September 2011

 

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Reflection on Mekong Peace Journey: Process of Conflict Transformation

Rohanee Juenara


Every time I travel I always perceive the mightiness of Allah, who creates interesting things that motivate us to love, learn and search for. It was the same with the Mekong Peace Journey as there were many things that I got from sharing experiences, especially learning about a process of conflict transformation.

Diversity Being Created for Learning from Each Other

Al-Qur’an regulated that “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). (Alhujurat: 13) These words from al-Qur’an inspired me to apply for this training program.

We always think that differences and diversities lead to conflict and violence because we have never perceived the beauty in differences and we have never known and learned from each other. For example, countries in the Mekong region, which consist of different identities, religions, beliefs and faiths, nationalities, races, languages and ways of life, are created wonderfully and miraculously by humans. If people get to know and understand each other, they will accept and respect each other, especially if they can manage and arrange to live in a pluralistic community.

Unfortunately, every country in the world is confronting similar issues, particularly those practicing capitalism that has dominated the lives and societies of people, like the policy on constructing dams that are proposed in the name of “development” or the conflict over the Preah Vihear Temple on the Cambodian-Thai border. Both issues relate to snatching natural resources by powerful people. According to social structural analysis, the powerful people or upper class ignore and neglect marginalized people, and people in the middle class are dominated by the upper class too. If the middle class knows and learns from each other, without prejudices and stereotypes, compassion and sympathy will occur; they will be aware of issues and cooperate. In the end, they can overthrow the powerful people and the injustice they perpetrate.

When Fang, a participant from China, presented her country context and asked participants to join a role play as Chinese residents, she tried to show that the Chinese people are very poor, live in crowded towns and small rooms but have to be patient in order to survive in a big city. At that time, I felt such sympathy for the Chinese people and just think of the reasons why the government wants to build more dams. At any rate, we have to be aware and observe the justice or injustice of policies, whether they benefit people in general or only governments and rich people.

Understanding Conflict and Reducing the Degree of Violence

Poverty, inadequate education and no freedom of expression are forms of violence and neglect human rights. I always ask myself, Why do many immoral people and corruption still exist in the world?

In the case of the conflict in Cambodia, children, who are so shabby and dirty, have to be ready to take refuge and run away from bombs. Women have to work hard to earn a small amount of money in order to survive. They are very lonely and frightened, and their eyes show that they don’t want war and keep saying “No more war.” In addition, their husbands have to go abroad to work, leaving them alone with the responsibility to take care of the family.

I found one woman who is 20 years old, has one baby and graduated only from secondary school. After she got married and became a farmer, she earns a small amount of money. Her husband works for a construction company in Thailand and earns 200 baht (about US$6.50) per day, but he has to work 14 hours a day. She told me that her husband was arrested by policemen once as an illegal migrant worker and was detained for three days. Her husband had to pay 1,000 baht (US$33) to be released. The head of the village said that 80 percent of the people in this village work abroad but that only 20 percent of them are legal immigrants.

The worst and most dreadful situation is that the provincial leaders of both countries have no power to make decisions. For example, the vice governor of Oddor Meanchey Province in Cambodia said that “I follow and respect the decision of the leader.” On the Thai side, a provincial leader said that “I don’t want to talk about the conflict issue but I will talk about development only.” Even though people are struggling and facing trouble, the leaders choose to only obey the powerful person rather than protect the people and especially the poor!

In reality, this kind of phenomenon occurs in many places, but we are unable to see it clearly. For peacemakers, we have to realize how to deal with conflict in order to repress violence because when violence exposes the problem it will be very complex and difficult to resolve. People, for example, will not trust each other, properties will be destroyed, people will die and, most importantly, people will become angry and want to take revenge and violently attack each other. Consequently, peacebuilding is very important.

Deep Thinking and Dig Deeply

For the process of making peace, besides appreciating the value of diversity, we have to learn about analyzing the root causes of problems. I was impressed by the Cambodian presentation on analyzing the root cause of problems in their country because they analyzed without bias and they dared to criticize themselves and not blame others. It made me realize about the conflict in the deep south of Thailand, about how to cross over the Malay-Muslim identity and not only blame the Thai government. I think though that I have to carefully analyze as much as I can, such as who are the actors who create the conflict. In reality, the conflict in the deep south of Thailand is so complex. There is the government policy, political system, economic system, the condition of neighboring countries, the fostering of nationalism and then religion, beliefs, culture and traditional practices—all these things are involved in the conflict situation.

For me, I must be brave to criticize myself and learn to manage power. I also have to find a mechanism to make people voice out their concerns and announce that “they want justice and peace.” Nowadays people in the deep south are acquainted with the violent situation, and they have never taken any bad behavior and action against government officers or security forces.

From Inner Peace to Concrete Action

If the teachings dwell only in one’s holy book without action, then the moral lesson is wasted. However, for me, building peace has to begin with peace in our hearts. I started with studying the teaching of my religion because the word Islam means “Peace.” I want to find out the reason for any practice in Islamic teachings that promote conflict transformation and management, which I do not know much about.

First, I began to search and scrutinize the reason of praying five times per day by using a scientific process: testing, observing and taking notes. After I prayed, I checked and observed my feelings and noted them down. During the prayer, I found that my emotions were very stable and I had a greater ability to concentrate. Thus, this kind of practice made me learn that the scientific way is also important in our life. I also realized that if every practice can combine local knowledge and science together it will achieve a successful outcome and can influence and be easy to publicize and convince other people.

Therefore, the teaching that I knew—we always believe and follow without question—if we know the reason, rationale and value of that practice, it will make people love to follow or practice it happily, peacefully and with cheerfulness.

Conclusion

Lastly, conflict transformation, or change, have to begin and be practiced within ourselves; and when we can achieve it one time, we will be more convinced and confident to do it again and again. It is the same like doing the non-violent way.


* Rohanee Juenara, known as Mattanee Juenara when she attended the 14-week School of Peace (SOP) conducted by Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) in Bangalore, India, in 2007, lives and works in southern Thailand.