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This article was first published on TFF PressInfo
Violence is a dead end
Look at the violence in Gaza today, DR Congo (6 million dead), Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia etc: Isn’t it obvious that the world needs a completely new approach to conflicts?
We’ll never rid the world of conflicts, conflicts is part of human and social life. Conflict-prevention is a meaningless term.
But we can rid the world of most of its violence. If we want, if we educate each other and if economic and other interests stopped supporting killing as a tool in conflict-management.
Unrealistic? Hopelessly idealistic? Well, look at the places above and try to find the realism and hope there.
Look at the conflict not at the parties and the violence
It requires almost no intellectual effort to take sides in a conflict between A and B. If both parties use violence, that means endorsement of the violence – the justification both need: “They threaten and kill us, therefore we threaten and kill them.”
Those who support a conflict party who use violence also support violence. As long as violence continues, there will be no process towards peace – only more hate, traumas, suffering, wish for revenge and destruction.
Violence – not the conflict – becomes the main thing and tit-for-tat the rule of the game, with an increase in the violence for each round. Scorpions in a bottle, feeding each other.
Both those who are outside a conflict and debate it – for instance, 99% of the media debates – and the conflicting parties on the ground feed on violence. If A did not use violence against B, how would B justify its own killings?
Gaza today – both parties lose
This is where we are in Gaza today when reports tell that around 800 civilians have been killed without any positive effect, both losing.
It’s not about evil, it’s about desperation coupled with traumas coupled with a lack of insight and education.
This wrong-headed attitude is indicative of conflict and peace illiteracy: among the parties, our media and our decision-makers. Innocent people on both or all sides normally pay the price for it.
The world needs a completely different approach. It’s embedded in the UN Charter and called peace by peaceful means.
A little revolution: Focus on the violence
Imagine a little revolution: Stop taking sides for one party and against the other and, instead, be against all violence no matter who does it? Here some arguments:
The Palestinians want freedom from occupation, safety, dignity, human rights, economic development etc. None of them are rationally promoted by throwing rockets into Israel. If rockets were the answer, the question must have been wrong.
By doing so they become terrorists – terrorism means to seek a political goal by deliberately killing or otherwise harming people who are innocent and not party to the conflict in contrast to, say, soldiers. It is meant to instil fear, be surprising and violating ethics as well as law.
The Israelis have a perfectly legitimate right to defend themselves and against Hamas rockets or killings of Israeli youth but there is no way in which aggression and Israeli state terrorism can bring about security, not to mention trust and peace.
It will only make hardline Palestinians more determined, isolate Israel globally, increase the negative attitudes to Israel and Jews and make Israel a moral loser.
This irrational behaviour has the opposite effect on both sides of what they state as official intentions. It will never lead to peace.
If it hasn’t worked for decades, better do something else
If you have used violence for decades – in this case since 1967 – and no party has gained what they want it would be better to ask: Since it doesn’t work, what could work instead?
In a-symmetric conflicts, it is utterly counterproductive of the weak side to choose the power dimension – here the violence – where the opponent is so much stronger. So, if you are the military David against a military Goliath you not only can’t win militarily, you also get less world sympathy because of your killings.
Perhaps most important of all: The more violence takes centre stage, the more the underlying conflicts disappear.
Media will cover the violence, people will get enraged when they see ”their” side suffer even more – the parties themselves see no light in their tunnel vision. Violence fuels violence, not resolution, not peace.
Violence prevents solution because it increases anger and humiliation, wish for revenge, hatred and the determination that it is now ”him or me” where you need to say ”we”.
The focus on violence in the debates and media is extremely dangerous. It conveys subconsciously that violence is ”natural” and also a means to get problems solved. We need conflict journalism instead of war reporting.
Be constructive – towards a moratorium
- Stop taking sides among parties, oppose violence.
- Look at the problem/conflict, tone down the focus on the parties and the violence.
- Don’t get stuck in the past or present filled with violence, use your creativity to paint a picture of what the future could be.
- Take peaceful steps if you want peace – “means are goals in-the-making” as a wise man once said.
- Mediation and conflict-resolution – which can only be promoted by dis-interested, impartial parties – is about thinking up better future(s) that the parties can accept even though it’s not completely what they dream about.
- Don’t go for compromises and other banal linear ideas – meeting on the middle. Gandhi wouldn’t accept freedom for half of India, Mandela not 50% apartheid.
The parties and the world need a moratorium on all violence – direct physical, psychological, cultural, economic, territorial
A moratorium will provide for a space and a time where:
- thinking can be re-introduced,
- dialogues and negotiations can take place,
- the underlying conflicts be addressed,
- solutions eventually be found and
- reconciliation processes begin.
By Jan Oberg, Peace studies professor. PhD in sociology, peace and future researcher. Associate professor (Docent) at Lund University, thereafter visiting or guest professor at various universities.
With his wife, Dr. Christina Spännar, he is the co-founder of TFF. Chairman of the board 1997-2003 and interim chairman 2007-2008, director of the TFF and head of its Conflict-Mitigation teams to ex-Yugoslavia, Georgia, Burundi and Iraq.