Monday, July 18, 2011

Peace Studies Class, Part 2

As promised, here is my "solution" to the Park 51 Center issue I came up with at the end of my peace studies course with Professor Galtung.  He actually liked it, which made me inordinately happy. Once a student, always a student.

Steps Toward Transcendence In the Case of Cordoba House (a.k.a. the “Ground Zero Mosque” or “Park 51”)

Conflict: New York Muslim community wants to build cultural center.  Proposed site happens to be a few blocks from site of World Trade Center.  Opponents believe  building Islamic center near site of attack carried out by Muslim extremists defiles the “sacred space.”

Complication: Like many micro and meso conflicts, this conflict is purposefully used by some outside the community as a synecdoche for meta and mega conflicts (Israel/Palestine, U.S.A./Arab world, West/Islam).  

Strategy: Reframe conflict—renarrativize it.  Tell a new story.  The two sides are not antagonists; they are a collective protagonist against ignorance and violence on quest for goal of understanding and peace.  

Naming is important.  Point out problems of calling center “Ground Zero Mosque.” (It is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque.)  The attempt to “rebrand” the building as “Park 51” is a classic compromise/withdraw move.   Go back to center’s original proposed  name: Cordoba House.  This refers to medieval city in Spain in which learning was privileged and religious intolerance among Muslims, Jews, and Christians was minimized.  Educate public about the reasoning behind the name.  Use it.

Use mediators to communicate the hopes and anxieties of both parties to one another.  Minimize demonstrations, public hearings, and other confrontational interactions.

Localize issue—point out that outside forces would love to manipulate both sides.  Get sides to engage with one another, not with outside forces that would use this conflict as proxy conflict for meta and/or mega conflict (e.g. West vs. Islam).    Make this about New Yorkers solving a New York problem.  

Frame the center as an Islamic cultural center that has as its particular mission the elimination of ignorance among different faiths.  It will host interfaith symposiums, speakers (including Professor Johan Galtung?), and courses that focus on dialog, conflict resolution, and understanding.  Its mission is to counter the stories that drive terrorists, Koran-burners, militant Zionists, and all those who use religion to excuse/condone violence.  This not only acknowledges but uses the proximity to the WTC site to resolve the conflict rather than inflame it.  

Point out that doing this is not a compromise for either side.  Taking on the mission of conflict resolution is not an appeasing of anti-Muslim bigots; the center will still serve all the purposes as an Islamic cultural center it was originally intended to.  By being an Islamic cultural center, it is not appeasing Muslim extremists; the very purpose of the center is to counter extremism.   The center is indeed “sacred space” in the most holistic and important of ways.  

Create memorial space for all those who died as a result of religious intolerance and militancy—yes, the victims of 9/11, but also those who died in the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and other collective persecutions or acts of individual bigotry. 
Reframe conflict not as synecdoche of meta or mega conflict, but as a metonymy—something that “points to” possible solution of these larger conflicts.  Its solution does not depend on solving these larger conflicts, but its solution can serve as symbol of possible resolution of larger conflict.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Peace Studies Class Update, Part I

Hi all,

Some have asked about the peace studies class I took online through Transcend Peace University this spring, and I thought I'd share the first and final "papers" (really brief overviews--Professor Galtung doesn't appreciate longwindedness).  The other papers were group efforts, so I don't wan to post those,but the first and last were papers where we were asked to (in the first paper) describe a specific conflict and diagnosis it using the vocabulary and terminology used by Professor Galtung and (in the second paper) to offer a solution based on the concepts we read about and worked with during the class. 

Here's the book we used in the course, in case you're interested:

I chose the conflict over the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" (which is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque--discuss).  Below is the first paper.  I'll post my "solution" tomorrow.  BTW, I'm hoping to get into a summer course that starts in a couple of weeks with Professor Galtung on "Galtungism."  I'll keep you posted.


Actor: Supporters of the Park 51 center

Shallow Attitude: We have the right to build this center where we would like it.

Deep Attitude: We want to feel acceptance and dignity as both Muslims and New Yorkers
Shallow Behavior:
Denying any sympathy with radical Islam; asserting legal rights to property.

Deep Behavior: assertion of non-Otherness; assertion of the dignity of Islam and its right to be respected
Shallow Conflict: the building cannot be both built and not built on that spot.

Deep Conflict: Contrary narratives about the relationship of Islam and Muslims to American/Western values
Actor: Opponents of the Park 51 center
Shallow Attitude: Ground Zero is sacred space, and building a mosque near it defiles it, since the attackers on 9/11 professed to act in the name of Islam.

Deep Attitude: Islam is foreign and dangerous and must be treated with suspicion
Shallow Behavior: Public demonstrations and pronouncements linking Islam to 9/11 and invoking the memories of the dead.

Deep Behavior: Assertion of Manichean narrative of 9/11 in which Islam declared war on America/the West/freedom
Shallow Conflict: the building cannot be both built and not built on that spot.

Deep Conflict: Contrary narratives about the relationship of Islam and Muslims to American/Western values

In the absence of therapy, the following are the likely results:

Primary Consequences: The center is built as planned, infuriating those who are against it, which likely leads to interpersonal violence (harassment of those going and coming from the center), violence against property (vandalism), judicial violence (lawsuits aimed at closing or thwarting the center’s mission), and rhetorical violence (politicians/activists decrying the existence of the center for their political gain).  OR, the center is not built, frustrating those who wanted it built, leading to judicial violence (lawsuits aimed at reinstating the right of the center to be built over the objections of opponents) and rhetorical violence (condemnation of opponents by supporters of the center).  Violence against people and property, while somewhat less likely because of the lack of obvious targets, remains a possibility. 

Secondary Consequences: Whether the center is built or not, the lack of therapy would likely lead to a combination of resentment, hostility, and polarization.  The community to be served by the center would feel disenfranchised and unwelcome, and would not be immune to the implications that they were tainted by guilt for the 9/11 attacks.  They would certainly feel scapegoated by the wider community.  Opponents of the center would feel growing hostility toward the Muslim community and be more likely to engage in further hostility toward Muslims whether the center was built (“*They* have defiled our sacred space!”) or not (“We’ve beat back this invasion!  Let’s press on to further victories!”).  Such feelings would ripple from Ground Zero throughout the United States and perhaps even the world, with the local antagonisms in Manhattan acting as a synecdoche for relationships between America/the West and Islam, engendering parallel feelings of alienation, hostility, and a sense of being under siege (with both sides feeling that the other was doing the besieging).

Therapy would involve an opening of dialog among the parties involved with a particular focus on locating shared and/or compatible goals (e.g., eliminating fundamentalism, stopping violence, celebrating religious tolerance).  This might begin with a mediator talking with each group separately, asking them to articulate their specific fears and hopes, then using this as a beginning step in demonstrating to both sides that there are interesting parallels among the parties (fear of violence by the other; desire to live in a secure world; sense of indignation at being perceived demonization by the other side).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I Heart NY

I was lucky enough to visit New York City last week, and I saw a few things that gave hope to my meliorist’s heart that things can improve, that we can evolve toward a more peaceful world.

I walked by the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire that took place in 1911 where 146 workers (mostly young, immigrant woman) burned alive or fell to their death in large part because of horrific, exploitive working conditions.  When I was there last week, there was construction going on in the street alongside the building that formerly housed the factory.  The building site was cordoned off.  Workers were wearing helmets.  And they were unionized. 

Later that day, I went to the site of the infamous “Five Points,” the epicenter of poverty and crime in nineteenth century Manhattan, dramatized in the movie The Gangs of New York.   Today, this spot is a park.  I saw elderly Asian people playing badminton and a swarm of kids of many different ethnicities giggling as they fought not with knives and pistols, but with water-filled balloons.

My most lasting impression, though, was at a department store that was literally across the street from Ground Zero.  As I wandered the aisles, I saw a Muslim woman shopping with her teenage son.  Nothing seemed to be on their minds, or those of their fellow shoppers, other than finding a bargain.  No suspicious looks.  No keeping one’s distance.  No fear.  

I <3 NY