This is part of a series of blog posts written by the 2012 Peace Scholars as they complete their summer program in Oslo, Norway. This post was written by Adam Mousel from Concordia College.
The first week I learned about Steinar Bryn’s approach to dialogue. As I have worked on my project there were several overtures to the “Norwegian Model” in the promotion of peace. This implied that Norwegians possessed a unique approach in how conflicts are resolved. The preface to this approach was the introduction of the 1993 Oslo Accord. Subsequently Norway became involved in further efforts to promote peace in Sri Lanka, Columbia, Sudan, and other conflicts. In hindsight, I realized that many of these efforts produced few lasting solutions among the conflicting parties. The problem was the shift from dialogue to negotiation. Dialogue as I know has nothing to do with jostling for position. Negotiation means that the parties risked losing something. If negotiations were replaced by dialogue maybe more lasting solutions to conflicts would have arisen. My opinion is only an ideal. Problems include those realistic factors such as self-interest. I do not believe that any state would act through altruism. States focus on their position and self-preservation, so can Norway claim some special form of peace promotion? No, and you may differ in opinion. Circumstances make for unique situations that may be advantageous, but this does not mean other states are incapable of using dialogue. Why are there few stories about successful dialogues with long lasting solutions? Media coverage can be a potent factor. Some states only consider negotiations. Prescribed enemy images come under challenge and undermine elite authority, but there are many answers to this question. To conclude, why don’t we see more successful uses of dialogue and those that generate enduring solutions?
In one of our final readings, by Bruce Bower, I found the following quote provoking: “Arrive at an understanding of contemporary violence in its ideological, cultural, and structural dimensions in a bid to move away from ‘evil’, ‘inhuman’, and ‘uncivilized’ as analytical categories,”(Bower, 2007). This follows an argument that I made previously in a conversation. By describing violence as evil, inhuman, and uncivilized we create a comfortable separation between ourselves and the perpetrators. Using these terms makes me superior morally and justified to pass judgment against people that are invisible to me. I believe that most motivations for violence may be understood, but to be clear violence in any form should be unacceptable as it prevents everyone from achieving their positive potential. In calling an act “evil” or “barbaric” we refuse to acknowledge the potential every human has for violence, and diminish the importance of the victims by passing it off as senseless. I don’t deny that such acts can be senseless, but to the perpetrators, victims serve a purpose. These are important to their families too, and it is for this reason that comprehensive answers are crucial. There are few changes that result because of senseless violence beyond retaliation. The possibility exists for a cyclical set of reactions where each party tries to outscore the others. Claiming violence as “uncivilized” brings to mind colonization, Jim Crow Laws, and genocide. These actions gain justification because a group of people are considered “uncivilized” to a ruling majority who claim greater morality. Striking these words from use needs to be done and replaced with understanding. They are easy explanations for complicated issues and do not promote peace and reconciliation, but fuel hatred and stereotypes of people whom we do not know. Since violence is complicated it must use analytical categories.