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.

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