Monday, March 06, 2006

Dialogue and the war on terror

The Danish Premier called for dialogue in resolving the conflict between Islamic extremists and Western countries.

The trouble is, the potential for dialogue started some time ago, and no-one seemed to want to listen.

On February 26, 1993, a bomb exploded beneath the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people and injuring over a thousand. Five years later, a jury in New York City found Ramzi Ahmed Yousef guilty of the bombing. Yousef was asked if he wanted to make a statement before being sentenced. This is usually a situation where the person who has been convicted has an opportunity to express remorse for the crime. However, Yousef defiantly explained that in his worldview, he had acted honorably. He said:

You keep talking also about collective punishment
and killing innocent people to force
governments to change their policies; you call
this terrorism when someone would kill innocent
people or civilians in order to force the
government to change its policies. Well, you
were the first one who invented this terrorism.

You were the first one who killed
innocent people, and you are the first one
who introduced this type of terrorism to the
history of mankind when you dropped an
atomic bomb which killed tens of thousands
of women and children in Japan and when
you killed over a hundred thousand people,
most of them civilians, in Tokyo with
fire bombings. You killed them by burning
them to death. And you killed civilians in
Vietnam with chemicals as with the socalled
Orange agent. You killed civilians
and innocent people, not soldiers, innocent
people every single war you went. You went
to wars more than any other country in this
century, and then you have the nerve to talk
about killing innocent people.
And now you have invented new ways
to kill innocent people. You have so-called
economic embargo which kills nobody
other than children and elderly people, and
which other than Iraq you have been placing
the economic embargo on Cuba and other
countries for over 35 years. . .

The government in its summations and
opening said that I was a terrorist. Yes, I am
a terrorist and I am proud of it. And I support
terrorism so long as it was against the
United States Government and against
Israel, because you are more than terrorists;
you are the one who invented terrorism and
using it every day. You are butchers, liars
and hypocrites.

Immediately after this statement, Judge Kevin Duffy sentenced Yousef to 240 years in prison. He went beyond the requirements of his role by recommending that the sentence be served in solitary confinement, imposing a fine of $4.5 million, and ordering Yousef to provide $250 million in restitution.

Whilst many people might vehemently agree with Yousef, his statement outlined a position that is taken by some people.

Without dialogue we cannot learn about why people take the positions they do, nor will they understand the positions we take. When people take opposing positions, without dialogue, there will be conflict.

Dialogue requires that we do four things:

Suspend our judgment
When we learn to suspend judgment, to "hold our positions more lightly", we open the door to see others' points of view. It is not that we do away with our judgments and opinions - this would be impossible. We simply create a space between our judgment and our reaction, and thus open a door for listening.

Identify our assumptions
It is probably obvious to most of us that our assumptions play a large role in how we evaluate our environment, the decisions we make and how we behave. Yet, it is just this aspect of our thinking that we consistently overlook when we seek to solve problems, resolve conflicts, or create synergy among diverse people. Our prejudices are 'pre-judgments', and sometimes we need to reflect on these ideas we hold. By learning how to identify our assumptions, we can also explore differences with others, work to build common ground and consensus, and get to the bottom of core misunderstandings and differences.

Listening: Key to Perception
The way we listen has a lot to do with our capacity to learn and build quality relationships with others. When we are able to suspend judgment and listen to diverse perspectives we expand and deepen our world view. It is the act of listening that allows for integration and synthesis of new insights and possibilities. When we listen deeply we are willing to be influenced by and learn from others.

Inquiry and Reflection
Inquiry elicits information. Reflection permits the inspection of information and the perception of relationships. The combination of reflection and inquiry enables us to learn, to think creatively, and to build on past experience (versus simply repeating the same patterns over and over again). By creating pauses to reflect, we learn to work with silence and slow down the rate of conversation. We become able to identify assumptions and reactive patterns and open the door for new ideas and possibilities.

Perhaps by encouraging and modelling dialogic approaches to dealing with conflict, the world might be a more  peaceful place. That means the West being prepared to shift it's position from rapacious involvement in the Middle East as well as terrorists being prepared to stop killing.

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