The Twisting Road of the Peace Process
Power, Respect, and Coexistence
Fifth in the Making Peace series
Copyright © 2000 Dorian Scott Cole
Peace seems like it could be a simple proposition if it weren't for reality. All things being perfect, a formulaic approach to peace might actually work. Yet I once wrote a very long story about the Mid-East conflict which answered no questions - peace was not found. The immediate resolution was simply the victory of determined people to continue working toward peace. I could write a neat story in which enemies make peace, and everyone would read it and say, "Gee, peace isn't so difficult to achieve." Yeah, in your dreams. For example, cultural diversity is not so ideal when dealing with people with "Nazi" attitudes, which are still common in the US, Germany, and other countries. Yet separation has the effect of further polarizing extremists. Perhaps diversity isn't the right description, but those attitudes are permited and tolerated without the nations crumbling, and those people are sometimes influenced back into the mainstream.
Another example is the conflict in the Mid-East. In the early 1980s in Jerusalem, Jews and Palestinians lived together much more peacefully than they do today. Today neither feels welcome in each other's areas even though a large number of Palestinians work in Jewish neighborhoods. Instead of building the respect and trust which should happen through intermingling and interdependence, something very different is going on there. They are building hate and distrust through continued encroachment and conflict. Why? The immediate symptom is settlements and intifada.
How is peace won when homes, land, and self-rule are taken showing that there is no respect, no rights, no rule of law? How is peace won when extremists and terrorists strike at any moment, and allowing friends in the door may also let in the snake who will strike you? In confrontation, neither side can achieve a victory and peace is elusive. And there is more going on.
Both sides have factions who are inclined to say, "God is on my side and this territory is mine!" who exert enormous pressure on those who would find compromises. They are no less zealous than those Christian Crusaders who sought to free Jerusalem from the Muslims, and who sought to save Christianity from witches by burning them at the stake. Good and well-meaning people, involved in passionate causes like religion, will have differences and they will make mistakes. Those attitudes and guns are not easily subdued. And fellow comrades in a cause are not easily opposed without declaring each other a traitor and destroying essential relations.
For example, Soviet Premier Gorbachev today (Sunday, October 22, 2000)* 1, who returned freedom of worship to the former Soviet Union while in the depths of an extremely difficult situation in which he often felt that he was standing alone, even today cannot bring himself to say that he believes in God although he often uses phrases that indicate belief and he sometimes advocates the example of Christ and remembering that example. The best, brightest, and strongest of people are cowed by those with whom they must live. (This is an interpretation - perhaps he simply admits an inability to know.) Few things in this life are absolutes. This is not a series to pretend that finding peace is a convenient and linear process that is simply a matter of following the right formulas.
The following is a list of topics, not a formula:
- The rule of law
- conflict resolution
- Peace-keepers - defusing conflict
- Compromise or live apart
- Peaceful co-existence
I'm sure that there is no order in which the above four items must occur. Processes usually don't follow static trails - results are interactive with opposing elements in a process, two steps forward and one back, going in this direction and that, following a serpentine route that sometimes may have the discouraging appearance of regression or failure. Determination to find peace is sometimes the only hope that pulls the process forward, as in Gorbachev's example, while instituting perestroika and religious freedom, he often felt as if he was standing alone - it seemed as if only he had the determination to continue.
In some ways it seems to me that the most fundamental recognition of each other's rights is essential to finding peace. How can there be peace when injustice is rampant, not validated by the other side, and unrectified? How can there be peace when one party injures the other, and claims he is justified? Would the rule of law not be fundamental to a permanent peace? Yet there has been progress in the Mid-East. It was only a few short years ago that Arabs and Palestinians recognized the right of Israel to even exist. Since then they have repeatedly sat at a table to try to reconcile their grave differences. Each time there is progress. Each time there is a backlash of opinion, resolutions broken, accusations, and conflict. But neither the progress nor the differences disappear just because conflict recurs.
Again I am reminded of the example of Gorbachev as he struggled through leading a nation and a government to perestroika, the building of a new bureaucracy and economic organization, and then led them through the breakup of the Soviet Union into its dependent regions. Most of us will probably never know what a balancing act he must have achieved to keep those immensely powerful and opposing factions not just at bay but going in the same direction. Most of us are only aware of the hard-line communists and what extremes they are capable of, as demonstrated through Soviet history and finally when they surrounded the Kremlin with military tanks to topple Gorbachev… and failed.
We don't know what other pressures Gorbachev faced. We don't know how many times he saw progress go backward and failure look inevitable. But he and his supporters (especially the people of the nations) managed to accomplish what looks to most of us like a miracle - the beginning of the promise of freedom and democracy, and possibly an economic system that is new to us all. Similarly regarding the Mid-East, President Clinton and those Presidents before him staid the course with the Mid-East, pointing toward peace and encouraging the opposing sides to meet and work out their differences.
In whatever way Gorbachev wielded power, he did not disrespect those around him. Respect, I believe, was an essential ingredient in bringing all sides together to walk in the same direction. For those in conflict in the Mid-East, I think that respect is an issue that is not yet fully resolved. If both sides have the power to prevent peace until both are recognized, an elementary form of respect can take hold - the acknowledgement of each other's power, as the US and Soviet Union managed to do during the Cold War.
It is recognizing and respecting each other's power that can lead to peaceful co-existence which I think is a foundation for peace. It is during peaceful co-existence, détente, a normalizing of relations, that people can learn that they can live in some proximity without spitting in each other's face and let the hatred and the cycle of violence die down. People can begin to communicate, explore their common goals which will far exceed their differences, stop the extremists (such as terrorists), learn that they can work out their differences, and actually live in proximity without the pain.
During this time, people must stay committed to the goal of co-existence even during the inevitable setbacks. My thoughts are often drawn to the conflict in the Mid-East while writing this, as they have been for years. While I hope that the people in the Mid-East are near the end of this journey toward co-existence, exactly where they are in this journey remains to be seen. While hatred and conflict are high on the list of things to do in the Mid-East, the same groups do live in harmony in other parts of the world.
Perhaps, as some suggest, the only way to arrive at a starting point where those in the Mid-East can live together without hating and killing each other is to live apart - a permanently partitioned disassociative nation of disparate peoples. But as I already mentioned as an example, fencing off people who emulate the Nazis only encourages them to become worse extremists, while keeping them in the fold sometimes dispels their differences. Creating permanent divisions can be a surrender to failure or can be due to a lack of resolve. Perhaps the balance of power and growth required to live in peaceful co-existence has not caught up with peace initiatives. While I can't say that I could succeed at making peace if I was in their place, I hope that they are better than I am.
I have valid reason to hope. Gorbachev managed to lead a very divided Soviet Union to a complete restructuring to transform the bureaucracy and institute democratic freedoms. China has reintegrated Hong Kong without major conflict. Northern Ireland signed a peace agreement to begin resolving internal disagreements. The people of Yugoslavia rallied to vote Milosevic out, then rallied again to force him out. I have confidence that the people and leaders in the Mid-East can do the same. Peace is a process that follows a serpentine trail often appears to go backward. Failure to find peace is not due to the resumption of conflict. Failure is due to the loss of determination by the people and leaders to continue working toward a resolution. Don't lose hope, and trust in God and his creation.
U B Peace
*1Premier Gorbachev appeared on the international television show Hour of Power, a religious broadcast with Robert Schuler interviewing, as long time friends. Robert Schuler is an internationally renown religious leader and advocate of positive attitude principles and living. Soviet Premier Gorbachev was succeeded by elected Russian President Yeltsin in 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union into independent states.
This series of articles is a unique exploration and commentary. Some of the books which I expect to inform and challenge my own thinking as I write this series include:
George J. Mitchell, Making Peace: The behind-the-scenes story of the negotiations that
culminated in the signing of the Northern Ireland Peace Accord.
William Ury, Getting To Peace: Transforming Conflict at Home, at Work, and in the World.
Kohn, Alfie. No Contest, The Case Against Competition, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
Conflict Research Consortium
Other distribution restrictions: None
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