Restoring Humanity After Violent Ethnic Conflict
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Imagine Coexistence tells the story of a new effort to foster peace in countries emerging from war. The book provides insight into the complex needs of people who have undergone traumatic experiences and shows the importance of building peace at all levels of society, from the individual to the government. Although the authors don't discuss nonviolence by name, their comprehensive approach reflects theories of nonviolence, from svadeshi (local reliance) to constructive program (internal improvement).
Imagine Coexistence explores the theme
of social repair in Bosnia and Rwanda, two countries that
experienced and continue to experience significant social
tension on account of ethnicity. Martha Minow and Antonia
Chayes, both affiliates of The Negotiation Project at
Harvard, edited this compilation of studies on the Imagine
Coexistence project implemented by the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees. The project involved the
joint efforts of academics, policy makers and local organizations
to apply ideas of community building to a real world situation.
The contributors highlight the specific projects in Bosnia
and Rwanda that offered economic opportunity, conflict
resolution, problem-solving skills training and other
programs to promote interethnic cooperation. They show
the importance of humanizing the "other," a
common theme in the writings of Gandhi and other satyagrahis
(activists who use the firm implementation of truth and
love to promote social change). The project focused on
changing individual perceptions, an important step towards
realizing the goals of nonviolence.
The bulk of the book focuses on the obstacles faced by
these projects, leaving the reader informed but overwhelmed
by the challenges of social repair after violent conflict.
Making peace is not an easy task and can't be solved by
a war crimes court or a dialogue group. Bosnia and Rwanda
need leadership, financial support and commitment from
all levels of society. Peace is possible in Bosnia and
Rwanda but it will require greater efforts by local communities.
This book shows a clear need for svadeshi, local community
building, to help individuals feel interconnected. People
need to be able to imagine peace, to know that peace is
possible. From this first step, they will be able to make
peace in their local communities and, hopefully, change
their governments. Nonviolence offers great insights about
how we are all interconnected, how violence stems from
dehumanization, how people must be the change they wish
Hopefully, there will be more projects like Imagine Coexistence to bring individuals together and rehumanize former "enemies."
Jamie Rowen is a JD/PhD student at
Boalt Hall School of Law-UC Berkeley, currently studying
peace building in South Africa and Bosnia.