Scale-Up of Individual Transformation

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: So, there's a sort of problem in dialogue where you have individual transformation and the Christian says, "You are not a terrorist, and not all of your cousins are terrorists. All Muslims are not terrorists." How do you go then to social transformation?

A: This is the expensive question in peace building and conflict resolution. We all go around and do our own training. I think we have, relatively speaking, developed techniques and strategies that are effective in introducing change on a perceptional, attitudinal change on an individual level. I think we still lack this ability to effectively link the micro with the macro, or the individual level with the small groups and the communities with the policy making level. In some cases you manage to introduce these ideas, and form an NGO in a neighborhood or even have two or three neighborhood organizations work together, but how do you take their work and the individual's work into the policy level? I don't think that we have had enough experience and paid enough attention in the field to be able to do that. There are some ways to accomplish this.

One of the ways would be to insure that in any work you do you will have one or two representatives from the policy making level. For instance, if you are doing a Christian-Muslim-Jewish dialogue group in Washington then you constantly continue sending your reports to a local, regional, and federal officials informing them about the progress that you did and the nature of your work, urging them to be involved in what you are doing. That link to the policy we lack.

A second element as a possibility is to target people who work in policy and most of our work is on the grassroots, middle range intervention as opposed to policy making. There are a few of us who work on the policy level, but I think those who work on the policy level also lack mechanisms how to link their impact into the grassroots and the middle range levels. These linkages are essential for any introduction of change.

An example in particular I am thinking about is in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict when you have a sleeping Israeli peace movement that was very highly effective and very active in the late 1980s, yet from 1994 to today I think, especially in the past two or three years of the Intifada, did not pick up as much as it can. There are many people that are doing work in the grassroots level as well as professional, middle class peace activists. How do you transfer that into a policy level? We don't know. If you don't take that case, take us in the US when thirty million people were protesting against the war in Iraq, yet we went to war in Iraq and dropped bombs and killed civilians as well as soldiers. We claimed that we won the war and the global peace movement did not stop the war. The impact of the global peace movement was big, but did not translate into actual policy change.