Dialogue and Development

Mohammed Abu-Nimer

Professor of Peace and Conflict Resolution at the School of International Service, American University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: What techniques have you found most useful for accomplishing the goals of your work?

A: In the inter-faith and inter-ethnic dialogue that I facilitate I found that one of the effective tools I have is when we link dialogue with development. When you insert in the conflict resolution and peace building work a task that will improve and have implication on the life of the participants. That type of work is mostly on the grass roots level, especially if people need jobs, employment, language, or whatever development component they need. If you can organize a dialogue around that I think you would introduce an effective tool as opposed to bringing dialogue without development implications. When I work in the development context I have found that development without introducing dialogue, peace building, and conflict resolution principles is only short term. There are more sustainability mechanisms if you introduce peace building into the development context. My answer is more generic, not necessarily one specific tool, like listening.

Q: That answers the kind of stuff I am looking for. Can you give me an example of where you tried that and where that worked for you?

A: Sure. In Sri Lanka, in one of the groups that we worked with CARE International, our work was to bring people together who do not have birth certificates, such as internally displaced people. You can go about this in a typical development project and go to the ministry offices, have an NGO that will go and basically go and locate these people, and then process their application in a typical way.

The other way that we helped people to do that locally was to establish forums in which those people who don't have birth certificates can meet together on an on going basis and talk about ways in which they can organize in order to get their birth certificate and carry on some other activities related to the war zone areas. We linked it. We needed to work in that area, and we needed to work with these people and we had many things to choose from. We chose birth certificates because once you have that then you have an ID, once you have an ID then that is a major accomplishment for the person to be able to move from place to place.

Another example is when I used to work in Israel-Palestine was we used to bring together Arab and Israeli teachers, and you could talk about conflict resolution and what type of peace should exist between Palestine and Israel, or you could work with the teachers on creating a curriculum for peace to use in their own schools. The outcome would be an actual curriculum that they are writing together. In order to write it together or separately you have to talk about the conflict, and then talking about the conflict becomes a more primary, or secondary tool in order to produce something that has more sustainability then the dialogue itself. Finding these formats in these areas of cooperation that bring more sustainability and benefit the people in addition to the dialogue is very important. Dialogue itself brings awareness, but awareness is not enough. It is good but is not enough.

Q: What is next?

A: Actually seeing changes in the behavioral aspects is next. We always think that this is what we need, you say as opposed to the first one. For instance, my neighbor has a prejudice about Islam and we bring some awareness to him. That is great, he changed his perception. Is it enough? Am I satisfied with that or do I want him to write a letter to the church where he keeps hearing about how violent Islam is from his congregation? Or do I want him to write to his local Congressman?

Q: Is that what really happened?

A: No, it is a hypothetical example.