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A personal pledge provoked by the debates about Syria
About 95% of all debates about conflicts and war that we see in politics, mainstream media, the Internet and social media focus on the violence, who uses more or less of it and who is, therefore, the evil party.
This approach places direct violence – such as human rights violations, killings, bombings etc. – in the centre of the attention and that is unfortunate because violence is always only a symptom. I call this the simplifying or reductionist approach; invariably it has populist connotations too and usually ends up in mud-slinging.
I argue in this analysis that this reductionist approach is counterproductive and that – because of the defining characteristics of these debates – the underlying conflicts/problems that cause the violence are never in focus and that no international complex conflict can be explained even rudimentarily by asserting that one single individual’s personality or behaviour is the root cause, the problem or the conflict itself.
Secondly, I explain what makes the reductionist approach so typical and ‘natural’ in the eyes of Westerners. We have to be aware of the deficits of this entire approach to conflict which, I argue, is also related to Western ways of thinking, including Christianity. (You may jump this section if you are more attracted to practical implications than to philosophy).
The third section deals with the conflict and peace approach as an alternative – arguing that only through that can we arrive at the necessary dimension: How can the violence stop and how can the conflicting parties change their perceptions, attitudes and the problem/conflict that stands between them so that peace can unfold. Like the science of medicine, it has a focus on the disease and we do a Diagnosis, Prognosis and Treatment by finding the root causes rather than just treating symptoms.
Finally I make the pledge to never again participate in discussions within the reductionist discourse of the violence and who-is-good-and-who-is-bad. I will spend my energy, instead, on the constructive conflict and peace approach that is also the only one that will benefit the innocent victims in conflict zone, the people who have never even thought of taking up arms.
In short, it is a refusal to let the violence and ‘evil’ individuals take centre stage in any discourse and instead look at problems and their resolution together with peace-building and thus – Gandhian style – let non-violence and peace-making by peaceful means take centre stage:
Since this author is a peace and future researcher, I shall no longer participate in any discussion or debate about a conflict or war in which the main focus is on the direct violence and one or more participants point out that they know who the bad guy is and seek to frame or place me on this or that or the other side.
Under “PS” you’ll find my four-part view on matter of justice which of course is part and parcel of peace-building.
• • •
I’ve experienced it repeatedly over the last good 20 years, since the bad old days of Yugoslavia’s dissolution wars and I see it now, only more viciously, in the discussions about Syria in the old media as well as the social media:
If you are not clearly supporting party A to a conflict you must be a supporter of B.
From that follows:
Since I am in favour of the good guy A, you are a bad guy because you side with B (or don’t side with A).
This approach can be categorised as simplistic and reductionist. It prevents an understanding of what a conflict is about and hinders peace thinking and proposals.
It also amounts to legitimating more war.
This approach is wrong and counterproductive because invariably it:
1) builds on the assumption that there are only two sides in a conflict; that is never the case in complex international conflict;
2) builds on the either/or fallacy that you must be pro-B since you are not pro-A, overlooking the simply fact that one could also sympathize with party C and/or M and/or V; alternatively that all participants behave in such a manner that you sympathise with no one;
3) focuses on parties, or actors, and not on the underlying problems that make the parties fight each other;
4) satisfies people’s more or less narcissistic need for being right and being confirmed as being morally superior – irrespective of whether or not they understand the issues;
5) builds implicitly upon the assumption that the two parties represent Good and Evil and that all of the good ones are on one side, all of the bad ones on the other;
6) creates endless, sterile debates Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
I shot this simple video out of the window on December 13, 2016. I wonder about Aleppo and say #keepfocusonaleppo
© Jan Oberg 2016
Here in the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City outside Aleppo lived and worked 40,000 people. It had 50% of Syria’s industrial capacity.
Today – after the occupation by Western-backed militants and terrorist groups, this is what is left.
I wonder why the Syrian government did not destroy this industrial city between 2000 and 2012. We are told that all this destruction is caused only by that side and the dictator kills his own.
I wonder where the terrorists used the weapons and spent the money they got from NATO countries – Turkey in particular – Saudi and Qatar since they did not do any of this here – according to Western media and the White Helmet reporters and a series of humanitarian organisations.
I also wonder where the Western left is? Solidarity with the workers who lived here?
No many among them defend this and want to arm this or that group even more.
The more I study, the more I wonder.
And something doesn’t seem right.
TFF Conflict and Peace Report Syria # 3
By Jan Oberg
In spring 2011 I was invited by then Danish foreign minister, Villy Søvndal, to be a keynote speaker at a conference in Copenhagen arranged by the ministry and the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) with experts, then UN mediator Kofi Annan’s adviser, scholars, diplomats and, most importantly, a number of Syrian (opposition) politicians and civil society representatives.
The minister left the conference when he had opened it and, like most politicians today, obviously did not give priority to listen to the input of this high-level group present in the conference room.
I made these major points, trying to be as educative as I possibly could:
1) Look at conflicts as if they are problems to be solved – adhere to the peace research concept of the ABC conflict triangle and study A for Attitudes, B for Behaviour and C for the Contradiction/conflict that stands between people. (Cf. Johan Galtung). It’s a classical model that can be applied by virtually anyone.
2) Remember that there are always more than two parties to international conflicts – this is a kind of civil war but also part of the international wars – or aggressions – conducted since the assault on Afghanistan October 7, 2001.
3) Apply this model to another simple methods, namely that of Diagnosis, Prognosis and Treatment (DTP) – try to be conflict doctors instead of Realpoliticians. That is the only – only – way in which you can approach peace in the future and prevent a huge war with thousands of dead and much destruction.
So ABC and DPT – extremely simple for anyone who wants to understand conflict and help conflict-stricken peoples and countries to solve them and not just use conflicts as opportunities to promote one’s own more or less noble interests.
But he spoke of his next trip, I think to Paris, where the “Friends of Syria” – a group initiated by then-French President Sarkozy who was responsible for much of Libya’s destruction – were planning to meet. Intuitively I felt things were already going wrong there and then.
I then added Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
Damascus, Syria, December 9, 2016
I’m writing to you from war-torn Syria where the suffering of the people is beyond comprehension, heart-breaking.
The war in and on Syria has been started in spring 2011 – the underlying conflicts much much earlier.
What our media have shown us is snipers, bombings, killings, ruins, dead bodies and press conferences with Western politicians.
But did you “see” the underlying conflicts?
Get an understanding of what the problems standing between the parties are?
Did you get the impression that weapons is the only thing “they” understand?
Did you feel hopeless about it all? Confused? Depressed because of all the human suffering?
That peace is impossible?
If so it’s because we are missing a huge part of the picture. We need something else.
We need to switch from – repetitive and depressive – war and violence reporting to conflict and peace reporting.
We need a focus on issues, history and structures instead of appointing one side and one person as the problem.
We must supplement the focus on weapons and fighters and focus on human potentials.
We must scrap the garbage theory that peace is about good guys winning and bad ones losing.
We must listen to all the parties, not just out own politicians and media.
And we must look at common interests and ways out of the violence and ask: Who can do what for a better Syria in the future, a Syria with people at peace with each other and the world.
Are you interested in new ways of understanding conflicts?
Then – being in Syria until Christmas – I am available.
In two ways:
1. I will post short articles based upon these other approaches at the TFF Associates blog.
2. I have been here in beautiful, historical Damascus the last 5 days and will go to several places – Aleppo on Saturday.
I’m available to media and others who take interest in what is going on here in a conflict and peace perspective.
Swedish iPhone +46 738 52 52 00
Syrian mobile +963 941 35 36 52
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janoberg.se – for updates, messaging and phone.
Here a few comments on Erdogan’s recent attack on the West for supplying arms to the Kurds.
Funny that Turkey’s president should accuse someone else for weaponizing a conflict. At the same time as Turkey does it and is also involved in two wars outside itself – Iraq and Syria – and one inside against the Kurds.
In this short interview I seek to raise the imagination: Since the weaponization of conflicts is a cancer on the world, imagine that a God-like magnetic force that could suck up each and every weapon in the Middle East, what would happen?
They would be forces to sit down and talk!
And one more point I did not get around to say: The world’s cancerous arms industry and criminal arms traders – governmental as well as private – would go out of business and many end up behind bars.
In short, a much better world.
By Jan Oberg
This coming Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of what could be called the most counter-productive, if not stupid, war in modern history: The War On Terror. Today that war is much much more dangerous to the world’s future than the terrorists it is allegedly supposed to hunt down. And it has caused thousands of times more suffering, death and destruction – at least a million innocent people killed.
It’s not a war on terrorism but on terrorists and that is as smart as trying to fight all diseases by killing patients. It’s a war fought without any consideration of the one big question: Why did they do it and why do they do it? Media and politics only asking: Who did it? How was it done? Where? How to respond?
Without an intelligent, comprehensive diagnosis of 9/11 it could only go wrong. And it has.
The next problem was that ‘terrorism’ was suddenly defined by states as anything non-state that threatens society and states. Governments and the UN (which consists of them) conveniently omitted terrorism as a term for what states do and have done on a regular basis and on a much larger scale. Such as the nuclear balance of terror.
About 400 people were killed annually and worldwide before 9/11 according to US State Department statistics – reporting of that stopped in 2004 when figures soared after the War On Terror gained momentum. However, according to the 2015 Global Terror Index – the number is now 32,000 – and the far majority killed outside the West. So, the problem has increased exactly 80 times(!)
And the Western leaders who continue this war has no idea about how to stop it or do something more productive and intelligent to the world. Primitive tit-for-tat and disproportional responses has substituted what was once called statesmanship.
And it was predictable that it would be a fiasco!
Many both inside and outside the U.S. came up with Read the rest of this entry »
Av Ola Friholt
Tankar inför ett femtonårsjubileum
var fyrahundra döda fram till dess
av terrorhandlingar i hela världen.
Och efter femton år av krig mot terrorn
är resultatet trettitvåtusen,
en mångdubbling av terroroffren, trots
att kriget redan dödat två miljoner.
Vems terror är den största framgår klart:
främst USAs, med hjälp av hela Nato.
Vi frågar oss om denna felkalkyl
och bombningsstrategi var oavsedd?
Kanhända fanns ett annat mål, men dolt?
Var båda sidors mål för oss fördolda?
En röd arméfraktion på sjuttitalet
i Tyskland syftade till avklädning
av staten, avslöja dess dolda våld
och därmed värva folk för en förändring
av revolutionär natur. Det blev
fiasko. Statens våld bedömdes rätt,
och gillad laglig ordning återställdes.
Är ISIS´ tanke nu att trygghetskravet
ska tvinga till att Read the rest of this entry »
The Livia Foundation was initiated by The Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution with an aim to enhance its efforts to directly address conflicts in societies through nonviolent interventions – in Denmark and beyond.
The name LIVIA refers to the olive twig, an ancient symbol of ‘approaching peacefully’. Also, at the end of the biblical flood, a dove returned to Noah’s Ark with the twig from an olive tree to signify ‘end of troubles’.
The Livia Foundation aims to create hope by promoting nonviolent conflict resolution in the world:
• making visible all the courageous, nonviolent efforts in evidence on all continents;
• supporting projects and individuals who demonstrate that severe social conflicts can be efficiently resolved through a wealth of ideas and dialogue;
• inspiring politicians, media, organizations and the general public to apply constructive, nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution
• creating conflict preparedness, locally and internationally Economy and organization
The LIVIA Foundation has raised app. DKK 700.000 or well over US$ 100.000. The bulk of these funds is spent on awards and other events, while DKK 250.000 is tied up as the foundation’s statutory capital in the Merkur Bank.
The capital comes from personal donations, from the author fees of the book ‘Conflict and Contact’, from foundations and from the Centre for Conflict Resolution.
The Livia Foundation is a civic, non-political, non-religious, non-profit initiative. We work to promote new ways to support creative, constructive nonviolent conflict resolution.
The foundation is headed by its Board assisted by a large number of active persons, who are particularly active around the prize awards. All are volunteers.
More about Livia and who has been awarded its Prize earlier here.
The worldwide examples of nonviolent action are admirable, but only rarely do they reach the front pages of the media.
This is where the Livia Foundation is working to make a difference:
We will make the life-affirming ideas and solutions known to a larger public, by drawing attention and giving a voice to people working within creative conflict resolution.
Else Hammerich, TFF Associate and former TFF Board member, has been in the forefront of both the Centre’s and the Livia Foundation’s establishment and TFF is proud to help promote knowledge about it and identifying the best possible candidates for the Livia Prize.
See at the end of this presentation how you may nominate someone for this prestigious Prize. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
Was it just a group of amateurish military people who believed that they knew how to make a coup? Was the brain behind it a 75 year old Islamic leader or ’guru’ Fatullah Gülen sitting in Pennsylvania and remote controlling the whole affair through his followers in Turkey? Was it perhaps the U.S.? State Department and CIA – who were tired of President Erdogan’s unpredictability and policies vis-a-vis Russia and ISIS?
Many more or less realistic and conspiracy-like theories have emerged since it happened about a week ago. I have no particular expertise on Turkey and no access to intelligence data but I guess it is reasonable to think of this coup having been master-minded by Erdogan and the people around him and/or that he had early warnings about it but let it happen – which fits with his words that it was a gift from God.
It’s the least unlikely hypothesis. Why?
1. In a half-hour long interview, Erdogan tells Aljazeera how it all happened that night. It is a remarkably distancing, blurred recollection without cohesion and with little credibility coming from a man who was the centre or it all and allegedly the object not only of a coup d’etat but an attempt too on his life. (See it at (). It is as if he was really not present, shocked or surprised.
2. The attempted coup seems too amateurish to have been a US/ CIA thing.
3. It is rather unlikely, given the security apparatus and Erdogan’s top control, that this coup had not been on the radar at an earlier stage.
4. Even if the dialogue-oriented, moderate Fatullah Gülen should be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I don’t find it particularly credible that he should exercise such power and mastermind the whole thing from that far away. It requires extremely detailed knowledge of an insider kind to make a successful coup.
5. Very strangely, those who took over power for a few hours never appear on the radio stations and TV screens they controlled. We didn’t see a coup leader at all. To speak to the people is what any coup-maker does first. Read the rest of this entry »
By Richard Falk
A night before the attempted coup of July 15th, in conversation with an elegant secular business leader and permacologist in the seaside town of Yalikavak I was surprised by the intensity of her negativity toward the government, expressed with beguiling charm. She insisted that Turkey had hit rock bottom, that things in the country could not get worse. I felt speechless to respond to such sentiments that struck me as so out of touch with the reality of Turkey.
This woman lives in a beautiful, secluded country house nearby, enjoys an extraordinarily successful career, is associated with a prominent Turkish family, possesses an engaging personality by any measure, and from all appearances lives a harmonious and satisfying modern life of comfort, good works, and human security.
And yet she is totally alienated by the Turkish experience of Erdoğan’s prolonged leadership, which she alternatively describes as ‘autocratic’ and ‘Islamic.’ I mention her as the foregrounding of the typical mindset encountered among Turkish secular elites, displaced from their positions of control that lasted until the Kemalist hegemony began to weaken, and an outlook that confines political discussion to enclaves of out of touch likemindedness.
When I politely demurred during our dinner, suggesting that while there were justifiable criticisms of the AKP patterns of governance and of Erdoğan’s political style, especially since 2011, Turkey when compared with other countries in the region and its own pre-AKP past, and taking some account of a variety of challenges, still offers the region a positive example of what can be achieved by an energetic and ambitious emerging economy under what had been until recently generally stable political conditions.
There are heavy costs of various kinds that should be acknowledged along side this somewhat affirmative picture—human rights have been abridged, journalists and academics suppressed who voice strong public criticisms of Erdoğan, and the Turkish state that he leads.
There have also been a variety of charges of corruption and contrary well grounded charges of a ‘parallel government’ operating under the secretive authority of the Hizmet movement led by ‘the man in Pennsylvania,’ Fetullah Gülen, a mysterious Muslim cleric who preaches a moderate message. He is alleged to be the mastermind of the subversion of the Turkish state, and is accused by Erdoğan as having orchestrated the failed coup, and on this basis, Turkey has formally demanded his extradition to face criminal prosecution.
Arriving in Istanbul in the afternoon of July 15th with the expectation of participating in a conference the next morning held under the auspices of Koç University on the theme “Migration and Securitization of Europe: Views from the Balkan Corridor.” Listed in the program as the keynote speaker I felt quite nervous as to whether my prepared remarks captured the intended spirit of the event, but I will never know as an immediate personal impact of the attempted coup was a phone call to our hotel room at 2:00 AM telling us that ‘unfortunately’ it was necessary to cancel the conference…