From Extremism to Inclusion: How Hardliners Joined the Peace Process in Ireland Notes from the 5th IPCRI Forum On Wednesday, November 16th, 2016, IPCRI held an open forum that focused on the peace process in Northern Ireland and the lessons that can be learned regarding the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Entitled “From Extremism to Inclusion: How Hardliners Joined the Peace Process,” it focused on the root causes of extremism and included guest speakers Rev. Dr. Gary Mason, Dr. Dalia Scheindlin, Mrs. Ariel Heifetz Knobel, and Mr. Aziz Abu Sarah. Mrs. Ariel Heifetz Knobel is an American-Israeli conflict management practitioner and Northern Ireland specialist, working with diverse initiatives in Israel and Palestine. She began what became an intensely informative and interesting night by providing a brief history of the Northern Ireland conflict. The territorial conflict dates back 850 years with the island of Ireland divided by rival Irish chiefs and English lords. 400 years ago began systematic settlement by the Protestant British empire to take over the predominantly Catholic Ireland, causing centuries of inequality, confiscation of resources, and a development of two different classes – a Protestant class, loyal to the British crown and holding wealth and power, alongside an impoverished, Catholic population lacking political, social, and economic rights. A war for independence 80 years ago resulted in the current situation – partitioning the island of Ireland, with Great Britain holding on to the British Protestant majority north.
“I’M NOT HERE TO COPY AND PASTE PEACE PROCESSES. THERE ARE MANY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN OUR CONFLICT HERE AND THE ONE IN NORTHERN I RELAND, BUT THERE ARE ALSO MAJOR DIFFERENCES .”
Mrs. Heifetz Knobel presented two distinct identity narratives, which characterize the Northern Irish conflict. The nationalist narrative of the Irish Catholics is one of victimization at the hands of British authority, armed rebellions as requisite to gain rights and freedom, and the desire for all of Ireland to be united. The unionist narrative of British Protestants however, sees their role as having brought democracy and progress to a hostile land, being hated and forced to fight for their security and identity. This led to a zero-sum dynamic, a civil rights movement in the 1960s that turned into a guerrilla war, and three bloody decades known as “The Troubles.” Peace came in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, an agreement based on inclusive management of a shared society. This Agreement resulted in two major things. First the violent strategy of militant groups was reframed – from an armed struggle to an unarmed political struggle that allowed the community to 1
move away from violence without changing their goal or abandoning their cause. Second, confidence was instilled in the new political system to meet each side’s security, identity, and other needs, which facilitated inclusion of groups that were previously outside of the political process. The peace process was successful not in that it ended the conflict, but in that it ended the violence and launched inclusive political “peace processing” – a significant distinction. (A link to the full presentation) After this summary, Mrs. Heifetz Knobel invited Rev. Dr. Gary Mason for an interview. Dr. Mason spent 30 years in the midst of the Belfast conflict, never more than 100 meters from peace signs and barriers separating the Catholic and Protestant communities. He has been instrumental in the Northern Irish peace process and led the establishment of Skainos, the largest faith-based urban redevelopment project in Western Europe that fostered hope and ensured each side was hearing out the other. Among Mrs. Heifetz Knobel’s Q&A session with Dr. Mason, one question in particular addressed hardliner demographics. Dr. Gary Mason responded by stating that the main word here is context - understanding why people choose political violence and how the alternatives to such choice can be created. “80% of people who went through our penal system because of their belief in political violence – Why did they make these choices? Why did these people resort to violence? And the only way to end the violence is to speak with the people who have the guns and show them a different way to deliver their message.” This is very important for many reasons. Sometimes politicians, as politicians, can be people with the belief the deal is done or assume that once the process has started, societal healing automatically begins, which could not be further from the truth, according to Dr. Mason. In order for mediation to be successful, it needs a multi-disciplinary approach of moving societies towards peace. That process must include not only politicians, but NGOs, theologians, lawyers, etc. Governments officially do not talk to people involved in terrorism, and when you move away from political violence and towards nonviolence, it is absolutely critical to bring the whole movement with you so that a reversion does not occur. (A link to the full Interview)
“THE ONLY WAY TO END VIOLENCE IS TO SPEAK WITH THE PEOPLE WHO HOLD THE GUN AND SHOW THEM A DIFFERENT WAY TO DELIVER THEIR MESSAGE ”
After the conclusion of Mrs. Heifetz Knobel and Dr. Mason’s talk, Dr. Dalia Scheindlin presented her remarks regarding the lessons that can be learned from other international conflicts. Dr. Scheindlin is a policy fellow at Mitvim Institute and a leading analyst and strategic consultant based in Tel Aviv, specializing in transitional democracies and peace/conflict research, with expertise in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Among the many points brought up, she discussed the importance of looking at other conflicts and their processes, rather than the end point, because the process itself is the important part, 2
and in the case here, the process is what is becoming the problem. Confidence building measures in this situation are becoming empty, and what needs to be focused on is the issue of de-humiliation and restoring humanity and dignity. There is so much effort put into conflict management and the focus needs to be on the idea of peace management – we need to be thinking about processes that will instigate and manage peace instead of managing a violent conflict. On the topic of extremism, Dr. Schiendlin drew on the example of Kosovo and the extremist terrorist group KLA. While comparing it to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she argued that extremist groups have rational interests like any other actors, despite our dislike of their tactics. It should not shock anyone that when such groups are being brought into the conversation and their political needs are being acknowledged, they become more accommodated and more willing to compromise. Regarding religion, Dr. Schiendlin made the assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a strong religious dimension not only because of the religious affiliation to the country but also because the religious belief is a key factor in determining a political stance, especially on the Israeli side. “If this country were only secular people, there would be a stronger jury for a two-state solution and a stable majority in the parliament who is willing to make concessions needed for implementing this solution.” The more religious you are can lead to the opposite ideology and mainly not willing to make any concessions for a two-state solution. She added that in order to end this conflict, we have to make a distinction between religion and political views and the only people that can change that are the religious leaders. (A link to the full presentation)
“IF PEOPLE INSIST THAT THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEF IS INEVITABLY LINKED TO THEIR POLITICAL PLATFORM , WE WILL NEVER END THE CONFLICT HERE , AND THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO CAN CHANGE THAT ARE RELIGIOUS PEOPLE .”
Mr. Aziz Abu Sarah then came up to contribute to the conversation. Mr. Aziz is a National Geographic Explorer, TED Fellow, and co-founder of MEJDI Tours, and has spoken at countless international organizations and universities. He began his speech with an anecdote about Catholic and Protestant students who, when meeting a Buddhist monk, asked “was the month Catholic or Protestant,” going to show that our worldview is so limited that we often don’t understand those who live on the other side. In a story of conflict, it becomes important to change the viewpoint, and more importantly to change the narrative. A Holocaust museum detailing the woes and plights of Jews only mentioned Muslims once, and to document a terrorist attack. A hidden narrative during this time is the hundreds of stories of Muslims who protected Jews during the Holocaust, and taking such stories and making them the mainstream story changes the narrative and viewpoint on all sides. Rather than victimizing the other, empathy becomes possible, leading to an understanding and de-victimization of the other. (A link to the full presentation)
“OUR WORLDVIEW IS OFTEN SO LIMITED THAT WE CAN’T UNDERSTAND THOSE WHO ARE SITTING ON THE OTHER SIDE . LEARNING ABOUT OTHER CONFLICTS CAN EDUCATE US ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF DOING EXACTLY THIS .”
The following Q&A session from the audience led to discussions about extremist groups, normalization, and the role of religious leaders and women. Dr. Mason and Mr. Abu Sarah touched on religious leaders, with Mr. Abu Sarah deploring religious leaders to step up in the peace process. He called upon Martin Luther King Jr. as an example, a pastor who was constantly discouraged from his nonviolent approach but nevertheless refused to back down, an example that is needed today. Dr. Gary Mason stated that “incomprehensible act become comprehensible with religion” and religious leaders are crucial to understanding the other side of a conflict. Furthermore, the speakers also agreed on the fact that religion in a conflict like this one has become an excuse, rather than a reason for nationalism. Mrs. Heifetz Knobel concluded the forum with the assertion that research shows that in terms of dialogue groups, if they remain focused on civil society, they never actually scale up to influence decision makers. Therefore such groups should include people who are strategically positioned to have an impact on decision-making circles or on the general public opinion. (A link to the full Q&A session) The IPCRI forums were initiated as a platform to bring people together and open up discussions on the regional conflict. The attendants and speakers of this forum touched on a myriad of topics that gave everyone attending better insight into both the regional and the Irish conflicts and their various mechanisms and intricacies, providing a different framework for analysis. It is the hope of IPCRI that these forums will foster an environment of inclusiveness and will strengthen our movement on the road towards peace.
For Further Information: The Official Website of IPCRI The Skainos Project The Official Website of Mitvim Institute Mr. Aziz Abu Sarah – TED Talks MEJDI Tours