Saturday, May 02, 2009

Nonviolence entrepeneurs

Followup to The Organization of (Non)-Violence

Reader bhyde introduced me to the useful term "violence entrepreneurs" (originating with political scientist Charles Tilly, I believe). I'm somewhat pleased and somewhat annoyed (and not very surprised) to find that some ideas that I had come up with on my own were already somebody's longstanding research speciality. These violence entrepreneurs specialize in building boundaries, polarizing populations, and heightening conflict. A growth industry.

More-or-less coincidentally, I happened recently to see a film about some nonviolence entrepreneurs: the documentary Encounter Point, which is about a variety of Israeli and Palestinian activists who are trying to establish dialog, reduce the level of hatred and distrust, and generally promote the opposite of what a violence entrepreneur would do.
Encounter Point is an 85-minute feature documentary film that follows a former Israeli settler, a Palestinian ex-prisoner, a bereaved Israeli mother and a wounded Palestinian bereaved brother who risk their lives and public standing to promote a nonviolent end to the conflict. Their journeys lead them to the unlikeliest places to confront hatred within their communities. The film explores what drives them and thousands of other like-minded civilians to overcome anger and grief to work for grassroots solutions. It is a film about the everyday leaders in our midst.
Some of the people featured belong to a group called the Bereaved Families Forum. These are parents whose children have been killed in the course of the conflict, and somehow managed to get beyond the natural feelings of anger and hate and confront the larger problem. They seem to wield an awful moral authority, bought at the maximum price, and are deploying it as best they can.

The film left me somewhat unsatisfied. I wanted to be able to dive deeper: what sort of process did these people go through to arrive at their current mission? How did they manage to transcend the parochical emotions of hte conflict and approach it as a broken system? An 85-minute documentary can only give hints of answers to this question. I also wanted to see a broader picture: how are these peace efforts being met in the larger context of Israeli and Palestinian society? Is any headway being made? Are these isolated efforts of a few individuals, or is this potentially a broader movement? Again, not something a short documentary can answer. Efforts at peace and reconciliation are not new; and these aren't the only ones. The film's website includes a list of over 100 organizations working in some way for peace, justice, and human rights in the context of the conflict. So, with all this goodwill, what's the problem? Why haven't they won yet? Or, a better question, what would it take for these efforts to be stronger, to prevail over the forces that lead to violence and conflict?

One quote that leaped out at me was when one of the activists said something like "The politicians want to use our grief as an excuse for further violence, and we have to stop them". So there is a realization that prolonging the conflict is in some people's interests. But what does it take for everyone to realize that, to decide that the real enemy is not the other side, but the violence entrepreneurs on both sides?


TGGP said...

Reminds me of John Robb's talk of "guerrilla entrepreneurs" in a "bazaar of violence".

exuberance said...

Thanks for the hat tip.

Robb's work is quite analagous, and given his Libertarian leanings it's unsurprising he over estimates people's enthusiasm for go-it-alone separatism. That said I tend to agree with his arguement that systemic forces are trending in atomizing directions. Makes for fertile ground for separatists.

Separatism isn't inherently evil, it becomes so when the groups leaders come to depend on oposition to others as their primary cohesive glue.

There are some handbooks on how of how to counter these polarizing+violence issues. Getting to Yes is the classic. I wrote about another example here:

mtraven said...

Thanks again for all the good references.

I don't think Robb is much of a libertarian, although I haven't studied him thoroughly. His current pet buzzphrase is "resiliant communities"; libertarians don't like any word that contains the root "commun-" (I guess communication is OK). He seems like a cross between a military theorist and a small-is-beautiful communitarian, neither of which is a very libertarian thing to be. He wrote this bit about a privatized US government but I think it's a satire.