August 2011


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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A Lesson on Conflict

So Nasier

From Aug. 8 to Aug. 13, 2011, I attended the short course Fundamentals for Peace and Conflict Work conducted by the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) in Phnom Penh. The program included 15 participants from eight countries—Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Denmark as well as Cambodia. During this program, we learned and shared a great deal with each other about our experience and knowledge of peace based on our own context. I attended this course because I wanted to learn more about conflict analysis, conflict transformation and the root causes and sources of conflicts.

The program began with learning about a painful chapter of the history of the host country—my country of Cambodia—during the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. We were taken to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in order to discover the painful traumas and tragedies caused by the massive number of deaths between 1975 and 1979 under Pol Pot that took the lives of an estimated two million people due to starvation, disease, torture and executions. Emma Leslie, one of the facilitators, added to our knowledge about this history of the country under Pol Pot We also took a short trip to one of the Killings Fields near the capital and afterwards had a critical discussion and reflection about this exposure to Cambodia’s violent history. Most participants felt shocked and horrified by what Pol Pot and his government had done to its people.

During the course, we were taught about the sources of conflicts, the characteristics of conflict and both the positive and negative forces of conflict. It was moreover explained that the three worlds of conflicts—the symbolic world, the social world and the material world—are crucial elements of conflicts and violence. The symbolic world relates to religious beliefs, faith and spirituality and specifically refers to violence caused by fundamentalism within a particular religion. The social world focuses on discrimination, inequality, injustice and oppression in society. Problems arise when the poor and those with affluence, social status and political connections, i.e., those who are economically and politically powerful, do not have compatible goals and behaviors. As for the material world, it refers to strong passions and desires that people have for accumulating properties and other valuable assets, desires and passions that are rooted in people’s greed and ambitions.

In addition, we learned about the dynamics of conflict and the ways in which conflict become violent, about transforming ourselves and the conflict tree, the conflict resolution continuum and a comparison of conflict sensitivity and peace-building that inspired me so much. Of these topics, I was especially interested in the conflict resolution continuum through which we were taught about the approaches of preventing and solving conflicts. This tool gave me a more coherent way to reflect on the problematic processes that cause conflicts and violence in our communities and societies.

Meanwhile, learning about the conflict tree relates to the contemplation of our communities about conflict. All participants were taught about the root causes of conflict and the effects of conflicts. This lesson was very good, for we learned how to analyze various aspects of the root causes of problems and conflicts that are invisible to most people. Consequently, we need to have a meaningful analysis and reflection about the invisibility of the root causes of conflicts. The deeper root causes of a conflict are not easy to address unless we have a careful and critical analysis on one particular problem related to it.

I learned as well the skills of negotiation that relate to the reconciliation of people. Moreover, the satisfaction triangle illustrated win-win approaches through negotiation. We also learned about the role of a mediator as a person who tries to transform the conflicts of people. If we want to be a good mediator, we should be firm on resolving the problem. We should, however, be sensitive toward relating to the people involved in the conflict, and we need to emphasize the common ground of the various parties and focus on needs, not on positions. Making clear agreements is also essential as well as being inventive about options.

Lastly, learning about conflict mapping was very useful as this topic is relevant to addressing the structural analysis of conflicts. This tool also focuses on the parties that escalate the conflicts, and we learned how to transform these problems by eliminating the root causes of the problems. Through this process, we should seek to empower and encourage the people who are facing conflicts in order to overcome their obstacles and problems. We must make them aware of the methods and means that help them solve the problems as well. At the same time, we naturally should understand and know the root causes of the problems. Otherwise, we cannot facilitate people to solve their problems effectively and efficiently. We need to point out where to begin making positive changes through our conflict mapping too.

To conclude, attending this short course was useful to my purpose and plans for peace-building, for I intend to disseminate the idea of peace with justice, or justpeace, to people in our communities in Cambodia who are not aware of the consequences of conflicts. I now specifically work toward capacity-building, conflict transformation and peace-building with interfaith groups of young people in Cambodia, and I strongly hope that this theory of facilitating non-violent change will be successful within the context of the peace-building processes with which I am involved in my country.

* So Nasier took part in the 14-week School of Peace (SOP) conducted by Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) in Bangalore, India, as a Muslim participant from Cambodia in 2008. He lives in Battambang Province in Cambodia.