Sunday, March 06, 2005

Skills of Peace: Dialogues of Peace

If dialogue is to really lead to peace, it must be inclusive in all relevant realms. It must represent the complexity of issues and interests through a diversity of voices and experiences.

That might be the message of the "Dialogues of Peace," organized by Angara Chatterji, professor in the Social and Cultural Anthropology program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

The fourth dialogue so far was held in April at the CIIS campus on Mission Street and included Norman Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy, Abdul JanMohamed of UC Berkeley, Kurdish Human Rights activist Soraya Serajeddini and representatives of the Middle East Children's Alliance, among others.

The series began in 2001 in response to September 11. "I watched students struggle with it," she recalls, "and I watched other students be targeted."

"We made it very clear that we did not want to have a flashy event that says, 'here are two sides, pro-war and anti-war.' I don't think that there are necessarily only two sides to any issue. It's not enough to say you are for peace. We want to discuss what are the issues of justice that need to be linked to peace."

The emphasis was on exchanging information that reflects the complexity of issues at the center of conflicts in the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and the United States. Each dialogue began with songs or prayers, and featured diverse panels of scholars, activists and journalists with intimate knowledge of those regions.

For example, they know the history. "In the present, concerns are taken literally as right or wrong, but they are not seen through the histories that produced them," Angana said. "I keep telling people that if you understand history, you would act from a place where you cannot talk about justice through any form of annihilation. You can't make justice by means of injustice."

Accommodating complexity often means listening to different points of view that emanate from different experiences. "Concerns of justice should dictate how we honor difference. When we are faced with difference we don't silence it or expect it to conform to our expectations of it. We honor what it is, and we force ourselves to change because of it."

"Through the Dialogues for Peace, the commitment is to address injustice and ally with those marginalized, and to support non violent struggles," she wrote in an official announcement. "We seek to build communities of peace, hope and solidarity. We seek to address and give voice to issues that are under represented at CIIS and in the Bay Area. "

Angana Chatterji also works with communities in India, where she was born, to foster social and ecological justice. She is the Director of Research with the Asia Forest Network, and her passionate writings appear in a variety of journals and newspapers.