voices within the field of conflict res- olution have been calling attention to the importance of acknowledgment and forgive— ness in achieving lasting reconciliation among conflicting parties. Many of the world’s most intractable conflicts involve age—old cycles of oppression, victimization and revenge. These conflicts, which can have dangerous and long~lasting political repercussions, are rooted in a psychological dynamic of victimization. Racism and “ethnic cleansing” are only the most dramatic manifestations of such cycles of victimization and vengeance. One of the guiding principles of U.S.- inspired conflict management and resolution is to help individuals or groups embroiled in conflict to acknowledge one another’s psycho— logical concerns and needs so that they will be able to overcome their historic sense of victim- ization.7 Victimization is a crucial concept to grasp when dealing with protracted conflicts, whether personal or political. Overcoming feelings of victimization, which, unfortunately, are endemic to the human condition, is the most important step towards healing. Usually, acts of violence (whether inflicted on an indi- vidual or a group), are the results of deep feel- ings of being victimized, regardless of who is the victim or victimizer. In the case of nations and ethnic groups embroiled in conflict, acknowledgment of unhealed wounds from pain inflicted in the Islamic Mediation Techniques for Middle East Conflicts 363 past facilitates the resolution of conflicts. From a Western psychological perspective, conflict usually erupts because some basic needs have not been fulfilled, such as needs for shelter, food, self-esteem, l0ve, knowledge, and self-actualization.3 The non-fulfillment of these needs, exacerbated by acute feelings of victimization, inevitably leads to conflict and may eventually lead to war. A first step in the process of healing, then, is the mutual acknowledgment by all parties of their emo- tions, viewpoints and needs. Thus, the first and most crucial skill which conflicting parties must develop is that of actively listening to each other. Communication skills are fundamental to conflict resolution. In many cultures, the art of listening is drowned out by arguments and the never—ending struggle to get one’s- point across first. The opposite of listening is not ignoring, rather, it is preparing to respond. Mediators are trained to listen carefully to all parties involved in a dispute. Active listening is a method that ensures that the whole meaning of what was said is understood. Mediation is another skill used by Western practitioners in conflict resolution. The media- tor confronts two basic tasks when involved in settling a dispute. First, he or she has to encourage people to negotiate in such a way that there is an equitable outcome. Second, the mediator has to be completely neutral and place the expertise and power of decision- making in the hands of the conflicting individ- uals or groups themselves. In addition to mediation in conflict resolutiOn, negotiation is another important tool in Western conflict resolution processes. “Interest—based” negotia~ tion focuses on people’s long—term interests, rather than on short-term perspectives, and does not encourage hard or soft types of bar— gaining (this is the case when one of the parties has to give in or compromise} which usually lead to unsatisfactory “positional” compromises.9 Following the collapse of various dictatorial regimes in Latin America and Central Europe (e.g., Chile, Argentina, Brazil, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland), truth and justice commissions were formed to “police the past,” i.e., to investigate the extent of human rights violations committed against civilians by the former military juntas and Communist parties in these countries. These efforts encouraged a healing process of atonement and remorse for past crimes which, in turn, helped citizens and governments alike to rebuild democratic institutions. A similar process recently began in South Africa follow~ ing the dismantling of the apartheid regime and the election of Nelson Mandela as President of the new Republic of South Africa. Lebanon shares some of the problems affecting societies in transition, though the country has not fully regained control of its sovereignty. In April 1994, as a contribution to the ongoing efforts at intercommunal rec— onciliation in post—war Lebanon, the Lebanese American University assembled on its Byblos campus a group of government officials, NGO activists, students, and lawyers, for a three— day conference entitled “Acknowledgment, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation: Alternative Approaches to Conflict Resolution in Post- War Lebanon.mo The conference focused primarily on the psychological and interper— soual aspects of the Lebanese War, especially the politics of identity and the vicious circle of victimization and vengeance that fueled the long conflict. Conference participants were initially uncomfortable with and suspicious of the theory and techniques of Western conflict res— _ olution. Mixed feelings were expressed about the applicability of conflict resolution in the Lebanese social context. A Christian banker who was educated in the United States noted that conflict resolution theory was initially forged in labor management relations in the United States and that later it was applied to 364 business and then to community relations and academia. He raised an important method- ological question: “How can a theory which is supposed to be dealing with definite, pro grammed, institutionalized relationships deal with the unprogrammed, informal, and ran— dom relationships characteristic of social and political contexts in a totally different society?” A Muslim academic and social activist declared that a better concept would be “con- flict management” because “it is impossible completely to solve conflicts; the existence of cOnflicts goes together with human existence.” He raised the related point that conflicts were interrelated, the resolution of one conflict was contingent upon the resolution of other con- flicts. “The crisis of Lebanon and the Middle East are the best proof of what I am saying,” he concluded.11 The conference also revealed interesting insights into Lebanese conversational culture. The National Director of the Young Women’s Christian Association—Lebanon (YWCA) com~ mented that in Lebanon, when individuals are engaged in “heart-to-heart” conversations, they often interrupt with expressions of empa— thy and support. “It is not like interrupting rudely. The process of the discussion shows our concern because we are a very emotional people. That is the problem: we usually talk all together. We are active talkers and active listeners!” A further area of difficulty came to light when participants discussed the necessity, in active listening, of remaining silent when the other person is talking, especially in cases of intense argumentation. In Lebanon, remaining silent is sometimes interpreted as meelt acqui- escence or agreement. A government represen- tative from the Ministry of Education stated that “in the rural areas of Lebanon, if you do not talk, it means you are dull; the more you talk, the more it is assumed you know. People want to show that they know, especially those LIVING TOGETHER IN PEACE who go to town and come back to the village. They always talk.” The key role of third parties or mediators in disputes was also addressed. In Lebanese culture, as in Arab culture in general, the mediator is perceived as someone having all the answers and solutions. He therefore has a great deal of p0wer and responsibility. As one participant put it: “ If [the third party] does not provide the answers, he or she is not really respected or considered to be legitimate.’312 Finally, a number of conference participants expressed their expectations that conference organizers and facilitators would provide ready-made solutions to Lebanon’s woes. This expectation was not unusual in the context of Lebanese culture and politics. For several centuries, politics in Lebanon have been repeatedly penetrated by outside powers, either to foment strife or to impose solutions. The phenomenon of relying on out— siders for answers and solutions reveals some of the fundamental blind spots in Lebanese political thought: a lack of responsibility for one’s actions and behaviors. At a more practi— cal level, many Lebanese have opted to forget about the war and get on with their lives, even if the wounds and consequences of the war are still very much alive in the collective and individual Lebanese psychcs. . Denial seems to be the defense mechanism of choice for many traumatized Lebanese in the wake of the long and damaging war. This behavior is not unique to the Lebanese situa— tion. Victimization is a crucial concept to grasp when dealing with protracted conflicts, whether personal or political. Overcoming feelings of victimization (which, unfortu- nately, may be said to be endemic to the human condition), is the most important step towards healing. Participants reacted to this new approach by exploring the sources of Lebanon’s conflict through the psychological scars of victimiza— tion. A Lebanese woman educator, while Islamic Mediation Techniques for Middle East Conflicts 365 acknowledging the value of this approach, pointed out that these conflict resolution tools in the Lebanese context are hindered by the paradox that Lebanon is a “very individualis— tic society, but unfortunately, we do not have individuals." She went on to explain that “in order to have conflict management or conflict resolution, you have to recognize the other. But, you do not have the other if you do not have the individual. That is why there is no reconciliation, forgiveness, and conflict res- olution [in Lebanon]. The existence of the individual is essential in this process.” This trenchant observation neatly summa— rizes the state of society in post—war Lebanon. Rather than a cohesive group of individuals bound together by an agreed-upon set of rights and obligations, (i.e., citizens), the Lebanese instead comprise an agglomeration of compet~ ing communities, each of which requires absolute allegiance and obedience frOm its members. Every one of these communities feels that the others have victimized it, so the process of acknowledgment, forgiveness, and reconcil~ iation has to begin at the community level, rather than at the individual level. These new and challenging concepts of conflict resolution—acknowledgment, victim— ization, communication skills, interest—based negotiation—elicited many reactions from conference participants. The most poignant reaction came from a Lebanese woman whose husband was “disappeared” during the war and who founded the Cornmittee of Families of Kidnapped People;13 Commenting on vic— timization and how to overcome it in negotia— tions, she used two examples to emphasize her point: The first example concerns the Israeli occu- pation of my country. If my country began negotiations with Israel, it means that there is an intention to solve the conflict. But I do not understand why Israel is insisting on keeping me a victim because after each negotiation session, there are more dead people in the villages of South Lebanon. I cannot understand how I will emerge fmm a sense of victimization if I am negotiating and paying in victims every day. It is no longer a matter of c0mmon interests, but of recognition of rights. SOmeone is refusing to reCOgnize these rights to the party we are calling the victim. The second example she gave was personal and related to the issue of the 17,000 kidnapped Lebanese whose fates are still unknown. The kidnapped person is a victim and so are his family members. These people have to stop being victims and maybe they even have to fight not to be victimized. But when the obstacles are still there and the kidnap- per does not acknowledge any of my rights, what will my position be as a victim? How can we reach a solution if I have a right and he has an interest? Finally, many Lebanese participants at the conference raised the issue of government accountability for crimes committed during ...
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